Previously I’ve discussed my excitement for Final Fantasy 15. I had a lot of hope for what the game could be as potential overflowed from various trailers and news points scattered over it’s 9+ year development cycle. As it traveled from being Final Fantasy Versus 13 into it’s final form broken into a film, episodes of an anime, and finally a video game my excitement grew. Before any of that really became a thing to me, my initial interest of this game began back in 2012 on my birthday when Theatrhythm Final Fantasy received a DLC song for an unreleased FF Versus 13, Somnus. The song was gorgeous and the mood was tonally different from anything I knew of Final Fantasy.

That was the turning point where it went from something that I didn’t even bother watching trailers for, to digging up as much as I could via Google notifications. The game was pretty much assumed to be dead at one point as the news was sporadic at best while Final Fantasy 13’s series continued to disappoint at Square. It was out of sight and out of mind until the E3 2013 trailer when it rebranded as the 15th entry of the mainline titles, breaking away from the baggage of Lightning’s saga. Yes, it got a fancy roman numeral all of it’s own as “XV“. Either way that trailer captured my imagination as Square games all tend to do eventually. Later on they’d eventually pair a demo titled Episode Duscae in with their HD port of a previously Japan exclusive PSP game, FF Type-O, and I totally spent $60 on it to get an early poke at what FF15 might be. It’s been two years and I’ve still only put in about 6 hours into Type-0. Really, I could have paid just $60 for that 3-4 hours of content in the FF15 demo and be satisfied. Everything I loved about open world fantasy games (Dragon Age for example) was wrapped up in this actiony, exploration driven Japanese RPG ready for consumption. Super emo characters, party system, myriads of weapons, dungeons to explore, side quests, ridiculously spikey hair styles, and brutally cheesy themes like friendship conquers all. Everything I want from my JRPGs was on parade in a gorgeous seamless world to breath it all in with. This was the Final Fantasy I’d been dying for since 1999’s adventures with Squall & co. I loved it so much I went ahead and wrote an entire blog just about the demo.

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While 2016 was an absolute garbage year culturally, it was also an… interesting year for me personally. My career advanced which threw my lifestyle completely off-kilter. This lead to the majority of the back half of this year being lost to me gamewise, leaving a ton of upcoming or recent releases that in normal circumstances would be top contenders for going into my GotY considerations. Pokemon SunMoon, Final Fantasy 15, Dragon Quest Builders, World of Final Fantasy, Darkest Dungeon, TTG’s Batman, Battlefield 1, and The Last Guardian are all games I imagine will be high in my rankings next year once I have time to spend with them. Hell, Final Fantasy 15’s Episode Duscae demo alone was one of the most exciting things for me to play in 2015, and they’ve had over a year to polish the game since then. I’d be honestly shocked if it doesn’t take top nods from me next year. Both that and Persona 5 are expected to be high on this list for my 2017 wrap up. Oh yeah, then there’s also a little known obscure release called Mass Effect: Andromeda getting in on that as well. Next year is looking like RPG heaven to me.

Yet we’re not here to talk about the future. This here is a retrospective on what I’ve played through 2016. Staying consistent with 2015 and 2014’s rules – Games on my list do not have to be released in 2016 to be eligible. The games on my list are limited to titles that have been played for the first time during this year. As previously discussed it’s increasingly difficult to qualify what’s a release this year versus another. Perhaps something released on PC in 2014, but was just brought to PS4 in 2016? Perhaps it’s a game that released in Japan in the 90’s yet is just now hitting NA as part of a collection? Between remasters, ports, rereleases, localization, etc – Applying an arbitrary year requirement on a hobby that often has us going back into yesteryear to experience the wide breadth of gaming is just asinine. I’m always working a backlog, I’m always discovering old games I never knew existed or had a chance to play due to time constraints, and always checking out remastered or enhanced versions of games I loved years prior. So my criteria is simply one rule… If the first time I’ve played it falls between January 1st and December 31st of this year, it’s fair game. This includes remakes/remasters as their own entry. Hell, this year almost had both an original release from over two decades ago and it’s 2016 release on the list. After all if I’m making a list of the games I’ve enjoyed the most this year, why not?

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EverQuest Remembered is a multi-part series in which I look back on a game that meant a great deal to me, partially due to a matter of timing and circumstance. When tasked with the idea of blogging about something that I spent the better part of five years of my life actively playing it was difficult to nail down what to write about. Putting thoughts to paper I’m left with topics ranging from it’s cultural impact to individual relationships, shaping a fledgling genre to bringing out the nature of who we are as players. There’s a lot to cover here in regards to my personal retrospective of this 17 year old game… but if you’ve got the time, I’ve got the stories – and maybe by the end you’ll have a deeper understanding of how lines of codes shaped my world as much as theirs.

In the last entry of EverQuest Remembered I spoke a lot from my own personal introduction to the game. I’m gonna switch gears a bit with this one and speak a bit more on the broader impact it made on the industry as a whole. Conceptually, mechanically, and socially EQ set the rules and language for both RPGs and MMOs that still influences today. It’s been nearly two decades, but it’s impossible to see the modern landscape of either genres existing as they do if Verant Interactive hadn’t created the template for all that followed after 1999. Technically Ultima Online released two years prior as the first commercially successful MMORPG yet EverQuest’s 3D rendered world lead the charge for what we’d refer to now as an MMO. Enough with the generalities though, let’s dig into the specifics of what I’m talking about here.

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EverQuest Remembered is a multi-part series in which I look back on a game that meant a great deal to me, partially due to a matter of timing and circumstance. When tasked with the idea of blogging about something that I spent the better part of five years of my life actively playing it was difficult to nail down what to write about. Putting thoughts to paper I’m left with topics ranging from it’s cultural impact to individual relationships, shaping a fledgling genre to bringing out the nature of who we are as players. There’s a lot to cover here in regards to my personal retrospective of this 17 year old game… but if you’ve got the time, I’ve got the stories – and maybe by the end you’ll have a deeper understanding of how lines of codes shaped my world as much as theirs.

EverQuest entered my life at a strange time and by a matter of luck. To properly start this story off though we need to go back to the year leading up to my discovery of this anomaly. In 1999’ish I wrapped up eighth grade and was well into the skatepunk / thrash metal scene. It’s when I got my first skateboard and saw Pennywise perform for my first time at my first Warped Tour… Ya know, back when people were throwing shoes at Eminem because he was a nobody rapper performing at a predominately punk festival. It’s was also the first year of dealing with my parents being divorced, being torn between two homes, and trying to make sense of it all. All of that fell to the wayside when I buried myself deep into those hobbies, spending less and less time with video games. Somewhat ironic since the driving force behind my interest in the sport and music came from playing Top Skater at the arcade and Tony Hawk Pro Skater at home. Skateboarding got me out of the house, among friends, doing a physical activity for like three or more hours a day. That first Warped Tour I went to was about two weeks after I started skating. I recall that clearly because after learning the basic trick of how to ollie (jump) I thought I’d try to do that over a parking block. And failed. Miserably. On my face. I was by myself so I’m not sure how long I was down for, but when I picked myself up off the ground and brushed gravel out of the scrapes I just dug into my face, my skateboard had rolled clear across the parking lot some 700 feet away. The next morning was Warped Tour ’99. Looking back on it my injuries somehow remained relatively low despite the careless abandon I flung myself around with back then.

Well eventually that came to an end. My mother moved out of state so I remained with my father. It’s where all my friends were so it made sense to me at the wise age of 15, despite knowing his battle with alcoholism meant it wasn’t the healthiest place for me. That alcoholism lead to us moving away from my friends anyways after my sophomore year of high school ended in the summer of 2000. It put me at a 30 minute drive away from my friends who mostly had no cars or even licenses. Effectively the summer was the last time I really had with them I thought as at that age, 30 minutes might as well be 17 hours. Whenever we could sleep over we did and skated as much as we could… until I jammed my ankle up and couldn’t walk on it for two weeks. Who knew picnic tables weren’t meant for jumping off of with a plank of wood? It was during the following downtime that I was introduced into EverQuest from a friend. I really enjoyed video games up to that point, but really I didn’t play a whole lot of PC games. I had stints with Diablo, the Star Wars Jedi Knight series, and Age of Empires, but it still felt weird sitting down at a desk to play games with a mouse and keyboard. He came over and showed me the ropes of it and explained that it was an account based game with monthly subscription fees, but you can log into your character from anywhere on any computer. Scott booted up his account so he could show me how cool it was. Looking back now I’m sure he was trying to sell me on it so more of us would play together, and possibly just because he was still fresh into it and eagerly wanted to get back to it instead of wasting time on other games. Either way it was the coolest game I had ever experienced at that point. I remember basically staying up all night until we couldn’t function anymore before going to bed. The next weekend he managed to wrangle up the account of another friend that was playing it, let me make my own character to play when she wasn’t logged in for a week or two. It. Was. Bliss.

A peaceful day in the East Commonlands.

A peaceful day in the East Commonlands.

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Historically I haven’t put a lot of faith into the idea of friends and family. Often I make half-jokes about being a robot in response to my disconnected outlook. I’ve talked about it to some extent across a few different blogs on here. I’ve not been shy regarding my problems, and I’m sure most of my issues comes from my upbringing coming from “a broken home” as they conveniently sum up a usually complex aspect core to the root of your identity. From my perspective it was my father being an alcoholic and the fallout spawning from that. Constantly moving, parents divorcing, never seeing a healthy romantic relationship to learn from, and the complications of being a child trying to understand that your father puts your physical well being at risk on a near weekly basis. I have a brother, sister, and mother that went through it too. Unfortunately we all kind of struggled with it in our own ways individually, never having our own feet beneath us enough to be able to support each other. Since as far back as memory goes I’ve pretty much felt alone in the world because of all of this. I’m sure it plays a part in when I’m suffering from depression more often than I’d like to admit… and no, knowing there’s a problem doesn’t make it just disappear like movies lead you to believe. It helps you understand yourself a bit more, why you have the behavioral systems that you do, but it doesn’t let you just rewrite your code. Point and case I’m regularly effected by my social anxieties that keep me from making new friends or letting the existing ones in. I still have an incredibly small social circle offline. Even within that collection of the few precious people kind enough to consider me their friend I have an issue with barriers and giving others the opportunity to help me. Through a lack of self-worth I rather fail on my own then ask for help regardless of how steep the costs are as I don’t think others should waste their time on me.

Enter the world of the internet… Well, at least the general use of it by most people. In this beautiful age people are kept at a safe distance that I’m comfortable with. If I feel like I’m a bother I can vanish. If we’re having a good time I can stretch it out indefinitely. If someone pisses me off I can ignore them a lot easier than if I had to see them on a daily basis through school, work, or whatever gatherings we might cross paths at. It makes relationships feel safe because they seem optional, disposable, and within my control. Emphasis on seem because that’s never really the case. Even before social media really hit it’s stride with Facebook, these connections were a thing I could experience through MMOs like EverQuest. I was among others like me in those shared virtual worlds with hundreds of other players. Immediately there’s already the fact that we all have an appreciation of video games. From there you’d further reach out socially because the game demanded you team up in order to advance in the world. Like meeting coworkers and forming bonds through shared labor, EverQuest had you slaying monsters together, relying on each other to do each of our parts and creating the start of a relationship. It’s hard to explain to someone that hasn’t come up from having nothing in the form of affection or reliability in others, but that was a huge step for me into realizing not everyone in the world was a horribly wretched and selfish being. Playing as a tank in the group I needed to know the healer was going to keep me alive, the DPS was going to kill the monsters before the healer ran out of mana, and an enchanter would keep the fight from being overwhelming by stunning any additional monsters. My piece of the puzzle was to keep the monsters beating on me so everyone else could survive. I’m sure there’s some self-analysis we could do on why I decided to make that character but all that matters is everyone had a role to play, I had a place I belonged.

Edward, pondering Faye's message of belonging.

Edward, pondering Faye’s message of belonging.

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Bit of history on this one: I intentionally avoided the Souls series for a long time. A short relationship was had with Dark Souls 2 SotFS on PS4 before succumbing to the excruciating difficulty. I wandered into a zone and found myself facing off against giant knights 1v1. I could kill the first one, avoid combat with the second, and then die to the the third. This went on for about two hours before quitting. This didn’t seem far off from the general discussion around the series. Everyone is always going on about how good the series was was because of this difficulty. “The game wasn’t cheap, it just punished you for making bad decisions” or something to that effect… or “git gud” when someone wanted to be a dick to novices trying to get into the series. None of that is a desirable environment for me when I’m gaming. Having my skull crushed in for two hours while not advancing my character or the campaign just isn’t my thing. In the past with other games like Fallout 3 and Oblivion I played with the difficulty slider all the way down. I grind JRPGs for hours to get ahead so I can sidestep the challenge of combat encounters. Most recently I played through Uncharted 4 on the easy setting so I could enjoy the story without frustration. So all this praise about difficulty had me avoiding the Souls series like the plague. Yet this year it finally caved when I picked up From Software’s debut title that kicked off the series, Demon’s Souls, on PS3 as part of #4iF (Four in February, a social media driven initiative to finish 4 games from your backlog). I’m so happy I made that choice as I went on to love every damn minute of it. So what spawned the change of heart? Well, I played it wrong without regret.

Start of a new journey.

Start of a new journey, I stand before Lothric Castle.

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Just wanted to put something up so here I go. It’s partially driven by guilt of not committing to something, partially trying to get some practice writing in, and partially trying to pull myself away from playing games. I know writing about them doesn’t seem that far off but it definitely feels more productive. Life has been getting really chaotic from a work standpoint after I agreed to a new position. Constantly assured at work that the carrot dangling in front of me exists as they continue to dump more weight on me to lug. The latest and greatest development includes switching over to six day work weeks starting no later than September, managing a department I’ve not touched in over six years, constantly fluctuating schedule starting anywhere from 3am to as late as 1pm, and being a core element in the opening of a new location in Michigan… which also happens to be the largest in the state as well. In short work blows until at least January. By default in times like this when I get home I just want to veg out and scoff at any idea of being productive. Writing gets pushed to the wayside along with any other creative endeavors I have on my plate. Find myself booting up a game that I may not even be that invested in just because it’s easier than the alternative. I need something to counter that so something’s gotta give.

As this blog originated to keep me mentally well in times of depression, it looks like I’ll be leaning on the keyboard once again to see me through a patch of life that’s overwhelming. To keep myself going I need to layout some sort of schedule to motivate me instead of all the “why does it matter anyways..? no one really cares.” thoughts that creep in. I’ve got a few drafts written up that I want to finish and some that I need to toss as the time has passed on their relevancy. Looking to keep you dear readers abreast in the comings and goings in the times to come.

I’m going to share 2 new posts per month. I’m going to finish all the drafts that I have pending. I am going to start a new 7 part study that will wrap before 2016 has ended. That leaves me with 166 days or 23 weeks, however you want to spin it – To write up 12 new articles. That’s plenty of time so I’m hoping to push that number closer to 18 once I get a groove going. Hopefully once all is said and done I’ll have a few more people interested in stopping by and finding a few moments of distraction on this blog.

So what do I have planned coming up in the next six months? Here are some of the articles that are baked to some degree so far…

  • Dark Souls 3 impression
  • Questionable Value of Game Reviews
  • Always Sometimes Monsters Analysis
  • Resurrecting the Fave5 posts on a monthly basis
  • Final Fantasy series (2 unrelated articles)
  • Cultural reach of games (will have to revisit due to Pokemon GO)
  • The value of Cloud Strife
  • Depression/Anxiety Coping (in the air on posting this or not)
  • Late Console Releases
  • Players and meeting their diverse needs
  • RPG Design (7 part series)

Hopefully one or more of those core ideas will scratch an itch for you. I’m excited to finish them and share them with you.

~Chris, aka PunkrawkBbob

Me. I'm the one with real hair.

Me and Monkey, ready to take on the world.

Fair warning for anyone that hasn’t played, there will be some general spoilers ahead. After all, you can’t discuss something properly without analyzing the whole.

Domestic Drake, longing for adventure

Domestic Drake, longing for adventure

Let me preface this post with Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End does a lot of things right. Gun play was dramatically improved for me as they reduced the count of weapons and upped the approaches to resolving an encounter. There’s a lot more power in stealth than previous games as you can mark enemies to better keep track of them as they follow their pathing patterns or hide in bushes. Another nice change is that if you blow your stealth you have the ability to disappear if you lose the attention of the hostiles. New to UC4 is a roping mechanic that lets you Action Jackson all over the place during a gunfight. All-in-all the arenas were a lot more fun to play through for me thanks to those seemingly minor tweaks. Visually it’s set a new standard that I’m sure all following PS4 games will be ranked against. Vistas are stunning, character animations are human, and even water pooled tarp has caused people to stop in awe. Social media was flooded with image after image taken in photo mode. I’ve even seen a few people that have decided they want to try and create a “Postcards from Uncharted” series. Acting performances were on point with Nolan North reprising Nathan Drake’s final outing and Troy Baker running wingman as Samuel Drake. Beyond those two as the leads of the game Sully, Rafe (the new villain), Nadine, and Elena’s actors all killed their roles. So what went wrong?

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Another year of gaming has come and gone. 2015 was a helluva year for releases too. As per usual I was mostly behind the times catching up with all the big releases of last year so some of the bigger titles escaped me for now… Fallout 4, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and Bloodborne at the top of that list. Most of those will make plenty of other’s Game of the Year lists I’m sure so I’ll likely be playing them next year anyways. This year for me was a lot more about reclaiming that feeling that makes gaming so appealing for me. Just enjoying fun experiences, adventuring, falling in love with a world and it’s characters, and having joyous feelings in the process. With the mood I’ve been vibing with all year not many GrimDark titles really caught my eye enough to spend some time on them. I opted to focus on playing what was speaking to me, not necessarily what I was told I needed to be playing because it’s a GotY contender. For the most part it’s been an awesome year of games for me because of it.

Now: The criteria for my list. I’m staying consistent with last year’s requirements but appending them a bit. Games DO NOT have to be released in 2015, they only have to be first played that year. With the rate games release, the way they release, and ports work this day and age it’s silly to discount a game I missed in 2013 because it was PC only if it only became available in 2015 on PS4. Keeping with that spirit I feel my favorite experiences of the year shouldn’t be tied down to the period they were commercially available. I’m sure I’m not alone with only playing a handful of current releases each year either. So for example in 2014 I wasn’t able to get around to Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. This ended up being a game I played in Spring 2015 for the first time. Simply stated – If the first time I’ve played it falls between January 1st and December 31st of this year, it’s fair game. This includes remakes/remasters as their own entry. After all if I’m making a list of the games I’ve enjoyed the most this year, why not?

Huge shock to me as this year was dominated by episodic series, as three of my top 10 were story-driven series. I think they’re slowly becoming my modern equivalent of RPGs by offering a competent story with characters I’m invested in, but in digestible bites during my adult life. Anyways with 44 games completed this year, here are my favorites of 2015.

Rocket League

Bronze Medal – Rocket League

Kicking off this list for the bronze is the ultra-polished indie hit, Rocket League. Getting a huge boost of players by being offered as a PS+ freebie and allowing cross-play with PC users really helped getting the conversation going around Rocket League. For me it really became the perfect “pick-up and play for 15 minutes” game amidst whatever heavy open-world games I may have been wrapped in at the time. In a nutshell RL has you playing soccer with a team of 1-4 RC cars equipped with nitro boosters and excessively fun physics. As usual with physics driven games the joy really comes from learning exactly how the world’s objects plays against each other. Figuring that out and working with transferring momentum, flying off of the walls, or using a rocket-fueled rush to crush a shot into the back of the net just feels amazing. I got so captivated during my time with this that I ended up writing a guide as I pieced together how to approach it, translating the techniques that worked for me so others would be willing to jump up and have fun. If there was ever a game that really embraced the ridiculous heights you can explore with the medium this would be it. Also a nice rarity these days is it offers the ability to play split-screen so you can couch co-op with a buddy. It’s already available on PC/PS4 and is soon coming to X1 so really you have no excuse not to try this out at some point if you’ve somehow eluded the elated euphoria from this exciting experience.

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Previously I wrote about some of my social anxieties. Beyond that I’ve also written about my own depression and some of my upbringing that probably hints at some potential surface reasons related to root problems. Also genetically wasn’t dealt the best hand as both of my parents have suffered from mental health issues. My mother has dealt with depression most of her life and still does. My father had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and what then was known as manic depression (which today we refer to as bipolar disorder) during his life on top of his own social anxiety issues. As an adult now I realize this probably fueled his alcoholism, unable to cope with the stress created internally from a general sense of hopelessness. I get that now because as an adult dealing with my own depression I’ve hit those points of despair. The points where if you had the heart to care about the void that is your life you’d be willing to do just about anything to not be you. Seeing the effect of alcohol on his life firsthand has discouraged me from ever having an interest in where he ran to instead of finding a healthier solution. I’m left to figure out some other (better) way to overcome my own depression. I know the cards have been stacked against me historically between my family life and inherited health conditions but I’ve tried to just rise above it… It’s not exactly that easy, ya know? It just isn’t doting upon yourself or catching a movie and suddenly you’re right as rain. I wish that was the case.

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