Pokémon Shuffle is annoying.

When Pokémon Shuffle was announced I was interested because I love matching  games like Bejeweled, but I had reserved expectations because it was a freemium game. Freemium games were introduced on mobile platforms, where the game is released for free, but there are restrictions to game play that can be bypassed in two ways:

  1. Waiting through a “cooldown” period between actions, or
  2. Purchasing “boosts” that exchange real-world currency for additional play time. (Boosts can also make the game easier, by giving you upgraded stats for short period of time.)

In Shuffle, the trick is you get five hearts to play five stages every two and a half hours. You can also trade in jewels (which are awards after certain key battles, every 100 Streetpasses of other Shuffle players, or purchased through the e-shop) to get more hearts. Additionally, the jewels have the option of becoming coins for power-ups before stages begin, or exchanged for five more moves at the end of a round.

The problem with this type of game is that there is a significant amount of frustration from artificial difficulty. The game is developed to push you into making purchases to facilitate additional play, so you’ll often find yourself in a position where there are no skill-based moves to advance, and you’re doomed to hope for the best.

Case in point, the Mega-Glalie battle:

Here, the enemy boss uses two different disruptions — attacks that hinder your Pokémon from being used effectively — to utterly stifle gameplay. It’s a prime example of what drives me crazy about this game.

Very infrequently, you’ll get a nice level where there are consistent patterns to help you out. On Flareon’s fight, you’re able to do two moves to clear all of the disruptions from the stage and open up normal play:

I wish there was more of this “learn and clear” mechanic in the game.

Doing a level ten to fifteen times to defeat and capture a Pokémon isn’t terrible, because I’m used to the grind of seeking a specific Pokémon in the regular games. I enjoy that aspect, and wouldn’t change it.

Infuriating stage without patterns to help you win.
Infuriating stage without patterns to help you win.

I’m just getting frustrated by the stages without patterns, the obstructive disruptions, and blatantly poor suggested moves (that you cannot turn off), which are implemented to hold you back and coerce you into paying.

An example of a poor move, suggested by Pokemon Shuffle
This is not the best move on the board, but it’s the one the game wanted me to make.

I understand game developers are trying to find a way to further monetize their games, like getting you to double-dip on each title, a la DLC, but freemium is a broken paradigm. There’s just enough of an illusion of success that convinces you that patience is a viable strategy. You think that you can play the game just as well as the people spending money, but being stubborn and thinking you’ll outwit the developers pigeonholes your experience. If I wasn’t in a lull between major releases that I’m looking forward to, I’d be very done with this game.

I guess I’m part of the problem, because I’ll just keep playing ten minutes every few hours until something better comes along. To be fair, I’ll probably wind up with about twenty hours of gameplay in this free game. I expect about an hour per dollar I spend on a title, so this is more than I could have hoped for.

PS: I just wanted to point out a rant I published over on Medium two years ago. It’s my complaints about Transformers Legends, a game I was playing on my phone at the time. The issues line up so well with those I have with Pokémon Shuffle.

You, too, can defeat winter doldrums. Embrace baseball!

GtoUHgw
I usually hate Peanuts, but this is an entirely accurate representation of how I woke up.

Last night, Dad and I talked about how the winter slump was in full effect. On our way back to the car after a basketball game, a gust of frigid February wind carried a stinging shot of snow drift into our faces. “Enough is enough, I want this shit over with already,” the Old Man grumbled as we tucked our heads down to deflect as much as we could.

“Yeah, I just want a fuckin’ ballgame to watch, man,” I replied. We both chuckled, smiled a huge smile, and it wasn’t cold anymore. A lighthearted instrumental version of our theme song played, and the credits started to roll on the latest episode of our early 1990’s sitcom.

But no, seriously. Today I woke up to the distinctive sound of dripping water as the snow melted off the roof. I got up to go the bathroom and I was blinded by the powerful sun bouncing off the two feet of snow on the ground outside. I felt warm, so I went and turned down the heater, and cracked a window to get some fresh air into the dry house.

All players have made it to their team’s respective camp in Arizona or Florida, and full-team workouts are scheduled to take place this week. I expect all of this snow to be gone by Wednesday, and to have my office windows open during the day by the weekend.

Winter can kiss my ass, because baseball season is here.

Why do we need to pretend so much?

Lego set 70818, the Double-Decker Couch

I built a cool Lego set last night, and it was sitting on my desk when Dorena came into the room this morning. She opined how cute “Hello Kitty” was, and asked if she could take the minifig to work to place it on her desk. Knowing that she fell asleep during the one attempt we made to watch The Lego Movie together, I didn’t want to let it stand — because I rarely do, and that’s a character flaw for another post — and ragged on her about not being able to take Unikitty because she still hasn’t even sat through the movie yet.

Her defenses fired up immediately. “I’ve seen different parts of it, so I’ve pretty much seen the whole thing. It’s been on HBO!”

Indeed, it has been on HBO, where I’ve sat through it a few times. For some reason, I was feeling extra feisty this morning, and asked which part she liked the best.

“The beginning where he’s following all the instructions.”

“Oh, the one part you watched with me that one time, and then fell asleep?”

“No, you don’t sit in the living room with me and see what I watch. I’ve caught parts of it at different times.”

I liked the attempt to deflect on a perceived deficiency of attention, but I pushed on with my line of questioning instead of engaging.  “So what else happens in the movie?”

“I guess it just doesn’t stick in my mind.”

One of the reasons I love this chick is because she’s into TV and movies like I am, and she’s great at quoting things we’ve watched together. Something doesn’t need to be super special to “stick in her mind,” and I’m not writing this to pick on her — I mean, I am, but it’s not the main point. It got me thinking about how we humans always pretend to know about everything. I’ve been contemplating it for a while, and wanted to flesh out my thoughts.

We’re social beings, and we want to fit in. It’s natural to want to be accepted by those we respect in our circles, and part of that is sharing common ground. “I know as much about this thing you like, so you should like me.” That passes the surface test, but maybe it’s more primal.

Exposing any weakness, no matter how insignificant, deflates our ego and in turn makes us vulnerable. To escape that, we improvise a story that should fit into the discussion. We’re creatures of habit and patterns, so we’re able to surmise what’s an expected response to a situation, and can piece it together on the fly. Being able to read threats and counter them helped our earlier sapiens survive, and damn it, it can still work! Instead of diffusing a battle for territory, we’re using anecdotes to maintain conversational standing.

I think that’s the difference between me and my Little Froggy. I’m a knowledge-seeker, so I’m naturally curious about the “whys” and “hows,” while Dorena just goes with the flow. If she gets the behind-the-scenes info it’s cool, but she doesn’t care as long as it just works. It’s a really nice balance, and it brings me down to Earth at times.

Other times, it makes me ponder the inner-workings of the psyche and the social implications, and I write a bunch of words on a blog that no one reads1. You can tell which one of those happened today.

1. The writer previously discarded multiple readers of the blog as "no one," and has revised the entry after receiving affirmations that they are indeed not "no one."

The renewed push.

My family is horrible at communication, and it’s something I’ve half-ass tried to fix a few times. It’s just so ingrained that I can’t avoid it at times. We don’t share our emotions, and we typically wait until it’s the last minute to deal with things. That added up to being really bad at handling loss. I didn’t know what I was feeling, let alone what I needed to get better, and I certainly didn’t know how to convey any of it to my loved ones. The worst part is that I thought I had it figured out.

I did a lot better with Ma’s death than I did Gram’s. I attribute that to the shock of hearing of her condition and within the next 10 hours making the final decision to let her die. You go into emotional desolation and recovery so quickly because you need to ensure your thought process is sound.

I’ve been a lot better at noticing when I slip into bouts of depression, and I’ve been reaching out to people for company when I need to snap out of it. I’ve lost days (and nights) to being a husk, but it’s substantially fewer than I’ve had over the previous two years.

Unfortunately, the last few weeks have been pretty rough on me. Dorena’s grandmother, Libby, went into the hospital for a few days, and at the same time her Great Uncle Garry was admitted to the hospital after a terrifying hallucination.

He woke up in the middle of the night, and thought there were robbers in the home. He called the police because he was certain there was a woman standing over his bed aiming an AK-47 at him. Very scary stuff. His life is tragic in its own right, and his way of battling his depression was heavy alcohol usage. While in the hospital, he was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, and I’m pretty sure it led to dementia. His mental faculties have diminished significantly the last eight months, first with general aloofness, and now this especially ominous episode.

On top of that, the one sibling my father-in-law had any sort of normal relationship with died early last week. I love her parents, and to see them so hurt by the loss was really bad. They were out of touch for a while before he passed, so I got a glimpse at what it would have been like if I didn’t reconcile with Ma before it was too late. The remorse is palpable. Body language, facial expressions, vocal tone… It’s more than loss; it’s acute, compounded dejection.

For all the faults in our relationship, I’m glad Ma and I had a chance to connect again, and not finish in discontent. That trepidation of regret was drilled home in full effect at a wake for my Great Uncle Jack last night.

Both sides of my family are quite large when you start getting into generations of cousins. After Gram moved to Florida with Aunt Joette and Garry, I really lost contact with all of Gram’s surviving siblings and their kids. Ma became our liaison with the rest of the family, and she was in close contact with her cousin Gary, who maintained the relationships we didn’t. Together they painted the full familial picture, and it still felt like we were associated.

The biggest bond I had with Ma was music, and I still listen to the artists and songs she introduced me to. There’s a few songs that have come up over the last six months that have really hit me hard because we loved singing them together, but I’ve never missed her more than I did last night.

There was a massive hole in my being as I was a fly on the wall watching my second and third cousins commiserate. It was that sock to the gut telling me that I couldn’t call her and tell her I was there on her behalf. It’s that deep sorrow that she was supposed to move back up here last fall so we could have more time together. It always seems like the biggest fits of melancholy revolve around selfish desires. It’s tedious.

I guess the swirling thoughts in my head boil down to my yearn to stay positive and maintain relationships. I don’t want to wind up missing out on time with loved ones because I was too lazy to try.

John A. Miller TROY – John A. Miller, 84, of Troy entered into eternal life on Friday January 23, 2015 at the Albany Stratton V.A. Medical Center surrounded by his loving family. Born in Cohoes he was the son of the late George and Kathryn Murphy Miller and the beloved husband of the late Janice Shea Miller. Mr. Miller was a graduate of Catholic Central High School. He was a Korean War Veteran serving proudley with the U.S. Army. Upon returning home he accepted a position with Allegany Steel in Watervliet where he was employed as a Millwrite until retirment. Jack was the head usher and a long time parishoner of St. Jude the Apostle Church in Wynantskill. He was an avid NY Yankees fan, and also enjoyed gardening, hunting and most of all spending time with his family and friends especially his morning coffee group at McDonald’s. In addition to his late wife Janice he was pre deceased by his son Scott (Yogi) Miller, daughter Lisa Miller, his siblings Thomas and Marilyn Miller, Joanne Hedges and his niece Joanne Hedges Frank. He is survived by one son James Dubiel, his brother Richard Miller and sister in law Kim Miller, his nieces and nephews , Dickie, David, Cindy, Charles and Kenneth Miller, Carolyn Oleyourryk, Donna Clement, Linda Luciano, Joette Hedges, Kevin Hedges, Gary and James Fernet, also survived by many grand nieces, and nephews and his beloved friend Bonesie the cat. Funeral services will be held on Friday at 8:45 am from the Wm. Leahy Funeral Home, 336 3rd St., Troy, to St. Jude the Apostle Church where at 9:30 am a Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated. Interment will follow in St. Jean’s Cemetery. Family and friends are invited and may call on Thursday, January 29, 2015 from 5-7pm at the funeral home. Jacks family wishes to thank Dr. Mede and Dr. Pasquelle along with the staff of the ICU, Palliative Care and Oncology units of the VA Hospital and also to the many wonderful neighbors that surrounded Jack for their friendship throughout the years. In lieu of flowers donations in Jack’s memory may be made to the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center Hospice Unit, 113 Holland Ave. (135), Albany, NY 12208. – See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/troyrecord/obituary.aspx?n=john-a-miller&pid=173989576&fhid=3913#sthash.egqJChVQ.dpuf

Mythbusters has run its course.

I used to love Mythbusters, but the allure wore off. I wanted to give this season a chance, because they decided to trim the fat and bring the focus back to what I enjoyed about the show early on. I liked seeing the methodology they worked through to devise their testing scenarios. I loved it when you could see the frustration of an initial design not working out, then the flow of ideas to a viable solution.

simpsons-mythbusters

The show delivered on the promise of what I wanted. They only worked on two “myths” and there was plenty of building and brainstorming showcased. I was entertained by the updated graphic overlays, and the show looked absolutely gorgeous,  which Adam detailed in the most recent episode of Still UntitledThe show looked great, and the content was back to the basics of what made me fall in love with it more than a decade ago, but I got so bored I nearly abandoned the episode before completion. So what happened?

A lot has changed over the last decade in how I seek out and view content. When I only had cable television, my choices for smarter entertainment were substantially limited. Now, I follow about fifteen channels on YouTube that sate my desire for knowledge, and they don’t dumb down the subject for mass consumption.

I understand the confines of broadcast television, and fitting content between commercial breaks, and how it’s all driven by statistics on viewership and advertising. I get it, I just don’t want to tolerate it any longer.

Compare the average amount of science content in an episode of Mythbusters and just some random episode — heh, get it?  — of Veritasium.

I wanted to give the MB reboot a shot, I did, and I decided it wasn’t for me. I can’t go back to network television’s model of science. I guess I just don’t need superfluous destruction after a bunch of words to keep me entertained any more.

Hell, the Tested YouTube channel produces so much interesting content that I’ve been spoiled. We’ll get an entire video of nothing but Adam building something, or some cool insight into the decisions made by Jamie when he decides to build something. We don’t get bogged down with contrived skits introducing content, we just get content.

It’s dense and concise, and we don’t get previews and recaps every six and a half minutes either. Why would I bother with Mythbusters, when there’s such a viable alternative being produced?