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The Year of Final Fantasy

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about THIS ARTICLE by Aidan Moher. I think it resonates with me because it echoes my own path into nerd-dom and ultimately to becoming a writer.
I didn’t read much of the Canon sci-fi and fantasy growing up. I loved Fantasy and Science Fiction movies and TV, but by the time I could pick my own books from the library, I was already reading thrillers and bestsellers. Once I reached high school I started really getting into anime, and my real nerdy gateway drug: JRPGs.
I didn’t have much of a game collection as a kid. We had an NES, and a much-loved game boy. What I did have was a burning jealousy of my friends’ adventures, starting from Dragon Quest and moving straight through Final Fantasy VII. I would hang out with them as they traversed huge worlds and fought monsters and robots in weird, strategy combat that seemed strange and wonderful to me.
So When my family got a computer, a friend gave me a floppy disc full of NES roms. I knew just where I wanted to start: With the original NES Final Fantasy and its two Japan-only sequels. True, the graphics weren’t as sharp as a PS1’s, and there wasn’t anything so eye-popping as watching Sephiroth descend from the sky to assassinate Aerith, (spoiler alert!) but the illicit glee of knowing that these were lost relics. These were a pair of games that had never (at the time) reached American shores, been digitally smuggled out and translated in the dark corners of the internet. It started an obsession, and I had to play more of them. I burned through the NES library of Dragon Warrior games, and played through Final Fantasy Legend and Pokemon on Game Boy. I sought out roms of stranger provience, and as the technology improved, upgraded from Nesticle, the most Nineties name for an emulator, to SNES9x. I burned through Final Fantasy IV: Hardtype like it was a fever, and got every ending in Chrono Trigger. I fought the Sinestriasl in Lufia and remade the world in Actraiser. I was full-on obsessed.
And that obsession pushed me to seek out other avenues to explore my geekery. Dungeons and Dragons, and other table top games, cheesy 80’s fantasy movies, and thick tomes of epic fantasy, both classic, and best forgotten. It was all great, but there was irritation there, things I saw on the page and screen that didn’t quite match the things I loved about the digital versions. Eventually, I picked up my pen and started writing my own stories, borne out of my own need to fill in the gaps.
It’s the distant future year 2020. And it’s a good time to look back as well as forward. So this year, I’ve decided to go back and play as much Final Fantasy as my time allows, and to write about it here. I’ve reviewed and written about a few of these games on my blog before, but this is something a bit deeper. I’m not sure what the final forms will be, probably a mixture of critical essays, reviews, creative non-fiction, and other strange beasts. Will my love of these early games still be there? Do these games hold up in 2020? Have things gotten better, or will I simply become an old fogey, complaining that these blasted kids with their three-dee graphics and full voice acting won’t get off my dang lawn? Will I discover hidden truths, or just some misplaced nostalgia that doesn’t bear anything to who I am as a writer today? Let’s find out.
As ever, the Crystals shed their light silently, waiting for us to embark on our adventure.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Wargroove

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Wargroove
Developed and Published by Chucklefish
Played on Nintendo Switch
https://wargroove.com
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The Skinny: A turn-based strategy game with retro style and retro difficulty to match, but with some interesting innovations under the hood.

Wargroove is a strategy game with old school charm, and gameplay to match. On the surface, it takes most of its design and style from Nintendo’s ‘Wars’ series of games. These only came to the US as the Advance Wars titles, and have been absent for a decade, but they made a big impression on developer Chucklefish. If that name is familiar, they also published ConcernedApe’s well-loved Harvest Moon update, Stardew Valley.
Gameplay works like Advance Wars. Players take turns moving their units and capturing buildings to provide income, which lets them buy new units. The goal of each match is to either the enemy stronghold or defeat the enemy Commander, powerful units that each has a unique special ability, called a ‘groove.’ These each do something a bit different, from healing allies in a range, to creating new units, to attacks that do extra damage. They are a fun addition to the Wars formula, and are one of the ways the game really stands out. Also, one of the commanders is an adorable golden retriever, who is a very good boy.
The other way Wargroove differentiates itself is in its plethora of content and game modes. In addition to the standard single-player Campaign and multiplayer battles, the game offers an Arcade mode in which you can take each Commander through a series of five quick battles, a Puzzle mode, and even an impressive set of creation tools. The game lets players not just create maps, but also entire campaigns and cutscenes, and trade them freely through the game’s online modes. I haven’t been able to dive too deeply into it yet, but it is very cool and is supporting a new creative community.
Wargroove faithfully recreates the best of the turn-based strategy genre, but it also has the same flaws. Matches are long, and with two armies starting at opposite ends of a map and slowly building, they can take a while to get going. Also, this game is difficult. Updates have created more options for novice players, but you can still sink a lot of time into a map only to have to start all over again when the last wave of enemies gets a shot in on your Commander.
Wargroove is a charming and occasionally frustrating strategy game with old school feel and old school difficulty. If you’re up for the challenge, you can snag a copy from Steam or your choice of major console eshops.
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DDoP18: The Gamer’s Guide to Writing – Super Mario Bros.

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Hello and welcome to part one of The Gamer’s Guide to Writing, in which I look at some of my favorite video games and talk about how they impacted my life and what storytelling lessons I learned from them. We’re starting with Super Mario Bros! In addition to being the platonic idea of the classic platformer, this game taught me the importance of a beginning that hooks your audience and teaches them about what is to come without overwhelming them.

Click HERE to listen!

For more on the design of World 1-1, watch This Design Club Video!

Music in today’s episode is Dance Hall Raga by remixer MKVaff, presented under a Creative Commons license from OCRemix.org!

Podcast: CCRC27-Dungeons & Dragons S1E2

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Watch along with the Chrononauts as we watch to the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon!

Click HERE to listen!

and HERE to watch the cartoon via YouTube!

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
ChroniclesofTime.net

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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
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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.

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