Ndolger

En-duhl-jer: The one who indulges

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Monthly Archives: September 2015

Final Fantasy Portal: Triple Triad Review

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triple-triad-crystals-final-fantasy-portal

I am not what you would consider…a mobile gamer. I’m about as hardcore as you can get when it comes to playing console video games, but mobile? Not so much. To put it mildly, I would never seriously consider playing anything on a phone. I do enjoy a game of Spider Solitaire or Angry Birds from time-to-time on my phone when I’m stuck getting an oil change or waiting in line, but that’s about it. That doesn’t happen too frequently. I’m not a very patient person and avoid lines like the plague…

However, a little over a month ago now, I stumbled up on this Kotaku article, and my mouth hit the floor. Triple Triad. Triple-holy-balls-I-can’t-believe-this-is-real-Triad. Yes, that’s right, the game introduced 16 years ago in Final Fantasy VIII (oh dear lord, I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence…that makes the length of time that has passed greater than I was old at the time…how utterly depressing…). The game within a game that I was obsessed with so absolutely back in the day. I can vividly recall hunting for the card of Rinoa’s dog, finding that kid who ran around in circles in Balamb Garden to get Mini Mog, refining the Laguna card to make 100 Heroes (so you could beat the ridiculous Omega Weapon), and battling with some elder dude in some town that had a crap ton of rare cards, losing to him, and then spending hours trying to get them back. Ah, memories…

I’m in! Let’s do this!

Downloading the game

So with a great amount of nostalgic excitement, I downloaded that sucker like it’s nobody’s business. I mean, what’s the big deal? It’s free after all? Side note: I ended up watching the wonderfully timed South Park episode, Freemium Isn’t Free, a mere few days later; everything in this episode is so spot on, it’s hilarious.

First thing to note, the game is not a standalone app. It’s an embedded game within something called “Final Fantasy Portal”. Read: It’s an advertisement hub with internal apps that you can purchase; just another tricky revenue stream that Square-Enix is pushing. To get to the game itself, you need to touch the upper left corner, and a drop down of games will appear, it is currently the first on the list.

Setting up and starting the game

I believe you need to actually go through a pretty lengthy update process, so grab some popcorn or come back in a few minutes. Once the game has updated, you’ll be presented its story. I have never seen a game attempt to tie-in a story so pathetically in my life. It is literally, literally one pop-up ripping off the recent Dissidia/Theatrhtyhm (I hate that word) games: a struggle between Cosmos and Chaos. O…Kaay. Once that’s over, you move onto the tutorial phase, and the digital crack begins…

Tutorial and initial gameplay

Triple Triad itself is a very simple game with a few wrinkles. Let me see if I can explain it in a sentence…ahem…two players take turn playing from their hand, comprised of 5 cards each, that have north-south-east-west numerals ranging from 1->9->A to a 3×3 grid, each successive card will attempt to “flip” ones on the field to “their color” by “beating it” if the numeral adjacent to it is greater than the one on the field (with “A” being trump”), the players keep doing this until the 3×3 grid is full of cards; whoever has the most cards on their side, wins. Feels like a run-on sentence, but that’s the gist of it.

There are additional “rules” that can be tweaked to change the core gameplay, such as forcing specific card ordering (Chaos), adding bonus flip potential with simple match (Plus, Same), or altering the whole numbering system; 1 is trump, A is weakest (Reverse). If that sounds confusing, it’s not. It’s a very simple game. You beat an opponent? You get to pick one of their five cards to keep as your own (your opponent does not lose their card; like in FFVIII, however).

The tutorial phase explains all of this in great detail and takes about 5 minutes to go through. You are given 5 initial cards (very important, I’ll explain later), and you play through an unloseable first match (trust me, I’ve tried), and then one more match before you can be free to do what you want. Then the not so fun begins.

Freemium…isn’t free?!

You are informed that to replenish whatever nonsense the story said, it takes 30 minutes to recharge a crystal. You get five crystals, and you need one of them to play a round. Lame. Super lame. But, you are given an additional five crystals to attempt to get you addicted. Want more? Too bad. You need to wait 30 minutes, buuuut if you feel like money is not needed for  food, shelter, clothes, dog food, or other important things, you could just dump your money into Square-Enix’ digital bank. Shame on you Square. I have not once made an in-app purchase, nor do I ever intend to, nor should anyone, ever. This nonsense alone significantly cripples the game. I hope this angle dies a horrible death, but alas, it is what it is.

Gameplay

The fun to be had is a mixture of nostalgia, card collecting (there are almost 400 cards in this game from Final Fantasy I to XIV and various offshoots like Type 0, Dissidia, and Tactics [!!]), deck building (nothing beats spending time building a killer deck!), and just the joy of owning fools online with superior strategy.

Triple Triad has two modes: offline and online / local bluetooth. There is no ranking system per se, but for both modes you are given stats on: Wins, Draws, and Streak, and these are displayed to your opponent on every match.

Current stats as of this writing:

Ndolger: Offline – Wins: 497, Draws: 58, Streak: 6 | Online – Wins: 436, Draws: 142, Streak: 1

XeNJ     : Offline – Wins: 304, Draws: 33, Streak: 0 | Online – Wins:  86, Draws:  47, Streak: 3

OK, first off, my main account is artificially bloated…sorry, I’ll explain why below, but it’s about 150-200 wins padded. I know…I hate myself. XeNJ is real though, I promise!

Oh, hold on…my crystals replenished, be right back…

… … …

Eh, a Draw. Where was I? Oh…let’s talk about game progression next.

Game Progression

So, you can’t just waltz into the online components, or you’ll pretty much get destroyed. Your initial deck sucks. It will be composed of two 1* cards, two 2* cards, and one 3* card. The best cards are 5* cards, and the best of the best cards have corner “A-9” placements. Unfortunately, without these, you stand little to no chance of actually winning on the default game mode online. I’ll go into the online aspects in a bit, but first…

You end up needing to play the Solo mode to get some salvageable cards. The offline component (I use that loosely, as the game requires an online connection..at all times…which absolutely sucks for my junky 3G phone…), is broken down into three difficulties: Easy, Normal, and Hard. You unlock each by beating the protagonists in each of the first 14 numbered Final Fantasies. Why not the antagonists? I have no idea. Don’t ask me. The story slide was only one pop-up, remember? Not much details to go off of.

Depending on how good you are at math and not sucking at games in general, this process takes, at minimum, 42 crystals (14 * 3). You get, I believe, 11 crystals to start off with. 5 crystals replenish every 2:30 hours. So, you can reasonably expect to play 20-25 times a day. After you’ve actually unlocked all the difficulties, you basically have a 1% chance of encountering a “rare card” (Hard mode only). Note: Drop rates were significantly boosted at launch; I’d say it was in more of 3-5% range, but it’s hard to know.

In any event, you’ll probably need at least 1 or 2 rare cards before you venture online. The whole goal of this game is to really play with other people. Offline is sort of fun…? I guess. The CPU is either intentionally retarded, or the game modes just aren’t fun. Online is where it’s at!

Starting online

OK! So it’s probably been a few days, you’ve probably got 50+ cards, let’s do this! What should you expect? Well, first off, you’re probably going to lose. A lot. Why? Anyone who is playing online basically needs to win 4-5 times to have a manageable deck. But once you’ve won a few times, you can then have a reasonable chance of beating other players. Make sense? So…newbies get screwed. To make matters worse, you do not get the option of toggling the game mode…until you win one game! What does this mean? I’ll tell you. It means you have to beat “A-9” 5 card deck juggernauts. This basically needs to involve having a dumb opponent. Or fighting someone who is in your boat, but with only a few good rare cards (cough Lightning). This process sucks. It’s dumb, and it shouldn’t be this broken. If you can get past this phase (at least one win), the game is pretty fun.

You’re then free to enjoy all of the other modes at your disposal (alter settings before finding a match). Matchmaking is very basic and you just sit in a queue until another player is found. You get the name of your opponent, but that’s pretty much it. I see no way to follow-up and find out who they are. Which kind of sucks.

Tips, tricks, and hacks

Do you have gotta catch ’em all obsessive compulsive behavior? Do you have a physical longing to complete ridiculous digital collections, for no apparent reason that would benefit you, save perhaps, the stroking of your own ego? Why…I can help! Because I’m like this! There are 383 cards (as of 9/29/15, based on Japanese version, there will be more) available to find, and there are various ways to obtain each:

  • Restricted cards: Need to “achieve” something. Win X number of times. Win X number of times in a row. Unlock all cards from one of the games, etc.
  • Cards found through gameplay: There are “commons”, “uncommons”, and “rares”; just like any card game. You can take one card for each win you earn.
  • Special cards: Triple Triad is part of Final Fantasy Portal. Final Fantasy Portal wants you to sign up for a Square Enix account. Play every day, click on articles, and get points. Redeem points for 5 special cards. Ugh..
  • Tutorial cards: Remember the tutorial section? And the 5 cards you get? Yeaaahhh…about that… Well, all of those cards are unique. And…there’s about 60-70 of them. Yeah. That’s right. So what does this mean? I suspect this is an attempt to force people to “play with their friends” to find all the cards. But the odds of you having enough friends to obtain all of these cards are impossible. There are only two ways I know of how to do this:
    • Get a second phone/tablet to play against yourself (keep deleting/redownloading the app until you get them all), or find the subreddit for this game and play with people online. I chose the former. Because I’m antisocial, and I’d rather do it myself. I don’t ask for help.
  • Sephiroth: Because Square-Enix wants to be a complete douchebag, they decided to make one very special card almost impossible to obtain without cheating: Sephiroth. It’s not even that great of a card, but…to get it, you need to win…100 matches…in a row. Online. If anyone can achieve this feat, I applaud you. But this is akin to winning the lottery, so good luck. The only way this can be done is fighting against yourself or a friend 100 times in a row, and hoping you don’t get a dropped game. Yes, I did this. Yes, I’m obsessed.

Well, if you’re not obsessed with the collection aspect (I have a problem), here are some general tips on how to win:

  • Stop making boring decks. Guys, seriously, every deck online has 3-4 of the same cards in them. Why? Because they’re overpowered. What does this mean? You know exactly what people are going to use. I’ve found decks that have right heavy “A” power mixed with some trickery can beat most anything…because everyone uses left heavy “A”, and I know, in general, what cards are going to be used, so I can account for the weaknesses. It also helps that I have every card, and there are so very few cards that have specific combinations.
  • Why do people make boring decks? Well, there is one card, specifically, that is completely broken. It is a double “A” west-south. Lightning. Everyone uses it. In every deck. It’s the ONLY card that has two “A”s in it, and can be used as a defensive shield or brutal offensive weapon. I’ve seen one person not use it…ever. That means, every deck you’re going to see is only going to have 4 unique cards. You need to account for this card at all times, it is almost always the card that causes you to lose.
  • I use a spider approach: Bait people into a sequence of events until they screw up and leave one of their cards unprotected. This usually involves a trap with the Lightning card. It works 75% of the time for me. I have 3-4 variations of this same deck. Most people play the “four corners” approach with “A-9” and hope you screw up; usually followed up by a north or south “A” finisher. Seriously, that’s it. Everybody does this. My approach beats these decks 80% of the time.
  • Play “Roulette”. If you really want to have the most fun and vary up your experience, this is really the only mode to do that, and it’s the only mode where you might generally find a game (all the other combinations are ghost-towns). Although this isn’t exactly booming with activity either.

Final tips:

  • Look, I don’t do this, as I don’t see the point, the game is supposed to be fun, but if you’re having trouble, here’s a way to get past the “first phase” of online: background the app when you start a game. This will drop the session, but the game will remain. Your opponent will be replaced by a CPU, and the CPU is stupid. You have a much better chance of winning. A lot of people do this on purpose, just to get more wins/streaks. I don’t get it, but, to each his own.
  • Want a comprehensive list of all cards? Check this page out. It’s still being worked on, and it should take quite awhile to find them all.

Final thoughts

I really want to like this game more than I do. It has several problems though. Online is broken. One card has broken the game. I really wish Square-Enix would patch it or get rid of it completely. The game has a lot more potential, but it’s not a full fledged game…yay for freemium. It makes me upset at the potential here. I still enjoy it, but it’s depressing to consider how much more fun it could be.

Also, I didn’t mention this, but once you obtain “10” of the same card, you can “alchemy it” into a different version of the same numbers. This aspect is really the only reason I’m still playing. Not everybody has unlocked these yet! And that’s fun to me. I like being the first people to do stuff, so…I’ll continue playing.

I’m at 378/383 cards, and 3 of the remaining that I need involve creating up to two hundred new cards. That means I need to play (win) at least 2000 times. It’s going to take awhile…

I’m obsessed with this damn thing, but I’m going to see it through the end. I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes to play, my wife hates it, but…I just can’t stop. South Park says it best:

  • “YOU’VE COLLECTED TEN CANADIAN COINS! CONGRATULATIONS! HEY YOU’RE REALLY GOOD AT THIS, GUY!”
  • “No, see If something’s addictive because it’s FUN, that’s one thing, but this is just blatant Skinner Box manipulation.”

Score

+ Oh, the nostalgia!

+ The core gameplay is actually very fun and simple

+ Card collecting and deck building is enjoyable

– Boring initial phase

– Ridiculous freemium replenishment

– Broken online…damn you Lightning!

– With the launch window over and supreme difficulty of new players being able to break through; the community isn’t very robust. Seems doubtful that the online aspects are going to be healthy for long; at least on Android…I can’t imagine this is much better on iOS though.

7.5 – But yet I continue…recommended for fans

Filed under Reviews, Videogames
Sep 29, 2015

Thoughts on Dave Ramsey and Financial Matters

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One day in 2013, I happened to stumble upon The Dave Ramsey show and listened to it while on my way home from work. … I was not amused. This “no-name” punk Dave Ramsey just took the slot that was being occupied by The Jason Lewis show; one of my absolute favorite talk radio hosts.

Small aside: I seriously loved that show. Really compelling, deep discussion on multiple topics. He made very rational, fact-based arguments that were hard to argue with; no matter your political leaning. Ironically, in 2014 Jason Lewis quit on air and is now just doing intermittent podcasts / blog posts on his terribly depressing Geocities-esque website. Sad…I’m not sure I’ll ever find a show so brilliant again, but I digress…

But after my initial confusion / hatred of what just went down (hardly surprising, this particular station went from classic rock to alternative to country to talk radio; it has no idea what the hell it’s doing) with the switching of shows, after I started listening to The Dave Ramsey show for about 10-20 minutes, I could not believe what I was hearing. I was literally shocked.

Wait a minute!! Wait a minute…you’re telling me there’s someone else in the world that thinks like…me?!? And…they’re the 7th most listened talk show in the U.S. No F’ing way.

What’s this all about?

Dave Ramsey’s core theme of his show, literally, this is essentially it, stop spending money you don’t have. Boom. That’s. It. He takes calls from people doing stupid shit financially, and then tells them how to stop doing stupid shit. It’s unbelievable. Basically all the things I wrote about here, he covers in a daily radio program (except one major deviation with credit use, which I’ll discuss later).

He has written several books (Total Money Makeover is his bread and butter), has an aforementioned top ten syndicated talk show, runs several roadshow / tours a year, and has an extensive network of affiliates. The guy makes a shit ton of money, and again, has become popular by basically telling you how dumb you are with your actions. Some people don’t like his abrasive attitude, or his right-leaning, evangelical slant, but I don’t care about any of that. I care about his core message. His radio show is a financial talk show. I don’t know if there’s anything else like it, I certainly had never heard nor have heard anything comparable since, and I absolutely eat it up. I’ve been listening for about two years now. It does not get old to me.

So what exactly does he talk about?

His “platform” is his 7 Baby Steps (which he admits was completely stolen from What About Bob?; good movie – watch it). Without going into too much detail (you can read it on his website), it’s basically, in order:

  • Make sure you’ve got an emergency fund
  • Pay off all debt
  • Bolster your emergency fund further to brace against severe hardship (3-6 months)
  • Max out retirement contributions
  • College funding for children (I’m not completely sold on this, I’ll discuss later)
  • Pay off home mortgage as fast as you can
  • Build wealth and donate

Pretty simple, right? Well, I thought so. I’ve basically been living all of these for several years now. Again, it was shocking to consider that, *gasp*, somebody else gets it. So, after listening to his show off and on for the past two years, I can basically boil down many of his specifics:

  • Stop buying cars. Stop it. Stop buying new $30k cars. STOP IT! Cars are the worst possible “investment” you can make. They’re money sucking time bombs. Maintenance, taxes, gas, insurance, depreciation. Disgusting. Don’t finance a car, don’t lease a car. Avoid a car if you can. This is absolutely the easiest thing a regular person can do to turn the tables. His advice is frequently, “sell your car”. Now if I can only convince my wife
  • Treat your finances like a business. You need a budget that outlines revenue streams and costs. You know…like any business. It’s a shame that we don’t actually teach this in school. Why? Because the whole damned system is a well-oiled machine to get you to spend, spend, spend.
  • Debtors are slaves. You are never truly free if you are beholden to another. You will. Never. Be. Free. Until. You. Pay. Off. Your. Debts. You must erase your debts, and erase them as fast as possible. It is the ONLY way to accumulate wealth and sustain it long-term. The more that you treat debt as a disease that must be cured, the faster you will wake up from your nightmare.
  • There is no magic cure. It’s math. If you’re in the hole, you must endure significant short-term pain to ease long-term suffering. He does not shy away from this, and actually encourages it. Eat beans and rice for two years, no eating out, no vacations, no gifts, no random purchases, nothing that is not accounted for in monthly budget. Your revenue streams must exceed your costs. It’s that damn simple. It has always been that simple, but people crave short-term pleasures, and will stew in agony for multiple decades because they refuse to turn off the spigot temporarily. This is the absolute core of his message, you must wake up!
  • Pay cash. Everywhere. All the time. I agree with everything elseI do not agree with this.
  • Stop spending. Stop buying the next gadget. STOP IT! You don’t need that huge data plan. You don’t need that cable bill. You don’t need it. If you don’t need it, get rid of it. When you are finally debt-free, and have a savings stash, revisit these decisions.
  • The other side of the coin is…make more money. Never stop learning. Pursue a career in an economical way. Go to community college. Learn a trade. Start a business. It’s not impossible. It takes time and commitment, but it’s not impossible. You just have to try…

Disagreements with his message

What I don’t agree with? Ramsey is completely and totally averse to credit in any form (except a house). He suggests never using a credit card, ever. Never, ever. Cash only. For everything. A debit card in the worst case. …

This is foolish.

Credit cards give so much extra flexibility and security and money-making mechanisms that you are an absolute fool if you do not use them to their full potential. You can escrow short-term debt, for free, and make 1-5% cashback on purchases you’d make anyway, and allow those funds to accrue short-term interest in other ways, and have theft protection, and better insight and tools to track your purchases? Again, you’re a damned fool if you don’t use a credit card the right way! Just treat it as cash and pay off your balance in full. Every month. No exceptions. Once you’ve reached Baby Step 3, this should never be an issue again.

He basically treats everyone like they’re complete morons and assumes that you cannot handle the double-edged sword. Double-edge swords are effective when you don’t hit yourself with them. It’s the same with credit cards. I go into this in more detail in this post, near the end. Utilize powerful tools, don’t avoid them because they’re powerful. Ramsey’s ultra-conservative attitude toward credit in all forms is akin to shunning a chainsaw to cut down a tree and using a handsaw instead because the chainsaw might hurt you.

But, I get it. It’s a lot easier to harp on a simple message, especially when your target audience is broke people. It’s a psychological trick that may help, just know that it’s inefficient.

College fund savings notes

The only other thing I somewhat disagree with is his call to save for children’s college. I don’t really…think this is explicitly necessary. Once you’ve reached Baby Step 3…what’s the point? You should be accruing money. I’d rather just use that to focus on the other areas. College costs are so dynamic, what’s the point of targeting something many years out? Maybe your child[ren] won’t go to college? And you’d better be damned sure my kid isn’t going to get a free ride with no skin in the game. I refuse to completely, 100%, pay for all expenses. There will significant caveats to any assistance, I will treat this like any normal investment:

  • What’s the ROI? Am I going to pour tens of thousands of dollars into you getting a degree in some useless liberal arts degree? No chance in hell. You’d better have a game plan on how you’re going to pay for college and what your career path will be. You don’t have to have a job in mind, per se, but you’d better know what skills you’re going to obtain.
  • Are you going to go to an in-state school? I’ve been paying thousands of dollars in taxes to give you an opportunity to leverage in-state rates. You go out of state? You’re paying for that out of your pocket.
  • The more money available to someone entering college, the more opportunity to blow it on stupid, useless, non-critical stuff. I’m not paying for extras. I will help with tuition, that’s it.

Ramsey agrees with most of those sentiments, so it’s confusing why saving for college is so early on his priority list.

Summary

If you are struggling with debt, I highly recommend listening to Ramsey’s radio program. It’s free, and it’s very informative. His website also outlines his core principles, the 7 Baby Steps. All of them are simple, and they’re all free as well. His paid services are really just motivational in nature, they’re useful if you’re still on the fence about living a debt-free life. I bought one of his audio books, he has some good points that he goes more in-depth on, some interesting facts and case studies, but it all boils down to one thing: stop spending more than what you make. Live below your means.

My background and why this means so much to me

I’m on Baby Step 6 and have been for several years now. Dave Ramsey sparked a fire in me. He got me to think that, “paying off your house early is a good thing”. Previously, I’d been chasing yield. That’s OK, I guess, but…this means more to me. I need to be debt free. I need to slay my demons.

I have come from nothing. I have had enormous emotional support from my mother growing up, but no one has given me a dime. I grew up poor. I barely had a father. I know what it’s like to not know if you’re going to be able to eat that week. I will never experience that again. I am damned sure of it. I am damned sure…

I have made the right decisions. Every. Time. I have worked hard for everything I have accomplished. I focused on my school first. I had fantastic grades. I went to an in-state college and received scholarships/Pell Grant aid. I do not view this as a hand-out. I am incredibly appreciative of the Pell Grant program, but I worked my ass off scholastically. I never had a tutor. I studied myself. I graduated debt-free while working as a part-time intern for the company where I am currently employed. I lived at home while attending college. I paid my mother a modest rent that was economical for both of us. I do not lavishly spend. I am one of the most frugal people imaginable. I have my vices, but keep them in check, and always look to offset them through secondary revenue streams. I am a hard worker, I am constantly learning. I bought a car that gets me to work, that’s it. I live below my means. I live below my means. This is the only guaranteed way to win the financial game of life.

I am within reach of achieving my ultimate dream…to be able to say to the world that, I am completely debt free. The house is the only thing left. Thankfully, I got a good deal on it to begin with; that makes it so much easier. Thinking about the moment when the house is completely paid off makes me tear up. It means that much to me. To have worked so hard, sacrificed so much, for so long, you’d better believe I am going to do one hell of a debt free scream. I’m almost there. To envision a day where I have no payments in the world. It’s incredible.

Filed under Info
Sep 8, 2015

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