Category Archives: Nick

The ATB guys have golf, I have Bowling


I’m looking forward to tonight. A lot.

My wife got me a wonderful gift for Christmas – something that I knew I wanted but it being an expensive item and being so low on the totem pole, it probably would have to wait until brighter financial days. Tonight I will be using a new bowling ball in my bowling league for the first time in almost ten years. That’s right, my current ball is almost ten years old, and in bowling ball years that’s like a century.

I was able to test the new guy out last week. My wife picked me out a new Ebonite Pivot, and yes, for those old enough to have seen the show, in conversation I will intentionally say “Pivot!” like Ross did in the show Friends.

The average person may not believe it, but there is a surprising amount of skill that is required to become a good bowler. I know people who get more pissed off when they’re trying to bowl well than when they’re trying to golf well. You need equipment you’re going to use consistently, and actually use it in a consistent manner – you need to focus on every movement your body makes in that short distance you approach the lane. You need to be able to pay attention to how your ball reacts, how it strikes the pocket, and you need to realize when the smallest difference in your form can change the results down the lane. Keep your shoulders straight. Lift with your fingers. Did you bend your knees like you always do? How close were you to the foul line when you released? Did your ball roll over the arrow you were aiming for? Did it start its hook when it reached the 5-board?

Not all of these things would necessarily need to be relearned when you get new equipment, but if you happen to find out your old ball doesn’t fit you as well as it could, you’re going to have to learn the grip and release again. The release is especially important – back when I was starting to learn to bowl, I nearly lost my thumb during the transition to the conventional hole configuration (what most people use when they use the “house” balls at the alley, your fingers go all the way into the holes) to the fingertip configuration, which is appropriately named.

I was in the process of learning this new grip last week. As I mentioned before, my average on the league is 190. For the first two games, I got about 150, but I finally figured it out for the third. I almost struck out the entire last half of the game and ended up with a 210.

In the long term I think that this will help out not only my bowling game, but as I’ve discovered, most of my bowling game this year has been using muscle memory. This isn’t necessarily bad! But I think it is helping me learn a deeper focus which could help me in many ways.

EDIT: Bowled a 204, 208, and 192 on my first league outing. Woot.

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Hello 2014


nickHappy new year to all!

I’ve been a bad contributor for a very long time now – perhaps 2 or 3 posts since getting married in March – but I think it is time to turn over a new leaf.  No, it isn’t a new year’s resolution, because I stand with Chris that resolutions generally don’t work out for a reason.  This is me, realizing that I said I’d do something, realizing that I haven’t been doing that something, and realizing that with the guys’ internet being what it is I could somewhat make up for it.  If this sounds somewhat unapologetic or cocky, I’m sorry for that – humorous tone aside, I know I should have been doing better than this.  I really am trying to make up for it.

Onward!

My time lately has been extremely dominated:

  • I’ve had a wonderful time since getting married, but I feel like my responsibilities are eating into my “me” time a little bit – I haven’t really done anything with my greenhouse since building it (which means one year of the possible three I might get out of the plastic cover was wasted).
  • I joined a bowling league, I bowl every Monday with my wife, two brothers, and a friend.  I’m pleased to average about 190.  The league bowls three games each week, so I’m often very happy when I shoot over 600 pins in one night.  Last week we were in first place for the league!
  • Tuesday nights I do team trivia with my family.  We usually score in the top 3, and get rewarded with a gift card, which is nice.  But it often doesn’t cover our bill.
  • The rest of my week, for the last month and a half, has been devoted to finishing house projects and cleaning.  Why?  Since Thanksgiving, my wife and I have hosted three parties, two of which had more than 30 people in attendance. And now, we both sigh.  Much relief.

From what I hear from the people in attendance (mostly family, so take it with a grain of salt), everything went well.  I’ll probably do the parties again next year, with many lessons learned from this year to make things go smoother.

So I’m looking forward to the next year already.  As mentioned above, I don’t really do resolutions, but I will most certainly do some new years’ goals, which by my own guidelines must be very specific:

  • This year, I will be running a half marathon in March.  Let the training begin.
  • This year, I want to eat at least one herb, fruit, or vegetable that I have grown myself from seed to harvest in my garden.
  • This year, through job searching or pay negotiation, I want to earn more money and do my best to get my student loans paid off.  I think this might be a tough one, but having recently passed the Professional Engineer exam, I feel like it might not be.

Pokemon X/Y: Mega Evolutions


I’m clearly still on the fence about Pokemon X/Y. Now Nintendo has introduced a new feature regarding evolutions of Pokemon: Mega Evolutions.

Mewtwo evolves again, this time by inverting his spine so his tail comes out of his head! I imagine EVERYONE can see the evolutionary advantage of being extremely top-heavy.

The Basics
Based on information provided, there will be a new hold item that will evolve a Pokemon to its Mega Evolution during battle. I would guess that the Pokemon must be at its normal maximum evolution before it can use the item, but that’s just my guess. It is not known if this is an item that must be triggered, or if it is consumed as part of the process. It is also unknown if all of the different species have a Mega Evolution (assuming an average of two evolutions per species, that could be a whopping new 350+ Pokedex entries from Mega Evolutions alone). So far, 7 species have confirmed mega evolutions.

Upon evolving, many changes could occur – one Pokemon, Ampharos, has been confirmed to change its type to Electric/Dragon. A few are confirmed to have increased stats, and a few have been confirmed to change their ability. Basically the same potential changes as a regular evolution.

What This Changes
For casual players like me, not much. You’re going to play through the fairly easy story, see it happen a time or two, then the game will be shelved as always. Pokemon is probably not going to be particularly social for a lot of players in the U.S. until a game comes along that makes it a lot easier and entertaining to interact with people over long distances. In Japan, if you are walking downs busy street you are probably on the same street as a Pokemon trainer. That’s not something you can say for the U.S. I can go several months without finding someone using StreetPass on my 3DS, and I have it with me most of the time.

For competitive players from previous generations, your established teams need to be rethought. Chances are, your team isn’t built around one among them using their Mega Evolution, nor is it prepared for when your opponent uses one against you. Even if you could just make one of them mega evolve, you could find your strategy isn’t nearly as effective anymore with more powerful Pokemon taking it on.

This...  might actually be a decent matchup.
This… might actually be a decent matchup, Mega Lucario vs. Mewtwo.

My Take on the Change

I just don’t get it.  The system is plenty complex as it is, with 649 potential members of your 6 Pokemon team, each having one or two of 17 different types to form the most intricate form of rock-paper-scissors I’ve ever seen.  And many of these Pokemon have multiple ways they can be used to benefit their teammates or compensate for their weaknesses.  Each of those 6 Pokemon on your team can learn up to 4 of the currently 560 different attacks, some of which can be used in different ways, while some of them might be there to be part of an unexpected strategy to surprise an opponent.  Are there really players out there hoping for more complexity?

I like to play this series mostly for the adventure. I look at it as a puzzle, and each gym, cave, or encounter with Team ABCXYZ that has an agenda that I disagree with are parts of that puzzle that in several of the recent iterations have meshed together quite well.  For example, it was exceptionally awkward for me that in Pokemon Emerald I went from saving an entire city from disaster courtesy of some furious legendary Pokemon, right back into my quest for eight badges.  I appreciated the change in Black/White where, after the Elite Four challenge is interrupted by impending disaster, the match with the champion is delayed; however, I feel it didn’t go far enough.  I feel like everyone should have set aside arbitrary structures and formalities completely when they were faced with what Plasma was putting everyone through.

Competitive battling is a bit of a mechanic on the side for me, if you haven’t noticed.  I do enjoy trying it out here and there, but my main experience will always be the main story.  That is how it is for many, many people with this series.  I have had thoughts of becoming well versed in all strategies and becoming a decent trainer, but with every iteration of this series making the competitive game even more complex, to the point of even having to toss out some of what you’ve learned from previous games, the task has become extremely daunting.  I guess I’m just doomed to be a worse Pokemon Trainer than Ash Ketchum.

Nintendo 3DS: Mii Force


nickA couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I got a new update on my 3DS that introduced four new games at the Mii Plaza.  I also mentioned that the one I wanted to play, Mii Force, had not been able to be downloaded due to the download quitting around 65%.  Turns out this is an issue with my modem or router, and I have no idea what to do.  However, since I do have a smartphone that is capable of tethering objects like a WIFI hotspot, and I had a little excess data left over at the end of the cycle, I used that to finally download the game.

Based on previews, the game reminded me a lot of old arcade vertical scrolling shooters that I used to waste my quarters on.  There were a few arcade games that I truly enjoyed playing, but I think everyone will agree with me that there is at least one type of arcade game that you’d run through an entire $10 roll of quarters just to beat if you had to – vertical scrolling shooters is that genre for me.  That is why I was looking forward to playing this particular upgrade to the Mii Plaza the most.

Mii_Force

I was surprised to find out that not only does the game do vertical scrolling, but also side scrolling, bottom scrolling, and enemies are constantly coming in at different directions.  So what is a player to do in these circumstances, when you can only shoot in one direction?

As it turns out, you can shoot in several directions – any one of 8 directions, to be precise.  Without the invincibility powerup, your ship is capable of firing in up to 4 directions at the same time: three cannons spread in front, and one to the rear.  These cannons can be rotated to the cardinal directions (up, down, etc.) or any of the directions in between.  As you may have already guessed, this is how StreetPass comes into play.  You start with one of up to 10 friends already in your craft, and the rest you rescue along the course of a given mission.  The math isn’t adding up, you say?  10 friends and only 4 guns?  Additional friends are used to “upgrade” one of your weapons; two or more friends in a given cannon direction will give you a level 2 or higher weapon in that direction.

The player has his cannons aimed to the top left.  The adjustable cannon direction adds a lot to this game.
The player has his cannons aimed to the top left. The adjustable cannon direction adds a lot to this game.

I’ve played the game on quite a few levels now, and I always find myself a bit disheartened after I discover that I didn’t find everything in the mission (heck, on one particular mission I happened to miss one of my friends!).  There is, at times, a lot to focus on in the screen and it is easy to miss something.  When I say there is a lot going on, don’t interpret that as the game is difficult.  Only once have I not completed the mission, and that was my own fault.  The game gives you another chance to finish the mission, and taking the opportunity, this time I finished without taking a single hit.

The major downside to this game is that it generally doesn’t satisfy my craving.  I can get up to 10 credits a day, which is good for 5 mercenaries.  I can spread those mercenaries out over several missions and make any given mission harder, or I can play one mission at 5 mercenaries.  A day.  This is a far stride from loading my quarters into a machine until the game is done.  Maybe someday, I’ll go to Japan where StreetPass actually matters…  I hate waiting.

Acceleread


nickSmartphones/Tablets are quite handy. I mean, you can totally throw birds using a slingshot! So useful.

Joking aside, there are a number of apps that actually do have a use beyond burning excess minutes during your workshif– I mean, while waiting for the bus, movie, or definitely something other than anything that relies upon your productivity.

For example, just last week I made use of the Mixlr app to tune into the first live show of At The Buzzer (iOS only, for some reason though). There is Flipboard, which gathers up news articles based on topics of your choice (I have one especially for aquaponics!). Sometimes you can even find one that will teach you a new skill: i.e. speed reading. Enter Acceleread.

Acceleread

A friend of mine came over for a bit of a game night and told me about an app he was using to enhance his reading speed. I have no idea what app he was using. I don’t even know if he ever told me. But, being intrigued, I hit up the App Store on my iPad to discover what was available. I read a few reviews, and eventually decided to go with Acceleread. Like a few that were available, you can get started on your training for free, but if you want access to intermediate or advanced training courses, you’re going to have to put in your ante chip. I happened to have a bit of my App Store gift cards left from the holidays, so I decided to go ahead and grab the pro upgrade.

acceleread-screenshot-1

The first thing you do is test your current reading speed. The app times you while you read, and determines your WPM rate once you hit the button indicating you’ve finished. Before you think that you can just scroll to the bottom and say you’re done, be sure to know that they do test your comprehension of the article. Besides, you downloaded the app to actually learn how to read faster; what’s the point if you’re not going to use it? Going to show off to your friends that you can trick the app into thinking you’re good at this? Congratulations! … I guess.

I tested at 226 wpm, which is apparently about average. There were a couple of times I regressed to an earlier part of the article to make sure I had the details right. What happened after the comprehension test was full of irony; I decided to read the “The Science” section to discover what the idea behind speed reading was. What this means is that I was subvocalizing every word of the section telling me what subvocalization was (the “speaking” of the word in your head as you read it), I regressed a few times to make sure I had all the details on regression down, and my eyes were extremely fixated on the word “fixation.”

The app describes all the habits of readers pretty well. After the test, you have the option of using the training tools, retaking the speed test, or taking a daily guided lesson. It seems like you can actually take more than one guided lesson a day, but I haven’t yet. I’ve been all about the training tools. The first tool flashes a few words in the center of the screen and tries to train you to take in all the words at once. Another tool (my favorite, actually, due to its similarity to normal reading) divides whatever you’re reading into similar segments and displays them in columns, and progressively highlighting them to make sure you keep up with your designated pace.

stacks_image_371_1
I have yet to test this, but apparently you can read books you’ve downloaded using this app. I’ll probably test this after I’ve finished the stock book, “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.”

Time will tell if the exercises do indeed work and I become a speed reader. It has been 3 days since I first started using the app and I do feel as if I’m reading a lot quicker, maybe even twice as fast. In 30 days, I plan on making another post to show off my results, so look forward to that.

Nintendo 3DS: New Mii Plaza Games


nickNintendo has released a new update for the Mii Plaza on its 3DS system.  The update consists of four new games, Mii Force, Flower Town, Warrior’s Way, and Monster Manor.  Additionally, you can now spend tickets you earn completing various achievements in these apps to suit your Mii up with new hats and suits.

I’ll admit, I was wondering where I was going to spend my 300 play coins.  Find Mii was interesting at first, but it loses the luster fairly quick.  Completing puzzles in Puzzle Swap wasn’t any fun either.  I was somewhat intrigued by this update, mostly by the idea of Mii Force because I’ve had a lot of fun with the scrolling shooters in the past, and also by Flower Town because I like growing things.  Since I was already most of the way there anyway, I decided to take the discount on the remaining two and bought the four-pack bundle for about $15.

Thus far, I’ve only played two of the games.  I haven’t been able to download Mii Force yet, which is unfortunate because that is the one I wanted to play most.  It gets to anywhere between 0% and 65% complete and then just stops.  The other three were hesitant at first, but I was eventually able to download them.  I feel like this might be Nintendo’s servers being bogged down by downloaders, but I haven’t seen any other complainers.  I’ll just keep trying.

Flower Town
You get a chance to take pictures in the game – and you get to use the accelerometer controls of 3DS while doing it! Yayyyyy………

Flower Town
Flower Town plays about how I expected it to.  You plant a seed, then people you pass by using StreetPass will water it for you.  If enough people water your plant, it blooms, then can be used to make up to 10 seeds (if you’re lucky; my first plant only gave me 4 seeds) for your next plant.  The goal is to log 20 different species of a plant and become a “Master Gardener.”

There are a number of other things you can do than grow plants, however.  If you have seeds or plants you don’t plan on using/keeping, you can sell them, or give them to people to complete various jobs.  Either way, you get paid.  What is money used for?  You can decorate your garden, or expand it to allow for more plants.  I have already bought an expansion since I ran out of room for plants.

This game is probably boring to anyone other than people like me.  I enjoy games like Harvest Moon or Rune Factory, but they’re not for everyone.  Anyway, moving on…

I like how the rock-paper-scissors mechanic actually uses small images of hands forming those shapes...
I like how the rock-paper-scissors mechanic actually uses small images of hands forming those shapes…

Warrior’s Way
This one is interesting.  The goal of the game is to conquer the 20 nations for no other reason than you want to.  Hooray for senseless war!  I’m probably going to finish this just for the sake of knowing what the programmer’s make happen after you succeed.   It reminds me of the Joker from The Dark Knight: “I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught one.”  It also reminds me of this comic.

That aside, the mechanics of the game are a little interesting.  You have an army of a size determined by the amount of people you’ve passed using StreetPass, and if you’ve encountered someone since updating the Mii Plaza, you get to add the size of their army as well.  When you attack a nation, you allocate your forces into three different types of unit: cavalry, archers, and infantry.  The three form a rock-paper-scissors relationship to decide who has an advantage in combat.  If you have enough forces, you might be able to allocate them in a way that guarantees you’ll win the required 2 of 3 battles to defeat your enemy.

However, this game is expensive.  The built-in games, Puzzle Swap and Find Mii, use 2 play coins to buy a puzzle piece or hire a mercenary.  This game uses at least 5 coins to hire a mercenary.

Druck

Overall, I wouldn’t say this update was needed, but a nice touch.  I was obviously not using any of my play coins before, so now I have something to spend them on.  However, there is a problem.  Before the update, I had the maximum 300 coins saved up; now, I’ve played only 2 of the 4 games and I’ve used them all up.  I can only gain 10 coins per day, so I’m dependent on passing people using StreetPass.  Which doesn’t happen.

Since I purchased the 3DS in 2011, I’ve added 46 Miis to my plaza.  Some of these were added by Nintendo while updating my system.  In two years, I’ve only accumulated enough to form 4 groups of 10 Miis.  It takes me 8 days to gather enough play coins to create the same effect I’ve gotten over two years of StreetPass.  StreetPass here just isn’t what it is in Japan.  It is going to take a long time for me to play through these games, and I’m about 99% sure I’m going to lose interest along the way.  Which is why the upcoming StreetPass Relay system is going to be crucial for anyone in the States who is interested in finishing these games.

Pokemon X/Y: The Known Changes


Some time ago I announced to the world that I was boycotting the Pokemon series. In a nutshell, I felt that there was so much potential to the idea, and the developers of the game were teasing fans of the series with minor improvements towards that potential. I see it, many other fans see it. In fact, some are even trying to develop their own MMORPG, as that is the likely ultimate incarnation.

We’re getting fairly close to the October release of the next generation of the game, Pokemon X/Y. As is typical with prior releases, details of game mechanics have been released via publications such as Coro Coro. Have the changes appeased this first-day fan of the series enough to convince him to end his boycott?

Lets go over the known changes:

Battle Mechanics

Sky Battles

Sky Battles

I’ve got a question: outside of the battles forced by the story to advance, have you ever done a triple/rotation battle? When they first told us they were introducing double battles, I thought it was cool, but a gimmick. Since then, I’ve grown fairly attached to them, and look forward to the opportunities presented. That never occurred with triple or rotation battles. I have never been part of one that wasn’t forced upon me to finish the game, and I imagine it will be the same with Sky Battles.

Sky Battles are battles that, oddly enough, are fought in the sky. This is actually even worse than previous new battle formats, as it imposes a limitation on you and your party – only flying types and levitators can participate. You’re likely to be forced to do one or two of these during the story to finish, so you better be leveling one up as you go along (my original party on Pokemon Blue never would have made it).

Additionally, someone is going to have to explain to me how this works for flying Pokemon like Dodrio.

I give 0 points for this feature.

Hordes

Hordes

I have concerns about this feature that are somewhat alleviated by faith – Game Freak and Nintendo wouldn’t have the hordes at a level too difficult for a given point in the story. I imagine you can see where I’m coming from: I have a level 10 Pidgey, going into a cave with level 8 – 12 Zubat. It would suck to suddenly be faced with 5 level 12 Zubats, 1 on 5. But I imagine the range of levels we’ll actually be seeing during hordes are either on the low end of the level range, or a few levels below, or you might even be sending out a few Pokemon yourself.

On the endgame side of this feature, I can’t wait to start EV training, and finishing up in minutes instead of an hour or two.

I’ll give 0.5 points for this feature.

Overworld Mechanics

Riding Pokemon

Riding Pokemon

At first I wasn’t taken by this, but then I realized that the developers could make this a really complex feature.  The aforementioned Dodrio raced against a Rapidash in an episode of the anime.  However, would Dodrio have the endurance to carry you up a mountain slope?  Or perhaps, would Gogoat, the only confirmed ride-able Pokemon, be able to carry you in sandy areas?  Perhaps not in either case.  It is possible that different ride-able Pokemon will be required in different areas.

This idea reminds me of the Mach and Acro bikes in the Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald generation, so while it is far from guaranteed I wouldn’t count it out.

I’ll give a point for this feature.

Rollerblades

This…  is merely a “re-skin” of running shoes, or perhaps the bicycle.  The same mechanic over a small change in animation.  It is possible that they’d add a mini-game to go along with the feature (which I will promptly ignore).

No points for this feature.

Trainer Customization

Trainer Customization

This is kinda neat.  In many cases people describe things as “icing on the cake.”  I will describe this as icing that might be on a cake, which is no where near as cool.

Still, 0.1 points for this feature.

Language Selection

Useless, as I will be playing the game in the region-locked language that it would have been in if the feature wasn’t added.  Well, I guess I could test/work on my rusty Spanish skills…  Hmm.

I’ll give 0.1 points for this feature.

Photo

Photo Spots

To me, this seems like a technical demonstration.  It is a capability of the 3DS system that isn’t necessary to this particular game.  However, I understand that the region is based on France, and I would be hard-pressed to convince anyone that there isn’t anything pretty to see in France, nor is there any tourists.

I’ll give 0.5 points for this feature.

Player Search System
The indicator on the first “friend” is unclear to me, but the indicator on the third “friend” looks like that trainer is in battle.

Player Search System

And now for the meat of the post.  Here are the practical changes to the game that most people are looking at.

First off, you can now trade/battle with (random) people without going to a Pokemon Center.  The GTS has also been upgraded such that you no longer have to have the entry for a Pokemon in your Pokedex before you can trade for it. (What was the idea behind this, anyway?  It’s like going to the grocery store, and all of a sudden your money isn’t green because… you  haven’t seen an egg before?)  Since these upgrades only make the system the way it should have been in the first place, I’ll only award 0.1 points.

You can now partake in a random trade, where you upload one of your Pokemon, and you don’t know what you’ll be getting in return until you receive it.  I hope the developers thought this one through, otherwise I’m totally going to upload as many level 3 Pidgeys as it takes to get a Mewtwo back.  I’ll award 0.1 points.

They’ve changed the name of the Pokenav/X Transceiver to the Holo Caster.  This is largely a “re-skin” with a 3D projection of whatever NPC you’re talking to.  I won’t award any points for this feature.

You’re now able to give friends O-Powers, which allow for brief increases in stats during battles, gaining more experience, or making catching Pokemon a little easier.  This is very reminiscent of the Pass Powers from the Entralink in Black/White, except now it can be done over the internet.  Yay?  I’ll award 0.1 points since it is a little easier.

And now, the feature that begs the most questions in my mind:  a Friends List.  You’ll be able to see who is online and what they are doing in real time.  The most important questions to me are: why do we need to see what they’re doing in real time?  Is it because, perhaps, we can now go find them and interact with them in game?

It is possible that this feature is only a quick interface for launching into trades and battles, or offering O-Powers, effectively changing a 30-second process into a 20-second process.  But I hope that the developers would understand that many fans would rather wait the 10-seconds and have them spend time working on a much more engaging experience.  We want to explore things together.  We want to accomplish things together.  I hope my dreams are answered, and that I will soon find myself taking on Team Flare with an actual person playing with his own team of Pokemon.  And we’ll conquer them together.

It wouldn’t even bother me if the main story were single-player only and multiplayer missions were included later on.  It would still be a tease, but at least I would know that the developers understand what I want.

This feature could be worth anywhere from 0.1 points to 2 points for me.  If it is what I hope it is, this game would get 4.2 of 5 points and you can bet that I’ll be buying this game day one.