Why I love…

Why Arathi Basin is like Kim Kardashian…

Why Arathi Basin is like Kim Kardashian…

Or why the sudden rush for E-Sports…

And no, it’s not because both have been used more often than is probably healthy…


Reality TV.

The bane of discerning television viewers everywhere.

It’s cheap, frequently tawdry, and requires little to absolutely no effort on behalf of the programme makers to film and put together.

Think of Doctor Who vs Big Brother. Which do you think is the easier programme to make?

Without a doubt it’s BB. In fact they can churn out hour long programmes on a daily basis whenever it comes around each year. Ditto telly like I’m a Celebrity etc.

Cheap, quick to make, and low quality content utterly dependent on Joe Public to make it really worthwhile engaging with for anyone, never mind fans.

So what the hell does a vehicle for vapid, inane “celebrities” like Kim Kardashian (eurgh, I feel dirty for just typing that name), or absolutely unknown, exploited members of the public have to do with e-sports?

Well, think of the story content of any expansion in WoW. It requires a lot of writing, similar to an average episode of Dr Who. It needs thought, effort, content and work put into it. And lots of it.

Then take a look at Heroes of the Storm, or Overwatch. Where does the majority of the workload go in there? Environments, models, classes. Story? Nope, it gets mere lip-service in comparison to the amount of lore poured into a WoW Expansion.

Once you get past the initial sheen of a new map, all of the entertainment value in Heroes, Overwatch or WoW PvP comes entirely from the players. The “content” creation is entirely up to you, as a player, to provide everything for the other players. Being good or bad at the game is largely irrelevant. You just have to show up. Blizzard merely provide the vehicle for you to do that in.

Do you think Blizzard would prefer to keep doing lore heavy expansions, or just adding PvP arenas? Which would be quicker and easier?

No doubt that’s the reason why they much prefer PvP style content over PvE. PvP content is for all intents and purposes evergreen. It’ll last forever. Maps never age, and they can be played indefinitely. New content? A new map or two once every few months should be more than enough. Generous even.

And these players will pay for new maps, skins, models, hell anything you can throw at them! They’ll fork out hand over fist.

Written lore and story however?

One and it’s done, both in purchase and consumption. Takes ages to produce and gets consumed all too quickly.

So if it hadn’t hit you yet why Blizzard are heading more towards PvP/E-Sports content and games like Heroes and Overwatch?

Well, think of the bigger picture: Effort vs Reward.

Just don’t be too surprised to see Kim Kardashian’s butt as a new “sponsored” mount in Heroes of the Storm one day…

Posted by Sar in Gaming, General, News, PvP, Television, World of Warcraft, 0 comments
Why I love… PvP!? Or, Sar the Purple People Beater…

Why I love… PvP!? Or, Sar the Purple People Beater…

Yeah, I know. It shocked me too, trust me.


As you may or may not be aware, I’ve never been the world’s greatest lover of PvP in WoW. In fact I’m somewhat exclusively a PvE carebear for want of a better term.

I’ve shunned PvP in all of the nearly 8 years I’ve been playing off and on since vanilla, and I’ve never really been interested or motivated to partake in PvP, of either Organised or World flavours.

Certainly playing any PvP I had to, for achievements, mounts etc over the years on my Paladin was an exercise in restraint. Me restraining myself from putting my fist through my monitor whilst howling into the black void that would become my soul.

Ahem.

Anyway, having played my Hunter as a side character for several years (before finally making her my main), primarily for the pet collection aspect more than anything else, I’ve wanted one transmog for her over any other since Cataclysm.

The catch was, as you’ve probably already surmised, that it was a PvP armour set that could only be bought with Honor points. Bleurgh.

The set in question? The Ruthless Gladiator’s Pursuit.

Ruthless Gladiator’s Pursuit from Cataclysm

And so it sat on the shelf, with me wistfully looking at it, softly and gently crying inwardly.

And then I decided over New Year’s to do something about it, despite the fact that I’d never PvP’d on the hunter before.

The Revelation

Arathi Basin, and the lengths I go to for a transmog...

Arathi Basin, and the lengths I go to for a transmog…

I found out that Hunters are to PvP what Paladins are to the colour pink.

Such a night and day difference in enjoyment levels! I played more than one battleground without losing patience. Hell I played more than one battleground without losing, period!

In fact I actually managed to more or less single-handedly win a couple of BG’s all by myself by racking up dozens of kills without dying and capturing more carts than anyone else on Silvershard Mines.

Yesterday was easily the most I have ever enjoyed playing PvP in WoW. Without any doubt. I played BG after BG, mostly winning, sometimes losing. But that was ok, because I was racking up Honor Points left right and center.

And after a day of hugely enjoyable PvP I was left with 2 things:

Firstly, an appreciation of how much fun PvP can actually be in World of Warcraft. Albeit a loosely organised one such as a queued battleground, but organised shenanigans such as rated/ranked BGs and Arenas are still beyond where I’m comfortable just yet.

And secondly, enough honor points to finally purchase:

Ruthless Gladiator set

Ruthless Gladiator set

I’m going to likely use the Heroic Dragon Soul crossbow, dropped by Warlord Zon’ozz, as the purple highlights on it match well with the overall transmog aesthetic.

Horrifying Horn Arbalest from 25m Hc DS

Horrifying Horn Arbalest from 25m Hc DS


 

Overall I’m very chuffed with both outcomes.

I’m really happy to finally have the transmog set I’ve been after for literally YEARS.

But also, PvP is quite likely something I’ll be doing a lot more of, maybe even enough of to get a full PvP set of gear. Although I seem to do just fine in my iLevel 713 PvE carebear set 😉

Yeah, fucking right HORDE WINS!

Yeah, you better believe it: HORDE WINS!

Posted by Sar in Gaming, Hunter Stuff, News, Transmog, Why I love..., World of Warcraft, 0 comments
Why I love… Blogging (vs Vlogging)

Why I love… Blogging (vs Vlogging)

Apologies for the WIL… delay this week, Blizzcon articles, gnomes and work got slightly in the way a bit 


I’m a fairly old school kind of person in some regards. I’ve always been someone who has preferred writing over talking, blogging over vlogging, considering my words carefully before committing them to “paper” so to speak.

I’ve been blogging for nearly 20 years now, starting in 1997 on various temporary websites for 4 years before deciding to purchase my first domain name, www.the-yarn.net, to host my wafflings online.

I’ve been blogging in one form or another on and off all those years, and since then, obviously vlogging (the video version of blogging in case you were wondering) came along and has somewhat supplanted it’s parent form of personal thought divestment.

Yes, sure, I have a YouTube channel, but you’ve more than likely noticed that I’m way more likely to sit down and write a blog post on a subject rather than create a video.

Not only is this for the reasons highlighted above, that I’m a bit old school in that regard, but also because production of a video on the matter I want to talk about is a long-winded and time consuming process to get a video to the level of quality that I’m happy putting out there.

This involves recording of the audio, getting enough relevant video material to cover the subject at hand, and compositing all this material together in Adobe’s Premiere Pro CC.

That can, and does in fact, take hours to put together even a 10 minute video, and leaves me precious little time to do much else on a day I decide to put a video together.

The other option is of course lowering the quality of the videos to a point where the audio’s not edited and the video is hastily put together. I um and ahh quite a lot whilst gathering my thoughts on a subject when doing a voice-over, which is why I massively prefer writing to sitting in front of a mic and umming my way through a topic.

This has as much to do with my personality type as anything. Whilst I’m not by any means a shy person, I am definitely introverted, and other aspects of my personality in conjunction with that lead me to be the sort of person that prefers the written word over the oral.

I’m an IT educator and analyst by profession, and I have no problem standing in front of a bunch of people showing them how to do a certain thing, be it use a computer, programs like Word & Excel etc, so shyness is definitely not a thing I’m prone to these days, although I used to be when I was younger.

So that’s why I prefer blogging over the more modern version. I may still do the odd video here and there, but looking at the average number of views my videos get I sometimes wonder if it’s worth my while in all honesty.

Oddly enough, it’s my guide videos that tend to get thousands of views, which lends more weight to the fact that me ending up educating people may in fact be the right job for me. With an increasing and developing interest in Psychology, it may not end up being IT related 100%, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Anyhoo, I just felt like writing something this morning, and this has been knocking around in my head for a while as something to say.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled programming 😉

Posted by Sar in Gaming, News, Personal, Website, Why I love..., 0 comments
Why I love… The Flash

Why I love… The Flash

No, not that one, this one:

Barry Allen is… The Fastest Man Alive!

The Flash as a TV show has just begun its second season in the US, but what I really want to talk about here is its debut season last year.

The first season of The Flash, starring Gustin Grant as the titular character was in my opinion very probably the best debut season of any TV show I’ve ever had the fortune to watch.

But let’s start with the set up.

Barry Allen is a forensic scientist working for the Central City Police Department, when an explosion at the local particle accelerator (what, there’s not one in your city?) causes him to be struck by a bolt of golden lightning while working late one night in his lab.

This had the effect of putting him into a coma for 9 months, but when he awoke he found he wasn’t quite the same man as he was beforehand. The explosion caused a wave of “dark matter” (buzzword du jour alert) to instantly sweep over the city, causing some of the residents to change in unpredictable ways.

In Barry’s case, he found he could run faster than a speeding bullet, and that as usual, with great power…well you know that old chestnut already.

Does whatever a spider…erm speedster can.

With the series premise set-up, the first half of the first season concentrated on his harnessing of his new-found abilities, as well as building Barry’s back story; That his father was put in jail for the murder of his mother 15 years ago when Barry was a 10 year old boy, and that something weird happened that very night that he has never been able to explain…

Jump back 15 years to after his lab accident, and Barry is being helped to harness his powers with his new found friends at Star Labs, led by Barry’s hero: Dr Harrison Wells, a brilliant physicist who was also paralysed from the waist down in the same accident that caused Barry’s coma.

Team-Flash

Caitlyn, Harrison & Cisco

Also on the team are the lovable Cisco Ramon and the brilliant Dr Caitlyn Snow, both geniuses in their own fields. Cisco with a penchant for technology and coming up with comic-book nicknames for the bad guys, whilst Caitlyn looks after the team on a biological level.

Barry and his team work on honing Barry’s abilities in order to help fight the new wave of meta-humans (DCU’s version of super-humans) who are causing crime and chaos throughout the city. And yes, while the first season features your typical criminal of the week motif whilst finding its feet, there is a grander story arc at play, all tied into the death of Barry’s mother all those years ago.

In fact Barry keeps getting flashbacks of another speedster, but where Barry’s suit is scarlet, this one is all in yellow. In fact some might say he’s dressed like the reverse of Barry’s Flash…

The Reverse Flash

As the season draws towards its mid-season finale, Barry not only starts to vividly remember what happened that night, that this Reverse Flash was actually the one that killed his mother, but he starts to see him. On distant rooftops at first, but then he begins to run into him in person.

And then things really start to get interesting.

It was at this point in the season that I really became a fan of the show. The mythos it was building week to week was gripping, the characters were likeable and fascinating in equal measure, and with only a few exceptions, I never felt cheated when screen time was devoted to any of them, regardless of our main characters.

Never was I so frustrated to get to the end of those 42 minutes every week, and never had I been so engrossed in a series since Babylon 5, 20 years ago! And don’t you believe Sheldon, that was one hell of a series. Well until the networks fucked up and screwed the pacing for the final 2 season, but I digress…

The pacing and plotting throughout that built to the big reveal at the end of the first half of the season was judged perfectly by the writers.

The Man in the Yellow Suit

The Man in the Yellow Suit

In the closing scene of the first half of the season, before it went on a cruel 6 week hiatus over Christmas & New Year, we saw Dr Wells entering a secret room in Star Labs, speaking to a very futuristic AI, and literally pulling back the curtain to reveal…the Reverse Flash’s suit.

Boom! Mic Drop! Goodnight Seattle!

Viewers then spent the next 6 weeks wondering what level of mind-fuck we’d just witnessed, and if this was in fact true. Was Dr Well’s this great nemesis from Barry’s past? Was this mentor, this hero to Barry in fact the man that killed his mother? Was this a different suit he had gotten from somewhere? If he was the Reverse Flash then why was he helping Barry now, rather than trying to kill him, as it turned out he had tried to do originally all those years ago?

Flash vs the Reverse Flash vs Mrs Allen

Well as it turns out, the Reverse Flash, just like Barry, can run so fast he can tear a hole in the space time continuum and as a result can travel back and forwards in time itself.

The Reverse Flash is actually Eobard Thawne born in the year 2151, and his family have had a long running grudge with the Allen family, which all began with Barry Allen. So he came back in time to kill young Barry to stop it all before it began.

However Barry eventually realised he could travel back in time himself, doing it accidentally one week whilst chasing a bad guy. He then decides to travel back to try to save his mother but ultimately fails. The Reverse Flash, foiled by Barry Allen once again, vents his frustration at his failure on Barry’s mother.

Mrs Allen’s last moments on earth…

It’s after this that he realises that in travelling back so far in time he has drained himself of his ability to access the so-called Speed Force, the source from which all speedsters in the DC universe gain their power and ability to run as fast as they can. And yes, there’s more speedsters than just the Flash & Reverse Flash, as we find out in Season 2.

The remainder of the season is occupied with Harrison Well’s intentions and his true identity being slowly realised by the team at Star Labs.

The Reverse Flash intends to use Barry’s speed to open a wormhole to allow him to travel back to his own time period, but that goes as well as you’d expect.

The season ends with the defeat of the Reverse Flash, at a great cost however that leads directly into the second season. But we’ll come back to that at a later date 😉

Overall I enjoyed the first season of the Flash immensely. Much more than any other series currently on television.

The writing, the plotting and pacing, the characterisation, the humour, the actors, the effects, the main villain and Tom Cavanagh’s pitch perfect tightrope portrayal of him. All of it tied together damned near perfectly, and it is firmly right at the top of my to-watch list every week, just sneaking ahead of Agents of Shield, Arrow, iZombie, Walking Dead etc etc.

The Flash is now firmly into its second season, and it’s beginning to pick up the pace heading towards its own mid-season finale, and again the writing and plotting are looking to be coming together once again to ensure that this series is definitely going to remain top of my weekly viewing list.

The challenge here is to see if it will it maintain its pace and momentum from here on in as well as its debut season…

game_on

Gotta love Mark Hamill in that title photo though…

Posted by Sar in News, Personal, Television, Why I love..., 2 comments
Why I love… Super Metroid!

Why I love… Super Metroid!

Welcome to this, the first article in my regular series called “Why I love…”!

This week we’ll be taking a look at the game that stands proudly at the pinnacle of my “Favourite games of all time” list:

Snes9X v1.53 for Windows 29_10_2015 11_30_32_cr

Lineage & History

Super Metroid is a 2d platformer and adventure game where you play as Samus Aran, a Bounty Hunter who roams the galaxy hunting Space Pirates. In this particular case she’s chasing after Ridley, a Space Pirate commander, who has stolen the last known surviving Metroid and fled to the planet Zebes…

It was originally released in 1994 for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), and was actually the third game in the Metroid series, following on from the hugely popular Metroid on the NES and Metroid 2 on the Gameboy.

Metroid itself was released in 1986 (and later remade as Zero Mission in 2004 for the Game Boy Advance):

Metroid European boxart

Metroid 1 on the NES

Metroid 1 remade: Zero Mission

Metroid 1 remade: Zero Mission

Whilst the handheld sequel, Metroid 2: Return of Samus, was released in 1991:

Metroid 2 on the Gameboy

Metroid 2 on the Gameboy

Metroid 3, AKA Super Metroid, came along on Nintendo’s new powerhouse 16-bit console, the mega popular SNES. The SNES was home to many, many classic games, some of which I’ll cover in later articles. However Super Metroid was for me the pièce de résistance of the console’s entire release history.

Graphics

When Super Metroid was originally released, I was blown away by the graphics featured in the game. Whilst it obviously has lost a lot of that graphical impact these days, back then this was the best looking game on the SNES, or any other console for that matter.

Taking its design cues from the earlier games, particularly the colour design of Metroid 1, with the improved graphical fidelity afforded by 16-bit, Metroid’s threequel was a graphical tour de force.

Dank corridors, hot lava-filled caverns complete with heat-distortion, a rainy lightning-splashed over-world, entire areas located underwater, glowing consoles, small non-descript critters that skittered away into the darkness whenever you approached near…

Samus and her ship in the overworld…

Making your way through ancient structures…

The list goes on and on. The environments that had to be traversed during the game’s journey were a large part of the reason why it has stood the test of time, and they were all presented beautifully. Small details like footsteps outside in the rain throwing up small splashes of pixellated water showed just how much detail and effort was put into this game by Nintendo.

Going down…

The character design also stood out amongst not only games of its time, but also to this day. Bosses that were 3 screens tall, bosses that only had one weak spot that had to be hit with precision whilst avoiding their huge attacks…

Bosses to this day that still stand out clearly in the memory, 21 years later: Kraid, Ridley, Mother Brain et al.

Seeing what the future holds…

Samus herself was a masterpiece in design, and again the attention to detail told here. Unlike most sprites in 2d platformers in those days where the character’s sprite was simply flipped to move either left or right in order to save precious system memory, Nintendo actually drew separate sprites for both sides! In a system limited for memory this was an extravagance, a luxury even!

As her suit got upgraded, visible components were added to it, effects were changed, or the suit itself changed colour to reflect new upgrades and abilities, such as heat resistance, not being slowed down underwater and so on.

Sound Design & Music

The sound was partnered with the environmental design to a huge degree. The sounds produced for each environment really sold the feel of the place. The rain and thunder and lightning outside where you land, the bubbling of lava underground, the creature sounds, the sounds made by the bosses whilst trying to kill them, man it was glorious.

The music too had a massive part to play here. Ramping up in areas of frought action, quiet or ceasing completely during key moments of exploration, foreboding and dark during the haunted section in the Wrecked Ship. Some of the themes still recur to this day in the modern sequels.

However the one stand-out memory for me will be the music during the final encounter with Mother Brain. It was heart pumping and majestic and provided the perfect soundtrack to your taking down the final boss of the game.

Gameplay

This and its 2 immediate predecessors could arguably be considered the first truly open world games. You were given a massive planet to explore, and exploration was the name of the game. Access to most new areas was completely impossible until you acquired a particular item or ability, which were invariably acquired in a distant far off area. This made exploration mandatory to find areas that you could now access thanks to your new upgrades. This back and forth style of gameplay has been copied by other games over the years, to varying degrees of success, most notably recently by Ori and the Blind Forest.

Together with Konami’s Castlevania series, the entire genre or style of gameplay has been dubbed Metroidvania, and with good reason.

Spot any similarities?

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

The game is at its core a 2d exploration based action platformer. You explore the limits of the map with the equipment you have, picking up upgrades and new items as you go: More energy tanks (hit points), different weapon types (beams, bombs & missiles), ammo capacity increases, movement upgrades and so on. As you acquire these new upgrades, as mentioned above some may give you access to areas previously inaccessible, leading to yet more unexplored areas of the map.

This style of gameplay, combined with the aesthetic both visually and aurally, combined to create a masterpiece of game design that has yet to be surpassed, at best equalled by Metroid Fusion.

Metroid games since Super Metroid

The games that followed Super Metroid have had varying degrees of success. The most famous examples amongst these were probably the Prime games on the Nintendo Gamecube & Wii. These translated the gameplay elements of their 2d ancestors into 3d with less success than I personally would’ve hoped for, but they remained great games in their own right, even if they didn’t quite hit the same heights.

Metroid in my opinion has always worked best in 2 dimensions. Proven by the superb Metroid Fusion on the GBA in 2002 and the less superb Other M on the Wii in 2010.

MOFO!

Metroid Fusion’s hardest boss: Nightmare

Metroid other M

Metroid Fusion was the superior of these two sequels, being another 16-bit style 2d Metroid. Other M was more refined graphically, being 2.5d and powered by the Wii, but Samus’ characterisation was somewhat lacking and disappointing. It was still an enjoyable game, and it was good to have some form of 2D Metroid after going nearly a decade without.

To this day, we’re still awaiting a chronological sequel to Metroid Fusion, which remains, 13 years later, the latest game in the series’ time-line. Methinks Nintendo can’t figure out where to take the story next…

Main Metroid games (in-game chronological order):

Metroid (1986, NES) / Metroid: Zero Mission (2004, Game Boy Advance)
Metroid Prime (2002, GameCube)
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (2004, GameCube)
Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (2007, Wii)
Metroid II: Return of Samus (1991, Game Boy)
Metroid III: Super Metroid (1994, SNES)
Metroid: Other M (2010, Wii)
Metroid: Fusion (2002, Game Boy Advance)

Other Metroid games:

Metroid Prime Pinball (2005, DS)
Metroid Prime Hunters (2006, DS)
Metroid Prime: Federation Force (2016, Nintendo 3DS)

Lasting Legacy

As mentioned above, this entire genre of games have long been dubbed Metroidvania games. You see the hallmarks of Super Metroid in later games, such as Ori and the Blind Forest, the Arkham series of games from Rocksteady, Dust etc. In fact there’s an entire section on Steam featuring just Metroidvania games!

The impact that Super Metroid had on gaming cannot be understated. Even by simply looking at the litany of modern or recently released games that owe their core mechanics to Super Metroid and its prequels shows that in clear abundance.

I’m currently playing through Ori and the Blind Forest, and I’m loving it to death. Not only because it’s one of the most beautiful games I’ve played in years, but it’s that Metroidvania hook that has me so deeply. It’s a damn sight harder than Super Metroid though!

Conclusion

This is a fantastic, superlative game. One of only a handful of games, from the thousands I’ve played in over 35 years’ worth of gaming that I still regularly replay over and over again. Normally I leave it a couple of years between playthroughs so that I’ve forgotten most of the locations in the game. All the better to re-kindle that sense of wonder and discovery anew.

If you have never played this, I urge you to go and acquire a copy from somewhere. Most people these days will play it either via the Wii store, or via emulation, the details of which I won’t get into here.

Trust me, if any game is worth the hassle, it’s this one.

supermetroid

Posted by Sar in Gaming, News, Why I love..., 0 comments
Why I love… Stuff

Why I love… Stuff

I love stuff. In fact I love a lot of stuff that ain’t even games! Shocker, I know.

With that in mind I’m going to be writing a regular series of articles where I’ll be gushing over various things, such as:

  • TV Shows
  • Music
  • Games
  • Retro Games
  • Movies
  • Tech
  • Science
  • Psychology
  • Philosophy
  • Design
  • Diet & Exercise (noooo, don’t make me!)
  • And much more…

Essentially all the subjects I’d be covering in general on Crux, but this series of articles will be focusing on specific examples of the above list.

I’ll be working out a full posting schedule, for these and other articles, but at the moment I’m thinking this series of articles will be going out each Wednesday.

This is one of the reasons for the change from sargaming.net to sarcrux.com, so I could talk about all these sorts of things, both here and on Twitter freely without it looking or feeling odd, being on what was a gaming site in name at least.

Or indeed making me feel like I was mis-selling what this site and Twitter account were about.

I love loads of different TV shows, movies, bands, genres, etc, and I’m excited to start writing about them all!

If you guys have any ideas for subjects you’d like mentioned let me know in the comments below!

Posted by Sar in News, Personal, Website, Why I love..., 1 comment