Friday, January 2, 2015

2014 Year in Review

I was reading some other interesting "year in review" blog posts and thought I should really do one too, because bandwagon and all that.

Normally my blog focuses on gaming, both tabletop and PC/console, with occasional delves into the mildly controversial world of publishing, but I don't usually do much more than that. Despite my blog "intro" at the top I have spent a lot less time talking about my non-gaming interests here than I probably thought I would when I wrote about it; I read mostly nonfiction these days, for example, and most of that being books and magazines on archaeology, astronomy, archaeology and physics. It's a compulsive thing....I can't seem to get enough of popular science reading. Maybe I'll change that this year....but honestly I feel like its hard to do "serious" subjects right without putting a bit more effort into it.

Comics took the forefront of my interest in 2014....something I blog slightly more about than other neglected subjects. This was the year that I formally went off the deep end and dived back into the mosh pit of picking up issues on a monthly basis for both Marvel and DC. My monthly take-in is larger than my "read" volume so the pile grows ever so slightly larger each month, which is always a good sign I need to cut back a few titles. I think I'm grabbing about 40 books a month right now between DC and Marvel, plus a handful of graphic novels. Speaking of graphic novels, if you don't know about Barnes & Noble's sale you ought to check it out, as it ends January 8th: they have a buy two get one free deal for Marvel and DC titles on their website, which includes their usual discounts. It's a great deal, and I've spent far too much there this last month already!

2014 was the year of Dungeons & Dragons' triumphant return, and 5th edition proved to be a hit with my game tables, squelching all interest in Pathfinder. 13th Age held it's own, managing to keep interest with its interesting, weird sort of "D20 mechanics but with lots of free-form wiggle room" approach to the D&D era, and I also got some Magic World and Savage Worlds Sci Fi in. The Savage Worlds Sci Fi and Magic World were the most enjoyable....the broke out of the "box" of D&D gaming. Speaking of which....

2014 was the year I reached an almost terminal level of burnout on D&D, sadly ironic given 5E came out and proved to be an edition I enjoy as much or more than all prior editions, including my old favorite 2nd edition AD&D. The problem goes beyond the rules, though: it's the "conceptual space" that D&D occupies which is burning me out. I want to play fantasy gaming, but I want it to move away from the tropes and mores of D&D right now. I need fantasy which doesn't involve armor class, saving throws, spell slots and classes. I need more Magic World, Runequest, or even something more exotic and elaborate like GURPS Fantasy of Fantasy Hero. I just need something not D&D for a bit. Maybe not even fantasy, actually. Or if it is fantasy, it needs to be unrecognizable to me as anything remotely like D&D. I think a good 8-10 session campaign in something exotic will help scrub the palate a bit.

2014 was also (for me) the year that most big titles that were Kickstarted did not come out. Games such as Call of Cthulhu 7th edition and Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls remain in development, theoretically to be released in 2015. Fingers crossed.... but the lesson I have learned in all of this is to be wary what I back, for I greatly prefer paying for a finished product.

Finally, 2014 was the year that I learned to love the new generation of consoles and also slowed down my focus on MMORPGs. As some of you may have picked up, I have a wide but shallow approach to MMO interest: I play MMORPGs too slowly to absorb them at the rate the dedicated MMO bloggers do, but that also means I am more likely to burn out and lose interest well before hitting the end game. My inability to reach that level of hardcore dedication is anathema.....I have played, as an example, close to 300 hours of Rift and have 20 odd characters in that game, but only one reached level 52, and I felt that the second expansion for Rift (Storm Legion) was a tanker for soloers like myself, making the grind from 50-60 exruciatingly slow with a dearth of visible story content in the process. By contrast WoW at least keeps you stung along from one inane albeit amusing quest log to the next.

Either way, I closed out 2014 with a singular interest in The Elder Scrolls Online, and Destiny if you want to count it in as well. TESO is a great game for people who want a story-driven MMORPG experience and aren't too worried about grouping....oh, and who are slow levelers. Every time I log on I can find something interesting to do that feels like a quest. Sure, I can't sneak around getting into trouble with theft like you can in Skyrim, but I am willing to accept the MMORPG limitations of the medium for an experience that is decidedly stronger on story. This, alas, is not what most MMOers want, and I imagine that TESO's stats on play show that a very small percentage of gamers ever stop to listen to all the recorded dialogue in the game.

As my article from last week indicates, I closed out 2014 with my unexpected dive into Marvel Heroes 2015. It's an action RPG, but it does a marvelous (heh) job of capturing the world of the Marvel Comics Universe with shocking accuracy. If you ignore the "gameist" parts like endless loot drops and instead think of it all as a sort of abstraction for the "non fighting downtime" progress instead, or however you want to rationalize/ignore it, then it's a fantastic game with a crazy-fast playstyle, never-ending character trait and gear progression system, and a firm focus on the iconic characters in Marvel as playable entities. The game has a feverish atmosphere that's hard to beat, and so far I haven't found any Barrens Chat* moments anywhere, which is amazing.

Consoles became a key component of keeping up with current games, as my PC rig, a decent Gateway i3 from a few years ago is now a bit too old to run current titles which demand i5 or i7 processors as a minimum standard of entry. As a result, the PS4 and Xbox One have become my go-to machines, which turns out to be okay because I find the mostly fluid and trouble-free experience of  popping a disc in and starting up Destiny, Dragon Age: Inquisition, GTAV, Halo or Sunset Overdrive to be a no hassle experience. It's actually kind of interesting comparing some games you can access on all three titles for a comparison/contrast. For examples, if you get into Warframe (a game I'd love to try if they didn't have time-limited gear) I noticed it was more fun to play on the Xbox One than PS4 or PC. By contrast, you could do worse than to experience Final Fantasy XIV or DC Universe Online on the PS4.

For relaxed gaming where you can kick back with a controller, I remain a firm fan of the console era.

Outside of all that, personal life has been the single most dominant element of my year. My son Marcus turned three on November 25th, and the long road to that moment was a fascinating journey in discovering what it's like to see a two year old grow up. He started the year with a basic grasp of simple language and an interest (albeit very limited ability) to grokk the cool tech stuff his parents are into. He ended this year with better video game skills than dad when it comes to certain titles we let him play: he owns the entire Disney Infinity toy line now, for example, and plays it on Xbox One. His saved games in the "Toybox" are like some sort of freakish dystopian vision out of the mind of a junior Salvador Dali, and his goals in the game, at his age, are never about completing quests or meeting game defined objectives, but instead involve unique goals that no adult mind could ever grasp....such as placing 100 female shield agents in the map, then rescuing them from Venom by either picking them up and sticking them in a tree house of throwing them off the map so they can parachute to safety. His "100 beach balls" level is equally fascinating, and involves lots of giant beach balls, cars, and pillars. I think he invented pinball. Oh, and he's like a little chatter-box now, narrating everything and repeating every word he hears. My wife and I have had to start restricting ourselves on what games and movies we play when he's awake now, and Gramma has been informed to stop cursing so much.

I mean...he's getting his ABC's down and he's only three. He can count pretty well for a little guy. He knows left and right. I didn't know left and right until I was about six!!!

Meanwhile my career shift to a new employer (but same area of work) in 2013 paid off in 2014, and as I prefer not to discuss work in this blog beyond generalities, I will state only that my wife and I have found this to be a rewarding experience, and end-of-year reviews with the client were heartening. 2015 contains some uncertainty, but I am dedicated to my employer, who is a good man, and hope to steer the business into greater directions as we go ahead. My family is fortunate in this manner not to be suffering from any economic loss or downturn as others are, and my budget allows me to employ a decent staff of 11 and insure they have a decent living wage and benefits.

So that's it.....and welcome to 2015! I'm looking forward to whatever the new year brings.

*Barrens Chat, at least for my definition, is that spot where people are playing the game but insanely bored, so they turn the regional or public forum into their source of entertainment, a sort of mini trolling game in which everything from religion, sex and drugs on down to the admission of their own infantility (sometimes literal, often metaphorical) is exposed for all to see. In non-WoW games barrens chat also includes copious amounts of trolls discussing how shitty the current game they are playing is compared to WoW, although that trend mostly gravitates to MMOs that are new, or have a new expansion or release going on.

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