The Year In Review

Good evening and welcome to the first year-end edition of Games with Coffee! We’ve come to the close of 2017 and, while the jury may be out on whether this was a good or bad one, it was definitely a year to remember, both for the gaming industry and for myself in general. Let’s review a few highlights:

Gaming

Probably the biggest news that dropped this year was the release of the Nintendo Switch, which heralded the Big N’s to mainstream status after the failure of the Wii-U. I’ve written about my impressions of the console here. Along with the Switch was the release of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild,” which just recently obtained The Game Awards’ coveted “Game of the Year” award, beating out such contenders as Persona 5 and Horizon: Zero Dawn. Breath of the Wild’s break from the traditional Zelda mold, something which Nintendo is attempting to do with many of its IP’s in order to remain competitive, was perhaps one of the many factors that accounted for this achievement, which I feel it’s earned. But again, the jury’s out as to whether or not it’s deserving of its title; despite us being mature and distinguished about these matters, we gamers still have strong opinions on what game released this year truly earned that award. Anyways, I digress.

2017 was also a good year for female protagonists: Horizon: Zero Dawn and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, introduced this year, are but a few examples of games with excellent female leads. My friend LightingEllen has written about both Horizon:Zero Dawn’s Aloy and Hellblade’s Senua herself. You should check them out, they’re great reads!

Indie games also had a somewhat of a breakthrough year, thanks again partly to the Switch. Indie-ish title, Sonic Mania, released to great fanfare (of which I wrote a glowing review for) and Axiom Verge, a Metroidvania with a deep, rich storyline, rereleased for portable play. Another new friend of mine, The Well-Red Mage, wrote an excellent writeup regarding this game and its mindbending story, go check it out!

The real indie star this year was the critically acclaimed Cuphead, which won several awards, including best action game, best independent game and best visual design. It’s on my list of games to get into next year.

We also got plenty of high profile releases this year, beyond the ones I mentioned above: Nioh was released at the start of the year – great game if you enjoyed Dark Souls. Destiny 2, Bungie and Activision’s popular shooter, also released to great fanfare. Call of Duty: WW2, another shooter by Activision, returned the series to its roots. Remakes were aplenty with the Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy and Doom leading the pack. Resident Evil also returned to form with its seventh installment. Also released was the hotly anticipated Assassin’s Creed: Origins title – another on my must-play list. Wolfenstein 2, rated Best Action Game, continues from the first installment in a world where the Allies lost the Second World War. Uncharted: Lost Legacy, a side-story to the main Uncharted series, showcased the stories of several secondary characters (say that five times fast!) in an open world setting. And finally, all these crazy Nintendo releases, like the Metroid 2 remake for the 3DS, Mario + Rabbids, which made for am odd yet interesting strategy game for the Switch, Splatoon 2, the kid-friendly, ultra-competitive shooter and Super Mario Odyssey, quite possibly the best Super Mario platformer since Super Mario 64.

Regarding gaming for next year, I’ll be continuing my write-ups for Path of Exile. If you’ve been following me for some time, you’ll know that I’m obsessed with this game. Seriously, now is a great time to get into it and I’ve detailed the reasons why here. Along with that, more reviews shall be coming, along with the possibility of Video Reviews and Let’s Play’s as well! I can’t guarantee when exactly they will strike though, because my time going forward will start to get a bit limited. I’ll explain the reason why further below.

The Quest

As I mentioned half a year ago, I’m on a Quest for personal growth. As the year closes and I reflect, I’d have to say that I accomplished a lot of what I wanted to achieve, except for my workouts. A basement renovation and another important event that happened mid-year, stymied my efforts to maintain my schedule. Nevertheless, I’ve celebrated many highlights this year, one of which includes starting this very blog in March! If you’re a new reader looking to see what I’m all about, start here and be amazed. I’ve also made so much progress in my story writing, more than I have in years; finishing the rough notes for the first installment in my long-standing fanfiction and preparing notes for an original story of my own. And finally, I started a brand new opportunity in November, where I adopted a beginner’s mindset and let go of the preconceived notions I’ve obtained throughout my career.

Going Forward to 2018

2018 will not be more of the same; as the year turns, so to, do the people. I’ve picked up a capture card that I’ll be experimenting with this year and hopefully put up the aforementioned Let’s Play’s and Reviews.

As for personal goals, I plan on continuing on from my Quest last year, with a few tweaks. For instance, thanks to Google, I’ve migrated my fanfiction and my story notes to both Docs and Keep respectivly. I’ve found that I have more freedom to write, thanks to the ability to access documents anywhere, so long as one has an internet connection. I’ve done the same with the infrastructure of “The Quest,” hopefully making it easier to track my progression.

Beyond “The Quest” lies one other, major personal thing. I’ve alluded to it here and there, but now’s a good time to drop the news.

My wife and I are expecting our first child in less than four weeks from now. It’s an exceptionally exciting time for the both of us, since it marks a huge transition in our lives. I’m looking forward to this! It does mean that I’ll be stretched for time writing on the blog, but no worries: content will still be coming! It’ll just be a bit delayed, that’s all.


So, there you have it, another year gone. What are your plans for the New Year? Any Quests of your own you guys looking forward to tackle? Let me know in the comments below!

This has been Ryan from Games with Coffee, wishing you all a Happy New Year and reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!

My Top 20 Favourite Remixes from OverClocked Remix!

Hello and welcome to another edition of “Games with Coffee!” May your days be as bountiful as the coffee brewing in your carafe.

Today, (after a LONG while…) were seugeing back to the world of video game music: I’m going to share with you my top 20 remixes from my go-to VGM site, OCRemix! This is actually the second part of a three part series about the site and it’s music and it’s remixers, but enough with the tangents, let’s get ready to listen to some dope tunes!


20. Swingin’ with Death from Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance by Nase.

Starting from the top, is a remix of the introductory area (Successor of Fate) from the GameBoy Advanced game, Castelvania: Harmony of Dissonance. This mix starts with an epic, sweeping, orchestral opening before doing a full 180 into some sweet sexy funk! The horn at the beginning is probably the weakest point of the mix, but it’s so groovy it can be well overlooked. My favourite part of this song is at 1.36: the lo-fi sounds send my spine tingling.

19. Sparkle from Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia by Joshua Morse.

Josh here is one of my favourite remixers; in fact one of his other mixes is on this list as well! This is another sexy, jazzy track from the Castlevania series, this time from the last and probably the greatest of the portable Castlevania’s on the Nintendo DS: Order of Ecclesia. The source tune (Emerald Mists) was already good to begin with (first heard in Ruvas Forest), but Josh slows it down and adds his signature sound to make this a very chill track. The accordion that pops in at 0.53 gives off that Eastern European feeling, which really fits in well with the game’s narrative.

18. Captain of the Skies from Final Fantasy VII by ZackParrish

Final Fantasy VII holds an incredibly special place in my heart, which will be the subject in a future post. The setting, the story, the music and especially it’s beloved cast of characters have moved and inspired me in ways I could never have imagined. This mix, an orchestral version of Cid’s Theme, really moved me when I first listened to it. It really speaks to Cid’s character as a pilot whose dream was to go into outer space. 1:41 is my favourite part of the mix; it builds up to the last bit of the song which then gives off a reflective sort of mood, mirroring Cid’s anguish of seeing his dreams shattered. It’s a very well done track.

17. Voices Broken from F-Zero by JJT

And now for something completely different: Mute City a la Indie Rock. This is a raw, gritty take on the source that goes hard with a crunchy e-guitar followed by a smoother lead with a slick drum accompaniment. It’s quite edgy and quite awesome.

16. A Fistful of Nickels from Final Fantasy VI by Jeff Ball, Jillian Aversa, XPRTNovice and zircon.

Shadow’s Theme done in the style of an epic Western. He was one of my favourite’s from Final Fantasy VI’s massive character roster, so I was thrilled at the treatment this song gives him. The whistling makes me jealous – I wish I could whistle like that! (And I’m actually pretty good at it myself, so that’s saying something). Everything, from Jillian’s vocals, to the choice of instruments to the arrangement itself, works really well, which is why it’s a favourite of mine.

15. Wet Dreams from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night by ktriton

You’re probably thinking by now, “What’s with all these jazzy Castlevania tunes?” Well, I personally think that Castlevania and jazz somehow go really good together. This one’s just as funky as the other two mentioned above, but it’s a bit more haunting than the other two Castlevania mixes I featured in this list. Nevertheless, the acoustic guitar and the electric piano give off a lot of warmth and it’s what I love the most about this mix: it gives off a “Chilin’ out in the Great Hall of my castle,” kind of feel.

14. Prancing Dad from Final Fantasy VI by Prince uf Darkness

Two words here: My God. Besides the crazy explicit lyrics (that blend into the background so well that you kinda have to strain to hear), this is an absolutely epic rendition of the final battle against Kefka in Final Fantasy VI. Oh, and did I mention it clocks in at almost 12 minutes?! It even mixes in the legendary One Winged Angel from Final Fantasy VII in a transition so seamless that you really have to pay attention to hear where Dancing Mad stops and where One Winged Angel begins! This mix is absolutely nuts and would definitely fit with Kefka’s insane personality.

13. Fading Entity from Final Fantasy VII by bLiNd and Leifo

This is damn good trance music, nuff said. bLiNd is a legend for his trance stuff (Seriously, his stuff is SO good, check it out!) and Leifo’s guitar solo midway through the song is just wicked. Sticking that solo in there, I think, prevents the mix from being to repetitive, which was a good move on their part. Also, shifting the timing from 3/4 to 4/4 turns this haunting song, played in the area where gaming’s most tragic moment occurs, into a rave-worthy track.

12. Fiesta Amongst The Trees from Ristar by the Southwest Afro-Cuban Jazz Ensemble

This is a fantastic jazz track that gives off a great tropical vibe! Really fits in well with Ristar’s fun environment. This jazz band was really playful and chill with the arrangement, while not deviating too much from the original source. Recommended for those who love the beach, hot weather and cold drinks!

11. Funky Mario Circuit (Radio Edit) from Super Mario Kart by The OneUps

(ANOTHER funky track? You’re probably thinking “What’s with this guy?” by now, aren’t you?)

Here from the band, The OneUps, is a great remix of Mario Circuit from Super Mario Kart for the SNES. Everything in this mix works; from the guitar, the bass to the beat, this will get one in a racing mood! Just… Watch out for the cops when you’re on the road when this is on.

10. Blue Skies from Final Fantasy XIII by bLiNd and Ashleigh Coryell

Now this, this is an excellent Drum n’ Bass/Dubstep track using the “Will to Fight” source from Final Fantasy XIII. Fun fact: bLiNd did this track for his beloved wife as a birthday present and the lyrics speak of a promise for the future. The dubstep drop at 2:13 doesn’t feel overbearing, rather it shakes things up to prevent the arrangement from being too boring and Ashleigh’s vocals are on point. I listen to this, and I instantly think of Lightning’s struggle to change her and her sister’s fates. It’s well worth a listen!

9. Dieselbrainage from Super Metroid by Mazedude

OH SNAP. This is a dark and dirty DnB mix of the final battle music against Mother Brain from Super Metroid. What’s interesting about the source tune is that it’s performed in 7/4 time, a unique register in the music world. Mazedude pulls out all the stops on this remix. The main beat is dark and evil-sounding and the sick drum loop along with that chunky mechanical bass really helps to differentiate it from the source tune. The break at 1:57 is a hilarious nod to Samus’ main theme before jumping right back into the insanity with a hysterical, mocking laugh, as if Mother Brain itself is telling you, “You’re doomed!” An absolutely awesome track.

8. Chaotic 5 from Knuckles’ Chaotix by OverClocked Assembled

A slick rap arrangement featuring the cast of Knuckles and his Chaotix? Sign me the hell up! The source sampled from the game is one of my favourites from the obscure 32X game, but what gets me excited is the incredibly clever lyrics and the flow in which they’re delivered in. Another fun fact: this track was inspired by another rap arrangement of Knuckles’ theme from Sonic Adventure 2, done 12 years ago (which, while dated, is also amazing!) Very clean, very chill and way past cool, it’s a solid favourite!

7. Graveyard Theory from Sonic Adventure 2 by Zone Runners

This is a great tune to play for Halloween! By my favourite trio of remixers, (SirJ, halc and DiGi Valentine), this is an upgraded version of the original “A Ghost Pumpkin Soup,” from Sonic Adventure 2. The first part contains the verses from the original song before the ZR spits out some all new vernacular in the next two thirds that really fits well with the Halloween vibe. If you’re looking for some good nerd rap music for your next Halloween party, this is a great candidate.

6. Running to the Beat from Sonic CD by Arceace

When it comes to Sonic the Hedgehog, the music is always top-notch. When it’s remixed into 90’s style techno electronica, it’s even better! Mixing the US version of the special stage music from Sonic CD, this track is literally my workout jam. With a great rhythm and a smooth beat, this is best played for when you need to go hard on your run or push for that one extra rep. Well recommended for the gym-rat!

5. Baal Bhaagna from Shantae: Risky’s Revenge by Jake Kauffman

One word: Badass. This is a sick, Bollywood-inspired mix of “She’s Got Moves,” from the awesome Shantae series! Channeling some serious A.R. Rahman (famous Bollywood artist, songwriter and composer), it reminds me of either a chase or a fight scene in one of those really over-the-top Bollywood action movies (most likely starring Salman Khan and shot with LOTS of slo-mo). It’s South Asian inspired elements pair well with the kickin’ beat. My favourite part is at 1:23; it gives me chills! This is up there in my top 10, maybe five favourite remixes; I really urge you to listen to it!

4. Marble Dash from Sonic the Hedgehog by Joshua Morse

This is one of JM’s first submissions to OCR; a remix of my all-time favorite Zone from the Sonic series, Marble Zone. It’s a feel-good, jazzy and groovy rendition of the source tune. It’s playful, bouncy and the bassline is so good! I’ve had this song on my playlists since I was back in high school and all throughout my university years and it’s really helped to keep me positive during that period, so it holds a special place in my heart because of that.

3. Big Band Battlefield from Super Mario 64 by The University of Toronto 10 O’Clock Big Band.

The first level of the iconic game, Super Mario 64, done in swinging, big band style! I love this rendition of Bom-Omb Battlefield, it makes me feel like I’m in a swing club back in the 1920’s. I also dig four things about this mix: one, that, due to it being a live recording, it feels really authentic. You even hear a guy ordering a pint of Amsterdam midway through the song! Second, it’s by the students at U of T, right in the heart of downtown Toronto, where I was born. And third and fourth? The sick baritone saxophone solo starting at 1:46 and the subsequent, over the top drum solo at 3:36. Both are ridiculous!

2. stratification from Chrono Trigger by melody

I actually mentioned this mix before in my first post about OCRemix, but I feel the need to repeat myself: this mix is a Goddamned LEGEND! The electric guitar is so sublime and it fits the source tune from the game so well. The soft choir that enters around 1:23 adds to the already amazing atmosphere of the track and compliments the absolute shreddage of the aforementioned guitar. It’s so good!

1. Triforce Majeure from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past by Disco Dan

Out of all the mixes on this list, this is without a doubt my absolute favorite, hence why it’s in the number one spot! By combining a robust orchestra with slick electronica (these are two of my favourite things!), busting through Hyrule Castle and rescuing Princess Zelda never sounded so good! This was labeled an instant classic in 2004, and it’s hard to see why not: the build up leading to the main beat is tense and atmospheric, before dropping the beat just after the first minute and introducing that hardcore brass section twenty seconds afterwards. Things get intense at the 2:40 mark, where the orchestra shines the strongest. The beat itself is just so good and so catchy, you can’t help but tap your toes to it. The arpeggios starting right at the 2:15 mark are TIGHT! And the section starting at 3:25 building up to the epic climax gives me chills. Overall, if you’re curious to see a perfect example of remixing done right, this is the one you should listen to.


And there you have it! I’ve aggregated the videos above onto a playlist in my brand new Youtube channel! If you like what you’ve listened to, or if you want me to recommend more awesome tracks, let me know!

Stay tuned for the next edition, where I continue my playthrough for Path of Exile; I’ve finally reached Act 2! And I’ve got a LOT of content to catch up with, so keep your eyes peeled this whole week – there’s a flood coming!

This has been Ryan from Games with Coffee, reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!

Espresso Shot Review: Sonic Mania

Good morning and welcome to another edition of “Games with Coffee!” Today, I’m introducing a brand-new segment I call “Espresso Shot Reviews.” Put simply, I’ll be reviewing games both old and new and will give my personal opinions on them, as well as a rating out of five. Each review will be short (less than 1000 words), but packed with intensity and detail. It’s like an espresso shot, hence the name.

Today’s review will be on Sonic Mania, released on August 15, 2017 for PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch and August 29, 2017 for PC. I’ll be going over the story, gameplay, graphics, music and replayability (or replay value).


Developed by Christian “Taxman” Whitehead in partnership with PagodaWest Games and Headcannon and published by SEGA, Sonic Mania is a 2-D sprite art, physics-based platformer. It’s a tribute to the old-school, 16-bit Sonic the Hedgehog games of yore and was released in celebration of Sonic’s 25th anniversary.

Sonic Mania - Title

Story

Hot off the heels from Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Dr. Eggman and five of his Egg-Robo’s have returned to Angel Island and extracted a strange gem called the Phantom Ruby. When Sonic and Tails catch up to the mad doctor, the gem’s dimension-warping effect sends both heroes, along with Knuckles, to Green Hill Zone. The gem also had an effect on the Egg-Robo’s; transforming them into the much tougher Hard-Boiled Heavies. The heroes must now travel through twelve zones spanning multiple dimensions, retrieve both the Phantom Ruby and the Chaos Emeralds and defeat Eggman and the Heavies before they conquer the world.

Gameplay

Gameplay-wise, Sonic Mania plays exactly like the originals. Each level (Zone) is divided into two huge Acts chock-full of quarter pipes, loops, ramps, springs and other things to help Sonic and company get around. Obstacles abound; from Badniks to spikes and traps, to bottomless pits and crushing objects, there are plenty of things to be wary of.

The twelve zones consist of eight popular zones from the first four Classic Sonic (Sonic 1-3 & Sonic CD) games and four new zones introduced to the series. The first Act of each classic zone is a combination of that zone’s original first and second Acts, while the second Act remixes elements from the original zone with features from other classic levels and adds new elements to spice things up.

The four new zones are inspired by some of the series’s most iconic levels. They also presents a theme derived from SEGA’s history as a publisher. Examples include the Streets of Rage aesthetic combined with Casino/Carnival Night Zone elements in Studiopolis Zone and the Shinobi-inspired second act of Press Garden, which also brings forward elements from Ice Cap and Mushroom Hill Zones.

Each act contains multiple paths to traverse through, encouraging the player to either find the fastest path through each level or explore to find Large Rings – entrances to a special stage where a Chaos Emerald can be earned.

Large Ring

While I enjoyed the selection of classic zones, I would’ve liked to see more new zones added to balance things between old and new.

Bosses are encountered at the end of each act and require different strategies to win. Most fights were fun but I felt a few bosses, such as the ones in Hydrocity Acts 1 and 2 and Studiopolis’ Act 1 boss, were a bit tedious, while Mirage Saloon’s Act 1 boss was just too easy. My favourite boss fight was Metallic Madness’ Act 2 boss – the miniature theme was extremely creative.

Metallic Madness Act 2 - Boss

In addition to the basic moveset (run, spin attack, spin dash and jump), the three characters also have their own special moves and properties. New to Sonic’s arsenal is the Drop Dash – used in midair to drop down into a spin dash. It’s useful for gaining momentum after a jump, or to strike a Badnik that can’t be jumped on without losing your momentum. Tails’ flying ability makes a comeback, with Sonic able to command Tails to fly him up to new areas and Knuckles keeps his gliding, climbing and wall breaking abilities. He doesn’t jump as high as the other two, however.

Rings are essential for survival – you lose a life if you’re not holding any in your possession. Collecting 100 rings nets an extra life. Power ups include the elemental shields from Sonic 3 and the Hyper Ring from the obscure Knuckles’ Chaotix game, along with staple items, like the Power Sneakers and Invincibility.

Graphics and Art

What I enjoyed the most about Sonic Mania is how animated everything looks, thanks to the game running at 60fps. From how fluid each of the player characters moved, to the little details in the environments and the colours in each zone, the game’s high-quality pixel art exudes plenty of charm. I noticed no slowdowns or lag when I was playing it on the Switch.

I especially loved the art direction for the new zones. Studiopolis and Press Garden stand out the most for me, because of how breathtaking the visuals look between Acts 1 and 2.

Music

Music has always been a strong point for the Sonic series. The music was done by Tee Lopes, who I think did a really good job remixing the classic zone tunes. The audio for the new zones are catchy and upbeat until you hit the last zone, which threw me off a bit due to its brooding and serious tone.

Chemical Plant Act 2, Press Garden Act 2, Studiopolis Act 1, Stardust Speedway Act 1 and Mirage Saloon Act 1 as Knuckles are my favourites to listen to:

The boss tunes are also great earworms; the boss theme for the Hard-Boiled Heavies, along with the Eggman Boss theme (Ruby Delusions), are some of the best boss themes in the series.

Replayability

There are lots of replay options available after beating the game. You can try your hand at Time Attack mode, or settle differences with friends through Competition mode.

In-game, hitting star posts with more than 25 rings in possession opens a portal to the Blue Spheres minigame from Sonic 3. Beating the stage earns a medal, which unlocks a variety of new playing modes, including the use of Sonic’s old Insta-shield, Debug Mode or the &Knuckles mode, which adds the echidna as a partner character.

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For a special surprise, finish the game as Knuckles & Knuckles. It’s hilarious!

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While there could have been more original zones and less tedious/more challenging boss fights, Sonic Mania nevertheless celebrates the best of the character to great effect. It’s a perfect example of how enduring Sonic is after 25 years and how he’s still going strong.

4.5 out of 5.png

4.5/5


How’d I do? Let me know in the comments below! Coming up on “Games with Coffee,” I’m back in Wraeclast with more Path of Exile, and I’ll be sharing my favourite remixes from OverClocked Remix! Stay tuned!

With that, this has been Ryan, reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing! See ya!

The Nintendo Switch: Does It Live Up To The Hype?

Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of “Games with Coffee!” Happy Video Games Day!

So, as you probably know, either through my recent posts or from my Instagram feed, I got a Nintendo Switch for my birthday! Today, I want to share with you the system itself, my impressions on Nintendo’s latest console after a couple months of owning it and if it lives up to the hype it generated from its announcement almost a year ago.


The Back Story

The Wii-U was a major failure for Nintendo.

Since it’s debut in November 2012, the Wii-U failed to capitalize on its predecessors massive success. Despite delivering innovative technology in the Game Pad, the additions low battery life, the lack of third party support from developers and lack of clear goals for the system had led critics to believe, at the end of its production, that the system was nothing more than a glorified Wii with a controller/touchpad hybrid.

Now, I’m not knocking down the console or anything. My brother has it and it’s not a bad system, all things considered. The Wii-U’s had some big hits, including Super Mario Maker, which allows the player to create their own Mario levels and the latest installment of the ever-popular Super Smash Bros. series, which included the return of fan favourites, such as Sonic, Dr. Mario and Zero Suit Samus, along with newcomers like Mega Man, Pac-Man and Little Mac from Punch-Out. On top of that was the underdog inky shooter game Splatoon, which was a rousing success. And let’s not forget about the ever-enduring Mario Kart series, of which it has reached its eighth installment. There’s were some not-so-great games, like Star Fox Zero, which was lackluster due to its odd control scheme and its focus on re-imagining the series. And the fact that third party development focused their efforts on developing games for the latest Sony and Microsoft console releases didn’t help its case. Overall though, there were some good games, but good first party games don’t make a successful console, considering that the Wii sold more in its first year than its successor could in its entire lifetime.

So, Nintendo did what most don’t: re-innovate, re-structure and re-imagine what a console should be. Using what they learned from the Wii-U’s Game Pad device, coupled with their dominance in the handheld gaming segment (the 2DS/3DS has effectively monopolized that market), their vast experience with motion controls and lessons learned from their previous missteps, they unveiled the Nintendo Switch.


The System

The Nintendo Switch, a hybrid between a console and a handheld system, was announced in October 2016 and released on March 3, 2017, along with its launch title: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

The main unit is a tablet-like device, with two housings on each side uses for its main control inputs, called the Joy-Con’s. The system comes with two Joy-Con controllers, a dock, an AC adapter with USB-C input, an HDMI cable and two straps for the Joy-Con’s.

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Pay no attention to the nose, glasses and forehead on the screen…

The console itself is a tablet with a capacitive touch screen. On the top of the unit is the power button, volume up and down, a 3.5 mm audio jack and a cartridge slot for games. The back of the unit has a kickstand, used to set it on a surface and a micro-SD card slot, housed underneath the kickstand. On the bottom is the USB-C charging input and the intake vents. The display is 6.2 inches wide, corner to corner and displays at a resolution of 1280 x 720. When docked, the console’s display resolution bumps up to 1080p. The system is powered by an Octa-core processor clocking in at 1.02 GHz, has 4 GB of RAM and uses the Nvidia Tegra X1 as its system-on chip (basically, a jack-of-all-trades chip made up of many components that perform an array of functions). There is 32 GB of internal storage in the unit, but with the micro-SD slot, that capacity can increase up to 2 TB. The battery life on the unit averages about 3-4 hours per charge.

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Behold! My (tiny) library of games!

About half the size of the Wii-mote, the Joy-Con’s can either be used together as a single player controller, or individually for single or multiplayer games. Each controller has an analog stick, four face buttons, a plus button and the home button on the right hand controller and a minus button and a capture button on the left hand controller, and two trigger buttons on the top (The L/R and ZL/ZR buttons).

Whether the Joy-Con’s are held in each hand, attached to the system for “Handheld Mode” (more on that below), or slid into the Joy-Con Grip, the control scheme is analogous to that of the PS4 and Xbox One and is how most AAA single or multiplayer games (like Breath of the Wild, Splatoon 2 and the upcoming Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim) are played.

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It looks like a puppy with odd eye placements… and now you cannot unsee that image. Enjoy!

When turned on its side, the Joy-Con’s button layout looks and feels similar to that of Nintendo’s best selling console, the Super Nintendo. There are two additional trigger buttons on the top (SL and SR), which are more easily accessible by sliding in the hand straps provided with the console. This control scheme is used mainly for multiplayer games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or the upcoming Pokken Tournament DX, but can be used for a few single player titles as well.

 

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Pro-tip: Hit the SL and SR Buttons together to use the controller on its side.

Each Joy-Con is equipped with HD Rumble, a feature that simulates realistic vibrations, like feeling several cubes of ice clinking in a glass, as shown in the technical demonstration. Along with the rumble feature, the motion controls of the Wii have also been integrated into the Joy-Con’s and are primarily used for motion controlled games, such as the Wii Boxing-inspired game, ARMS and the party game, 1-2 Switch. Motion controls are also featured in Breath of the Wildas well, in that you can aim your bow by tilting the controller (or the unit itself when it’s in Handheld Mode). The controls are also used to solve a few motion-based puzzles in game.

A Pro Controller is available to further mimic the traditional console gaming feel. For those who are looking for a more budget-friendly option, the wireless controller company, 8bitdo recently released a firmware update for their NES30 Pro controller, allowing it to work on the Switch.

The Nintendo Switch can operate in several modes, depending on your situation. Attaching the unit to the dock puts the unit in “TV Mode”, allowing it to operate like a traditional console. The dock itself is compact and minimalist in design, compared to the bulkier PS4 and Xbox One systems. The HDMI and power inputs, along with a USB 3.0 port, are located on the back of the dock and are kept hidden by a panel, with an opening to allow the power and HDMI cable wiring to come out. It results in a clean, wire-free look that adds to its minimalist design. There are also two additional USB ports on the side of the dock.

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Simplicity, thy name is Switch.

Slapping the controllers onto the side of the tablet and removing it from the dock “switches” (Ha!) the console to “Handheld Mode,” where the console behaves as a handheld device. Games played in Handheld Mode are the same as in TV Mode, with the exception of graphics resolution (no 1080p in this mode), meaning that games like Breath of the Wild can be played on the go.

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On-the-go gaming has never looked so good.

Finally, popping out the kickstand, placing the console on a surface and taking out the Joy-Con’s enables “Tabletop Mode,” which can be used either for single player game play, or more commonly for local multiplayer gaming away from a dedicated screen.

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Woo! Sonic Mania! I asked my wife to pick up the other Joy-Con and play along with me as Tails… She said no… 😦

That’s all the technical mumbo-jumbo out of the way. (Phew!). Now, you’re probably asking, “Thanks for that boring lecture, professor, but what do YOU think of the system so far?”

Good question. Here’s my answer.


The Verdict

After about two months of owning the system, I can safely say this with as little bias as possible: Nintendo did pretty well here. The system is incredibly unique in the sense that you can play it at home on the TV and on the go. It’s like having two systems in one! These days, I’ve been playing it solely in Handheld Mode and it’s been a great experience so far. Playing a full-fledged Zelda game on a device roughly twice the size of my smartphone has never felt so fulfilling.

I honestly don’t gripe about the battery life on the Switch when it’s in Handheld Mode. Three to four hours is plenty of time for a mature, distinguished gamer to play in bed while their significant other sleeps beside them, though I usually play for about an hour or two. What I love about the system is how quickly it boots up from sleep mode, the Switch’s “Off” setting, similar to that of the PS4’s “Rest Mode.” I press the power button on the top of the system or the home button on the Joy-Con’s/Pro Controller and the system boots up immediately and I’m back in the game while my wife’s asleep. It’s incredibly satisfying.

I also think it’s cool that Nintendo designed the system in a way that a second controller for two-player games comes included right out of the box. Highly useful for when the wife and I want to play Mario Kart (One of the few games she’ll actually play with me when I eventually get it!). For games like ARMS though, you’ll need a second set of Joy-Con’s to play locally.

Switching from TV Mode to Handheld Mode and back again is seamless. There is no discernible delay when the system switches between modes, which, again, is very rad.

There were a couple of things slightly affected my experience. One was the small game library available right from the start, even several months after release. When I first booted up the system, the Nintendo e-Shop had a whole bunch of downloadable titles, along with digital copies of their physical releases, but nothing really stood out to me in the store, besides Mighty Gunvolt Burst. That might change as the holiday season rolls around. (Correction, it has: Sonic Mania dropped a couple weeks ago. I picked it up and it’s AWESOME!)

Another thing was the internal storage space. 32 GB may seem quite sizable compared to that of the PS Vita, with its 1 GB internal storage, but when you look at the size of some of the downloadable titles, plus the fact that you can save screenshots directly to the device, that storage can get eaten up pretty quickly. It’s a good thing I had a spare 32 GB micro-SD card lying around to expand my storage capacity!

Finally, while it’s not a huge deal for me, I’m sure many people are a bit miffed that the Switch doesn’t play at native 4K resolution, unlike the PS4 Pro and and the Xbox One X. Truthfully, having the system run on 4K resolution at 60 frames per second isn’t a priority for me: I’m more concerned about playing good, quality games and I’m quite happy with the Switch’s native resolutions.

Overall, the Nintendo Switch was built for the mature, distinguished gamer in mind, giving the user free range on wherever they want to play it and presenting it in a compact, minimalist package. Whether it’s on the TV, in bed playing in Handheld Mode, at a friend’s place playing in Tabletop Mode or whatever the case may be, the Nintendo Switch has lived up to my expectations and thus, I declare that the hype surrounding the system was well justified, although that’s just my opinion. With the upcoming holiday season approaching and the games being released in that period, I believe that Switch and the Big N itself are well positioned to make a significant comeback after the stumbles with the Wii-U.


So that’s it! What do you guys think? How’d I do? Gimme some feedback in the comments below! (I need those like I need a strong cup o’ Joe, know what I’m sayin’?). And stay tuned for the next edition, where I continue my playthrough of Path of Exile with my Witch, Rhuki! (Who’s a total badass IMO). Plus, coming after that is my brand new segment – “Espresso Shots!” I cannot wait to share this with you!

And with that said, this has been Ryan from “Games with Coffee,” wishing you a Happy Video Games Day and reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing! See ya!

Clash Royale: Decks, Tips and Tricks to Help Conquer the Arena

Good morning and welcome to another edition of “Games with Coffee!” Hope you’ve got you’re game face on, because today I’m going to share with you some tips, tricks, decks and strategies on my favourite mobile game: Clash Royale!


If you haven’t realized it already, Clash has kind of become an obsession of mine. These days however, I’ve been in a love-hate relationship with it. Partially because I’ve been on a losing streak of late, partially because I’m hovering between arenas due to said losing streak and mostly because I get matched with opponents that completely decimate my deck strategy…

The good thing that’s been keeping my spirits up is the new 2v2 Mode, introduced over the summer! This mode works like a tag-team match: you and a clan member (or a random person) vs. another pair of battlers. First pair to destroy the other sides towers is the victor! Naturally, four people sharing an arena gets incredibly chaotic and that chaos can either help or hinder you based on your’s or your partner’s actions. It’s a great addition to an already good game and I recommend that you try it when it returns this week! It’s especially fun when you and your friends are in the same clan together; best friends sometimes make the best teammates!

Despite my frustrations at Clash, I’ve discovered a couple of tricks and made a few awesome decks to both help keep me in the win column and to help my clan with the weekly Clan Chest and 2v2 events. Without further ado, I’ll start off by sharing a couple of my favourite decks and strategies to use them.


My Favourite Decks and Strategies

Going from Arena 7 (Royal Arena) to Arena 8 (Frozen Peak) was a slog for me. My go-to deck with Lava Hound and Balloon (LavaLoon) just wasn’t cutting it, so I needed to make a new deck.

Sometimes, special chest offers appear in the shop. If you have gold or gems to burn, this would be a good opportunity to use them. In one case, I opened up a Legendary Chest, which can contain a Legendary card from any Arena and lo and behold I got the Lumberjack!

This guy is a badass: swings hard and fast and leaves behind a Rage effect (increases attack, movement and summon speed) when defeated.

And so (with help from the online deck building database), I built a deck around the Lumberjack and Balloon that can be described as insanely fast and extremely defensive.

Do you see that average?!

Brings new meaning to the phrase “Fast and the Furious”

The main strategy entails the use of the Ice Golem as the tank, followed by the Lumberjack placed behind the Golem to get to the tower. Once there, I summon the Balloon; the Lumberjack at this point is either nearly dead or all dead, at which he drops the Rage bottle, speeding up my Balloon and finishing off the tower before the opponent can counter.

Speaking of counters, I employ the use of my trusty sidekick: the Fireball as well as the Zap card. Defensive counters include the use of Skeletons (not the army, just the four three of them), the Ice Spirit and Ice Golem and the Minions. All in all, this deck clocks in at an average elixir cost of 2.8, meaning that I can cycle through cheap cards to build up my defense while waiting for the right opportunity to launch my counter-attack.

It’s not without its weaknesses though: The Executioner’s axe throwing can really mess up this strategy in a heartbeat. Plus, with no buildings to protect my towers, I’m potentially leaving myself open to the dreaded Hog Rider (the name and high-pitched cry of “Hog Riiiider!” may not inspire much dread, but he’s OP for a good reason: he decimates towers with ease). Finally, while this deck is speedy, it still requires a bit of patience and great timing to use; jumping the gun will result in you getting annihilated very quicky, so if patience is not part of your play style, then this deck isn’t for you.

After reaching Jungle Arena (Arena 9), I found that my LumberLoon deck wasn’t cutting it either (Mainly because players with Executioner’s kept cutting me down to size…). However, I got lucky and won a Legendary Chest from battling! It took a whole day, but I recieved this sneaky beauty upon opening it:

Hellooooo Thief!

With help from my brother from another mother, fellow clanmate and favourite 2v2 partner, Anthony, (who is also my go-to person regarding Clash), I built myself an awesome, winning deck centered around the Bandit, Battle Ram and the Witch:

The Dream Team

Depending on what cards I start out with, I lead off with the Witch and the Knight in the back, the Knight acting as both a tank to protect my Witch AND a way to invest elixir. Reading the situation on the other side of the field, I either counter attack with my trusty Fireball, Minions or Tombstone while I regroup my forces, or drop the big guns with the Battle Ram and Log, followed closely behind with the Bandit, who acts as cleanup. This deck is quite versatile, but again, requires patience and the ability to read the opponent’s battle strategy in order to counter.

If my Knight or Witch isn’t in my starting lineup, I either play defensive by using the Tombstone or the Bandit or go on an early offense with the Log and Battle Ram. Sometimes, these moves can completely occupy my opponent’s attention, leaving me free to set up my strategy above.

Even winning decks like this one have their weaknesses: in my case, the Baby Dragon (especially at higher levels) can be a troublesome pest. Also, I notice a lot of players in later arenas throwing down the Golem card in the back and waiting until it reaches the bridge before launching a full-on assault. This deck makes it difficult but not impossible to defend against such a push. Again, the Hog Rider is a threat, along with the aforementioned Golem. Their effects can be mitigated by the Tombstone and other support units.


Additional Tips and Tricks

In my current deck, using the Knight as an attacking tank reduces the effectiveness of a lot of popular cards used in the meta, such as Executioner, Valkyrie, Witch, Bandit and Ice, Electro and normal Wizards (all three are my arch-nemeses). This is especially apparent when he’s backed up by the Witch or Bandit or support cards like Minions and spawning buildings like Tombstone. Sometimes a tank that can attack troops can be more effective than a traditional tank, such as the Giant – keep that in mind as you build and develop your deck strategy.

Also, another tip I have is to have faith in your troops and your towers.

Believe in the Heart of the Ca- Oh wait, wrong series. (Image from Kokorononaka)

I’m sure you’ve made the following mistakes as well: dropping several troops to dispatch one enemy attacking your tower, or dropping support troops just as one of your guys takes out a tough unit. While it may look like you’re up in the numbers, you’re actually suffering a net elixir loss (you’re opponent will have more elixir than you do), meaning that if he or she starts a big push, you may not have enough elixir to counter it.

Instead, drop a single unit and let both it and your tower take care of the enemy, unless it’s a big push. If your opponent drops another unit, play something you’re confident will effectively counter it and let it be. It’s a good way to save up your elixir without wasting it.

A caveat to the above is to try and use cards that have a lower elixir cost than then the card your opponent plays. A good example would be if your opponent plays the Minion Horde (5 elixir cost) and you counter with the Fireball (4 elixir cost) or Arrows (3 elixir cost). Thanks to the effective counter, you would now have one or two more elixir than your opponent would. Even the Knight and Bandit in my deck, or other cards such as Mega Minion or Valkyrie, can effectively counter some of the more powerful cards, like the Wizards or Elite Barbarians for instance, and save you elixir while doing so. It’s therefore very important to keep costs in mind while battling in order to maintain a positive net elixir gain.

My final tips for this post are to pay attention and keep a mid-cost, mid-damage spell card in handy. Towards the end of a match, all kinds of craziness will ensue; your opponent will try to make a big push or defend your own push, while you will try to do the same. Somewhere along the way, one of your troops may break through and start wailing on the enemy tower, bringing it down to between 200-300 hitpoints before they die; perfect range to launch a couple of spell cards and end the match. At this point though, you might not be paying attention because you’re focusing all your efforts into defending your own tower. You clear the field using a Fireball or Lightning, hoping that will stop that push only to find that your opponent drops a surprise attack on the other side of the field or uses a Lightning of their own, leaving you unable to counter and costing you the match. You’d take a look at your opponents tower and kick yourself, because you could’ve ended the match thirty seconds ago.

It’s happened to me more than once.

The moral of the story here is to both monitor your opponents remaining health and to have a spell card or two handy to end the match. It makes a big difference having a clutch spell card that can either keep you in the game for the overtime match, or grant your victory.


So, there you have it! With these decks, strategies and tips in your arsenal, you’ll dominate the arena for sure! If you got suggestions on further tips or decks/deck strategies you’d like to share, drop a line in the comments below.

On the next edition, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the Nintendo Switch and I’ll tell you if the hype generated in the last six months since its release has lived up to my expectations of the system.

For now, this is Ryan from “Games with Coffee,” reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!

Change, Like Winter, is Coming. Plus, Updates!

Hi guys and welcome to another edition of “Games with Coffee!” …Yeah it’s been a while since I posted anything, but to be honest, a lots been happening between the end of May and now. It’s not the perfect time to explain just yet why that’s the case, but I’ll reveal it soon enough. Just know that it’s HUGE, it’s going to affect the blog (among other things in my Quest) and it’s going to make a heck of an impact to my life.

With this, being busy with family and friends visiting for the summer and a basement renovation happening all at the same time, it’s been hard to find time to write, let alone play games. I was lucky in June to nail down time for the blog, writing and other goals on The Quest, but July was a different story. I’m not complaining, but I realized after I wrote my monthly post-mortem and reviewed my journal entries that I’ve really slacked off and made excuses to not do anything Quest related, but that’s gonna change this month. That’s a promise!

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I’m back with a vengeance!

With that, I got some post announcements. Kind of a primer of what to expect next on the blog:


As I was writing the next post for the blog (my continuing playthrough of “Path of Exile”), a website called Playerauctions.com reached out to me after reading my first PoE post and asked me to guest write on their blog! Naturally, I said yes, so the PoE post will be posted on their blog instead of here. I’ll have a link ready when it’s published. Going forward though, my playthrough of the game will still be documented here, so keep an eye out for the next one coming in September!

My 30th birthday was awesome! Not just because I hung out with friends and family, but because I got awesome games and systems for presents! One being a Nintendo Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild! And my little bro gave me an awesome blast to the past: Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy for the PS4! Needless to say, I’m stoked as hell to write about these, so look out for them in the next few weeks! Also on the docket for games to play: Kingdom Hearts 1.5 + 2.5 ReMix, Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue (wow that’s a mouthful…), a couple of Telltale games (Game of Thrones and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel), Mighty Gunvolt Burst and my newest favourite game, Sonic Mania!

Have Mania, will draw speedy rodents. What’s he pointing at, I wonder?

I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with Clash Royale these days, but I did put together a couple of sweet decks to help advance myself and my clan, the “Tree Gang,” to further greatness! I’ll be sharing those and other Clash-related thoughts very soon

Music-wise, I’ll be writing a follow up from my first post about OC ReMix: this time, it’ll be my top 20 all-time favorite tracks. I’ll also be talking about one of my favorite artists, Mega Ran, and how his music has inspired me to just be me.

Finally, I’ll do some retrospective posts on a few game series that had a further impact on my life and I’m introducing a new feature to the blog: a little something I’d like to call “Espresso Shots.” Curious? Well, you’ll just have to stay tuned to find out!


So, that’s what’s new with me. I apologize again for the delay in posting, but with me on a new schedule and all this upcoming content, I’m sure I’ll be forgiven! (I hope?).

With that, this has been Ryan from“Games with Coffee,” hoping that everyone’s enjoying their summer and reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing.

“The Quest”: Using Video Games to Fulfill my Dreams

Good afternoon and welcome to a special edition of Games with Coffee. Why special? Because today, July the 13th, is my 30th birthday! And while the jokes start coming around about how I’ve become practically ancient, I want to talk today about something completely different than the usual stuff I talk about.

Today’s subject is something I like to call, “The Quest.” Why is it in quotation marks? To signify its importance of course! Joking aside, “The Quest” is something I developed in late 2016 for myself to do one thing: to make my dreams reality.


The Back Story

I’m going to be honest here: I always hated New Year’s Resolutions. You make a set of broad, sweeping goals in the hopes that you’ll achieve something this year, like losing weight, or finishing that personal project or develop a new skill, only for it to go off the rails after February hits. Don’t get me wrong though, I made resolutions as well, in fact, the very same ones I listed, but I got lazy, forgot about my resolutions and wound up at the end of the year wondering what exactly did I achieve?

2016 was no different than the other years. At the start, I was on track to fulfill my resolutions: I started a job closer to home with better pay (get a new job), I was on track with my writing (write more often) and I was eating healthy and working out fairly often (lose weight). But by the end of summer, it all went downhill.

The company’s busiest time of the year is the summer, since our major client’s (a large school board) facilities close down for two months and creates a scramble to get things fixed up for when they open in the fall. During this time though, little mistakes made by myself and other new people opened huge cans of worms with the school board, who questioned our ability to do our jobs, hurting our reputation and making this the worst year the company has ever seen since it started back in the 70’s. Everyone in the office absolutely hated each other at that point, with screaming matches going on almost weekly amidst the countless fires that needed to be put out on job sites. In the middle the chaos, I started looking for a new job even though I’ve only worked there for six months. I thought to myself at the time, “Working at such a volatile company isn’t good for me or my family. I need something more stable and established.”

Everyone’s attitude at work, with people consistently blaming each other, coupled with my sneaky attempts at trying to find a new job put my writing permanently on the backburner and, even though exercise could have decreased my stress during that time, I stopped working out to focus more on job applications and interview preparations. Even playing video games wasn’t enough to help me relax. It was a pretty bad time.

At the start of December, I ceased my job search for the time being since no one’s going to hire somebody during the holidays. I instead looked at the paper that I wrote 2016’s resolutions on and, again, wondered:

What exactly did I achieve?

The short answer was only a little bit (the getting a new, higher paying job was the only thing I accomplished) and I was tired of only getting a little bit done every year. On top of that, 2017 is the year I’d be turning 30, a huge milestone, and while I could say that I’ve accomplished much by that age, to me, I felt truthfully that my efforts towards accomplishing those things were mediocre at best.

I jumped from one thing to another and left things half done, both with work and my own personal projects. I had trouble focusing at times, especially with things I have no interest in. I wasn’t very good at planning ahead and whatever plans I did make, I barely followed through with them. I’ve set the same goals for the last ten years and I wasn’t getting anywhere with them with my current methods (of which, I had none). I’d try to work out on a consistent basis, only to stop and not start again until the next year comes. Finally, I knew that I’ll eventually be a dad myself one day and the last thing I’d want my kids to see is their father being unable to work hard enough to see his goals through to the end. I want to be a role model for them, for them to see that, with hard work, perseverance and discipline, even a life-long gamer can achieve anything.

It was from that moment on, with all of the above in mind, that “The Quest” came into existence.


So, What is “The Quest?”

Instead of trying to achieve my goals outright, I decided that I would get into the habit of doing things that aligned with my goals instead. For instance, instead of having a goal to work out and lose weight, instead I’d try to get into the habit of working out at least 15 days in the month. If I made twenty, that’s great! If I felt short, then I’ll try for 15 next month.

The bigger question though, was how to stay motivated to do 15 days of exercise, or half an hour of writing, or anything really on a daily basis? Well, video games have always motivated me to keep going to that next level, beat that next boss, reveal that latest story twist and find that rare item, and I thought, “Why not make that work for me!?”

That’s what “The Quest” really is: my goals gamified*. Inspired by both “The Legend of Zelda” and “Final Fantasy”, I modeled the game around the RPG mechanics used Final Fantasy XV and Link’s quest to save Hyrule.

In Final Fantasy XV, even the most insignificant of actions, like helping someone stranded on the road, driving in your car or even fishing, yielded experience for the four friends.  So, I decided that for every action I took that aligned with my goals, I would earn experience points. After a set amount, I’d gain a level in relation to that goal, showing me that my commitment to achieving it had grown stronger.

For Link, storming Gannon’s main stronghold right from the start was practically suicide. Instead, the Hylian warrior and bearer of the Triforce of Courage started small; breaking his objective (Defeating Gannon) down into smaller chunks (infiltrating dungeons across Hyrule to obtain powers to defeat Gannon) and accomplishing them one by one. I decided to do the same with all of the goals I wanted to achieve this year; start small and follow through.

“The Quest” is also similarly modeled by what real-world comic, Jerry Seinfeld did to keep motivated, back when he did the comedy circuit before hitting the big time. He’d mark on a calendar the days he would do any writing with a big ‘X’. Soon enough, there was a chain of X’s and it made it harder to break that chain because he was so motivated to maintain that string of X’s. It’s the same feeling I got whenever I saw those points accumulate. After a while, it became harder to break that chain of experience points that I kept pushing every day to get something done to keep it going. Which in turn gained me levels, which then strengthened my commitments to keep going.

Writing this down here and now on the blog, it sounds really childish. (Experience points? Levels? Final Fantasy?! Legend of Zelda!? X’s?!?! Balderdash! Poppycock! You’re thirty for God’s sake!) But, honestly, it’s actually working! For some reason, I felt motivated to keep earning points and gaining levels and the more levels I gained, the more I felt that I accomplished! Even when life threw curveballs, screwballs and knuckleballs (Haha! Baseball references!) to try and derail me, I found that I didn’t want to give up. I mean, you gotta work for your dreams, right? And doing it this way, using video game concepts, helped me to stay on top of my dreams.

Still not convinced? Think I’m full of it? Well, let me tell you how I organized it and my results so far. Perhaps you’ll be impressed?


The Method

I created the infrastructure using several Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. The first thing I did before delving into game mechanics, was to list all of the goals that I’ve ever wanted to accomplish in the last ten or twenty years of my life, and eliminated the one’s that were either unrealistic or that I didn’t care much for, until I narrowed it down to five core goals:

  1. Advance in my career.
  2. Read more books.
  3. Finish and publish my fanfiction/ work on my original story
  4. Work out.
  5. Start a blog about video games (The one you’re reading right now!).

Once I established my core goals, I built a spreadsheet for each of them to track my progress. In one of the tabs on the spreadsheet, I set up an experience chart and built a formula to calculate the experience required for a level up (there are lots of resources online to help set this up). In another tab, I have my full status for that goal, including my current level, experience and what experience I needed to get to the next level. Finally, I set up tabs for every month of the year, which I used to track my progress Here’s a sample of my Writing Goals sheet for the month of May:

Writing Status Sheet

This was back in May, a pretty productive month for me in terms of my writing.

And a sample of last month’s Blog Goals sheet:

Blog Status Sheet

June was a good month for the blog.

So, in that mess above, I calculated how much experience I’d gain per action based on a function of time and relative to the XP Difficulty Factor of the goal (Each sheet had its own formula for determining that amount). I’d tally up my experience (under the XP Gained column) to get the experience I would earn for the month. On top of that, I’d determine if any bonus experience was gained, either from finishing and publishing chapters or posts online, or how many days I’ve worked out in total, or how many books I read, or if I fulfilled my Monthly Side Quests (Listed as Quest XP). Summing up all that experience back to the main status tab gave me my total experience thus far, giving me a good indication of how well I’m doing with my goal.

I mentioned Monthly Side Quests in the above and they are just that: Optional goals, or side quests, for the month that would earn me extra experience once completed. They’re usually highly ambitious, like publishing blog posts three times in a month, working out for more than 20 days in a month, or writing notes for or actually writing out three chapters for example. The rewards were always worth it though – not only did I accrue more experience, I also furthered myself in each of my goals. And even if I didn’t finish the quest, I was a lot farther along at the end of the month, since I broke the monumental task at hand down into smaller monthly chunks. Side quests are one of three things I used to keep myself motivated. I call these my “Fail-Safes.”


Fail-Safes???

The side quests were one of three fail-safes I initiated after starting “The Quest” to keep myself motivated throughout this experiment. The second of these was my Quest Log: a daily journal listing down all the things I did that day and how much time I spent working on actions related to my goals. At the end of each entry, I noted both the successes and failures of my day. I found that noting down the failures of the day motivated me for the next day. For instance, if I skipped my workout for the day, I’d note that down as a fail. From there, I’d tell myself “OK, I’m definitely going to make an effort to work out tomorrow!” And nine times out of ten, it happened. Plus, writing everything down helped me to keep my goal status sheets accurate and up-to-date.

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My Quest Log – You may have seen it in many of my posts and part of the site banner as well. Ush gave this to me for Christmas last year and it was one of the best things I’ve ever received.

The final fail-safe is what we engineers call a Post Mortem report. Post Mortem reports are done at the end of a project, where they highlight what made the project successful, what hindered or held it back, what things to change for the next project and any additional thoughts or reflections about the project itself. At the end of every month, I prepared a Post Mortem of my own, reflecting on the successes and failures of the month in relation to my goals along with what I think needs to change for the next month and any additional comments about anything that made this month a success or failure. Writing this report helped me to list priorities and prepare side-quests for the following month, while giving me an idea of how I performed on the previous month.

All of this looks like a lot of hard work and sometimes it can be. Trying to find time to record everything on top of writing for myself or the blog, working out, taking courses to build new skills for my job or read, along with spending time with the wife and family AND playing games can sometimes be a bit difficult. The results, however… I’m glad to say have been worth it so far.


The Results So Far

Here’s what I achieved six months into this crazy experiment of mine:

  1. I’ve never been consistent with working out, always starting and stopping and never really getting far with it. Since starting “The Quest,” I’ve spent less time beating myself up about skipping a workout and spending more time pumping out quick (sub 45 minutes), quality workouts that I enjoy, like practicing martial arts (I was a green belt in Tae-Kwon-Do) or my favourite, the Super Saiyan Workout from Darebee; a quick and easy cardio workout that makes me feel like Vegeta training to surpass Goku. It’s awesome and you should try it!
  2. Writing fanfiction is an extremely nerdy and guilty pleasure of mine and I’ve been writing a particular one for the past ten years. Like the workouts, I’ve started and stopped writing it too many times to count, but since focusing on writing something down every day for at least half an hour and tracking that through my status sheets, I’ve finished the rough draft of the fic and am working on the good copy with the hopes of putting it all online by the end of this year! A major leap from previous years when I thought I’d never even finish it!
  3. Speaking of writing, “The Quest” gave me the courage to continue writing my own original content. Last year, I started putting together a few notes here and there of ideas and themes that I’ve been toying with for the last fifteen years. Thanks my continued motivation to write every day, to date, I have characters, a setting, several magic systems (I’m writing a high fantasy) and the beginning of a timeline of events that will span from before the start of the story all the way to the end, which, again, was much farther than I could have imagined a year ago.
  4. Career-wise, I decided to stay at my current job and focused on building my skillsets, moving away from engineering design and into programming, project management and graphics creation/manipulation. Those efforts have helped me move into a more hybrid position instead of pigeon-holing me as a designer. I’m now looking to take some professional development course in order to improve even further.
  5. I love reading, but lately I haven’t set a lot of time aside to do any and I always read the same books over and over again. I’ve changed that by reading a whole wack of books, from self-help titles to high fantasy stories not unlike Game of Thrones. I’ve now noticed these days that my writing style has improved, as I read and analyzed the works of multiple authors, such as Brandon Sanderson, Lily Singh and Pierce Brown.
  6. Finally, I’ve always wanted to start a blog about video games, but never had the guts to do so. Mainly because I could never prioritize and plan ahead for creating new content. Tracking my progress on the blog with “The Quest” made me feel regretful that I didn’t start earlier; I’ve put up content that I feel proud of,  made a few new friends along the way and read their amazing content and even those in my current circle of friends and family see me in a different light, which I’m pretty happy about, y’know? The confidence I’ve gained through blogging has led me to think about doing freelance writing on the side, which is something I would have never even considered in the past.

So, there you have it, What do you think? Am I balls-to-the-wall crazy with this quest idea, or does this actually inspire you to go on a Quest of your own? Let me know if the comments below! Stay tuned for the next edition, where I travel back to the dark world of Wraeclast and provide a brief, but entertaining update of my progress in “Path of Exile,” of which I’ve become pretty obsessed with!

Before I sign off, I want to add a few extra notes here. To those individuals who are reading this, have subscribed to this blog, followed me on Instagram or even encouraged me from the sidelines; thank you. Thank you for sharing this experience with me and for making my 30th year on this chaotic plane of existence a great one so far. Here’s to many more where that came from.

And that’s all for today. Once again, this has been Ryan from “Games with Coffee,” reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing! See you next time!

*Gamification: applying game elements to real life to achieve real goals or improve productivity. A couple of good examples online include Level Up Life and SuperBetter. I could have used these for my own use, but I decided to be extra and build my own game from scratch. What can I say? I’m complicated like that!

How Mega Man X Gave Me My Artistic Groove

Hey all! Welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee! I hope everyone’s weekend (whether it was a long one or not) was well!

Today, I’m going to share a personal story about the Blue Bomber himself: Mega Man! Mega Man (A.K.A Rockman in Japan) holds a special place in my heart, along with other characters such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Link and Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII. But what’s special about Mega Man, specifically Mega Man X, was that he pulled me out of a very dark place in my childhood and helped me discover something about myself that I thought I never had before – that I can be a creative and artistic individual.

(Warning: This may get a little heavy. Bear with me.)


Let me cut to the chase: Growing up, I’ve had lots of self-esteem issues. As I mentioned somewhere on this blog, I was a very awkward kid and by awkward, I mean I was never good at making friends. I was disruptive, unable to sit still, had a very short attention span and I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, which got me into tons of embarrassing and problematic situations. My teachers, frustrated by my irregular behaviour, urged my parents to get doctors involved. They first diagnosed me with Tourette’s Syndrome, before performing a battery of tests and settling for the catch-all adolescent boys issue made popular back in the 90’s: Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, or ADHD.

On top of taking meds that would turn me into a vegetable, produce violent mood swings and made me chubby due to water retention, I also had to start wearing glasses from the third grade on, due to becoming near-sighted. All of this, along with my last name sounding eerily similar to a delicious dairy product and my penchant for being too trusting and gullible in an attempt to be likeable and friendly, made me a very easy target for bullies and set me down the path of isolation and loneliness. Academically, the medicines didn’t really help (since I was more or less a carrot at that point, so concentration was non-existent) and my teachers (bless their souls for putting up with me…) were even more frustrated at my obvious lack of effort, despite the fact that it was because I dreaded going back to school to face both meds and savage classmates that I didn’t want to try in the first place. The constant slog of side-effects, brutal teasing, loneliness and the inner disgust I directed to myself for being so abnormal compared to everybody else eventually snowballed into me feeling completely worthless and useless; that I had nothing to offer to this world and that I was just a burden to everybody.


It was some time in fourth grade that Mega Man first came into my life; both the animated TV series by Ruby-Spears and the video game “Mega Man X.” While the TV series was enjoyable (yet cheesy), it was X’s struggle, both against the forces of evil and within himself, that I really resonated with. For you see, X was unlike any robot ever built.

His creator, Dr. Thomas X. Light, designed him with a revolutionary neural structure that gave him the ability to think, feel and make his own decisions, essentially making him as close to human as possible and making him VERY different compared to his fellow robots. While a robot’s only concern was to obey the orders given to them by their human masters, X thought about things that were highly abstract from typical robot-think: Why was he created? What was his purpose? And if he was intended to bring peace between humans and robots as Dr. Light intended, why was he then given such a sophisticated battle interface, including the powerful X-Buster and Weapons Copy system?

On the introduction screens of the game, Dr. Light explains his intentions for X, that his unique neural structure and limitless capacity for thought would usher in a new generation of robots that could bring peace between man and machine. A part of his explanation eventually helped me to understand how ADHD affected me, four years after I was diagnosed with the disorder. A therapist I once saw explained it to me simply – that because of a chemical imbalance in my brain (which apparently is the cause of ADHD), it’s as if my head was rewired in such a way that I thought, saw and felt things differently from others. It’s that configuration that brings about the potential for immense creativity, just like X and his limitless potential for anything he puts his highly-advanced mind to. I initially took it as hogwash; I didn’t think I had it in me to be that creative at that time, but thinking about it years later and even now when I’m writing about this, I realize that the explanations, given by both the therapist AND Dr. Light, made sense.

X really helped me out in the seventh an eighth grades in school though. Those were the years when I was at my absolute lowest; I was always angry, got into fights at the drop of a hat and hated everyone and everything (typical pre-pubescent angst). One day, I rented out Mega Man X4 for the Playstation and, either it was X’s battle against Double, the traitor he thought he could trust or Zero’s story of love and loss on the battlefield, I don’t remember, I felt so inspired by the game that I pulled out a sketchbook I got from taking an art elective, took the cover art from the game manual and freehand drew the cover art. It wasn’t half bad, to tell you the truth. I’d show it to you all… but I seem to have lost my oldest sketchbook…

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So instead, here’s an old sketch I drew, loosely inspired by X’s base armour design. I made this… roughly ten years ago?

It was that one drawing I did of X and Zero, side by side that started to convince me that “Hey, you know what? I’m not half bad at drawing, let’s keep practicing!” I was really surprised at myself. And so, I drew. I drew as I weaned myself off medications, I drew as my classmates liked my work instead of teasing me about it. I drew when I was happy, I drew when I was angry and I drew when I was stressed. Drawing became a therapeutic release for me.

Since those days, I’ve moved on from drawing Mega Man, drawing other characters like Sonic and even creating some of my own content. For example, for my wife’s 18th birthday (when we were still dating), I drew her a full comic book, listing eighteen reasons why I love her. She still has it to this day, laminated and preserved in our shared memory box.

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I’d also show you that, but it’s way too embarrassing… So, here’s one of my favourite Sonic sketches instead!


I used to feel that I was useless, but because of X, I learned that I had hidden talents I never knew existed before and I gained the confidence to work on them. These days, I write more than I draw, but I can safely say to myself now that I’m not so useless after all. And that’s a good thing.

So, that’s my story for today. What do you think? Was there ever a character or a game that inspired you to be more creative or get out of your comfort zone? Let me know in the comments below.

Also, stay tuned for the next edition of Games with Coffee because I’ll be talking about another personal subject. Since the beginning of this year, 2017, I’ve been undergoing a Quest for personal development, doing several tasks to help me grow both creatively and in my career. Starting this blog was one of those tasks. With my 30th birthday coming up in the next two weeks, I want to share with you all what this Quest is all about; what inspired it, how it works and my progress six months into it. Maybe it’ll even inspire you to go on your own Quest as well?

With that said, this is Ryan from Games with Coffee, reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!

A Reminder to Take Good Care of Your Games!

Good morning and welcome to another edition of “Games with Coffee.” How’s everyone doing?

Today’s post is more of a PSA than anything else. Let me set the scene here:


Last month, I went on a cruise up the West Coast, starting from Los Angeles CA and ending in Vancouver BC. As part of my trip preparations, I decided to take my GCW-ZERO system with me, mainly to play a Super Mario Bros. 3 hack.

Now, I’ve had this particular system for a couple years and while it’s a great and versatile unit, it also has its flaws that I didn’t address, or attempt to address at the time. The D-pad didn’t sit well on the unit, and made it register an up-left input instead of a direct up input whenever I pressed the up button. Also, the A button, had a tendency to stick, which made run-and-gun games like “Super Metroid” difficult or nearly impossible to play. Even though there are ways to address those issues, like using silicone grease or taking apart the unit and replacing the buttons with new ones that improved playing performance, I decided not to address them and carry on.

Big mistake.

Long story short, as soon as I got on the plane to LA, the D-pad stopped responding. I tried playing using the stick only to find that control was awkward and uncomfortable after a period of time; it just wasn’t the same. Thus, I was without my preferred system almost the entire trip, which, while only mildly inconvenient, was still annoying nevertheless.

If I was more proactive, I would have addressed these issues much sooner. Thankfully, the guys who manufactured the GCW-ZERO have partnered with a 3-D printing company called Shapeways that provide improved replacement buttons for the system. I’ve ordered and received a full set and I’ll be undergoing the painstaking task of taking apart the system, installing the components and putting it back together again. (Apparently, the process is quite hard. Wish me luck!)

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My next personal project.

This leads me to today’s PSA: Please, please, PLEASE, take care of your systems and games! As mature, distinguished gamers, we pay a lot of money to indulge in one of our favourite hobbies, so it’s important that you make sure your systems and your games are in perfect working order. Proper maintenance will allow you to enjoy gaming to your heart’s content, without worrying that your system will break down or that your games will crash. And if you suspect that something may be wrong, whether it’s major or minor, get it looked at ASAP. It could mean the difference between either getting it repaired without cost or spending hundreds of dollars on getting your stuff replaced.


Do you guys have any stories about maintaining your systems and games? Share them in the comments below! And stay tuned to for the next edition, because I’ll be talking about a video game music site that’s dear to my heart: OverClocked ReMix!

This is Ryan from “Games with Coffee,” telling you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing. See ya next time!

 

“The Legend of Zelda:” How Link’s Altruism Helped Me to Channel My Inner Hero

Good morning and welcome to another edition of “Games with Coffee.” How’s everyone today?

Here up north, we’re winding down the Victoria Day long weekend*, the unofficial start of the summer. We’ve finally left behind the ice, snow and frigid temperatures associated with winter and are left with gradually warming temperatures, the sweet smell of the air after a rain shower and seas of vividly verdant greenery rolling along the hills and valleys around the little town I call home.

The colour green always makes me think of Link, the Hero clothed in green, wielder of the Master Sword and holder of the Triforce of Courage from the Legend of Zelda. His back story varies between entries; he was once a wandering swordsman, an apprentice of his uncle’s, a child of the forest, a boy who came of age on a remote island of the Great Sea and a goat herder on a ranch, to name a few of his incarnations. Regardless of his origins, he is characterized as a strong, noble man who is eternally destined to assist the holder of the Triforce of Wisdom – the titular “Princess Zelda” – in taking arms against Ganondorf, the holder of the Triforce of Power. An accomplished sorcerer and power-hungry leader of the Gerudo desert thieves, he seeks the other two pieces of the Triforce to complete them and fulfill his desire of conquering Hyrule.

While Link is known throughout the gaming community as a character with great strength and bravery, he also possesses untold amounts of kindness and humility towards others. Whether it’s helping a girl round up her Cuccos, making deliveries across kingdoms, islands and oceans, paying for bridge repairs out of his own pocket to help a town’s emerging economy, or even rounding up golden bugs for bug-obsessed princess, there’s nothing Link wouldn’t do to help his fellow man. It’s his altruism**, not his strength or his fighting ability, that inspired many, both in game and out, to become better people.


The first “Legend of Zelda” entry I played was the black sheep of the family: ‘Zelda II – The Adventure of Link’. I was introduced to this game from one of the first friends I made in my new neighbourhood back when I was six. Despite being the odd one out of the whole series, its Action-RPG and side-scrolling elements, as opposed to the traditional top-down views and multiple items to solve puzzles, made me fall in love with the game. More importantly, this was the first entry to really display Link’s altruistic side, like retrieving a trophy from Goiyras for the town of Ruto, picking up the Medicine of Life for a sick child in Mido and even rescuing a kidnapped child in the Island Maze and bringing him back to Darnuia. Even though these ‘fetch quests’ were only used as a plot device to advance you further into this punishing game, it really helped to showcase Link’s character as a guy who’s willing to go the extra mile to help out, something that the first entry (which I played years later!) didn’t really show in my opinion. To this day, I still consider ‘Zelda II’ to be one of my all-time favourite Zelda games.

It wasn’t until after I played ‘Ocarina of Time’ and subsequent entries afterward that I really saw Link’s altruistic personality shine through. Whether it’s in town, on Hyrule Field or deep in enemy territory, I watched as Link took any opportunity he could to assist in any way he can. Granted, it’s the player’s choice in whether or not they accept the task, but the rewards are usually worth it.

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Yep, definitely worth it. (Image from Zeldapedia)

Doing these quests always put a smile on my face whenever I completed them. And I found that it felt really good when the person I helped was truly grateful. I imagined that’s how Link also felt when he helped someone out with their problems, whether it’s fetching something for them, playing songs on the Ocarina to soothe their troubles, or just being there, listening to and acknowledging other people’s problems. I found that the gratitude one receives after helping someone out is the best kind of reward, not money or valuable treasures. In that way, I started to find ways to help out the people around me, regardless of how big or how small that act may be.

However, being an altruist isn’t the same as being a doormat – there are times when you’ll have to say no, even if you really want to help. That’s especially the case if you’re already overburdened with other promises you’ve sworn to keep. Just like Link, you have the choice in whether to say “Yes” or “No” to someone requesting your help. It doesn’t do anyone any good if you burn yourself out trying to uphold all the promises you’ve made to others. It’s a hard lesson I’ve learned over the years; breaking a promise or an obligation to help harms that person’s trust in you and harms your credibility and reputation, a difficult thing to get back. The point I’m making is, make your promises sparingly and only if you have the capacity to keep them. In most cases, after you’ve taken care of your other obligations, you can usually go back to that person you declined earlier and assist them with their problems. It’s the smart thing to do, the right thing to do and the mature and distinguished way to be a successful altruist in this day and age.

So, has Link also inspired you to be altruistic? Mildly related tangent: What’s your favourite entry in the “Legend of Zelda” series? Share your thoughts on the comments below! And, if you haven’t already, subscribe to the e-mail list or click that Follow button to keep up with the latest on “Games with Coffee!”

Enjoying the rest of my long weekend, this is Ryan telling you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing.

 *Canadian holiday celebrating Queen Victoria’s birthday, usually on May 24th. It’s colloquially known as the” May Two-Four” weekend, signifying the opening of the cottage season. It’s also the number of beers traditionally required to celebrate this particular long weekend, which is known as a “two-four” in Canadian lingo. The more you know.

 **For the uninitiated, Google’s definition of altruism is as follows: Altruism (noun): the belief in, or practice of, the disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others. In other words, it means helping those without expecting any reward in return.