Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Being the sound guy... just like being a tank in groups. Allow me to explain.

Last week I was, relatively last minute, asked to do the sound for the second and third year vocalists' exams. Now, I'm used to do being the sound guy for the conservatorium's weekly lunch concert on Mondays. I'm expecting to do it next year as well when I start my masters - which by the way will prevent me from diving in to Warlords of Draenor until the summer holidays many months after it launches.  But I digress.

While, as always, a few things went wrong, as time went on I started to feel this infuriating friction build up within me. I was doing this task entirely by myself, which is unlike the lunch concerts. I basically couldn't really take a break until all the second years were done. Folks were happy as long as everything went ok. I was basically a non existant entity enabling them to project their voice into the room.
Of course when something went wrong or there was any discontent, it would be made clear to me.

I was tanking. And because I'm a pretty big noob at doing sound, it was exactly like my story from earlier posts trying to tank with my DK/Pally in WOTLK. Due to time constraints, I never have a chance to try/practice things for the lunch concerts and improve my soundguy chops. Nope. Denied. So that was wonderful.

Another typical thing was that, even though I hadn't changed the settings, when the third years came along all of a sudden the backing vocals couldn't hear themselves or this or that. It was totally different. And that's weird 'cause it wasn't the same 3 people doing backings for the second years either. But whatever, classic tanking scenario where what you did that was fine for one group was great, and the next group the same shit doesn't cut it at all.

Now to be fair, no one actually got angry at me. The power of the internet gives us anonymity and people's rage plays in to that; enabling it. But I'm pretty sure that in the halls folks will be talking behind my back saying I'm the worst. But hey, at least I got to do my job without shit flinging fresh from their arse like it happens in MMO's. Where tanking is like eating a raw lemon, the sound guy gets to eat a lemon but go through the sour punch in the face after the job.

And as icing on the cake, three second year students, while I was working on the thirds, came up to my den of high temperatures thanked me with a lovely gift. I genuinely didn't expect it, it's the first I think I'd gotten something other than a gift card and was very thankful. A peek inside and I saw drinks. I was still genuinely thankful and humbled by their token of appreciation. No sarcasm here.

.....but I don't drink alcohol....

Friday, 25 April 2014

What's in a Spoiler?

Spoilers. One of the worst thing in the world, it sucks the fun out of most things that can entertain you including books, movies and yes, games.
Thing is, for the most part people say that all spoilers are story related. But while this rings mostly true for books and movies, I find it's far easier to 'spoil' games. And by that I mean the element of surprise.

A recent example: Diablo 3's expansion #Reaperofsouls. While the vanilla game had an ok story that was flawed in its execution, the twist with Leia was one I hadn't forse
The story in RoS was pretty disappointing. The first game many complained was bad and in hindsight I thought so too but a few things aside I enjoyed the ride. Some jerk did spoil a major twist in the Youtube comments which damned most of the suspense the story had, but all the other things were alright.

In hindsight I wouldn't have cared much if anyone spoiled anything of the story because quite frankly the only interesting thing story wise happens at the opening cinematic: Malthael takes on the evil guy hat.
The spoilers that I care (more) for are the actual contents.

Monsters, boss fights, abilities and environments are a pretty big part of games. If I had seen pictures of every last zone in Super Mario World 3D then the whole element of surprise and discovery is taken away. It mutates into a waiting game, patiently waiting until you get to see what you've seen before, but be in control of it yourself this time. The magic is mostly gone.

These days trailers in movies but also preview articles for games really give away a lot about what they're showing off. Developers and/or publishers need to find a healthy balance of showing off what they need to for folks to get interested in their game, but assure that there are still other mechanics and whatnot left to discover. I think Assassin's Creed IV and inFamous Second Son did this quite well.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Getting there Diablo...getting there...

Well this is interesting. I've been having quite a lot of fun with Diablo 3 lately. The addicting and meaty combat system now rests atop a much improved loot system. I also managed to snatch the game for a much more reasonable price (EUR 30,-) which means I'm on board for getting RoS as it launches.

There are still a few things I'm not sure I agree with in the game like Critical hit Damage. It's fun to have a stat that can make you do so much more damage but it quickly becomes mandatory for higher difficulties. It's also just extremely alluring as soon as you get ~15% crit chance from gear and skills - which isn't very hard. It makes upgrading gear awkward. Some things that should be an upgrade because it's quite a few levels higher and has a lot more of your primary stat won't give you more DPS because it lacks or has inferior crit damage.
But we'll see how that turns out.

There's also the question of how long I'll stay interested in the game. Good thing then that I'm making sure not to spoil a thing about the game. And I mean quite frankly everything. I've only seen extremely brief moments of Act 5 and its environments, the demon enemies we'll face there and even what might be the most uninteresting quests out there. Heck, I don't even know what the grand majority of Crusader skills/runes and gear look like.

But there will be a post about spoilers in general soon. A very interesting topic if I do say so myself.

Monday, 24 February 2014

First steps in to FF14: Realm Reborn

It happened! The FF14 beta process has begun on PS4. I always wanted to try out FF14 but there had been no opportunity to play briefly without plunging my wallet for some dough. This was a pretty good chance as I've always wanted to give playing an MMO with a controller a chance. Let's briefly talk about these things.

The controls

I'm happy to report that it actually wasn't so bad! I do think that it will always be inferior to keyboard/mouse, but there are some upsides. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, they are similar to why one might prefer Diablo 3 on console.

Movement and combat feels more tangible. Your hands are closer together and you have that wonderful thing known as analog control. Moving a character just feels better with the thumb stick. Even if you're playing a game that only uses a D pad to move a character, I find it still feels more solid than WASD on a keyboard.

Combat also changes to feel more like an action game than your typical hotkey MMO feels out to be. Perhaps it also has to do with what class I chose (Pugilist, henceforth known as Pug because I love pugs) although, be it due to a bug or design choice, there is no rumble which is a missed opportunity to potentially convince some to switch to Dualshock 4 - which I love by the way. Such a fantastic controller!

All in all, it took a while to get used to and there are still some things that I miss. It goes without saying that the perfect control you generally have over the camera with a mouse and any situation where you need to type something is going to be better on PC. The entire UI seems to be just as customizable as the PC version (if you hook up a mouse/keyboard the game switches UI so it should really all be there)  though some text is incredibly small to be read on a big screen at a considerable distance.

Overall it's been more good than bad and less of a curve than I thought it would be. It just feels very foreign and clunky in some inherent areas but it's certainly doable. I'm really glad I gave myself  the chance to try it out.

 Pugs are awesome. Deal with it.

 First impresions

Then there's the actual experience. Well, as many have said before, it's a very pretty game. For a beta on a console that's only been out for a short time it runs quite well. I'm not convinced that my PC could provide the same FPS and graphics settings with the dozens upon dozens of people that were everywhere.
Yes, let me get this out first before I continue. There must have been hundreds of people on my server. A LOT of folks. I didn't think there would be this much passing interest in the game for PS4 users. I'm very curious to see how many will stick around at and post launch. But I digress.

Unfortunately the game leaves a generally disappointing impression. After an intro sequence that's kind of neat, you're left in a HUGE city you know nothing about, sent on quests that merely have to talking to people, being their errand gopher, getting to know the (entire!) city which I quite frankly don't care about. Why should I? I know nothing about it! Nor do I find it possible for me to give a crap about the NPC's mundane problems and solve them.
It's a good thing that they let you get to know the cities, but they're so huge. It shouldn't be necessary to cram this knowledge into the player's head first thing they get in. It should be introduced gradually as needed. As a result, there's so much to take in I actually still don't know much.
There's also a lack of ambiance sounds to make seemingly busy parts of town actually feel busy. You should hear NPC's laughing, glasses going  *clink!* in a bar, merchants talking in the trade quarter.

Music is all over the place. It's pretty much constantly playing, but there are huge epic parts in the score(s) that don't suit what you're generally doing in the city. Stormwind's theme has a pretty epic feel to it, especially when you enter the city on foot and you're passing those huge statues. But it's not too grand so as to be unfitting for if the score starts up while you're cleaning up your bank, doing some auction business or just standing around.

I won't throw in the towel just yet though. FF14 is on Steam for 50% off at the moment so I'll activate that key when I have more time. Based on my impressions I get now that it's an MMO that at least starts very slow. People play this game, and it must be for good reasons and I hope that those will rear their heads after I get through some of this drivel. Let's see if I can dig up the good side of the game.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Are piano solo skills relevant in jazz?

I used to love playing long solo improvisations on piano. Sometimes as an intro, but mostly as a standalone, independent piece that would evaporate as it was played.
The fantasy is that people like it, are interested by it, and get swept away. Luckily for me, I was pretty good at it by the time I started studying at the conservatory and received praise from fellow students and peers, but there was always a hint of 'meh' in the air. And I'm positive it's not because they were giving false praise. It was more like a "cool story bro" kind of meh.

The trigger for this was probably a masterclass I had in my second or third year from Tamir Hendelman. On records and live, he's an excellent pianist but plays it relatively safe. But at the masterclass we had a splendid 'lab' session where various crazy things were experimented with. It's been a few years since then so I don't remember it well but I recall he did some weird thing with an ostinato.
Everything that went on during that lab was a great learning experience, but most of it, in hind sight, actually feels irrelevant. It probably has some sort of influence on a sub-consciousness level, but it's very rarely immediately noticeable. The main teacher at the Conservatory I go to is one of the very rare cases where you hear this lab stuff actually get implemented, be it solo or in a band.

And so I come back to my initial thing. Solo improvisations on piano can be some of the most powerful music ever - Keith Jarrett's Kohln Concert is the best sold piano solo music in the world - but it's also the least called for.
As such, I haven't been arsed to play that stuff in the past year or three. When you get to a point where you mostly need to busy yourself with studying material you actually (are going to) use, it's hard to justify setting time aside for what crumbles down to the hobby side of the profession.

It's almost unavoidable though that I will restart it again, as my teacher will insist that I play off the wall things should I go for my master's next year. But then I will likely be learning to play them in a more directed way, so the experience can be used as an intro for a tune with a singer.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Getting back in to an MMO

I've recently picked up SWTOR again to play with my brother. I always wanted to finish the Empire story with at least one character but I had burned out on the game by the time we arrived on Balmorra. This happened a month or two after the game launched so that's quite a long time. On top of that, it's been a long time since I played an MMO that wasn't WoW for quite a long time so it took some getting used to.

After having been in to action games like Muramasa Rebirth on Vita, Metal Gear Rising and DMC the slow pace of an MMO caught me off guard. I know some are faster paced than others or at least have a different picture of their dynamics, I'm convinced that these games are generally slow(er) paced.
This time around it was even worse than usual as story is a pretty big thing in SWTOR. I had to figure out where I was, what I needed to do, how to play my character, set up my UI (which had changed a bit) and figure out what to do with all those lovely cartel coins I had apparently accumulated from merely having an authenticator hooked up to my account. I still paid for a month of subscription time though as I want to make sure I can play whatever character I want and not have to deal with the nickel and diming you have to put up with at times with this game.

It also makes me appreciate certain steps Blizzard has taken over the years to make it easier for players to jump back in to WoW after months or even years of having not played. Tutorials are often too spammy and cover many things that are obvious (how to move, control your camera, use or  learn skills) and skip or don't properly cover more hidden features and mechanics of the game. Luckily it is for the most part a WoW clone and as I play with my brother everything except the class quests for which we always split up so as to not spoil anything is fairly easy to zap through.

I must say though, the game has gotten me interested again. The conversation system, voice acting and setting (Star Wars!) for the most part still suffices to hide even the most redundant of kil ten rats quests, though when you're out actually doing these it's not so great. The goal quickly becomes: "Quickly get this over with so we can talk to people again!".

It's also fun to play good-guy Sith. I never got around to playing enough of the bad guy on my Republic characters, but it feels like I'm sabotaging the Empire by being a boy scout. It's also nice because it's something you never saw in the movies or games - that I can remember anyway. The bad guys are always bad, and some good guys go bad and that's it. Quite refreshing!

I hope I get through to the end this time. Cheers!

Monday, 20 January 2014

Not this time Blizzard - Diablo 3: RoS

Looking back, I've bought every Blizzard game at launch in the past decade or so. Be it Starcraft, Warcraft or Diablo games. But for the first time I have a negative feeling about buying one on its first day, and that is Reaper of Souls.

I played a fair bit of D3, though by now the majority of active players have well eclipsed my ~500 hour mark. For all its problems and my sudden lack of interest in the game over a year ago I got my money's worth. I even got my mitts on the collector's edition as a symbol to the many hours I wasted away on D2 as a young teenager. And I'm still happy I bought it, I don't regret my time played with D3 as there was definitely some fun to it.

But there are fundamental issues with the game, mostly in its one-sided itemization. It's a completely different beast to Diablo 2 with its amazing expansion. There are many many many many threads on forums and reddit that discuss the issues so I won't bore you with them here, but it's clear that I'm far from the only one who has a negative outlook on RoS.

I'm not even sure they're going to keep to their current release date, although by now we know that Blizzard has no qualsm with releasing the game and then continue to tweak and change, sometimes some pretty big things, post launch. Patch 1.0.5 and 1.0.8 are examples of this.
I'm very curious to see the public reception. D3v sold many millions of copies in the first week or two but I'm not convinced this expansion will follow suit.
Much like Nintendo, I think they need a shake up that's actually noticeable: in their wallets. Then the message will be crystal clear.