Sunday, November 16, 2014

Debuff Usefulness in FFXI

Maybe it's nostalgia talking, but I loved how debuffs actually made a difference in FFXI. In other MMORPGs I've played since FFXI, I've struggled to chose a class. But with FFXI I knew right away. I was drawn to the class for both its aesthetics and its mechanics. The jack of all trades with a pimping hat and sexy tights, Red Mage was so badass. I knew from the start it would be my main class. 

But it wasn't until end game that I realized what a good choice I had made. Regular parties and mana burn parties both wanted me for the essential buff, refresh. But debuffs were also in demand. Gravity was useful for kiting HNMs, fast cast plus stun spam was useful in all kinds of situations, and even the less glamorous debuffs, paralyze, slow, poison and blind, often made a big difference in exp parties.

Because of the way parties worked in FFXI, debuffs actually significantly reduced the number of hits your tank would take, thus saving the healer's mana (or even allowing me to be the main healer), thus making you level faster. Part of me really loved how this kind of thing just happened in the background, without much thanks. But another part of me resented how the Ninja got praised for using utsusemi so well, when it was really my paralyze and slow that enabled him to use his shadows so effectively.
I recently started playing Bravely Default, and seeing the same old debuff spells (in a game where they are, even more than usual, clearly worthless) reminds me of Egoraptor's Castlevania 4 Sequelitis episode. Often sequels will carry on a game mechanic even if it has become obsolete. The funny thing is, debuffs have always been obsolete in FF games, the only game that managed to make them useful was FFXI. In offline games debuffs don't land on most bosses and most trash enemies die before the debuff makes much of a difference. With the Brave/Default system introduced in this game, trash mobs have become less than trash, they are dirt. When every member of your party can attack 4 times from the first turn, why would I ever bother to debuff?

I've only just started the game, so perhaps I will be proven wrong, but I doubt it. When you can plow through enemies with brave attacks, debuffs seem like a huge waste of time. I don't think vestigial mechanics from prequels are all that bad, but I do wonder how they could've been changed or updated to better suit the new game.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Teaching on Monday

I always thought people who dreaded Mondays were just lazy, and I guess they are, and I guess I am in some ways. But what I find amazing is that as soon as I am in front of a class teaching them, being the "genki foreigner" that Japanese education wants, and in some ways needs, I feel fine. 

I've always considered myself an introvert... But am I really? How do I feel so energized and feel my "case of the Mondays" completely evaporate as soon as I actually get started teaching a class? I suppose it depends on how responsive the class is to the lesson, but after so many years of doing this, even in the "bad" classes where only a small minority of students are responsive I feel great. 

After studying psychology and reflecting on my own experience in school, I realize there is absolutely nothing wrong with these kids, and considering how little I get to work with them, I'm not in much of a position to assess their skill level and cultivate their interest in English. If they have an interesting, enthusiastic home room teacher, the class is great and responds well to my lesson too. If the home room teacher isn't passionate about teaching, it shows in many ways.

There is one teacher who lectures on minute details of grammar over and over like language is a math problem to solve, so he only ends up being popular with the tiny minority of students who like to analyze things grammatically. 

There are other teachers who try to be funny and interesting, but they fail miserably and instead come across as weird old people who can't read the atmosphere. They just carry on laughing at their own jokes and ignoring their student's groans. They alienate most of their class, even if they are a decent teacher otherwise. Although, usually they aren't. 

I think there is a certain performing art element to teaching similar to acting that gets ignored too often. Teachers need at least a small amount of charisma to be engaging with their students. I wanted to be an actor at one point in my life and I think could have been an actor if I had pursued it. But there are so many narcisistic people in acting and so much political maneuvering that goes on, I just didn't want to deal with it. 

I suppose teaching, or any field, has those same narcisistic, lazy people, and I suppose I am also guilty of this myself. But it's hard to feel inspired about teaching when your co-workers suck, their English sucks even though they are supposed to be English teachers. On top of that, the system forces me to spread myself thin. I teach every grade and every class in multiple schools so it could be months before I teach the same students again, and half the time the home room teacher only uses me to help teach pronunciation and check grammar like a walking dictionary and spell checker. 

I wonder how much difference there really is between introverts and extroverts. I have a feeling that the main difference is that introverts are just more picky about the kind of people they allow to get close to them and have a lower tolerance for crappy people or people they can't influence to be better people. It's not that introverts get their engery from being alone and extroverts get their energy from being around other people. It's that extroverts have a higher tolerance for stupid people and better social skills for dealing with stupid people, whereas introverts just keep their mouth shut or throw their hands up in frustration and walk away.

Extroverts perhaps have a more instinctive sense of how to deal with people whereas introverts have to learn those skills explicitly, or pick them up over time through experience. I think studying psychology can be extremely helpful for introverts, I know it has helped me a lot.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Smash Bros for 3DS: Born To Throw/Launch/Smash

I swear, there is something in our genetics that makes projectile movement innately fascinating to human beings. I am no in any way a fan of sports, but even I am glued to the screen when a ball is thrown or punted over a huge distance and everyone is holding their breath wondering if it will reach its target. Angry birds cashed in on this fascination, it was a big reason why AP physics held my attention in high school, and now, I think it's the reason why I am obsessed, even more than I thought I would be, with Smash Bros.

Understanding vector physics can help you win in smash bros? Absolutely! That's what it's all about. In a typical fighting game there is a Rock Paper Scissors system between attacks, dodges and throws, but with smash bros there are so many other layers on top of that basic system. Magic/energy, absorb, reflect. Charge, counter, barrage with projectiles. Cumulate damage, distract, go for a launch (smash). 

Simply recognizing that there are light-weight characters and heavy-weight characters can really improve your game. You have a better chance of finishing a light-weight with a vertical smash, and a better chance of finishing a heavy-weight with a horizontal smash. Certain characters have significant horizontal AND vertical recovery moves, so you're better off using quick, weak cumulitive damage attacks to get their % high enough for a successful launch. 

There is also my tendency to get so invested in a fight that I have to fight the urge to launch my 3DS across the room in frustration...

Considering the level of complexity and the appeal of the characters I'm surprised that smash bros STILL isn't taken more seriously as a fighting game. I guess because the controls are so simple that it feels like a step backwards to the guys who have had to memorize long-ass button combos to do well in typical fighting games. Also, it's just not even marketed to those guys. If there were a smash bros machine at my local arcade I would never leave! 

I have a feeling with this latest installment, there will be more immitators like the Shonen Jump and Naruto fighting games on the game cube years ago, but nothing compares with smash bros. Smash bros for 3DS has got me hooked. I hate to sound like such a fan boy, but after the outrage about tripping in Brawl, and Brawl's terrible online system, it looks like Nintendo decided to listen to their fans. Similar to how FF14 became a proper MMORPG instead of the experimental crap it was to begin with, smash bros has become a fine tuned work of art with incredible potential for complex mind games and quick thinking exploits. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Japan Bashing

So I just got this book, "The Enigma Of Japanese Power" and the author says in the intro that the book is not about Japan bashing. But then he goes on to do just that.

He bashes the infrastructure "Urban housing is cramped, confined and extraordinarily costly. The cost of living measured against average income, is exorbitantly high. Commuter trains are extremely crowded, the road system is ridiculously inadequate. These and other deficiencies in the infrastructure of daily living leave average Japanese city dwellers with a lower standard of comfort than that enjoyed by their counterparts in less wealthy European countries"

He's right on a few points, the cost of living is crazy high, and trains are crowded. But I like my small apartment and the "cramped" urban environment that gives me quick and easy access to everything I need.

Then he bashes Japanese art "One can hardly say that much emanates from Japan today that enhances the less materialist aspects of life in the way of great music, great literature or even impressive architecture."

Considering Japanese art like video games and anime are the main reason I originally became interested in Japan, I'd say this guy is just a snob with crappy taste. Since living here I've discovered Haruki Murakami, easily my 2nd favorite author after John Green, now Paulo Coelho is only my 3rd favorite, haha.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The World

Incoming flow of conscienceness rant!

The world is wonderful. There is more prosperity, equality, justice and peace than in any time in human history, and as a college educated white male, perhaps I have no right to complain. But complain I will. 

The world is becoming a better place, but at the same time it's becoming a much more complicated place. I am accustomed to living in big cities, but big cities have developed an underclass of people just living to pay the rent and find some measure of happiness in this crazy new world. 

I feel a bit cheated that no one ever told me the world was this complex. I was raised to believe that as long as I read my Book of Mormon and said my prayers, everything would turn out a-okay... Ugh.

I remember scanning a few pages of Thomas Friedman's book The Wolrd is Flat in Target as a teenager and thinking it was too "businessy" for me, that I would be an artist! And such trivial business books weren't worth my time. 

Recently I've been reading the book Why Boys Fail and it suggests that maybe boys should have The World Is Flat as required reading. When I read that it immediately triggered my memory of seeing in Target all those years ago. Perhaps I misjudged.

Something about turning 29 and reading the book Entertaining Ourselves To Death by Niel Postman triggered a big change in my way of thinking. Reading Paulo Coelho's book Adultery only furthered my suspicion that age 29 (the return of Saturn) is an opportunity to have a turning point in my life. I am still more of an idealist and a dreamer, but I have acquired a thirst for real world knowledge.

The problem with learning a lot of history is that you start to see how violent and unpredictable the world is. Where is a safe place to live and raise a family? Is that even something worth doing? What sound investments can I make? 

Stefan Molyneux recently did a video about Ayn Rand. He says that her ideas are kind of freaky to some people. He says it's because of how much western society has fallen away from it's principles, but I have i different theory. I think we are finally realing what hateful bullshit religion is, but at the same time, the ideas that must replace religion, secularism, objectivism, relativism, etc, are pretty scary.

Which is perhaps why I like the idea of humanism so much. Even without religion, we cannot ignore the power and importance of having compassion for our fellow man. But compassion cannot trump honesty. If someone believes in something that is clearly bullshit, like religion, you should tell them the truth. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Moroni's Challenge and Kundun

The difficulty with leaving the Mormon church is that there will always be someone you love telling you to take Moroni's challenge again. The challenge is the idea that if you pray with the right frame of mind that the Holy Spirit will confirm that the church is true. But Moroni's challenge is something I will never do again. I took that challenge hundreds of times, but I could never be sure that the feeling I got from praying about it wasn't just my own mind telling me it was true because I wanted it to be true. 

I recently re-watched one of my favorite movies, Kundun. It's about the conflict between China and Tibet. There is a very memorable scene where the Dalai Lama and chairman Mao sit down together. The negotiations seem to be going well, and it seems like there is nothing but mutual respect between the two men, but then chairman Mao tells the Dalai Lama that there is something he must learn. That religion is poison. I don't agree with socialist or Marxist ideology, and I certainly don't endorse the violence and human right's violations that the Chinese committed in Tibet, but I do agree with the sentiment that religion is the opiate of the people. 

It is a shame that the beautiful culture and religion of Tibet had to be dragged kicking and screaming from the dark ages, but it was something that had to be done for the sake of the poor people living in that country who were stuck worshiping a false god and living in poverty and ignorance about the outside world.

I have a theory that the Dalai Lama himself, through his thorough understanding of Buddhist principles, has come to realize his own humanity. He has said there should be no 15th Dalai Lama. I think he continues to act as the Dalai Lama because of the positive teachings of compassion and non-violence that he has the power to share with the world. I doubt the leaders of the church would ever say there should be no next prophet.

I think I was moved as a teenager when I first saw Kundun because of the parallel experience I was having with leaving the church. The Dalai Lama was convinced as a child that he was special, he was part of a loving community that taught profound truths about the importance of having compassion for your fellow man. But they also taught him a lot of nonsense about being reborn and listening to hissing, thrashing oracles in funny costumes.

I think now that I am older, I relate more to the chairman Mao character in the movie. No matter how much you may love and respect someone, if they believe something that is fundamentally wrong, you should tell them.

The church has adapted to mainstream culture in the past, changing its stance on polygamy and blacks holding the priesthood, but the world is changing too quickly for it to keep up now. I left the church for purely intellectual reasons, but I understand now that was also the right thing to do morally. Telling children they are special because they believe in the only true religion is psychological child abuse, even without threats of going to hell. Trying to use the law to enforce outdated ideas about sexuality, as the Mormon church has done with the LGBT community, is wrong. 

So, since I've taken Moroni's challenge hundreds of times, could I perhaps persuade you to watch Kundun once if you haven't seen it already? I'd love to hear what you think about it. Are Tibetan Buddhism and Mormonism (or any religion) really so different? Are their superstitions any more or less rediculous than yours? Are their struggles for peace, compassion, freedom and understanding any more or less admirable? I believe that it's the principles that are important, not the religious trappings. Religion is no longer necessary to teach correct principles, religion only divides us.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

MMORPG Roles And Gender Roles

Learning all this stuff about evolutionary psychology, politics, history, social and cultural norms, etc. has gotten me thinking about how it all relates to MMORPGS, esspecially the party dynamic. I have played as all three roles; healer, tank and dps, but I usually play as a healer or a hybrid class. I suppose it appeals to me to be the person in the background keeping everything running smoothly, being able to support when support is needed or contribute a little dps when things are safe makes me feel like I am always useful. Being a jack of all trades, supporting in whatever way a situation calls for, never taking too much risk, this is a typically feminine role, as long as you're making an effort, when things go wrong, blame tends to falls on you last. People understand how essential your role is, but there is little glory or heroism in it so the things you do tend to go under appreciated.

Being a tank is a lot of fun, but it certainly puts a lot of pressure on you. Because you are the one facing off with the enemy, you tend to become the default leader, and therefore the one that blame and scrutiny immediately falls on when things go wrong. You're armor is too weak or you didn't hold agro well enough etc. The tank role is the typical male role, to lead, protect, strategize and take risks. Good tanks are like successful entrepreneurs, receiving praise and attention for fulfilling their role so well. Bad tanks are like the guys whose wife divorces them when they lose their job.

Dps was always the least appealing to me, I would say it is the beta male role equivalent in the MMORPG world. As a dps you are necessary, but your job is fairly easy and straightforward, thus many people want to fill that role and it becomes the least valuable role. If you've ever tried to find a pick up group as a class that is solely dps, you know exactly what I am talking about. 

When I play as a healer I enjoy myself, but it is just a mild sense of satisfaction because I feel that our success was mostly because of the other players in the group. If the MMORPG party were a couple, the healer would be the housewife who feels under appreciated, but sticks with it for the pay off. 

When I play as a tank my emotions become extreme. If a difficult battle goes smoothly, I get a rush of satisfaction. Even if I understand on an intellectual level that we were successful because we worked as a team, it's hard to fight that instinctive feeling to take most of the credit because I was the one putting myself most at risk. On the other hand, when things go poorly, it's easy for me to feel guilty, that the failure was all because of me, since I have the most control over the encounter. 

I've enjoyed playing as a dps, but it makes you feel like a mercenary, a replaceable cog in the party machine. Dps classes are the most popular because they make you feel powerful with big damage numbers and fancy attacks, but over time the monotony of your role and your own replacability will start to bother you. You just don't feel as needed as a dps.

I suppose I am fairly feminine, but I am still a man, so the hybrid classes that can step in and contribute DPS or another unique ability, like mana regeneration, when necessary are the most appealing to me. Shadow priest and Shaman in World of Wacraft and Red Mage in Final Fantasy 11 were my favorites. 

It's interesting that Final Fantasy 14 was originally a game that tried to minimize party roles, and it was an absolute disaster. It seems that people tend to prefer more clearly defined roles, in life and in online games. The rise of feminism has led to the current chaotic state of affairs between men and women. We now have the freedom to chose our own role in life, but our culture and biology still push us to behave in certain ways. I believe problems will persist until men and women learn to fully appreciate the value of each other's traditional roles and chose to be open and honest, to negotiate with their partners about what role, or combination of roles suits them best.