Category Archives: Personal and Opinion

Most posts fit in here. Things where I write from the heart about all manner of subjects. As is the norm on personal websites these days, I remind you once again that everything I say here is my own opinion and doesn’t reflect the opinion of my employers — past, present or future.

1742: Reaping Rafflesia

Page_1You may recall a short while ago I talked a little about Turn 5 of the Binding Coil of Bahamut in Final Fantasy XIV, notorious as being one of the most difficult battles in the game and essentially, if you want to look at it that way, the “true final boss” of the game as it existed at launch.

Since clearing that a few times, we’ve managed to get a regular group together to take on the Second Coil of Bahamut, a four-part dungeon that follows on from the original Binding Coil — and which is soon to be superceded by The Final Coil of Bahamut, bringing this particular side story to a close in suitably climactic fashion with patch 2.4.

We’re by no means ready for the Final Coil of Bahamut yet — mainly because you have to clear Second Coil in order to even enter Final Coil — but we’ve been discovering the joy of having a regular, committed and enthusiastic group together to take on challenging fights.

The first Turn of the Second Coil of Bahamut (known in FFXIV vernacular as “Turn 6″ or “T6″, since it’s the sixth overall part of the Coil storyline) is deceptively simple, much like the other Coil confrontations. You begin by making your way across some perilous terrain and fending off the unwanted advances of golems that spawn from chunks of dark matter and corrupted crystals. Having fought your way past these — destroying the crystals on the way — you find yourself in front of a fragment of Dalamud, the moon that fell from the sky at the end of Final Fantasy XIV’s version 1.0 incarnation (and, by extension, the beginning of A Realm Reborn) and burst open to reveal the elder primal Bahamut. Over the course of the first Binding Coil of Bahamut, you come to discover some interesting bits and pieces about what Dalamud really was, why Bahamut was inside it and, indeed, what happened to it following the apocalyptic “end of the world” that appeared to happen at the conclusion of 1.0. Second Coil is elsewhere in the lands of Eorzea, and promises to offer further insights into the truth — but, of course, it’s not that easy.

Your main obstacle towards even getting inside the damn place is an unpleasant little thing called Rafflesia, a plant from the Gridanian Twelveswood that has been corrupted by dark matter and which now appears to be a tad on the pissed off side. You ain’t getting inside the Dalamud fragment without getting past Rafflesia, and thus begins another extremely challenging battle that our group is yet to clear — but which we’ve made significant progress on in our two attempts to date.

Like the previous encounters in the various Turns of the Coil, the battle against Rafflesia initially appears to be extremely complex and insurmountably difficult, but in reality it’s all about being organised, communicating effectively and knowing how to deal with the various situations in which you find yourself.

Shortly after the fight begins, Rafflesia whips two party members with thorny vines, which attaches them together and continues to do damage as long as they remain joined. The only escape from this spiky fate is to run in opposite directions until the vine is snapped.

The plant monster then goes on to spawn dark matter bulbs, deadly seedlings that sprout into spiky briar patches that slow the movement of anyone unfortunate enough to step into them. A key part of this battle comes in the management of these briar patches; our attempts involved keeping Rafflesia as central as possible and only worrying about bulbs if they appeared where Rafflesia was. This occasionally demands that you dance around a little to make sure you’re not standing in thorns, but it does allow you to concentrate on what you’re really there for — punching/stabbing/burning/chopping a plant monster to death.

Rafflesia is a hungry beast, though, and every so often a party member will find themselves the target of the monster’s appetite. She’ll suck in everything in front of her, then devour it before spitting it out again; ideally, by the time she’s doing the first thing, you’re well out of the way, ensuring that the second and third things don’t happen to you.

Rafflesia, being a plant, also has numerous unpleasant spores and gases designed for the obliteration of unsuspecting adventuring parties. Most deadly among these is her Blighted Bouquet, a devastating move which causes immediate death to anyone unfortunate enough to have been doing anything – moving, attacking, using an ability — when it goes off. She’s also fond of glazing a party member in honey, which causes dark matter-corrupted hornets to come in and give the unfortunate adventurer some unwanted attention — and eventual death, if they’re not defeated, too.

So far, we’re yet to defeat Rafflesia; her Blighted Bouquet and dark matter hornets have proven particularly troublesome to deal with, but we’ve made honest-to-goodness progress in the two sessions of about 2.5-3 hours each that we’ve had to take on the fight to date. Along the way, we’ve come to work well together as a party, too, and the desire is there from all of us to continue the fight against Rafflesia, onwards into the fragment of Dalamud and, eventually, into the Final Coil of Bahamut to discover the truth behind the Calamity. (And, of course, to get some sweet loot in the process, too.)

I’ve been really enjoying our sessions so far; as I’ve noted before, Final Fantasy XIV is the first MMO that not only maintained my attention from beginning to level cap, but which has kept me interested with its endgame, too. Second Coil is, as of now, the most challenging dungeon in the game — though this will change on Tuesday when Final Coil arrives — and it’s a pleasure to be able to take on these tough encounters with a group of people who are becoming not just online comrades, but friends, too.

1741: Shareware

Page_1I was interested and excited earlier to hear that 3D Realms had come out of sort-of-retirement to unleash a pretty spectacular package onto the world: an anthology containing a fantastic selection of its games from over the years, going right back to its early days as Apogee — a time when men were men, women were women and PC games ran in four-colour CGA.

I probably don’t have to tell you that I didn’t hesitate to hand over the $20 for the complete collection of 32 games — many of these games were fixtures on my home PC while I was growing up, and even more of them were titles that I never got around to playing at the time for whatever reason. A surprising number of them hold up pretty well today, more to the point, and with the Anthology package updating them to run just peachy on modern Windows systems as well as providing rudimentary controller support, it’s a great time to rediscover these great games.

Of the 32 games, I had heard of most of them — though a couple, like Arctic Adventure and Pharaoh’s Tomb, were new ones on me. I’d played a decent number of them, too; particular favourites from the past included the Commander Keen games, Raptor: Call of the Shadows, Shadow Warrior and, of course, Duke Nukem 3D. I’m pleased that the collection offers the opportunity to rediscover somewhat lesser-known titles like Bio Menace and Terminal Velocity, too; both of these were games that I only ever played the limited shareware versions of “back in the day” and was always curious to see how they developed in their full, registered versions. This being the mostly pre-Internet days, however, it wasn’t as simple as just clicking “buy” on a game and having it on your computer moments later.

I really liked the shareware model, and I’m actually surprised it’s not used as much these days, since the Internet would seem to provide an ideal delivery medium for this sort of thing. For those unfamiliar, a shareware game could be distributed for free, and generally provided a full and satisfying game experience in its own right. It would usually only form the first “episode” of a fuller experience, however, and to see how the story concluded — or simply have the opportunity to acquire new weapons and fight new enemies — you’d have to pony up the cash for the full, or “registered” version. In some cases, you had the option to purchase some of the game instead of all of it — Wolfenstein 3D, for example, featured six episodes, the first of which was free, the second and third could be purchased as a bundle, and the fourth, fifth and sixth episodes could be purchased as a separate bundle. Or, of course, you could buy the whole lot in one go.

The closest equivalent we have these days is, I think, the “episodic” games that companies like Telltale put out, but they’re not quite the same; although there are sometimes special offers or even giveaways of the first episode, the game isn’t built around the assumption that the first episode is not only free, but also freely distributable. That “share” part was important — you were actively encouraged to share the free episode with family and friends, and in that way these games built up a very early means of viral popularity, without the Internet to support it. Kids were already illegally copying games and sharing them with one another in the playground, after all; all shareware was doing was legitimising this to a certain extent — though I don’t doubt that a few dodgy copies of registered versions probably did the rounds, too.

Sony sounds like it’s trying some interesting “sharing” functionality with the PlayStation 4, but it’s still not quite the same. Perhaps I’m just being nostalgic and looking back on it with rose-tinted glasses, but I do know one thing for sure: I have very fond memories of a lot of these games, and a surprising number of them still hold up very well today.

If you’d like to try them out for yourself, you can grab a copy of the complete Anthology here, or download and purchase some of the games individually if you prefer.

1740: It’s Not Friday

Page_1This week has been incredibly long. I mean, obviously it hasn’t been any longer than a week normally is (about a week) but it’s felt that way.

Most of this can be attributed to a couple of reasons: firstly, that the place where I usually park my car to go to work (about a 10 minute walk from the office) has been full all week and thus I’ve had to park about half an hour’s walk away instead — not a journey I particularly want to do in the dark of the evening — and secondly, I’ve been having to work an extra hour each day in order to make sure that I actually get suitably compensated (i.e. overtime) for the overnight shenanigans I participated in a few nights ago.

That extra hour makes quite a difference. It doesn’t sound like much, but then when I think about how tired and “I just want to go home”-ish I am at the end of a regular working day, then extend it by a not-insignificant proportion, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the trudge back to the car (almost inevitably in the wind and light drizzle at this time of year — not to mention the dark by the time I get out) is more depressing than any Walk of Shame I’ve ever done. (Not that I’ve done many, to be perfectly frank.)

Time is fluid; I’m utterly convinced of it. I’ve seen it this week, with that last hour seeming to last an eternity and the week, consequently, stretching on for far longer than it normally seems to. And this isn’t the first time I’ve observed it, either; the first time I ever observed this phenomenon was during a German lesson at secondary school where a friend and I happened to comment that German lessons seemed to last twice as long as any other lesson despite actually being the same length. (I set the countdown timer on my digital watch to make it look like time was actually going backwards, which got a good laugh, then got us put into detention for talking when we should have been quiet. Worth it.)

The old saying is, of course, “time flies when you’re having fun” and, frustratingly, it seems to be true. Do something fun and enjoyable and before you know it, it’s time to get up/go to bed/check out/go back to work/put the paddle away. Do something mind-numbingly tedious and time will slow to an almost-standstill. Do something fairly neutral — like, say, going to work — and you’ll find that time probably flows at its normal rate, but compared to the “fun” rate, it seems excruciatingly slow.

Anyway. Regardless of all that nonsense, there’s only one day left in this working week, and then a nice relaxing Saturday awaits. Following that, a solid day of driving up to Scotland awaits, which I’m not looking forward to at all, but the reason we’re going — my friend Cat’s wedding in Aberdeen on Monday — will be worth it. (Hopefully, anyway. I’m doing a reading. I will read the shit out of that poem, just you wait and see.)

For now, then, I think an early night ready to take on the week’s grand finale. What joy will Friday bring? Find out tomorrow, only on your favourite* directionless daily blog!

* Readers are free to find other sites their “favourite” if they wish.

1739: Birthday Cake

Page_1It’s my colleague’s birthday tomorrow. She’s bringing in cake — or, more likely, doughnuts, since most of our team is currently scattered far and wide (two of them on another site, one of them on holiday) — because That Is What’s Done Now.

Both she and I discussed this today, and neither of us were sure where this strange tradition came from — but tradition it seemingly is: when it’s your birthday, you are the one who has to bring cake in.

This seems completely counter-intuitive to me, particularly as birthdays are typically accompanied by people buying you a card and, if you’re actually liked by your colleagues and peers, a present or two as well. Is it that unreasonable for the one mourning the passage of another year to expect to be treated to a cake as well?

Apparently so. This is one of those traditions that has sprung up over the last few years and seemingly hasn’t been questioned by anyone. It’s not difficult to understand why: say “no,” you’re not bringing in cake for everyone, and you’re left looking like an asshole, even though, as previously mentioned, it should really be everyone else bringing in cake for you and you alone.

I’m just curious who the first person was to demand that someone celebrating a birthday should bring in cake for everyone. I wonder what response they got. I can only assume a positive one, leading to the situation we’re in now.

Of course, there’s probably another reason why this tradition keeps holding on: it’s actually quite nice to share things, and your birthday is a good opportunity to do so. You get to keep the cool presents for yourself, but cake is an easy means of making people like you, particularly if it’s some sort of awesome cake (or, indeed, box of doughnuts) and not, say, something boring like a fruit cake or a sponge without anything in or on it. (Not that there’s anything wrong with either of those things per se; a birthday is simply a good opportunity to show off your immaculate/questionable taste in cakes, so Mr Kipling just isn’t going to cut it here, Bucko.)

For the last few years, since I’ve been working from home, this hasn’t been an issue for me. Now I’m working in an office, however, it seems I’ll be expected to participate in this sort of silliness or risk being ostracised by my colleagues and peers. (That’s an exaggeration, of course; from what I know of my colleagues and peers they probably wouldn’t ostracise someone over something as petty as cake, though my immediate team does really like cake, so probably best to be safe anyway.)

Still, I won’t complain, because that means when other people’s birthdays roll around, I get free cake. And other people’s birthdays happen more often than my birthday. Which means more cake for everyone.

Oh. Oh. I think I see why this happens now.

1738: Aces High

Page_1After I beat Ace Combat 4 a few days ago — spectacular, incidentally; a game that still holds up marvellously well today, even on a big-screen HDTV — I moved pretty much straight on to its sequel Ace Combat 5, or Ace Combat: Squadron Leader as it is inexplicably known over here in Europe.

While superficially similar, Ace Combat 5 is definitely a more refined package on more fronts, though both games remain well worth playing in their own right.

To clarify: Ace Combat 4 had an interesting, unconventionally told narrative and gameplay that, more often than not, boiled down to “score [x] number of points before time expires”, with the odd break for “destroy all the marked targets before time expires”. This is a huge simplification, of course, because it was the context in which these missions took place that made Ace Combat 4 interesting rather than the actual mission objectives themselves.

Ace Combat 5 mixes things up a bit by having a wider variety of mission objectives. 17 missions in, and I’ve only just had a “score [x] number of points before time expires” mission; prior to that, I’ve had everything from “capital ship” battles against submarines to air support missions flying cover for an aircraft carrier escaping a besieged city, and one particularly memorable (if challenging) mission where you had to locate a downed member of your squadron, then support the rescue helicopter as it came in to pick her up.

Ace Combat 5 also tells its story in a different manner to its predecessor. While Ace Combat 4 framed its narrative as a letter written from someone who knew the primary antagonist to you, the player, Ace Combat 5 tells a more “present-day” tale about the jet fighter squadron which you’re a member of. Like Ace Combat 4, you gradually become known as a legendary pilot that enemy forces speak of in hushed tones, but there’s a lot more humbleness and humility about it this time around; there’s a strong emphasis on questioning the actions you’re being asked to take in the war, and whether what you’re doing is really justified. It makes for some compelling drama both during and between missions, and it’s a big part of what makes the game so interesting.

Flying and fighting is an absolute joy, though, and that’s what really matters here. Each plane feels noticeably different from the others — though all kind of throw realism out of the window in the name of fun — and all have their own strengths and weaknesses. The different weapons you’ll be flinging around all have their own little quirks and idiosyncrasies, too, and it’s interesting to gradually learn which plane (and attached special weapon) is most appropriate for which situation. Plus there’s a fun little “levelling” system whereby scoring enough kills with a particular type of plane unlocks better variants in that family tree — you can gradually upgrade from the F-15C Eagle to the F-15E Strike Eagle, for example, and you can do this for an impressively wide selection of real-life planes.

I’m impressed quite how good the game looks, too. It features native 16:9 support, for one thing — something you couldn’t rely on in the PS2 era, even with widescreen televisions becoming more widespread — but its visuals lack that muddiness that many PS2 titles often have when viewed on an HDTV. It’s not pin-sharp, no, but it looks good — and my goodness, does it ever move smoothly, maintaining a solid 60fps at all times, even when all manner of scary shit is going on around you.

I think it’s safe to say that I’m pretty smitten with this series. And, as I think I’ve said previously, I’m sorry I didn’t have the opportunity to try it out when it first came along.

1737: Some Days You Just Can’t Get Rid of a Bomb

Page_1I had the worst morning today. I say worst; at the time it was happening, it was already apparent to me that the unfortunate combination of mishaps that befell me were the stuff of farce, and looking back now it’s just faintly amusing. But at the time it was spectacularly irritating, and put me in a rather grouchy mood for much of the day.

Things started badly when I woke up at the ungodly hour I need to wake up to go to work and I had a horrible pain in my back that made it difficult to bend over (to put my socks on, pervert) or indeed to operate in a normal manner. After downing a couple of painkillers, the pain subsided a bit, so after a quick breakfast I took to the road, carefully avoiding the bin lorry that had decided the time I was leaving the house was the optimum time to park almost across our driveway.

Five minutes down the road — thankfully no further — I realised that I’d left my work ID badge at home, and I need that to get in and out of the building. Now, I know full well that a little grovelling at the security office would have probably secured me a temporary visitor’s badge to use for the day, but I’m still in that phase where I want to be seen to be doing things “right”, and so back I went to pick up my badge (the lanyard for which also had the key to my desk drawers on it, plus a nice pen). By the time I got out the door again, it was getting on for half an hour later than I’d normally leave for work, and I just knew that this meant I was probably going to hit the pointless, meaningless, seemingly causeless traffic jams that are on the motorway every single day of the working week.

Sure enough, the dear old M27 didn’t disappoint. Much of my journey was capped at about 40mph, often dipping below that, and I wasn’t able to get up any sort of decent speed until the stretch of the motorway where I was almost at work. Time was ticking on by now, however; fortunately, I have fairly flexible hours, so the concept of being “late” is a little more fluid than in many other places, but I was still rather later than I intended to be.

I pulled up at the lorry park where I typically park my car at the start of each working day and prepared to hand over my cash for the week’s parking — though I had noticed several huge containers blocking the small patch of concrete out the front where cars arriving a little later were typically shepherded. I had a sinking feeling.

“We’re full, buddy,” said Lorry Park Man — yes, there are people who really do say “buddy” out loud — and I knew there was no point arguing. Those who pay for weekly tickets were typically given priority over those paying on a daily basis, but I could see from a cursory glance around that there really wasn’t any room to put any more cars — not without putting them at risk from the lorries that the park was actually built for, anyway. I nodded, and Lorry Park Man shrugged apologetically at me, so it was time to go on a small adventure to find somewhere to park.

I eventually found somewhere about a mile up the road from where I work — the lorry park is already about 15 minutes walk, and this was quite a way further — but there was nothing for it; my only other option was to park right in the town centre and have an even longer walk to contend with. No thank you.

I eventually made it to work — still before 9am, pleasingly — and tried to get in my usual door with my ID card. The door was, of course, broken, and I wasn’t even surprised by this by this point, so I simply wandered down to the next one along and went in. Then I sat down at my desk, turned on my computer, fired up Outlook to check my email and was helpfully informed that the server was not responding.

The perfect start to a perfect day, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Thankfully things picked up a little from that point onwards — though I did nearly forget to retrieve my desk keys and had to come back and get them — but man. That was one hell of a lot of bad luck in one go. Hopefully that’ll be it for a little while now; let’s have the rest of the week go a little more smoothly, hmm?

1736: Traffic Report

Page_1It is traffic that drives the modern Web, whether we’re talking about a commercial site or a personal social media page, but I’m gradually coming to regard the relentless pursuit of this easily measurable but sometimes quite misleading metric as something I’m keen to step as far away from as possible.

Why? Because the behaviour of the Internet hivemind — they who create the traffic — is predictable. Write something interesting and compelling — but, crucially, not controversial — that you’ve poured blood, sweat and tears into and came away from feeling yes, this is one of the best things I’ve ever written, and you’ll inevitably barely register a blip on the graphs. On the flip side, write something controversial or angry — preferably with plenty of finger-pointing — and you’ll get hundreds, thousands of hits. But are they the kind of people you want to be attracting to what you’re writing?

In the case of a commercial site, it doesn’t actually matter all that much; in the case of the biggest sites like IGN, the comments section moves so quickly with all the commenters’ vapid nonsense that there’s no time for anyone to be able to fixate on the actual people who have been reading it in most cases — unless, of course, it becomes clear that the community at large has an opinion contrary to that of the writer, in which case it usually degenerates into a battle of snark via Twitter within hours of publication. But even on smaller sites, comments sections are easily ignored; ultimately, it is those traffic figures that are totted up at the end of each week to determine how “well” things are going — the theory runs that if you lure people in with more “clickbaity” stuff, they will hopefully enjoy it and stick around to click through to some other, less controversial but much better pieces. It doesn’t necessarily work like that, sadly: bounce rates are high, and tricky to “fix”, particularly if you contemplate how your own personal browsing habits tend to go.

In the case of a personal site like this one, however, it very much does matter who you’re attracting to read the things you’ve written. I have a small group of semi-regular to regular commenters on this site, all of whom I’ve gotten to know and come to regard as friends. When someone new shows up, their first comment is important; it determines whether or not I actually want to engage with them, or whether I never want to speak to them ever again. It’s nice when the former happens; when the latter happens, however — something which is seemingly exponentially more likely on a high-traffic day — it can be anything from mildly annoying to actually quite scary, particularly for someone with anxiety issues around certain social situations.

It’s for this reason that I’ve come to dread the WordPress notification that reads “Your stats are booming!” because it means that, for whatever reason, lots of people have come to my site and are doubtless just itching to leave a comment on something and tell me how much I’m wrong. (The side effect of the aforementioned anxiety is that one negative comment counts for about 20 positive comments, making it very hard to get a nice, calming balance, and making me very anxious and nervous about the possibility of arguments, even over the smallest of things.) Today was one of those days: something I wrote a little while back — something which I stand by, but am also keen to put behind me now my life is moving forwards — got linked a whole lot. Judging by my stat reports, it seems it was linked from Twitter, Reddit and a few other places and, at the time of writing, has produced my “best” traffic day for a very long time.

I can’t say I’m particularly happy about that, though, because all it means is that I’ve written something contentious that I anticipate those who agree will stay quite and maybe give a Like, while those who disagree will jump in the comments and yell at me. (The comments on the aforementioned piece are now closed, so this makes prospective yellers’ lives at least a little bit more difficult, which is something.)

Since ditching the hustle and bustle of social media, with its constant pursuit of validation through Likes and Comments, I’ve become much more content to simply continue along on my way without interference from wider society. And while you may point your finger at me and say that I’m just trying to live in a bubble or an echo chamber, to that I simply say so what? We don’t need to open everything we say and do up to public scrutiny, and just because you publish something online for family and friends to read doesn’t mean that you particualrly want it shared with the wider world.

It’s a fact of life, however, that with this modern, connected world, if you publish anything online, whatever it is, you open yourself up to it being shared more widely, possibly well outside of your own safe place, and consequently run the risk of attracting… undesirables, shall we say. And that sort of thing is starting to make me increasingly uncomfortable — particularly after I’ve been the victim of an organised Twitter harassment campaign in the past; something I’m really not keen to repeat in any shape or form through any online medium.

Oh, don’t worry, this blog isn’t going anywhere; personally speaking, it’s been a valuable outlet and almost a form of “therapy” for me over the course of the last four and a bit years, so I can’t seem myself giving it up any time soon. I would, however, ask anyone reading any post on this site and contemplating sharing it or leaving a comment to take a step back for a moment and think about the person behind the words: a 33-year old dude who is just now finally starting to get his life moving in a vaguely normal direction after numerous years of upheaval, disappointment, upset, anger and chaos; a 33-year old dude who, after 4+ years of working “on the Internet” is now keen to have a bit of a quiet life. I’m not saying don’t share; I’m not saying don’t comment; I’m not sure what I am saying, really, if I’m perfectly honest: just please take what I’ve said above into account. That’s all I ask.