Four Job Fiesta Part Two: Ahead on our Way

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I’ve been playing “Final Fantasy V” as a part of this year’s Four Job Fiesta, an online challenge that benefits Child’s Play. I wrote about approaching the challenge here, and now that I’m a bit farther in the game, here are some things that I’ve learned.
Final Fantasy V is amazingly well designed. Over the course of the game, I received my full roster of classes: Thief, Time Mage, Ranger, and Chemist. While these aren’t impossible classes to play with, they’re hardly powerhouses. Ranger gets a very good ability, Rapid Fire, if you level them for a while, and Chemist can combine items to exploit some enemy weaknesses, but they require using up rare items. But while this team is challenging, it is hardly impossible. The Four Job Fiesta works with FFV because the game can be navigated with any classes as long as you’re patient and think strategically. There aren’t any choke points that require a certain party to proceed.
The game itself feels like a farewell to the style of the early games. The crystals themselves shatter to give you your jobs. Although the franchise would return to the job system in spin-offs like Final Fantasy Tactics and the crystals would come back in later games like Bravely Default, Final Fantasy V feels like a sea change for the series. The next game in the series in Final Fantasy VI, which took the games in a very different direction. Even though it was only much later released in the United States, it still feels somewhat nostalgic.
But for now the Fiesta continues as I make my way through the middle of the game with my motley crew of back row hooligans. You have until the end of August to sign up for your run, or to support Child’s Play!

Hugh Likes Music: Chronicles of Time

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Chronicles of Time
Various Artists


I’m one of those writers that writes to music.  I prefer atmospheric,  instrumental pieces that catch the ear but also fade into the background, and one of my favorite sub-genres to pick from is video game soundtracks.
Which is why this year’s “Chronicles of Time” has been getting heavy rotation on my writing playlist.  This massive collaboration consists of eighty-one tracks drawn from artists and bands all over the nerd-core and O C remix communities.  A love letter to Yasunori Mitsuda’s soundtrack to the SNES classic “Chrono Trigger,” it spans five discs, a spectrum of genres, and every piece of music in the game.
And the collaborators have brought their A-material.  Tracks from artists like Carless, Mustin, Super Guitar Bros, and XPRTNovice bring an eclectic but polished sound to the collection.  The stylistically diverse covers and remixes bring everything from heavy metal to jazz guitar to dance-club remixes and hip hop to the masterful compositions.
The album is available at chroniclesoftime.net as well as iTunes and Google Play.  All proceeds benefit Doctors Without Borders.  Chronicles of Time is a treat to listen to, and makes great writing music.  I heartily recommend it.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Gone Home

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Gone Home: Console Edition
Created by The Fulbright Company
Played on Playstaton 4

I played “Gone Home” for the first time when it was released on PC.  Unfortunately, my Mac Mini wasn’t quite up to the task of the game’s graphics.  So I was quite pleased to be able to download it as a part of Sony’s Playstation Plus offerings for June of this year.  The span of a few years make this indie game’s 3D modeled mansion a bit less spectacular, but the game’s story and technique remain just as impressive.
The player steps into the first-person shoes of Katie Greenbriar, a college student just returned from a trip to Europe.  She arrives home in the middle of a stormy night to find the house empty, with a message from her younger sister not to come looking for her.
As you begin to explore the strange house, “Gone Home” feels like a survival horror game.  It does borrow some of that genre’s puzzle and exploration mechanics, but the game is actually something else.  As you learn more about Katie’s family through letters, buttons, scraps of notes, and other evidence, voice over narrations of her sister Sam are unlocked.  Formatted as unsent letters, they reveal the true story piece by piece.  I won’t spoil it here, but it is well worth experiencing on your own.
“Gone Home” is a by turns creepy, moving, and overall heartfelt piece of interactive fiction, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Hugh Likes Podcasts: Gosh Darn Fiasco

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HLP-Gosh-Darn Fiasco
Hosted by: Angela Webber, Richard Malena and guests
GDF Podcast.jpg
Gosh-Darn Fiasco is a live-play role playing game podcast hosted by musician Angela Webber.  But where most of these kind of gaming shows feel like audio dramas, this one is more like improv.  The difference lies partly in the source material, and partly in the rotating team of talent that comes to play.
“Fiasco” is a GM-less roleplaying game in the style of classic caper movies.  Written by Jason Morningstar and published by Bully Pulpit Games, it is a storytelling RPG.  This means the goal of the game is to play out a scenario, rather than winning a battle.  As the name implies, the fun isn’t in winning, it is in snowballing the story from a small problem into a huge catastrophe.
Each episode, Weber and her guests play through one single play Fiasco game from beginning to end.  There are a variety of settings, or ‘Playsets’ that they have gone through, from a Colonial Salem to McMurdo Station to a heist at the Jim Henson Workshop.  Each episode takes the Cohen Brothers aesthetic of the game and turns it even more towards the comically ridiculous.
Frequent guest such as Lucia Fasano and Kevin M. Arnold add improv chops to the game, making it a lighthearted, gonzo joy to listen.  Gosh-Darn Fiasco is a monthly podcast that runs about 90 minutes per episode.  It’s not something you’re going to get through in a single commute, but it is a heck of a lot of fun.  Find it at Website, in iTunes, or in your preferred podcatcher.

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Hugh Likes Podcasts: Retronauts

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Hosted by Jeremy Parish and Bob Mackey

For a long time, video games have been trying to rise as a medium from frivolous entertainment to serious art form.  Some notable successes have been achieved, but also success hasn’t been universal.  Something similar can be said for video game podcasts.  While many gaming podcasts fall into the ‘bro-gamer’ subculture that seems to permeate the internet, Retronauts rises above the field by mixing intelligent analysis with nostalgia.
Nominally hosted by gaming news site USGamer.net , Retronauts covers games from the dawn of the medium up to about ten years ago.  Hosted by two veteran game reviewers and bloggers, the cast is in-depth and smarter than it needs to be.  It not only provides a dose of heady nostalgia, but historical analysis and design critique as well.  The main show updates every two weeks considering topics such as specific games or series, but also topics like a retrospective on the career of Final Fantasy score composer Nobuo Uematsu.  These episodes go in-depth with three or four guests, running one to two hours.
Alternate weeks update with shorter microsodes that focus in deeper on more obscure, but none the less interesting topics like the groundbreaking but often overlooked survival horror adventure ‘Clock Tower,’ or the music of the SNES port of Sim City.
Host Bob Mackey and Jeremy Parish, who is also the talent behind Game Boy World, really know their stuff, and have plenty of anecdotes and inside information that really sheds a light on the game design and development process.
As someone who spent much of his childhood with an NES controller in hand, but usually couldn’t afford the latest generation system, I am a dyed-in the-wool retro gamer.  This podcast is my jam.  If you prefer pixelated nostalgia over the latest shooter, Retronauts might just be the gaming podcast you’re looking for.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Monument Valley

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Monument Valley
UsTwo Games
Played on Android
Monument Valley is less of a game and more of an experience, but it is a damn good one.  A sort of meditational challenge, Monument Valley is a M C Escher-inspired visual puzzler for mobile phones.  The goal is to guide a figure through a series of ‘monuments,’ physics-defying labyrinths that rely on forced perspective.  SImilar to the classic PSP game ‘Echochrome,’ Players rotate, flip, and skew the terrain to guide the heroine to the end of each level.
While the game itself is not overly taxing, the puzzles require players to think visually and strategically, and at its best moments, feels almost meditative.  The calm atmosphere is reinforced by top-notch visual and sound design.  The princess journeys through spires, caverns, and seas with a painterly aesthetic.  One particularly clever level is designed as a puzzle box.
The style of the game helped to alleviate any sense of frustration I felt while playing.  This was a little world that I was glad to get lost in.
Although a bit on the short side, Monument Valley is a pocket-sized gem of a puzzle game, and an oasis of calm suitable for hardcore gamers, casual players, and kids.  You can find it in the IOS, Android, and Amazon app stores.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Fallout Shelter

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Fallout Shelter
Bethesda Games
Played on Android Mobile
The Post-Apocalypse has been in the zeitgeist lately, in all it’s myriad forms of the end of the world.  From the cinematic wasteland of “Mad Max: Fury Road” to the small-screen shambling of “The Walking Dead.”  But perhaps the most iconic doomsday scenario is still Nuclear War.  And lately, nobody has taken more advantage of the irradiated wasteland than Bethesda Games’ “Fallout” games.  With Fallout 4 burning up the charts, Today seems like a good day to examine their free promotional game, Fallout Shelter for IOS and Android.
While the series is all about exploration, Fallout Shelter sticks closer to home, putting you in the chair of a Vault-Tec overseer.  Starting with some survivors, a few caps, and a hole in the ground, you have to keep your vault running, and your dwellers happy, safe, and healthy.  Imagine a simplified version of The Sims, but with more guns and radioactive scorpions.
The game is presented as a 2D grid, with rooms taking up 1 to 3 spaces on the grid.  As time goes by, and the vault population increases, players can dig deeper and deeper into the earth to expand.  While it requires a bit more horsepower than you might expect, the visuals are cute and engaging, based on the cartoonish Vault-Boy style of Fallout’s mascot.  It ran very smoothly on my Samsung Galaxy S5.  My iPhone 4S didn’t do well, though.
Each dweller has their own simplified stats and inventory based on Fallout’s S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attribute system, and most of the game involves choosing where to assign dwellers to get the best use out of their stats, which you can improve with equipment or training rooms.  Being more productive is also key to keeping dwellers happy.
One of the other main parts of the game is increasing your vault population, and unfortunately, this one wasn’t implemented quite as well.  There is only one really effective way to increase your population, and that’s the old-fashioned way.  Later in the game overseers can build radio rooms to call survivors out of the wasteland, but for the most part, your dwellers will have to get busy.  This is accomplished by putting two dwellers of opposite sex in sleeping quarters together and waiting for nature to take its course.  The result is that both dwellers get a big boost of happiness, and the woman is immediately super pregnant.  Then, both dwellers can return to their prospective tasks until the child is born.
The problem is that the game has a system for hookups, but not relationships.  Although it keeps track of parentage to prevent incest, which can accidentally happen when you have a 100+ dwellers, this information is hidden from the player.  By removing any lasting relationships, in spite of the romantic dialog they spout, the mechanic comes off as less of a wooing and more of a breeding program.  This is exacerbated by the fact that only male/female couples can hook up.  It’s not a deal breaker, but it has a lingering authoritarian (and homophobic) vibe to it.  This may have been Bethesda’s intention, as Vault-tec is usually presented as short-sightedly patriarchal in keeping with Fallout’s 1950’s-inspired vision of America, but if so, they didn’t fully commit to the message.  This is especially true considering that breeding dwellers is key to unlocking plans for new rooms.  If you want to build the best spaces for your vault, your dwellers had better get busy.
If you can get past this one glaring flaw, Fallout Shelter is a diverting and open-ended management sim with just enough style and charm to keep you going.  Fallout Shelter is free (with in-app purchases, naturally,) for IOS or Android.
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