Wednesday, January 9, 2019

I guess I've been neglecting this for a while, huh?

Christmas came and went, and my Santa duties were a success, minus some minor things like international shipments taking forever, etc.  Work still continues (lol) on Colors of Your World -- I'm 2/3rds of the way done with the "Challenge Mode" levels, which is pretty much the last thing I want to add to the game, and then I also need to write up a short post-mortem.  Hopefully people will bother playing the new version and reading the post-mortem.  =X  I guess I kind of do these things for myself sometimes, but it would feel a bit pointless if no one really even cared.  Anyways, the results for LD came out as well -- we got 27th place, yay!

I feel like I had other things to write about but I seem to have mostly forgotten about them, oops.  Certain things in my life are going a lot better than before, which is really nice.  I posted my psychosomatic pain writeup, which I'm glad people actually took the time to read (sorry it was so long).  I've been continuing experiments in sichuan cooking, this time with some more authentic ingredients, and peppercorns that are not way past their prime (lol).  I made some mapo tofu which was pretty alright!  It wasn't super fiery but I also wasn't really trying to make it so (didn't add any extra spice).  More recently I had another go at shui zhu niu rou, which went quite alright, with a nice flavor profile.

Helped friends with their table at Sacanime this past weekend, which was fun, and tiring.  Since then I've mostly just been winding down; feels like I don't have a bunch of deadlines and things due, so I'm actually taking it easy for once (!).

I think I'm done with Hollow Knight.  I didn't 100% the game...well, actually I'm at 109% completion lol.  I completed the 4th Godmaster boss rush, which concludes with the Pure Vessel fight, so I've unlocked the last Pantheon of the Hallownest boss rush, which...I really don't think I'll do, as it's just a whole ton of fights.  I also didn't do the delicate flower quest, and didn't beat all the bosses in godhome, but...yeah, I'm done with the game.  Overall it was a fun experience, with a neat sense of exploration, especially at the point where the game really opens up and branches out.  I would agree with some other people's comments that the pacing of the game feels a little off.  I think it's partly because of the amount of backtracking involved, but also because the game world is so vast yet there are not that many "key" upgrades that really open things up...or at least that's what it felt like.

I guess in Super Metroid you get so many new key upgrades: Morph Ball, High Jump, Space Jump, Screw Attack, Grapple Beam, Speed Booster, Gravity Suit, all the beam upgrades, (Super) Missiles, (Power) Bombs, and for the most part all of these upgrades are "cool new toys", some of which really change the way you can progress around through different spaces.  In Hollow Knight you get: Dash, Double Jump, a dive spell, an attack spell, a Shinespark ability, wallcling/walljump, and some other minor abilities.  I think in the end it seems like you aren't really doing a lot different than what you were doing in the beginning -- your weapon still looks and handles the same (though it does more damage), and a lot of the abilities are a little underwhelming in terms of "wow" factor.  For example there's an upgrade which lets you swim in acidic pools (instead of having them act as spikes), which is cool except it doesn't really provide anything =new= per se -- it allows access to some new areas, for sure, but there was already (non-acidic) water you could swim in before, so it's a very minor-feeling thing.  The dive spell too -- after you collect it, there's one area where you need to use it a bunch to smash through the floor, and some other crumbly floors scattered around the world, but for the most part after I got it it was one of those abilities that you only ever used to get through the associated barriers.  The "shade cloak" is another perfect example of this -- it makes your dash invincible, which is a neat upgrade, but doesn't really feel different.  It lets you traverse a new sort of obstacle, but outside of that obstacle it doesn't really feel different at all.

So I think the grand scope of the game ended up feeling really drawn out when considering how little change is involved in the normal experience of walking around and exploring and fighting enemies.  I think the gameplay in the different areas was not vastly different either, which adds to the problem.  Aesthetically I think each area has a very nice and distinctive feel, and the graphics and art really work together to provide a different ambience for each area, however in terms of the actual gameplay I feel like it overall ended up felt too same-y and a bit laborious.  Especially trying to explore every corner of some of the areas (Deepnest), it felt like it just went on forever without providing any real variety.

So if anything perhaps there was =too much= exploration, too many collectibles and too many areas and rooms when considering how few real upgrades you got, and I think that is part of what made it tedious.  Hollow Knight really gives you rewards all over the place, but the problem is that those rewards are really small, like a bunch of new charms which you end up not using.  At the end of the game, the way you handle bosses is still exactly the same as before, you slash at them and you dodge by jumping and moving around.

All that said, the game had some really nice parts, including the Colloseum of Fools, which I think had really nice pacing and was one of the highlights of the combat system for me.  I wasn't the biggest fan of the combat system, including the "focus" mechanic -- scoring hits accumulates "soul", which you can use to heal yourself, but doing so leaves you vulnerable.  I think it's novel and a nice way of tying health to attacking, and it offers a new strategic challenge in terms of "when is a good opening to restore my health", but I actually didn't like that strategic challenge at all.  In normal exploration it's trivial to find a place to heal, so all it did was slow me down every time after I got hit since I'd have to spend a couple of seconds every time healing (this probably adds to the pacing problem).  In the boss fights, instead of focusing completely on avoiding the boss attacks, I would be trying to fit in heals whenever I could, so sometimes the battles became a really sloppy mess of "try to heal here....oops I got hit!  ok, try to heal again...ok I got it this time..." instead of being this clean fight where you are just dodging and attacking.  In other words, I felt really felt like it was a distraction.

Some of the enemies were really nice to learn to fight against, for example the big knights in the City of the Tears have a very precise window of vulnerability and learning how to fight them involves keying into a nice sort of rhythm which is very satisfying to pull off.  I think if more of the combat would feel like that it would have been nice.  I think my approach to boss battle design is that enemy attacks should be consistent and heavily telegraphed, yet hard to avoid until you have practiced to the point where you have a plan for each attack.  I enjoyed the fights against nightmare Grimm and Pure Vessel for this reason (though their attacks could be a bit more telegraphed), whereas bosses such as the White Defender, Hornet, and Broken Vessel give you very little time to react to which attack they are using, which can be frustrating.

I think probably my favorite 2D platform adventure boss in quite a long time has been the fight against Spectre Knight in Shovel Knight.  I think it's incredibly well-designed and I really loved everything about it.  There is one platform on either side of the battlefield and Spectre Knight floats left and right near the top of the screen, meaning you can't spam attacks against him (you need to jump on one of the platforms and attack, and he flies faster than you move), which means there's no easy way to just face-tank him and win a brawl -- you need to actually whittle his life down bit by bit and successfully avoid his attacks.  He has several distinct attacks involving his scythe which he throws in slow arcs, which are very difficult to avoid on first attempt, but if you learn to recognize them, you can definitely dodge all of them by utilizing the platforms.  Midway through the battle he raises his hand and the lights go out, which partially obscures him and his scythe, meaning it really tests your knowledge of his attack patterns even more.  It's quite a difficult fight but everything feels really fair in a very dark souls-esque way.  I love it.

I got Flinthook for xmas, so I've been playing a bit of that!  I'm still getting the hang of the controls (went back to keyboard+mouse after a brief trial of doing it with gamepad), and it's definitely not a walk in the park, but so far it's a nice thing to play every so often.

I finally got around to unlocking all of the characters in Smash Ultimate and am just now trying to give each and every one of them a test run so I can vaguely understand all of them and figure out which ones I'm interested in taking further.  I'm also trying to figure out my control scheme, especially since I'm heavily considering picking up Peach, and some of the float stuff is a bit easier using claw grip or a shoulder button as jump.  So far I'm trying to do a partial claw grip but we'll see how it works out.  I think if I play any character other than Peach, then the normal handhold will probably be fine, but for Peach I think it's more comfortable to do float bairs with claw.

A few notes so far:

Mario - He seems relatively unexciting, though standard.  I couldn't really seem to get much mileage out of him.
DK - Seems actually quite good!  His normals all seem pretty great, his bair still has a bunch of range and upair is great as ever, his tilts have good range too I think, and then cargo throw them off the side or into the stage edge is actually a thing.
Link - Is Link, he seems fine I guess, maybe even good, if not my style.
Samus/Dark Samus - Feels really weird without a sex kick, and no missile cancelling either, so I don't really know what you're supposed to do with her now.
Yoshi - Feels really great, his aerials are all amazing and they work well with the new more-floating double-jump mechanics.
Kirby - Is better than in melee but still seems pretty unexciting.
Fox - Feels really weird, I guess all he does now is uptilts and upairs and stuff??  The new physics mean he can't just shffl nairs in your face anymore.
Pikachu - Has been my de-facto main until now, he has multihit nair fair and bair which means it's super easy to just throw out long-lasting aerial hitboxes.  He has been relatively fun to play, and a strong character too.
Luigi - I don't think is for me, he apparently has some pretty broken combos, but meh.
Ness - Dunno.
Falcon - Falcon is hard enough to play in Melee, it's going to be even harder for me to get used to landing his aerials in this engine.  No thanks.
Jigglypuff - Feels fine, but bair is no longer broken, so it kind of feels like she just has less range in general so it feels harder to get in.
Peach/Daisy - I'm really interested in them, I think the way that they play neutral with floating feels a bit more natural to me in terms of movement, even though there is a lot of technical stuff to learn with them.
Bowser - Feels fine I think.  I didn't play him too much.
ICs - I don't really know.  Desyncs are different so I dunno.
Sheik - Is weird now because she lost her old fair, so she feels really weird and it's not obvious how you are supposed to kill.
Zelda - Using her lighting kicks feels a bit awkward for some reason, maybe the sweet spot is a bit tricky to get.  Her new downB is interesting.
Doc - His downB is super strong for some reason??  He seems just like a better mario overall.
Pichu - Like pikachu but faster, I'm starting to get why people like Pichu.  He is really fast, he can run in and aerial you, and he has these interesting combos with drag down bair.
Falco - His SHL is gone and a bunch of his moves are different so I have no idea what you are supposed to do with him anymore.
Marth/Lucina - Feel pretty much as you would expect, with some different physics, but dude, one thing I have to point out, it's like impossible to tell the difference between marth's sweetspot and sourspot hits now.  In melee the different sound cues were really obvious, but I really couldn't hear or tell a difference besides the % being different...I feel like this is another case of bad aesthetic design =(
Young Link - I can see why people said he feels like a melee character, he actually feels super natural for some reason, besides his dair feeling a little weird.  Could be fun to play.
Ganondorf - Wow he feels really sluggish in terms of fall speed and moving around.  He hits hard though.
Mewtwo - WOW his tail became HUGE and now has the range of a sword.  His new fair I'm guessing is a quite potent tool.  I'm not sure how I feel about him, if I was going to play a floaty doublejump character I would probably play yoshi instead.
Roy - Seems a lot better now? (again with the whole sweetspot/sourspot issue ugh).  Neutral B seems to take longer to come out which is lame.

Overall I'm interested in pichu/pikachu, yoshi, young link, and of course peach.  Though DK seems quite strong lol.

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