Blaugust Day #7: Finding a Topic

Technically, this week of Blaugust is all about Topic Brainstorming. Other than a sort of topic-adjacent post on regular features I’ve struggled with this one. In large part because I don’t really have a structured means of sitting down and coming up with post ideas. SDWeasel sounds to be in a similar position.

Ideas are plentiful. They’re all around. In other words:

Ideas Can Come from Anywhere

The trick is to capture the ideas as they occur. You can’t trust that they’ll still be rattling around your brain later when you come to write. Or at least, I certainly can’t.

SDWeasel uses a physical notebook. Rambling Redshirt uses Evernote (along with a bunch of other incredible tools, check out his entire Blaugust range of posts so far!)

Myself? I tend to make drafts directly in WordPress. The draft might contain as little as a title to jog my memory on the idea or it might have bulletpoints on thoughts that I intend to cover. Ideas can age though, and depending on how long a draft sits around — it may end up never being used, or more commonly — morph into an almost entirely different idea by the time the post is published.

In any case, the point is — capture your ideas somehow. If they morph or even if they end up being thrown into the trashcan by choice, that’s still better than having lost one to the tip of your tongue forever.

Some things that might get you started though, and the wellsprings eternal that I constantly dip my idea-ladle into:

The Game(s) You’re Playing / The Projects You’re Working On

Image links through to one of my ESO play session write-ups. … I really need to get back to ESO one of these days.

This is a bit of an obvious one perhaps, but I have heard concern raised that their gameplay just really isn’t that interesting, or that no-one would care.

But do iiiiit. Everyone has different experiences and takeaways from what they’re doing. What one person notices right away as important might take another entirely by surprise. This can be an excellent way of learning more about you as a person, and what you value, too.

If you already know you’re going to do a post on a particular play session, then this would be a time I’d highly recommend taking bulletpoint notes! They help a lot when it comes to recounting the story. :)

Other Bloggers

This one links through to a post spawned from ideas across multiple blogs and posts. It talks to how we evolve as gamers over time, and how our preferences can sometimes unconsciously run away from us!

Blogging is a team sport. You may not think so at first and make no mistake — I’m not saying there isn’t a huge amount of individual effort required. There is.

But communication in the community is like a constantly fertile garden of ideas. However that communication occurs: Other’s blog posts, direct conversation in the likes of the Blaugust Discord or the resulting discussion in the comments it can spark fantastic work of your own.

Absolutely spend the time you need to, to ensure you’re happy with your own blog and your own work output. But wherever at all possible, allow for time to support — and in turn be supported by — the wider blogging community around you.

News & Events

A brief (non-spoilery) look at TennoCon 2019, and my love for the New Player Experience cinematic.

This isn’t an area I delve into terribly often myself.

I figure for the actual news itself from an informational perspective, there are far better sources for it than I. Sources who are often time the firsthand or primary in the news, and can get it out there faster.

Occasionally though, there is enough impact, thoughts or feelings around a piece of news that it feels appropriate to share a take on it. That take or impression becomes the focus of the post, rather than the news itself.

On the events front — these can be big or small. Upcoming holiday style events in your MMO of choice, perhaps. Or the much bigger events — BlizzCon, TennoCon, etc — if it’s a game or thing you’re passionate about, then sharing your passion on what you discovered or learned can be really engaging both to write about and for others to read about.

Capture Your Ideas as and When They Come

That really should be the key takeaway message. It doesn’t really matter how you do it. Find something that works for you and your lifestyle.

Ideas are everywhere. It’s retaining them beyond the initial pop-in to your mind that can be tricky. :)

Newb’s Impressions of Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Here’s a confession: I’ve never played a Fire Emblem game before now. I have been vaguely aware of their existence. I knew that people who had played them liked them, even. But not really being a Nintendo person they’ve never before crossed my path in any meaningful way. In fact, the Switch is the first Nintendo console I’ve ever owned.1

Even with now owning a Switch, buying Fire Emblem: Three Houses wasn’t really something I’d planned on. I’d not crossed paths with any of the advertising materials or E3 releases about it. It was only through frequent expressions of excitement from others, particularly on Twitter, that I even started to consider it.

And… Well, here we are.

Now 10 hours in, on a scrublord Normal / Casual playthrough.

I did consider bumping the difficulty to hard and allowing permadeath — I’m familiar playing this way in the XCOM series after all. XCOM 2 perhaps being my favourite TBS of all.

But I’m glad I didn’t.

There is… A lot going on here. And much of it different from what I was expecting.

What do you mean they get to ‘counterattack’? It’s my turn!

Yes, I know I should get Edelgard a Steel Axe. Might’ve cleanly one-shot that Rogue. But… The iron one isn’t broken yet!

The first time I saw and recognised a counterattack in action for what it was, it was with an enemy attacking me. My character wasn’t having a bar of that and gave them a mighty wallop in return. Naturally I was all, ‘F- Yeah! Woo! Beat his ass!

Then, with sinking heart I noted that enemies could counterattack too. That just isn’t cricket. Boo.

Combat in in Fire Emblem: Three Houses has put me in the mind of Chess and Magic the Gathering (or other CCG of choice) having offspring. You can see elements of the parents throughout. Positioning matters, attack order matters and there are skills and modifiers to consider too. There is even a layer of strategy to consider over the top of the moment-to-moment tactics, too.

Unmodified by class, skill (or possibly hero items later on) the aggressor gets the CCG equivalent of ‘First Strike’. If your opponent happens to be… You know… Dead, after your attack happens then there is no fear of reprisal. Although if you have a sufficient ‘Speed’ stat advantage to attack twice, the counterattack will come between your swings.

Otherwise you can endeavour to manipulate the limitations of their attack patterns.

Ah Ferdinand… You’ll never rival Edelgard at this rate. She’s level 10 or 11 already!

Melee by and large can only attack horizontally or vertically one square adjacent to their position. You can walk right up next to a hostile sword user — albeit in a diagonal position — and give them a really bad day with a light showering of acid2.

Or you can use an archer to attack that same sword-fellow with impunity from two squares away. Although if your archer is not in turn well protected and the enemy survives, on their turn they can come invade your personal space with a swift chop. Your archer cannot attack into immediately adjacent squares, and so no counter attack for you.

Then there are your attached battalion units. They can be used to attack (often with additional affects, depending on the unit type) without triggering a counterattack. Although your battalion’s can be exhausted and will flee the field if overused.

Then there is the longer term strategic elements that will carry on having an impact outside the current battle. Adjacent fighting units will build relationships and learn to support one another better. You also need to consider how best to provide opportunity for units falling behind in XP to catch-up without putting them at undue risk.

I mean, sure it’s great having a few super units.

But lose even one of these because your healers were one-shot and you’re going to be in a great deal of trouble. Especially if you’re playing the more traditional ‘intended’ experience with potential for permanent character loss.3

The teaching and social elements might just be my favourite parts though

Which is good, because outside an initial battle or two it’s what you’ll almost exclusively do for the first couple of hours.

Practicing the art of small talk over tea with Claude.

Fire Emblem will throw a lot at you over this time. And at first, in combination with learning the layout of the monastery and all the ins and outs of where people might be hiding around the main areas highlighted on the map, it can feel a tad overwhelming.

You’re asked to make a choice between the three houses very early on as well. Which terrified me. Thankfully this wasn’t your ‘final answer’ so to speak. When you’re again asked shortly after this — you are given opportunity to better learn about each group.

The overwhelmed feeling comes back in short order though. Namely when you start looking at the skills you want to teach your students with respect to lining them up to particular classes. Classes that span across a range of tiers, no less. As someone completely unfamiliar with the Fire Emblem classes and what I might even need in the future, hoo boy.

Teach, showing how it’s done.

Fortunately, your students will occasionally come to you with suggestions for their skill goals. You’re absolutely free to ignore them and shoehorn them down a path of your choosing ‘teacher knows best’ style — but if you’re floundering along like I was, this is very helpful.

But their needs extend beyond the purely academic. You need to ensure you’re caring for them as a whole person. Watching out for their motivation, ensuring they get along with not only you but their classmates too.

Fire Emblem offers any number of ways to approach this from Tea Parties (as above) to cooking, group meals, rest days and more. But each tends to have an opportunity cost. Often in expenditure of your rather limited ‘Professor Points’ which dictate how many facilities or major actions you can take.

Also? If you’re doing those things instead of bettering your own skills, how can you maintain top efficiency in teaching your own class?

I feel like with 10 hours in, I’m starting to get a firmer grasp on managing and balancing these aspects. I have no illusions as to being anywhere near close to complete mastery and being able to optimise the crap out of everything I’m doing. But I’m comfortable. There is no longer a need to second guess every action I’m taking as somehow potentially screwing up my game.

PSA: Avoid the official trailers if you don’t want to have a significant story spoiler.

I won’t spoil it again here if you’ve been so far free of it. I’m told it was even in a lot of the promotional material, but my spoiler for this came from the pre-edit version of the Kotaku review. Their defense (I guess somewhat understandably) was that clearly Nintendo didn’t intend it to be a major secret, having included it in their own promotional material.

Nonetheless, I would’ve preferred being shocked and amazed by it when it happened.

I feel that how I’m approaching the game has been at least minutely adjusted just by the knowledge of what is coming — even though I don’t know when or how far off it might yet be.

In any case, final thoughts?

Well, not final final. There is still a huge amount more to do and see in the game.

But I can tell you at the very least I intend to do and see those things. I am really enjoying my first Fire Emblem experience. I can’t wait to see what else the game has to throw at me. (*Chants* hero items, hero items, hero items). The overwhelmed feeling I spoke to was relatively fleeting and just something to push through initially.

It’s also a title that will certainly invite replay. Not only by way of choosing an entirely different choice in from the titular ‘three houses’. But even in how you approach training and class paths for your team. This is a bit of a mixed bag though. The core storyline is expected to run 35-50ish hours. At that sort of length I’m not sure I’d want to go through it all again from the beginning. At least not any time soon.

Dorothea bringing the thunder.

But that’s me — I’m very much a one and done style gamer with anything of this length. I’m the same way about books, too. Even the ones I really love tend to get only a single reading. And its for much the same reason as with games: There are too many more yet to explore!

Ultimately, If you love turn based battles with a side of Persona-esque time management, and already own a Switch? I think this title is certainly one to grab. Reviews elsewhere have been positive and my own experience so far would back this up.

But if you’re after a second opinion — especially if you’re already experienced with the series? Angie from Backlog Crusader has a fantastic full review up written from that perspective.

And whether you’re experienced or not, Robert from Adventure Rules has put up an amazing set of Fire Emblem: Three Houses beginner tips.

Regular Features as a Form of Content

Whether new to the scene or an old hand, from time to time it can feel like your post ideas have dried up. There’s no handy news to respond to. Your games have become a series of dailies with all the engagement of a wet paper bag. Well shiz. What to do?

Sorry. This post probably won’t help with that directly. Roger Edwards has just written something which might though. Instead, Regular Features can help by giving you some reliable content to ensure the gaps between posts never get too large. That you don’t get yourself into a position of feeling like you can’t come back now.1

Regular features can help. But there are some pitfalls watch out for too.

You can make a feature out of essentially anything.

A round up of your favourite posts from around the community perhaps. Or a look at your month in review — what games you played or projects you worked on. Although you could just as easily pick a different cadence. Weekly, fortnightly, quarterly and/or even a mega wrap-up yearly.

You might even set yourself some gaming goals for the period ahead and discuss how you did at the end. Aywren does a great series of this kind. So does Syp. Although this is far too structured for me. I can’t even guarantee any given game will carry on being played one month to the next. ;)

Got a massive backlog? Endgame Viable for Blaugust is posting every day after running through a title for about an hour. It’s not a review, just impressions generated during that dedicated chunk of time. You could adapt this idea to into a weekly or fortnightly feature, perhaps.

Or maybe you’re just looking to supplement your regular posts with something a little lower in effort, but still nice for your readers. Possibly as a weekend cover piece. The Nerdy Bookahs have this covered with Screenshot Saturdays.

Myself, I run two features at the moment. Maybe two and a half if we’re being generous. The core two being the monthly Journal and another on the Humble Monthly inclusions.2 Unfortunately for me, these both land at fairly similar times which is one of the potential issues you may need to watch out for.

Namely, not overloading yourself with too much at any one point in time. Or even just overall.

But if that does happen? If you’re starting to feel too pressured by the number of features you’ve got setup, or if you feel that you’re now posting nothing but these things — let your least favourite ones go.

There’s nothing wrong with that. It isn’t a failure. If they’ve stopped being fun to do as an overall experience then something has to give.

Don’t let it be your entire blog.

Blaugust Day #4 — Stop Letting Jetpack Post to Twitter For You

Important Note: The original post remains below unedited — but Belghast has run the same experiment (with a much larger userbase, likely to be more representative of Twitter at large) and found engagement levels dropped when using the below method.

As noted down in the comments, he found that while what I’ve posted looks great to Twitter.com users — users with a third party app will not have the image pulled through. So they end up with a plain text tweet with zero image of any kind.

So! While it might be worth some experimentation for a few days to see how this works for you, in general? Might just be best off trusting it to WordPress and Jetpack attaching an image for you after all, rather than relying on a meta data pull.

The Jetpack plugin — core to your site if using WordPress.com — has a number of helpful Social Media connection options. And as it turns out, perhaps one that is less than helpful. The general idea of these connectors being that when you publish a post, you write a small written blurb to go along with a link to your post. Then that, along with your featured (or first used) image will be published to any or all of Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook or LinkedIn.

The Jetpack plugin — core to your site if using WordPress.com — has a number of helpful Social Media connection options. And as it turns out, perhaps one that is less than helpful. The general idea of these connectors being that when you publish a post, you write a small written blurb to go along with a link to your post. Then that, along with your featured (or first used) image will be published to any or all of Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook or LinkedIn.

While I’ve not tried LinkedIn — this isn’t the sort of blog where I’d like to share content there — for the most part this auto publish functionality is excellent.

But steer clear of the Twitter one! Don’t use it if you can help it!1

Why? What’s Wrong with the Publish to Twitter Connector?

The tweet on the left was posted manually. The one on the right came from the Jetpack plugin.

The difference at first glance is subtle but it can cost you in post clickthroughs.

I’m not talking about any difference in tag or text content of the Tweet’s either. Although those are important too and Syp has some great general tips for game blogging which can help here.

The problem is how difficult the Jetpack plugin makes it for readers to actually get to your post via Twitter.

The highlights show clickable area that will take someone to your post.

With Jetpack powered tweets, I found a high degree of ‘Media engagements’ — or clicks on the images. But Jetpack is uploading these images as attachments, so clicks on the images will not bring anyone through to your post.

If you publish a tweet manually however — and don’t upload an image attachment — Twitter will convert your link to what you see on the left. The text-only link disappears and your featured image will be pulled and used automatically as part of the clickable area that will take people to your post.

The difference now is anyone clicking the image, or any of the text below it, will be brought through to your post. Much easier for them.

In my limited experimentation so far I’ve seen very positive results by manually tweeting over using Jetpack for Twitter. To the order of 250-400% increase in Link clicks over what was typical previously.

My sample size in both tweets and followers is small though — so I’d be curious to find whether ‘bigger bloggers’ can replicate these results.

Humble Monthly: August 2019

The revealed titles were my last bastion of hope for value out of the August bundle. As noted last month I already owned both of the headliners — Kingdom Come: Deliverance and Surviving Mars. This was a bit worrying, given it has been some time now since the revealed titles provided anything I’d truly wanted.

I noted back in May that a large part of the value of Humble Monthly to me is the mini-Christmas effect it delivers, of opening a box of goodies and finding those things you had secretly — or perhaps not so secretly — been wishing for.

It had been a while since Humble Monthly had delivered that from the Revealed Titles, and was holding on as an active subscription by the power of the headliners alone.

At last, the trend of opening a present containing only underwear and socks has been busted. A small squee of excitement may even have been heard from my general vicinity. And better still, the headline titles for next month ain’t too bad either!

So let’s start with those.

September Headline Titles

Squad

Squad rates very well on Steam, and has been seeing a constant stream of fairly significant updates since it first made an appearance back in 2015. It’s been in my core gaming group’s ‘Will we, won’t we?’ list for quite some time.

Looks like ‘Will we’ wins, thanks to next month’s bundle!

If you haven’t crossed paths with Squad yet, it’s a military shooter that aims to fall somewhere in the middle of the difficulty/complexity curve of say, Call of Duty and ARMA. Conceptually this sounds an awesome niche to try carve out in the market, so I’m curious to see how well it achieves this and which end of the complexity spectrum it leans toward.

Slay the Spire

Deckbuilder Card Game meets Roguelike in some mutant lovechild of the two. If X-MEN taught us anything though, it’s that not all mutants are bad.

And this one certainly isn’t, although I will admit that the trailer might make it difficult to tell. It has the coveted ‘Overwhelmingly Positive’ rating on Steam, and for good reason. Sadly for me, I bought this in the last Steam sale. (Although after my initial purchase post, so it isn’t included in that list.)

But it does put me in position to say this thing is fantastic. It also recently came out on Switch which would be the perfect platform for this. The Humble Monthly pack will of course provide it for PC, but at the very least it might give you a taster to see whether the Switch version investment is worth it for you.

Revealed Titles

Ever wished your Metroidvania game had a little more… pinball in it? Wait, what do you mean ‘No’? Well, hopefully now that you’re thinking about it you can’t imagine anything better.1

Yoku’s Island express is this, and it looks fantastic. I’ve been close to pulling the trigger on purchasing it multiple times but has been exactly the sort of title I expected to eventually show up in the Humble Monthly. And here we are!

It’s another that I could see appreciating a lot on the Switch, actually. And if that’s you too — it is also out on that platform.

The others are of less interest to me, and less likely to see play time.

Rising Storm 2: Vietnam might though. It is from the Red Orchestra team, and sports 64 player online battles. It came out in 2017 though, so I’d have to take a squiz and see if there are any local and populated servers still.

The Adventure Pals and Almost There are both platformers. Adventure Pals wears its reference shamelessly on its sleeve across name, visual style and content, but for all that looks potentially the more appealing of the two. Almost There bills itself as a 100% dexterity based platformer, letting you have almost complete control over even aerial movement. It’s a low-fi but modern effects visual style which puts me in a mind of Geometry Dash a little.

Swords and Soldiers II is… well… It’s a sidescrolling RTS.

None of which the trailer adequately answered for me. So I had to turn to a let’s play.

Turns out this was originally on the Wii-u and didn’t garner a lot of attention there. More importantly from a gameplay perspective, RTS might well be overselling it. It appears that you cast skills and summon units essentially from a hotbar setup.

To the Humble Monthly Steam category graveyard, with ye then! ;D

Blaugust Day #2 — It’s a Knock Out

Currently I’m not allowed to drive, operate heavy machinery or sign legal documents. Going on Social Media and certainly writing a blog post is probably not wise either. The somewhat amusing aspect of this, is that the draft I was preparing for today had an element of talking about planning in it.

Haaah. Planning. We don’t see eye to eye, planning and I. Not most of the time, at least. But this time I had at least a modicum of planning in place. I did! But…

I had my endoscopy appointment today. That part I knew and had accounted for. What I didn’t at all appreciate is that I would be going under general anesthesia for it. I for some reason was very much under the impression it would be local only.

I’m back home now, but still really quite groggy. The number of typos in this thing has been impressive. But I think I’m at least catching them all. (When I read this tomorrow, I am expecting for some disappointment on this front though.)

In any case. The news was… Good? But also not yet fully conclusive. My esophagus was clear of any growths or cancer indicators. That’s very good. But it also isn’t quite the end of the story yet. I’ll be back in another few weeks for a colonoscopy, and if that also fails to find the source of bleeding, to swallow a tiny capsule camera of some sort for an investigation of the small intestine as well.

These extra tests being on the cards was news to me though. I just wanted them to sort why it hurt to swallow. On that, as it turns out there is a part down there nearer the stomach end of things which is supposed to be generally closed — and isn’t. This has allowed some acid to get higher than it should and cause some scarring.

But this didn’t appear to overly worry the Dr performing the procedure today, far more worried about sorting out the source of iron supplies (ferritin) being so incredibly low. So… Yup! More stuff to go yet.

For now, I shall sign off for the day and retreat back to the sanctum of bed for a little bit.

Lost Ark: Assassin Unleashed

Blaugust 2019 is here! It has started! At least — in the New Zealand timezone it has. So here is my official post #1 for Blaugust 2019. Preparation Week is still under way with many of the Mentors posting great advice posts.

Even as a participant, I threw my own 2c into the ring with watching out for Procrastination in the name of ‘Research’ and finding your motivation or your ‘why’ for entering the blogging world.

It seems I picked a really good time to jump into Lost Ark. Just yesterday the Assassin class launched, along with a new introductory story path which ties masterfully into the existing story. You start as a fresh faced Assassin, subordinate to the rest of the crew. They’re professionals and know their business, yet the very Gothic looking and foreboding castle ahead does little to inspire confidence.

In there, you know, is your target. One of your own.

At least, they were once. It is hard to say precisely what they are now after succumbing to the call of chaos — that constant, whispering presence and companion to all fated to bear the legacy of demon blood. Like you.

Worse, they are converting others. And so, here you are.

You will perform a number of fairly Assassiny-feats to breach the castle. A lot of climbing, vaulting, and attacking from shadows. What took me by surprise at first, was just how adept at AoE and group management the Assassin is.

Just casually climbing my way around the Chandelier. *queue Sia song*

When I think ‘Assassin’, I typically think strong single target. Maybe poison DoTs or bleeds but that’s more of a flavour choice really. The Lost Ark Assassin goes in with wide sweeping slashes, lifting enemies into the air from behind and then slamming them down again in a flurry of spinning blades.

Despite the initial surprise at this, Lost Ark does a superb job of making this feel right. It feels right for the class thematically after even just a moment and it is glorious to control from a gameplay perspective.

The introductory sequence for the Assassin is likely the shortest of the classes1 but it creates a sense of scale and place difficult to adequately describe.

Breaching the walls and then getting past the antechamber guards are just the beginning. The sense of scale is very cleverly built by — except for getting over the walls initially — a constant downward progression. This is a castle built on the ruins of other castles. You travel down, down, down through increasingly worn paths.

Parts of the lower areas are submerged and navigable by boat.

At last you will come to a giant stone door. It immediately put me in mind of Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles and the stone door in the university library. It is immense. And just as I was remembering the speculation about that door being designed to keep something in at least as much as it is to keep people out…

…This one starts sliding open.

Tendrils emerge which your Assassin valiantly attempts to fight back, but it is for naught. You are grabbed and dragged through, the doorway slamming shut behind.

I don’t particularly want to spoil the rest. So I won’t, except to say again how bloody fantastic it was how they tied the Assassin class in with the other class starts, subverting expectations of a particular event that occurs for all the others. In fact I would go so far as to say that you should not make Assassin your first class in Lost Ark when you get the chance, just so you have the opportunity to compare and contrast.

For now, I shall leave you with a look the two classes skill sets and feel. I haven’t selected one or the other yet, but have tested them both in the trial area a little. Blade is likely where I’ll go, being the fast moving highly agile option. Demonic may be the heavier hitting of the two though with a bit of range added to the mix as well. In some respects it reminded me of Devil May Cry 4/5’s Nero.