March 26, 2013

Xenotastic!

Posted in video games tagged , at 10:22 am by riulyn

On Sunday, I finished up my first run through Xenoblade. It was more like I decided that it was about time to see the ending because I need my Wii for Okami next month. Also, Last Story and Pandora’s Tower will be waiting.

I’ve focused more on gameplay in my last few posts on Xenoblade, but today I will talk about it’s story with as few spoilers as possible. It’s actually kind of hard to say anything about this game without feeling like it’s a spoiler, so if you are a sensitive type, turn away now! I’ve warned you! (And go play the game :D)

Xenoblade is very Xeno and its Xeno goodness is great. But it feels less “Xeno” than Xenosaga or Xenogears in two ways. First, it feels less technology-based. There is technology but it doesn’t feel as advanced. There aren’t many ships for travel or even gear-like Mechon and there’s no space travel. And nope, you don’t get to pilot a gear (but maybe in X you will). Second, the game isn’t as much of a mind-screw. It’s actually a very straight-forward game, not in a predictable sense, but in that you don’t need to consult a Perfect Works guide to figure out what is going on and what terms mean and you don’t need to study philosophy or religion. The game impresses more with the characters and their relationships than with the overarching plot. Even the reveals towards the end feel rather tame compared to previous Xeno games, and the morality actually feels more black and white than grey.

Xenoblade is still great for Xeno fans, I think. There are similar character types, a plot that might actually be more generic than the other Xeno games but still has plenty of “only Testuya Takahashi would do this” flavor to it, and great music. Xenoblade is also more accessible to non Xeno fans not only because it’s the most recent game but also due to it being a rather straightforward game with pretty straightforward characters. I think they are easier to relate to, but it also makes them not as interesting as previous Xeno characters.

Overall I loved (obviously) this game. I can’t wait to new game+ the game just to see the plot again. I think this game slides into my top RPGs that I’ve played at spot #3 behind Xenogears and Suikoden II. I plan to replay Suikoden II in April so I will see whether it truly stands above Xenoblade in my mind.

Edit: I had no idea I actually previously ranked my favorite games as Suikoden 2 at #1 and Xenogears at #2. Those games tend to flip-flop places in my mind all the time, and both are great games for different reasons. Take home message is to play all the games!

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March 18, 2013

Xenoblade – Easing my way into side content

Posted in video games tagged , , at 3:56 pm by riulyn

If you have paid any attention to Xenoblade, you will know that this game is massive. I’m over 130 hours in it at this point, and every time I get myself nearer to completing my current quest list, I pick up 2 more. For me that’s not a problem since I’ll keep doing quests and battling until I get max affinity for everyone. The final boss will be easy-peasy once I get to him, though, since I skipped my way out and gained like 10 levels since Dunban asked me if I was ready. I’ll probably have 5-10 more before I’m done with what I want, since learning more about the Giants is on my list, and the monsters in the way are still “beating me good”.

To be honest, when I started playing Xenoblade I figured “Oh I’ll just play for the story”. Since I knew I wasn’t going to finish the game before Christmas break, I decided once I finished a major plot point sort of near halfway into the game that I’d start doing quests and exploring more of the world. It didn’t feel tedious at all, strangely, for two reasons.

1. Gorgeous world + gorgeous music. I didn’t mind just swimming around Eryth Sea just to flesh out my map and find new areas. The exp. bonus is nice but not even required for this unexpected fun in just finding more places. Skip travel is very convenient too; it’s easy to get pretty close to the area you were about to explore but ran away from because the monsters there were too hard. Of course having skip travel to every location would have been awesomer, but probably a pain in the ass to implement since the world is so huge.

2. Quests have sizeable reward collectively. Once you get enough affinity (usually after doing enough “bash enemy” quests), the quests start to become more personal. In a way it got a bit more annoying as you had to find people at the right time and place, but you get to change relationships. You also got to learn more about the traditions of different races. Frontier Village is a pain to run around, but I think a lot of the Nopon stuff was pretty interesting. Also I want to learn more about the past. Obviously I’m not the only one who thinks Xenoblade might have overkilled on the number of quests. I don’t mind that it takes some affinity to unlock personal quests; just maybe make the affinity rise faster and get rid of all the quests by unnamed people.

World-exploring and side quests are things in a lot of other RPGs but for some reason I never did many of them until now. It is possible that a faltering in Xenoblade’s story could have allowed me to be distracted, but I think it’s more that Xenoblade makes world exploring and side quests easy and fast, and the rewards are well worth it.

March 15, 2013

Personal Post – Decision Time

Posted in life tagged , , , at 3:14 pm by riulyn

It’s nearing that time of year for me. I’m a Ph.D candidate and in this particular program, January-March is the season of having an annual review. For us it requires sending our committee members a progress report and also give a 30′ presentation that goes over what I have done the past year and what I plan to do to graduate. I’m going to have 3 straight reviews where I go over data that initially looked promising but follow-ups suggested the initial result was a fluke, and so I moved on to doing something else and hopefully that gets me out of here. Well this year is supposed to be my last ideally, no matter what my career plans are. I’m going to be telling them how the past 4 years has just been frustration but I will tidy up 2 small projects and get out. Whether they are okay with that will be something I will find out in less than a week.

I’m actually more nervous about their reaction to my lack of concrete future plans than their reaction to my presentation. I know they will ask me if I’ve started looking for a job yet. As for my lack of exciting research results, things go badly all the time in research so it’s no surprise, though it’s not something that makes me or them happy since less publications means I’m less marketable. An ability to write or present awesomely could overcome that, but those are not skills I possess either.

The thing is, I was pretty set on just doing a research career when I first entered grad school, and it seemed fine until about 6 months ago. During last summer I was a little slow with the work because of the Olympics and other distractions, but I have just not been able to pick up the motivation since. It was a huge bummer when my results didn’t pull through, but even before that I was dragging on doing the analysis. It was repetitive, boring, and I guess I already knew it was going to contradict my hypothesis before I finished analyzing it. But even so, was it just me being jaded? The stuff I’m doing right now looks good so far and I will get something published sooner or later, so I should be getting down to business and doing the analysis, not spending every other minute reading random articles about video game controversies, right?

I’ve been going to bioscience career seminars. People talk about how they didn’t want to work in a lab anymore, which is what I’m feeling right now, but they were all in love with science. Talking about science, writing about science, promoting it, etc. I find that the more talks I go to, the more I don’t even really like talking science. I like informally discussing it better than every other part of it, though. Reading is probably second, then writing, then actually doing it.

Knowing that I was nearing the end of my days in grad school, I decided to take a computer programming class this quarter. Suddenly bells were going off in my mind. I enjoyed going to lecture! I didn’t mind reading the textbook. The homework was actually pretty fun! The more the class went on, the more I was like “why the heck did I never, ever think about this as a possible career choice in undergrad? I love solving small problems. Why didn’t I connect the two?”

Why did I never consider that I love playing video games and that I could possibly work in that industry?

Of course, the gaming industry has its share of issues. Getting into the industry can be super easy (you can be a 1-man team!) but getting stability is pretty tough. Game design schools…are they worth it? Do I even need a CS degree? If I decide to switch into it, am I going to be too old? Do I even finish this Ph.D?

That last question…I am wary of burning bridges too early. Yet when I told my mom that I thought about trying to do a CS degree on the side of part-time working in a lab, she scoffed. Part-time? Who the heck would want anyone part-time? Get a “real” job!

Or in other words, I need to man-up and decide. If I decide to do the post-doc researcher route, I need to devote myself to it. If I want to switch into computer science I should start planning now. If I want to straddle the fence, I need to be firm in that decision as well.

I took a personality test this morning since those things are usually part of general career advice, and it declared me a ISFJ. A few years ago I swear I took the test and turned out to be a INTJ. No wonder I went into grad school thinking I’d do research for the rest of my life. I wonder what changed…I grew up a lot in grad school so there’s that, or I just didn’t know anything for sure when I first took the test. Funnily enough, academic research is not recommended for ISFJs… Of course there are a few things about ISFJs in general that don’t apply to me, like the ability to remember everything anyone said…nope, that’s not me. Or being able to tell what people are feeling and be sympathetic… I am sympathetic if I can actually tell what others are thinking.

Anyway, this is one long post that I wanted to get off my chest. Any advice is greatly appreciated.