I Want to Be the Very Best

Today marks the very first day of my new life’s work. I’ve decided to follow in the footsteps of many great trainers before me and abandon any attempt at being a productive member of society. Instead, I am going to wander through the wild parts of the world, capture creatures with funny names and huge powers, and then train them to battle other, similar creatures owned by people like me. All of my money will be earned by robbing the people I defeat, I’ll sleep in the woods, and I’ll rely on free healthcare to keep my captured monsters in peak fighting condition at all time. I may make friends along the way, I may encounter a friendly or combative person frequently enough to designate them my rival, and I may rise from obscurity to sit at the peak of the monster fighting league so that everyone in the world knows my name. Unfortunately, none of those things are guaranteed, but I know I’ll definitely have a great time along the way, bonding with my new pets and crying when I’m forced to say goodbye to them.

If you haven’t guessed what’s going on, I’m talking about my plan to finally go on the Pokemon Journey reality has always denied me now that Pokemon Go finally introduced trainer-versus-trainer battling. I imagine battling will change significantly as time goes on since it’s clearly in favor of people willing to spend money or who have done nothing but play Pokemon Go and the whole “use a shield to block a charged attack” thing is just plain weird, but I’m glad they finally got something out there. So far, I’ve declared one of my roommates is my rival, battled him a few times (we’re tied for wins and losses right now), and done absolutely nothing else with it because society is demanding I do my day job so I can pay my bills and afford to live in my nice house with my actual pets. Someday, perhaps once the holidays are over, I’ll go on a short Pokemon Journey to test the waters. After I’ve figured out how the battling scene is going, that’ll be it for me. I’ll quit my job, pack up everything I own into a backpack that breaks physics, and head off into the great unknown in order to find new Pokemon, battle new trainers, and become the legend I’ve always dreamed I could be.

I imagine it’ll be difficult to live off the land and spend all my time traveling between major cities, but I think I can manage it. I’m single, have no societal obligations that I’d miss, and am a rather hardy individual. I can walk for long periods of time, assuming my pack isn’t as heavy as a typical Pokemon Trainer’s backpack must be, given that it holds hundreds of pokeballs, healing items, berries, cases, bicycles, and so forth. If it’s a bit more realistic and not able to hold a limitless supply of whatever I want (if it removes the weight of the things I put in it, that would also be pretty cool. I could work with that), then I imagine the first couple weeks would be rough while my feet adjusted to the constant walking. After that, I’d be unstoppable.

Unfortunately for me, I seem destined to become a gimmick trainer. Likely a Hiker with a heavy focus on rock-type Pokemon. I could get behind such a gimmick, of course, but only after becoming the best there ever was. Then I’d go find some mountain path to live on and challenge every trainer who passes through before making my team of Geodudes all use “Self-Destruct.” The trick would be that I have a sixth Pokemon, maybe a Mew or something super cool and rare. It would also use “Self-Destruct.” That would be my gimmick and then I would become a different type of legend. I’d become even more famous than when I toured the world as an unbeatable Pokemon Master and trainers would come from far and wide to see if they could beat my team. Unfortunately for them, all my Geodudes would be immune to one hit knock-outs and the final Pokemon would change on occasion so they’d never be able to defeat me. Every match will end in a draw and I will establish myself as an unbeatable Pokemon Trainer. It will be glorious!

I will have to wait, though. Pokemon Go is still in its infancy and we’ve yet to see if it will truly last the tests of time. There’s also no move in Pokemon Go that functions like “Self-Destruct,” though I remain hopeful that they will either eventually add more game-like features to Pokemon Go or replace it entirely by creating Virtual Reality Pokemon. I would be all about that. Nothing quite like immersive games in virtual reality to make you feel like you’re not stumbling around your home while waving your arms dangerously close to every precious and fragile object you own. Heck, maybe they’ll figure out how to make Pokemon robots and then we can go on Pokemon adventures in theme parks. That’d be super cool.

Since none of that is happening right now, I’m just going to focus on battling my rival, enjoying the new combat feature of Pokemon Go, and trying to remember who half the people are on my Pokemon Go friends list so I can remote battle people without feeling weird about initiating an interaction with someone who is effectively a stranger. The feature was difficult to find and it still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense about the way it works, but it’s fun to play. I think the Stardust and Pokemon Candy requires for learning additional moves are egregious, since it’s almost impossible for most players to afford something like that. Only people who play constantly have access to that kind of stardust and enough candies for powerful Pokemon or legendaries. I mean, I spent most of my candies and stardust just powering up Pokemon fairly recently, so I can’t afford to give anyone an extra attack, which means I’ll be vulnerable to anyone who has one since they’re great for countering Pokemon that typically counter whatever Pokemon has the second attack. The fact that you can add extra moves is a huge break from their established methodology, so I’m interested to see where they continue to take.

Whatever they do, though, it’ll be fun. I can’t wait to get out there and start playing again!

Let’s Talk About Pokemon Go’s Newest Adaptation

There’s a new Pokemon game coming out for the Nintendo Switch, called “Pokemon: Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee!” If you aren’t aware, it’s basically a remake of the original Pokemon games with a few changes. The biggest ones have to do with wild Pokemon and the player’s interactions with them. In previous iterations of the standard style, you would wander around in the grass until you spawned a random encounter with a Pokemon from wherever the grass is located. Then you fought the Pokemon until it was weak enough to be captured or you defeated it. Now, you actually see the Pokemon walking around and can pick which ones you encounter.  Additionally, you catch them like you do in Pokemon Go. You use a berry if you want to, select your ball, wait for the circle to be the right size, and then attempt to throw the pokeball so it lands inside the circle. Then you either catch it or you don’t. There’s no battling involved, except with the occasional trainer.

This was one of the first things we learned about the new game and it upset a lot of people. More so even than the fact that it was a third remake of the first generation of Pokemon games. The change is a pretty big departure from the core games. Battling wild Pokemon in order to gain XP and level up is such a core element of the game that felt like spending money on this game would be a waste. Wandering around, training Pokemon, and collecting XP has always been a core aspect of the games for me because I use them primarily as a way of shutting my mind down for a few hours or as a way of quieting my mind when I can’t sleep. That’s going to be a lot harder to do when I actually need to look at the game and employ motion controls with any degree of accuracy since you only get XP if you catch the Pokemon. How am I supposed to just cruise through the game with an overpowered team if I can’t dedicate a few mindless hours of battling wild Pokemon to each area between cities or gyms so my Pokemon stay above the curve by five to ten levels?

Thinking about it like that, it made it clear that this wasn’t a game for me. News that has come out since then, about other things that will be different about Pokemon: Let’s Go has made it clear that this game wasn’t meant for me or anyone like me. This game was meant for people getting into Pokemon for the first time. Children who have had to try to pick up the games that are always at least partially targeted toward older audiences, casual gamers who want a quiet couch game that doesn’t involve a lot of meta-analysis, or people who haven’t really played many games before but have started now that Pokemon Go has proven so popular and accessible. It’s a reintroduction to the series that somewhat mirrors the way the first game was simpler than all the ones since then.

For instance, Let’s Go won’t have eggs or breeding. All of the highly competitive aspects of the game that stem from that won’t be present either. There will be no breeding for natures, IVs, or EVs. Egg moves, secret abilities, TM/HMs won’t get passed down through generations to create the perfect Pokemon after a dozen hours of breeding, walking, and hatching. Now you need to catch the Pokemon or send them over from Pokemon Go if you want to try for a specific nature and all of that is more or less random. Sure, there are elements the game has that the originals did not, but it’s stuff like playing little mini games with your Pokemon to make it like you more or handing over surplus Pokemon for candies that boost your Pokemon’s stats (which actually maps pretty well to IV/EV stuff and the various stat-boosting items you could get when you inevitably wound up with more money than you knew what to do with).  Everything they’ve added fits within the relatively simple and less competitive framework of the original game. Your only real competition are the friends you battle against using the system link or the game itself, most of which is pretty optional.

In order to entice the older, more competitive audience as well–and I’m willing to admit that this idea has gotten me interested in buying the game again–they’re adding “Master Trainers” to the game. These trainers are the specific master trainer of one type of Pokemon and you will have to battle them with that specific Pokemon as well. Your Charizard will have to battle their Charizard, and it’ll actually be a tough fight since their Pokemon will allegedly be specifically geared toward fighting its own species. Gyarados has been able to learn thunderbolt for a long time, but trying to beat one that knows that with another Gyarados? That sounds like an incredibly tough challenge that would require me to not only level up my Pokemon, but maximize its potential stats and find a way to give it an unbeatable set of moves. Which is exactly what most of the super-competitive Pokemon players where saying this set of games lacked. I’m not that competitive, but the idea of being declared a Pokemon Master after all these years sounds incredibly tempting, especially for my favorite Pokemon.

I’m still curious about how the game’s going to go once it comes out, but the twin powers of nostalgia and disposable income have convinced me it’s worth buying. I doubt I’ll try to get anyone else to buy it and just make up for the lack of a trading partner with Pokemon Go, but I expect it’ll be a good time now that I’ve started looking at it the right way. This isn’t a remake, it’s a reintroduction, and I think that’s a great thing. I hope more people online start to see it for what it is as well.

Saturday Evening Musing

Some days, there are no words. All you can hope for is people who will rally around you without needing to know the details. Sometimes you just need people to help take your mind off of things, to fill the space between your few words with words of their own without expecting much in response. Sometimes you need a push into doing something that you want to do, but can’t muster up the effort to begin on your own. Some days, all you’ve got the energy to do is to let people know something is wrong and then hope that they offer to help.

Some days, you need your friends to help prop you up when all you feel like doing is collapsing.  When you feel like a deflated balloon, friends are usually the best people to inflate you again, or at least keep enough air circulating that you aren’t completely flat. They are some of the few people who know you well enough to know what you need to keep moving or to stay distracted. If they’re really good friends, they also know when to call you out on it when you try to take it to unhealthy levels.

They say friends are the family you pick, but I think that’s a dumb comparison. Families have constant problems or old wounds that occasionally tear open, but everyone sticks together because you all grew up together and know that you’re basically stuck with each other until you all die so you’d better figure out how to get along. Friends may have grown up together, but you’re never stuck with them. Friends are much easier to leave behind than family, on accident or on purpose, and friendships with constant problems or old wounds that never fully heal generally don’t last that long. Friendships require maintenance and fixing problems if you want them to last, but you do it so you can stick together rather than because you’re stuck together. You choose to do the work to keep your friendships alive and vibrant, but you often feel obligated to do the work to keep your relationship with your family positive. Maybe I’m projecting here, but I feel like I’ve heard similar things from enough people to say I’m probably not projecting.

You can always be friends with your family, of course. That’s still a choice you’re making, though. Your familial relationships just fall on the friend side of things. That’s another reason I dislike the comparison. It fails to account for all the people in the world who are friends with their family. To be entirely fair, most of the time I see people say friends are the family you pick, it is someone who isn’t very close or friendly with their family. Pretty sure that biases the evaluation.

Today, I am recovering from a hard decision. It wasn’t fun, it is making me unhappy, but it was the right one. Everyone agreed that it was the right one. For now, it sucks. Eventually, things will be better and I will hopefully be happier. Or at least less upset all the time. I’d take either one, really. But for now, this was all the words I have in me and I’m going to go back to my friends where I do not have to talk. A nice evening of quiet hanging out, that’ll turn into games of some kind, following on an excellent Pokemon Go Community Day outing in downtown Madison. It was not the day I had planned, but it was still a wonderful day.


Time’s Wasting, Let’s Get Pokemon Going

I have a complicated relationship withe Pokemon Go. If you look back in the recesses of my original posts (I’ll link it here so you don’t have to), you can find me writing about how cool the game was and how excited I was to play it. Since then, my excitement has cooled. Initially it was because it was nearly impossible to find Pokemon in the wild (which was the reason most of my friends stopped playing), but there was no way to directly interact with your friends until they added raid battles. Gyms were a nightmare because connectivity problems kept coming up and it was a pain in the ass to train up a gym so it would be strong enough to survive everyone trying to take it down. Even the eventual fix to gyms, which makes turning them around and maintaining them a lot easier, was less than ideal because it puts a big limit on the number of in-game currency you can get without buying it.

My current apartment not having close proximity to anything (there’s one stop within half a mile’s walking and everything else requires crossing the highway) and I don’t earn much money with the gym access I’ve got, so I’m constantly running out of items. I don’t really have the space in my weekly schedule to spend three hours to drive somewhere with a bunch of stops, walk around for an hour, drive home, and then have to charge my phone. There are so many things I’d rather be doing with that time than spending it trying to maintain the high level of participation the game requires when you don’t have easy access to the in-game resources.

Playing it now doesn’t take much time. I hit the local pokestop on my way to work or I hit the one at work while I’m getting lunch. I can sometimes get a gym each day (for my fifty coin daily maximum) if I spend fifteen minutes after work stopping at one of the ones near my workplace. I open the app a couple of times a day and whenever I take walks, spending the mental energy on Pokemon Go when I would otherwise be letting my mind idly wander. It doesn’t cost me any time aside from gyms, but it does cost me energy. There’s a certain amount of mental effort that goes into remember to do my daily tasks, remember which Pokemon I don’t need for evolving something (to avoid wasting my precious Pokeballs), and planning out the extra commute time I’d need to stop for a gym or pokestop.

For almost two years, I’ve unfailingly spent that energy every day. Even during the last few months when I’ve exhausted myself to the point of pretty much crashing as soon as I’m done with my responsibilities each day, I still spend energy on Pokemon Go. Now, as I’m taking a look at my life and trying to decide what is really worth energy as I try to find a healthier balance, I’m really questioning if it is worth it. And Pokemon Go isn’t the only thing on the chopping block. One of my favorite no-energy time-wasters is Imgur and that generally doesn’t do anything for me but help time pass quickly. There are games I play online with my friends that I don’t really enjoy but I play anyway because I’ve got people to play alongside. My life is full of things like this, things I once enjoyed but only continue to do because of habits and because they help me pass through the hours of my worst days.

The thing is, I have a lot of other stuff to help me do that. Ever since I ran out of that stuff in college and had to deal with a horrible night where I had nothing to do but think and stare out the window, I’ve made sure that I’ve got at least forty hours of mindless entertainment. I’ve got whole TV shows I bought on DVD that I’ve only watched long enough to know I’d enjoy. I’ve got a pile of emergency books and every Pokemon game ever created (I enjoy the “standard” version Pokemon games way more than the mobile game). Yet I still play Pokemon Go every day. I still have half a dozen boring games installed on my computer. I still have all the social media and time-wasting apps on my phone so I can disappear from the world for hours at a time.

As I spring-clean my life, I think it’s time I got rid of that stuff. I took this week off of work, and even off of blog writing (this was written ahead of time), so I could rest and try to see my life through clear eyes. Part of that is going to be ridding myself of all the things I’ve collected to insulate myself from having to pay attention to my life when my life wasn’t something I wanted to pay attention to. Things are better now, even if I still struggle, and I don’t want to feel like I’m wasting my time anymore. I don’t know if I’ll uninstall Pokemon Go because my girlfriend still plays it frequently and it is good to have things you can do together, but I think I’m going to take it off my home screen.

Tabletop Highlight: Tak

I love strategy games. I was in the Chess Club during high school and enjoyed learning to play Go in college. I ran out of people willing to play with me before I ran out of willingness to play either of these timeless classics. I’ve always been on the lookout for new games like those, but most of them wind up being fun but lacking in complexity. I’d wind up with one or two winning strategies I could pretty much rely on and I would soon start to miss the variety of play that Go and Chess afforded.

One the other loves of my life is books by Patrick Rothfuss (Primarily the Kingkiller Chronicles, since I feel his “children’s” books lack the narrative complexity I prefer). In one of his books, Wise Man’s Fear, the protagonist (Kvothe) is introduced to a popular strategy game and taught at least a little bit of the larger strategy of it by repeatedly getting his ass handed to him. His tutor, a noble who has been kind enough to also teach him some of the rules of the particular high society Kvothe has found himself in, wants to play a “beautiful game” rather than simply win and highlights the differences for Kvothe. Unfortunately, the book doesn’t actually go into enough detail to learn to play the game. Fortunately, Patrick Rothfuss teamed up with an excellent game creator so that we could all learn to play it and buy really cool board/piece sets.

Tak, as the game is called, is conceptually simple. Build a road of your tiles from one edge of your game board to the opposite. The board can be any size beyond 4×4, and the number of pieces available to each player changes accordingly. The larger the board you’re using, the more complex the game you can play. In addition to the horizon “road” tiles, you can place them vertically for “standing stone” pillars that prevent the other player from moving or building their road through that square. On your turn, you can choose to move any tile or pillar you’ve placed to an adjacent square, placing it on top of anything but standing stone pillars. Once you’ve made a stack, whoever controls the piece on the top of the stack controls the stack. Once you get beyond 4×4 boards, you get a piece called a “capstone” that is like a super pillar capable of flattening standing stones into road tiles.

The strategy required to build your road grows in complexity and potential cleverness as the size of the board increase. While I can see how some brutal math and efficient use of tiles and pillars could easily net anyone a win, I can also see what Patrick Rothfuss’ characters spoke about in his book. I want to play a beautiful game, with clever tricks and a victory that snatches a win from the jaws of defeat. I have already played a few games that saw me win by unforeseen means, completely shocking my opponent as I unfold my route to victory. I’ve also played the brutal, fast matches. If either player starts playing like that and is halfway decent, there’s no way you can win other than to play just as brutally. A beautiful game requires two participants and I’ll admit I’m lacking in a good foe.

Not because I’m better than everyone else–I’ve got about a 60% win rate, so I’m hardly undefeated–but because I’ve yet to find someone who is willing to put in the time and effort to learn the game to the degree one would need to in order to start using some of the more clever strategies. I’ve yet again run into the issue of not having enough willing opponents to enjoy an excellent strategy game.

Which Tak certainly is. I don’t know if it will remain as timeless as Chess and Go are, but I can definitely see myself enjoying this game for years to come. You can play it with pretty much whatever pieces you want and an imaginary board once you know the rules. Or you can buy yourself one of a variety of very nice Tak sets here.

Pokemon Through The Ages

I’ve been a fan of the Pokemon games ever since the first one came out. I have dim, partial memories of standing on the deck at my parents house, looking at my brother’s Red Version cartridge, and deciding I wanted blue version because I liked blue more than red. I remember how amazing it was that you could have your Pikachu follow you around in Yellow version. I even still have the game guide and Pokedex my brother got for Yellow Version so he could complete his Pokedex. Back in the days when there was only “Special” instead of “Special Attack” and “Special Defense,” breeding wasn’t possible, IVs were unheard of, and Pokemon abilities weren’t even on the horizon, I built my team in Blue using the Pokemon I thought were the coolest and my Yellow Version team as a match to Ash’s team, since I watched the Pokemon Anime religiously.

As I grew and more games came out, I played at least one of every version up until the Black and White generation. I tried to convince myself that I didn’t want to play new Pokemon games at that point since I was in college and there’s no denying they’re basically all the same game, but the reality of the situation is that I was too broke to buy them. To this day, they remain the only generation I haven’t bought or played. Pokemon games don’t really lose value and they’ve been coming out with new ones at a pretty regular frequency, so I’ve never really been left wanting a new Pokemon game.

I primarily play Pokemon as a way to relax. For me, it is all about having something easy and calm to do that I can use to deal with stress or anxiety. If I’m playing Pokemon, I’m too busy to be stressed or anxious, but not so busy that I can’t quietly work through stuff in the back of my mind. The games can be kind of boring at times, if you’re going for Pokedex completion, but it can also be rewarding to come up with plans, look at models for the appearance frequency of various Pokemon, and to calculate which Pokemon will make for the best addition to my team.

Unlike some of my friends, I’m not into the competitive scene. I have no interesting in fighting Pokemon battles against real people via online competitions. I’m not super interested in the strongest Pokemon and maximizing their stats,  but I definitely enjoy Pokedex completion more than they do. I’m the only one of my main group of friends who actually takes the time to collect or works on creating a full Pokedex using the “Pokemon Bank” service, something that allows me to store Pokemon from the more recent games on a server somewhere. This allows me to transfer them between games whenever I so desire and is not limited by in-game storage capacity.

Due to my penchant for starting the games over multiple times (mostly so I’ve got actual objectives beyond just catching Pokemon, because that can get kind of boring at times), I’ve now got enough evolutions of the Pokemon in the recent games, Sun/Moon and Ultra Sun/Moon, to complete my Pokedex simple by moving Pokemon from the Pokemon Bank to my game. I’m still working on getting ALL of the 800+ Pokemon now, since a lot of the rare ones are event-specific and I suck at going to the events or even turning my game on at the right time to get them.

I would say my favorite generation was Gen 2, the Silver/Gold/Crystal generation and their remakes, HeartGold and SoulSilver. I prefer the remakes since your lead Pokemon follows behind you and I’ve always enjoyed that. Generation 2, especially the remakes, had the most story elements in them, though the recent ones probably have the largest story (though it is a lot more straight forward and less complex). I also really enjoyed being able to get more than 8 badges and was really sad when Gen 3 didn’t continue that trend.

I can understand that a lot of people aren’t always enthusiastic about each new Pokemon game and I’ll admit that I rarely play the older ones now, but I can’t deny that they hold a special place in my heart. They were the first video game franchise I ever bought into and my longest-running. Half of my handheld games, if we exclude the Switch, are Pokemon games. I’m constantly on the lookout for cheap copies of the games so I can complete my collection. My love for the games also instantly provides common ground between myself and other people as most people my age have played at least one of them.

Aside from the easy identifiers such as apparel and knickknacks, Pokemon fans are usually easy to identify. All you have to do is drop the name of a less-popular Pokemon. If you get a look of confusion, you know to avoid Pokemon. If they recognize the name, the conversation will usually take at least a momentary aside to talk about Pokemon. With the advent of Pokemon Go and its continued popularity, the game is reaching more and more people. I’ve got a coworker in his early 50s who likes to talk about Pokemon as a result of the app, even though he never has and never will play any of the console/handheld Pokemon games.

I can’t even criticize the games for being money grabs because I’m happy to give the studio and Nintendo my money so they can keep making more of these games and other wonderful stuff in the future. The games bring people together, they help me relax when I’m stressed or can’t sleep, and they’ve been a part of my almost as long as I can remember. What more can you ask of a game franchise? I really hope they’re still making these when I’m 80 and enjoying my retirement in a space-station retirement hold. Don’t have to worry about breaking your hip or falling if there’s no gravity!

Pokemon Go – The Latest in Fitness Apps

Apparently, all I need to do to make something I post or say wildly popular is mention Pokemon Go. I’ve been tracking the changes in my exercise habits since I started using the application and making a few remarks about it on Facebook. Each remark, and even the few tweets I made, have all been very popular (by my standards at least, since I generally don’t get more than handful of interactions on any kind of post). I almost want to see if I can start planting references to it that will tickle peoples’ subconscious like they do with subliminal advertising.

There’s definitely a lot of health benefits to it. I’ve started walking an average of 6 miles a day, been getting plenty of sunlight and bug bites, actually making use of my evenings for something more than watching TV or playing video games, and really started connecting with my area. I’ve explored parts of Madison I’d normally never visit and walked through neighborhoods I never even knew existed. I’m not even chasing a Pokemon all the time, either. A lot of the time, these past few days, I’m just going out to see what’s out there. Its like I’ve always wanted to do all this walking and exploring but I needed an excuse to do it. So now I have one.[

Pokemon Go is definitely a ton of fun, there’s no denying it. I’ve never been all that outgoing, but seeing a bunch of people walking around on their phones is like having a keyword search to identify the other nerds in my area. It’s the best. Its like, suddenly, everyone is just embracing their inner nerd or child and banding together to enjoy this magnificent application. I’ve met and partially befriended more strangers in this less than one week than in the past few months. I can’t imagine that my life will ever be the same. Never again. Heck, I doubt life as we know it will ever be the same again. This is the start. Going forward, this type of game and this integration of VR/AR is only going to get, obviously, more popular. There will be more games just like this one.

The community already forming up around this has so far been amazing. You meet people wandering through the woods and compare notes on which Pokemon you’re trying to catch, giving each other advice on which paths to take to find which Gyms or Pokestops, and while the competition for Gyms is definitely fierce, no one seems to get so into it that they’re being rude or lying to people on other teams.

I’ve managed to avoid spending any money so far, but part of me just wants to dump money into the application so that the creators, Niantic, can continue to do their amazing work (and, you know, add more servers so they’re not constantly going down).

If you like to meet new people, it seems like Pokemon Go is the way to do it. Just look for people with their phone constantly in their hand who randomly stop walking  for a few moments before continuing forward.