Video Game Thoughts: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a 2017 action-adventure game by Nintendo that I played on the Wii U. I have greatly enjoyed all of the Legend of Zelda games over the years. I really like the gameplay formula they have. These games tend to focus on story with exploration and puzzles to keep things interesting. Breath of the Wild kept much of this but went in a radical new direction.

For the first time, the world of Hyrule was completely open. Link, the hero, could explore wherever the player wanted, ignoring the story indefinitely if they wanted. The story mostly played out in short scripted sequences every so often, leaving more room for the player to create their own stories in what they chose to do. There was still a core story, a main quest, but this time it was pretty short, maybe 20 hours at the most. The main quest was fun and enjoyable, but it wasn’t the meat of the game. The meat was getting to visit all these amazing lands, defeating enemies, and helping solve the problems of the people that lived there.

In the story, the main characters were still Link, Zelda, and Ganon, but the details were quite different. Usually, the evil Ganon would rise in the lands of Hyrule and it was up to Link, with the help of Zelda, to defeat him. However, when Breath of the Wild started, Ganon had already won 100 years prior. It was a post-apocalyptic world. Link had awakened from a long slumber with the task to defeat Ganon and heal the damage done to the world. Zelda was a much stronger person this time. She ultimately did depend on Link, but she was capable of quite a bit more on her own.

The story wasn’t my favorite part of Breath of the Wild, not because it was bad but because it was such a small part of the game. The vast majority of my time was spent wandering around defeating enemies, finding treasure, and completing side quests. That is what I remember the most. There was a little bit of story interspersed here and there to bring the main quest back to the foreground, but then it was in the background for another 5 hours. That made it hard for me to remember much of it.

I never really felt like I got to know the characters. Unlike Skyward Sword, Link didn’t have any dialog choices. Zelda’s personality was hard to follow since the story sequences were so sporadic. Ganon, in this game, was reduced to a mindless evil monster. The story never moved me like the stories in some of the previous Zelda games. This is just a side effect of a huge open world game though. The main story can never be the main feature; the game world serves that purpose. The game world was perfect in Breath of the Wild.

Breath of the Wild was by far the largest game Nintendo has ever made. The world was absolutely huge. I played around 72 hours to finish the main quest and only fully explored maybe 4 regions out of around 8 regions total. Even then there were side quests I could come back to in those regions along with minibosses I could fight again for more treasure. It was well worth the money just on playtime alone. Playtime is useless if you’re not having fun, but I had tons of fun with this game. The story wasn’t the best, but gameplay more than made up for it.

I have played other open world games, such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but I enjoyed the minute to minute gameplay in Breath of the Wild much more. Games like Skyrim were more fun to make plans for characters or quests and see them through to their outcome. On the other hand, Breath of the Wild was more fun to just wander around and explore with no plans in mind.

There were good incentives to explore. Some places were just there to appreciate the sights, but most parts of the game were filled with interesting content like treasure chests, new sidequests with useful rewards, or these little Korok creatures that helped Link increase his inventory space. Loading times were very minimal, maybe 30 seconds at the most but typically 10 seconds or less. I was really impressed with the gameplay, in particular the combat. The combat was similar to the previous 3D Zelda games, including Ocarina of Time, but much more polished and fluid in Breath of the Wild. No previous Zelda game gave the player as much control in how to fight monsters.

When facing enemy camps there were at least four options to tackle it. Option 1 was just running in and swinging a sword at everything in sight. Option 2 was using the environment like rolling a boulder or shooting a bomb. Option 3 was stealthily defeating enemies one by one. Option 4 was using Link’s “Magnesis” ability to pick up large metal objects to drop on the enemies. Many times there were other options, but these four options were almost always an option. My strategy was usually sneaking in trying to dispatch a few enemies silently before starting regular combat, but other people always used the environment. Once in combat, there were even more choices to make.

In combat, Link could throw bombs or shoot arrows at enemies or fight in close range. In close range, he could block with a shield and attack when the enemy was temporarily stunned or go the more risky two-hand sword without a shield. Another weapon type was the spear that offered great attacking range at the cost of low damage. There were also special Flurry Attacks that could be performed by dodging or avoiding attacks at the right moment. Some people specialized in dodging. I never got the timing down to do it consistently, but it was really fun when I pulled it off. Weapons could also be thrown for double damage. Some weapons like boomerangs even came back after throwing them. Between weapon type, throwing, blocking, dodging, sneaking, and using the environment, there were many different choices to make during combat. This kept things fresh. I was always learning something new throughout the game.

In addition to combat, this Breath of the Wild was great in the area of collecting interesting items. There were always new weapons, shields, armor, and ingredients to find. Armor was nice because it didn’t break like weapons and shields did. I spent a lot of rupees (in-game money) on the unique armor sets. The game was filled with various ingredients in every area. These could be cooked up to make special dishes. Eating these healed Link and usually also gave him a temporary special effect, such as Cold Resistance for staying warm in the mountains. I had a lot of fun cooking up various ingredients to see what special dish it would make.

One small downside here was that Breath of the Wild didn’t have the option to record the recipe, so I could make more hours later. There was a way to inspect a dish and get the list of ingredients, but once Link had eaten all of that dish, I had to go off of memory if I wanted that same dish again. It would have been much better if the game automatically recorded each recipe. Then hours later when I decided to go back into the mountains, I could look through all the recipes and find one that provided that special effect.

With so many useful items, it could be hard track them down after Link had used them. Well, the game had a really nice tracking system that unlocked just a few hours into the game. Once enabled, Link game could point Link in the direction of almost anything in the game from monsters to specific ingredients to even treasure chests. The only requirement was to take a picture of the object found in the wild. After that, it could be tracked. Many objects were unique — tracking would be useless for them — but it was extremely useful for the vast majority of items. To go along with this, the in-game map gave the player the option to place 100 identifying stamps anywhere they wanted. This empowered the player to create their own custom notes on the map for where minibosses, unopened treasure chests, or rare ingredients were.

The Legend of Zelda games are so good almost everyone has a different favorite game in the series. Breath of the Wild was far better than the earlier games in combat and exploration while being a little weak in story and characters. The other games have had their own positives and negatives, such as Twilight Princess‘s focus on story length at the cost of side quests. Regardless, I have enjoyed them all, including this latest installment. Even though I finished the main quest in Breath of the Wild, I covered less than half of the game. For now I am taking a break from daily playing. At my normal rate of around 3 hours a week, there is enough gameplay for several months. By then, the downloadable content will be out for even more fun. As long as the game continues to be fun, there is no doubt I will enjoy the extra content.

Book Thoughts: Back to Virtue

Back to Virtue was a 1986 Catholic book by Peter Kreeft. It was originally titled For Heaven’s Sake but was republished in 1992 with a new name. Peter Kreeft has a doctor in philosophy, so this book was primarily about making an argument supporting the need for Western civilization to go “back to virtue”. To do this, the book was structured into two parts. The first part (Missing: A Virtuous People) described the overall problem: Western civilization abandoned the idea of virtues, leading to all manner of chaos. Eventually, this would lead to the destruction of humanity by war. To avoid this destruction, people needed to go back to the virtues Christianity had brought forth. The second part of the book (Key: Personal Virtue) detailed the four cardinal virtues (justice, wisdom, courage, moderation), three theological virtues (faith, hope, charity), and the beatitudes that oppose the seven deadly sins. The first part was the most straightforward with the second part being the real meat of the book.

I agreed with pretty much everything Peter Kreeft wrote in Back to Virtue.  It was surprisingly accurate given the date this book was written. Other than a few references to the Cold War, this text could have been written today. While the Cold War is over, I really feel like the Western world is going downhill, and that lack of religion is the reason. It’s possible to be a very good person without religion but very rare. Without having good ideals to live by, most people will be as selfish as they can get away with. Selfish people do not do good.

The role models of the modern world are professional athletes, movie stars, and politicians, but these groups are some of the worst in God’s eyes. They are not good people, so Mr. Kreeft challenged the reader to be that good role model in society. Without Christians leading good, holy lives the author predicted the downfall of modern civilization. I agree Christians need to be holy. I strive my whole life to optimize my life around the faith, so I can serve God and others the best I can. I don’t agree that we can turn civilization back to God though.

My feelings in the salvation of modern civilization is product of the time I have grown up in. I have seen people continually move further away from God. Never has there been a turnaround. I know nothing is impossible for God, but because I have never experienced any large change towards God, I just can’t see it ever happening. Our world is stuck in the gravity of the black hole that is hell. I believe the good actions of Christians can slow this process down but never turn things around. That doesn’t mean we give up though. We do the best we can, as I am, and trust God with the rest.

I focus on the low level, identifying needy people and serving them the best I can. Of course, I am willing to give my thoughts on how to be holy — that’s a big part of this blog — but in general, I don’t believe it will lead a revolution. It would be sad if this world was all there is, but as Catholics, we believe in heaven, eternal life. We have something positive to look forward to. We need to do our best to save our soul and the souls of others, but everything else is up to God.

Back to Virtue had a heavy foundation in philosophy and logic. This made it very dense and slow to read for me. It is a book to be studied, not just read one time and set aside. I always enjoy studying the faith though, so I plan to spend a lot of time rereading each chapter. In reading this book, I realized holiness and ideals can be thought about in more than one way. The Catechism of the Catholic Church focuses more on the Ten Commandments, but a Catholic could also focus on the virtues as their guide for holiness. I will be looking into virtues more. If there is anything fruitful in this study, I will put it online for all.

Book Thoughts: Resisting Happiness

Resisting Happiness was a 2016 book by Matthew Kelly that my parish offered all parishioners after the Christmas services. It’s a nice yearly tradition to get some good reading material for the new year. This is the second Matthew Kelly book I’ve read. The first one was The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic. That book had a lot of good ideas. I ended up writing them all down and implementing the best ones. Resisting Happiness felt very similar. Just like The Four Signs, it was a book about being the best version of yourself. This time it approached the idea from the angle of happiness.

Resisting Happiness had a total of 37 chapters. Each chapter began with a short anecdote from Matthew Kelly’s life. He then extrapolated what he learned from that experience into a Key Point that summarized the essence of the chapter and an Action Step the reader could take to improve themselves. I have already been doing much of what Matthew Kelly suggested, but some of them were interesting questions to answer or things I needed to work on more. I wrote down all the Action Steps, did the short term ones, and made plans for the long term ones.

I already do many of the Action Steps like praying daily and regular Bible reading. I already had plans for some of them like going to confession regularly. Others, like writing a spiritual plan, I already did on my own. However, two new ones I am starting are offering every activity to God for an intention and making a conscious effort to listen to God.

Resisting Happiness taught me that our ordinary life (work, chores, etc.) is pleasing to God just as dedicated prayer is pleasing to him, so our normal activities can be offered to God as a prayer for something in return. My intentions will all be for loved ones both living and dead. I am excited to have another way to give back to others that doesn’t require me to leave the house.

Listening to God is hard for me because I am such a big thinker. I can sit for hours in silence just thinking about random stuff. It’s hard for me to empty my mind and just listen. I am taking what I learned from Fr. Larry Richards’ speech on Prayer to incorporate listening to God into my life. I will be trying my hardest to always ask God what he wants whenever I have a decision to make. Making this a habit will help me feel the presence of God much more.

Overall, I like Matthew Kelly’s message of being the best version of yourself. Before I even read any of these books, I had the idea to improve myself and be a saint. It has been continually reinforced with these books as well as my efforts on this blog. These days I have gotten used to the constant effort of improvement, but it was a major life-changing decision back then. I probably would have resisted had I known what the future had in store for me.

I developed several health problems over a six year period. They were easy to ignore at first, but slowly got worse. I prayed for healing for many years. Then my prayers were answered. For almost four months, I had no symptoms. I felt great. In return for God answering my prayers, I decided to start the path of improvement and become a really good person. Unfortunately, my good health was short-lived. The problems all came back worse than before. Since then I have had ups and downs with my health. Rarely, I have a good day or even a week but never several months.

I am still working on my health, but after working on it so long with no positive results, I don’t have any hope of being healthy again. I continue praying for it, but my hope is only in eternal life not any earthly happiness. So the primary thing holding me back from happiness is my bad health not any lack of action on my part. I did learn some things from this book, but I wasn’t really the target audience. Like most books, it was written for the average person with normal health, the people that have the freedom to do many things. On the other hand, my freedom is limited. I have freedom to do things from home or through the Internet. What I do outside has to be limited due to how much suffering it causes me. I still liked the book despite it not having the answer to my happiness. My happiness depends on God healing me permanently. Based on my past, that will never happen, so I am ever focused on the end of my suffering in heaven. Just because I am home a lot doesn’t mean I can’t improve though.

I still work on it every day. Most of my efforts are on improving my prayer life and sense of God in my life to ward off loneliness and finding ways to serve others from home. I’ve been working on this several years, but I continue to learn new things and start new practices. I continue to become holier and closer to God. All this excites me even more for my eventual peace in heaven. It’s so hard to wait many days. When the going gets tough I refocus on God with prayer and service. I am eager for the time of good health.

Speech Thoughts: Prayer

Prayer was a speech given by Fr. Larry Richards. I saw this priest speak at a men’s conference, and he was very good. He really knew how to grab everyone’s attention. My dad bought a CD containing the audio of this speech. My mom happened to find it while cleaning out all the religious books and let me borrow it. Compared to Fr. Larry’s speech on Confession, this one didn’t have as much new information. The focus was using Jesus example of how to pray (the Our Father prayer) to guide us in the present time.

Fr. Larry explained how Jesus’ use of “Father” as a name for God was unheard of in his time. The priests of the time believed God’s name was so holy it could never be spoken. On the other hand, Jesus made God much more relatable. He is our Father. By comparing God to our biological father, we could understand the kind of relationship we should have with God. We should love him like a parent because we are children compared to him.

The next part of the speech was about “Your will be done”. Fr. Larry explained that we need to listen to God. It’s not just about what we want or even need. It’s what God wants. God knows what our needs are before we even sit down to prayer, so we don’t have to worry about him not meeting our needs. It’s okay to ask for things, but we always need to think about what God wants first. This requires a lot of trust in God.

Fr. Larry did his best to promote mass for the next part. The words, “Give us our daily bread”, are not just about God feeding us. All our physical, mental, and spiritual needs are wrapped up in this sentence. On top of that, “bread” also refers to the Eucharist, so “daily bread” means go to daily mass. I don’t think many people were interested, but I like the idea. Maybe if I can retire someday, though I don’t see that ever happening with how expensive everything is these days.

The last part I remember was about “…as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Fr. Larry gave the Bible reading where Jesus said we would not be forgiven by God if we did not forgive our enemies here on Earth. I’ve done pretty well at this one. Sometimes I do get disappointed or angry with people, but I always forgive them a short while later. For some people, this is the great battle of their life. I am thinking of people that were abused as children or went through a painful divorce. It’s really hard to forgive someone that has caused so much suffering. I am so blessed to have not had to live through such tragic events.

For the last 15 minutes Fr. Larry put his own instructions into practice by leading everyone in prayer. The key thing was to imagine God through the image of Jesus standing in front of us. We could imagine what he looked like from his hair, clothes, skin, eyes, and more. That made it easy to see God is with us at all times and feel close to him. After developing a good image of God through Jesus, the prayer continued with repentance, surrender to God, allowing God to hold us, and praying the Our Father together with Jesus.

It would be too long to go into all the detail, but I got more out of this speech than I expected. I had copied a prayer format from a book by Matthew Kelly. This prayer was a good start, but I soon had a long list of petitions each day. I did do repentance and a tiny bit of listening to God, but the prayer was mostly about my petitions, what I want. I had been meaning to do more listening but wasn’t sure how. This CD came to me at a good time. I was able to combine the two prayer formats to create a new one that has the best of both. I start by surrendering to God, asking forgiveness and listening for his commands. Only then do I go into my petitions. I got rid of the long lists of petitions and now just ask for whatever comes to mind. These are the most important ones.

I am very excited to use this new prayer practice whenever I can. I can’t just drop everything for God, but I will ask God what he wants whenever I have a decision to make. This will mostly be during my free time. Sometimes I will get direction from these prayers and other times I will have to make my own decisions, but I need to involve God. That way at my death I can say: “I did what God wanted. Wherever I have ended up is because of God.” Of course, I can’t listen to temptations and assume they are from God, but if I feel called to do some good action, I can make that decision knowing God wills it to some extent. As long as I involve God in my decisions, he will be happy with my life and have little to worry about. I hope this new prayer practice will allow me to serve others even better. If God has my back, the things I do should be more effective.

Book Thoughts: Ending Abortion: Not Just Fighting It!

Ending Abortion: Not Just Fighting It! is a 2006 book by Fr. Frank A. Pavone, M.E.V. This book was written assuming the reader was pro-life. It’s goal wasn’t to convert the reader to the pro-life cause but to reinvigorate existing pro-life believers. My mother let me borrow the book. I have been a firm pro-life believer for many years but haven’t been active in arguing it. I knew the Church teaching on abortion, but like many things in life, it can be thought about in many different ways. Fr. Pavone is the leader of the Priests for Life organization and has been active in the pro-life movement for many years now. He has a lot of experience in this area, so I really felt like Ending Abortion provided a thorough examination of abortion in America. The book approached the subject from six angles: The Activists, Arguments, Women, Babies, Celebrations, Abortionists, Government and Church.

The Activists provided quick and easy actions the reader can take right now to make a difference. The Arguments listed out the most common arguments pro-life people can make to counter the arguments of abortion supporters. The Women explained how women are also victimized by abortion. The Babies described the value of even the tiniest human life. The Celebrations went through how to promote the pro-life cause through national holidays. The Abortionists went into how to organically shut down abortion clinics by converting the people who support them. The Government gave the obligations Catholics have as civil servants to fight abortion through politics and government. Lastly, The Church showed the Church’s stance on abortion and the actions the clergy can take to end abortion.

Ending Abortion was an easy read but took longer than some books. The book was structured as a series of thoughts on supporting the pro-life movement grouped into eight categories. Each thought was no longer than two pages, so Fr. Pavone got to the point quickly. He wrote in plain terms, making each point very clear. Each thought was a totally new idea to think about, with its own beginning, middle, and end. This made the book excellent for a short daily reading of just one thought per day but not very good for long, continuous reading like I prefer. I read the book cover to cover because I needed to catch up on my Catholic reading, but I plan to go through it more slowly later.

Ending Abortion had a lot of good ideas and arguments. I’m sure all this information is available elsewhere, but I will be compiling it into a short cheat sheet and posting it on this website. I will be giving the book back to my mother soon but want to retain the essence of the book. Posting it on the website will also allow anyone else to enjoy this information too.

One downside to this book was that fact that it was written over ten years ago. Several times Fr. Pavone referenced new developments in the pro-life movement which is now old news ten years later. This is not his fault, just the effects of the passage of time. I do wonder if he has written a newer book on abortion, but almost everything in the book still applies today.

Speech Thoughts: Confession

Confession was a speech given by Fr. Larry Richards on the Sacrament of Confession. My dad bought this CD at a men’s conference we went to a while back. I had totally forgotten about it until my mom happened to find it buried in the religious books. After listening to it herself, she let me borrow it. I already knew Fr. Larry was a good speaker from my time at the conference, so I was not surprised this was a good speech. It was perfect timing to listen to this now, with Lent being the time of confession, forgiveness, and repentance.

Many times I fall into the trap of thinking I know all about some aspect of the faith. Confession is one of the Big Seven (The Sacraments) in the church. Catholics like myself participate in the Sacraments many times a year. We know them well, so it’s easy to think we know all about them and have nothing to gain from a speech about the Sacrament of Confession. Fr. Larry did a great job of showing just how little I know. Even when I did know all about something, he was able to say it in a new and refreshing way. I truly believe much of studying the faith is looking at Catholicism from all different angles. In this way, we can know about how we fit into this faith from all different angles. In listening to a speech like Confession, we come to know ourselves that much more.

Knowing yourself is especially important in the case of Confession. After all, we can’t really change our ways unless we know completely and fully why we sin. It’s easy to read about various sins and understand the logic behind why they are wrong. What’s not easy is finding out why, despite having this knowledge, we continue to sin. The heart of Confession is looking at our deepest desires and longings and seeing why we choose sin as a substitute for God.

One of the main parts of the speech was a detailed explanation of sin and confession. Satan tempts us to sin through doubt, continually asking us to question God’s commandments. (“God didn’t really mean that did he?”) When we sin we are saying No to God. We are saying we know better than God. This is pride, the root of all sin. Sin is a cancer of the spirit. To treat cancer, doctors make sure to cut it all out. If any is left, it will just grow back. In confession, God does surgery on the soul. If we don’t do a good confession, some of that sin is left on the soul, and, just like cancer, it will grow back. With a good confession, the soul is totally clean.

The second big part was about how to give a good confession. Of course, Catholics know this means examining our conscience, so Fr. Larry went through the Ten Commandments talking about all the most common sins related to them. The last 5 minutes or so, Fr. Larry quickly rattled off around 30 easy questions to ask ourselves before entering the confessional. By the end of this part, everyone had a good idea of all their sins, many of which they had not considered before. Even though I wasn’t present for the speech, I could see many sins I haven’t really confessed very much or very well. I am eager for my Lenten confession, so I can say everything.

Because sin is such a big deal for all humanity, it would be very good practice to listen to this speech again every Lenten season. I only borrowed the CD, so I took lots of notes down instead. Then I can come back to my notes the next year. I am planning to write down the 30 easy questions on this blog in case anyone finds it useful. Every Catholic has done an examination of conscience and seen those long lists of questions, but I really like how short and sweet these questions are.

Book Thoughts: Paint by Sticker: Create 12 Masterpieces One Sticker at a Time!

Paint by Sticker: Create 12 Masterpieces One Sticker at a Time! was a 2016 art book by Workman Publishing. The twelve art pieces consisted of a hummingbird, two rowboats, a goldfish, some sort of water or steel mill, a butterfly on a flower, hot air balloons, still life with fruit, wooden house with tree, a red fox, the head part of a horse, still life with sunflowers, and a train with billowing smoke. In recent years there has been a wave of new art books for adults. Most of these have been coloring books, but there are a few unique ones like this sticker art book. Maybe there are other books like this, but it was a new idea to me.

Like its name implies, Paint by Sticker took the idea of paint by number but replaced the paint with stickers. To do this, they subdivided each art piece into hundreds of numbered, tiny cells, either triangles (3 sides) or quadrangles (4 sides). In the back of the book were corresponding stickers to peel and stick in the appropriate cell. Finishing an art piece could be time consuming, but they all looked pretty cool at the end.  The art pages and the sticker pages could be torn out of the book for easier completion of the artwork.

There was a noticeable increase in difficulty as I went through Paint by Sticker. The first art pieces had fewer and larger stickers. By the end, there were more stickers, mostly smaller sizes. It wasn’t always easy to make it look like the sample picture because the stickers were not always the perfect size to fit in the cell. Sometimes they were cut slightly too large or small. In rare cases, the shape was slightly off. On top of this, it was hard to line up the edges of the sticker with the cell. By the end of an art piece, there were usually a few visible seams where stickers didn’t line up perfectly. The end result was that it looked like a mosaic. This didn’t bother me at all though. They looked good enough. The imperfections made it look more human and less like computer output.

One bad thing was how the sticker pages were sometimes not cut very well. I already mentioned some stickers not having the right shape, but on some pages the stickers were not cut all the way through. A few times I ripped a sticker while trying to peel it off. This was mainly a problem in the beginning when I wasn’t used to the technique. By the end, I was an expert and almost never had trouble getting a sticker out. I found it much easier to get them out by bending the paper on the edge of the sticker I wanted. Usually, the sticker would partially detach giving me a part to pull from. In cases where the sticker was not cut all the way through, I peeled the other parts of the sticker and then used my nail to gently cut the sticker were it was supposed to be cut. By the time I finished the last art piece, they were looking very clean. There were still a few seams, but they looked pretty high quality.

I thought it was a nice touch how the pages could be torn out of the book. It made it easier to finish each piece, but even better was how the artwork could then be hung up on a wall. Paint by Sticker was made for adults, but teenagers would probably be able to finish everything pretty well. The only requirement is patience. It can get pretty tedious when there are a bunch of tiny stickers to place. This book would be great for friends to casually chat while placing stickers. It very much fits in the same niche as the adult coloring books.

Overall, I had fun with Paint by Sticker and recommend it to anyone interested in easier art. It can take a while to finish the artwork, but it’s never hard. I received this book as a gift and enjoyed it, so I also recommend it for gifts. However, one possible problem is all the hunching over placing stickers can require. Several times I felt back pain after working on the book, but an elderly person might have more trouble. Keep this in mind if you plan on buying it for someone with back problems. Then again, they could tape the pages to a window, allowing their back to remain upright while they work.

Speech Thoughts: 7 Secrets of Divine Mercy

7 Secrets of Divine Mercy was a CD recording of a talk given in 2015 by Vinny Flynn. The talk was based on a book by the same name, also by Vinny Flynn. The recording was about 45 minutes long. I found Mr. Flynn to be a great speaker. He spoke clearly, had a good personality, and kept the subject moving along. Humorous puns relating to the topic added a lot of humor to the talk. I have never heard a speaker use so many puns. It was his unique style.

I have prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet for many years, so I knew the general idea behind the prayer. I never studied it though, so this talk gave me a lot of interesting concepts to think about. I knew the basic idea behind the secrets, but Mr. Flynn had new details and insights I hadn’t heard before. I am always amazed at how various parts of theology relate to each other. Through the centuries popes, saints, scholars, and others has continually developed new and interesting ways to explain the Catholic faith. After listening to this talk, I see that Divine Mercy is another way.

I really liked Vinny Flynn’s explanation of the Divine Mercy image. I’ve seen it many times before. I always saw it as just a painting of Jesus displaying how his Divine Mercy works. Mr. Flynn said the same thing but then added that the Divine Mercy image was actually a mirror. In this painting, Jesus is showing us what a perfect image of God looks like, so we aren’t really seeing Jesus in the image but God himself. Mr. Flynn then explained how we needed to “improve our image”, the 3rd secret. This pun explained that when you look at yourself in a mirror, you should see an image of God. This was a great way to explain my unending effort to optimize my life around the faith. My optimization is all about striving for perfection in holiness. That is literally improving my image of God.

The 6th secret was about “the eternal now”. I know that heaven is not bound by the time of earth, but Vinny Flynn brought this paradox back into my mind. The basic idea is that when we sin Jesus literally feels it on the cross. How can this be? According to our Earth history he has already been crucified, died, and resurrected, but somehow our sins in the present affect Jesus in the past. Along the same line, our prayers in the present and our offerings of suffering somehow help Jesus in the past. This paradox is a mystery, but it is refreshing to know that my actions today have a big impact on Jesus. It makes my life feel that much more important.

Mr. Flynn also explained how this paradox applies to the souls of loved ones that have passed from this world. This means our prayers in the present for the dead can somehow still help a soul’s purification even if it already happened in the past. I don’t know how it works, but I’ve always heard people say no prayers for the dead are wasted. Now I have a better understanding. Whether their souls are still being purified or are already experiencing the Beatific Vision, our prayers will help.

I really enjoyed 7 Secrets of Divine Mercy overall. It was both educational and entertaining. I have only gone into maybe 10% of the content in the talk, so I recommend you get a copy of this for yourself. I only listened to the talk. The book probably goes into even more detail. It will really help you see the faith in a new light. Sometimes that is enough to put you on the path of major change towards “improving your image”. I will be thinking about these things when I pray this chaplet again.

Book Thoughts: Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo and the Battle that Defined a Generation

Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation was a 2014 documentary book by Blake J. Harris. As the name states, the book was about the intense competition between Sega and Nintendo in the early days of video games. The book was 556 pages split up into five parts. I always like to go behind the scenes to see the story behind the games, so Console Wars was very entertaining.

Since Nintendo is still in business as a video game console maker and Sega is not, I pretty much knew how the story ended, but it was still fun to learn the details. While I was born a few years before this period, I was very young and just barely getting started playing video games. I never had an interest in Sega consoles or games before it mostly disappeared from the game industry. Because Nintendo is still an active company, I got the feeling they weren’t interested in talking much about internal discussions and plans they had at the time. This meant the Blake J. Harris had to rely on a mostly one-sided account from former Sega employees. Therefore, the story was mainly about the rise and fall of Sega of America, the American division of Sega, rather than a complete picture of the Sega-Nintendo battle. The title of the book could have been chosen better to reflect the larger focus on Sega, but it didn’t bother me much.

With the focus on Sega, the story was pretty much necessarily biased against Nintendo. The primary source was Tom Kalinske, the former president of Sega of America. Everything else was weaved around Tom’s time at Sega. There were small tidbits about Nintendo and other industry figures to help with backstory and give context, but this book was about Sega. I would normally be critical of this, but I had very little knowledge about Sega due to my young age at the time, so I really enjoyed reading the story of a company that almost beat Nintendo. It was a good David and Goliath story. I gained an appreciation for all the hard work the employees did behind the scenes. Some of the stuff they pulled off was amazing. Many of their ideas were way ahead of their time, but this was also part of their downfall.

Sega attempted so many ideas trying to find success, they just diluted the market for Sega products. They released new hardware add-ons and consoles too often. People couldn’t buy new consoles that fast, meaning most of the releases didn’t sell well enough to attract a large following, giving players a bad taste and reducing the chance of them buying future Sega products.

The book was also biased against Sega of Japan, the main branch of the company. The story recounted several disagreements between the two divisions of the company, which became so bad that the American division crippled, unable to do what they needed to succeed. In many cases, it seemed like what was good for the Japanese market was bad for the American market, yet the Japanese side of the company always required a unified vision and marketing strategy. This just couldn’t work with two very different cultures. On the other hand, Nintendo of America was run by the son-in-law of the Nintendo of Japan president. Being married into the family, the son-in-law was trusted to make good decisions. Nintendo of America was mostly autonomous, almost always free to do what they thought was best for the American market.

Console Wars also lacked much about what went on at Sega of Japan. I doubt Blake J. Harris was able to talk to anyone that worked there, so all the information he got was from the Americans, who always felt like they were held back by the Japanese board’s decisions. It’s really impossible to tell if this is true without interviews from those executives in Japan. Maybe their demands were reasonable, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were too strict. Japanese companies place a huge emphasis on loyalty and seniority. It’s easy to see how the established branch of the company in Japan would clash with the young upstart in America.

Console Wars is technically a documentary book, but there was actually a lot of fiction in the book. Much like how the authors of ancient biographies filled in the empty spaces of a person’s life with fiction in line their character and personality, Blake J. Harris filled in the details as needed to create a cohesive story. There was even a disclaimer at the beginning that said almost all dialog in the book was fabricated while still keeping in line with what each person probably would have said. There was room for debate though. Several times the dialog was just too perfect and clean in my eyes to be realistic. The author’s bio on the back of the book explained how a documentary film was in production based on the work started with the book. A motion picture was also in the works. I think most likely the author wanted to make a movie based on this story but knew he didn’t have the clout or funding to make it happen, so he decided to write a book as a stepping stone to that goal. With all the dialog in the book, it would be pretty easy to turn into a script. The only problem would be the length.

Console Wars was quite a bit longer than I expected. A typical book would be around 300 pages, so this was almost double the size. Since I like video game history, I didn’t mind all the little extra things, but there were a few times I felt the author was wandering too much. For example, he mentioned how several employees met their spouse and got married. If both people were important video game figures this might have been good, but in many cases the spouse had nothing to do with games. There was no need to put those paragraphs in the book. I’m also not convinced that so many words had to be used. The same meaning can be usually be expressed with fewer words. I didn’t analyze this that closely, but the book could probably have used some more refining. Overall, Console Wars kept me entertained the whole time. Despite its length, I read the whole book in only four days. It was a good read.

Video Game Thoughts: Star Fox Zero + Star Fox Guard

Star Fox Zero was a 2016 shooter game for the Wii U by PlatinumGames and Nintendo. While Nintendo avoided saying it, Star Fox Zero was pretty much a remake of Star Fox 64. Due to its long development time, I think this game was probably going to be a sequel to Star Fox 64, but in the end, they decided to remake the old game for new audiences. I played Star Fox 64 extensively as a kid, so it was nice to see all the improvements they made to the gameplay.

In Star Fox Zero the player, as Fox McCloud, piloted one of several vehicles to destroy enemy robots and ships. Most of the enemies could be destroyed by a few laser blasts, but bosses could usually only be damaged by hitting the marked weak points. It was always fun slowly destroying parts of the boss before it finally blew up in a giant fireball. About half of the levels were space battles while the rest were land battles. Most levels started in Corridor mode to travel through an area before switching to All-Range mode to defeat a boss. In Corridor mode, the level was constantly scrolling, so the player had to shoot enemies and complete objectives under time pressure. The could not turn around or stop. In All-Range mode, the level took the form of an arena, where the player got a chance to explore their surroundings. I enjoyed All-Range mode a little more just because the Corridor sections could sometimes be too fast and stressful to me.

There were a total of 20 missions in the Main Mode of Star Fox Zero, but only 12 were available before beating the game. The other 8 missions were bonus ones. They were fun to unlock, requiring hidden objectives be completed on certain missions. I had a blast with all of the missions, but some of them took me several tries to beat. Luckily, this game allowed me to start right back at the same mission instead of having to start the missions over from the beginning as Star Fox 64 required. Despite my occasional frustrations as I learned the enemy patterns in a mission, I had fun with all the missions.

There was a large learning curve in Star Fox Zero because it made heavy use of the Wii U Gamepad’s motion controls. Some basic aiming could be done looking at the main TV screen, but precision shooting required the player to angle and turn the Gamepad to keep enemies in the crosshairs. While doing this, the player could not see much of the surroundings near their ship, so it took a lot of practice to learn when to look at the TV screen and when to use the Gamepad. For me, it took about 6 hours before I started feeling comfortable with the controls. Once that happened, my enjoyment of the game greatly increased. Where before finishing a level seemed like a matter of luck, now the outcome was based on my playing ability.

Even with the controls mastered, it still took me a lot of tries to beat some of the levels. I think Star Fox Zero was just a challenging game in general. Even with normal button and thumbstick controls, I would have struggled to win consistently. Once I played a mission a few times though, I always figured things out enough to complete it. I didn’t always excel at the level but did well enough to move on to next level.

Star Fox Zero was a pretty short game just to “beat”, but there were many optional tasks to take on if the player chose. In the Main Mode, 8 bonus levels had to be unlocked by completing the first 12 levels in special ways. On top of that all 20 Main Mode levels had 5 rare medals to collect. Many of these required completing hidden objectives. The Training Mode included 8 optional levels to complete. Then there was Arcade Mode.

Arcade Mode was the same as “hardcore mode” in other games. This mode followed the old Star Fox 64 style of the player having to start at the beginning if they lost all their lives on a mission. I could be at the final level, lose all lives, and have to start at the beginning. This made it even harder to beat the game, but it was all optional. Still, an additional challenge was available for the real Star Fox fans. Arcade Mode recorded the total enemies destroyed and the time to beat the game as an incentive to keep trying for higher scores. On top of that, it kept track of a separate enemy kill count and playing time for all possible mission paths in the game. There was a lot of gameplay here if the player was interested. Arcade Mode was so difficult, I have not finished it with all the mission paths but maybe someday.

The additions to Star Fox Zero compared to Star Fox 64 included a few new craft to pilot, several new missions, new takes on original missions, better high score tracking, an expanded Training Mode, and Arcade Mode. The remake, of course, also had better graphics and sound quality. One annoyance was how all the speaking voices came from the Gamepad instead of the TV. Their intent was for the Gamepad to feel like a real cockpit being able to hear the wingmates there, but I still would have enjoyed it more with the voices coming from the TV. There are probably some other minor additions too, but I was pretty satisfied with all the content here. It only took me around 15 hours to beat all the missions the first time, but to do almost everything easily took me to around 40 hours due to how many attempts I needed on each level to succeed.

Early on, the fast-paced gameplay in Star Fox Zero was a shock to me. I just don’t play games like this much anymore. My reflexes are slower, my hands get strained quickly from all the tense button pressing required, and I become frustrated more easily by failure. As I kid I didn’t have trouble with those things, so I enjoyed Star Fox 64 more. I think objectively, Star Fox Zero is the better game, but it was not the typical game I would play these days. Still, I greatly enjoyed my time playing it. I had read about it before playing, so I knew what to expect. It turned out how I expected. I actually did better than I expected at the game, but I will probably still avoid this type of game in the future. It was a lot of fun revisiting a game like this, but I have had my fill tense gameplay for now.

Star Fox Guard

Star Fox Guard was a 2016 tower defense game for the Wii U by PlatinumGames and Nintendo. It was a bonus game included with Star Fox Zero. The gameplay was quite a bit different from the main game. Instead of piloting spaceships and destroying enemy ships, this game took place all on land with the goal being to defend a small base from waves of enemy robots. To do this, the player got access to cameras with turrets called AegisCams. These allowed the player to see the enemy robots and fire at them.

The TV picture was split up into 13 segments. Twelve of the segments showed cameras 1 through 12. The 13th segment was the largest and showed whichever camera had been selected. The player could only fire from the selected camera. On the other hand, the Wii U Gamepad showed a top down view of the the base with the locations of all the cameras. The player could tap a number to switch to that camera, allowing them to shoot from that location.

The gameplay in Star Fox Guard involved watching the camera feeds on the TV for invading robots, then switching to the appropriate camera to destroy the robot with the turret laser attached to the camera. There were two types of robots: Chaos and Attack. Chaos robots only disrupted the player’s cameras, making it hard to see and shoot other robots. Attack robots were capable of destroying the center tower, which instantly failed the mission. Attack robots were almost always the highest priority, but Chaos robots could be higher priority in some moments when they were causing too much disruption.

Star Fox Guard was thus about multitasking between several important activities. For one, the player had to watch the cameras for robots. They also had to keep track of the Gamepad to switch to the right camera. The player then had to aim the camera and shoot any robots in view of the selected camera. This process was repeated as necessary until all the Attack robots were destroyed. The robot didn’t just come one after another though. Late in the game they could attack from multiple sides at once, forcing the player to juggle the defense of multiple fronts.

At the start, the player had just basic turrets, but over time, they got access to more advanced types from freeze turrets to flying turrets. New robots were continually introduced to give the player a need for the unlocked turrets. In these later missions, the player could also move the camera around in the base by tapping and dragging them with the stylus. Another feature of the touch screen was quickly turning cameras around. When a camera had to be turned all the way around, it was faster this way than using the normal thumbstick controls.

As far as content, there were 100 missions in the game: 50 normal and 50 bonus. The missions were split evenly between 5 planets. Each planet had 3 unique bases to defend, with 3-4 normal and bonus missions each for a total of 20 missions per planet. Bonus missions could be unlocked by finishing normal missions and gaining ranks in the level-up system. Destroyed robots in a mission dropped precious metals that went towards the rank system, with 50 ranks to earn. In addition to bonus missions, ranks also granted turret upgrades and the ability to use more than one upgrade per battle.

About halfway through the Main Mode, a fun online mode became available. In this mode, players could take on the role of attacker and customize a squad of robots, including which robots would appear, the direction they would come from, and their path through the base to the center tower. Other players could then test themselves against that player’s squad by trying to successfully defend the base.

Unlike most games, the online mode was asynchronous; players did not have to be online at the same time to attack and defend. Players could, on their own time, create squads of robots with a battle plan. After finishing, custom squads could be saved online. Other players could challenge the squad even while that player was away. Each player got a number corresponding to how well their squads did against other players. The best player squads became featured, where everyone in the world could try to beat them. Each squad was assigned a unique code, which players could share with their friends or post online to link to their particular squad. It was a cool system to me. I wasn’t the best at the game, but I enjoyed trying to beat other players’ squads.

Even in single player, the game could be enjoyed by more than one by having other people watch the TV screen and call out cameras with robots in view. This made the game a lot easier but had the side effect of making Star Fox Guard a great party game. Even if someone couldn’t play, they could still participate. I think this is an unexplored idea. A lot of people don’t like to play video games. Games could be more appealing to those people if there were more that let them help out just by watching and talking about the game.

Star Fox Guard had much more content than I expected. It was a nice surprise. I was thinking it would just be a little tacked on game to the main Star Fox Zero game, but there were a lot of levels. I had great fun with pretty much everything. It required using both TV and Gamepad screen just like Star Fox Zero, but I found it to be a little more relaxing to play. It was a nice game to play when I was taking a break from Star Fox Zero’s stressful gameplay. Even when the single player content was complete, I had fun creating squads and trying to defend against other players’ squads.