2512: Police, Stop!

One of my many not-particularly-guilty pleasures is terrible police documentaries. Not the kind that deal with actual hard-hitting crime like murders and whatnot, but the shows that are typically on late-night TV and focus on the more mundane parts of the police force such as traffic and rail cops.

I’m not sure why I enjoy these shows so much, but I have done for quite some time. I think part of it is the fact that I’ve always taken a certain degree of pride in being law-abiding and resent those who get away with breaking the law — consequently, I rather enjoy seeing people who have done something wrong get into trouble.

I get the impression from these shows that it’s not particularly fashionable to be in favour of the police or of “authority” figures in general, and as such the shows themselves tend to be skewed rather more in favour of the police than the criminals. Good PR and all that. All that said, even without the inherent bias in the shows I’m pretty sure I’d find it tough to sympathise with a drug dealer or twat driving an old banger without any insurance.

The one thing that does bug me a bit about the police depicted in these shows is their ridiculous overreliance on business-speak and jargon. It’s never a car crash, it’s an “RTC”. It’s never a house, it’s a “property”. And God knows what they’re on about with half of the charges. “Aggravated vehicle taking?” No, mate, you nicked a car.

These documentaries aren’t going to win any awards for quality television or hard-hitting journalism, and often end in a rather unsatisfactory manner explaining just how the people the cops in the episode spent tailing managed to not get locked up for the things they clearly did, but I still find them enjoyable nonetheless. They’re not something I’d find myself actively watching in favour of something else, but as something on in the background — usually while we’re trying to get to sleep — they’re hard to beat.

On that note, it’s an early start tomorrow so it’s time to get to bed and hear Jamie Theakston explain what ANPR is for the 500th time.

2511: Maybe Catch Some of ‘Em

0511_001

I decided to give Pokémon another go with the latest installments Sun and Moon, specifically Moon, since Andie picked up a copy of Sun.

I’ve only spent a little over an hour with it so far but already it looks as if Sun and Moon have addressed some of the things I found frustrating about the previous installments, and that, coupled with reports from friends who say it’s a lot more story-heavy than previous Pokémon games, makes me think I’m probably going to enjoy it a lot more.

One of the things that always frustrated me about earlier Pokémon games was the fact that it was pretty vague about things like debuffs and suchlike. “Pikachu’s attack fell!” the game would say. “How much?” I would want to know. “Does that debuff stack if the opponent keeps using the same move?” Neither of those answers were particularly forthcoming in previous installments — or if they were, I certainly didn’t know where to find them.

In Sun and Moon, however, there’s a handy mid-battle status screen that allows you to see that yes, debuffs do stack, and how many times your Pokémon has been inflicted with a particular debuff. (It still doesn’t tell you how much your stat has been reduced by, but you can make an educated guess as to the impact according to the levels of your Pokémon and your opponent.)

Even better, Sun and Moon use information from the Pokédex to allow you to quickly see which moves are effective, super-effective and not very effective against your current opponent, negating the need for constant flipping back and forth between menu screens or keeping copious notes on what was weak and strong against what. Doubtless for some purists learning all this stuff was part of the appeal, but the way Sun and Moon does things is a lot more friendly to people like me who haven’t invested thousands of hours in the series as a whole.

These niggly little features aside, I’m impressed with the overall presentation of Sun and Moon, a lot more so than previous installments. While and had some reasonably nice character models, their proportions were a bit weird in comparison to the official art. In Sun and Moon, meanwhile, the characters look just like their hand-drawn counterparts and are animated well, to boot. The only sign it’s running on the underpowered 3DS hardware is any time the camera gets a bit close to a character and you can see big jagged pixels on the textures.

I’m not far enough in the story to be able to comment on it as yet, but the early introduction of the character Lillie — current darling of the fanart community, from what I can tell online — gives the story some interesting momentum right from the get-go, and the incidental characters are appealing and fun. In particular, the protagonist’s mother is extremely likeable, helping to make your character’s home feel a lot more… well, homely.

I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops further; I’m going to give it a proper chance this time around, even if I am currently attempting to juggle it with Final Fantasy XV, which is monopolising most of my gaming time at present. Perhaps I’ll finally understand why people go apeshit for each new Pokémon release.

2510: Cats

I haven’t talked much about our two cats since we got them a while back, so as a break from all the Final Fantasy XV (it’s pretty much all I’ve done today to enjoy a much-needed day off) I may as well talk about them a bit.

Our cats Ruby and Meg very obviously had established personalities when we first got them. Initially we were led to believe by the people at the animal shelter that Meg, the slightly older one (and possibly the mother of Ruby, we’re not sure) was shy and hesitant to trust, but she’s emphatically proven that to not be the case since she’s settled in. Now she’s the most vocal of the two of them, making it abundantly clear when it is dinner time, but I also think of her as the more “mature” one of the two, since when she comes for some fuss she sits down and just chills out, perhaps even dozes off. That said, she does have a tendency to dribble if she’s particularly happy, which I wish she wouldn’t.

Ruby, meanwhile, is a very active cat. She likes to come and bug you for fuss, and if you provide fuss, then she won’t sit still. She likes to demonstrate her enthusiasm for fuss by walking back and forth over you with no regard for your personal space or anything you happen to be doing at the time. Heaven forbid you have a controller or phone in your hand at the time, because if you do and Ruby wants fuss, the thing in your hand is getting headbutted until you pay attention to her.

Ruby also has a thing about licking people, which was initially weird but is something we’ve just learned to sort of tune out. Of course, to a visitor, getting licked by a cat would probably still be weird, but it’s just what she does. I can’t quite work out why she does it, whether it’s an attempt to wash us or just because something on our hands tastes good, but, well, it seems to be a habit that is already in place and, since it’s not doing anyone any harm, I’m certainly not going to try and train her out of it.

I’m grateful for the cats’ company, because they seem to appreciate us being around. I really enjoyed having the rats to sit and watch and talk to while they were still alive, and I get the same feeling from the cats. The difference is that the cats are a bit more communicative than the rats were (though all our rats were most certainly very much aware of us and knew how to look cute in order to extract treats from us) and a lot more independent. The latter aspect in particular makes it all the more pleasing when they choose to come and spend time with us; they want our company and enjoy our company, and that’s a nice feeling, even if they sometimes decide to express that at inconvenient times.

Pets are great. I loved having a cat growing up and I missed having animal companions in the years since leaving home before we finally tried our hand at keeping rats and eventually our long-awaited cats. Ruby and Meg will hopefully be with us for many years to come just yet; they’re very much part of the “family” now and it’s getting hard to imagine how our previous life was without them.

2509: Still on Chapter Three

0509_001

I am still on Chapter Three of Final Fantasy XV, appropriately dubbed “The Open World” — the point at which the majority of the main map opens up to you and you’re let loose to go and piss around doing whatever you want before progressing the main story.

The fact this moment occurs so early in Final Fantasy XV is a curious inversion of the usual formula for Japanese RPGs in the Final Fantasy mould. The typical format is that the game spends anywhere between 10 and 30 hours sending you on a linear quest that takes in most of the major locations around the world, conveniently introducing you to all these places and gradually providing you with increasingly unrestrictive means of transportation between them. At some point in the game — usually not long before the final confrontation and the end of it all — you are effectively given the “keys” to the world and complete freedom to explore, usually in conjunction with some particularly convenient means of getting around such as an airship.

Not so in Final Fantasy XV. Here you’re given the open world almost from the very beginning of the game, and there are a hell of a lot of things to do in it. I have been finding the myriad sidequests and hunts enormously entertaining and compelling, so much so that I haven’t advanced the story beyond the party’s arrival in the major town of Lestallum, and yet somehow I’m 30 hours deep in the game and past level 40 on all my characters.

There’s an argument that this kind of structure kills pacing somewhat, and it’s often a bugbear of mine with open world games. But I sort of feel like it makes sense this way around: that “open world” bit at the end of older Final Fantasy games often felt a little peculiar, as the narrative was demanding that you fend off some sort of imminent disaster, and yet there you were breeding chocobos, investigating crashed planes underwater or collecting frogs to get through a forest. The narrative demanded urgency, in other words, but the gameplay discouraged it.

In Final Fantasy XV, meanwhile, after the dramatic opening of the game, Noctis and his companions are simply out in the world, attempting to operate incognito while developing their own skills. While the Empire’s invasion of Noctis’ home city of Insomnia is something that needs Sorting Out at some point, the Noctis at the beginning of the game is not ready to face up to that responsibility, nor is he skilled enough or familiar enough with his unique powers to be able to simply charge in and take on a whole empire. It makes sense, then, for him to travel around the world, coming to understand it with his friends, developing relationships with people who could prove useful to know in the future, and improving his own skills in the process. The Empire will still be in Insomnia tomorrow, after all, and retaking a capital city is not the sort of thing you want to rush.

Practically speaking, it doesn’t really need all that much justification, as exploring Final Fantasy XV’s world is simply fun. Today I particularly enjoyed encountering the Rock of Ravatogh, a dungeon at the far Western side of the map that is actually a landmark you can see from the far Eastern side. Yes, it’s that old open-world favourite “if you can see that mountain, you can go to it” — or in this case, “if you can see that mountain with weird pointy glowy bits sticking out of it and smoke billowing out of the top, you can go to it”.

The Rock of Ravatogh, despite being an outdoor location, is treated as a dungeon rather than just a hill that you have to find your way up. This makes it a much more enjoyable, spectacular experience to climb, as it’s been designed and paced to feel like a real trek up a mountain, rather than simply walking in a straight line up a sloping grass texture. There are sections where you need to avoid slipping, there are sections where you need to climb cliff faces, there are sections where you need to pick your way along perilous paths with sheer drops to one side of you. And there are some amazing views of the game world along the way, plus a great reward for making it to the very top.

The Rock of Ravatogh is only the second dungeon I’ve encountered in Final Fantasy XV, but it’s very different to the first, which was a series of dark, underground tunnels with scary noises behind closed doors. This gives me hope that other dungeons in the game will be similarly varied and interesting to explore; I’m looking forward to encountering them for the first time.

2508: The Cough of an Eighty Year Old Man

I am ill.

I do not like being ill, because it is annoying and painful, particularly when it is that particular breed of “ill” somewhere between a cold and flu that causes you to feel constantly stuffed up and occasionally cough like an eighty year old smoker. Also I have the shits.

It is not a pleasant day to be ill, either. Andie’s phone claimed it was -7C outside earlier and while I tend to take phone weather readings with a pinch of salt, the fact that it is still visibly frosty outside leads me to believe that yes, it certainly is at least a bit cold out there. Meg the cat certainly let me know that it was cold when I let her in just now.

I have spent the morning in bed accompanied by one or both of our cats at all times. I’m always amazed at quite how well cats understand people; they know exactly when you’re not feeling great, whether it’s physically, mentally or both, and they know that what you often need in such situations is company and affection. Ruby, who is typically the more irritating of our two cats, rather fond of walking across your face when you’re trying to do something, sat with me quietly and peacefully for most of the morning, even curling up and settling down for a bit, which is rather rare to see her do.

I’m up now and craving nothing more than “ill person food”. Specifically, I’m feeling a steak slice, nice crisps (Walkers Max!) and some chocolate might help with the doldrums of being ill, accompanied by plenty of Lemsip, of course.

This is a singularly tedious blog post, I’m aware, as there are few things more boring than listening to someone else talk about how ill they are — I’ve heard enough complaints from my parents about my grandmother having such conversations with them to know this all too well — but, well, it’s something to do now that I appear to have exhausted my capacity for lying in bed wheezing all morning. Now I am on the couch beneath a blanket like a homeless person while Andie puts up the Christmas tree and decorations, because now it’s December, it is an acceptable time to do so.

Time to dose up on drugs and steak slices, I think, and hopefully I’ll feel a bit better tomorrow.

2507: Into Duscae

0506_001

(Should have been posted last night, but I forgot to hit Publish!)

A little over ten hours into Final Fantasy XV so far and I’m well and truly on board.

Pro-tip: if you’re finding the opening a bit slow, make an effort to not get sidetracked by sidequests and instead push the main story on at least until you’re able to get into the Duscae region. From here, the game opens up a whole lot more and you’ll have had a taste of various different experiences you can expect to see a lot more of throughout the rest of its duration.

One thing I was very pleasantly surprised about was the discovery that Final Fantasy XV has proper dungeons. This isn’t particularly unusual for a Final Fantasy game, but it is relatively unusual for an open-world RPG, to varying degrees. Games like The Witcher 3 have kinda-sorta dungeons dotted around the place, but these often tend to feel like “oh look, another cave” rather than an exciting place to explore and loot. Games like The Elder Scrolls series have hundreds of the bloody things everywhere, but are often designed in a somewhat copy-paste manner, meaning that few of them feel “special”. And games like the Xenoblade series pretty much do away with dungeons altogether; Xenoblade Chronicles X did have some underground areas, but again, like The Witcher 3, they felt more like part of the scenery than a discrete experience in their own right.

Relatively early in Final Fantasy XV’s main story, you’re taken to your first dungeon, and it works in traditional Final Fantasy manner: it’s self-contained, it has its own music, it has secrets and branching routes to explore, and it has its own lineup of monster encounters. It felt like a significant gameplay moment to step into this place, and it was exciting and rewarding to explore. There were some surprising and interesting scripted encounters within, and the whole thing felt authentically… well, Final Fantasy.

And I think that’s part of the reason I’ve never really found open-world RPGs to do dungeons in a satisfactory manner for my tastes: you often end up doing exactly the same thing in them that you do out in the open world, whereas Final Fantasy XV’s dungeons look set to have unique mechanics, puzzles and methods of exploration. I’m looking forward to discovering more of them.

I think that sums up Final Fantasy XV’s approach quite well, actually. It knows when to use scripted sequences effectively — dramatic confrontations, boss fights, dungeons — and when to use the more freeform, unpredictable and emergent gameplay more typically found in open world games. Purely emergent games (I’m picturing the Elder Scrolls series in particular when I use this description) often end up feeling a bit sterile and characterless because nothing has had any real soul put into it — it’s all driven by mechanics. Final Fantasy XV, meanwhile, will surprise you with unscripted encounters out in the wilds (its equivalent of the random battles of yore), but also knows when would be a particularly effective time to have a monster burst through a wall or a villain to make their first appearance to make a speech and attempt to defeat you with Their Infallible New Weapon.

I like Noctis and his friends a lot; their constant banter, while occasionally repetitive, adds a lot more personality to wandering the fields than Skyrim’s mute protagonist, and by restricting the party to those four core members (and occasional guests) the conversations can flow naturally rather than having to work by triggering responses to one another as in something like Xenoblade. Already I’m feeling that core theme of “brotherhood” coming through very nicely indeed. The supporting characters are great, too, running the gamut from all-business badass (Cor) to the flamboyantly colourful and gorgeous (Cindy).

I’m having a blast, in other words. I’m looking forward to my next day off, when I’ll be able to really get stuck in.

2506: Fifteen

Well, it’s Final Fantasy XV day and I’ve spent a good five or six hours playing it this evening.

It’s good. Real good.

I haven’t progressed that far in the story as yet as it’s simply fun to wander around exploring, doing sidequests and listening to the soundtracks of old Final Fantasy games while the gang drive around in their car. However, I’m very much looking forward to the world opening up a bit more — I’m penned in to a relatively “small” area at the moment by barricades that prevent going more than a certain distance by road or on foot — and seeing what is out there to discover.

Even in this fairly fenced-off starter area it’s clear that it’s going to be a fun ride, though. In particular, I’m very much enjoying the combat; far from being a hack-and-slash action game along the lines of something like Kingdom Hearts, it manages to blend what looks like fast-paced action with relatively strategic, cerebral combat that rewards careful positioning and exploitation of enemy resistances and weaknesses.

And the world of Eos is one simultaneously filled with wonderment and pleasingly familiar mundanity. In the first few hours, I’ve spent time at a seaside resort, a motel and a truck stop, but also fought recurring Final Fantasy monsters such as goblins and flans, and run away screaming at the sight of an Iron Giant. I’ve hunted down groups of monsters and fished up a meal for a stray cat. And I’ve witnessed the devastation that Niflheim wreaked on protagonist Noctis’ home city of Insomnia.

And the music. Dear lord. I already knew that the soundtrack was going to be something special from the preview tracks I’d previously heard, but the full experience is something else. Multiple battle themes according to the context make me very happy indeed, particularly as they’re all wonderfully energetic, blasting pieces full of drama and excitement. But the more incidental music is very pleasant, too, changing according to the time of day and your surroundings and, in settlements, adjusting its mix according to whether you’re inside or outside.

The whole concept of it being “a fantasy based on reality” has been pulled off very effectively so far. The world and the places you visit are all very plausible and realistic, but overlaid on the top of all that is the wonderful sci-fi/fantasy blend that Final Fantasy has been so good at for years. It really, really works as a setting, and I’m looking forward to exploring it in more depth over the coming weeks.

For now, though, as I have an eight-hour shift to work tomorrow and I have a cold coming on, I should probably call it a night there. Probably.