What I Learned as a Streamer

I set out on this project to do just a few things: play all my Steam games, and write about it and stream it to hold me accountable. I gave it a shot and was on a roll for just a little while. Then I burned out and stopped streaming, and pretty much stopped playing at all. Here’s why.

I am an introvert. I enjoy being around people. I enjoy talking to others. However, I need time to just sit alone and recharge. I can do various things while alone: read, watch TV, or play video games. Playing video games was my escape from people. Not that I hate being around people, I just need to be away occasionally to recharge.

Here’s the thing. When you stream, whether or not anyone is actually watching (for me, they usually were not), you feel like people are watching. Anyone could be watching at any time. That is, of course, the goal of streaming: to be observed, to interact with an audience.

When you’re streaming, you need to be very aware of what’s going on with everything in your personal environment. For me, that meant I had to avoid doing anything on camera that would look bad, like picking your nose or scratching your balls. I had to make sure to turn the camera off if my kids came into the room. I had to make sure that I didn’t accidentally have a browser open that had something “bad” on it, like porn or something. I had to mute my mic if I wanted to talk to someone else in the room or take a drink. This constant hyper-awareness is basically what it’s like for an introvert in a crowd of people. It’s draining.

When I was streaming, my daily schedule went something like: wake up, set up for stream, stream and play, get ready for work, work, come home, be around family, go to bed. Because of this, that recharge time I need, the isolation from people, basically didn’t exist. I was able to tough it out for a while, but eventually, I just wasn’t able to recover and have any amount of energy.

If I didn’t have a “real job” and was able to live off of streaming, I think I’d be able to hack it, and take a few hours a day to recover off stream. But I’ve learned that as long as I have a real job that is draining in its own right, I just can’t make it as a streamer.

I may still record some of my play throughs and put them on YouTube. I won’t have the camera on, I’d just record the gameplay and add my own commentary either as I play or afterwards. But I won’t be streaming at any time in the foreseeable future. It’s just too much.

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Hollow Knight Review

HollowKnightComplete

Finish style:

Done with 74%

Time spent:

36 hours

Who should play this game:

Fans of difficult games, fans of Castlevania games like Symphony of the Night, fans of 2D exploration/metroidvania games

Who should avoid this game:

Gamers who tend to throw controllers at TVs

Thoughts:

First impression: Hollow Knight is absolutely gorgeous, and the music is incredible.  I don’t know that I’ve played any game, let alone a 2D sidescrolling-type game, that looks this good.  The colors are often understated, yet beautiful.  Like this:

 

Hollow Knight

Hollow Knight is a metroidvania, with a heavy, heavy emphasis on the “vania.” I say that because, much like Alucard or Simon Belmont, your character (the eponymous Hollow Knight) is heavily limited in his abilities. For example, in Castlevania, your character flies across the screen, often becomes welded to the floor (such as right after an attack), and is just generally sluggish. Hollow Knight doesn’t fly back, but is otherwise similarly limited in ability to move.

For some, this may be desirable, but to me, it’s irritating. It’s a sort of artificial way of making the game more difficult, much like breaking your leg before trying to run a marathon. I often found myself saying (screaming), “You’re too slow to do that!” To react, to move, to string movements together, whatever it is. Once you’ve pressed a button, you’re basically committed to that action, plus a half second after of dead time. I much prefer games where the character moves fluidly and responsively, and the game challenges you in those abilities, rather than hamstringing you.

I’m not a huge fan of the map system either. You need to purchase maps for various regions. In order to see where you are, you need to equip a compass, which occupies an incredibly valuable slot that could otherwise be filled by other powerful upgrades. The main problem with the map system is that purchased maps are incomplete, so you need to fill them in by visiting areas. But visiting areas without the corresponding map doesn’t get you anything, in terms of map visibility.

Moreover, you often only find the map after having explored the entire area. I can’t understand what in-game logical sense there is to a map system where visiting an area unlocks that area on your map, only when you’ve bought the map, even though the map doesn’t include any indication that area even exists. It’s just the lack of internal consistency that bothers me: either have the map fully filled in, or let me fill it in without purchasing the map item.

Those are my primary complaints about the game. Otherwise, the story is decent if somewhat difficult to understand. Crippled character issues aside, the gameplay mechanics are good. The amount of areas to explore is absolutely massive.

Many bosses were fun to beat, a few felt like they had really cheap attacks, but overall, with time and practice, they were all beatable. I think the hardest boss I found took me around 40-50 attempts, over about an hour and fifteen minutes, to defeat.

I can’t say I loved this game or that it’s in my top anything. But it kept me engaged, and I was genuinely excited to come back and play again each time I played it. It’s pretty solid, I might play it again someday. But I definitely won’t be doing new game plus. Permadeath with harder everything? Nope.

I Am Setsuna: Review

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Finish style:

Done.  Got about half the achievements.

Time spent:

23 hours.

Who should play this game:

Fans of RPGs like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy looking for a modern take

Who should avoid this game:

Anyone expecting a truly sensible storyline from an RPG

Thoughts:

The game is beautiful. The music is pleasant and fitting. Overall, the entire art package is spot on.

Someone watching my stream described I Am Setsuna as the lovechild of Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy. I’d agree with that, leaning more towards Chrono Trigger in terms of mechanics.

Combat is turn-based, and is strongly reminiscent of Chrono Trigger. Enemies can move around the screen during combat. Various attacks have linear elements, such that it’s possible to hit multiple enemies with one attack, if they’ve moved into a line with the attacking character. Characters can use combo magic if they’re both ready.

Magic results from “spritnite,” which is similar to materia in Final Fantasy VII. It can gain fluxations, similar to the way materia gains levels.

Something new to I Am Setsuna over those games is the addition of Momentum Mode. Basically, when you have a blue dot representing momentum, you can press a button to trigger an additional effect (typically, extra damage while attacking). This is probably my favorite addition to the genre, as it makes the turn-based combat slightly more engaging, keeping you active even when not making decisions.

There’s actually a lot of complexity you can dive into with the spritnite and fluxations and combos and such. The mechanism for obtaining new spritnite is to earn new materials from battle or exploration, and selling them, which allowed them to be combined to create the spritnite. Earning different materials in combat can be achieved by killing the same enemies in different ways, such as by taking away almost exactly their amount of health vs. completely demolishing them, killing them with various elemental effects, killing with momentum, and so on.

However, I never found that necessary. Nor did I particularly find it interesting. It seemed like upgrading weapons and leveling up was sufficient. Those were the two most worthwhile investments of my time into the game. Any further research into combos, fluxations, or the like was completely unnecessary. In fact, I still don’t know what fluxations do, exactly.

The story line is… a little out there. You play as Endir, a mercenary hired to kill the eponymous Setsuna. Setsuna is a sacrifice, so she’s destined to die anyway. You ultimately decide to accompany Setsuna on her journey to the last lands, rather than kill her outright, since she’s destined to die through self-sacrifice anyway. She chooses you to accompany her on her journey because she believes you’re strong… despite the fact that you were ready to kill her.

The story is just enough to advance the gameplay. I kept wondering what would happen at the end of the game, and ultimately was satisfied with the ending to the story.

Overall, if you’re looking for a modern RPG reminiscent of turn-based RPGs of the past like Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy, I definitely recommend I Am Setsuna.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night Review

Castlevania

Finish style:

Done.  Didn’t get all the achievements, didn’t get the entire map, but got really close. I did beat both the normal and inverted castles.

Time spent:

Around 10 hours.

Who should play this game:

Fans of metroidvanias or any of their components (action, adventure, platformer, RPG), fans of the Castlevania series, fans of vampire stories

Who should avoid this game:

Anyone expecting a game as difficult as the original Castlevania

Thoughts:

I played much of the first Castlevania on NES. I was never able to beat it because it was so insanely difficult. I think that kept me away from the series as a whole.

Being a major fan of Super Metroid, I discovered the term “metroidvania” as a descriptor for games like Super Metroid. I thought, “How can Super Metroid even compare to Castlevania?” Of course, the “vania” in metroidvania doesn’t refer to the original Castlevania, but to Symphony of the Night. After finishing it, I have to say SoTN totally fits the genre.

SoTN is all about exploring Dracula’s castle, Castlevania, and trying to destroy it. The castle is filled with enemies, small and large, and also provides equipment in the form of weapons, armor, potions, and various accessories. What makes SoTN different than, say, the original Castlevania is the open world nature of the castle. Like Super Metroid and other games in the metroidvania genre, certain areas are blocked off and require you to gain an item or ability to pass. Exploration and experimentation are key to progress.

SoTN also provides some RPG elements, in that killing enemies gives you experience, so that you can level up. Each level brings stat boosts in the form of health, hearts, and other stats (str, int, etc.). The effects of these other stats still aren’t clear to me. The primary boost to Alucard’s power, though, comes through finding heart and health increases in secret areas of the castle and after defeating bosses.

The controls in SoTN are much better than the original. Your control of Alucard is much more fluid than that of Simon Belmont. However, I still don’t like the controls. The biggest obstacle in the game is Alucard himself. When he gets hit, whether by the weakest enemy or the strongest, he flies back over a whole body length. When he delivers a hit, though, enemies don’t fly back. What sort of weird physics is this?

The other control issue I have is that the primary weapons–swords–are only swung in a perfectly horizontal direction. That means if something is slightly over or under the swing plane, Alucard will miss it. I wish you could have a vertical slash with more weapons, as with the Shield Rod and the Crissaegrim. I avoided using many of the more powerful swords in favor of the Shield Rod simply because they had a lower hit likelihood.

These control issues really ramp up the difficulty of the game, at least initially. Soon after starting as Alucard, Death arrives to take away his equipment, leaving you with very little. This makes Alucard relatively weak and vulnerable to the creatures in the castle. I found the first few hours of the game incredibly tough.

That all changes after you gain a few weapons and some armor, though. I found the original Castlevania difficult to start, and the difficulty just kept ramping up over time. I could never get past Death, and only reached him a few times. I still remember the mummies and medusa as being practically impossible, and beating them only with luck.

SoTN, on the other hand, gets easier and easier with the new equipment. At first you need to learn the boss tactics to avoid getting hit. By the time you reach the final boss, however, you can just sit and deliver sword blows and take all the damage he can throw at you. I beat the final boss on my first attempt without trying too hard. Personally, I’m fine with that, but I can see others being disappointed in the reduced difficulty if that challenge is what you’re looking for.

Something really crazy about SoTN is that if you’ve found certain items, after you beat the last boss, the castle turns upside-down, and you have to beat it all over again! The enemies and bosses are tougher and tougher. I felt like I was underpowered again, just like at the beginning of the game. Getting through the upside-down castle was far easier, mostly because I generally knew the layout, although I was a bit disoriented by everything being inverted.

Overall, I enjoyed SoTN, despite getting frustrated by Alucard generally being hard to control. Exploring the castle and discovering its secrets was a lot of fun. It’s an experience I feel like I missed out on with Super Metroid, because I had the mega guide to tell me where everything was. I’ll probably come back and play SoTN again at some point, and recommend it for fans of the genre.

Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7, Done

Finish style:

95.3%. So close to 100%, but I can’t bring myself to wade through the tedium it would take to finish it.

Time spent:

Around 25 hours

Who should play this game:

Lego game fans, Harry Potter fans, those who enjoyed the original Lego Harry Potter, casual gamers, kids

Who should avoid this game:

Gamers who need a lot of action

Thoughts:

Basically, see my review of the original Lego Harry Potter. This one adds years 5-7, broken into four chapters. Just like the movies, years 5 and 6 stand alone, and year 7 has two chapters.

The overall mechanics and gameplay are substantially the same as the original game. The main differences are new spells, new characters, and new places to explore.

Unfortunately, some of the additions just add tedium to the gameplay. Aguamenti is often frustrating, because the aim reticle occasionally doesn’t show where the stream of water the spell produces will actually hit. Also it’s just so slow.

And “slow” describes some of the additions that make the game tedious. Rather than one hit of magic to get past something, it often takes three to five to ten hits of the same spell to get past whatever obstacle stands before you.

During the Deathly Hallows chapter, the resurrection stone can be used to gain control of certain dead witches and wizards to move them around to solve puzzles. But they move so slowly.

There are quite a few vehicles in the game to control to get crests or character tokens. Again, many of these move incredibly slowly.

Although I enjoyed my playthrough of the story, and explored Hogwarts castle to collect all the red bricks, and replayed each of the story levels in free play mode, I couldn’t bring myself to do much more. I just know whatever I missed will take several more hours of exploration, and I just can’t bring myself to do it.

If you enjoy Lego games, though, don’t miss this one. It’s one of the best Lego games, the story is done quite well, and the mechanics overall are tight.

Interlude: Steam Controller Review

I consider myself a primarily PC gamer. If a game is available on PC and consoles, I’ll almost certainly get the PC version instead of the console version. I use consoles as sort of a last resort.

Certain games, such as platformers, I would only play on consoles, because until recently, I didn’t have a PC controller. That changed when I got the Steam Controller. I’ve used it for almost a year now for various games, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on it.

Features

The Steam Controller is quite different than many other conventional controllers, like the Xbox One controller, PS4 controller, and Pro Controllers for Wii U and Switch. The biggest difference is the use of track pads for the “right stick” and the left D-pad. I’ll review each of the components of the controller below in turn.

A/B/X/Y Buttons

The standard right side buttons are generally usable. They are a bit smaller and closer together than other peer controllers. I can see that as good and bad. On the one hand, it makes it easier to press multiple buttons simultaneously. For many platformer games and other games where a controller is a benefit, this is a good thing. Sometimes it means an inadvertent button press, but I don’t notice that often, especially after I got used to the controller.

Joystick

The left joystick feels quite nice. It’s convex, with a rubber texture, and is clickable as a button itself.

One downside of the Joystick is that at times, your left thumb contacts your right thumb, if you’re holding the joystick to the right and your right thumb is on/pressing the X-button.  Sometimes that causes conflict, which is annoying and distracting.

Overall, though, the joystick feels nice to use. It offers a fair amount of resistance and snaps back to true quite well.

Shoulder/Trigger Buttons

The shoulder and trigger buttons on the Steam Controller work as well as any other peer’s. The shoulder buttons specifically offer a satisfying “click” when pressing them, which feels slightly better than, say, the Switch Pro Controller or the PS4 controller. The triggers offer slightly more resistance than the triggers on the XBox One controller, and feel more like the Switch Pro Controller.

I think these are all personal preferences, but I honestly prefer the shoulder and trigger buttons on the Steam controller over all of its peers.

Shape

Modern controllers all have a fairly similar shape: wings on the sides for your palms, with a trapezoidal shaped body for the stick(s) and buttons on the face of the controller.

One major difference between the Steam Controller and that of its peers is that the Steam Controller is somewhat concave, whereas the XBox One and Switch Pro controllers are more concave, with the PS4 controller relatively flat. I don’t know that this is necessarily good or bad, but it feels distinctly different, and I actually like it.

The “wings” on the sides of the Steam Controller are also substantially larger than other peer controllers. This makes the controller feel larger than its peers. The controllers in order of wing size, decreasing, are Steam, Xbox One, PS4, and Switch Pro.

“Right Stick” Trackpad

Probably the most distinctive feature about the Steam Controller is the lack of a right stick, replacing this instead with a trackpad. To say the least, this takes some getting used to. Personally, it’s not my thing, but neither is the right stick for camera controls. Any game requiring camera controls/precision aiming, I just simply prefer a mouse. The Steam controller is better, albeit slightly, than using a right stick. But when it comes to precision aiming, the Steam Controller still can’t hold a candle to a mouse, for me at least. Maybe if I were to invest many more hours into it, it would get better and feel more natural, but I just don’t see that happening. I think at best it would be as good as a mouse, but I couldn’t see it being better than a mouse at any point.

If I’m going to play an FPS or strategy game, I’m sticking with a keyboard and mouse.

D-Pad Trackpad

This is probably the worst feature of the Steam Controller, for gaming at least. I tried playing Super Meat Boy with the Steam Controller to put this trackpad through its paces. I was able to, eventually, beat the first two worlds, but I wouldn’t want to play any of the dark worlds with this.

I could play with the joystick, but the length of travel is too far to play with the precision needed for Super Meat Boy. That’s also the problem with the D-pad Trackpad: it’s simply much too large. It’s far too easy to move too far away from the center. There’s not nearly enough tactile feedback to know how far from center your thumb is, nor which direction you’re currently pressing.

The controller also occasionally gives confusing tactile feedback when pressing the left trackpad. In general, pushing a “button”/direction gives a single quick vibration, and then goes away. A few times while playing with controller, it gave a rapid, long series of vibrations, and stopped moving in the direction I thought I was pressing. I still haven’t figured out why this happened, what I was doing wrong, or what it meant.

If a game requires high precision directional movements (like Super Meat Boy), I simply cannot see myself using the Steam Controller to play it.

Paddle Buttons

The back of the Steam Controller features two paddle “buttons.” I haven’t used these for much of anything, and they serve as more of an annoyance than a feature to me. I’d prefer they just weren’t there. I only tend to use them when I grip the controller too hard in an intense situation, which is undesirable. I’d prefer they just weren’t there. If I were a car racer or something, I could see them being a benefit, but I’m not. I’d just as soon get rid of them.

Battery Life

In a word, incredible. I haven’t had to change the batteries yet.

Steam Integration

Very nice. I love that pressing the center Steam button brings up Big Picture mode, or holding it down turns the controller off. Big Picture mode is a boon to playing on a TV, and I use it somewhat regularly when playing with the controller.

I also like that the Steam controller can be mapped to keyboard buttons for games that don’t have native controller support. I played Costume Quest in this way, and it was far preferable to playing with the keyboard and mouse, as was intended.

I also like how this mapping seamlessly integrates community-voted configuration into the game. This can be personally customized, but often, the community preferred configuration feels entirely natural. I like that I could, if I wanted, customize the button mapping, although to date I haven’t had to.

Overall

The feel of the Steam controller makes it preferable for situations where it can be used. Those situations are basically casual games like Lego games, Costume Quest, or the like. I far prefer the Steam controller for these sorts of games.

For games where high precision is necessary, I much prefer something like a Logitech controller (which is laid out similar to the PS4). I have used one of Logitech’s controllers to play almost all of Super Meat Boy, and prefer it for those sorts of high-precision movement games.

For FPSs and strategy games, I’ll stick with a keyboard and mouse.