Tales Of Computeria

On this last day of November, I’m contemplating the benefits of my under-utilized laptop. Sure, my kids get a lot out of it — we share — for their school work and such, but I’ve yet to really put my RTX-enabled GPU to work (ok, play). That’s because I prefer to stay comfy in Apple Land — my iPad is my computer (is that hipster-ish?). It’s practical, but more than that, I truly like the synergy and ease of use between my iPhone and iPad (and Apple Watch).

My iPad works much like a laptop with a bluetooth keyboard and mouse that I frequently use. And Apple has truly made iPadOS function more like MacOS in recent years with “Desktop-class browsing” in Safari — let me tell you it’s true because it really works great (cursor hover states!) in the WordPress CMS and in Google Drive/Docs.

That said, when it comes to laptop-like functionality (are you sitting down?), my Windows laptop actually works better! I mean, you know, because it’s an actual laptop and all.

I had to download a game from Steam, which can’t be done on the iPad. So to my Windows 11 laptop I turned (Win 11 is super nice BTW, though it’s still Windows). As I used my slick gaming laptop, it impressed me. The Edge browser, Discord App, Twitter, and Steam all looked and worked nicely on a much more expansive display (over 5 inches larger, which can also easily connect to a giant external monitor or TV via its handy built-in HDMI). Suffice to say, it’s a nice laptop.

So as one who typically swings back and forth between computers, it’s not surprising that I’m feeling certain attraction toward my laptop…but I’d never break up with my iPad, right? Of course not…

But here’s the thing. While I was on Steam grabbing a game demo (Rise of the Third Power if your curious), I noticed another game, Tales of Arise. It’s a recently released AAA title from Bandai Namco, and it’s a JRPG. The thing is, it was made for the PS4 and PS5 consoles, so I never considered it available to me. In other words, since it’s not on Switch, I can’t play it, so I had no desire or real interest in it even though it’s generally considered a great RPG. But after seeing it available on Steam, on my laptop, and within my ability to purchase and play it without the need to buy a new console, I was smacked in the face! I can play Tales of Arise since it was ported to PC (as opposed to Switch).

Not only can I play more great games now, I realize, but I can play them very well since my laptop has a new Nvidia RTX GPU; I’ve already enjoyed RTX-enabled Minecraft on it. So my laptop is like a PS5 or Xbox Series X; it can handle big fancy games as if it’s a latest hard-to-find console. This really flipped a switch in my brain.

After widening my eyes to the fact I can play some great games I previously thought I had no access to, my laptop started to seem like a new console to me (I’ve only been a console gamer really, with some handheld on the side, not counting mobile). So I quickly decided to soon buy an Xbox controller for it. But something else then occurred to me: not only can my laptop play AAA games like a console, it can do so much more because it’s not just a console, it’s a computer. While that seems obvious, it’s the kind of no-brainer fact that takes on renewed significance after seeing it from a fresh perspective.

A good gaming laptop can play new and great AAA console-level games, and it can perform many other tasks, run programs, and of course surf the web. Yeah, you don’t need real-time ray-tracing to send out a snarky Tweet, but does it hurt? Not really. Actually, if we move into “the Metaverse,” a strong GPU might be required just to email in virtual reality, who knows? If so, the chip shortage will be lengthened, but I digress.

So all that said, I’ll keep enjoying my iPad as my main computer, and I’ll put my laptop to good use otherwise. I won’t switch machines, and I won’t not switch either. I’ll just use whatever I feel like using or whichever fits my needs at any given moment the most. I’ll leave it at that for now.

Metroid Dread Impression

Metroid 5 Is Like Super Duper Metroid

For my birthday this year, I received a physical copy of Metroid Dread! I’m four hours into the game and have made it to the third region of the planet. So far, it’s been a fun and challenging game full of classic Metroid features.

Physical case featuring cool Samus portrait, with E.M.M.I.s photo-bombing the background.

Following polished and succinct opening cut-scenes with backstory, players quickly find themselves somewhere deep inside the planet, ready to explore with urgent caution. Like the world in Super Metroid (Metroid 3 for SNES), Planet ZDR is a huge labyrinth of corridors and passageways. Exploration is a constant room-to-room question of “Which way is next?” There are innumerable door types with different locking/unlocking requirements. Early in the game, there is a mostly linear path — yet it doesn’t feel linear — through the planet’s regions despite there being multiple ways to go between each room. Backtracking is present from the start, plus there are a few tricky-to-reach places for the random energy tank or missile expansion. After a few hours, though, Metroid Dread opens up slightly.

As in other Metroid titles, there are many places where players see a room or item that can’t yet be accessed or obtained — teasing. Sometimes these areas clue players into what might be needed before access is available — it’s pretty obvious where the Morph Ball is required — but other times the game surprises players with a special “switch,” such as reversing the flow of magma to open thermal gates, which unblocks a path somewhere.

Running-and-gunning action is the name of the gameplay loop on top of constant exploration for key items, which gain access to vital upgrades and new areas.

Due to numerous complex passageways, entrances, exits, doors, locks, and the like, level design is excellent, suggesting countless hours of thorough gameplay testing. Though rooms share a common theme in a particular region, there are enough details and differences to avoid gross monotony. The pristine 2D platforms with 3D-ish backgrounds look gorgeous in both handheld and docked mode, with gameplay on a big TV revealing more fine detail, like motes of dust floating through light shafts. Special effects fit the game engine perfectly: an aura like transparency in the cloaked suit, the subtle pulsating light of Samus’ laser sight, or the electric bolts of the spider magnet.

Music is adequately atmospheric and changes slightly, for example when sneaking or all-out running through an E.M.M.I. area. As in Super Metroid, music also changes for each region. Sound effects are perfectly suited to everything. What’s most fun for veteran players is the nostalgia of music tracks and sound effects slightly revised from Super Metroid.

Maps are indispensable for exploring planet ZDR’s massive maze of interconnected corridors.

Looking for the right items at the right time while searching for the right way through each area is a test of patience, a mental puzzle to solve. The E.M.M.I. areas are fun to blitz through, hoping to get lucky and find the next door to race out of before being caught. It doesn’t feel gimmicky at all; there’s fun in being chased. Afterwards, with a quickened pulse, players must consciously slow their pace in regular areas so as to not miss possible entrances, exits, or items. They also must slow down to properly engage each enemy as creatures are very well designed to require slightly different moves for defense or offense. For example, a certain flying creature charges players, then suddenly pauses in a sort of head fake, then rushes in again. Timing is everything, and players must use the parry move before shooting. Other alien-like insects simply require that Samus duck to shoot. However, these change a bit with weapon upgrades.

Metroid Dread’s atmosphere, size, and setting all contribute to a feeling of isolation, except for a handful of initial mission briefings from the in-game A.I. As for dread, players will feel more hesitant caution and sudden urgency. While E.M.M.I.s add appreciable value with their new gameplay element — viscerally annihilate when possible, otherwise avoid like the plague — the classic problem of quickly losing energy when entering a high-heat area without protective armor stokes panic, which then instills apprehension later upon seeing heatwaves emanate from an adjacent area.

An E.M.M.I. (All image credits to Nintendo.)

The game is quite challenging; I’ve seen the game over screen many times. The first major boss I fought began to frustrate and discourage me after several attempts because it seemed there wasn’t a way to effectively maneuver and fight. Finally, after much trial and error, and with my son’s helpful observation, I figured it out and was able to easily win at that point; it felt really good. Metroid Dread is also difficult to grasp because there are many moves mapped to many buttons; I often press the wrong shoulder button. It takes a lot of practice, but I find that once a bit of proficiency sets in with muscle memory, the game’s control scheme really flows. I have enjoyed several moments of rushing into a room, getting ambushed, but then being able to quickly react, defend, target, and neutralize threats like a pro bounty hunter should. It’s very satisfying.

Overall, Samus’ latest mission is filled with classic Metroid gameplay, and it might be one of the best titles in the series; it’s near the top with Super Metroid. The triple-A game appears to be a highly respectable addition to Nintendo’s trophy case. With several hours left to play, I may have a final verdict when I finish. For those who want a fun Switch game to play, Metroid Dread should be on top of the must-play list.

Renewed Horizons In Animal Crossing

For most of this year, I’ve played RPGs exclusively, one after another. I only dabbled in the arcade racer Asphalt 9: Legends last month. Now there’s another non-RPG in my controller grip. Thanks to last week’s Nintendo Direct for Animal Crossing: New Horizons, my love of the game has been renewed. Like when it was newly released in March 2020, I‘m enjoying island life every single day.

When Nintendo showcased all the upcoming features to ACNH, I was floored. For 25 minutes, it was one thing after another, whether altogether new or returning from previous AC games. For example, Kapp’n will be back!

There are two parts coming to ACNH: a version 2.0 update (free) and Happy Home Paradise (paid). Both add a lot to the gameplay and are well worth investing in. I definitely plan to buy the HHP DLC; my only question is when? Should I first enjoy the free 2.0 content for a while and, once exhausted, then buy the DLC to refresh the game? I don’t think I’ll wait that long.

I’m not waiting for either update really. Since it’s been so long since I played at all, and since I plunged so much into RPGs, the base experience of ACNH’s casual gameplay is fun and refreshing as is. I’m back to terraforming my island, collecting new bugs and fish(es), expanding my house in preparation to fully decorate, breeding new flower colors, and more.

The colorful hi-res graphics, chirpy sound effects, and melodic tunes create a chill atmosphere along with the casual gameplay. And there is no fighting; maybe that’s what’s so relaxing about the game. A recent RPG I’ve been playing has become a big challenge, forcing me to strategize and grind — a lot more than what I think is typical. It wore on me, so Animal Crossing has been laid back relief (this leads to an editorial I have in draft for RPGamer.com, so look for that to publish in the near future). You know how much grinding is in ACNH? None! I think the only tedious thing is paying off debt to Tom Nook.

Anywho, that’s some of what I’ve been up to lately. What games have you been playing lately?

Apple And Gaming Stuff

Well, hello there September blogosphere. While I’ve been somewhat scarce from the blog lately, that must mean I’ve been so busy with life experience that I’ve stockpiled stacks and piles of content in draft to write, right? Sounds good to me, but that’s inaccurate. No doubt, I’ve been mobile computing (iPad!) and gaming (RPGs!), but that’s only the half of it. I’ve also spent energy writing elsewhere and took a week off from everything for a big family vacation. Next thing you know, I’m flipping the page on the wall calendar and yearning for cool Fall temps to finally blow away the Texas Summer heat.

This month is bringing more cool stuff than just the Autumnal Equinox. First, next Tuesday is Apple’s first Fall event where they tell everyone what to spend their money on next, like new iPhones, maybe new iPads, or Apple Watches too. Oh, and how about new AirPods? Mobile tech is getting a boost this Fall for sure. My current iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and AirPods are working well. In fact, just yesterday I had my iPhone 8’s charge port repaired at a local shop. No longer must I wiggle the charging cord in the port and hope it sits securely enough to juice up; now I just set it and forget it. The port is a physical or mechanical point of failure, subject to wear and tear over time, and is probably why Apple rumors suggest future iPhones may be port-less, relying only upon wireless Qi charging. I have my doubts, and I’m pretty sure this month won’t see such ”courageous” advancement when Apple announces iPhone 13 or 12S or Year Model 2021.

The other new nice thing-a-ma-jig coming this month is an RPG. I’m excited to soon buy the physical edition of Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom – Prince’s Edition for Nintendo Switch! While it’s not a direct sequel to the the first game, it still features sublime Studio Ghibli-esque art design, youthful fantasy, and some other differences to earn a hearty play-through. I think the battle system may even be improved – very nice. Of course, the timeless dilemma is ever present with this upcoming release: when to play it. Can I pause life and disrupt the space-time continuum in order to play and finish all the awesome games available, namely the RPGs on my backlog? I wish.

Gaming has been fun lately. I continue to enjoy Fantasian Part Two; it’s become more addictive lately. But I’ve also gotten sucked back into Pokemon TCG. And then another fun game recently grabbed my attention: Asphalt 8 and 9. Ok, that’s two games, but they’re kind of the same thing. Apple Arcade launched Asphalt 8, which my kids enjoyed on vacation. So then we downloaded Asphalt 9 on the Switch, and instead of catching all the Pokemon, we’re now collecting all the exotic sports cars. Yeah, I know, it’s a racing game, not an RPG, but it does have stat boosts when upgrading car parts, and each race is like an action-battle system where you can crash other cars in order to win first place. That’s a stretch, but the Asphalt games are no less fun to play.

Anyways, this blog post is sort of a catch up for things of late. I hope to write more in the near future; I have some draft ideas slated. Here’s to the Fall being more fun and exciting than the Summer of 2021.

Books Gave Way To Games

We’re about half-way through 2021. So I figure it’s a good time to check on my annual reading challenge. I set the bar at the bottom, one book per month for a total of 12. So how am I doing so far? I’m sitting solid at one. Which is better than zero. Yeah, I’m not gonna make my goal this year. But it’s not for lack of stories, oh no. I’ve been reading plenty of fiction…through video games. True, that doesn’t count, really. Yet I’m getting my escapism either way. So there’s that.


There are many books on my to-read shelf. Good ones. But I’m focused on my backlog — all the games on my to-play shelf. And the ones I love most are role-playing games, the kind that devour time. If I were rocketing to Mars on a months-long journey, I’d take RPGs instead of books.

RPGs, the best ones, have engrossing stories. And text. Lots of text. I read it all, even though these days, most of the dialogue is spoken by voice actors. So I’m “reading” fiction, sure. But as mentioned, I know it’s not the same as a book, which makes the imagination conjure every sight and sound in a story. But I’m cool with that.

Maybe I could squeeze a good read into my schedule, at least a short one. But I don’t think taking only one hour a day for reading would work out too well. I’d be stretched too thin, like the last sliver of ice in tea. No, I prefer a simpler to-do list, one focused on a stack of RPGs to grind through with glee.

I’m now about 62 hours into Dragon Quest XI S on my Switch — a superb RPG, one of the best. And based on average play-throughs (main game plus extras), that means I’ve clocked around 2/3s of the game. I estimate it’s a 100 hour affair. Seriously, that’s 50 2-hour movies for just $45 (the price I paid at Walmart). I doubt $45 worth in books would get me 100 hours of reading.

All that said, I’m sure I’ll return to book reading. It will likely occur when a new must-read book debuts. I also can’t escape the general doctrine that book reading is a healthier endeavor for the mind than gaming. And sometimes, I just feel like reading a simple short story in a book. Until such time, my RPG backlog beckons. So I’ll keep mashing those buttons.