I’ll put the embed player right here at the top for you now, so you can turn this on while you read my thoughts on this album.
You can leave this tab open and enjoy it, because the whole album is streamable without purchase if you like.
Final Fantasy IV is a special thing for me. It came along at just the right time in my life and with such a special mix of Things Done Well that it became very formative. It set the tone for pretty much ever console RPG that followed, and there are some things it’s done that haven’t yet been eclipsed.
It’s still very playable, with some of the best-designed systems in an RPG.
But what pushes it into iconic is the multi-layered set of leitmotifs used by Nobuo Uematsu to give it its musical punch. The main overworld theme, used in various settings at various times, and woven into every battle theme in subtle ways. The Theme of Love. There are themes for specific characters and themes for specific locations. For the first time I can remember, some themes have variations that play after the main theme finished its first loop.
It has a style that is all its own.
All of this is captured wonderfully in this album. I have some of the CDs that accompanied the guitar sheet music books published in Japan, but those recordings are simple reductions. Reyes’s work is full of adaptations and thematic flourishes on themes you recognize, and it’s done in a classical style that allows you to start the album and let it flow in the background.
Every theme selected for this album is well-represented and arranged and played with deftness. I can’t think of a single thing I’d eliminate, and the original track to close the album fits quite well and is a welcome addition. I am perfectly OK with the decision to skip adapting both the Prelude and Prologue themes, which have been done to death at this point when there are other, more worthy selections that have landed here, like “Golbeza, Clad in the Dark” and “Within the Giant.”
Give it a listen; buy it on Bandcamp. It’s another great album from Scarlet Moon Records, and I hope it sells well enough to encourage more albums like it, because my only regret is that there isn’t more to listen to.
On Bungie Day, bungie.net and the Destiny API were updated with information on the first year’s Moments of Triumph, which is a set of tasks players can complete before the end of the year to earn specific and exclusive rewards.
Many players logged in to find they’d completed most or all of the accomplishments for the year, especially if they had been engaging with endgame content over that time—but six of the bounties remained hidden:
(The remaining missing bounty is in the Activities tab.)
In patch 1.2.3, the remaining bounties were patched into the API and were not obscured, so we now know what needs to be done to earn the remaining points. These bounties can be earned starting on the 31st of this month.
These Bounties are worth 10 points each.
Running Errands: Complete 25 Bounties.
The Hero We Deserve: Complete 25 Public Events on Heroic Difficulty.
These should be fairly easy to complete and turn in over the four-week period of the event and can be done solo without too much trouble. Remember that you can complete a maximum of 10 Bounties per-day, per-character—5 from Zavala, and 5 from Shaxx. 25 Public Events will take a few hours of patrol.
The first of these Bounties is worth 25 points; the second is worth 30.
In My Element: Collect 250 Elemental Orbs.
Remember Who You Are: Complete each Redux Mission at least once.
I haven’t seen any information that would tell what “Elemental Orbs” are, but given the number you have to collect, they would seem to be related to Orbs of Light in some way. Perhaps during Solstice of Heroes, Orbs of Light will be Elemental Orbs instead? We’ll find out, but this goal should be attainable through regular gameplay and would be soloable. Public Events would be a solid way to build this up, as players often use supers liberally when completing them. Take friends who will chain supers with you to speed this up.
These will be more complicated and time-intensive grinds.
To upgrade a set to Legendary, most of the tasks will be soloable. One of the pieces requires completing a Nightfall Strike, and so will require you either to group with players using the Guided Games functionality or by grouping with other players you know or have met via an LFG service.
Obtaining a Masterworked armor piece will be harder to solo, and the soloable methods provided will be more time-consuming. The two methods you can solo are:
Defeat bosses. The number provided in the item manifest is 10, but there’s not any more clarity than that—it might not strictly mean 10 strike or raid bosses.
Achieve the Legend rank in the Valor Crucible rankings. This will require playing quite a few matches, but with Valor now being given for all game modes other than Trials of the Nine (since patch 1.2.3), you’ll have many more options to choose from in leveling this up.
I’ll talk more about the Solstice armor and leveling those pieces in a later post.
With Moments of Triumph hitting Destiny 2 this month, and lots of people looking to complete activities they haven’t yet attempted, I’m considering doing more high-level activities to teach other players how to run specific things in the game.
Part of what I’ll be doing is working on guide posts people can read to get an overview of the activities and hopefully learn them within their own groups. But with the release of the first Lair activity, I started considering what the important aspects are for teaching these things.
These precepts are certainly not the only way to teach endgame activities (thinking specifically about raids at the moment), but the way I try to approach them.
Have patience. These activities require practice and familiarity.
When you’re running a complex and sometimes punishing encounter with players who haven’t completed it before, it can be difficult to put yourself back in the shoes of an inexperienced player.
It can occasionally feel like the rookies won’t ever understand how to complete the activity—to you, it’s very simple! After all, you’ve completed the activity a couple dozen times or better, and you have the muscle memory and encounter familiarity to execute your role without serious danger of a wipe.
Just recall the first few times you ran through a raid, before you’d been in the spaces and executed the necessary steps. Use that to guide your words. Ask players what’s going on when they miss a step or take a death. Remind them to look at the section of the death HUD that shows them what killed them and to share that information with you so you can help them.
Don’t berate players if they are having trouble. Be a positive influence on the attitude of the group.
Be mindful of the activity when you split the fireteam between new and experienced members.
Leviathan has many sections where the team is split 3/3. Eater of Worlds often has you split 2/2/2. When you make these splits or consider roles, try to group new and experienced players together. This allows for a few things:
Experienced players can make up for any lack of gun skill or encounter awareness.
Experienced players can watch the new players as they execute and help them determine what’s going wrong if there are mistakes.
Experienced players are better at knowing when it’s appropriate to go in for a revive if a death happens.
Experienced players should be flexible enough to play multiple roles within an encounter, so if you need to switch, they can do so.
When you group experienced players with new ones, you’re primarily doing so to get more information on what’s happening in the encounter, so you can change things up if you need to—either by switching roles or sometimes switching to an alternate strategy.
Explain the victory conditions first, then go back and explain the mechanics that get you there.
When you are running through encounter explanations within the encounter space, it’s really easy to get bogged down in the details and start explaining things in order. The main problem with doing this is that new players can often fail to see the forest when surrounded by really tall trees and a handful of bears.
Start by telling players what needs to be done to complete the encounter. Give them the tangible goal of the victory condition, and then explain how to get there. Go one phase at a time if you have to. If there are checkpoints, don’t be afraid to wipe after a checkpoint or take a break before explaining the next part of the encounter.
Doing this often helps players establish the mental space necessary to track various phases and can reduce surprise, especially if there’s a wrinkle happening at the end.
A great example of this is the Gauntlet in Leviathan. The victory condition is dunking nine orbs in the center. Once you establish that, it’s slightly easier for a new player to see how the phases of the encounter relate to one another. (e.g., The consequences of missing an orb during the first three rounds are easier to grasp.)
Unitask new players when possible.
If you have a choice of roles in which to put new players, you should give them a single task if possible so it’s easier for them to establish the mental space necessary for surviving the encounter and executing well. Eventually, you want all players to be comfortable with various roles, but especially for a first clear, give those new players something to do that allows them to focus their attention on one or two things at a time. Cognitive load is a real thing that takes concentration away from execution.
Good examples of these roles are:
Pretty much any role in Leviathan Gauntlet, though I advise steering them clear of the Psion-punching role.
Following the ground leader in Leviathan Gardens and taking either of the close (L1/R1) dogs in damage phase.
Perma-punching or throne room defense in Leviathan Calus.
Plate defense in Eater of Worlds Argos Phase 1.
Either of the inside plates in Spire of Stars boss room. (Less gun skill required to survive, and you will always be able to switch out a floater with at least one of the outside plate holders.)
If a unitasked role isn’t available, try to find positions that either start with extra help or give you a buffer. The main example I can think of on this one is the “top” plates in Leviathan Pools, as you can have the left/right float positions start there and help with taking out bathers before establishing the triangle rotation.
Teach methods that are easy to adapt for Prestige or Challenge modes later.
This one can be tough, but ideally, you want to set up players for success in later, harder, more mechanically-challenging activities. I don’t yet know what this is going to look like for the Raid Lairs in Prestige mode, as much of it will depend on the modifiers in use. (We don’t even know what two of the three of those are yet.)
Challenges in Leviathan will grant you additional loot, which is important for power leveling when the cap is increased. And Prestige modes are going to become more desirable once they have Exotic Masterwork Catalysts attached to them starting tomorrow. If you teach strategies that don’t apply easily to those more complex encounters, players will have to unlearn things before they can adapt to them. Shoot for methods that allow players to slide into Prestige by changing as few things as possible. Good examples of this include:
Using rotation strat in Leviathan Gauntlet. (Runners, punchers, platers.)
Practicing quick handoffs and quick bather kills in Leviathan Pools.
Using perma-puncher role in Leviathan Calus. (This teaches the throne room defenders to solo left/right.)
I don’t want to speculate too much on Eater of Worlds or Spire of Stars until I see what tomorrow looks like, but my guess is that the current optimal strats that involve point-blank damage might not be the right ones to use.
Argos will probably revolve mostly around using primarily supers for damage phase? I don’t know, but it’ll be interesting to see what it is and how it changes how people play.
Teach for understanding, not carries.
When you are running folks through these encounters, I think it best to teach the encounters like you are preparing those players to teach other people. There are a handful of encounters where you can super-simplify the mechanics to the point where one or two players don’t have to do much to complete it.
(The main example of this right now is the “run backwards” strat for Leviathan Gauntlet. I strongly believe this strat should be avoided in teaching runs.)
I’m sure a decent number of people will disagree with me on this, but I think there is a fundamental difference between a teaching run and a carry. In teaching runs, you want players to learn the mechanics in a way that they theoretically could go out and teach others in the same way. In a carry, you just want to complete the encounter with the least amount of danger (or even effort) possible on the part of the inexperienced players.
Gimmick strats and cheeses are fun to mess with when you are playing with established groups and you all know what’s going on. My regular group usually does Rat King 2-plate for Calus on Normal, for example. But I would not teach that method to a player new to the raid or encounter, as it requires fairly advanced knowledge of the workings of the encounter and tight coordination in the group itself.
(This is also why I am bearish on point-blank strats for Spire boss phase 2.)
Focus on fun first, learning second. Stop the session if the group stops having fun.
Raiding and running other endgame activities in Destiny is both challenging and fun! Once you get the encounters down, it’s a good time to run through these things with a group that knows how to rock it.
For people new to the activity, it won’t always be a fun time. It can be frustrating, demoralizing, and negative—especially if you are made to feel like you are holding the group back.
Do your best to prevent the establishment of that kind of tone in your encounters. Be positive. Compliment players on their performances. Reassure them when they make a mistake that it can be corrected and that it happens to everyone.
If you sense the mood in the group flagging, stop running the activity. There are lots of way to do this: take a water/bathroom break, move the group into a different activity (much easier when 6v6 PvP becomes standard in Quickplay tomorrow), or just call it and consider scheduling a follow-up session.
Encounter fatigue is a real thing that can lead to repeated wipes when the group hits a mental—or even physical—wall. Try to manage this as best you can.
This is something I’ve been thinking about doing for some time now: more discussion regarding what I like and what I don’t like in games. I think it’s only natural to start with Destiny 2, which is a game I have played (and continue to play) in rather obscene quantities with my son and other groups we’ve found out there.
In talking about games, I’m going to try very hard to follow the advice on game design feedback that I have digested from this Twitter thread, which is worth your attention:
I also thought it’d be a decent idea to start with talking through Bungie’s weekly updates and patch notes for Destiny 2, which are something on which pretty much everyone has an opinion, and affect a fairly large number of people who play a game over many hours. (My son and I have around 600 hours each in Destiny 2 to date.)
This week’s This Week at Bungie (or “TWAB”) can be found here, but read on for some snippets and commentary on the announcements therein. It should be noted that I’m only going to touch on game-specific announcements and not the links to external coverage or GuardianCon stuff.
It's pretty safe to say the 1.1.4 update coming to Destiny 2 tomorrow is a big deal. It's an attempt to respond to criticisms of the game's shortcomings when it comes to the gameplay tuning, pretty much across the board—and it took Bungie over six months from launch to get to.
Lots of people are looking to this patch to reinvigorate some of the game and bring some excitement back to both PvE and PvP modes. It's been termed the "Go Fast" update, because it has tweaks to player movement, ability recharge rates, and some gunplay bits.
The notes won't drop until tomorrow, but I want to take a few to talk about patch notes and what makes for good game patch notes. At least so far, Bungie hasn't provided good patch notes for a game that a lot of hardcore players study down to specific numbers. In fact, just today, one day before the update, the main subreddit for the game has been publishing or republishing a lot of numbers, like these:
These posts have very specific numbers that are based on measurements being taken by players that have no access to the underlying math of the game—they are all based on observation. There's a post like this probably every week somewhere, detailing something and including numbers to show the work.
They shouldn't have to do this all over again; post-patch, the patch notes should give them all the information they need. I'll explain. Bungie's patch notes have previously looked like this (and yes, this is a bit cherry-picked, but it's representative and is from this update):
Increased the base damage and reduced the precision modifier of Precision Auto Rifles
Slightly reduced the aim deflection of High-Caliber Rounds on Auto Rifles and Scout Rifles
Reduced the effectiveness of Aim Assist at higher ranges on Scout Rifles
Reduced severity of recoil on Hakke High-Impact Auto Rifles
Hand Cannon accuracy recovery now scales with rate of fire
Improved base Aim Assist on aggressive Hand Cannons
Slightly increased the rate of fire time between bursts on all Omolon Sidearms
Slightly increased impact damage on lightweight single-shot Grenade Launchers
These aren't good patch notes. They leave me with tons of unanswered questions.
How much more damage will my Precision Auto Rifle do now? Why are you making it less precise, and how? High-Caliber rounds deflected aim before? What do you mean, and how is that changing? How much is "slightly," and does that mean roughly the same across the various notes, or does it stand for a range of values?
Almost everything in these notes is pretty vague.
Good patch notes should:
Tell you what changed.
Tell you how much and in what direction.
Great patch notes will also:
Tell you why something was changed.
The best example of this is almost certainly Killer Instinct. KI had the best patch notes of any game I have ever seen, followed pretty closely by Diablo III. Here's a great example of KI patch notes that accomplish this:
[Fulgore has been pretty difficult to balance. We’ve adjusted his rushdown, his zoning, and his instinct during Season 3 and he is still an extremely powerful character, which shows how tricky it is to find the sweet spot for him. Now that the dust has settled a bit, the team feels confident that Fulgore now has the weaknesses we intended him to have, but on the journey to this spot, we went a little far in a few areas. These buffs will not send Fulgore over the top again, but should help with some small quality of life aspects of his game.]
Raised Energy Bolt damage by 42% (from 7 to 10) [This gives him more zoning damage and more damage on his Energy Bolt into Teleport mixups]
Raised Light Cyber Uppercut damage 33% (from 15 to 20)
Raised Medium Cyber Uppercut damage 16% (from 12 to 14) [Usually, you’d expect the heavy version of a move to do the most damage, but in this case we wanted the reverse. The benefit of the light uppercut is the highest damage and most invulnerability, while the benefit of the heavy version is more potential damage left behind and multiple hits.]
Light and Medium Eye Lasers can now be Pip Cancelled into Energy Bolts. Heavy Eye Beam still cannot be. [This is a big buff to pip cancels and these versions of Eye Lasers, and as a result, his instinct mode as well.]
The minimum reactor spin speed has been increased slightly. It now takes about 10 seconds at the lowest speed to build one pip, instead of 12.5 seconds. [Fulgore’s weakness should be the odd way in which he gains meter. The old instinct mode gave him so much free meter per game that this weakness didn’t matter. Now that we have things functioning the way we want, we feel his default ‘slow’ meter gain is just a hair too low. Over the course of an average match, this should result in 3 to 5 more pips than you used to get.]
For real: these notes are amazing. Fulgore was a special case in that specific update, but these notes accomplish everything they should:
They tell you exactly what changed, and don't leave anything out.
They give you exact numbers for the changes, so there's no guesswork as to the extent of the changes.
They tell you why things were changed and what the intentions of the development team were when they made the change.
And look: I know these are two different game genres. One is a 2D fighting game with a limited amount of movement on a plane, and the other is a 3D first-person shooter with lots of complicated environmental and player-vs-player interactions to keep in mind.
But when you get down to it, it's still adjusting math and systems. This information is available to someone, somewhere. (If it's not available internally, there are other problems afoot.) And this goes not just for Destiny 2, but all games: please don't use vague terminology when you patch your games. (Capcom with SFV is another notable offender here.) Tell your players what you are changing, whether it was a bug you fixed or is a new adjustment, and why you are making the change and what you hope to accomplish with it.
Talk about this with your players before you start your bracket.
Issue clear expectations for things like bathroom and smoke breaks, because players will ask you for these things. Let them know that they need to ask for them immediately after one of their matches, and that you have to OK them by looking at the bracket and seeing what time is available for people to do so. Also let them know that when you and they agree on a time limit for these activities, and they go over the time limit, they can be DQ’d.
Know where you are in the bracket and how long matches take.
You can’t be honest with players regarding the time available to them for a break unless you know how much room you have in a bracket for those things. You’re generally only going to be able to give them break time in the first couple of rounds, because that is the only time you have a lot more matches to play than stations.
Make sure you are playing out matches by rounds as much as possible to give players time to rest between their matches. Don’t run one person way through the bracket before you have had other players get their matches in.
Write breaks down on the bracket sheet or a notebook/notepad (if using electronic bracketing, which you shouldn’t be in most cases), and make sure the player sees you do it.
When I have a player ask for a break, I talk to them briefly about what they are leaving to do and ask them how long it will take them to do it. I check the time on my watch, and then tell them exactly when I expect they will be back for their next match. I then write their player name and the agreed-upon return time on the bracket, showing them as I do this, and let them go have their break.
This becomes a two-way agreement; I let them take the break, and they agree they’ll be back by that time. If they aren’t back by that time, I generally give them two to three minutes’ grace period before issuing a DQ loss. (This also means that when budgeting the time for their break, I give them two to three minutes less than I actually have for them.)
Above all, be fair and respectful.
Before every bracket I run, I set expectations that I’m going to respect players’ time, and that in return, I expect certain courtesies from them. It’s only in partnership with your players that you’ll be able to run an efficient and well-received bracket. Respect your players’ time and communicate with them clearly, and they will respect the decisions you may have to make.
I find myself hitting the screen capture button fairly often in this game, which is kind of nice. It gives me a record of what I’ve been doing and the things I’ve been messing with in the game.
My son and I are still playing together almost nightly, and it’s been a lot of fun. And we recently joined SafeGamers, giving us some groups we can play with who are respectful of our time and of us—a welcome change from a lot of online gaming experiences.
I’ve managed my first Destiny series raid, and cleared it a few times since then. I expect fewer screenshots next month, if only because I’m exhausting a lot of the content in the game prior to the first DLC release coming this December. (And I included the Legacy screenshots, which showcase some pretty neat art from various experiences I completed in the first game. I’m hoping my next Legacy is much more complete.)
Also, I’m aware there are some resolution problems with the carousel for these images; if you want to see the (much sharper) originals, use the button that appears when you are browsing the images in carousel.
My summer vacation has started, which usually means it’s almost time for Summer Games Done Quick. GDQ is a twice-annual speedrunning marathon, and each one lasts for a week. The summer one tends to be my favorite; the runs can be a bit more laid back and the charity is preferable to the one they use for the winter marathon.
The schedule can and will change throughout the event, so if there is a game you are really interested in watching, you should check the schedule the same day of that game and also a bit before it’s supposed to come on the air. Runs are unpredictable, so there’s natural fluidity to the time slots.
For different types of games, there are different run categories. Pay attention to things like:
100% or any%, the two most frequent run completion types – one involves collecting or doing everything a game has to offer; the other is just getting to the end of the game as fast as possible.
Restrictions like glitchless, 2 players 1 controller, co-op, and the like. This will give you more information regarding the general atmosphere of the run.
Runs have an estimated time to completion, which will give you the approximate time you’ll need to watch the run.
Keep in mind when watching these speedruns that many of them will involve the players going through the game in ways you haven’t in the past. If a run doesn’t call for glitchless or other restrictions, you’re likely to see things done to intentionally break the game and skip large amounts of the actual intended gameplay. This takes some getting used to and can look really weird the first time you watch a run for a favorite game.
That said, if you just relax and watch some people play games while using quite frankly amazing execution, muscle memory, and crazy amounts of practice, you can have a pretty good time. I suggest you find games you have played and liked on the schedule and trying to watch those to get started.
If you aren’t sure, here are some runs I think are likely to be great this week:
Luigi’s Mansion any%, no OOB (out-of-bounds). The restriction means the runner can’t break the constraints of the levels to get places the game didn’t intend, so this requires going through a decent amount of the game, and is estimated at around an hour.
Metroid Prime 100%. Some people really find these runs interesting because there is good execution necessary, but I frankly find them boring because large amounts of the run take place out-of-bounds. If you want to see a game get broken, watch this.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, any% glitchless. One of the all-time great games, played to full extent, in 36 minutes. Should be fantastic.
Super Monkey Ball Deluxe, Ultimate. Watch people wreck this game with what is essentially playing angles very carefully. Looks reckless, is actually super-controlled.
Mirror’s Edge, any% glitchless. A game that was designed with multiple paths in mind. Speedrunners have no doubt found all the super-fast ones, and the execution necessary for this should be impressive.
I Am Bread, any%. I say this because I tried playing this game and found it inscrutable and impossible, and this runner is going to beat it in 15 minutes and make me feel really old in the process.
Pokemon Puzzle League, 1P Stadium, Super Hard. Puzzle game execution at this high a level is always impressive.
FPS Block of games, starting with Half-Life. Every game here should show super-impressive play, even with glitches.
Ninja Gaiden 3, any%. Watch this and then remember how hard these games are and hate yourself immediately.
Marble Madness, any%. See above.
Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, Richter any%. The finest 2D Castlevania pre-Symphony, done in 25 minutes. It’s likely you aren’t familiar with this entry in the series (it was on Turbo CD), so you should give it a peek.
Mega Man X2, any% race. Four runners play side-by-side, trying to finish first in a live situation. X2 has a super-optimized run that is really impressive to watch and easy to grasp.
Shadow of the Colossus, NTA. I personally don’t think this game is as awesome as a lot of people do, but the run should be impressive.
Portal, inbounds. Should be one of the more amazing-looking runs of the whole event.
Chrono Trigger, any%, no wrong warp. Puwexil is one of the best RPG runners to watch. His commentary during the run (and the “couch commentary” helping him along) will be great and will explain exactly what’s going on as he does the run. CT is also a great run.
Tetris: The Grand Master block. You should watch this because I won’t; once you have seen these runs once, you have seen them all, but this is Tetris at a level that’s more instinct than reaction. TGM is way harder than any Tetris you have played (they will play on arcade hardware).
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, all dungeons, swordless. I don’t even know how you would do this, so I’m going to be watching this one with fascination.
Super Mario Series Warpless Relay Race. Great games, done head-to-head, and with relay handoffs to boot.
Metroid Block. Always one of the highlights of any GDQ. Usually tight races, high execution, sequence breaking in a lot of cases.
Dark Souls 3, All Bosses. Watch someone rip through this game with way less health than you would ever try to play with and weird items you didn’t think about using.
Super Mario 64, 120 star. Every star. Every level. A game that requires crazy-cool execution and looks rad when people pull it off.
Earthbound any%, glitchless. An RPG to send the marathon into the sunset, and a run that even today is still being rerouted and changing to be more efficient.
There’s plenty more I could have put in here, but these are the things I’d suggest to anyone who asked me about GDQ and what they should peek in on.
I hope you watch and have some fun doing so. Please consider donating to the event!
It struck me today that putting that here was probably not the easiest thing to find, or the easiest thing for people to use in their projects, so today, I moved the whole thing over to GitHub as a new repository: