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FTL Simulates Life Better Than Life Simulators

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Certain games attempt to simulate the life of a real person. They simulate the dating process, bathing, working, pooping and other mundane tasks of the day, albeit in an entertaining manner. But FTL: Faster Than Light, that little indie strategy game released back in 2012, simulates life better than any of those life simulators.

Similar to life, FTL is a journey. You don't play to beat the game. You can't will your way to the end. You control what you can and deal with everything else as it comes, hoping that the decisions you made were the right ones. But you never know if they were right until you face the trials that test your choices. Do you stop at the shop to get fuel or do you move to your next destination? Do you stop to help a distressed ship bullied by Rebels or will you not be bothered and continue to focus on your missions? Do you aid a crew dying from a hull fire on their ship or do you FTL jump because you can't risk damaging your hull anymore?

We make decisions everyday. Some of them are good, some bad. You might come to the aid of a civilian ship attacked by pirates, win the battle and win some goodies. Or you might accidentally FTL jump too close to a star that's giving off solar flares every few minutes. But FTL simulates what happens after those decisions are made. We have to live with them. There's no confirmation screen to verify decisions. There's no going back to help a ship you abandoned. There's no reversing a dead crew member because you wanted to help someone. FTL helps you understand one thing: move on.

Decisions sometimes hurt. I have plenty of playthroughs in my short nine hours with the game where I attempted to help someone and ended up losing a crew member or entered into a hopeless situation, like my entire ship on fire. But I moved on. You decide to engage in battle and end up damaging your hull or the enemy punches a hole into the weapons room sucking out all the oxygen. You FTL jump away but you have to avoid fights. It was your decision, for better or worse. You move on. Focus on the present and the future because all the past does is provide the wisdom necessary for a similar challenge.

The various ships also represent our various personalities and differences. The Kestrel is the easiest ship to understand. It has all the necessary pieces of equipment any newcomer would look for. Its crew are all humans. It's easy to understand. The Torus is different but still not hard to understand. It just has two Engi crew members and a droid for as its main offensive. Other ships like the Bulwark, however, have a cleaner layout but may need help in terms of crewman. Then there's the Nesasio. A little much for the common mind with its only default defense being a cloaking system. Some ships are favored over others but with time and patience, all ships can be understood.

This is life. It's a smaller segment of life but like The Sims, FTL doesn't simulate all aspects of life. But it does simulate the important parts. The parts that teach us to coexist, to take responsibility for our decisions and move on.

And FTL also simulates one more thing: Don't mess with spiders. That's for real.


A Different Way Nostalgia Hit

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I started playing Zelda: Wind Waker HD and got about 6 hours into it in one day. I haven't played that many hours of one game in a long time. But it wasn't just that it was Wind Waker's nostalgia that sucked those hours out of me - I actually didn't finish the game when it was on Gamecube because of the boring sailing segments. What got me was the nostalgia of how I used to play games.

Wind Waker came out when I was still in high school and had hours and hours to play games. Once I graduated, my gaming habits changed drastically. Schoolwork and a new social life took up more time and my first internet gaming experience through Mario Kart DS and Metroid Prime: Hunters made me super excited to play with all kinds of people.

Before that I play a game for hours, get tired of it, turned it off, played something else, then pick it up again later in the day. It was the way I'd keep any frustrations off from having a hard time solving puzzles and such. And I would still rack up six-plus hours in a day. For me, that was a lot, even in high school. And that's exactly how I played the game today. Popped it in, played for three hours, felt myself getting tired, so I played Battlefield 3 with a friend for a match, then wanted to play some more Wind Waker. And ended up playing for another three hours!

It's not mind-blowing nostalgia. But it's a type of nostalgia I haven't experienced before. I welcome it, too.

Perhaps you had a moment of nostalgia that isn't necessarily related to the game. Now that I've had mine, I wonder if others have, too. I'd like to hear your stories.

The Game Industry Is Split--We Have To Embrace It

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"What games are you playing?" This is a common question asked by fellow gamers across the world. Just a few years ago lots of people would probably say, "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare," or "Assassin's Creed," or "Halo: Combat Evolved," respectively. These were the original games of top franchises in the AAA industry. They were--and are-- fun and will continue to be. Because of that success however, publishers set their plans to get the most out of them. Saturation of a franchise ensues and we begin to experience yearly releases while burnout begins to set in after years and years of marginally improved $60 games. For those of you, like me, who are burned out on the direction of these types of video games from AAA developers and are waiting for that inspired game to come out, I have a disappointing revelation for you:It won't.

The AAA video game industry is about the money because publishers have to create profit from games that they pour money into. Few risks can be taken to craft energizing gameplay which limits creativity and creates a cycle of games that feel so similar and unoriginal. For myself and many people, this causes me to feel like there is nothing else out there. Out of this sentiment, there comes a consumer split that every major entertainment industry has--the "mainstream" and the "indie."

In comparison, the music industry has its mainstream music with its radio hits and chart-topping artists. Then you have the people who are disgusted with the state of the music industry and cannot stand the lack of originality produced by the big record labels and in response, they listen to--or create--their owninspired music--the "indie" scene. This is the place the game industry has come to. And you know what? It's frustrating.

I know there are many people that feel the same way as I do. I don't like the yearly releases with little gameplay and graphical improvements while publishers and developers still demand $60. I don't like the day one Downloadable Content (DLC) that is locked away on the disc. I don't like the retweaked releases of games that are announced a few months after the original release. I don't like the rehashed gameplay mechanics in games that are not a part of the same publisher or developer. It becomes very boring and it produces burnout. But this is how the mainstream part of the game industry has established itself and it is not going to change. It's time to start considering both sides of the game industry and it starts with accepting that there are two sides of the industry.

There is nothing wrong with the Call of Duty's, the Halo's, the Splinter Cell's, the Assassin's Creed's, the Final Fantasy's, the Mario's and any other beat-to-death franchise you can think of. A lot of them are great games in and of themselves. The gameplay is good; the formulas work. I play them frequently, personally. But it's the same thing. Now, we have to look at the indie games industry if we want something different. The Minecraft's, The Binding of Isaac's, the Castle Crashers, the Super Meat Boys, the LIMBO's, the Aegis Wings, etc. It's not that indie games are more creative in every circumstance or that they are betterbut they are allowed to take more risks which allows for different experiences.

If you've been like me and have been waiting for the AAA industry to step up and create something inspired and new, the fact is, it's not going to happen. The AAA industry is catered to the mainstream. Those games are good. They should be played but the risk taking and creative freedom will be found in the indie side of games. It's about that time to accept that this is the state of the game industry and learn to balance the goodness of thetwo sides. It's taken a while but I enjoy the industry and all that it offers a lot more when I embrace the full industry.

EA: Do Not Make Your Business Strategy About Us

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EA is in transition to make their distribution of games 100% digital. Frank Gibeau, president of EA games,says that if the players want their games digitally, they can have them digitally but if they want to buy them in stores, they can buy them through traditional retail. The article can be found here.

One thing Mr. Gibeau has correct is that digital distribution is inevitable. We live in a time where digital distribution is on the rise. The transition has already been made in movies and especially music and I myself have been buying more music digitally. There is no question about this. My gripe is the alleged "concern" for the way we, the gamer, want things.

EA's president talks about how he wants to bring game distribution to us the way we want it, being digitally or through retail, but out of his mouth he also says how digital distribution will help them keep more money they make. Subtly, money is thrown into the discussion and that is the last thing players want to hear about in any form or fashion. Judging by the business strategies of EA, it is hard to ignore what Mr. Gibeau's true intention is--make more money through digital distribution. That's not our concern. Don't make this about us.

Yes, from a business standpoint and practical standpoint, I would go the route of digital distribution as well as retail as a business strategy. That makes perfect sense. It gives greater options to the player and it allows for greater revenue as digital distribution graces you to keep more profit by eliminating used game sales. But when you start talking about taking games in "whatever media format makes sense and as one ebbs and one starts to flow...", I do not see the intention as keeping the consumer in mind and keeping retail as long as possible; I see the intention to control the ebb and flow to make the most profit. This is not about the us, this is about EA making money.

Is this a surprise? No. Not at all. It shouldn't be. EA has been about the money for a long time as shown by its business strategies. Releasing many sequels, adding on DLC and even adopting its own versions of subscription systems like its competitors. What I find interesting is that EA's president has the gall to deliver this message to the media and not even flinch. It shows me that he is either unaware of the core player attitude or he is ignoring it. If he is ignoring it, that means it only confirms everything we have been talking about.

Developers should not be trying to make us feel better about their strategies that they suspect we do not agree with. If they are going to make a move that affects our wallets, then say it boldly. Make it about what it's really about--money. I can take that sort of honesty. If EA wants to make the full portion of the profit and get rid of the used games industry, that is their prerogative but don't make this about us. This isn't about us.

Trying to be Patient... With Everyone

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Bloggers Note: I am religious and do believe in Jesus. I do not post to offend people, I post as an avenue to gather my thoughts and feelings on different things. I, personally, look to the bible for help so if you choose to read this, know I am not trying to offend anyone in my post. :)

My kids at work are a handful and I have a huge problem with patience. I can't seem to not get irritated when they do something they know they are not supposed to do. Everything they choose is based on their feelings and emotions and it becomes exasperating because they do not think before they act. Then, when they do something wrong, they get mad and throw a tantrum because they were disciplined.

An example: We have a rule that no one can come out their rooms before they have checked out--getting their roIoms cleaned up, clothes are folded, bathrooms are cleaned and they have done their hygiene. It makes sure that ther is order and that the kids are not wandering around the unit being disruptive because they have nothing to do. One particular kid, out of excitement, likes to come out of his room and come say "hello" to me. It's cute. It's a nice gesture and it's polite. But he makes it an excuse for why it's okay to come out the room when it's perfectly as acceptable to just say "hi" from his doorway. So almost every morning, this is what he does and it becomes exasperating.

This is where 1 Thessalonians 5:14 comes in for me. It says,"Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone."

The last part, be patient with everyone, is where I have the biggest problem. Once I lost my patience, there is no tender care or teaching or warning or encouragement. I'm plain annoyed. Yet, this isn't the model Jesus presented for me. He was patient with everyone so in trying to follow him, I need to patient too.

Is this kid necessarily doing it on purpose? No. He's just excited and because he's excited he reacts and doesn't think about what he's doing. That's more tolerable than if he were to simply ignore the rule in place and did what he wanted to do anyway. That's where understanding where he is at comes into play.

I've coached basketball and in basketball understanding, a kid who doesn't know how to dribble, is not going to be able to get up the court very well without losing the ball. I understand that, therefore I have patience when teaching him. This may go on for months, maybe years depending on how quick of learner he is. In the same way, this kid doesn't know how to control his emotions in any form or fashion so when he's excited, he reacts. When he has any kind of emotion, he reacts. But he doesn't react within the confines of the rules. So, I have to teach him to do so and that may take months, even years.

Now I have to get over the hump that this has been going on for so long and I've become used to being irritated and have to reverse my pattern and instead, be patient like Jesus was patient and has been patient with me. This is the hardest part. I have my old habits tugging at me one way and I have the way I'm supposed tugging at me the other way. I start walking towards the way I'm supposed to go and then my old habits start trying to pull me backwards. It's a tough thing to fight because it's my familiar and easy way to do things. But I will continue to fight and practice keeping the right perspective so that I may help these kids for as long as I'm around.

Fight the Pain!

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You are an active person who works for an active company. There is desk work invovled but a lot of the time, you're up and active. You play basketball, you walk a lot, you aid others when they call on you--you are on the move quite a bit.

You wake up one morning and everything is fine. You get a quick workout in--pushups, situps, squats and plyometrics all finished in about five minutes. You rest on the couch and do everything you like to do in the morning. It's finally time to leave the house and head to work. You grab everything you might need, including your fairly heavy backpack with two laptops. One of them is a Mac you need to help transfer things to a friend with, the other is a PC you use to for everything else. You put it on your back, grab your lunch for the day and head out.

Heading into the cold, brisk outdoors, you climb the stairs to get to the street where you car is parked right in front. You feel the weight of the backpack as you climb the stairs but it's a familiar weight; a weight that's been lifted several times before and this time is no different. You reach the top of the stairs taking your last step up and as you rest in on the ground, a sharp pain strikes the middle of your back feeling like your spine just collapsed a little. The weight of the backpack is too much and you have to throw it off of you onto the ground and dropping everything your holding to grab the stair handles to keep balance. The pain is harsh and constant making it hard to stand up straight. After two minutes of writihing in pain, you gingerly grab the heavy backpack and throw it into the car along with your lunch. It seems as if eggshells are on the ground as you walk trying to take pressure off your back as you move to the driver side to drive. You get in the car and wonder what the heck is going on. Either way, you have a job to do. But you realize that your level of activity will be severely limited.

This is what happened to me this morning. Out of nowhere! The pain lingered all day and icing it barely helped but it did help a little. I need to put more ice on it and then add some heat in a few days. If the pain doesn't ever get better, then I'm going to have to see a chiropractor. I hope I'll be up for Friday to play our staff vs. kids basketball game as the kids are looking forward to playing against me.

I'm 25 and it's just one of those times in life where something random happens. There is not an explanation for the problem it just happens. I could have stayed home from work but I have a wife to provide for and I don't have a lot of sick time left from when my leg was injured last month. This was one of those times in life where I had to push past phyiscal pain and go to work. And just as things would go, the adversity did not stop either. I had to walk around for three hours with a kid who was emotionally caught up in nonsense. It sucked. But duty called and the kid remained safe and appreciated me sticking around to help as long as I did.

Modeling a New Career

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sketch of a 3D chair

As I was working on a project, I became frustrated. There was a level of detail and technique that I realized I was not ready for and the amount of energy the project was consuming was taking the fun out of the project. I decided to test a few things and then shut the project down and watch a video on different techniques and tools.

What I'm talking about is modeling a chair in 3DS Max, a 3D modeling program that is commonly used in the video game industry. I am working on this because I am trying to get into this industry as an environment artist and in order to do that, it's good for me to be able to model random things like a chair.

Finding the right balance between pushing myself and creating things within my skill is a tough medium to find. It takes experimentation, failure, experimentation, failure, experimentation then success--maybe. In it, I've learned a lot but the project is more frustrating than I imagined it would be. There are a lot of things I don't quite get.

What you see above is my "sketch." It's good to "block" things out before going into the detail so there is an understanding of proportion. From this sketch, I can start to model my first "draft" which gives more accurate shape to the piece. From there, it's adding detail upon every "draft" that I have--basically taking it one step at a time so as to not overwhelm myself.

This is what I've doing for the past few weeks and why I haven't spent as much time here but since I miss y'all, I figured to include you in this endeavor of mine.