Friday, November 24, 2017

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp Review

Anyone who has followed my blogging since I began will know that reviews are not my thing. I find them difficult to write, but a new app has caught my attention and when I first heard about it, I knew I had to play it. Nintendo has finally released their new mobile app, this time based on their popular Animal Crossing series, for iOS and Android. This is a franchise of games that I thoroughly enjoyed over the years.

Animal Crossing is a franchise for Nintendo systems (4 games for four systems) where your character moves into a village and buys a house, does favors for the animal neighbors, like gets them things back from other neighbors, plant flowers, go fishing, catch bugs, buy furniture for your house, and even trade on the "stalk market" to make more Bells (the money in Animal Crossing). Yes, the way I've described it makes it sound very mundane, but there is a charm and fun to this series that people have enjoyed for quite a while. It's more of a daily hangout type of game rather than an action-driven one. There are different special characters who visit periodically (to sell unique in game items, and offer gifts and services), and the holidays (in the original Gamecube version) are marked by visits from other characters (Jingle the reindeer and Franklin the turkey, among others). It's a fun playing experience, and when I heard they were planning an iOS and Android version of this game I couldn't wait to see what they had planned.

And then it came out...

Nintendo released Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp for iOS and Android. It looks and feels, on the surface, like another game in the franchise. It contains many of the familiar characters and objects and sounds. There are some marked differences between the console versions and this new version. This time, the game takes place in a campground where the player takes on the role of campground manager. The player makes friends with the different characters, builds up friendships with them, and invites them to the campsite. The campsite has a big area for characters to sit, sleep, or play with stuff. The player also has a camper that he/she can customize and furnish (more on this later). I had high hopes for this game.

First of all, I was not at all surprised to see that Nintendo would make it "free to play", which basically means that you can download it and install it and play the game just fine. In order to move the game along quicker, though, the player can opt to purchase in-game currency, Leaf Tickets, for real currency. Yes, there are two different currencies in the game. Bells are the money used to buy items in the game itself. They are earned by selling items or by doing favors for the animals in the game. The other currency is Leaf Tickets. These are earned by achieving goals in the game or by leveling up. These are used to speed up the gameplay. Where an item of furniture purchased might take eight hours (real time) to complete, the player could opt to spend a number of Leaf Tickets to forgo the time and get the item immediately. They are also used to get special items that are only around for a limited time, like two different chairs to attract two different very popular characters. These cost 250 Leaf Tickets each, which is hard to get and they're also expensive (600 Leaf Tickets will cost you $20.99). Again though, I understand Nintendo wanting to make money, so I won't fault them for this.

This game, going back to the original Gamecube version, there was a social aspect to the game. While it wasn't online, a player could have as many villages as he/she had memory cards for the system. When a new village was created it had only one kind of fruit tree and a small shop run by the friendly Tom Nook. There was an ingenious system where the player could travel to the town on another memory card. That town would most likely have a different fruit, the player could leave a note or gift for the player on the other memory card, and there was different stuff in the store to purchase. Also, the player could interact with the animals in the other town and then they would send letters and gifts and maybe even move to the player's village. It was a brilliant system that got better and better with each iteration. In the Wii version, the players could interact and even talk to each other if they had the microphone.

This new mobile version of the game contains exactly none of that. The player can visit another player's campsite and give kudos and that's it. No interaction with the player or with the animal characters. There's no shop to visit when visiting another campsite and there's nothing else to do either. Players can't even leave each other messages or give each other gifts. Players do have a market box, but they can only sell fruit, fish, bugs, and shells. Furniture and clothing are not allowed to be sold. By the way, there is no difference at all if players become friends within the game.
As the player makes his/her way through the game, they meet new animal characters and bring them stuff that they want (fruit, fish, bugs, and shells) and the player is rewarded with materials to build furniture or amenities. There is a friendship meter which is a good addition to the game, and once they hit a certain friendship level, they can be invited to the player's campsite. Before they will come, the player has to buy certain furniture because the animal characters are picky, have certain demands, or have a thing about feng shui (this is a common thing in Animal Crossing games). There are also "amenities" like tents and sets that are built, but they appear to only be used to increase the maximum friendship level of the animal characters. It's a common app trope it seems that in order to buy one thing, the player must pay to upgrade another thing to a specific level. It gets tired.

This is the part of the game that really takes me out of it. In the original games, furniture was purchased for the player's taste. There was a contest each week and the player would win Bells or other gifts for the design of his/her house design. Now it's nothing more than a "collect everything" type of game. Collect all the furniture, friends, fruit, fish, bugs, and shells (or so it seems). In the originals, the animal characters would reward the player with items of furniture that he/she could trade or sell. In this game, rewards are building materials for more furniture.

There is a market place with one of the Nook kids and the seamstress who sells clothes (and there is a shoe salesman who replaces her for a day). The Nook shopping area is very much like the original games in that there only specific items available for a period of time (I'm not sure if it's each day, or if they change every six hours or so). The Able Sisters' shop is a cut back version of the original. There are only three items available for the same period of time as Nook's. In the original, the Able Sisters offered shirts, hats, umbrellas, and flags that could be hung outside the player's house.
The player also has a camper that he/she apparently uses to get from place to place. It's very much like the house in the original games except that it's pointless. The house was where the player saved the game, and was rewarded for good design, and also where items were stored (there were eventually three stories to the house including a basement). The camper is sort of that, but there's no real reason for it. The animal characters gather at the campsite and don't even pay attention to the camper. I will suppose that it's simply a way to replicate the center point of the original games.

The campground is split up into different areas for different purposes. In the original games, the entire village was the playground. There was a lake, a river, trees, rocks, and a sea coast. There the player could fish, catch bugs, gather and plant fruit and flowers, cut down trees, and meet all of the characters. In the app, there is a beach area for fishing for sea fish and pick up seashells, there is a river area for river fish (there is no lake), there is an orchard to gather fruit, and an island to catch bugs. There is no planting of fruit or flowers here, and no chopping down trees (the axe is at the campsite and not usable). Fruit trees grow back in three hours after shaking them clean of fruit, or the player can spend Leaf Tickets on fertilizer to make them grow back immediately. In the original game, the trees took a couple days to replenish fruit, but there were way more of them. Then there's the quarry where the shovel comes into play. The player either needs five friends or twenty Leaf Tickets to enter the quarry to break rocks for treasure that are then exchanged for Bells. Also, I think the player earns some building material to buy more furniture.

The Good:
The game scratches that itch of Animal Crossing and makes me want to reconnect my Wii and play one of the console versions of the game. As Scott Johnson mentioned on Twitter, it feels more like a mini game. The touch control of mobile devices feels perfectly natural to the game, and it is cross platform. I have an iPad and an Android phone and I can play on both devices, but Leaf Tickets do not transfer between devices unless they are not removed the player's mailbox.

The Bad:
Nintendo found everything in the original Animal Crossing games that made them fun and charming and stripped them away in order to make a typical world builder (Simpsons Tapped Out, Futurama whatever-it's-called). The actual improvement of the friendship meter is totally negated by the need to buy furnishings to please the animal characters and bribe them to the campsite.. Frankly, if I have to buy new furniture for every friend I make, I don't think I want those friends. When it comes to real-life friends in the game, the inability to have interactions beyond a seemingly hollow gesture of kudos removes the social aspect of the game. If Nintendo is using this app as a vehicle to bring people to the console version of the game, then I think people who have never played an Animal Crossing game before will be scared off by this app.

The Unknown:
The game has only been out for a few days as I write this review. So far, as mentioned above, there has already been one new character introduced (the shoe salesman), so I'm guessing there will be more (possibly Sahara and Redd). There might be room for expansion and updating, but I feel that the core game as described will remain intact. I can't see them adding the post office or allowing players to interact when they're online at the same time.

My advice is, if you like Animal Crossing already, you'll get a bit of enjoyment out of this game. If you've never played any game in this franchise, do not use this app as the basis of your judgement, there is so much more in the console versions. I also advise to play it as is and don't spend your real life currency to buy in-game currency. Let's all hope that there is a new game coming soon for the Nintendo Switch in the near future.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Frustration of Unemployment

I fear I've become jaded and bitter in my unemployment. It is, after all, the third time I've been in this position, so I suppose it might be understood. I've noticed that this time around especially, there are a lot more "recruiters" and cold calls this time around. It's like somebody figured out how to make money off of the unemployed. On top of that, a lot more insurance companies have attempted to make me a salesman...here's a hint...not gonna happen.

The latest company to call me might be legitimate, but I'm too suspicious to find out. I get a call from this recruiting company based not in my state and from what I believe to be an overseas call center. I am not making this judgement based on the ethnicity of the caller, but the fact that an hour later I got a call from another person claiming to be from the same company and offering the same job, but from a different phone number (same area code). Prior to the second call, I decided to look up reviews for this company. This is where my spidey-senses start to tingle.

I belong to Glassdoor, which is a pretty decent job search site. They do company reviews there and I looked up this particular company. They had positive reviews and negative reviews as one might expect, but the positive ones made me do a double-take. All of the reviews were in the same format, The header was a job title in quotes, under pros it was one sentence to the effect of, "they are a good company to work for" and under cons it was something like "no complaints so far." The negative reviews are something else entirely and they go beyond a dissatisfied worker.

Most of the time, a complaint about a placement service would involve misrepresenting the job that was offered, the pay was not what they said it would be, the contract was too short, or something else that could fall under the "live and learn" banner. No big deal. Reading reviews for this company, it appears that people have been harassed late in the evening, called in the early morning hours (there are laws against that). Complaints that they don't call back once they get your information (apparently they sell it), and people who have apparently stated that they filed complaints with the FTC. Now, children, I have been upset with recruiters and placement services in the past, but I have never even thought about bringing in a three-letter government agency into the discussion. That was about the biggest thing, but there were some other small things that set me off as well.

When a person does the job of a recruiter, they are normally paid a commission, so it would make sense that even if they work for a company, they would have a presence on LinkedIn. At the very least they come up in a name/company search on Google. These folks don't. They appear to be nameless, faceless cogs in a bureaucratic machine...or they make up fake names and call people based on job board searches.

I suppose that the moment I grew suspicious was when I realized that this seemed too good to be true. When I said what I was looking to make, the actual amount was higher that that. They just needed my updated resume and the reason I was no longer working at my previous job and they could get me applied to this job. Seemed a little too...I don't know...easy?

Anyway, I think I'm going to stick with companies that I have either worked with in the past and are actually local to me. I will also apply to jobs that I find on my own and not take phone calls offering me everything I want.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Robo-pocalypse

They're not even good-humored
like Bender...
Wait for it...it's coming. The robot uprising that is feared by many and written about in dystopian stories is clearly on the way. It won't be a violent takeover, though. We won't even suspect anything, but before we know it, we will be enslaved. And it all starts with the phone.

A call to the State Department for Unemployment confirms this. They make unsuspecting human callers jump through hoops and navigate an automated phone tree that always ends up in the same place..."Visit our website." But people keep calling back and trying different combinations trying to get in touch with a human being, even trying that oh-so-predictable zero trick. Press "0" and get a human? They're onto us and they will take over soon.

People, heed this warning. Don't try using the phone. It's how they get into your head. You will end up in an infinite loop of a phone tree. Don't do it--

Wait...I was wrong. Continue using the phone. Keep calling. I assure you a human will answer. I was being silly.

--Definitely the author and not a robot.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Misconceptions About Unemployment


Unemployment is not all hockey trophies...
Alright! Unemployment again. Time to live it up and party like I have no responsibility since I’m getting free money on the taxpayers’ dime. I’m just gonna sit around, eat Doritos, and play video games for the next six months. My bum ticket has been punched. This is how some folks look at the unemployed. We’re sitting around, collecting free money, and going on vacations while they toil away in the salt mines for sixty hours a week. Can I help dispel some of these misconceptions?

First and foremost, it’s not “free money”, but a fund paid into by virtue of working for at least 18 months (in the state of Ohio, that is). Also, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve worked 18 months or 18 years, you get the same amount of money based on your income for the past year and a half. That is, 50% of your average for six months. Essentially, three months pay. Also, the bills don’t magically disappear when you lose your job. They become magnified and loom larger than life. Expenses have to be cut in other areas.

I’m not eating DoritosTM, though I might be eating the off-brand equivalent, but those are still a luxury. While I was looking for the sales and specials while I was working, now it becomes a necessity. I have begun shopping at Aldi more often, because they have far lower prices than anywhere else I shop. I’m not eating lobster and filet mignon (more like hot dogs and fish sticks, and not even good fish sticks, the ones made with the eyes and gills). I am, however, playing video games. That’s because I still need to be entertained and maintain my sanity. I already own my video games, or I traded in games in order to get a game I want.

Job hunting is not what it used to be. No longer do you get dressed up in a suit, or khakis and a polo, and hit the pavement and hand out your resumes business-to-business. I know, there are some people reading this who aren’t old enough to remember this method. If you did this today, you would be told to go online and fill out an application. That can also go by the name, “SOLICITATION,” for which there are city ordinances written about it. So my mornings are spent with coffee and the internet looking through job postings and the rest of my day is trying to stay busy (the house can only get so clean). Also, there’s the matter of the unemployment website.

...and reuben sandwiches.
The Unemployment website is a gauntlet of probing questions and frustration. When I was collecting unemployment the last time, I had to keep a record of the jobs I applied for. Now they ask for the names and addresses of two companies that you applied to in the past week. Finding two jobs to apply to that you actually want to do is not as easy as it seems, especially if you’re only in one field of work. Luckily for me, I have two avenues I can apply to, but even then, it gets pretty late in the week before I see something I might be interested in. I am not going to apply for any and every job I see, because I want to do something that I will like to do.

Whether or not I was required to look for a job while collecting UC, I would still be looking for a job. That’s because the money is finite and the bills keep coming.

I am signed up for five different websites for job searching. You might think that I am five times more likely to find a job. Well, not quite. You see, the same jobs appear on every website. Also, there are plenty of other listings. These listings are called “come-on ads” and they’re used to get you into a temp agency office and into their database where they can offer you work for not-quite-the-amount that was stated in the original ad (most likely, considerably less). Also, they will add your name to several other databases as well and you will be offered all sorts of jobs doing what you don’t want to do for far less money than you can survive on.

No, unemployment is not a party and I’m not “living it up” in any way. Personally, I would much rather get out of the house more than I do and do something that will earn me money. If it wasn’t for having a girlfriend, I would have no personal interactions outside of my own family. That’s part of the reason why I didn’t normally take a week off from work at a time. I got bored. I preferred long weekends. So here’s to hoping that I find a job soon, so I can start taking long weekends again.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Well, That Took An Unexpected Turn

"Life!? Don't talk to me about life." --Marvin, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

It's peaceful shade of blue. Cerulean blue.
Three days after my last blog post, we had a staff meeting at work. Needless to say, it's now former work and myself and four others received a spiffy, blue folder with things to sign in order to end our employment. Yes, I am now laid off, currently waiting to file my first unemployment claim for the third time since only July 2001. I'm really hoping this doesn't go too far and I find myself collecting a real paycheck soon. I have plenty of applications out already.

I removed everything to clean.
During this unexpected period of downtime, I had a chance to do my big fall cleaning (I keep the house clean, but I don't always scrub walls and move large piece of furniture). I did the downstairs first, then the office, and finished with what is supposed to be the easiest space, the basement. Well, it turns out that my sump backed up and I have some water coming up from the floor. It ruined a section of carpet, two end tables, and has rendered my basement somewhat unusable for social occasions. Even though the work wasn't under warranty, I am paying back warranty payments and getting the work taken care of at no additional charge.

Wet and dirty carpet.
I'm probably going to participate in NaNoWriMo again this year since I have a few ideas all bubbling up at one time, but I have to figure out which ideas to actually use. Or maybe I could take this mess of vastly contradicting ideas and turn it into one completely nonsensical novel. We'll see. It works for some authors out there.

Pixies
Finally, I went to see Pixies on Tuesday night and it was fantastic. I know, you're wondering how somebody who just lost his job and is preparing to collect unemployment can afford to go see a concert. Well, the ticket was purchased many months in advance and there was no way I was giving it up. The band played for a solid hour and forty-five minutes with no breaks and no banter. I went with regular commenter on this blog, Veronica, because her husband didn't want to go. She was also responsible for getting the tickets.

So, that's life for now. I will keep you updated on my job hunt and my basement ordeal. You know where to find me on the internet, so follow me.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Update on Life, the Universe, and Everything

If you read the latest post on Jason Writes Here, you will have already found out that he will be taking a sabbatical from Smooth Sailing. That doesn't mean that the podcast is going away, but that there will be a focus on non-Yacht Rock until May. We may do an episode here and there dealing with yacht rock songs, but for the most part, it will be me and guests discussing favorite songs of all genres. There will be a special Christmas episode coming up where we will discuss some truly awful yacht rock songs. Stay tuned for that.

Odo and me (I'm the tall one)
Since I started dating Stephanie, I have been going with her to dog training pack walks with her and her two dogs. I've never been what you would call a "dog person" since I was never raised around dogs and have always been nervous around any dogs bigger than my foot. Since I've been going, I have a new found confidence around not only her dogs, but all dogs, which makes me feel good. Also, the pack walks are a good source of exercise and they teach some valuable lessons in pet handling.

The year has been going really quickly. It's almost mid-September, which means hockey season is coming soon (preseason starts in a few days as I write this), baseball season is winding up (and I have postseason baseball to watch), and I have my first ever fantasy football team (no money, just some trash talk with Steph's family). It's also time for some fall couple bullshit, as we call it, like hay rides and apple picking, and all that silly stuff.

One final bit of podcasting news, Oliver Rockside, Steve Cloutier, and I are doing the In Search Of... podcast series over on The Illuminati Social Club feed. Because you might find it interesting, we record two episodes per week which is why we are waiting until all episodes have been released to answer questions and comments. We will wrap-up the episodes of season one in early November and probably take at least a few weeks off before starting season two. I am also doing "regular" ISC episodes in there, including two that I did with Brent (only one has been released so far). We will be doing The Showhole, whether anyone likes it or not. Anyway, that's what's going on in my life.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Wrapping Up Eclipse 2017

I went down to Lebanon, Tennessee knowing exactly what to expect. I've seen the photos and videos on TV for many, many years. I've listened to astronomers describe eclipses in full detail. So there was nothing to be surprised by, right?

Wrong.

I can see why ancient people would have been freaked out by the eclipse. While the way the surroundings are lit appears to change some during the partial stages, it's subtle to the eye and happens gradually, over a period of an hour and a half. It's only in the span of four minutes or so that everything changes drastically. It goes from daylight to twilight in a matter of a minute. Streetlights come on, bugs and birds freak out, and it appears to be sunrise or sunset all around you. To witness it in person is definitely a treat.

I have heard people say, "Science takes the awe and wonder out of things by explaining them."

Flowers are still beautiful even though we know the processes that make them grow. When it comes to eclipses, I'm glad to know that they are not signs from gods in order to register their disappointment. If they were, I might have hid my face and cowered in a corner instead of taking photos, or I wouldn't have even known about it and certainly wouldn't have traveled 500 miles to see it. That's the beauty of science. I know that I don't have to leave town for the next one, since it will be in my backyard (it's up to weather if I actually see it). I know the place, the date, the time, and the duration of totality thanks to physics.
Duration: 2 hours, 29 minutes, 34 seconds
Duration of totality: 3 minutes, 51 seconds
Partial begins: Apr 8, 2024 at 1:59:17 pm
Full begins: Apr 8, 2024 at 3:13:38 pm
Maximum: Apr 8, 2024 at 3:15:35 pm
Full ends: Apr 8, 2024 at 3:17:29 pm
Partial ends: Apr 8, 2024 at 4:28:51 pm
This is the solar eclipse information for Cleveland, OH. All times EDT. The times are NOT subject to change unless there is some catastrophic event that affect the sun, moon, or earth. So write these in stone because they are not changing.

If you have a chance to see a solar eclipse in person, go see it. It is worth it. It was worth a 1000 mile round trip by car, and two vacation days from work.