The Secret World: Membership hath its privileges

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Yesterday The Secret World switched on its new membership benefits, which meant a few changes for me now that I bought into the grandmaster pack. Actually, it was kind of funny because GMs get all of the loyalty rewards that are otherwise parceled out according to days subscribed from here on out. So when I went into the store, I saw a pile of goods.

It’s all making me very satisfied for springing for GM status. The cosmetics are nice — I like the new bee suit, it’s got a Mass Effect high-tech look to it. But above that, here are my five favorite things from the membership program:

  1. Bank access anywhere — I hardly ever used the bank, since it required an annoying trip back to London. Now I can summon a portable bank wherever I’m at, and that is an inventory blessing to be sure.
  2. The bee scooter (above) and hoverboard — Love this little shiny scooter, although I might be using the hoverboard more because it seems to handle better in cramped places (platforming, etc.). Love having a hoverboard after getting used to one in WildStar. Now where’s my double-jump?
  3. Bee weapon molds — Oh my goodness, I love these so much. I now have an infinite supply of pretty cool-looking weapon molds to cover up some of the lackluster weapon designs. The pistols are pretty sweet.
  4. Bonus XP and bullion — I ran a few quests last night and found myself giddy at all of the extra XP and black bullion from completing them. This will be so, so helpful to my leveling character.
  5. Free anima leaps — OK, it’s not like anima leaps were super-expensive, but free is free and every bit of PAX saved up helps for those future purchases.

On the flip side of all of this happiness is the fact that I’ve been struggling with TSW’s performance lately. My old computer with my old graphics card could run it incredibly smoothly (no lag/hitching). My new one — with either the old graphics card or a newer GTX 950 — can’t get above 30 fps to save its life and often dives down into the teens or single digits. For an action MMO, this is terrible.

I’ve spent days troubleshooting this, trying to figure out what it is about my build that’s causing this lackluster performance. My other games run fine but not as fast as I would’ve expected with a whole systems overhaul. So far I’ve updated drivers across the board, upgraded to Windows 10 on the hope that it might do something, tried every graphics setting in TSW (on low or ultra it gets the exact same frame rate), looked up and tried every workaround on the forums… nothing. DX9, DX11… it’s all the same. Same frame rate every time. It’s so incredibly bizarre that nothing I do makes a single difference, and it’s even stumped my computer technician brother-in-law. If anyone has ideas, please let me know. I feel as though there’s some setting or obvious bottleneck that I’m not seeing, one thing that I could change that would let the game perform as it should.

I mean, it’s playable, just not always enjoyable to play, if you understand.

Quote of the Day: Nostalgia black hole

“I hadn’t realized that perhaps in both my old(er) age of adult reflexes and the fact that I’d gotten used to more forgiving, time-saving mechanics in modern games that I had fallen into a nostalgia black hole trying to get back to old school games […] I don’t really say this to state that we’ve gotten soft as we’ve gotten older and games have gotten more forgiving (I can’t tell you the amount of times I had to watch poor Lara Croft, 2013 edition, get destroyed because of my mistakes), but to say that games have evolved a bit with respect to how respectful they try to be with the time gamers have to play.”

~ Overly Positive

Chrono Trigger, exercise, and me

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As I wait out the cold (but so far, not particularly snowy) Michigan winter and look forward to the days when I can take my bike out on the road again, I’m keeping my exercise routine going with a half-hour of indoor biking a day. It’s not as hard or thrilling as regular biking, that’s for sure, but at least it’s something.

I have a friend who has been on a program that involves going to a gym for an hour, hour-and-a-half every day and my mind boggles at being able to do such a thing. With four kids, I’m more or less tethered to the house or to at least a couple of them at all times. I haven’t been alone in my house for probably three years now — not even for an hour. So taking that much time to do a gym run is impossible at this stage in my life, and even going out biking for 40 minutes requires making sure my wife is in a position where she can handle the kids.

Anyway, I’m just glad I have the exercise bike at all. My wife bought it several years ago and then abandoned it, so I took it over and made it my own. Right now it sits in the corner of our living room, tucked in a small nook between a bookshelf and our couch. It’s far easier to step into a different room of the house to work out, let me tell you, than having to leave the house altogether. The kids can — and do — come into the room to read or talk, and I can squeeze in that 30 minutes wherever there’s time that day.

While I don’t get the freedom and sense of speed that real biking entails, there is one major plus about exercise biking: I can use my iPad. There’s a nifty little ledge on the bike panel that holds it perfectly, and as the timer tracks the half-hour, I try to lose myself in the tablet so that it all goes by quickly.

Reading, checking email, and following up on Twitter are all preliminary activities, but what I’ve been doing the most as of late is playing through Chrono Trigger.

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As much as I’ve always loved Chrono Trigger and picked it up over the years, I’ve only completed it once — as a teenager. I guess the other times were aborted starts and issues with platforms. But now, doing it in 20-30 minute chunks as I cycle, I have a feeling I could get through the entirety of it for a second time in my life. This is helped by its length; Chrono Trigger is actually a fairly short (~15 hours) RPG, which was offset by the game’s “new game+” mode with alternate endings.

And the iPad version is definitely not perfect. It’s a huuuuuuge download (have to have all of that music!), the graphics look too muddy and there’s no retina support, and the controls are sometimes too wonky (especially in switching between combat targets). But it’s Chrono Trigger, it works, and it’s still a whole bundle of fun.

I’m still quite charmed by the game’s expressive sprite and pixel art style. And while the music continues to get a lot of love and praise today, the tight plot pacing, the distinctive characters, and the way that it deftly handles the complexity of time travel deserves acknowledgement as well.

When I wrap it up, I’m planning on continuing with some other older titles. I have FFVI (purchased when it was on sale — I know the mobile version isn’t well-liked, but hey, it’s either this or I’ll probably never play it ever), Grim Fandango, Tales from the Borderlands, and Game of Thrones to go through. After that, maybe FFIX when it comes to mobile, which should be soon.

Got to say that I’m impressed that this iPad Mini 1 is still chugging along. I thought I would’ve replaced it by now, but since it still works and can play these games, why should I drop a few hundred for a new one? It’s hard to justify that.

9 Final Fantasy XIV starter tips I learned by obnoxiously asking questions

Part of the… fun? tradition? experience? of playing a new MMO to you is learning the ins and outs of its systems, particularly what makes it different from the rest of the crowd. My FFXIV guild has been really patient in explaining all of the little quirks that this game throws at you (in some ways, FFXIV is traditional MMO down to its core, but every so often you hit a system or feature that’s downright strange and new).

In the interest of sharing information, here are a few tips that have been helpful to me:

  1. Leave most side quests for alts; the MSQ/fates/leves/dungeons should be enough to level up first job.
  2. Dyemongers in the cities sell some (but not all) dyes for outfits which can be used at lower levels to create uniform-looking wardrobes. That’s the best we can get until the glamour system at level 50.
  3. First time through each guildhest awards a nice chunk of XP per class.
  4. Adjust UI to show all bags at once and target percentage, among other things.
  5. Set your free port to Limsa Lominsa as the ferry offers free trips to the Mist later on.
  6. This guide will help keep you on track, especially with side features/missions that you didn’t know existed.
  7. Type /busy as soon as you log in to avoid gold spam whispers
  8. No, there is no on-screen FPS counter that you can activate. Guess that’s what FRAPS is for.
  9. There really isn’t much personal customization of your build aside from what few cross-class abilities you choose. Everyone pretty much dumps their bonus points in the same main stat for that job/class.

Battle Bards Episode 68: Housing Themes

When an MMO player gets cozy in his or her in-game home, the sound is as essential to the ambiance as the decor. Not every game creates special music for player housing, but enough do that it’s attracted the Battle Bards to take a closer look at the topic. Housing music and collectible tracks? It’s starting to pick up momentum in MMOs, and Battle Bards is on the forefront of the revolution!

Episode 68 show notes

  • Intro (feat. “Free 2 Party” from WildStar and “Chrono Trigger’s Millenial Fair” from Trove)
  • “A Golden Field (Exile’s Housing Theme)” from WildStar
  • “Karazhan Music Roll” from World of Warcraft
  • “Pernon Residential” from Aion
  • “Autumn Ale” from Lord of the Rings Online
  • “Home Sweet Home” from RuneScape
  • “Where the Hearth Is” from FFXIV
  • “Hammerknell Fortress Music Box” from RIFT
  • Jukebox (feat. “Echoes of a Zephyr” from FFXI, “Seaskape” from Splatoon, “Exploration” from Star Trek Online)
  • Outro

Listen to episode 68 now!

The Secret Adventures: Mummies and mystery (Scorched Desert #1)

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(Join Syp as he attempts to document a complete playthrough of The Secret World from start to finish. What will The Secret Adventures discover next? Find out in this exciting installment! WARNING: Spoilers and stories ahead!)

Questions and Answers (main story mission)

  • As instructed, I went back to Geary’s office for a little debrief. My sarcastic boss was in full swing, saying that I needed to sit on the news of the Engine and that lumies were out trying to recruit Cassie to the cause.
  • I love how she gives me a compliment, says “high-five,” and I raise my hand as if to get one for real.
  • The second I leave the office, I’m knocked out and transported somewhere else in the Labyrinth. Crap, am I in trouble?
  • It’s a room with a chair, a desk, and a large monitor. When I sit down, a severe-looking lady walks in and tells me that i’m Questions and Answers, which I kind of assumed was the torture department of the Illuminati. She says I failed, but so did everyone else, and that to avoid the room again I needed to remain vigilant.
  • Seriously lady? I succeeded at EVERYTHING. I had practically zero ground support from the Illuminati. By my calculations, I should’ve been promoted to boss by now.
  • She leaves behind a report — on purpose, I assume — that points to an agent in the organization who is under suspicion. Maybe this was a sly way of sending me on assignment? I head out to investigate.
  • This is cool, I always wanted to see more of the Labyrinth (RIP Bowie!). Don’t mind me, fellas, Secret Agent Syp is on the case!
  • Place is a little sterile for my tastes but sharp-looking even so.
  • Poking around on the poor sod’s computer, I find a mention to a delivery van and something heading off to Cairo.
  • The van (parked outside) takes me to a warehouse, another one of those Indiana Jones places filled with box mazes, dead Illuminati agents, and, oh yeah, mummies. When the lights go out, the mummies come out to playyyyy…
  • After that nonsense, I head back to Illuminati HQ to report. There’s a lot of delivery traffic going into Cairo and the group doesn’t like that. It wants me to head into that mess, see what to make of it. Also need to talk to the Council of Venice. If I must.
  • Little segue here as we head into Egypt. Particularly for your first time playing the game, this is a big moment. New England is really neat but by the time you head to Egypt, you’ve been on Solomon Island for hours and hours and it seems like it will never end. Emerging from the foggy gloom of the island to the harsh light of the Egyptian desert is almost a relief. Doesn’t seem quite as spooky, either.

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The Siege of al-Merayah (action mission)

  • Of course, this being TSW and all, Egypt isn’t some sort of relaxing resort. Coming up out of Agartha, I hear the sounds of gunfire as the good guys are fighting against waves of cultists. Hey, at least there are more good guys with weapons here than there were in New England!
  • Shani is there to greet me and lay out the situation. The Marya are the equivalent of the Wabinaki, I guess, the long-standing warriors that have held off evil (in this case, the Atenists) for centuries. Now, there is open war.
  • In the background of Shani’s cutscene, you can see Nassir joking it up with other soldiers. Missed that the first time through!
  • Nothing too complex here; this mission is all about killing, killing, and more killing of the cultists and the villagers that they brought over to their side.
  • It’s more than a little creepy to be out in the broad daylight and see cultists kneeling in worship before flaming human torches. Feel bad for all those people.

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Supply Run, Too

  • I guess I’m starting to see a lot more similarities between Egypt and New England now that I think about it. Here’s yet another quest to round up much-needed supplies for the survivors who are under siege by the forces of the night. Well, the forces of the sun, but it’s an evil, black sun, so that doesn’t quite count as happy daylight.
  • One thing I like about TSW as an adventure game is that a lot of the time it uses straight-forward, sensible logic. For example, I have to pick up a lot of gas, food, and water in this mission. So instead of looking under rocks and in weird, out-of-the way places that some devs like to stash stuff, I head to the gas station and houses, and they’re there in plenty.
  • This mission is a good excuse to poke around the suburbs a little. Not that the houses are that interesting, especially compared to New England, but it’s something.
  • Another thing I miss from New England? Filth zombies with their larger vocabularies. All of these bad guys just shout “ATEN!” and then lunge at you with sledgehammers. Or they stand on rooftops shouting “ATEN!” like Aten was slightly deaf and elderly. “ATEN, WOULD YOU LIKE CRACKERS WITH YOUR SOUP?”

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Headhunter (side mission)

  • The Marya need to replenish their ranks, and as a newly arrived stranger from God-knows-where, I’m in the best position to do just that.
  • My recruitment drive goes bad: one guy is already infected by the Filth, one is burned on a stake, one is found hanging in a room, and one — finally — is alive and agrees to join up.
  • In the room with the hanged guy, there’s a box of expired dates. From 1942. Indiana Jones reference, I’m guessing (“bad dates”). What’s funny is that you can eat one and then you’ll get a food poisoning debuff that will eventually kill you. Oh, you can cancel the debuff but where’s the fun in that?

The Traitor (sabotage mission)

  • Egypt, you want me to hate you so soon? A sabotage mission right out of the literal gate? Ugh. Fine. Whatever.
  • Anyway, Shani is understandably upset that someone’s betrayed the Marya and fed intel to the cultists. I’m to root them out. Maybe by moonwalking across pressure plates? Nah, that comes later.
  • Shani: “He told me that if I wanted to understand humanity, I need only to read the comments section on YouTube.” So wise. So true.
  • So one of the first tasks here is to find a way into a locked-up building. I’m doing all of these flips and tricky jumps to get on top of walls to get on canopies to make my way to the building… and when I get there I see a ladder that goes right down to the ground on the side. I’m such a dope.
  • After switching off some cameras — nice to have that option — I find a polaroid of Said the mummy.
  • Two more houses to negotiate entrance. One requires reaching through a window to turn off laser fencing, the other has me running to the roof to take a sniper shot of the traitor. Got the guy dead to rights.