2469: OK Google


With the courier work I’ve been doing for the past few days, I’ve been relying heavily on Google Maps for navigation around the area, and I’ve been discovering the benefits of voice controls — it’s much easier to simply say “take me to…” and Google work it out for you than to type in a postcode using Android’s cumbersome and clumsy keyboard.

I’ve actually been pretty impressed with the accuracy of the voice recognition, since it even recognises non-standard words such as street names without too much difficulty, and it uses your location to make an educated guess at which one of the many Alder Roads in the world you might have actually wanted to go to. I counted only two hiccups in an entire day’s work: one when it wanted to send me to Hedge End (which is the other side of the Southampton conurbation to where I was working) and one when it wanted to send me to Birmingham. Granted, one of those mistakes was pretty large, but given that it understood me on all the 50+ other occasions throughout the day, I think I can forgive it.

I find myself wondering if voice recognition will actually become particularly widespread or accepted. Apple now includes Siri with Mac OS as well as iOS, Microsoft has Cortana in more recent revisions of its operating systems, Google seems keen to bake voice recognition into Android and all its services and even my TV will let you talk to it. The technology is certainly there and seems to work reasonably well in most cases — certainly considerably better than it did even just a few short years ago — but it’s still painfully awkward to use, particularly if you’re in an environment where there are other people around you. And while I’ve seen the benefit of being able to shout at my phone while I’m in my car, I don’t see the same benefit from talking to my computer, TV or games console when its physical controls are right there and allow me to complete the task I want to complete just as quickly “manually”.

I think we’re still lacking a certain degree of artificial intelligence necessary to make voice activated technology truly useful, worthwhile and ingrained in society. The aim, presumably, is to have something along the lines of Computer in Star Trek, where you can say pretty much anything to the voice activated computer and it will successfully parse what you say (within reason) and perform any task from turning the lights on to inverting the phased magnetic resonance coils into a Gaussian feedback loop. Specify parameters.

I wonder whether that’s something that is truly desirable, though. Is it really more convenient to be able to vocalise something you want your computer to do? It probably is for those who aren’t as computer-literate, but then there’s still a chunk of the population who don’t use computers or mobile phones at all. A shrinking chunk, admittedly, but a chunk nonetheless, and I’m not sure fully voice-capable hardware — which will probably still be on the expensive end of the spectrum — will convert that sort of person into being a believer in technology.

Still. “OK Google” helped me find my way around today, and that, at least, impressed me. Perhaps I’ll discover more interesting uses of it in the future.

2468: Empathy


While I’ve worked a number of crap jobs over the years, one positive thing that I do feel I have taken from each and every crap job is a sense of empathy: a feeling that yes, I understand how people who do this every day have it.

Consequently, I find it pretty hard to get mad at people who are just doing their job, sometimes with all manner of obstacles not of their own making in the way.

I try and extend this attitude to everything about life, even those jobs that I haven’t directly done myself; I know what it’s like to have to pay your dues (and indeed am continuing to pay my own dues in the hope that something actually good will happen one day) and, as such, don’t get mad when my order in a restaurant is late, or if a package doesn’t arrive on time, or if someone in customer service isn’t able to help me on this particular occasion.

This doesn’t mean I blindly forgive, obviously; if someone has clearly fucked up somewhere then I’d expect them to be suitably apologetic about it. But the reason for them fucking up in the first place? I might be able to understand that, whether it’s working long hours, working for pay well under what you deserve for challenging, demanding work or having to meet increasingly unreasonable targets from the higher-ups in the company who are completely out of touch with the man on the figurative street.

I like to think this is a generally positive quality in myself, and it’s also one thing that keeps me hanging on when times are tough such as they are at the moment. If nothing else, I am developing “life experience”, coming to understand how all manner of different people experience the world and what they have to put up with from Joe Public.

Joe Public can be an asshole.

Joe Public can, however, also be appreciative of someone who goes out of their way to help them, or someone who does their miserable job with a smile on their face, or someone who simply has a kind and friendly word to share.

I try and fall into the latter category whenever possible, even when it’s tough to do so. To date, my attempts have usually been successful, and even, in a couple of instances, have defused situations of high tension that have arisen for usually stupid reasons.

I derive a small degree of comfort from the fact that every time I do this, I am helping to develop myself as a decent human being. I derive somewhat less comfort from the fact that having empathy for other people is, unfortunately, not a particularly marketable or profitable skill — at least not without expensive training to forge that raw material into something a bit more tangible.

My faith in myself may be at an all-time low thanks to being kicked around repeatedly by all and sundry over the years, but at least I still have this to hold on to, I guess. It’s something. Not much, but it’s something.

2467: Encylopaedia Eorzea


I’m going to do a more detailed write-up on this over on MoeGamer when I’ve read and thoroughly digested everything in this massive tome, but I thought I’d give some initial thoughts here.

Encylopaedia Eorzea is here! Yes, for a long time the Final Fantasy XIV team had been suggesting that a lore book might be on the cards, and at FanFest last week, it was finally revealed. It was put up for sale at the start of this week and seemed to develop a waiting list very quickly; fortunately, I managed to get in early and snag a copy.

£34.99 gets you a formidable hard-backed book over 300 pages in length, printed on gorgeous thick, parchmenty paper and presented in full colour. The book is heavy enough that it would probably do some damage if you smacked someone with it — and you all laughed at Arcanist, Summoner and Scholar’s auto-attack!

The tome as a whole is split into eight different “books”, each dealing with a different aspect of Eorzean lore.

The first, and shortest, concerns “the basics” of the planet Hydaelyn and what makes Her tick, including geography, the relationship between Hydaelyn’s light and Zodiark’s darkness, the Twelve gods in the Eorzean pantheon, and the basics of “aetherology” — the underlying (fictional) science of how the elements interact with one another to create life, magic and other effects.

The second, and one of the longest, concerns Hydaelyn’s history, reflecting on the world’s cycle of Astral and Umbral eras, with the latter’s arrival being heralded by a Calamity of some description — each elementally themed in the case of the first six, and the seventh (used as the initial story catalyst for A Realm Reborn) covering all elements in the sheer magnitude of its disaster. This book is particularly interesting because it gives some background reading on the mysterious ancient civilisations of the Amdapori, the Mhachi and the Allagans, all of whom are explored to a certain degree in the game itself. It also provides a good primer of the storyline for Final Fantasy XIV 1.0, which is no longer playable, but which is concluded through A Realm Reborn’s cycle of raid dungeons, The Binding Coil of Bahamut, The Second Coil of Bahamut and The Final Coil of Bahamut.

The third book provides a primer on the different people of Eorzea and where they came from. It only explores the playable races of Hyur, Elezen, Lalafell, Miqo’te, Roegadyn and Au Ra — those hoping for some information about the Padjali or a hint as to whether or not we’ll ever see Viera in the game will have to keep theorycrafting.

The fourth book is the longest and concerns the geography of Eorzea, including all the zones from A Realm Reborn and Heavensward as well as short look at Ala Mhigo (subject of the upcoming expansion Stormblood) and the Garlean Empire (recurring villains).

The fifth book concerns Hydaelyn’s “servants”, and explores the various characters that you come into contact with throughout the game, right from the main “protagonists” the Scions of the Seventh Dawn to the recently introduced Warriors of Darkness. This section also includes information about groups involved in sidequests in the game, too, such as Hildibrand’s Agents of Inquiry, the organisation NOAH who spearheaded the investigation into the Crystal Tower and a section entirely devoted to more minor NPCs such as those who served as the face of the Relic quests, and poor old Edda, who has had a rough ol’ time of it both during life and in death.

The sixth book looks at Hydaelyn’s “disciplines” — in other words, the playable classes in the game. Interestingly, the book makes no mention of the base classes on which the more familiar “Jobs” are based; the focus is entirely on the higher-level incarnations of the Jobs.

The seventh book concerns Hydaelyn’s “burdens” — the various beast tribes of the realm, and the Primals associated with each of them. This section also looks a little at as-yet underexplored groups such as the gigants, as well as the eikons of the Warring Triad, which we’re halfway through the story for in the game at the time of writing.

The eighth and final book is a bestiary of monsters from around the realm, divided into the various “-kin” categories. It also incluides a look at voidsent, elementals and chimeras.

There is a lot of information in this book, and it’s presented in a clear, enjoyable to read manner. The thing I’ve found most beneficial about it is that it provides a good summary of the various storylines that have unfolded during the game since its launch; this is several years ago now, so it’s not surprising that some details may have slipped many players’ memories! The lore book acts as a good reference guide for those who may have forgotten some of the finer details.

Above all, though, Encyclopaedia Eorzea is clear evidence that the team behind Final Fantasy XIV have built more than just a game. They’ve truly built a world for people to inhabit, which has its own history leading up to today, as well as many more stories yet to tell. And if you flip through it’s pages, you’ll understand just why so many people still like to call Eorzea home.

2466: Mess With the Bull, You Get the Wang


[This should have posted yesterday but didn’t for some reason.]

Been playing some more Shadow Warrior 2 and the more I play it, the more I like it.

It’s certainly quite a different experience to its predecessor in that it’s not a case of “always moving forwards”, like in more traditional first-person shooters. Rather, each of the missions you embark on takes place in a huge open-plan zone with lots of different routes through, around, over and under various obstacles. There’s an element of light randomisation to the environments, so they’re never quite the same each time you play, but there’s enough “handcraftedness” about each of them that they don’t feel like the rather drab, lifeless environments of something that is completely randomly generated.

The thing that makes Shadow Warrior 2 a real joy to play is how agile protagonist Lo Wang is. He was pretty agile in the first game, but the sequel kicks it up a notch. He can double-jump, pull himself up onto ledges, sprint and “dash” a short distance in any direction, even in the air. All of these different ways of getting around make the game very much feel like a first-person character action game rather than a simple-first person shooter.

One thing I’ve been really enjoying is that you can build Wang to focus on the type of gameplay you enjoy. If you particularly enjoy getting up close and personal with enemies — and with Shadow Warrior’s excellent first-person melee combat, who wouldn’t? — it’s possible to equip him with items that boost his melee damage in exchange for some of his ranged damage. Then you can load him out with a variety of different short-range death implements, plug three attachments into each one for specialised situations — one for each element is a good start — and you have an unstoppable killing machine, particularly if you beef up his melee skills such as Sting (charge forwards, do a massive amount of damage) or Vortex (a spinning attack on the spot).

As I noted the other day in my first impressions, Shadow Warrior strikes an excellent balance between this sort of stat-tweaking typically found in a more conventional RPG, and the pure thrills of a fast-paced first-person shooter. The lack of enemy levels means that you’ll never reach a point where a rocket launcher does negligible damage to an enemy; instead, you simply start encountering more varied and fearsome foes as you progress through the game, at which point you might want to consider starting to use some of your more powerful weapons.

You’re not obliged to, though, and that’s nice. If you want to play through the whole game with “Lil’ Wang”, his starting katana, you can. If you want to completely ignore the attachments system, you can. If you want to ignore melee combat and play it as a shooter, you can — there are plenty of different guns to enjoy. And the various unlockable skills and powers you obtain over the course of the game enable you to build Wang in a variety of different ways.

And this isn’t even touching on the script, which manages to balance laugh-out-loud humour with some genuinely dramatic moments, much as its predecessor did. It’s delightful in its political incorrectness; a real thumbing of the nose to the perpetually offended who, let’s face it, probably weren’t ever going to play a game like this anyway. And the main story itself is compelling enough to keep you playing, with a veritable encyclopaedia of background reading available in game to flesh out the world and characters.

Shadow Warrior has well and truly grown up. Shadow Warrior 2 is, without a doubt, one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played for a while, and I hope it receives the recognition — and sales — it deserves.

2465: Keijo!!!!!!!!


I watched the first episode of a new anime called Keijo!!!!!!!! today. This is an anime that I became aware of after Kotaku did one of its sadly predictable outraged articles about, dubbing it “deplorable”. (After that, a number of people I know actually watched it, and had good things to say about it.)

“I don’t care that it’s well-animated,” writes the apparent latest “name to avoid” on Kotaku, Cecilia D’Anastasio. “I don’t care that the women have discernible personalities—no cookies for you. It is beside the point that Keijo!!!!!!!! was previously a manga. It could have died in obscurity. Now it’s on Crunchyroll.”

But what has got this angry young woman so infuriated? Well, here’s the premise: Keijo is a fictional sport somewhat akin to sumo wrestling, only on platforms floating on water. The aim of a Keijo match is to be the last one standing; if you fall into the water or touch the platform with anything other than your feet, you lose. It is a contact sport, but you are only allowed to touch other competitors with either your arse or your chest. In other words, it’s Dead or Alive XTreme’s “Butt Battle” taken to the next level.

Keijo!!!!!!!! is a sports anime through and through, focusing on protagonist Nozomi as she strives to realise her dreams and be the best at a sport she has come to love. Like most sports anime, there’s a heavy element of exaggerated action in there, with the Keijo battles themselves incorporating all sorts of physically improbable/impossible stunts, including a girl who is so fast she can smack people in the jaw with her arse and knock them out before they even have time to react to her presence.

I’ve only seen the first episode so far, but it’s already clear that each of the cast members introduced are there for different reasons. Nozomi is there as the typical “underdog” that we’re supposed to root for through the series, and she’s a likeable, spunky character that sits well in the lead role. Besides her, we have the older woman that everyone looks up to, the “rival”, the clumsy idiot, the shy one (who is inevitably going to “snap” at some point, since she was already showing signs of it when Nozomi got a bit too close for comfort in this episode) and plenty of others besides.

There’s a wide variety of different personality types on display — and a wide variety of body types, too, unusually for anime that focuses on female characters. Nozomi is relatively “normal” in stature; her best friend is small but with a formidable butt; her comrade from trials is a tall, muscular young woman and their instructor — dubbed “The Siren” — is a rather portly mature woman who would doubtless be a formidable opponent in a Keijo match; the first episode ends just as Nozomi and her classmates are preparing for their first training session with her.

Inevitably, given the subject matter, there’s a fair amount of fanservice going on, but any lingering boob or booty shots come during the Keijo matches themselves, which kind of makes sense, given that’s where the “action” is, so to speak. Outside of the Keijo matches, we get to know the girls themselves and see that, so far, they all appear to be well-defined, likeable characters that I’d certainly like to know more about.

Keijo!!!!!!!! may not be an entirely original concept — aside from the fictional sport that it’s themed around, the show seems to follow the standard “sports anime” formula fairly closely — but it proceeds with style, charm and so many likeable characters that I find myself wondering quite how joyless you have to be to dub it in any way “deplorable”.

But then, if you read D’Anastasio’s article you’ll see that the sort of person who does think Keijo!!!!!!!! is “deplorable” isn’t exactly the sort of person who seems willing to even attempt to engage with it or see what’s really going on. Much easier to judge it purely on its premise than to actually do some research, after all.

Sigh. One day we’ll have “critics” who actually care about their jobs… maybe.

2464: The Palace of the Dead (Savage)


Final Fantasy XIV’s patch 3.45 is coming in early November, and bringing with it an additional 150 floors to the game’s current Deep Dungeon, The Palace of the Dead. I am excited.

Palace of the Dead is a great piece of content that I’m pleased has remained popular since its launch. It flips most of the conventions of MMOs on their head and provides something different for people to do, with meaningful rewards and a decent shot of experience points for those levelling alt classes.

Palace of the Dead, in case you’re unfamiliar, is a 50-floor dungeon that you tackle in blocks of 10 floors at a time, with a boss on each 10th floor. Each floor consists of a number of rooms arranged in a randomised layout, with an exit portal in one room and a resurrection gizmo in another for if things happen to go south and you don’t have a healer. Both of these things are inactive at the start of a floor, so you have to kill enough enemies to turn them on before they can be used.

Some rooms have treasure chests and occasionally monsters drop them too. These come in three different varieties: bronze chests hold consumable items such as Phoenix Downs to resurrect fallen comrades and potions to heal HP; silver chests have a chance to upgrade either your weapon or armour (with the chance getting smaller as they get more powerful) up to a maximum of +30; gold chests reward you with “Pomanders”, which are items that have immediate beneficial effects such as increasing your damage, turning all enemies in the nearby vicinity into chickens or frogs, temporarily transforming you into a manticore or removing all the hidden traps on the current floor.

In the last major patch, the Accursed Hoard was also added to Palace of the Dead; these are hidden treasures that have a chance of spawning on each floor. Standing on a spot where a Hoard is hidden reveals it, and if you successfully clear the block of 10 floors, you get one sack per Hoard you found, each of which contains a randomly drawn item from what seems like quite a large selection, ranging from the useless (fireworks) to the very useful (grade V materia) via formerly expensive glamour items.

The thing I like about Palace of the Dead is it takes almost everything the rest of Final Fantasy XIV established in terms of gameplay and throws it out of the window. Item level doesn’t matter, stats don’t matter and even conventional party composition (one tank, one healer, two damage-dealers) doesn’t matter. There’s some variation in individual performance according to the upgrade level of your aetherpool gear (which you can only use in Palace of the Dead until it reaches its fully upgraded level of +30, at which point it can be exchanged for a level 60, item level 235 weapon that you can use in the rest of the game) and your character level in Palace of the Dead (which is different to your character level in the rest of the game; you level up at a considerably accelerated rate in the dungeon, but have to reset to 1 every time you restart from floor 1) but otherwise, how well you do in there is entirely down to how well you know how to play your class.

It’s interesting to see people realising this for the first time. You can’t just ignore mechanics in Palace of the Dead because it’s literally impossible to outgear it. You can’t stand in area-effect attacks and soak the damage because, again, you can’t outgear it. And you can’t pull 30 enemies at once and hope to survive because, you guessed it, you can’t outgear them. It’s all about careful use of your abilities, consumable items and the Pomanders; you have to be constantly aware of the situation of both yourself and your party members, as an unfortunate mistake could lead to a wipe — and if you wipe in Palace of the Dead, you fail that set of floors immediately and have to start again from the last “checkpoint” you reached. (This is particularly heartbreaking if you reach the final boss on floor 50 with 5 Accursed Hoards in your pocket and then wipe because you forgot to pay attention to mechanics.)

The reason I’m looking forward to Patch 3.45 is that it promises not just more of Palace of the Dead, but that its last 100 floors in particular will be very difficult. And not “very difficult” in the sense that the current Savage raids are very difficult — i.e. they get quite a bit easier if you take the time to buff up your gear level — straight up difficult in that you’ll have to pay attention, dodge shit and play your class effectively, perhaps in an unconventional party formation.

I’m interested to see quite how they’re going to make it difficult. People have been clamouring for difficult (“Savage”) four-player content for quite some time now, and Yoshi-P and the team specifically said during the last Live Letter that the lower 100 floors of Palace of the Dead were designed to be just that. What I find particularly interesting is that this is (hopefully) super-difficult content that you don’t need to have spent ages preparing to be ready for, because your gear level when you go in doesn’t matter; everyone in the entire game, assuming they have Palace of the Dead unlocked (which they can do as early as level 17 rather than having to reach the current cap of 60), has the potential to be a “world first” clear, which is something that has never happened before. Previous “world firsts” in the game were by raiders who were at the absolute top of their game with the best possible gear available, so in most cases it was fairly predictable who the acclaim would go to. With this, however, the title is anyone’s.

I’m also intrigued by the proposed ranking system and how it works, since that hasn’t been explained in much detail before. We know that there will be rankings for both individuals and parties, and that rankings are stratified by class/job, but we don’t know exactly what causes you to score the “points” that determine your place on the rankings. Progress through the floors is a given — the mockup leaderboards we saw during the Live Letter displayed both the floor the characters had got to and their score — but what else will contribute to it? Clear time? Damage done? Kills? Accursed Hoard finds? Treasure chests looted? All of the above?

If they handle this properly, Palace of the Dead has the potential to become an enormously compelling metagame in its own right within the wider context of Final Fantasy XIV, not to mention a great way to learn and level alt classes that you perhaps haven’t used much before. I’m very much looking forward to challenging the lower floors of this Deep Dungeon, and hope that it provides a suitable alternative to raiding for those who seek a challenge but perhaps don’t have a group, have difficulty getting everyone together at the same time, or simply aren’t geared enough.

I guess we’ll see soon enough! (Also, I really want to see what happens when you sit on that bench…)

2463: You Can’t Win Them All


“You can’t win them all” is one of those platitudes we hear numerous times throughout our lives. In childhood, it’s used as a means of attempting to stop the inevitable crying after we lose a game against a sibling or fail to achieve something we really wanted to achieve. And in adulthood, it’s used in circumstances ranging from the loss of a job to the end of a relationship.

And yet I feel it’s a saying that a lot of people these days seem to have forgotten.

Today I’ve been playing a game called Delicious! Pretty Girls Mahjong Solitaire which, as I said in my writeup on MoeGamer earlier, is exactly what it sounds like. I’ve been having a lot of fun with it; mahjong solitaire is one of those simple-but-challenging things that I find enormously addictive, and Delicious! certainly likes to slap you around a bit with its various tile layouts. But that’s all part of the fun, as is the case with pretty much any non-free-to-play-garbage puzzle game produced since the dawn of computing: the fact that victory always seems attainable, yet is often just beyond your grasp is what makes these experiences so enjoyable, exciting and addictive.

And yet, glancing at the Steam reviews and discussion pages, the most common complaint people seem to have about the game is that “it’s too hard”. The timer’s too quick. The game gives you too many “unwinnable” layouts. In other words, it doesn’t let you win every time. (A similar swathe of criticism was levelled at Frontwing’s excellent ecchi puzzler Purino Party.)

“Victory” is something that people the world over seem to think they have become entitled to, with the fact that whenever you’re doing anything competitive, the possibility of losing is what makes it competitive in the first place. You see it everywhere: in the Delicious! forums, where players complain that they have to keep trying levels until they get it right; in Final Fantasy XIV, where people vote to abandon a duty after the first party wipe rather than helping newcomers or people who aren’t as familiar with the fights; in Overwatch, where someone will rant and rave at their team if they lose, completely ignoring the fact that there’s always the possibility that you are, you know, simply outmatched.

It’s hard to say exactly where this attitude comes from, but it seems firmly ingrained in society now, and repeatedly reinforced by lots of things that we do, particularly online with the growth of “gamification”. “Well done!” everything seems to say, showering you with points, levels and achievements and inevitably begging you to “share” everything on social media. “You used this thing for the thing it was designed to do!”

People often joke about school sports days that don’t have winners any more, but I’ve seen it happen: kids getting “participation trophies” even if they did the bare minimum. I’ve also seen “Celebration Assemblies”, in which children get certificates for everything from getting 100% on a spelling test to — I’m not joking about this — sitting still in their chair for a whole lesson. This continues into adult life, too; at work Christmas parties, there’s the inevitable cringeworthy “awards” ceremony, where whatever “lol, so random” douchebag who organised the whole debacle dishes out a series of completely arbitrary awards to ensure that everyone gets recognised for something, even if that thing is “drinking lots of coffee” or “being able to spell”.

Failure is what makes experiences like games fun and exciting. If you win every time, you devalue the concept of winning until it is completely meaningless, and nothing feels worthwhile any more, which means you start to crave — or expect — more and more positive reinforcement with every passing day, and get annoyed or upset when your every whim isn’t catered to, or things don’t go the way you expect them to.

Me, I’ve had my fair share of failure, but every time I get a TIME’S UP or NO MORE PICK [sic] I just hit the Retry button, give it my best shot and eventually I might actually succeed.

Now, if only it were that easy to pick yourself up and start again after a repeated series of failures in life as well as games.