John Zeitler

Winding Down

by on Jun.13, 2014, under Main Stuff

Another quiet day. With E3 over there’s not much else to talk about until at least the end of the month, when I’ll be looking to kick my plans into high gear. Other than that, I’ll try to keep things steady here.

That said, getting a Twitter reply from the author of the Squid Girl manga was a nice touch to today, so… yeah.

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War Changes Pretty Regularly In Point Of Fact

by on Jun.12, 2014, under Main Stuff

Games Workshop released the seventh edition of the core Warhammer 40,000 rulebook late last month. I haven’t picked it up yet, but I did get a chance to flip through it a couple days ago; overall, there’s not really a whole lot of change in terms of the main rules. Certainly there’s not the massive changes that there were between the fifth edition and sixth, which makes it somewhat strange that GW didn’t choose to release it as an update book as opposed to a full new release. On the other hand, this is GW we’re talking about, so the greed is sort of understandable. The sixth-seventh edition army books are also rather high-priced for their contents; the books also herald new models for those armies, which are also relatively high-priced. It takes a lot to keep up with the game, particularly if you’re trying to maintain multiple armies.

Fortunately for me, however, I’ve been working towards painting up the entirety of what I have, which is a slow process but very, very rewarding. Then again, paint isn’t infinite…

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Ooops

by on Jun.11, 2014, under Main Stuff

I missed yesterday. That’s a loaded phrase, actually; it was one of the most awesome days for gaming in recent memory, and it was also a day when I should have posted, but didn’t. I of course had other things on my mind. Still, considering that I had meant to have daily posts during my college career, I can afford to miss a few days here and there during the run-up; while I’m trying to get back in the habit of one-a-day, please bear with me.

Aaaaanyway. I was distracted yesterday by some family stuff– nothing too serious, just an ongoing thing– and by E3, which continues today. With the show still going on I don’t want to comment too much, but I would like to say that so far I’m really excited for games that aren’t coming until the end of this year at the earliest. Particularly Splatoon; that was a very nice surprise out of Nintendo. I hope the gamble pays off for them.

Oh, and I had a math placement exam. We shall not speak again of the math placement exam.

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Rising To The Challenge

by on Jun.09, 2014, under Main Stuff

I realize that I’m going to probably be sick of the Cathedral of Learning by the time I’m finished with classes there, but at the same time I have to have respect for any schoolhouse that looks more like the final dungeon from a cheesy 90′s JRPG. This is 43 floors of hardcore education, and if you don’t come out of it without a few more points of INT you weren’t even really trying.

It’s a silly thought, I know. But I have to have fun with everything that’s happening or else I’m probably going to burn out completely. So I choose to have fun. There are worse ways to go through life.

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FrE3 Association

by on Jun.08, 2014, under Main Stuff

It’s strange, to me, that I should be so interested in E3 this year when by and large I don’t really have as much passion for video games as I used to. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a gamer, I just have to be reminded of when the big stuff is happening anymore. For example: I actually forgot that E3 was this coming week. But I think, given everything else going on, I can be forgiven for this lapse.

Anyway. In years past I’ve given predictions for what there’ll be at each of the major booths. This year will, of course, be no different. But it should be noted that I’m going to be glossing over Microsoft’s booth this year, simply because I’m not at all interested in the Xbox One’s offerings, and the 360 has been dropped like the proverbial hot potato. The system isn’t yet a true dud– no system should ever be counted out in its first year– but there’s simply nothing compelling about the machine compared to the PS4 or even the Wii U. (Even the PS4 would be a hard sell for me if not for some extremely good luck earlier this year that landed one in my home… but that’s a different story.) The system is still struggling with its launch jitters, something the PS4 is also dealing with, and so neither of the so-called “true next gen” really warrant more than passing attention. Besides, the two are functionally equivalent anyway, and the concept of an exclusive being a system-seller is laughable in this day and age.

So let’s start with the Wii U. It was just coming into its own at the beginning of this year with Wind Waker HD and Mario 3D World landing, and it was followed closely by Mario Kart 8. All fantastic games, and all strong contenders for the coveted “Not This Shit Again” award from the more cynical in the media. But Nintendo has been nothing if not resilient, and the leak of “Mario Maker” is an intriguing tidbit. The odds are good that it’s a return to the Excitebike-style level-creation tool, sort of a synthesis between Mario and Little Big Planet; but there’s also the long shot that it’s a re-use of the concept of artwork and animation creation tools such as Mario Paint or the 64DD tools. Heck, we don’t even know if it’s a Wii U title. Other returning titles will be the Pokemon fighting game first revealed in glimpses about a year ago, Smash Bros. getting a couple more announced fighters (including Palutena, who was leaked a few months ago), and possibly Mario Kart 8 classic course DLC. New reveals are probably going to be a Metroid game that thematically follows on from Other M, taking the series in a more traditional FPS direction; Planet Puzzle League/Panel de Pon Online for Wii U, an eShop title which will include local multiplayer modes; and a resurrection of an old IP from the 8 or 16 bit days. The million-to-one bet is on a Mother collection. Which will, as always, never happen, but I felt like I should at least continue the tradition of futility.

Let’s stay with Nintendo and hit the 3DS. The portable miracle machine that’s kept Nintendo from sinking into 2001-era Sega levels of desperation has shown no signs of stopping, even if the 2DS has been largely a wash. The true bombshells have already been dropped, being the Pokemon Gen 3 remakes Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. Most of the attention this year will be focused on those two and Smash Bros., so I wouldn’t count on too many first-party surprises. Where things are going to get interesting are integration with Wii U titles, including a possible Pokemon Colosseum game being revealed. Also, I’d expect to see DS titles join the 3DS Virtual Console, leading off with the original Professor Layton games. The sucker bet here is Nintendo disabling the region-locking on the handheld, reversing a four-year-wrong decision.

Sega came up in the last paragraph, so let’s head over there. The Blue Blur’s home isn’t doing too bad for itself, with disasters like Aliens: Colonial Marines finally being put behind them. The multimedia project Sonic Boom is also looking promising, but even if all we get out of it is a season and a half of a decent-enough animated show, it’ll still be a more compelling Sonic property than has been shown in recent memory. We’re almost certainly going to see those titles, and Bayonetta 2, but the list of confirmed titles is pretty slim. I’d put a quarter down on appearances of a new Shinobi title and possibly a new IP. With JRPGs having mostly gone down the toilet, any Phantasy Star title that gets any exposure is likely either going to be a MOBA or a social game, but don’t hold your breath for any of it.

Speaking of toilets, let’s talk Square Enix. FF14′s success has been a much-needed shot of Phoenix Down for the once-struggling company, but that’s been just about the only thing they’ve had going for them over the past year or so. We’re obviously going to see news on the game’s first expansion, which will introduce the Ishgard region and battles against Shiva and Alexander being the primary focus of that pack. SE has quietly been beating the war drums about FF15, with a possible re-reveal trailer being the centerpiece of their booth (as an aside: I remember seeing the ORIGINAL launch trailer for what would eventually become 15, way back in 2006). Expect that one to be a PS4 exclusive; if the Xbox One hasn’t lit any fires over here, it’s DOA in Japan. SE will also be pushing some new titles for the 3DS and Wii U, despite most other companies fleeing from the system: I’d say we’re going to see a new Kingdom Hearts title land on 3DS and possibly a Wii U port of 1.5 Remix. The real surprise here will be a revival of an old, disused IP– likely Saga (remaking the originals for iOS) or, and this is damn near impossible, Mana. Money to burn should go on an HD or Vita re-release of Dissidia.

Sony is also going to have a tough act to follow, with the PS4 being a modest success but not the blow-the-doors-off hit they were expecting. Though, considering that the PS3 hadn’t hit its stride until just about two years ago compared to the all-cylinders-but-petering-out 360, the concept of a slow start isn’t shocking. Sony has always been carried by its third parties, but they’ve had some in-house success with stuff like The Last of Us and Resogun. Expect a lot of the same as in the Xbox One booth, nothing too overwhelming. I’m not supposed to say anything about Playstation Now, the streaming service, as I know someone who’s been in on the beta for a few months; that said, the service should be ready to launch by the end of June or July at the latest, and it’s a fantastic alternative to a game rental service like Gamefly. Playstation Plus is going to get a little bit of focus as well, with the free titles on offer cycling more reliably; I can honestly say that I’m very glad I picked up that particular subscription. Don’t look for too many bombshells here.

As for the remainder of the smaller studios, it’s really hard to say. Atlus has gone all-in with the Shin Megami Tensei series, and it’s about damn time; I’d be surprised if some of the older titles didn’t land on PS Now or some other digital download service in advance of Persona 4 Arena Ultimate. Aksys will probably introduce a next-gen version of BlazBlue, necessitating firmware updates to allow the current-gen fighting sticks to work with the new consoles; there’s also a few quirky titles up their sleeve, as always. Bandai Namco is going to show off more titles in their classic-mascot reboot series (the “Ghostly Adventures” Pac-Man titles), none of which will be interesting to anyone older than about ten. NIS America will… okay, not even an Overlord of the Netherworld knows what they’re going to do, but likely not more Disgaea for at least a year or so; they’re definitely going to focus on Danganronpa 2. EA has their usual spate of sports, Bioware, and garbage. Ubisoft’s announcement of next-generation Tetris has probably skunked any chance of Sega bringing out the excellent Puyo Puyo Tetris in North America, so honestly they can rot for all I care. And Valve will announce a long-awaited third installment in their popular first-person shooter franchise: that’s right, kids, we’re getting Left 4 Dead 3.

Overall, without any major hardware announcements, this is going to be a pretty routine year for E3. I don’t think there will be too many shakeups in the industry; given the rather tepid reception of the new consoles, I’d think that most everyone is going to be playing their future pretty conservatively in order to maintain a long-run profit. The one thing that would absolutely floor me, that would cause me to not shut up about it for weeks, would be if someone, anyone, took a real risk.

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Nothing Interesting

by on Jun.07, 2014, under Main Stuff

So apparently when I said that I would have something interesting enough to blog about every day, I wasn’t counting on days like this where the most exciting thing that happened was The Avengers was on television. Honest. I woke up, took my medication, then went back to bed until 4p. Nice, quiet, boring day.

So I’m going to start looking into an online RPG session just so I have some regular human interaction…

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Back and Forth

by on Jun.06, 2014, under Main Stuff

This week has been a bit of a tug-of-war between good luck and bad, but I honestly think that things are finally on an upswing. Of course, there’s also the fact that there’s always a sort of oscillation as things stabilize, but overall things should be moving forward.

On the very bright side, I’m making far more progress than I anticipated on another project I’ve had on the back burner.

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Incessation

by on Jun.05, 2014, under Main Stuff

I’m giving serious thought to getting the iOS Developer membership for a year, just to mess around with Swift. I still don’t have much of a real idea for an app, but I do feel better about how the one idea I do have. Objective-C was the major obstacle in my original plan due to its silly and convoluted data structure rules, but Swift seems to solve most of those. I’m actually interested in perhaps writing some libraries for use in other projects.

But I’m still not going to be a professional programmer any more. This is strictly tinkering and hobbyist-level, at best.

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An Inquiry Into Value

by on Jun.04, 2014, under Main Stuff

One thing I’ve learned about myself over the last few years is that my adage regarding wealth and gaming still holds true: “Video games will get you through a time of no money better than money will get you through a time of no video games.” With the last few months, I’ve also noted a marked difference in how I approach gaming. In less lean times, I’ve prided myself on stockpiling an extensive library of games, old and new, in the belief that I will eventually want to play them again. More often than not, that’s true. However, as bills pile up and income slows to a trickle, I find myself having to sell off some of that library, choosing very carefully what to keep and what to lose.

The advent of digital distribution changed that paradigm somewhat; downloaded games can’t be sold back, which means I’m stuck with them forever. In some cases, though, that’s not a detriment. There are some games which I should not even countenance selling off, usually due to an extensive amount of effort being put into them. (I am, of course, talking about Pokemon X.) The fact that I’m also snagging no-cost titles from services like Playstation Plus and Xbox Live Games With Gold really helps; I was surprised enough by Bioshock Infinite that I kinda regretted not picking it up sooner, to take an example. But one thing remained the same: when my budget could not handle shelling out $60 per month for a new title that might not get played after a week (as much as I loved Bioshock Infinite, being done with it in two days eased the guilt of getting it for free), the comparatively low cost of MMO subscriptions and free-to-play microtransaction-supported games fit more easily in that space.

Let’s start with that last one first: I started playing League of Legends earlier this year during an all-day maintenance for the MMO I’ll get to in a bit. Originally I didn’t intend to put any money down for the game, instead using the in-game currency (Influence Points) to unlock new characters for play. However, as I found myself enjoying the game more and more, I realized that I did want to expand my options somewhat, and as a result I bought the game’s real-money currency (Riot Points). Part of this was also borne of the desire to “pay for” the game: freely-available or not, the level of detail and care shown by the developers, I felt, was compelling enough of a reason to want to give back and “vote with my wallet”. The fact that I really really wanted to play as the gumiho Airi didn’t hurt the reasoning either. When spent on character and skin unlocks, again, there is no going back– stuff is mine forever. But spending on IP gain boosts was also offered, and depending on skill and patience it can be worth it. In the end, for a small amount of money, I was getting hours upon hours of entertainment.

On the flip side, we have MMOs. Shortly after its relaunch, I joined Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, and while I still had the opportunity, I had the foresight to pay my subscription as far in advance as I could (six months at a time; I also got a preferential rate for being a subscriber from the game’s disastrous initial launch). Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time in-game, and I’ve enjoyed it as much as I’d have enjoyed any Final Fantasy title. Yes, it is a lot of grinding– more so than even the traditional titles in the series. But an MMO’s grind is made a lot more tolerable when you have friends in-game to chat and compete with. I was very lucky in that I was able to join a close-knit guild, and while I’ve been busier than normal the last few weeks, I’m excited about the new patch which is launching tonight. But most importantly, my presence is missed when I’m not on for a few days, and being greeted upon logging in by friends is something which will literally never get old. So yeah, while I’ve literally maxed out half of the jobs available in the game (and am halfway through doing so on all the others), you’ll never hear me complain about the grind.

Between the two games I’ve probably spent less than half what I would have otherwise on disc-based and single-player games, and even though I’ve picked up a few extreme discounts along the way, those two are still my current go-tos. I think that I’ve gotten the better end of the stick when it comes to value for the money, although it’s impossible to say that it’ll hold true for everyone else. Still, I think it’s a topic worth exploring on your own if you ever find yourself coming up short for the next AAA disc-based game. I’d say that there’s always a chance you might just get more than you pay for with some of these games.

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To Faraway Times

by on Jun.03, 2014, under Main Stuff

Almost two years have passed since I last posted to this site. As I made clear in the final post, that was intentional; I was entering a downward spiral that was to be one of the darkest times in my life. What only a few of you know is that, if things had continued the way that they had been going, this post would never have materialized. I had expected, in all brutal honesty, to be dead before I’d start writing here again.

Last month, however, that changed. But I’ll get to that in a little bit.

What most people fail to recognize about depression– real, clinical depression– is that it not only saps your mood, but also your ambition. There’s been some amount of research, of both credible and dubious rubric, that links the neurochemistry of mood to that of energy levels. If you’re sad, it can be hard to get moving again, and you sometimes need a push from others to get you on the path back to happiness. In a healthy brain, this imbalance quickly corrects itself.

Depression sufferers do not have healthy brains. That is the number one thing that people not suffering from the affliction do not talk about: that it is a chemical imbalance, like diabetes mellitus or ketoacidosis. When someone is depressed, the brain simply cannot restore the chemical balance needed to end the “sad” mood. It’s actually closer to use the analogy of a phantom limb (the phenomenon noted when amputee victims claim to feel their missing body parts): intellectually, the brain knows it needs to turn on the happy juices, but biologically it can’t.

What’s worse, depression is insidiously degenerative: as time goes by and the brain is continually kept in an imbalanced state, it becomes harder and harder to restore balance and/or teach the brain how to do so. In event-driven depression– such as after a traumatic event– simple talk therapy, over days, weeks, or even years, can be perfectly effective in preventing the disease from taking permanent hold. But if depression is left untreated for too long, the body’s immune response takes a nosedive, and the brain goes into a sort of drunken high-wire act to try to overcompensate. At this stage, the only solution is medication, and it is likely a long-term unto lifetime solution due to the mysteries of neurochemistry.

Fortunately, medication has come a long way from the days of its dawn, when you’d see zombies shuffling through their lives, oblivious to all but the most powerful emotions, good or bad. Unfortunately, that zombie metaphor is exactly what people still think of when they hear the phrase “mental health medicine”. This means people are extremely reluctant to seek out treatment, believing that they’d be surrendering themselves to the pills, when in truth a proper dosage of the right medicines can set them free of their disease, for a while.

I know it sounds like I’m advocating “drugging the problem away”, but the truth of the matter is it took me months to realize that I did need to seek out a solution that might have included medicine. And while the dose I’m on is comparatively little to some of the dosages I’ve seen mentioned on mental health forums, believe me when I say that it has been one of the biggest contributors to the successes I’ve had in the last year. Which, given the last six months, isn’t saying much– but I’m getting to that. Now, actually.

So in May of 2013 I went back into talk therapy to try to get things sorted out. I was suffering from severe burnout as a programmer– in fact, one of the things I need to remember to do is to take down the programming projects I’m still advertising on this site– and was facing a major crisis at work. I’d already resorted to taking “mental health days”; the first of these was actually back in 2011, when I drove myself all the way to the office in the North Hills just to stop at Target and call in sick, too dismotivated to actually go in and trudge through the next eight hours of silence. By 2013 I was documenting what I’d call “crashes”: days where I simply couldn’t focus on work long enough to get through the day without crying in the bathroom. These stretched out in length and frequency as they went on, first only a couple of days at a time in January, until most of May was “crashed”. I sought out help.

By August, I was prescribed an extremely low dosage of sertraline, more commonly known as Zoloft. I hid my anxiety well at the prospect of trying medications, which is to say I had an epic-level freak-out. For two days before I started the regimen, I was alternating between despondent and terrified. I still remember the Saturday morning that I took that half-pill: I had locked myself in my apartment to ensure that if the drug did have any side effects, I wouldn’t come to any undue harm from them.

By Monday I was astonished that I had feared it at all.

Let me make this clear: I still have bad stretches. I still have crashes, though I am now capable of muddling through them and focusing on my tasks in order to end them more quickly. Sertraline is not a miracle drug. It can only do so much, can only keep me from drowning (so to speak): I still have to keep myself afloat. And while I’ve long suspected that I need to have the dosage adjusted, particularly recently, I would never and will never take my experience with the drug as license to adjust that dosage on my own recognizance: I consented to trying the medication only because I was going to be closely monitored by professionals, both medical and psychological. While that all should be obvious, it bears explicit mention due to the massive misconceptions people have about medication.

Anyway. So by September I had managed to get back on my feet mentally and intellectually, and things were going good. But at the same time, I was starting to realize that the high-stress world of being a programmer simply wasn’t doing me any favors, and that my current job was on a declining path. I was being placed in more and more undue pressure than was strictly necessary, and I was being told one thing to my face but expected to do something entirely different once there was an e-mail server between myself and my supervisor. It all came to a head on Thanksgiving, the first chance I’d had to relax in a long time, when my boss sent me an e-mail at 10a– during the Macy’s Parade!– after he had told me the day before “wasn’t going to make anyone work over the holiday”. The issue was minor, and certainly could have waited, but it was clear in the e-mail that delay was unacceptable. I took my boss at his initial word and waited; the following Monday, I was out of work.

In retrospect, it was the best thing that could have happened to me.

Over the last six months I’ve been forced to re-evaluate a lot of my life choices thus far. Some I’ve been validated in, some I’ve needed to re-think. One in particular, however, struck me as being a bit prescient: while I’ve always been a bit pessimistic, I clearly remember telling my mother that she shouldn’t get too excited by the dot-com bubble of the 2000s because by the time I was out of school and ready to participate, it would be over. I can’t tell you how I was able to foresee the rise and fall of digital empires over those turbulent years, but in the end I had turned out to be correct; the tech job market in 2002 was a shadow of what it had been in 2000. I decided to stick it out, to try to make my way in the world, but I always seemed to come up short.

When I lost my job last year, I resolved that I was done with being a programmer in a professional capacity. I tried to make headway in some creative projects, but ultimately a prolonged crash took most of my momentum away from me. It wasn’t until April that I started to realize the gravity of everything that was happening. I was so locked into one particular viewpoint of myself that I had failed to recall the very trait that had got me so many tech jobs in the first place: my adaptability. I had been thinking of myself as “a programmer” for so long that I couldn’t see myself as anything else, when in fact “anything else” was exactly the road I needed to take.

So, as April ended, I made up my mind to try a daring and somewhat risky plan. Framing it as “all-or-nothing” helped me muster the motivation I needed to put the plan into motion, but I am fairly certain that I’ll have two or three more chances if this should somehow fail (note: it won’t). On my birthday, three weeks ago, I submitted my application to the University of Pittsburgh to restart school, this time to learn Japanese.

I got the acceptance letter today.

So, folks, it’s my genuine pleasure to announce not just my return to school, but also my return to blogging. After two years of silence, I finally feel like I have something to say about every day that I live from here on out. I am restarting my daily posting goal as well, meaning that you are going to be reading quite a lot more of me in the future. Seven days a week, without fail. And once I’m proficient enough in the language, those daily posts are going to be bilingual– English and Japanese.

In the meantime, I have a lot of work to do before I start classes in late August: I have to find an apartment closer to campus and move there, I have to resolve some ongoing car trouble, and I also have to balance all this work with some leisure activities to make sure I don’t enter the halls of academia on that promised day a burned-out, exhausted wreck.

But for now? Now I’m going to go take a shower and get myself a nice dinner. I think, after the last two years, I’ve earned it.

Later, folks. But sooner than you think.

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