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Pokemon: A Grand Ambition, Update 6 – Two Years, Too Many Games

Shuckle1

Has it really been two years since I last updated everyone on my Pokémon playing! Wow. I guess I’ll get on with it so y’all can get off the pins and needles. Continue reading Pokemon: A Grand Ambition, Update 6 – Two Years, Too Many Games

The Top 10 Games I Played in 2016

top-games-2016

Damn, what a year! In a lot of ways, it seemed to be one long downer, a year devoid of hope for many. I’m very fortunate in many ways and as this year winds down I’m going to look forward to 2017 and aim to devote more of my time to outlets that benefit others. As it stands now, much of my spare time in 2016 was devoted to video games and related interests. As I’ve done yearly, I’ll compile the ten favorite games I played this year, in alphabetical order. Per routine, this list is not limited to brand new releases but instead is based off what I actually played. When applicable, I’ll link to any articles I wrote during the year.

Continue reading The Top 10 Games I Played in 2016

Pokemon Y and My Frustration with Roaming Pokemon

Pokemon Y

Roaming Pokémon are the worst. I’ve been nearing the end of my Pokémon Y playthrough and just gained access to one of the few available legendary Pokémon. Unlike the few others that are located in caves, this particular one roams the region. It’s such a pain in the ass to catch though I don’t know that I’ll even put in the time to obtain it. This isn’t a new concept for the series but it is one rarely utilized. I’m generally not one to play armchair quarterback but as my frustration grew Sunday morning, I thought about what I’d do to improve upon the concept. It’s one I theoretically like, especially applied to the Pokémon games, I just wish it was implemented differently in this instance.

Pokemon Y - Map
If actively pursuing a roaming Pokemon, this screen will be seen often. 

In the Pokémon games, beating the Elite Four and champion is one of the core goals; doing so signals that you’re the strongest trainer in the region. Afterwards, there’s additional content that becomes available. It’s generally not much but in Pokémon X and Y, it seems especially barren. Regarding X and Y, every player’s first encounter with a wild Pokémon in the post-game will always be with one of the legendary birds. It’s different based on which starter Pokémon was picked at the beginning of the game. Since I picked Froakie, the legendary Pokémon available to me was Moltres.

This first encounter is just a tease as the Pokémon immediately flees. Now however, the Pokémon’s entry has been somewhat completed in the Pokédex, at least enough to track it and see where it’s currently located. At this point, there’s primarily two ways to tackle this capture: passively try to catch it as the post-game content is naturally completed or while focusing on other objectives, or actively try to pursue it. Since there’s not a ton of post-game content and I’m merely “passing through” this game on my way to Omega Ruby, I actively tried catching it.

The method of actively pursuing a roaming Pokémon I’m most familiar with entails going back and forth between two routes or a route and a town in the hopes that it will appear in the desired route. This becomes a tedious task quickly as the player buttons through layers of menus to get to the Pokédex to locate if the Pokémon is nearby. If it isn’t, cross that border and back into the desired route and check again. Luck is a factor in the sense that it’s rarely on the player’s side when tracking roaming Pokémon. And, something as simple as flying to where the roaming Pokémon is won’t work as it will be somewhere else by the time the player touches down.

If that Pokémon is on the current route, the player can still mess up their opportunity to encounter it. For instance, if the first Pokémon of the player’s party is of a higher level, the roaming Pokémon won’t appear. In fact, if you encounter another Pokémon, say a wild Flabébé 70 levels the junior to the first Pokémon in the player’s party, that roaming Pokémon is now somewhere else. The so-called legendary is afraid to fight something a piddly wild Pokémon will gladly step up to. WHAT!? Even if a weak Pokémon is in the first spot of the party and the roaming Pokémon is in the current route, there’s still no guarantee that it’ll be encountered. And if a wild Pokémon is encountered instead, that roaming Pokémon is likely somewhere else.

It can be frustrating and at the very least, time consuming. The roaming Pokémon in X and Y eventually settles down in a cave after ten encounters. But still, that’s ten encounters when I’ve had trouble getting a second! So, what would I do differently? One implementation stuck out to me immediately and it’s primarily what I’ll posit. There’s plenty of ways to alter this concept too but it’s only now that I’m shifting gears towards constructive criticism that I realize I really just wanted to rant. Still, I’ll elaborate on a different method of including roaming Pokémon that may be less frustrating than the current one.

First off, instead of introducing the roaming Pokémon after the game’s been beaten, I’d instead introduce it during the lead up. I’m of two minds on how to: randomly or through a predetermined encounter. Introducing it through a random encounter would mean a different experience for every player. For some, it may be the first wild Pokémon they encounter; others may not see it at all during their playthrough. This randomness would make the encounter more impactful, like running across a shiny Pokémon, although I’d want the chance of seeing it much higher than seeing a shiny Pokémon (roughly 1/4096 for the current generation). Perhaps the best method would be through a predetermined encounter, with future appearances requiring the hunt; basically just changing the timing of the Pokémon’s initial availability.

The legendary Pokémon almost always appear at a preset level which could break the game’s difficulty if one was encountered early on and somehow caught. They could instead have a scalable level based on when they’re encountered. I’d scale it such that it can still wallop the player’s party but a skilled player may be able to inflict a status condition or throw a Poké Ball. That would entail allowing the player to get a move off whereas currently, the Pokémon flees before the menus on the touch screen even appear. I’ve caught legendary Pokémon by throwing a Poké Ball out as my first move and let me tell you, it’s pretty satisfying!

Pokemon Y - Moltres
How I longed to have this happen.

As I thought, I wound up wanting to rant more than to offer constructive advice. At least, offering detailed constructive advice because really, simply introducing the roaming Pokémon sooner would alleviate a lot of my grief. With my current chase, I feel like actively pursuing Moltres is the only option since there’s so little post-game content. If I was sticking with this game longer, this whole topic would be a moot point. I’ve already got Omega Ruby queued up and if I’m going to spend dozens of hours with a game to complete the Pokédex, it’ll likely be that one since it’s the most recent release. As it stands, tracking this Pokémon down and attempting to catch it is a pain in my ass and likely one I won’t continue to endure.

The Top 10 Games I Played in 2015

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It seems like every year I begin my best-of list by stating I didn’t play many new releases. This year is no different, and the rate of current releases to “older” games is very close to last year’s. Nonetheless, I do feel like I played more new releases this year, they just didn’t make the cut. Again, like last year I’ll order these alphabetically and provide links to any of the title’s that I actually wrote about.

Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut – This game was such a bore for the first handful of hours. I couldn’t quite figure out where the love for this game originated. Granted, it’s mostly ironic love, but it was still lost on me. Then everything clicked. One weekend in particular I had ample free time to devote to the game and I figured out the side missions and realized that’s where the addictive qualities lay. After forty hours, I had a platinum trophy in my possession and a new found appreciation for Swery65.

Her Story – This is one of the few games this year that I was able join in on the zeitgeist. The weekend it came out (or maybe one or two later), my friend and I devoted an entire gaming session to solving the mystery within the game. Interacting with the emulated vintage computer system and watching the four second to three minute clips of interviews was a gaming experience unlike any other I’ve had. We took notes and had fun speculating about the mystery every step of the way. Heck, after all was said and done we went back and watched the entire interviews spliced in chronological order on YouTube. Unforgettable. Unlike my intentions to come back and write more about the game as mentioned in my review…

Lost Odyssey – There’s always a few games that I fail to write reviews for but luckily, I did at least write something about this game (two articles in fact!). I’m bad about doing that, especially with the games I enjoy the most. That’s the case with this gem. This is by most measures, a very traditional JRPG; it is, though, an exemplary traditional JRPG. Like Deadly Premonition, it took a while for this game to click with me but once it did, I was irrevocably sucked in. I could lavish praise on the mature story, or the addictive character growth mechanics but I failed to do so after originally beating the game so why start now? Nonetheless, easily one of the best games I played this year.

Metal Gear Solid – With the release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, I felt the urge to play through the entire MGS series (I tend to get these urges, especially with long-running series’ damn it!). Since that urge, my friend and I have played through this title and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, and we’re currently working on Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (and I played VR Missions, solo). The second game had much more to analyze and is likely the more important video game to the industry (perhaps of all time?) but my friend and I had more fun playing the first one.

South Park: The Stick of Truth – Here’s one of those games that I didn’t write anything about. Without a doubt, it’s got the funniest writing in a game I’ve ever played. The vulgarity may offend some, but hey, it’s a South Park video game! It’s a brief riot that invoked the sensibilities of the Mario RPG games, ergo, turn-based combat with quick-time events.  It was a well-crafted romp through the South Park universe and Jeff, if you’re reading this, play it already!

Super Mario Maker – I haven’t written about this game, yet. I’m still playing it all the time and it’s been a hub for the gaming sessions my friend and I have. I’m not usually attracted to games that have a user-designed focus but I’ve had a lot of fun designing stages in this game. It definitely helps that I’m designing Mario stages and can immediately understand how everything will work and how to design a stage. That being said, I’m learning so many new techniques and playing so many awesomely difficult stages that you’d never find in a Nintendo published 2D Mario game.

The Walking Dead: A Telltale Game Series – I missed out on this originally, despite the pleas of a friend and the acclaim that was thrown this game’s way, but I was looking for just such an experience after getting my PS4 after Christmas last year. This game told an enthralling story that packed a punch and left me wanting to find two hours to devote to the next episode after completing the previous one. So glad I played this.

Wolfenstein: The New Order – Okay, apparently this is just the section of the list where I talk about games I never wrote about. Like many of the games I’ve included, I’ve selected this game based in part on its story. That’s something that is rarely said about an FPS, but it’s true. This was a narrative-driven shooter that had me interested in what was going to happen to the characters it revolved around. It didn’t hurt that the gameplay was fun as heck, too.

Xenoblade Chronicles X – Like Super Mario Maker, I haven’t written about this game as I’m still playing it. I’m about thirty hours in at the moment and can’t spend enough time in the world. I’ve been doing way too many monotonous side missions instead of the affinity and story missions, but I’ve been doing this to spend more time roaming the large environments and exploring every nook and cranny. The story is rubbish but who cares with a world like this one’s!

You Must Build a Boat – Mobile games for me serve mostly as time wasters, so it’s impressive when I play one when my time should be devoted elsewhere. The dungeon-crawling, character growth elements put a spin on the tile-matching gameplay. For a couple of bucks, don’t think about it, just buy this game.

Policenauts, Import Games, and a Weekend of Learning

Policenauts

I set about this past weekend with one objective in mind: play an English-patched copy of Policenauts. In the course of attempting this, my task grew into a more general objective of playing import PlayStation and PlayStation 2 games; or rather, attempting to play them. Often, I’ll set about accomplishing something with a strong desire to see the process through only to have that yearning feeling dissipate and highlight a limited attention span and a quick-to-cave attitude. “Not this weekend!” I thought to myself. Although I remained unsuccessful on one front and only partially successful on the other, I ended the weekend with my head held high, brimming with new knowledge.

This desire to play Policenauts is not new to me, but the realization that it could be an actuality was. As my friend and I have been playing through the Metal Gear Solid series, I’ve done additional reading on the other works of Hideo Kojima. Policenauts is one such title and even though it never released in English-speaking territories, it’s still moderately known and highly regarded. Through this research, I stumbled upon the news that an enterprising group of fans had produced an English translation (circa 2007) and that it had been successfully patched into the PlayStation version (circa 2009). The process of implanting the patch didn’t seem too complex so without any additional thought, I acquired a copy off eBay… and Metal Gear Solid: Integral for good measure.

These games came in the mail this past Wednesday and before getting down to the tough stuff, I set about locating my Swap Magic discs. These are boot discs for the PlayStation 2, specifically the slim version, that allow the play of import and backup discs, with a slight modification to the console’s disc cover. I purchased these a few years ago when I first attempted to play import PS2 games. I went through the entire process of getting a slim PS2, modifying the disc cover, and finding a few games to play, only to fizzle out when I had done all the “hard” work (it was actually pretty easy). After thoroughly disassembling my gaming closet Thursday, I located the Swap Magic discs and was ready to begin processing the Policenauts patch.

My modified PS2, featuring a "toilet seat" disc cover.
My modified PS2, featuring a “toilet seat” disc cover.

Cue Friday night. My weekend had officially begun and I’d sat down at my computer to examine the readme file associated with the patch. Step one was simple: acquire a copy of Policenauts. Check. Step two upped the ante. “Rip your hard copy of Policenauts to the ISO format.” Furthermore, the author recommended CloneCD to rip the discs (it’s a two-disc game) to a .ccd format and then another program: Alcohol 120% to convert the .ccd files to .iso files. I did as he said and was successful in creating the .ccd files, after perusing that program’s help documents. I then attempted using Alcohol 120%. Before installing, it warned of compatibility issues between it and my HP laptop. I disregarded this prompt hopefully naively, and was greeted with a blue screen of death on the post-install restart. Another attempt resulted in the same issue. Through system restore, I brought my laptop back safely and was forced to look elsewhere for converting these .ccd files, read: Google.

The Google searches yielded many options for programs generating .iso files from .ccd files, but I had a hell of a time finding one (a) compatible with my HP laptop, (b) that was free or had a free trial, and (c) looked trustworthy enough to download. The incompatibility between Alcohol 120% and my HP laptop is a known issue with two solid fixes, but I didn’t feel like uninstalling the conflicting program or upgrading to Windows 10 to remedy the issue. Unfortunately, many other similar programs had similar incompatibility with HP products and my urgency to play Policenauts was beginning to waver. Fortunately, my friend demonstrated enough persistence to persuade me and I eventually discovered UltraISO, a program which granted me access to what I needed with its free trial. I now had the .iso files I needed.

The third step was another doozy: “install xdelta 3.” An innocuous enough task with even a link being provided, simple enough one might say. Wrong! Maybe it would be simple for someone who knew what they were doing. I was just following steps and as soon as the path deviated from those steps, I was lost. Whether it was the second step or this one, I had to devise my own workarounds to get to the same end result as the readme documentation. What I needed here was some kind of .exe file, of which there were many variations of, and looking back on it, I just mishandled this and started banging my head against the wall when the solution wasn’t as clear-cut as the instructions lead me to believe. To cut a long story short, I found what I needed.

With that .exe file safely tucked away in the same folder as the .iso files and the English patch, I simply had to execute the patch file and, voila! It didn’t work! But, before getting up in arms, I realized that was a possibility. There was a second patch file for computers running an Athlon CPU, which apparently I’m running, and when that was executed I was greeted with sweet, sweet success! Finally! The patch files had been applied to the .iso files and I could then burn them to blank CD-Rs and test them out in my PS2 using the Swap Magic discs. There was one single issue remaining… the Swap Magic discs don’t work with PlayStation games and backups, only PlayStation 2 games and backups. D’oh!

In a continuing display of naiveté, I realized this only after attempting to boot a CD-R and then an original disc, both unsuccessfully. A little bit of reading clarified this point to me and served as a reminder to always read the instructions fully before beginning a task (there were no instructions regarding this but I should’ve thought ahead). So, how else could I play these patched CD-Rs on actual PlayStation hardware? The readme file for the patch didn’t delve too much into that topic, but I’ve since researched a variety of options but have yet to settle on one. There’s also the simple route of just playing with an emulator, but the few times I tried doing so with ePSXe haven’t been fruitful. I’m in the process of getting that to function currently and will report back with results.

So, my weekend had barely begun when I realized that playing Policenauts likely wouldn’t be a reality. With the Swap Magic discs available and the PS2 already set up though, my friend and I turned towards the stack of import PS2 games we had hauled into the living room. Without too much effort, it was soon clear why I had fizzled out on the import scene when my interest first piqued years ago.

The stack, laid out.
The stack, laid out.

The Swap Magic method of playing import/backup games is pretty simple. It can only be done with a slim PS2 that has had its disc cover replaced with one resembling a toilet seat. Once the Swap Magic disc boots, it’s replaced with the desired disc which then runs as if region locking wasn’t an issue. The disc cover can’t be opened though, or else the PS2 reverts back to the browser, hence, the toilet seat design which allows for easy access. The Swap Magic discs are sold in a pair – one to boot CD based games and another to boot DVD based games.

We had no issues using the CD based Swap Magic disc. We were able to dabble with a few of the CD based games and had an enjoyable time in particular with The Zombie vs. Ambulance, or Zombie Virus as it’s known in Europe. The PS2 did not cooperate with the DVD based Swap Magic disc however. In fact, the system didn’t read any DVDs regardless of region. It was becoming clear to me why I burned out originally: because I ran into issues with DVD based games. We flat lined at this point and moved on to more productive ventures for the night.

After a night of sleep and a morning of garage sailing with my sister, I kickstarted the search for solutions to my DVD woes on Saturday afternoon. Most reading led me to believe that the laser failing to read DVDs (but still retain its CD reading functionality) was somewhat common. Cleaning the laser ruled out the potential of dust or dirt being the issue and the next cheapest option was simply replacing the laser. Luckily, I obtained a second slim PS2 at an estate last year for a pittance; alternatively, a replacement laser was about $12 on Amazon. I made sure to test a variety of CDs and DVDs in this second PS2 before going any further and fortunately, all worked. After watching a few YouTube tutorials on replacing the laser I had confidence that I was up to the task.

Later that night, while watching Dr. Zhivago on the OETA Movie Club, I successfully switched the lasers. It took much longer than it should’ve thanks to the distraction of the movie but there were also a couple of screws that were royal pains in the butt to remove. Once the movie had finished I had the opportunity to test out the modified PS2 and… it still didn’t play the Swap Magic DVD! What’s more, the system successfully played other DVDs. Looking on the bright side, my issues were narrowed down more specifically to the DVD based Swap Magic disc itself. It didn’t look too scratched, although there were minute cosmetic issues with the disc. Getting it resurfaced would either solve the problem or eliminate one more possibility.

Sunday afternoon, once they’d opened, I made the drive to the nearest Vintage Stock with a working resurfacing machine. While waiting I stumbled across an older GameShark for the PlayStation. In the reading I’d done on playing import/backup copies of PlayStation games I saw mention of an exploit that might possibly allow me to play Policenauts. I bought it to be on the safe side but realized when I arrived home that it wasn’t compatible with my PlayStation. Policenauts was again put on the backburner, but I was one step closer! Next up on the docket was testing the newly resurfaced DVD based Swap Magic disc.

To my surprise, it worked! The PS2 successfully read the disc and launched the Swap Magic menu. I exchanged the disc for Michigan, a Grasshopper Manufacture survival horror game that I remembered seeing on X-Play years ago. The involvement of Suda51 may have also had an impact on my purchase too… Side note: this game was released in Europe, but good luck finding a copy for under $40 and let me know if you do! I was appeased after a little while and was ready to try another game when the PS2 stopped booting the Swap Magic disc. It recognized it as a PS2 disc in the browser and would act like it was booting it, only to return me to the browser menu. ARGH! Other DVDs played just fine so I’m led to believe there’s an issue with the disc itself – not the surface of it, but the information that’s written to it, so… yeah.

I can’t explain why it worked once and not again other than just getting lucky, but I’m not going to sweat it. Maybe I’ll get a plan of action assembled for this upcoming weekend, maybe I’ll have these issues resolved before then, or maybe I won’t even bother and just fizzle out entirely here. No, after all I’ve been through I know I won’t take the easy route out, I’m going to see my objectives through. I’ve been constantly disheartened through these two procedures, but I’ve consistently found ways to make something work or narrow my issues down. Whether it’s playing an English-patched copy of Policenauts or playing DVD based, import PS2 games, I can look back at this weekend disappointed that I wasn’t entirely successful, but I can also look back at it and be proud of the work I put in and the knowledge I’m left with. This weekend was a learning experience that things won’t always be as easy as they seem, but that’s no reason to give up. The path to success is lined with trial and error and through that process, much can be gained.