Archive for the ‘Not-So-Casual Commentary’ Category

Thoughts on “The Bionic Woman”

January 25, 2022

After my vacation, I was ready to dive back into watching things from my stack of shows that I hadn’t watched.  Like when I watched “Scream Queens”, I found that I had a short series to watch and wanted to start with it to be able to get through something quickly and so to have accomplished something pretty much right off the bat.  A number of years ago, I was browsing in Best Buy and came across the first two seasons — there are three — of “The Bionic Woman” for a low price, and decided to pick it up.  And then, as is my wont, never watched it.  This was a great opportunity to get through something early in the year and also to finally watch it.

This show was a spin-off from “The Six Million Dollar Man”, and in the pack I have they started from those episodes.  The overall premise of both shows is that the main characters were in a terrible accident and had their lives saved by an experimental procedure to make them bionic (adding mechanical parts to them to keep them alive and functional).  They then use those powers in the service of the U.S. government to stop various threats and perform various missions.  For Jaime Summers — the “bionic woman” — specifically, the plot was that Steve Austen had returned to where he grew up to visit his mother and stepfather and buy and fix up a ranch as a somewhat permanent place for him to life, and ends up meeting his old somewhat high school flame again (Jaime).  She is at least somewhat dating someone else, but he of course falls in love with her and her with him, and so they decide to get married.  While planning the wedding, they of course decide like most people would to build their bond by going skydiving.  Jaime’s parachute fails, and she crashes to the ground, gravely injured, but Steve prevails on the guy who runs the agency — Oscar Goldman — to make her bionic like they did for him.  It succeeds, but soon her system is shown to be rejecting her bionics which is causing her great pain and is damaging her brain.  She then dies.

Before you think, “Huh, that was a short series!”, I guess the character and idea was popular enough that the powers-that-be decided to bring her back, and so retconned that into her appearing to die but being revived afterwards by an experimental procedure by someone else.  She remembers her bionics but has forgotten a lot of things, including her love for and engagement to Steve, and the issue is that while not having her memory is bothering her they worry that if she gets her memory back that part of the brain that was causing problems will cause problems for her again.  And, of course, the doctor who saved her life is a potential love interest for her and a rival for Steve, although they have a very friendly rivalry.  Eventually, she regains her memory and risks having problems again, but a new procedure allows them to tweak her bionics so that she won’t reject them, and so she becomes “The Bionic Woman”.

From the episodes I saw and how the premise worked, “The Bionic Woman” provides a contrast to “The Six Million Dollar Man” by having Jaime be more of an ordinary person who occasionally is pressed into service rather than as someone who is military whose main job is performing these missions.  Jaime works as a teacher on the nearby military base and has a number of scenes where she just acts normally, and throughout the series she is a bit awkward and often uncertain about performing the missions.  Ultimately, her personality tends towards the ordinary girl-next-door pressed into service, which is an interesting take.  The one problem I have with this is that in a number of episodes they go on about how beautiful she is, which works against the personality and the appearance of the character which is more the pretty girl-next-door than an absolute stunner.  Still, for the most part they manage to stick consistently to that personality.

Another issue with the show is that originally I thought that they didn’t have enough content to cover off their runtime, but later concluded that they would drag things out in an attempt to build tension and drama, but they ended up dragging things out too much.  Jaime would be running towards or away from something and they’d flip between the scenes and take an awfully long time to resolve it, which ended up with me thinking that they should just end the scene already.  The reason this happens, I think, is that when you slow things down in a show you run the risk of people remembering that this is a TV show and so break the fourth wall.  So the secret to good drama is to move slowly enough to build tension but not so slowly that we realize that the show will not actually go through with the terrible things that they are hinting could happen in the scene.  Here, the problem was that I found myself thinking that Jaime was obviously going to stop the bomb/escape the bomb/rescue the people in time and so they should just get around to showing that instead of dragging it out.  Thus, it broke the fourth wall and broke the illusion, and so I was treating it as a show — and losing patience with it — instead of being immersed in the show and hoping that she would succeed while in the back of my mind knowing that she was going to succeed.  Here, it was in the front of my mind that she was going to succeed which meant that the purportedly dramatic scenes were not at all tense and dramatic.

Still, the show has its charm.  One of the things that shows from that era have is that they come across as being incredibly genuine.  Even when they are campy or overly dramatic, they don’t present that way but instead as almost an idea of “Please, please just overlook that and go along with us!  It’ll be fun!”.  In the “Six Million Dollar Man” episodes, Lee Majors sings during it and while the songs are terrible — especially the lyrics — it doesn’t come across as all of them thinking that they are wonderful singers and wanting you to experience that along with them but instead as them really thinking that this would make the show more entertaining, even as it fails.  So even when they fail we don’t chastise them for overreaching but instead understand that they were really, really trying, and just couldn’t make it.

And while it’s been oft-parodied, their approach to the special effects for the bionics is actually pretty brilliant.  If you’ve ever seen a parody of something happening in slow-motion with a “du-du-du-du-du-da” sound in the background, you’ve seen that approach, and yeah it can seem awfully corny, but it allowed them to simulate bionic powers in a way that was clear that the powers were being used without having to use a lot of special effects to do it.  Sure, maybe even at the time they could have used better effects, but they didn’t need better special effects.  What they did got across what they needed to get across without adding too much to the show, and adds to the charm of a show that really says that they really want to focus on the fun and not on the incidentals.

So, yes, the show has its charm, and I didn’t hate watching it, and wouldn’t mind watching it again.  But at the same time, I’m not particularly anxious to try to find the third season or to pick up “The Six Million Dollar Man”.  The show was fine, often entertaining, but also often stupid and, as I already said, a bit draggy in places, ruining its own drama.  Given that, if I saw the third season or “The Six Million Dollar Man” I’d probably pick them up and put them in the stack to watch, but won’t be in a hurry to get them or, thus, to rewatch this.  Thus, these will go in the box of shows to maybe rewatch at some point and not in the closet to rewatch on a somewhat regular basis.

Persona 5 Royal: Maruki

January 19, 2022

So in this post I’m going to talk about the other new S-link and story important character, the school counselor Maruki.  Again, I’m going to talk about how he fits as an addition to the original story and about his specific story, and so again I’ll be spoiling his story (and Yoshizawa’s as well) and so again if you don’t want to be spoiled don’t read past this point.

(more…)

Time and the Casual Gamer

January 18, 2022

So in the new schedule I have set aside dedicated time Saturday mornings to play The Old Republic, before getting into doing the other things I need to do on a Saturday.  This past Saturday, due to weather conditions — incredibly cold — I found myself able to start playing it earlier in the day than normal, which gave me more time to play than I normally had.  Also, I tend to like to do a planet in one session, but also to try to do the chapter interludes in that same session so that the next time I come back to a game I can just start at a planet and do it.  Basically, I always want to be starting a planet at the start of a session if at all possible.

So I finished Alderaan and decided to do the chapter interlude, which involved running back to Dromund Kaas and meeting with intelligence and then running a mission on a dreadnought, and then returning to Dromund Kaas and finally getting some time off, which immediately leaps to the next chapter — well, you have to access the holocomm, I think — with a new set of missions.  The main quest asks you to go back to Dromund Kaas and get new instructions, which I would have been able to do and almost certainly would have led to the next planet.  However, at the same time, companion Kaliyo — whom I strongly dislike — sets up another quest to deal with the problems from her past that were caused because she ticked too many people off and is somewhat cavalier about dealing with them by killing them off (which is one of the main reasons I really dislike her).  But I always do want to finish all the companion quests and bonus quests if I can, and so could have settled in to finish them off to start clean in the next session … but I was already over an hour over what my end time would be and didn’t really know how long all of that would take, and I actually did need that time to do other things.  So I quit for the day.

But this got me thinking.  When we talk about casual gamers, we tend to talk about them only having time to play in short, stolen blocks of time around other things.  Which is indeed common to a lot of them.  But as a Not-So-Casual Gamer, I share some traits with casual gamers, and what I find is that, for me, it’s actually easier at times to carve out one long block of time to play something instead of a bunch of small gaming sessions.  And it’s easy to see that this could apply to other casual gamers as well.  Someone who works long hours might be able to carve a long session out on Sunday afternoon and not have any time to play during the week.  Someone who is married with children — go Bundy! — might find some time some evening or some weekend when the kids and the wife have run off to activities that they don’t need to go to and don’t need to take them to.  And so on and so forth.  So to make a game casual friendly for them, you’d need to think about how to make a game that can be played in one long session a week instead of in a bunch of small sessions a day.

This hit me with Dragon Age:  Inquisition and the War Table.  At first glance, the idea seemed really good:  send agents to complete missions — some of which are necessary to advance and some of which produce resources that are needed to advance — but the missions are completed in real-time, and so if you start a session and only play for two hours, you can kick off a bunch of these missions and they will be completed by the time you start the game up the next day.  Sounds great!  Except that I ended up carving out my long play session and noted that playing longer didn’t mean that I could complete more missions a lot of the time, because they were just long enough to carry over to the next session.  And if I needed the mission to complete before doing something else I wanted or needed to do, that meant that I had to fill that one session with less important or interesting things — or quit for the day — and come back next week.  This was a mechanism that worked well if you could play for a couple of hours every day or for long sessions almost every day, but poorly when you could only play one long session every week.

What this and my The Old Republic experience showed me is that for the casual gamer the actual amount of time something takes is less important than making it clear just how long something is going to take before they commit to it.  In DAI, if someone cleaned up all the small quests figuring that they’d then run the mission to open up the next area in their next session, discovering that that mission would take longer than they had could ruin that play session, as they’d have nothing left to do until the mission completed but not enough time to see that mission finish and be able to do anything interesting.  For TOR, if I had known how many quests there were and roughly how long they’d take I could adjust for that accordingly by, for example, quitting after Alderaan and running all the interludes in one session instead of trying to finish it all.  And that’s not even mentioning my getting suckered into a marathon play session of Persona 5 Royal that I could have avoided if it had been more clear what the epilogue involved before I started it.

If a game is in general divided into segments that can be completed in one to two hours, that will of course benefit all casual games because those who work on one longer play a week instead of a bunch of smaller ones can just concatenate segments together until they hit their play time for the week and will definitely feel like they’ve accomplished something.  But what is more important for all casual gamers is knowing how long something will take.  If one of those segments suddenly leaps to four hours, knowing that can prepare those who can only get in short sessions for having to take two or more sessions to get through it, and can allow those with longer sessions to schedule that segment in one session instead of trying to start it halfway or almost all the way through one and then having to abandon it.  This sort of scheduling is important because one of the reasons causal gamers are casual gamers is because they always have something else they could or should be doing, and so even if they have to stop early it’s not like they’ll be left with nothing to do, although they might chafe at having their precious gaming time taken away, but if it’s from their own choice they are more likely to accept it than if the game itself forces them with no warning to do that, like in the DAI case.

Video games are in general pretty bad at doing stuff like this.  Sometimes it’s for good reasons:  the time it will take to finish something very much depends on the skill of the player and so it will depend on how often you have to retry sections or bosses.  It’s also difficult to do that for story beats without spoiling the story bits by telegraphing that things are going to be more complicated than they were before.  I will say, however, that other than for the endings and epilogues the Persona series is pretty good at it, since for the most part dungeons and the social aspects take roughly the same amount of time all through the game making it easy to plan for (my plan with Persona 3 was to take one night to do a dungeon and then one night to do all the S-link and school stuff, and keep alternating that until the boss, which worked really well for me).  TOR is pretty good at this as well since planets all tend to take in the 4 hour range if you do the story quests and the planet quests, but the interludes and endings, again, can be a problem.  DAI, on the other hand, was terrible for that because clearing an area varied wildly between areas, player skill sets, and resources the player had.  I wonder if that’s another reason that I’ve played Persona 5 four times now (counting my Royal run) and have only played DAI once …

Persona 5 Royal: Yoshizawa

January 12, 2022

So, as promised in my post talking about Persona 5 Royal in general, I’m going to pull out the two biggest additions and talk about them in detail.  This time I’m going to talk about Yoshizawa.  I’m going to talk about her — and Maruki — in terms of whether they fit in well as additions to the story and whether their stories work, so I’m pretty much going to be spoiling everything about their stories.  And since the stories are connected, I will probably spoil some of Maruki’s in talking about Yoshizawa’s.  So if you think you will want to play these additions in the next while and don’t want to be spoiled, you probably should stop reading now and not read either of these two posts.

(more…)

Return to Camelot

January 11, 2022

As I’ve mentioned before  during my vacation I returned to my first MMO, Dark Age of Camelot.  At first, I found it to be quite old school and was wondering if I’d end up enjoying it, but eventually I got to the point where I actually do quite like it and plan to play it on a fairly regular basis.  In this post, I’ll talk about why that is.

The big problem that I was having with it was that it was indeed really an old school MMO.  A number of the quests didn’t have any quest markers and weren’t at all clear about where you were supposed to go and what you were supposed to do, which necessitated finding a site that outlined what you were supposed to do and where you were supposed to go.  And then for some of them they gave co-ordinates which I think are out of date because the co-ordinates where I found the things didn’t align with what they told me.  The combat was also fairly uninspired and repetitive (although you could indeed easily say the same thing about The Old Republic).  So it didn’t start out all that great.

But I ended up enjoying it by, I think, making a mistake.  After the initial quests when you are released into the world, you can do a few quests in the starting area, but once you gain a few levels your trainer tells you to head into Camelot to talk to the trainer there to get a special item (they give you a really good weapon for your level).  While there, you were probably supposed to pick up the quests inside Camelot that are for around your level.  But I didn’t do that.  I picked up and finished as many of the quests as I could in the local area, which also led me to at least a couple of new areas.  Once I had done everything I could there, I went into Camelot and picked up my weapon and my quests from my trainer, as well as the Camelot quests.  But I was a higher level than I would have been if I had gone there right away, so those quests were easier than they would have been otherwise.  I was also able to fill my quest log, which meant that I always had lots of things to do and spent my time running around trying to do quests, and so was always working towards a goal.  And that was really fun.

The other thing that does for me is give me a more flexible playtime for DAoC than I have for TOR.  In TOR, the areas and quests in areas are more tightly aligned and so you don’t want to quit for the day until you finish an area.  Before the various XP boosts, I was taking about three hours to finish a section, but now I take about four hours to finish an entire planet, which is better because I don’t have to return to the main area to get into the cantina to get Rest XP.  So it makes sense to finish an entire section in one go, and if I stop in the middle of a section it makes for a slightly awkward game experience and makes things slightly awkward when I play the game the next time.  It’s obviously doable, but at least for me it makes for a far better experience in TOR to play through an entire planet in one session.

That’s not the case in DAoC.  I’m not finishing one area and moving on to the next, but am simply knocking quests off my list.  Some of them in the later areas will be too difficult for me to complete and so I’ll move on to a new area.  At one point, I had picked up a number of quests in a new area but decided that I should clean off some of the lower level ones first, even if they weren’t all in the same area.  So I work to finish off a number of quests and I can stop playing at any point when I’ve finished the current quest or quests that I’m working on and feel like I’ve accomplished something.  So my play sessions in DAoC are a bit shorter and yet I feel like I’ve done something useful, which is really, really nice for me.

The thing is that I’m quite sure things weren’t this way when I first played the game.  I recall being herded from area to area and ending up with a set of quests that I was too low level to complete and so having to grind XP to get a level to be able to do the next set of quests.  I haven’t grinded in this run at all, and am already at a higher level than I was able to achieve with any character my first time around (I had a real problem with altitis, which TOR seems to have cured).  There seem to be a couple of reasons for this.  One of them is that despite being overleveled for my quests and so not getting any experience from killing things, I still seem to get some decent XP from completing the quests, which means that most of my experience comes from doing quests instead of killing things (which wasn’t the case the first time around).  The second is that I think DAoC added quests to give characters new things to do as the game went on, and so there are now lots and lots of quests to choose from, and so my completionist approach to the quests — I’m trying to do every quest that I come across — means that I can pick up a lot of XP from quests without having to kill anything that I don’t need to.  And the third is that they seem to be giving out a fair bit of bonus XP in those areas — probably to help players who are leveling alts — which gives me more XP from doing the quests than I would have been getting in the beginning.

So as it stands I’m able to gain levels and advance by gathering up all the quests that I can and just running around doing them.  While travel speeds in DAoC can be a bit slow — minstrels can speed you up — that’s still actually pretty fun for me, and it also allows me to look at the time and say that I will finish this quests or these sets of quests and stop for the day instead of looking at the time and thinking that I hope I can get the planet done in a reasonable amount of time, meaning that DAoC is more amenable to being controlled by my schedule rather than controlling my schedule like TOR does.  I haven’t had a game like that in a long time.

Thoughts on Persona 5 Royal

January 5, 2022

So as I outlined in my vacation update, I played through an entire run of Persona 5 Royal.  It took me about 92 hours — according to the save file — and my original runs of Persona 5 tended to take me about 80 hours.  The difference, then, maps neatly to the extra time I spent on one day thinking that, hey, the new palace wouldn’t take that long and I should be done before I wanted to go to sleep (which, of course, didn’t happen).  I was glad to play it and glad to finish it.  Again, unlike Dragon Age Inquisition, I thought at the end of it that I’d like to play it again, but also unlike Persona 5 I quickly realized that there was no way I could possibly start a new game immediately, given my schedule and the fact that, well, it would take me 92 hours to play through.  So I liked it and wouldn’t mind playing it again, but find that I can’t play it again.

I’m going to talk about the game in three parts.  This part will talk about what new things Royal adds, if Royal is worth getting if you already have Persona 5, and some general comments on the Persona 5 and Persona 5 Royal gameplay that struck me while I was playing.  The next part will talk about the new character/S-link that was added in Yoshizawa and how her S-link and her link to the new palace worked out, and the last part will talk about the new palace and the new character/S-link that drives that one.

So, first, let me comment one the elements that mean that replaying Persona 5 Royal will not work in my new schedule but worked out really well in my longer vacation time.  The first is that the game took me about four weeks with five four or five hour sessions a week.  So I played it for about 20 hours a week to get through that.  On my new schedule, I only have about 10 hours a week, and so to finish it would take me at least 2 months if not more to finish … and that’s if I didn’t play anything else in that time.  So as I’ve wondered before the sheer length of the game seems to make it more difficult to replay, even as them adding more elements and S-links makes it more desirable to replay the game.  The second is that it is difficult to fit a session where you feel that progress is being made in the two to three hour sessions I’d have as opposed to the four or five hour sessions.  To do a palace will take at least that (I rushed through them and tended to get one palace done in a session).  To do a Mementos run to clear a new area and clear off requests easily takes that long.  And the time in-between finishing a palace — if you finish it as quickly as possible as I tend to do — and the story advancing can take about that long, especially if you clear the initial story elements and so take it up to the beginning of the palace.  To try to do pretty much any of that in two hours is simply not going to work, so for me I’d either have to take another day to finish the palaces than I normally would or else would have to save at a save point and continue the palace and Mementos the next day.

I could do that, of course, but then I don’t particularly care for the dungeons and combat parts of the Persona series.  I see them as necessary evils that I need to get through so that I can get on with the story, the S-links, and even the activities.  So as I noticed when playing Persona 3, if I don’t get a palace or section finished in one session and need a second session to get through it I don’t look forward to the next session.  The ideal, then, is for me to get through those sections in one session and then spend the next session advancing the story and S-links.  This is the approach I could take during my vacation here and it worked really well, as it allowed me to define my sessions around what I wanted to accomplish in that session — finish the palace, do a Mementos run, get to the palace — and so it gave me a reason to keep playing until I hit that accomplishment but also a reason to stop for the day.

Now, what we’ve seen in Persona 5 is that each individual element has gotten more advanced and more detailed (and Royal adds things to each area).  This, then, is a bit of an issue for me because what seem to be two of the main elements here are ones that I don’t care for.  The palace model is the evolution of the dungeon gameplay where we have personal dungeons that have very specific final bosses and layouts, and so can accommodate more puzzles and more cutscenes that advance the story.  Mementos, then, takes on more of the random combat where you fulfill requests and recruit new Personas (although in Persona 5 it seems like you could get all of them in the palace and had no need to recruit the ones in Mementos), and also provides a place where you can grind XP if you end up being a bit underleveled or a bit poor in terms of either money or equipment, or if you really, really like the combat and want to play it more than the open world stuff.  This leaves the life simulator section, encompassing the S-links and the activities, all of which are used to advance your Social Stats.  And all of these are mandatory.  You cannot advance the story until you finish a palace, but you have to go through the open world sections — at least the class sessions — to get to the palaces.  Even though you could technically grind Mementos every afternoon and never touch the S-links, the S-links and activities are too useful to the palace and Mementos sections to ignore, giving bonuses to Persona fusion and adding useful items and abilities to use in the palaces and in Mementos (the coffee and curry, for example, from Sojiro’s S-link can allow you to grind dungeons longer by restoring SP, and most of the S-links now have abilities that are directly useful in palaces).  And you have to finish Mementos to proceed to the ending.  So three elements that are lengthy and detailed that you nevertheless are required to spend a lot of time on to complete the game.  As these get more and more detailed, more and more time and effort is spent on them, which makes it bad if you don’t like one or more of them but really, really like one of them.  And each of them are indeed fairly unique, and so if there’s one aspect that you really like but can’t stand the others, you aren’t likely to be able to just go and find another game that only has the aspects that you like.

And they’ve added quite a bit of detail to these things in Royal.  In the palaces, you have a new tool, the grappling hook, which is used to get you from place to place — and so also to complete the palace — and also to pick up things like treasure chests and the new Will Seeds.  It also can be used to add to your ability to ambush enemies by catching them from a longer distance than you could normally (once an S-link advances sufficiently far).  Will Seeds themselves are desirable because they restore small amounts of SP — which can thus allow you to continue a run in a palace where you couldn’t before — and once you find all of them they combine into a useful item that can be upgraded in Mementos (more on that later).

In terms of combat, Royal made guns more useful by making it so that you don’t have a set amount of ammunition for an entire session, but instead have a set amount per battle.  While this makes groups of enemies who are all vulnerable to gunfire trivial, it does mean that you can, well, actually use guns in palaces and in Mementos as a regular strategy.  They also added exploding monsters, which are monsters that won’t attack you unless you attack them, but if you attack them and don’t target their weakness they will immediately attack you, but if you kill them they will explode and distribute the damage you did to them to all the remaining enemies.  While I played on “Easy” which would make things, well, easier, it was a useful strategy to target them with their weaknesses and if that finished them you’d usually wipe the board, and if it didn’t you could use a Baton Pass to power someone else up — often with physical attacks — and then attack them again and get them to explode and wipe the board.  In fact, one hilarious sequence that happened more than once was that I targeted an exploding monster, hit its weakness, and then passed the baton to Ann who did fire attacks on everyone, one of whom was healed by fire, who then had the scripted reaction to laugh … and then the exploding one exploded, taking it out.

In terms of Mementos, the big thing that was added as far as I can recall — other than the combat changes — was flowers and Jose.  You can go around in Mementos gathering flowers as well as items and when you come across the strange kid Jose you can trade the flowers to him for items.  There are also stamp stations added — there’s always one at each level exit, and some in other places on a level as well — and when you collect enough to them you can trade them for things like more XP or more money or more items from encounters in Mementos.  Given that my main strategy is to win through massive overleveling and that I’m always cash poor, I put all of my stamps into increasing XP and money.  Did it have an impact?  I didn’t pay enough attention to say for sure, but I will note that I was in general overleveled for everything without any real grinding, so it may well have had an impact.  Anyway, the other thing he does is convert the item you get from collecting all three Will Seeds into a new and more powerful item that you can then use, making a link between him and the palaces.

In terms of the everyday world sections, as usually they added more activities and added more to the activities.  There are more batting cage machines than there were in the original game.  There are three new S-links that you have to directly manage — Akechi, Yoshizawa, and Maruki — and that play an important role in the new palace and epilogue to the story.  Oh, yeah, and they added a new palace and story that also includes a Mementos run and took me about 12 hours to finish.  There are new shops for you to explore as well (supposedly there’s a maid cafe somewhere that I never managed to find).  And the original activities and places to go are, as far as I can tell, still there.

I did manage to explore some new places as part of this run.  One of them was the new jazz bar, which Akechi takes you to during his S-link and that you can take your team mates to afterwards.  If you do so, you get a conversation with them — that I think mostly repeats — that will alter the stats of them and their Personas in good ways.  The one that’s the more interesting to me, however, is the sports bar, where you can go in and play billiards or darts with your team mates.  If you play billiards, it gives you a boost to one of your stats and brings you closer to them (meaning that it will help advance their S-links), but it’s just a scene and you don’t actually get to play.  If you play darts, you actually get to play darts with your team mates.  Now, I used to watch darts when it was on TV and the game is remarkably similar to that, and at least on Easy your team mates are actually pretty good when it comes to their turn.  It also has a real benefit, as it gets you closer with your team mates but also levels up their Baton Pass to various levels to give them more damage and some SP recovery.  There’s only about two levels to level it up to — at least at the base level, as there’s supposedly a book out there in a sports shop that maybe can do more, but I could never find that shop — but it does seem to have an impact on the game.  And for the most part, I actually really enjoyed playing the darts game, and it’s an incredibly good mini game for a game like this.

The thing about the mini games for me is that there are a number of them that I like playing — the batting cages, the darts, and I think I would have liked the fishing game if I had had the time to actually play it — but I don’t really seem to have the spare cycles to do that.  In any new game — as my first game of Royal had to be — I always have to spend time building my Social Stats, and while the mini games can do that they aren’t usually the most efficient way to do so.  Plus, there are always a lot of S-links that I’d want to get that doing the mini games would stop me from getting.  The Persona series is really starting to suffer from having way too much going on and forcing the player into tough choices about how to spend their time.  That wouldn’t be a problem except that they keep making the things have different benefits for the other part of the game and so the choice is less about what the player would rather do and more about the benefits that will have to their game, which works against the model of the game that I like best of someone going through their life doing what they want to do and hanging out with who they want to.

That being said, Royal adds a number of new things, including an extra twelve hour epilogue and new S-links and activities.  Even though it was a full priced game, that’s pretty much the Persona model and Royal definitely adds as much to the game as the others did.  I’d say that it’s worth it even if someone has already bought Persona 5.  It’s not a new game, but there’s enough new things interspersed between the original events that it doesn’t feel like you’re just playing the old game all over again.

Thoughts on “Darkest Hour”

December 29, 2021

So, it should surprise no one that I was interested in the movie “Darkest Hour”, since I have some interest in the politics and details of World War II.  I think I found it for a relatively low price and decided that I’d give it a try at some point.  With some time to spare on Christmas morning before I decided to cook my meal for the day, I sat down to watch the movie.

The thing about this movie is that it ultimately ends up being a movie that follows the life of Winston Churchill between the time he was elevated to Prime Minister to just after the defeat of France and the launch of the operation to rescue the army from Dunkirk, when he fights off a challenge to his authority from Chamberlain and Halifax that could have gotten him removed as Prime Minister.  But the reason I say that it follows his life is that while in general dramatic retellings of history tend to pick one main thread to follow and filter everything around that, “Darkest Hour” doesn’t do that.  One would think that Churchill fighting off the political challenge, and that thread gets the most attention, but there are lots of other scenes that have little or nothing to do with that, and the Dunkirk operation is given both a time and emotional importance that is rather out of place for that idea given that it isn’t used as ammunition by Churchill against his opponents, or even as an example that the people wanted to fight and that his opponents and War Cabinet were wrong about the will of the people and about not evacuating their soldiers.  So neither the Dunkirk crisis nor the political crisis seem to be the main threads, since the two of them aren’t connected to each other at all and both are too prominent to be a mere side thread to some other main story.  And it can’t be the invasion of France, because that really is a side note to all the other things going on.

So it could be a movie, instead, that focuses on Churchill as a man.  And it certainly does focus on him and on his flaws and relations to other people.  But again we don’t get enough scenes exploring his character for that to be the case.  He does things and we find out about him, but the point of the scenes never seems to be to show us the kind of man he is — even as an ambiguous character — and the ending focuses on his fighting off the challenge and with a notable speech, but it doesn’t come across as a defining moment for his character.  The movie could be focusing on the view of Churchill from his new secretary, but while she’s prominent in the scenes she’s in she’s entirely left out of a significant part of the movie, so that doesn’t work either.

That’s why I say that it’s a movie following Churchill through those days, because there is no other consistent thread in the movie other than that Churchill is moving through some crucial days leading up to The Battle of Britain.

That being said, other than that lack of a main thread it’s a well-written movie.  The dialogue and scenes mostly work, and Gary Oldman gives a really good performance as Churchill.  All we’re seeing are things that are happening, and yet the things are interesting and given an emotional gravitas that comes entirely from the performances and what we remember about the times as opposed to coming from the main thread.  That made it an entertaining movie and one that despite its political subject matter didn’t leave me bored.

Which, then, means that the most interesting thing about the movie is about whether or not I’d watch it again.  I liked the movie and was entertained by it, so you’d think it would go into the closet of the movies that I would definitely rewatch.  And yet, after watching it and liking it, I don’t have any great desire to watch it again.  In fact, I have more desire to watch or read or get some kind of real historical biography instead of watching this again, at least in part to determine what things in it are invented and which really happened.  I think the reason for this is that I’m not really into historical dramatizations.  The closet thing that I have that is one is “Hogan’s Heroes”, and that obviously isn’t any kind of real historical dramatization.  I am more interested in the documentary-style books and movies about history than about the dramatizations, probably because I want to know more and also am interested in all of the political, personal and military aspects of such events (for a war, and I tend to prefer military history to anything else).  So the lack of a central thread makes it work less well for me as a drama and it is too much of a drama to work for me as a history.  So it’s good and enjoyable, but not something that I want to watch on a regular basis.  So it will go into my box of movies to rewatch at some point in the future, but not to rewatch regularly.

“I Could Never Get Past the Title”

December 28, 2021

That quote from “Batman:  The Animated Series” is Bruce Wayne talking about why he’s never watched the movie that I’m actually going to talk about in this post:  “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  I’ve developed a mild interest in watching some of the classic movies that I never got around to watching, and when I found this one on sale for a reasonable price — it’s labeled as the “Platinum Anniversary Edition”, which would mean that it’s a five year old edition — I decided that I’d give it a try.  And since it’s noted as a Christmas classic, it seemed appropriate to watch it on Christmas Eve (which is when Batman was supposed to watch it).

Now, as a Christmas classic, it’s obviously noted for being at least important, if not really good.  That being said, I’ve heard people complain about it dragging and being boring, although not that many people whose opinions on movies I really respected, so there’s that.  So I was interested in seeing for myself how the movie worked.

The one thing that is accurate is the fact that despite what everyone remembering about the premise is the part with the angel and with the angel showing the main character what his life would be like if he had never been born, that actually takes up a surprisingly small amount of the running time of the movie.  About an hour and a half of the two hour movie is instead dedicated to showing us the main character’s life up to that point and how he got to the point where he was contemplating suicide and all of his friends and loved ones were praying for him to get some help.  What the movie does do well is introduce the angel early and present that part of the story as the angel getting briefed on what he needed to know to help the main character, which then sets that up as a framing device and suggests that we need to know that as well.  The downside of that is that after bringing it up once in the first half of the movie as a reminder, we spend about an hour of the movie just following along with the main character’s life, which then causes us to lose that framing and turns it into more of a straight drama, losing the unique aspect that everyone remembers it for.

What this also does is make it so that there’s an imbalance in the movie between how the main character’s life went to get him to this point vs how things would have been if he had never been born.  The latter is given short shrift, but given the framing device and that it’s supposed to be what causes him to realize that his life really does have meaning it really would have been better to give it more time.  The movies and works that follow tend to do that, balancing showing us his life and all the characters and what has gone wrong to bring him to this point with what life would be like if he had never been born so that we can see that his life has had a strong and meaningful impact on the people around him and those he loves, and in this case on the town itself.  Here, we get a long look at his life up to this point, but what life would be like if he had never been born is a bit rushed.

This also, then, causes some issues with creating an alternate reality that can resolve all of the issues that were raised during the depiction of his life up to this point.  For example, one of the most important things that should make the main character want to live is the impact of his never being born on his wife, whom he clearly does love.  Except that the big issue for her is … that she ends up unmarried and working as a librarian.  Yes, in 1946 that would seem to be a worse fate than it would today, but even still that’s not exactly horrific.  It also doesn’t fit well with the rest of the story, because she was being courted by someone else — a wealthy man — and we would have expected that she would have ended up married to him.  Nothing in their history together suggests that she would have become some kind of wallflower or something, and so the only reason to think that she would end up unmarried is because she insisted that he was the only one she wanted to marry, which would probably not apply in a world where he was never born.  In other works, in general she would marry the rival and it would turn out to be a terrible life for her, but her beau there is actually ultimately a sympathetic character so that wouldn’t work here.  But it’s still a bit odd and a bit of a letdown.

His impact on other people is also a bit short.  He saved his brother’s life as a child, and the main thing they focus on is his saving a transport as a pilot in the war, and while their deaths when he wouldn’t be there are tragic, given the deaths in the war itself and that it didn’t seem to impact the battle at all it doesn’t really add any impact beyond the brother being dead itself would, which makes it superfluous.  While the impact on the pharmacist that he worked for is greater — he stopped him from making a mistake that would kill a child and get him sent to prison for a number of years — that’s just an aside in the story.  We don’t really see the huge impact that he’s had on individual lives that such a movie would generally demand.

The impact on the town is a bit better, as his work at his father’s Building and Loan business allows people to rise up from the “slums” of Potter and be able to own their own homes, which is something that they could take pride in.  However, again that only becomes clear because Potter is just a terrible person, and so seeing him win would make us want to see a world where he didn’t.  But the issue with this is that there was an underlying thread throughout the recollections of his life that the main character always wanted to leave Bedford Falls, but circumstances kept him there.  So there was an undercurrent that he cared for the people but not the town of Bedford Falls, and that if it wasn’t for the obligations that he felt to the various people in the town he would have left.  So at the end, what we would have liked was to see that he came to appreciate the town as it was and resolved that issue.  Instead, what we get is a callback to an earlier scene where he gives his honeymoon money to keep people afloat and keep the business open, as when his uncle has the money they need to keep the business running stolen and that loss would end up with the main character being arrested his wife manages to rally the town to put together whatever money they can to bail him out (and his wealthy friend also is tracked down and authorizes a loan to deal with more than the entire amount) and so we get to see that the people in the town repay him for his generosity in the past, which works well because Potter — who stole the money and called the police on him — actually says when the main character begs Potter for help that the main character should turn to the deadbeats that he supported in the past, and so they ultimately do indeed prove his faith in them.  But while that is heartwarming and fits with the movie, it does leave the thread of his constantly wanting to leave the town unresolved.

All of that being said … the movie does work.  The threads of the main character’s life are interesting enough and let us get to know him and his family enough for us to want to see him not commit suicide and get out of the jam he’s in.  Potter is also villainous enough that we want to see him defeated and can see it as a conflict between big, impersonal business and the local guy who cares for the people he serves.  So despite it running longer than we’d expect, the recollections of his life aren’t boring and aside from a few things that seem like asides do indeed seem to be things that we need to know to understand how he got to this point.  Once it gets to the point where we are seeing how life would be different if he had never been born, again the only real complaint is that it’s too short, and perhaps at times a bit too frantic and manic.  But the ending follows from a lot of the movie and is, indeed, heartwarming in its own way.

The movie, overall, is well-written and well-performed, which is why it could keep my interest for two hours despite losing the framing device for a while.  One oddity is that Mary — the main character’s wife — is supposed to be upstaged in terms of attractiveness by rival Violet, but Mary is actually always better looking than Violet is, although that can be explained by the fact that Violet is far more flirtatious than Mary.  Still, I think that most people and most people at the time would definitely prefer Mary to Violet.  At any rate, the movie is entertaining enough and I will likely watch it again at some point, although it is unlikely to become a full Christmas tradition for me.

More MMO Playing

December 22, 2021

So, it’s still the case that I’m giving three different MMOs one morning a week each to try them out and see how they’re going.  I’ve played a ton of The Old Republic and have talked about it a lot, so I won’t talk about it too much — except as a comparison to the others — and instead will focus on Star Trek Online and Dark Age of Camelot.

I finally hit a point in Star Trek Online where it seems like a mission is either too high a level for me or I haven’t upgraded my ship enough to complete it.  I did really well in the ground missions and pretty well in the first space missions, but I think in the last one — “Locked On Target” — I have to destroy a couple of Klingon Raptors and Vor’cha class ship and I find that I’m not doing very much damage at all to them, and have actually been getting destroyed in the fights, causing me to respawn.  The last time I was having even close to this much trouble was when I was brought to the future and didn’t manage to swap out my starting ship, so I suspect that the issue is with the ship rather than with my strategy, unless there’s a trick to it (using the metrion gas, maybe?).  Anyway, I also discovered that you can do patrols and the like completely by accident — I think you need to just fly around on your own instead of plotting a course to a specific system — and so might try to do that a bit the next time I log in.  But I was enjoying the missions and so am now a bit disappointed that I don’t seem to be able to continue the chain, at least for a bit.

The big problem with STO is that it doesn’t really explain, well, anything very well.  I pick up equipment from quests and the like, but have no idea how I’m supposed to actually use it or if it matters.  I don’t know how to get new ships, or when I need to.  I don’t know if a mission is hard because it’s too far above my level or because I’m underequipped or because I haven’t adopted the right strategy.  I don’t know if there are other quests out there or things that I could or should be doing to keep my levels and equipment up.  And so on and so forth.  I’ve looked through the help on occasion and it doesn’t seem to help all that much.  I like the Star Trek feel of the game, but that all goes away once I hit something that’s too difficult for me.

Amazingly, for an old-school MMO, Dark Age of Camelot is far, far better at this than STO is.  While I think I lucked out in that I completely by accident started doing extra quests before I discovered that I was supposed to go to Camelot and get a bunch of quests, so I ended up overlevelled for those quests, which meant that walking around in the world to get to those quests was a lot easier than it should have been.  But DAoC is really good at telling you what the level of the quests you’re facing are and what the level of the monsters you’re facing are.  So in some of the quests I came across the quests MOBs that were too high a level for me, and so knew to go away and do other things and come back later.  And I seem to be getting enough XP from the quests themselves to gain levels and so never get stuck.  And there seem to be a lot of quests around (more than I remember, actually) and so I at least at this point always have something to do.  And DAoC is pretty fun when I’m running around doing things instead of trying to find something to do.  I did manage to figure out how to ride a horse, but I’m not sure that the horse moves that much faster than I could run.

So I can compare the three games’ approach to their world and their open world.  Star Trek Online seems to be open from the start, but its quest line pushes you to the story missions and it isn’t at all clear if there are or where there are other missions or other things to do.  Dark Age of Camelot, on the other hand, doesn’t have an overarching story or story quests, and so it tosses you out into the open world, but it has lots and lots and lots of different quests to do, and quests that take you from area to area so that you can pick up quests in that other area, and so on and so forth.  I kept filling up my journal with quests and whenever I knocked one off I picked up another one or two.  The Old Republic strikes a balance between the two, because the class story takes you from area to area and planet to planet in a linear fashion, but it also has lots of other quests available in all the areas and makes them quite visible for the most part (especially the planet missions now which get the same kind of purple marking as the story quests).  So if you need to grind a few levels because the enemies are too tough, you can always pick up the sidequests and overlevel yourself that way, which is what I used to do until the combination of the easier difficulty, more XP for story and planet quests, and bonuses from resting and from Major Experience Boosts made it so that all I needed to do were the story arcs to get enough levels to max out my levels and beat the game.

TOR’s model makes for a more linear game, with some customization and extra quests possible.  DAoC’s is a nice counterpoint to that.  STO’s, right now, isn’t quite working for me, but it might get better as I come to understand the game better.  Right now, I think I’ll play TOR and DAoC regularly and might play STO once a month or so to get in some fun Star Trek gameplay.

They Changed it, Now it Sucks

December 21, 2021

I’ve been playing “Persona 5 Royal” for the past few weeks, and the title is pretty relevant to the game.  No, not overall, as the things they’ve changed and added have been mostly good, if potentially overwhelming.  But there’s one boss fight that they changed in Royal that caused me — and at least someone else — frustration, and I don’t think that it works either in gameplay or thematically.

The fight is the Okumura boss fight.  This was already a different type of boss fight because it was the only one that was timed, meaning that you had to focus on doing damage quickly when my main strategy was to target weaknesses — even with underpowered attacks — and then rely on the Hold Up damage to clear things out.  I think the Hold Up might not have happened in the base game either, but how the battle worked in the base game was that you faced wave after wave after wave of enemies, and while the early ones had weaknesses the later ones had fewer or lacked them completely, and so it was indeed a race against time.  One you wiped out all his infinite expendable forces, the villain then had to fight you directly, and he was a challenging fight — as most of the Shadows were — that you had to get through to win.  Yes, having to focus on doing damage and not having weaknesses was a change in tactics, but at the very least you wouldn’t be locked into a fight that you couldn’t win, and the Shadow was a villain in line with how the other ones worked.

That was changed in Royal.  Instead of facing many waves of enemies, some of which were identical, instead you faced individual waves of enemies that also had weaknesses, which sounds like an improvement and sounds like it would make the battle easier.  Except that especially with the later ones you had to kill them in two rounds or else they ran away and were replaced with a new wave that started at full health.  So this meant that you really, really needed to target their weaknesses and focus on doing lots of damage.  So you not only needed to have abilities that targeted their weaknesses, you needed them to be at a pretty powerful level to be able to kill them in time.  And you needed to know about this and work out the strategies that worked for this, especially for the last full wave which has a lot more HP than the first ones and so you need to perform pretty much perfectly to win.

Unfortunately, when I came into this I had weaknesses for the first ones, but I in general didn’t use Haru and in general was relying on the smaller Mapsi ability to save SP.  So for the last round I had to think to put Haru in to target that weakness, and then had to try to kill it with attacks that it was resistant to, since  didn’t have a Persona with the medium damage Psi or Curse spells.  That … didn’t work.  So I ended up in a position where I simply didn’t have the abilities to finish off that wave, but the wave didn’t have the abilities to kill me either.  So I would have had to wait until the time expired or commit suicide in some way.  I decided to quit in frustration — I had tried to push through at the end of my play session and didn’t have the time or patience to figure it out that day — and come back the next time I played.  In the interim, that’s when I found the walkthrough I linked above.

So I went to try to create a Persona that had a more powerful multi-target Psi or Curse spell … and failed.  But I did manage to create one with Megidola, which at least nothing can be strong against and resist so it would do its full damage.  I also had an advantage in that I had one Confidant high enough so that I could swap team members in and out, and so could keep Makoto and Yusuke in the party for the Nuclear and Ice waves and swap them out later.  I also realized that if you don’t think you’re in a position to take them out in two rounds you can use that wave to prepare for the next one instead of wasting SP in a futile attack.  I also managed to mess it up the first time through, but then learned that Ann’s ability to remove the defense buff from the one so that it could be targeted, and so finally managed to get past that one with Megidola.  I also lost the fight against the next boss for some reason — I screwed something up but can’t remember what, but it might have been not defending at the right time and losing two characters — but then faced a fake Haru and the final boss.  The fake Haru had a lot of HP but self-destructed, and didn’t do any damage before that, and the final boss went down with one physical attack from Joker, making that part completely anti-climactic.

From a gameplay perspective, as noted in the link above the problem with it is that it’s a cheap mechanism that gets introduced here.  It also works against the general strategies that you’d use in the game, since it removes the Hold Up but still makes targeting weaknesses crucial to the fight.  If you haven’t been keeping attack boost items or abilities — and I hadn’t — and didn’t keep the more powerful attacks for the elements that they are weak to, you might not be able to take them down in the two rounds that you are given.  If that’s the case, then you’d just face wave after wave of enemies that you could never kill.  And since it’s timed, you can’t stop and think or look up the right strategy if you aren’t getting it.  I at least had a number of retries of the battle that I could use, but even a Plume of Dusk wouldn’t help me much if I had them because that would restore my HP and SP but the issue was that I didn’t have the right Personas in my inventory.  And as noted at the link, I — like many players — saved over my save file in the Palace and so would have, at a minimum, had to return to the previous morning to fix these issues.  You can comment that I should be keeping more saves, but I hadn’t needed it for any previous battles and having played the base game multiple times had no reason to expect that this could be a case where I could get stuck.

As another example of how bad this is from a gameplay perspective, one of the pieces of advice from the link is to ramp up the difficulty because it gives you more damage.  This obviously goes against the usual advice which would be to ramp it down if the battle was too challenging.

But I don’t think it makes as much sense thematically either.  Okumura treats his employees as an infinite disposable force, and so more waves that you have to fight through until he’s used them all up makes sense thematically.  Here, you effectively get one wave of each “type” that you have to clear.  However, the idea that if you do enough damage to them they run away and abandon him makes more sense as being a good thing for you as opposed to a bad thing, as that should be a way to shorten the time.  I would have imagined that if you hit their weak points or hit their weak points when they’re all down they abandon him which would leave it so that you’ve gotten through one wave faster and using less SP, which means that you are being more efficient and so face less challenges with the time limit.  Instead, despite his workers running away, he can find new ones to replace them over and over and over again, and he will, in fact, never actually run out of workers of that type.  Instead, once you defeat the ones of that type he has no more to throw at you, and so he runs out of types of workers, not actually out of workers.  The original one did feel far more like you facing an infinite number of workers and having to run him out of workers, which is then odd because the game, at the end, still has the scene where he calls for more workers and no one comes.  Working your way up through his hierarchy doesn’t fit as well with that, as he should have known that he had already used his best and last employee at that point.

It also doesn’t play well with the time limit, because in the base game you were facing hordes of enemies and hoping to clear them and the final boss out in that time limit, which made it more tense given that you don’t know how many waves you have to face the first time.  Here, if you have the right abilities and the right buffs and do the right debuffs you can clear all of the enemies in one or two waves of two rounds, except for the single robot that you don’t need to finish off in two rounds, so time is only a problem if you don’t know what you’re doing.

While I like having a cognitive Haru that faces you and the fact that he sacrifices her to attack you, her being so weak in general, at least against my party, hurts things.  And while having him be pretty much useless as a combatant is at least a valid way to go, it contrasts with how the other ones were and so begs for an explanation of that, which wasn’t the case in the base game.

So I find it inferior to the base game both in terms of gameplay and in terms of theme, and if I hadn’t figured out the strategy and managed to merge a decent Persona it might have blocked my game 50 hours in.  That’s probably not what they wanted to do.