Sunday, 20 October 2019

Out in the Wilds With Pokémon Sword and Shield

Since E3, there’s been quite a few new announcements about these games, including a few new features and Pokémon. While the reveals have been showing off new things, however, they haven’t been showing everything. We know of a few regional variants, a few of the new ‘mons (but not entire evolution chains), and just a few of those trainers we’ll be facing in the quest of the Galar League.

New previews that have been doing the rounds say there’s a lot of variety when it comes to what players will encounter on the opening hours of the game – including new ‘mon yet to be announced. And those previews have also reinforced my thoughts on this new generation. It does feel like a push – those first steps – to craft the series into something much different. If it can finally shake the binding shackles of the 90’s.

Don’t get me wrong, this is the most the series has looked to have rid itself of that design trait, but restrictive routes still are looking to be a thing even if they do look a bit more open. The same can be said of the towns, which still seem intent on having grid-based positioning for buildings within that town even if the paths aren’t as rigidly following such a design.

But that’s really the only thing I have to criticise about the games from what I can see without experiencing them for myself (except for the battle camera still not being as dynamic as it should be, but I’ve talked plenty about that). And there’s every chance that when I do experience the games for myself, it won’t be as noticeable as previous 3D games. The rest of it is looking a positive package of content, with quite a lot to be doing.

The Wild Area has been a focus in terms of content, with camping revealed as a new feature which enables play and care of a player’s team, as well as cooking to give an as-yet unknown boost. And latest previews say, or at least heavily imply, that the entirety of it is explorable as soon as you get to it, with wild Pokémon living there being a vast array of levels. I’ve been wanting to get into this Wild Area and experience this openness for myself, as it is the best new thing within the region. It’s something I and many others have wanted – a true feeling of freedom within the Pokémon world. Even if it is limited, it is something.

The rest of the games do seem to be holding up as well. Yes, they aren’t a graphical beast, and despite the above paragraph about restrictive grid-based town design, there’s no denying they are some of the most diverse, and in some cases largest, we have seen in a game to date. And the routes also have that feel to them. Other 3D games have all tried to make the routes look different, but they still felt pretty samey aside from those that were vastly different. I also feel that this region will see the least amount of routes connecting towns than any game before, and not just because of the Wild Area.

Characters and their interaction with each other and the world they live is also something I’m seeing as an improvement in these games. NPCs that populate the towns feel a bit livelier than in other 3D games, as do trainers, even if most of the time they’re still just stood on one spot. But those with importance do feel like they will offer a lot more than what has come before. We’ve seen Marnie and her fans within a trailer, and within the preview footage, we’ve seen characters talk mid-battle.

It is all adding up to make the interactions with those characters feel that bit more interesting, but while those interactions are great, they can get too much to handle. Sun and Moon was a great example of that with its story, as while Team Skull members were always great to be encountering, both Hau and Lillie were starting to get tiresome from the vast amount of time they would be appearing. I hope such won’t be the case with the story within Galar, and with the number of characters we’ve seen so far that you have a chance of encountering, I don’t think there’s too much to worry about with that.

Previews have been positive on the games, saying that they feel like a great advancement of the series, and though that phrase always seems to be said about a new generation, I’m willing to actually believe them this time. What we’ve seen does look like a great advancement, even if looking deeper reveals the cracks that will sure to be under scrutiny when the release date comes.

These will be the first proper mainline adventures coming to a home console, and despite the criticism I’ve given, I can forgive the games for that so long as the advancement into more open and dynamic design continues throughout this generation (though I really don’t expect a remake to offer such, even if that would be great) and into the next.

My first impressions for Pokémon Shield will be coming next month, as will the first impressions for Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, and based on previews I’ve been seeing about that game, it seems like it will be a greater experience than I was expecting.

Friday, 4 October 2019

The Yogscast Jingle Jam Gave Me Farming Fever

Despite having Game Pass for more than a year, there’s very little I’ve actually played from it. Sea of Thieves has been the main contributor for play time from it, with Zoo Tycoon, Gears 4, and State of Decay 2 seeing varying levels of usage from it. The latest game to be played from the service is Farming Simulator 2017. But that latest could have been ten months earlier when I’d found my latest hook in gaming. Let me explain that.

In 2015 I had bought GTA V on PC, with a push from my sister and a friend, and jumped straight into the online, where I spent a lot of time creating races as well as driving across routes of many others. To go with this, I had taken an interest in looking on Youtube for other races I could play. One of those places I stumbled upon was Smash Games with their Grand Theft Smosh series. The other was the Yogscast main channel, which my sister had sent a video from, of the Biking on Water Ragequit Races video.

You might be wondering what this has to do with being encouraged to get into Framing Simulator 2017, but the story continues with a newfound fascination with the content of the Yogscast, or at least the GTA videos. Soon after I added Hat Films to those channels from the Yogscast network I watched, and through Hat Films I started to move on from just the GTA content. Not long after that, I started doing the same on the main channel, as well as venturing through the other channels to see what they offered.

Come to near the end of 2018, where as well as being a near daily watcher of both the main channel and Hat Films, I’d been looking at the videos ThatMadCat put out relating to the livestreams the Yogscast network hosted on Twitch. That entire side of things I had avoided, as the only livestreams I had watched were those relating to events – such as E3, Star Wars Celebration, and even Summer of Sonic 2013. I was willing to commit for an event, but not really for anything else. Then came the Jingle Jam.

ThatMadCat had put out a video of why you should watch Jingle Jam 2018, using content from all the previous years the Yogscast Christmas Livestreams had taken place. It was this that I felt would be a good entry point for general livestreams. On the first of December I watched entire first day in full, and was enjoying myself. The second day I only watched the opening stream, but the third day was another full day. I loved seeing the Yogs out and about looking around the Christmas markets of Bristol, but I loved watching them feed a cow for Christmas.

The final livestream of day three had Lewis, Duncan, and Sjin play Farming Simulator 2019, working the fields from nothing in order to buy and feed some cows within the game. As I watched, I liked what I was seeing. The freedom to do whatever you wanted in a rural farming community. As I continued to watch, I was looking the series up. I saw that there was one game on Game Pass. Farming Simulator 2017. I could have downloaded and started playing the next day, but I was on the fence about it. I’d enjoyed watching the stream, but would I also enjoy the game if I was playing?

Despite it being available through Game Pass throughout the entire month, I still didn’t take the plunge in downloading it, and soon after the start of the new year, I forgot about the urge to play it. Until recently.

It’s now getting to the point where it will be one year since I first started watching the livestreams. While I haven’t been uber dedicated to watching every single one, I have made time to watch a few favourites live. And since it is nearing one year since I first started watching the livestreams, I wanted to rewatch those that first introduced me to them. Which is how I was reliving that opening day of Jingle Jam 2018 on the ending Sunday of September, the day two and three opening streams on the Monday, as well as the Bristol Christmas markets stream.

Then it came to Wednesday, and rewatching Feed a Cow For Christmas. All the memories from all those days came back to me as I watched – including the want to be playing a Farming Simulator game. So on the same day, I finally checked Game Pass to see if the 2017 game was still there, and in just the three days since I started playing have racked up over ten hours within the game.

The hook of the game, like most business simulation games, is to make money and stay away from bankruptcy. What I feel makes Farming Simulator different from most business simulations is the lack of urgency required to manage things. With other examples, money is used and earned quickly, with the sense that if you don’t develop new things within your field and attract new customers, there won’t be any advancement to the amount of money you can make.

With Farming Simulator, you can take things at a slow pace, relax as you plough a field or sow some crop, just enjoying the sounds and sights of nature. You can tend your own farm, or hire some helpers to tackle the jobs in case you feel you’ll make a mess of things. There’s still monetary value to be aware of – earning money is still a thing – but you never feel in danger of losing everything because of one bad decision, or spending months upon in-game months trying to recoup lost money from that bad decision.

While you set your own helpers to work, you can also help the other farmers around with their fields, learning and earning, and working on a bond that will reduce the cost of their fields should you wish to expand. But even these can be done at your own pace – whether you travel from farm to farm tackling every mission you can find, or just taking one mission at a time every once in a while. You don’t even need to be entirely accurate or completely hit every spot to pass the mission, so these make a good place to start if you want to improve your own skills at operating the machinery.

2017 doesn’t feel as refined as how 2019 looked, but it’s still a good game that you can lose yourself to. I’ve already started looking at how the series has progressed, and to those games coming in the future. I have my eye on what becomes of the Switch version of Farming Simulator 2020, but I don’t think it will be as fully featured if it’s based on the mobile versions. It might just be that I go straight to 2021, but no matter which I go for next, I will always remember how I was first introduced to this series.

The Yogscast have been a part of my journey for four years, giving me plenty of laughs and a whole heap of entertainment. Last year, they introduced me to gaming personality livestreams, and this year I am ready to once again join the Jingle Jam for an adventure of Christmas spirit and holiday cheer. And hopefully another round of both Christmas markets and feeding a cow for Christmas.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

October '19 Monthly Update

September saw two videos relating to Star Wars Battlefront and the new content that had arrived for the game, with the refreshed version of Capital Supremacy and Instant Action being played. The month also had the release of my new ebook The Future Adventures of Halesowen, with a second preview being posted as well as the release post.

New stories are set to come, and while there won’t be any new ebook releases this year, I do plan on using Wattpad a bit more. New chapters of Pokémon: Shadow Boom will be continuing to appear on the 15th of every month, but there’s a little extra I’m planning for Shorts of the Rula and Alternate Extras of Halesowen throughout these next three months.

In terms of videos, I’ll be showcasing some more GTA Online races from the Xbox One version, as well as returning to something I haven’t done in a while. Coming soon will be another Sonic Generations video with a custom song. Just what that song is, you’ll just have to wait and see.

But as well as videos of GTA, I’m also going to reveal on my blog a new state I have mapped out for where a future game could take place. If you’ve visited the GTA VI thread of GRcade, you’ll already have seen one version of it, but this post will go a bit deeper into the why, as well as showing a redesign of that map. The map won’t be to scale, as it’s just a concept, but it gives the general idea of how I’d want it to be.

I’m expecting a demo for a certain generation eight to be announced, and I’ll be sure to have a post – and possibly video – on that as well. If not, there’ll definitely be something Sword/Shield related this month before the First Impressions of the game next month.

Look forward to all that and more, and I hope you enjoy it. Bye for now.