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Noises Of Past, Present, And Future

I am moping less now than I was last week, where I basically complained about being an adult.  I suppose I'll stick to gaming-related business now that I got that off my chest, the snow has melted off, and it is looking like we're back to business as usual.  That means many weeks of full time work without a snow day to be had.  If you can't beat your age, join it.

Granted, my gaming purchases this week look a lot like a mini mid-life crisis.  They are almost all I have to talk about during this week's entry.

First, some headphones.

While physically visiting Costco, I decided to browse the electronics section and made the mistake of trying on a demo pair of Bose QuietComfort 25s.  It sounded good.  Too good.  Fortunately, some knucklehead at Bose decided to run the noise cancellation feature off of replaceable AAA batteries, so I was easily able to resist the temptation to buy them.  However, it reminded me that I had a problem of audible discontent from last year and I could probably now afford to address it.

I knew that the wise thing to do at this point would be to take to the Internet, browse all the lovely reviews for PC gaming headsets out there, and then order the best hardware for my budget.  But the hook had been set, so instead I ended up browsing the local brick and mortar shops and seeing if they had anything I could have right now rather than having to wait for the postman to bring something during the middle of the work week.

Of course, smartphone in hand, I still ended up browsing a lot of reviews, and these told me that the brick and mortar offerings were over-priced and under-performing.  One pair of headphones reviewed very well and was offered at a reasonable price, and that was the Sony Platinum Wireless headset that was being sold at GameStop as a Playstation 4 accessory.  But, the salesman assured me, fully compatible with a PC sound card!

Once again, GameStop screws the consumer.  Well, I don't think it was the salesman's fault, as how could he have known that the Sony Platinum Wireless sound awful when you run them in 3.5mm passthru mode?  The majority of the features of this headset only work when it is running off of its own power in wireless mode, and that requires you utilize the USB wireless connection dongle connected directly into the PC.  However, since I wanted to run this through my Sound Blaster Creative ZX, and the USB wireless connection dongle circumvents that, these headphones were not an option for me.  The obvious solution would be to return the headset, but there's the thing: GameStop doesn't take returns on new hardware once the box is opened, so I am stuck with them, money down the drain. 

On the upshot, I now have an excellent sound solution if I decide to buy a PlayStation 4.  After all, these headphones were built for one, and it is even festooned with Playstation branding.  Sony knows sound and, while this set fell short of producing the kind of pin-drop sound I was hoping for, when self-powered in wireless mode they're quite good, certainly an improvement over my Razer Kraken Forged headset (which does not so much produce good bass as it does blast it).  Funny enough, the price of two of these headsets is enough for me to afford a Playstation 4, but there is a lingering question of when I would have time to play it that I cannot definitively answer.

A set of Sennheiser GAME ONE PC cans are in the mail.  Reputably producing sound on a budget that can even please some audiophiles, there is only one shortcoming with this particular model in that (by default) they lack any kind of built-in hardware synthesis.  That's where my existing sound card comes in.  This is clearly what I should have done from the start.

I later learned from experimentation that a large part of the reason why some of the headphones I tried sounded like I was perpetually in a bass-driven wind tunnel is because the SBX Pro Studio does that by default.  I turned it off, and the Razer Kraken Forged sounded much better.  However, a quick spin in the Elite universe confirmed that the bass was still too overpowering and the mids and highs too "scooped" for my liking.  Perhaps this professional headphone reviewer explains it better than I do.  Anyway, I am hoping the Sennheiser cans will please my budget audiophilia.  (Yes, those last two words are practically an oxymoron.)

Second, a game.

As for my second bit of possibly-mini-midlife-crisis purchases, it was Dragon Quest VIII for the 3DS, a brand new release of an originally 2004 game.
Why did I bother to get this obvious throwback?  Perhaps because it was one.

It features all the classic gameplay of the Dragon Quest series in its heyday.  Speaking as somebody who had rented it on the original Nintendo Entertainment System, I was floored to see that they are still using many of the original sound effects.   That is not because they have to, it's deliberately for that nostalgia factor.  This is a game that so lovingly embraces old fashioned Japanese computer roleplaying games that the NPC dialogue goes out of its way to encourage you to take everything that is not nailed down.

There is also a big chunk of Akira Toriyama artwork that has me thinking back to all those episodes of Dragon Ball I was indoctrinated with when the original Toonami was broadcasting them.  Perhaps an even stronger resounding connection for me is Chrono Trigger, another game he did the character design for.  Dragon Quest VIII plays barely like Chrono Trigger at all, but the look of the character cast make it somewhat feel like it is a spin-off.

I always kind of regretted I did not play more games from this series.  Aside from a bit of the original, I think the only other one I played was a spinoff, Rocket Slime.  In the end, my curiosity as to what this series had come to be about is what tipped the scales of my purchasing decision.

So many fond memories.  Perhaps I was closer to the mark on thinking this was some kind of midlife crisis purchase after all.  It's like I'm trying to recapture my childhood by playing deliberately dated games because, lets face it, there's very little that Dragon Quest VIII does that Etrian Odyssey does not do better.
But maybe what Dragon Quest VIII does better is good enough.  From what I have seen so far, it is an extremely refined experience, all the bugs and hitches have long been polished out.  The pacing of the story and character development is well above the norm.  There is also a unique, lighthearted flavor to the game that simply loves fun.  Despite my doubts and how dated the mechanics seem, this game has surprised me so far, even if it is difficult to put a finger on why when I would seem to have so many better alternatives.

Third, the dream.

Meanwhile, I continue to refine the craft on my own.
I tried adding a perlin noise algorithm to my game's procedural map generation today, and it was easier to do than I thought since Unity even provides the necessary function.  But now that it is up and working, I cannot help but think it was the wrong approach.  I want map generation that has more significance than an algorithm.  I want map generation that tells a story.  In the end, I suspect this may well be something I will end up using for more of a baseline to be modified by events.

I suppose the important thing is that I keep on doing it.  I find that one way to overcome developer's block is just force myself to face it, even if only for 15 minutes at a time.  Sooner or later, my bored brain is going to try a solution out of sheer desperation, and so the game goes forward.  If I am given enough 15+ minute segments for enough days, and I keep at it, perhaps one day I will have something worthy of release.


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