The Infinite Zenith

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The Aquatope on White Sand: Review and Impressions At The Halfway Point

“No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it. White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.” –Gandalf the White, The Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King

With Gama Gama’s closure fast approaching, Kukuru is desperate to find any means necessary to save the aquarium, even attempting to run a story on social media about the visions that visitors sometimes see, but this is ultimately unsuccessful – Kukuru’s grandfather feels that banking on a phenomenon whose properties are completely unknown won’t be beneficial. Kai watches Kukuru with increasing worry – he’d been there for her since their childhood, and feels worried that he won’t be able to help her out. One evening, Kukuru decides to have Kai help her draw the phenomenon out, and finds himself in the middle of his childhood: it turns out he had provided some comfort to Kukuru after her parents has passed away. However, even with this memory, Gama Gama’s fate is sealed. As a typhoon approaches, Kukuru barricades herself in and adamantly refuses to let anyone help her. Worried about Kukuru, Fūka braves the storm and ends up doing what she can for Kukuru even as the storm knocks out power and blows in windows at Gama Gama. When the emergency generators run out of fuel and the pipes begin bursting, Kukuru wonders why everything she holds dear is being taken from her. Fortunately, Kukuru’s grandfather, Kai, Kūya and Umi-yan are available to help, and they are able to prevent any harm from coming to the animals. Morning approaches, and Kukuru realises that Gama Gama is too old to continue running. On the last day of August, Gama Gama hosts a farewell event for its visitors, who leave behind their favourite memories. One of the visitors includes a manager for Tingaara, a new aquarium: impressed with Kukuru’s experience, he’s interested in bringing her and several of Gama Gama’s staff on board. After celebrating forty-eight years in business, Gama Gama closes down, and Fūka prepares to return home. Before parting ways with Kukuru’s grandparents, the pair learn that Kukuru originally had a twin sister who died prior to birth. At the airport, Fūka comes to realise that Kukuru had given her so much, and she decides to skip her scheduled flight to ensure she and Kukuru part ways with a smile. After boarding her next flight, Fūka declines the offer for the movie, feeling that she’s found another path in life to walk. Here at The Aquatope on White Sand‘s halfway point, Gama Gama has finally shut down, leaving Kukuru and Fūka at the end of one journey. However, as Fūka empathetically states, endings are not necessarily sad things: she hopes that Kukuru will seize whatever lies ahead for her and find her happiness anew.

Kukuru’s last moments with Gama Gama are a bittersweet one, and with this transition, The Aquatope on White Sand speaks to viewers about the importance of being able to find another way when things don’t work out as one had hoped. Reality is harsh; it is therefore imperative that one become accustomed to setbacks and failures – no failure is ever truly final unless one were to give up entirely, and while it can seem like the world has come to a halt when one’s desires end without being realised, there are always alternative opportunities that lie unexplored. When I was an undergraduate student, I had held ambitions of becoming a medical doctor. At the time, I was not confident with my programming skills, and felt that my penchant for spot patterns and understand processes would make me suited in medicine. I thus took the MCAT, altered my remaining course load to satisfy medical school prerequisites and applied – this was met with no success, and I never made it to even the interview stage for any of the schools I had applied to. However, my supervisor saw another route and suggested that I apply for graduate school instead, where I could build out my software development skills and also contribute to the lab I’d already had familiarity with. After working on The Giant Walkthrough Brain and realising that I was indeed capable of learning new systems quickly, solving problems under pressure and managing a small team, the career path of being a software developer no longer seemed so intimidating; indeed, I am now a software developer owing to my accepting and embracing an alternate route. The Aquatope on White Sand is similarly creating opportunities for Fūka and Kukuru alike: Kukuru is initially hesitant about working for Tingaara, but after seeing Fūka pick herself up, determines that she must also find a way to smile again. Fūka decides to pursue a new path and declines an offer to star in a film. While Gama Gama is done, the world hasn’t ended, and that means the opportunity to forge a new way forward still remains – the only question here is whether or not one has the courage and tenacity to take that difficult first step forwards. Both Kukuru and Fūka have dreams they can follow, and with half of The Aquatope on White Sand in the books, it is clear that endings are not always thus; resilience in the face of adversity is precisely what lets people move forward, so it is encouraging to see Fūka and Kukuru make decisions for one another’s sakes that will see them embrace whatever their respective futures hold.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • At the halfway point to The Aquatope on White Sand, I’ll open with Kai biking over to Gama Gama. Kai has known Kukuru since childhood, and had been there the day Kukuru had learned of her parents’ deaths. Since then, Kai has done his best to support Kukuru; although this isn’t always shown on screen, the fact that Kai is willing to help out at Gama Gama in his spare time, and his hesitation whenever Maho mentions that he should date Fūka instead of being around Kukuru, suggests that for Kukuru, Kai is willing to go the extra mile.

  • All of P.A. Works’ workplace/coming-of-age anime feature a reliable, stoic male character. This trend started in Hanasaku Iroha with junior chef Tōru Miyagishi, and then in Tari Tari, Taichi Tanaka fills that role. Kakeru Okikura ends up in this position in Glasslip, and he’s the equivalent of Nagi no Asukara‘s Tsumugu Kihara. It is not lost on me that P.A. Works tends to reuse archetypes in their series; I understand that some viewers hold this against an anime, but I’ve also found that having familiar characters in different context allow works to show how environments can impact people.

  • With the end of summer rapidly approaching, Kukuru becomes increasingly desperate to keep Gama Gama open, asking Tsukimi’s mother to give a horoscope reading of Gama Gama’s future. Tsukimi’s mother gives a reading that Kukuru should be patient and not force things. In general, horoscopes are too vague to be effective (they’re ambiguous enough so that they can be interpreted a certain way, meaning that to some people, they look like they’re always right), so I never set much store by them, although purely for fun, I sometimes partake just to see how well reality aligns with fantasy: I admit that I am not adverse to reading horoscopes about what awaits me as far as relationships go.

  • The closing deadline means that Kukuru begins distancing herself from even Fūka. I have heard unnecessary hostility being directed at Kukuru as a result of her choices, but I couldn’t disagree more strongly: people tend to judge anime characters from their own perspective (“if it were me, I would’ve done this differently”) rather than empathise with them, and this creates a highly patronising tone that does little beyond demonstrate how little viewers actually care about the characters. For me, I understand Kukuru’s situation, having been in situations where it did feel like all I had was myself. How I extricated myself from those scenarios were learnings, and I therefore have no trouble with Kukuru stumbling as she learns.

  • The reason why fictional characters make mistakes at all is precisely because it provides a lesson that impacts how they approach things in the future. Thus, when Kukuru goes against suggestion and posts about the visions to social media in the hope of drawing in additional visitors, her coworkers immediately feel that this is a mistake; the phenomenon isn’t easily reproduced, and visitors are likely to leave disappointed because it’s not guaranteed they’d be able to see it. Kukuru’s last-ditch efforts to understand this phenomenon was predestined to failure: as The World in Colours indicated, forcing magic won’t work, because the power behind magic is intention.

  • Quite simply, Kukuru isn’t sincere in her motives behind using the magic, so the magic won’t willingly manifest itself for her. This sort of thing applied to The World in Colours, where Hitomi’s magic becomes increasingly effective because she begins to put intent behind her spells following her experiences with Kohaku, and Harry Potter‘s spells work on a similar principle (visualising the desired outcome and having an intent to have a specific effect makes a spell more powerful). In the end, Kukuru’s grandfather gets in touch with customers and informs them that they’d been a little hasty about the social media postings: no such event is set to take place.

  • Although Kukuru is asked to stand down, she still clings to the belief that the visions at Gama Gama might be instrumental in keeping their doors open. She therefore asks Kai to help her out, and while initially, nothing happens, Kai soon finds himself returned to the time where he’d comforted Kukuru after her parents had passed away. The visions appear to only appear for individuals under duress, and as I’d previously noted, shows what the individual most deeply desires. Fūka had wanted to find her own way, the veterinarian wished for safe delivery of her child, the elderly man wanted to speak with his brother once more, a boy longed to reunite with his dog, and Kukuru’s deepest desire is to be with her family again.

  • For Kai, then, it looks like what he wanted most was for Kukuru to be happy, and this memory shows how he’d been there for her that one day; this is likely how the two became friends, and how Kukuru ended up taking such a profound interest in marine biology. It is clear that Kukuru’s love for the aquarium, and for aquatic life, stems from the fact that she feels that this connects her to her family. Kukuru isn’t fighting to keep Gama Gama open for financial reasons or for her pride, but because the place has personal significance for her.

  • Being aware of this highly personal, emotional piece is essential to understanding why Kukuru makes the decisions that she does; courses on economics and psychology won’t be of use here. Her actions may appear irrational, but to Kukuru (in this moment), she believes that what she’s doing will have a positive outcome for Gama Gama even through they’re ultimately futile. For this reason, it is important yo watching Kukuru struggle in her goals because knowing the level of effort she’s put into things will only make Gama Gama’s fate all the more sobering.

  • I’d not given voice to this previously: while watching The Aquatope on White Sand, I originally did not feel that the series possessed the same sense of melancholy and longing that The World in Colours had. However, seeing what’s on the horizon for Gama Gama despite everyone’s efforts has a melancholy to it. As a typhoon rolls in one morning, Kukuru’s barricaded herself in Gama Gama, intent on keeping the place open on her own merits. However, just because Kukuru’s actions might appear irrational does not diminish them, and one cannot help but feel bad for her in this moment.

  • Kukuru’s internal feelings are mirrored in the weather – at least one individual had previously wondered if Okinawa was subject to convenient typhoons such as this, and after some quick reading, it turns out that The Aquatope on White Sand is well within reason to include a typhoon in the story. On average, three to four typhoons hit Okinawa in a given year, mostly between August and September. A tropical system is referred to as a typhoon when its wind speeds exceed 118 km/h (same as a Category 1 hurricane), and the average storm moves at around 16-24 km/h, although fast-movers can hit speeds of 60 km/h. With these numbers in mind, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Nanjō was grazed by a typhoon’s arms.

  • Speaking to Fūka’s concern for Kukuru, she decides to grab some lunch and take it over to Gama Gama for her. However, Kukuru initially refuses to open up, and her facial expression speaks volumes about how annoyed she is, but eventually, she relents, and comes to face with a rather scary-looking Fūka, whose hair is strewn about by the hurricane-force winds. Perhaps as a consequence of my dislike of certain horror movies, I found the scene to be a bit intimidating to watch: I’ve never been fond of onryō, and where given the choice, I wouldn’t watch J-horror movies.

  • Kukuru’s efforts to act tough backfire when her stomach betrays her hunger, and Fūka is all too happy to pass along the food she’d brought. While Kukuru refuses Fūka’s help, Fūka is determined to stay, having promised to help Kukuru see things through to the end. The two thus busy themselves preparing the deserted Gama Gama aquarium for the storm, sticking tape on the windows, securing all of the wildlife and moving the barricades to more vulnerable areas with the hopes of mitigating damage.

  • Watching these preparations brings to mind the sort of thing I read about in books, and watched in National Geographic‘s “Cyclone!”, an hour-long special on hurricanes and tornados. As a child, I was fascinated with extreme weather, and the science behind predicting it, as well as how to lessen its impact on civilisation. The conclusion these specials drew were that storms are a natural part of the world, and that as humans, our survival was contingent on preparing for the worst and being aware of what nature is capable of. In recent times, shifts in global weather patterns have made extreme weather more widespread and frequent: the very thing the books I read some twenty years ago are coming to pass.

  • I’m not too sure if things will only worsen from here on out, but if the wildfires and tropical storms are anything to go by, we’re in for a rough ride. For now, I’ll focus on lessen my personal impact on the world by conserving, recycling and reusing stuff wherever possible, although for the long term, it’ll need to be a collective effort if we’re to turn the tides. This is something that Kukuru has difficulty grasping – she attempts to send Fūka off once the work is done, but Fūka is resolved to remain by Kukuru’s side until the end, even after the power is knocked out.

  • While the storm rages on, Gama Gama Aquarium becomes a visual metaphor for the last of Kukuru’s illusions falling apart around her – while she’d done her utmost until now, the overwhelming power of the storm, standing in for the harshness of reality, gradually seeps its way in, shattering windows and bursting pipes in the building. It is here, at the climax of the storm, that Kukuru understands the gravity of her situation – the emergency generators mirror the last legs Gama Gama is on, and once these deplete their stores of diesel, the power goes back out again. It is here that Kukuru loses all hope and asks why the heavens would take everything from her.

  • In the end, Kukuru alone couldn’t save Gama Gama – even with Fūka’s help, this was a difficult task. However, as the storm winds down, Kukuru’s grandfather, Kai, Kūya and Umi-yan show up to help. Thanks to the work Kukuru and Fūka have completed, the others are able to quickly stablise everything else at Gama Gama. The power is restored shortly after, and seeing everyone in the light serves to remind both Kukuru and the viewer that no, Kukuru hasn’t lost everything even with Gama Gama’s closure; there are many people in her corner, and while she’d been laser-focused on her dreams, she’s forgotten about the blessings that she does have in her life.

  • Walking through Gama Gama, Kukuru is made aware of just how old the aquarium’s infrastructure really is – I’ve got an engineer in the family, and in our conversations, while yes, it’s usually the case that companies will attempt to rehabilitate a structure, there are situations where rehabilitation is more expensive than demolition and reconstruction. Gama Gama appears to have fallen into the second category, and despite Kukuru’s original plan to raise three million Yen for parts, it is likely the case that the building itself is crumbling and requires repairs exceeding the cost it would take to build a new aquarium in its place.

  • Earlier, Fūka had received an offer to star in a film, and one of her former coworkers had informed her of this. This offer led Fūka to realise that after her original failures in Tokyo, she’d latched onto Kukuru’s dream because she wanted to be useful to someone. While Fūka had told herself that this was for Kukuru, it was really for her. Amidst the cold, blue light of the morning after the storm, there is a sense of melancholy in the air: washed out and faded colours in anime have always been indicative of a subdued feeling.

  • Kukuru bawling her eyes out was the surest sign that she’s accepted the fact that Gama Gama is simply not salvageable. Nowhere else does The Aquatope on White Sand compel viewers to empathise with Kukuru more so than this moment; I’ve been around the block long enough to see defeat as total and crushing as this, having seen two start-ups fail during my time. However, failure is not the end, and people like Kukuru are also resilient. As such, one of the important things that The Aquatope on White Sand will need to address is how Kukuru is able to take that next, difficult step forwards; while it is easy to regain one’s confidence once there’s momentum, the greatest challenge always lies in picking oneself back up after a tumble.

  • In this case, The Aquatope on White Sand reminds viewers that Kukuru does have a way forward: on the day of Gama Gama’s closing event, a manager from Tingaara gives Kukuru a surprise offer to work at the new aquarium once it’s opened, citing her previous record and experience as making her suited for the position. While Kukuru is still holding onto her memories of Gama Gama and wishes that every day could be this lively, from a more practical perspective, pursuing new opportunity with Tingaara means that Kukuru could continue to pursue her dreams of bringing the joys of marine life to visitors the same way Gama Gama had done for her.

  • All this would take is a small change in perspective. Here at the closing party, final farewells are said, and Karin announces to the others that she’s taken an interest in working at an aquarium as well, having been inspired by Kukuru’s commendable drive and devotion. With endings, come new beginnings, and during this party, even Kūya expresses emotion at the fact that Gama Gama is closing and can be seen tearing up. However, both Kūya and Umi-yan possess considerable experience, and were promptly offered positions with the new aquarium, as well. It was reassuring to see everyone land on their feet: P.A. Works has always made it clear that while one part of the journey might be over, hard work and effort do not go unrewarded.

  • Those who demonstrate commitment and loyalty will always find that this is met with repayment in equal measure somewhere down the line. This message is a rewarding one, and I’ve long believed that society should be driven by those with merit (where I define merit as a combination of dedication, perseverance, empathy and adaptivity). As Kukuru’s grandfather puts it in his final speech to the staff, kindness is something that no one can do without, and caring for life tends to bolster one’s empathy. In the end, he reads a poem from a fictional author that speaks volumes about the vastness of the ocean ultimately gives one peace.

  • After the party, Kukuru and Fūka share a moment together to discuss their dreams and how much things had changed since Fūka met Kukuru. Under the gentle moonlight (a waning crescent, true to the lunar phase recorded on August 31 in reality), the pair share their feelings. Fūka notices that Kukuru hasn’t properly smiled since the typhoon and worries that Kukuru won’t be happy after she leaves, while Kukuru implores Fūka to pursue her goals, feeling that seeing Fūka work hard will inspire her to do the same. I get where Kukuru is coming from; being around high-energy, driven people also helps me to do the same whenever I hit a slump, although I will note that for my part, my drive comes from within.

  • There is a tangible melancholy at Gama Gama the next morning: Fūka is busy packing her bags and preparing to Iwate, while Gama Gama’s staff prepare the marine life for transit to different institutions across Okinawa. Seeing the empty aquarium makes it quite visceral that this chapter has concluded, but before Kukuru leaves, the forces at play give her one more vision, a chance to feel reassurance from her sister. It turns out that Kukuru did indeed have a twin sister two died before birth, and right before Fūka leaves, Kukuru’s grandmother feels that the time has come to let her know of this truth.

  • One imagines that, while Kukuru takes this in stride and feels that her sister’s energy might’ve been what kept her going during some of the tougher times at Gama Gama, a part of Kukuru would also be seized with an immediate and powerful sense of longing. Kukuru had long wished for a sister to be with, someone who could be there for her. The reason why she and Fūka get along so well is because Fūka is able to act as an older sister figure for her, although Fūka feels that she’d clung to Kukuru, feeling that if she was able to help Kukuru reach her dreams, she might find her own happiness, as well.

  • Airports are always places of great joy and great sorrow: watching aircraft arrive and the feeling that family and friends are returning typically is a happy matter, similarly to how it can feel lonely to watch the people important to oneself depart for another destination. Fūka’s departure in The Aquatope on White Sand fits squarely into the latter and therefore creates a feeling of melancholy. As is typical of anime, The Aquatope on White Sand leaves a great deal to the last, last second: Fūka only realises that Kukuru would probably be in tears by the time she’d finished boarding and rushes off to make sure she’s alright, even though this means she’d miss her current flight.

  • This is something that one would not do in reality. I know first hand that rearranging bookings is a pain, as I discovered when I was in Amsterdam, and the Brussels bombings caused all of my flights to be delayed, leading me to miss a connecting flight out of Charles de Gaulle to Rennes. Fortunately, the realm of fiction offers tolerances for these things, and the emotional impact of watching Fūka embrace Kukuru, as sisters might, was visceral. It is clear that Fūka knows where her heart lies now, and she’s willing to give up one dream to pursue another. After their emotions settle, Fūka explains that being with Kukuru had helped her to spot this.

  • In the end, Kukuru decides that she will take up the offer to work at Tingaara and see what lies ahead for her future, promising that the next time she and Fūka meet, it will be with a smile on her face. Kukuru’s remarks about living isn’t something to take for granted struck a resonant chord here: death is something that awaits everyone, but not everyone can live on their own terms, so it’s up to oneself to really take initiative and do something meaningful for themselves and others. I have remarked previously that, from my perspective, living well and doing things that have value for others is the best way to live and find meaning. My beliefs are completely at odds with those who believe that living life to the fullest means having fun, but these are merely my core values, and I hold that living fully can have many meanings.

  • Thus, as Fūka and Kukuru part ways for the present, confident that they will meet again, I’ll wrap up this halfway point discussion on The Aquatope on White Sand by saying that with fifty percent of this series done, I have been very happy with what has been presented thus far. The series’ meanings and messages are clear, and it is evident that one doesn’t need any a priori understanding of Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus to fully appreciate the themes. I realise that even in a post of this length, I’m only scratching the surface for what’s happening in The Aquatope on White Sand. This is a series that works well with the episodic review format, but this would demand a time commitment from me that I simply lack. Having said this, the Halo: Infinite open beta is live, and having preloaded earlier today, it’s time to wrap this post up and see whether or not my aging rig can run this game with playable framerates. I’ll return tomorrow to write about Hanasaku Iroha a full decade after the finale aired, and there, I’ll also provide readers an explanation on why my blogging has been a bit spotty since my last post about AI bots in video games.

Speculation about what is to come in The Aquatope on White Sand has been raging nonstop ever since it became apparent that Kukuru was locked in an impossible struggle against the clock, and the general consensus is that The Aquatope on White Sand will take a similar approach to what Nagi no Asukara did some eight years earlier – the series continued five years after the first Ofunehiki, and dealt with the challenges that the characters face after being separated from one another in a chronological sense while at the same time, striving to pursue their original goals. The Aquatope on White Sand is structured in a very similar way, and the second half will likely explore how the characters pursue old goals while working within new environments under different rules. One element that The Aquatope on White Sand still needs to deal with is the presence of the supernatural visions at Gama Gama, and what role the kijimuna will play in things. These aspects had become more common as The Aquatope on White Sand progressed, but the general rule is that, if something is introduced, then it necessarily needs to play a role of significance in the future. Having the additional twelve episodes here in The Aquatope on White Sand means that there is sufficient space to deal with this in a satisfactory fashion: spending half an episode on elements surrounding local folklore and exploring how entities like the kijimuna impact people within the context of Kukuru and her desires would elegantly tie the two elements together. This could go either way for The Aquatope on White Sand. On one hand, Glasslip is an example of how P.A. Works had completely failed to properly incorporate magic into the story, but on the flipside, P.A. Works have proven themselves to be very competent with supernatural elements in The World in Colours. Given how The Aquatope on White Sand has progressed up until now, I would suggest that optimism is warranted, and that the supernatural piece will probably be woven into the story with the same sort of finesse that Nagi no Asukara had demonstrated. Assuming this to be the case, we have what looks to be a captivating journey ahead in The Aquatope on White Sand‘s second half, and I am rather excited to see how this one embodies the learnings of its predecessors to create a current and moving tale of rediscovering one’s path anew.

The Relevance of AI Bots in Contemporary Games, and A Case Study in Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War

“What will limit us is not the possible evolution of technology, but the evolution of human purposes.” –Stephen Wolfram

While Agent Under Fire today might be counted as unremarkable, it was revolutionary for its time: tucked away in the multiplayer menu was an option to play against AI bots. If one’s friends were unavailable, or one wanted to learn the multiplayer maps that way, one could add a few bots into a match, set their difficulty and aggression, then enjoy a match against the AI, whether it be to explore the map or warm up prior to a split-screen session. In this area, Agent Under Fire completely raised the expectation for what games could accommodate, offering single players additional choice even if they did not have additional friends over at the time. Against the bots on iconic maps like Town or Castle, one could spend an hour just learning the map and its tactics, facing AI of difficulties one found appropriate. This feature would later make its way to Nightfire, which further allowed the bots’ AI to be customised. Bots could be team players, focused on grabbing power weapons or simply care for kills. When friends weren’t available to visit, I used to still play Nightfire‘s multiplayer with bots for amusement, marvelling at the fact that I could still learn the maps and weapons without needing a second player. When properly implemented, AI bots provide players with more choice and more options: some folks might want to explore maps and blast enemies at their own pace, without angry teammates screaming at them about what to do. Others simply don’t enjoy the frustration of excessively serious players ruining sandbox moments. However, it is rare for modern multiplayer games to feature bots; the idea behind multiplayer is that one is fighting human opponents, the ultimate foe in terms of strategy and skill. As such, most games don’t bother with implementing offline bots: writing pathing algorithms and decision trees to give the AI the proper level of sophistication is a demanding process, and studios would, understandably, prefer to focus on their core mechanics so that they can provide the best possible experience for players interesting in squaring off against other players.

The emphasis on always-online games is not without inherent risks for players. For one, if one’s connection goes down, or worse still, if the servers go offline, then an entire segment of the game is rendered unplayable. This is a longstanding problem that always-online games face: they are absolutely dependent on a stable connection and uptime. While servers and internet connections now are generally reliable, if a company decides the time has come and pulls the plug on their servers, that’s pretty much it. This sort of thing happened with Halo 2 during the Xbox Live days, and again with Halo 2 Vista‘s servers; I spent countless hours in the latter honing my skills and generally having a good time, but when Halo 2 Vista‘s servers were shut down, I was more or less left with half a game. Had Halo 2 included a bots mode, I would’ve doubtlessly spent many more hours after that on Lockout, enjoying an iconic experience. The addition of AI bots also opens the floor for creativity. After my time in Halo 2 ended, I ended up finding a replacement in Battlefield 3: this was a fantastic large-scale sandbox experience, but it was fully dependent on populated servers. On filled servers, it was non-stop, engaging chaos as players fought for objectives, and whacky emergent behaviours created some of Battlefield 3‘s most iconic moments. However, quieter servers were less exciting, and some days, I was met with empty servers where the match was awaiting enough players to join. Having AI bots to fill servers would doubtlessly had made matches easier to find, lessening the time I was waiting for things. Indeed, Battlefield 2042 appears to have learnt from this and will utilise bots to fill the void. For players looking to get the most of things, finding a server will be no problem, and as more humans join a server, the bots are simply replaced. The setup in Battlefield 2042 therefore helps players looking to enter the action as soon as possible, but the presence of bots also has a significant implication: it might be possible to spin up a local server with nothing but AI bots, and then spawn in with one’s mates and have a good time trying to kill helicopters with a bike or running around with terrible loadouts.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I’ve not spent a minute in the online multiplayer of Cold War, but upon learning that there was an offline mode for bots, I was convinced to give things a go: overall, Cold War‘s multiplayer does feel a little less finessed compared to something like Battlefield V or Halo, and as such, playing against other players could be quite frustrating. On the other hand, against AI bots, the experience becomes much more relaxing and casual, making it well-suited for someone who has around an hour to game.

  • What I enjoyed most about Cold War‘s multiplayer was the fact that the weapons could be extensively customised, allowing a given primary weapon to feel like a completely different weapon with the use of a few customisations. This creates variety, and players can use the AI bots to play with things before hopping into a real match. Here, I’m running the MP5, which was known as the KS-7 in Agent Under Fire. Unlike the KS-7, which was a peashooter, the MP5 in Cold War is a solid submachine gun and can be reliably used at close quarters to down enemies.

  • Agent Under Fire players will know the AUG as the UGW. However, whereas Agent Under Fire treated the AUG as an automatic weapon with good accuracy and damage, but a lower firing rate, in Cold War, the AUG is a burst-fire tactical rifle that can take an enemy out in as few as two bursts. In keeping with the aesthetic seen in Agent Under Fire, I’ve opted to keep the default sights on a given weapon, modifying the barrel and underbarrel for slightly improved performance.

  • The Moscow map is one of my favourites in Cold War, showing off things like water reflections and lighting. If memory serves, I tried out the bots mode back in May after installing the multiplayer component; originally, I’d bought Cold War thinking that I’d go through the campaign, but after hearing about the AI bots, I became curious to try out a mode that could extend the longevity of this game. Having played a few rounds against the AI bots, I conclude that this is indeed a nice way to spend half an hour on weeknights if I’m ever in the mood to blow stuff up in a more relaxed environment, away from the aggressively competitive players out there.

  • I’ve switched on over to Yamantau and have decided to run with the basic AK-47 here. Cold War‘s AK-47 feels particularly powerful, being a reliable and hard-hitting weapon. In most games nowadays, the AK-47 is portrayed as a slower-firing assault rifle that is less accurate than the M-16 and its counterparts, but otherwise does more damage per shot. This is reflecting on the fact that the Ak-47 fires a 7.62 mm round, as well as the fact that the weapon was manufactured with lower precision compared to their NATO equivalents.

  • This, together with the fact that the AK-47 is made of very few moving parts and has a robust construction, contributes to the weapon’s legendary durability and reliability. In video games, this translates to NATO weapons being portrayed as more accurate and having a higher rate of fire, while Eastern Bloc weapons deal more damage but will fire more slowly and be less accurate at range. In older games like Agent Under Fire, the AK-47 (KA-57) is depicted as an entry level assault rifle that does intermediate damage.

  • Agent Under Fire had been built around its campaign, and so, as the players got further into the campaign, the weapons became more powerful. This was appropriate for the single player mode, but it meant that some weapons were evidently better than others in the multiplayer. Nightfire ended up addressing this by making weapons more specialised (for instance, players have access to a suppressed burst-fire SG-551 in the first mission, but later, the unsuppressed, full-automatic version appears). Today, weapons have a wider range of attributes, and weapons diversity means that developers must balance everything against one another.

  • Agent Under Fire‘s Windsor FSU-4 is the M16A2 armed with the M203 under-barrel grenade launcher and sports a 40-round magazine. It’s an upgrade from the KA-57 and is introduced later in the campaign, featuring more firepower. The FSU-4 is a fully-automatic weapon, but in Cold War, the M16 is another tactical rifle with burst fire capabilities. Burst fire weapons have typically not been too popular, since players prefer to spray on full automatic or pick their foes off one shot at a time. However, Halo 2‘s implementation of a burst-fire weapon, in the BR-55, allows for versatility: the weapon can be controlled for longer range combat, but fires quickly enough to deal with foes at closer ranges.

  • During the Electronic Arts era of James Bond, all of their titles (Agent Under FireNightfire and Everything or Nothing) featured the SPAS-12. This Italian shotgun has a very distinct appearance because of how it looks when its stock is folded up, and while it’s a pump-action shotgun in reality, Agent Under Fire gives the weapon the more useful semi-automatic mode to increase its rate of fire. In Cold War, the SPAS-12 is a two shot kill, but has a good firing rate, making it easier to land follow-up shots.

  • A quick glance at the calendar shows that three years ago, I wrote about Battlefield V‘s open beta. I’d been home from Winnipeg for five days now, and while that assignment had been tough, what followed was nigh unbearable. When August had drawn to a close, we’d closed up our office and began working from home, although I was still required to meet with the founder and other staff. Because of a lack of accommodations, we ended up utilising my access to the university’s facilities to meet. During my downtime, I spent a fair bit of it playing the Battlefield V beta, which had opened the day after I returned and ran for five days.

  • Although I was knocking out work items daily, the fact that the backend’s team was essentially creating make-work (e.g. arbitrarily changing JSON responses and bouncing code reviews for choice of variable names) meant that the project continued to be delayed. I recall a cold, grey morning where I was scheduled for a live demo with the Denver team, but thanks to the backend team altering the names of JSON keys, the app crashed the moment I opened it during said demo. Fortunately for me, I’d done a video capture of the project and was able to show that, but the way the Winnipeg team worked made it an incredibly stressful environment.

  • Having the Battlefield V beta to look forwards to after hours really helped me to de-stress and gave me something to look forward to after a long day of sorting out bugs and dealing with headache. In the present day, I was expecting that Battlefield 2042‘s open beta to be this week, but scuttlebutt was that there’s some delays owing to development challenges, pushing the beta out to September 24. This is, incidentally, when Halo Infinite‘s open beta is scheduled to run.  I’ve never encountered a situation quite like this before, where two betas were running concurrently, but assuming that both betas happen on the same weekend, my priority this time around will be to get a feel for how both games perform on my system.

  • Previously, I primarily played betas to gain insight into how a given game handled from a mechanics standpoint, but with my machine now entering eight and a half years of service, it’s important to determine whether or not any games I have an interest in can even run on my system before I sink any coin into it; Cold War represents a situation where I’d jumped the gun, and while upgrading an OS is comparatively straightforward, outright building a new rig is going to be more involved. Under the best of circumstances, I could purchase a new custom rig and get it up and running in two weeks or so, but with the ongoing microprocessor shortage and crypto-mining causing GPU supply to be limited, building a new computer isn’t viable (it’s still possible, but not cost effective).

  • Here, I open hostilities with the Milano 821, which I’ve got standing in for Agent Under Fire‘s Ingalls (itself a facsimile of the Ingalls MAC-10, which I haven’t bothered unlocking because that would entail playing actual multiplayer matches). The Ingalls is a step up from the KS-7 in Agent Underfire, but is overall inferior to the PS-100 (P90). Conversely, the Milano 821 in Cold War is a decent weapon, handling like a submachine gun version of the AK-47 in having a lower rate of fire and higher damage per shot compared to the MP5.

  • On the other hand, the CARV.2 (a fictionalised version of the Heckler and Koch G11) was a weapon worth unlocking: late in June and early July, I spent my weekends farming long-shot kills in Cold War‘s Zombies mode to earn this weapon. This burst-fire weapon fires 4.73 mm ammunition and is very accurate, making it a great choice for medium to long range encounters. After several weekends, I finally unlocked the weapon, and subsequently kitted mine out with the Axial Arms 3x optic, which is considered to be the best optic one can use for medium to long range combat.

  • The bonus is, of course, that the CARV.2 is Cold War‘s equivalent of Agent Under Fire‘s D17. Agent Under Fire portrays the D17 as being the ultimate weapon, a combination of high accuracy, rate of fire and damage with the largest ammunition capacity of any assault rifle in game. The weapon is only available during the final campaign mission, Evil Summit, and handily beats out all of the other weapons in-game during multiplayer. I’ve spent many a Christmas getting mowed down by the D17 because we’d fight the bots on maximum difficulty and aggression.

  • Conversely, when we returned to the GameCube for kicks more recently, working out how to corner the bots and stop them before they could grab the D17 was instrumental in allowing us to win. Agent Under Fire‘s AI bots might not be the most impressive in the world (they occasionally get stuck and fail to notice when one is sneaking up on them), but at full difficulty and aggression, they are monstrosities that can utterly wreck players. This creates numerous hilarious moments where bots achieve kills that seem supernatural, contributing to the fun factor in Agent Under Fire.

  • The combination of D17 and bots in Agent Under Fire is entertaining enough so that one could spend hours at a time just blasting the AI for fun without ever needing to hop on an online multiplayer match, and having spent the bulk of the past twenty-one months playing bots, I came to realise that these offline modes are essential parts of any game that wishes to have longevity. The idea here is that, even if the servers are offline, having the map assets and ability to fight bots locally lets one play multiplayer even when support for the game stops.

  • The other reason that bots are now something to look for in a game is that, at least for me, online gaming has become a most undesirable place to be of late. I noticed this in Battlefield V, where cheaters ran unchecked, and the community encouraged unsportsmanlike behaviours during matches. These actions ranged from pushing players using AA vehicles out of bounds to kill them and free up a vehicle slot for themselves, camping, and players not utilising their classes’ abilities (e.g. refusing to revive, heal and drop ammo).

  • Calling out these players was met with a flood of insults in the text chat, and since Battlefield V automatically censored out expletives, players would resort to making up new insults that were far more annoying and offensive, creating a new sort of meme culture in the process. I’ve heard that online gaming has only gotten worse: Fortnite players insult one another for lacking cosmetic items, and in Warzone or Apex, cheating is even worse than it is in Battlefield V. With online games are looking more and more unplayable these days, AI bots can fill that void and provide players with a quasi-multiplayer experience.

  • Here, I’m rocking the Pelington 703 (modelled after the Remington Model 703, standing in for the SSR-4000, known as the SSG 3000). In Agent Under Fire‘s multiplayer matches, I never set the SSR-4000, since my aiming skills with a controller is non-existent (and in matches where I’ve tried, the bots end up steamrolling us). In Cold War, the opposite is true: while I’m nowhere nearly skilled enough against human players, I can make the sniper rifles work in matches with AI bots to have a phenomenal time. The Pelington is particularly fun to use because it feels like a hunting rifle.

  • I’ve played online multiplayer titles for about a decade; my experience started with Halo 2: Vista in 2009, and when the servers shut down in 2012, I switched over to Team Fortress 2 briefly before becoming a Battlefield fan. My first proper Battlefield experience began with Battlefield 3 in 2013, and I’ve played every Battlefield since then. I’ve noticed that antisocial behaviours weren’t really a problem in the Halo days. Trolling was definitely a present even back then, people rarely perpetrated disinhibited behaviours that we see today. For instance, the worst trolling I saw in the Halo days were players teabagging one another in matches, or people begging for Unusual hats in Team Fortress 2.

  • It was only with Battlefield V where I really began noticing hate speech, harassment, griefing and other unsportsmanlike behaviours. The uptick in antisocial behaviour coincides with the rise of in-game microtransactions and the battle royale genre’s popularity; younger players have gotten into their heads that one’s appearance in-game is directly correlated to their social status in real life, and are willing to use any method necessary to win in a given match so that others can remember who they are. Moreover, said players have taken to bullying players running “lesser” cosmetics, with hostilities spilling over to real life.

  • Video games are intended to be fun experiences that, at best, help players work on visual-spatial reasoning abilities, split-second decision-making and resource management, but recent trends have turned games into a demoralising experience and meme factories. Games like Fortnite thus become a pain to play, and multiplayer shooters with more conventional game-modes are no better, with people spewing insults and memes into the chat whenever they’re called out for unsportsmanlike behaviour. This is what made Battlefield V particularly unenjoyable for me, even more so than DICE’s constant messing with the game’s mechanics.

  • It is not particularly meaningful to have shouting matches with people who likely don’t contribute any taxes to their nation, so after Battlefield V ended, I began playing single player games exclusively. The resulting change in my well-being was profound: I became much more relaxed, and gaming returned to being a hobby I could unwind to. Single player modes further have the advantage of being titles that I can play at my own pace. If, mid-match, I need to go tend to something, I can pause the game and resume later without penalty.

  • The real joy of games is being able to immerse oneself in a different world, and enjoy things at one’s own pace, so moving forwards, I imagine that how single-player friendly a given game is will greatly impact whether or not I am likely to pick it up. Here, I’ve decided to open a match on one of the Miami maps and have loaded out the Stoner 63 LMG to look like a futuristic weapon. As it turns out, Infinite Warfare also has offline bots, and I’ve recently been getting back into that, as well: released in 2016, Infinite Warfare‘s requirements aren’t steep at all, and the game handles very smoothly.

  • I imagine that the multiplayer scene of Infinite Warfare is likely to either be depopulated, or else infested with cheaters, making it unplayable. Even though this is probably the case, because Infinite Warfare has AI bots, I am able to create a match and play against bots that are moderately challenging (and therefore, fun to fight). The shooting mechanics of Infinite Warfare are not as visceral or polished as those of Cold War, but they remain solid overall: in conjunction with the fact that the maps and weapons look rather cool, I am finding myself having a great deal of fun in a game I was otherwise only going to get twelve hours out of.

  • In this way, Infinite Warfare shows how AI bots dramatically improves the longevity of a game. Another title that did something similar is Star Wars: Battlefront II. While the original launch was plagued by lootboxes and a poor progression system, towards the end of Battlefront II‘s lifecycle, DICE added Instant Action to the game. Battlefront II thus went from being an unplayable disaster (compounded by try-hard players who already have all the best upgrades) to being an open Star Wars sandbox that allows players to kit their character out however they’d like and immerse themselves in the Star Wars universe without aggressively competitive players ruining the atmosphere.

  • These bot modes are excellent because they allow for players to enjoy an element that is often forgotten when competitiveness takes over: the game’s aesthetics and atmosphere. While I might’ve had the time to improve my skill in competitive multiplayer games ten, even five years ago, other obligations now mean that it is no longer feasible for me to do so. I don’t wish to spend hours every week trying to keep up with players half my age when there are bills to pay, and in the time that I do have, I’d much rather have fun. This is why Battlefield 2042‘s upcoming Portal mode is so interesting; if there is a full-fledged AI bots mode and all weapons, attachments and gear are unlocked for experimentation, this mode will allow me to explore Battlefield 2042‘s sandbox capabilities in a way that previous titles had not accommodated.

  • I’ve heard that today is National Video Games day, and I intend to capitalise on this by playing games in the manner of my choosing: in a private space away from all of those who believe that cosmetics equates to skill. DOOM Eternal‘s The Ancient Gods looks a good place to begin, and having just finished a delicious dim sum lunch, the afternoon is open to me. Since I’m not honour-bound to squad up in a game where the goal is to win and show off a crude victory dance, there’ll be time to iron a few things, read a few more chapters of Harukana Receive, and then make my way into The Ancient Gods, all at my own pace.

The idea that Battlefield 2042 might permit a fully-featured AI bots mode might very well be a reality: DICE has indeed announced the presence of something known as Battlefield Portal, which allows players to create their own game modes, utilising weapons and vehicles from different eras. It will be possible to pit 50 Tiger Is against a single platoon of M1A2s, or run a hundred soldiers with defibrillators versus a hundred soldiers with knives. Battlefield Portal is billed as the ultimate sandbox mode, a place where players can try out exotic and unique setups before publishing them to the community, and this means that for players seeking a single-player option against AI bots, Battlefield Portal might just be the answer. Being able to create an offline match with AI bots means being able to play Battlefield 2042 even if the servers are offline, and more importantly, being able to play in peace if one wanted to try driving a tank or messing with unusual weapon setups. Bots provide players with a highly cathartic and relaxing experience. They don’t insult the player, have no qualms with one quitting as a result of real-world obligations or become idle at inopportune moments. Games with bots remain highly playable long after the community has moved on to the next best thing, allowing a game to continue offering replay value well after its prime, and this gives the game value. In a case where Call of Duty holds the edge over Battlefield games, Black Ops: Cold War, Infinite Warfare and Modern Warfare Remastered all have bot modes. Similarly, Battlefront 2 features Instant Action, an offline bots-only mode. These modes offer me amusement, an experience that can’t be had when I’m playing against try-hards half my age who have more free time than responsibilities; video games are about having fun, first and foremost, and I play to immerse myself in different worlds, not to elevate my blood pressure because some kids decided they’d spend the entire match spamming the chat with frog memes and insulting everyone who isn’t camping. I do see myself continuing to drop into Black Ops: Cold War bot matches because it’s amusing, and if Battlefield 2042 is offering full-fledged AI bots in Portal (which, on top of the game’s base maps, will also feature iconic maps from Battlefield 1942, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and Battlefield 3), this gives me plenty of things to be excited about. Being able to play Battlefield at my own pace, away from the try-hards and cheaters, would be a breath of fresh air and a return to the age in gaming where the object was to have a good time.

DOOM Eternal: The T-Shaped Slayer and A Duel Between Titans At The Finale

“…and you will be their savior, your strength will be their shield and your will… their sword. You remain…unbroken…for your fight…is eternal.” –King Novik

With the way to Urdak open, the Doom Slayer slaughters his way to the Khan Maykr: here in Urdak, the Khan Maykr is preparing a ceremony to bring the Icon of Sin under her control. The Doom Slayer interrupts the ceremony and prevents the Khan Maykr from activating the Icon of Sin by stabbing the mortal heart of the Argenta. This causes the Icon of Sin thus sets off on a rampage towards Earth, and with the Khan Kaykr’s pact with Hell broken, dæmons begin invading Urdak. In order to reach Earth, the Doom Slayer reconfigures a Celestial Portal. destroys the Khan Maykr before following the Icon of Sin. After fighting through an abandoned city, the Doom Slayer confronts the Icon of Sin, destroying its armour and causing it to flee into a different area. Here, the Doom Slayer is able to finally bring down the Icon of Sin, and plunges the Crucible’s blade into its exposed brain, killing it. In the aftermath, King Novik reconsiders his words to the Doom Slayer, indicating that the Doom Slayer has been reinstated and will be counted upon should the need arise. This brings my twenty two and a half hour journey through DOOM Eternal to a close; having now beaten the whole of DOOM Eternal, I can say that I have a sufficient measure of this sequel to 2016’s DOOM to make a verdict about DOOM Eternal. Simply put, DOOM Eternal is a worthy successor to DOOM, being bigger and bolder in every way. The changes to the core combat system is a direct improvement, adding a new dimension to the way DOOM Eternal plays, and the nuances players must keep up with constantly pushes them to get creative and adapt whenever the going gets tough. The end result of this is that combat becomes more involved, and split-second decisions must be made more often. If DOOM had meant to suggest to players that they needed to play in a highly mobile and aggressive means by remaining on the move at all times to survive, then DOOM Eternal is reminding players that they must be mindful of all the tools they have at their disposal in order to survive. DOOM previously allowed players to plow through entire levels with naught more than the heavy cannon and plasma rifle, but the variety of dæmons in DOOM Eternal means this is no longer possible. Players must triage, prioritise and maintain calm nerves in every firefight in order to survive, and it becomes clear that this additional dimensionality is a logical evolution of what DOOM had established.

In this way, DOOM Eternal becomes the perfect sequel to DOOM: familiar elements make a return, but changes to the mechanics means that players end up with a new experience, one that builds upon what they’d previously learnt and mastered in DOOM. There is more to think about now, and more options available to players. Not every path is viable: using just the plasma rifle or heavy cannon against a Flameborne Baron, for instance, simply results in a great deal of ammunition expenditure, but combining the ice bomb, grenade and Blood Punch in conjunction with the heavy cannon and plasma rifle makes a difficult, lengthy fight trivially easy against an intimidating foe, allowing one to deal with them without spending precious time on weapon switching, especially when there are lesser dæmons also filling the air with deadly plasma fire and flame. DOOM Eternal thus addresses the problem of Maslow’s hammer in a highly elegant manner: in most contemporary video games, players are limited in the number of weapons they can carry, and as such, to maximise combat efficiency at a variety of ranges, players often stick to assault rifles, which balance rate of fire with accuracy at range, and in games like Battlefield or Call of Duty, it becomes possible to complete the entire campaign with the starting assault rifle, plus whatever pickups are needed to advance certain parts of the game (like a marksman rifle or anti-armour weapon). However, this can create complacency among players, who stick to one setup during an entire game. When games allowed players to carry an entire arsenal of weapons, weapons were often crafted to fit very specific roles. Half-Life and Half-Life 2, for instance, required players to constantly switch weapons to deal with threat of different types and at different ranges. When Halo: Combat Evolved released, it revolutionised the ways players played. Carrying two weapons at a time create a new problem for players to overcome, and deciding which weapons to pick became critical. This worked well for Halo because the sci-fi setting meant weapons could be specialised for different roles. However, since Call of Duty‘s dominance, players have grown accustomed to simply optimising their setups. DOOM Eternal forces players out of this as a wake-up call, reminding them that weapons are in a game for a reason, and that to be successful, one must utilise all of the tools at their disposal in order to be successful.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • We’ve come to it at last, the battle through the Khan Maykr’s turf, Urdak. For these last few missions in DOOM Eternal, I’ve been rocking EVGA’s Z15 series gaming mechanical keyboard with the bronze Kailh switches. I’d picked this keyboard up a couple of weeks ago because I was looking for an upgrade to the Devastator II I’d bought five years earlier. Having a mechanical keyboard means louder clicks, but I find this highly satisfying. For general computing, the mechanical keyboard doesn’t change much, but during writing, having a tactile response really makes a difference.

  • In gaming, the Z15 is reasonably responsive, and the further travel distance means I can make inputs with more confidence. Overall, while a more experienced keyboard specialist will suggest that the Z15 is eclipsed by other mechanical gaming keyboards on the market, I did pick mine up for a full 40 percent off, and it’s improved my computing experience, so I’m not complaining. The fact that the Z15 has customisable lighting is a nice bonus: while I use an all-white light for most days, I’ve also set some presets to give things a little more flair.

  • The only real strike I have against the Z15 is the fact that keystrokes register before the keys click in some scenarios, which feels quite cumbersome at times, but this occurs primarily when I’m typing: when I game, keystrokes register very well. It is with the Z15 that I beat DOOM Eternal with, and having this extra tactile feeling in controlling my character meant the last few missions to DOOM Eternal were particularly enjoyable, as well as demonstrating that the Z15 is going to be a solid keyboard for my uses.

  • Entering the penultimate mission, I knew that since this was the Maykrs’ homeland, it would be the case that I’d need to fight the Khan Maykr herself. However, unlike the fight against The Gladiator, Urdak is filled with combat encounters, and some of these were very demanding. By this point in DOOM Eternal, I’ve grown accustomed to the fact that I am going to die in a given firefight on my first few attempts if I am careless: DOOM Eternal now has no problem throwing everything at me all at once, creating waves of incredibly challenging enemies that demand a balance of coordination, reflexes and resource management.

  • On a few occasions, I finally brought out the Crucible: against the Flameborne Barons and Tyrants, the Crucible can be used to create breathing room, although in a fight with these dæmons , I can get by well enough by comboing the ice bomb with the frag grenades, and the chipping away at their health with something like the super shotgun, rocket launcher or chain gun. However, the Archvile’s ability to summon buffed dæmons means that any fight involving them could potentially overwhelm me. In these scenarios, I break out the Crucible and make a beeline for them, since taking them off the field becomes my first priority.

  • The sights around Urdak are impressive: the Maykrs’ world has very clean and elegant looking architecture. They also appear to have sakura trees about, creating a very unique aesthetic compared to the locales previously visited: everything about the Maykrs conveys the air of a higher civilisation, and digging into the lore finds that they were the ones who first figured out how to convert Hell Essence derived from agony and suffering of trapped in Hell souls with Sentinel energy. The process creates an infinitely renewable source of energy, but also transforms the souls into dæmons.

  • One of the few things I never got around to doing in DOOM Eternal was properly get the masteries for all of my weapons. I did encounter mastery tokens throughout the missions, but I’d intended to save them for the few masteries I did not unlock by the time I was ready to fight the Khan Maykr. Fortunately for me, it’s not necessary to have all of the masteries unlocked: these augment the way a weapon mod handles, typically improving it by getting rid of the cooldowns or adding a new effect, but beyond this, spending the weapon points will improve a mod more tangibly.

  • During one segment, I ended up unlocking the mastery for the heavy cannon’s sniper scope: enemies now explode when hit with a headshot that kills them, dealing splash damage to their surroundings. The mastery for micro-missiles is the ability to continuously fire micro-missiles, which is actually a superbly powerful and overwhelming option. Whereas there’d been little incentive to use the sniper scope in DOOM, since the Gauss Cannon was the superior long-range weapon, and long range combat was already uncommon, the inclusion of weak points in DOOM Eternal makes the sniper scope a viable choice.

  • The changes in core mechanics in DOOM Eternal are not subtle, and completely alter the ways players approach the game. DOOM had started the trend: taking cover and  being patient was punished, since enemies were constantly moving; to be successful, players would need to stay on the move, as well. DOOM Eternal adds on top of this the idea that every tool in the Doom Slayer’s arsenal is there for a reason, and therefore, should see appropriate use. In this way, DOOM Eternal was designed for players who enjoyed DOOM and wanted more out of their experience.

  • This is why I’ve paid Reddit very little heed; there are entire threads dedicated to bemoaning DOOM Eternal as being inferior to its predecessor because the fundamental gameplay had changed too dramatically, forcing players to play a certain way. It is the case that, had DOOM Eternal utilised the identical approach as did DOOM, those same players would’ve griped that Eternal did nothing novel. The negativity and entitlement in the community is astounding, and I’ve noticed that the LEGO community is no different: new sets are constantly being torn down for being too pricey if they’re innovative or unimaginative if their price is low.

  • Once I got the portals aligned, the effect here is not unlike that of Nidavellir in Infinity War after Thor and Rocket restart the Heart of a Dying Star. With this one, there’s nothing left to do but fight the Khan Maykr herself. Continuing on from the topic of negativity, in the case of LEGO, people have written and argued that there is no basis for this negativity, only for those people to come out and defend their right to be negative. While there is nothing wrong with constructive criticism, I do take exception with people who think they have a right to upvotes and retweets because they’re tearing something down.

  • Where I issue criticisms, I also offer suggestions. In the case of DOOM Eternal, for instance, I did not like the fact that the BFG 9000 and Unmaykr are on the weapon wheel because that negatively alters the dynamic of the most demanding firefights: running out of ammunition and automatically switching to the BFG 9000 has cost me precious ammunition unnecessarily. What I would’ve preferred is the DOOM style approach, where there’d been a separate key to equip the BFG and Unmaykr: these are powerful weapons like the Crucible in terms of function, and it’s important to not wrest this decision from players.

  • Incidentally, the BFG 9000 is not something I’d use in the fight against the Khan Maykr. She’s actually a fun enemy to fight, since this one emphasises movement, map knowledge and efficiency. Unlike other foes, the Khan Maykr has a recharging energy shield. When the shield drops, one must rappel up with the meat hook and do a Blood Punch to blow away her health pool. In this fight, keeping a constant stream of fire on the Khan Maykr is essential, so found that the slower-firing weapons were actually less useful.

  • While I’m using the heavy cannon with the sniper scope here, it turned out that using the bottomless micro missiles and taking advantage of their ability to weakly lock onto targets was the answer. It took me a few tries to get things right, but once I figured out the solution that worked for me, I was able to destroy the Khan Maykr in no time at all. During the process, I did die a few times, and DOOM Eternal offered me the Sentinel Armour, but I declined, believing that I’d been onto something. In this way, I was able to defeat the Khan Maykr and progress to the final mission, during which the task is to stop the Icon of Sin.

  • I jokingly refer to the Sentinel Armour as the “Upper Echelon Gaming” mode because of the fact that it greatly reduces incoming damage without punishing the player otherwise. Sentinel Armour pops up whenever a player dies too often at a certain point, and is intended to ask players “are you short of time, and need to get through this part quickly?” My response is a resounding “no”, since I expect to die a lot in games and see that as a learning experience. The reason why I call it Upper Echelon Gaming mode is because shortly after DOOM Eternal‘s release last year, a modestly popular YouTube channel made a review critiquing DOOM Eternal. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, Upper Echelon Gaming openly insulted people who disagreed with his assessment, which in turn started a massive firestorm.

  • For the record, I completely disagree with Upper Echelon Gaming, will remark that I’m glad I wasn’t part of the flame wars, and note that since he’s been banned from Twitter, there’s no real need to build a rebuttal (especially considering others had already done so in a satisfactory manner). Back in DOOM Eternal, I’ve entered the final mission: the first combat encounter is brutal and tense: the main challenge is that the space is very small and open, meaning that while one has a good line of sight on everything up here, enemies can similarly fire on the Doom Slayer, as well. Combat was relentless, brutal and punishing: constant movement and resource management is needed to gain a foothold here.

  • Here, I fight yet another Doom Hunter: these foes are still a pain to beat, and on the narrow rooftops that open this final mission to DOOM Eternal, I found myself squaring off against the toughest fight yet. Fortunately, endlessly regenerating chainsaw fuel, coupled with a better familiarity with game mechanics means that in the endgame, I was enjoying every moment of this fight. There were a few places where I ended up bringing out the Crucible to quickly smash up the super-heavy dæmons: the last level really gives more opportunity to savour being able to bring down a Flameborne Baron or Tyrant in a single stroke. This is a critical element, since removing a super-heavy dæmons swiftly can mean the difference between living and dying.

  • If memory serves, today was my third full day in Winnipeg three years earlier. After working on several tickets as best as I could, I was blocked by the fact that I was missing several updated endpoints. The developer working on that had already left for the day, so I wrapped up by making a list of tasks for the final day before I was set to fly back home. After this was done, I returned to the Beachcomber for dinner, then walked around The Forks after to unwind, before returning to the Fort Garry. The next morning, I got up early so I could pack, then walked back over to The Forks.

  • Here, I sat down at a place called Danny’s All Day Breakfast, where I ordered something called the Pan Scrambler (a scrambled egg omelette topped with cheese, green pepper, tomato, onion, white mushrooms, bacon, ham, garlic sausage and potatoes with a side of white toast). This breakfast was delicious and hearty, reminding me of Man v. Food‘s Mother’s Cupboard’s Frittata Breakfast Challenge in Syracuse. Fortunately, my breakfast was a more manageable size, although it was still very filling and gave me the spirit I needed to face that last day. I ended up finishing off a few tickets, but waited for over half the day for the backend developer to return; he’d been out of office for reasons unknown and hadn’t informed anyone, leaving several critical endpoints incomplete until close to the end of the day.

  • I ended up receiving the endpoints ten minutes before my taxi arrived, and I was whisked to the airport, more than ready to head home after a gruelling week. Back in DOOM Eternal, after vaulting over to a building, I found myself faced with a Tyrant in a room full of dæmons. I thus stepped back, discharged the BFG into the room and then waded into the resulting carnage. The initial blast had softened things up, allowing me to kill the Tyrant relatively quickly. However, in typical DOOM Eternal fashion, the game managed to up the stakes.

  • Two Tyrants spawned into the room shortly after. While perhaps overwhelming at first glance, there is a way to succeed: I used the ice bomb and frag grenade combo to weaken one Tyrant, then hammered it with micro-missiles, before repeating the process on the second Tyrant while back-pedalling. In this way, I was able to avoid total destruction: overwhelming waves of enemies are pretty cut-and-dried now, so it became a matter of triaging the targets, picking one’s approach and then engaging them. I have noticed that firefights in DOOM Eternal aren’t blisteringly fast; every combat encounter gave me enough time and space to think things through, so long as I was moving.

  • Final Sin was the one mission in DOOM Eternal where I willingly fired the BFG 9000: ammunition for this superweapon is common, and there are cases where it is prudent to use it for clearing out rooms before entering. This was one such moment: I carefully pointed the BFG into a point and opened fire. The trick with the BFG is to aim at a point without obstacles – the orb will travel through the air and emit highly damaging discharges that can instantly kill lesser dæmons. The longer it travels, the more enemies the orb will kill. When the orb impacts any surface, it detonates, releasing massive damage.

  • We’ve come to it at last: the fight against the Icon of Sin. This boss fight is quite unlike any other, requiring the Doom Slayer to fight it over two rounds. The first round has the Doom Slayer destroying its Maykr armour, which protects it from attack – the Maykrs had intended the Icon of Sin to be their weapon, and greatly augmented its powers. There are a total of armour pieces to destroy, and once a piece is taken out, no further damage will be sustained. Opening the fight, I shot at the Icon of Sin with the BFG 9000, which only does damage if the orb connects, but every successful shot will outright destroy an armour piece.

  • During the fight, countless dæmons will enter the arena and complicate things, but thanks to respawning Blood Punch and Crucible pickups, one can very quickly deal with any lesser dæmons before returning attention to the Icon of Sin. My strategy was to use the slower-firing, heavy hitting weapons for the head and chest, while the chaingun was best suited for the arms. While the Icon of Sin’s biggest weapon is its sheer size, it can shoot fireballs from its head, deploy flamethrowers from its hands and emit a beam of damaging energy, as well as attack the Doom Slayer physically, making it a lethal leviathan. As such, it is imperative to keep moving and take advantage of the lesser dæmons to top off on health, armour and ammunition.

  • In the words of Forged in Fire’s Doug Marcaida, the Crucible is a weapon that will definitely KEAL (Keep Everyone ALive) – I use it to instantly destroy a Flameborne Baron here, and will remark that for the past month, I’ve been watching a Forged in Fire extensively. Episodes are always fun: the show is a competition to see who can forge the best blade under challenging circumstances, and I’ve greatly enjoyed the sportsmanship. Even competitors who lose on the first round or suffer from a catastrophic failure during testing will comment that just being able to compete is an honour, while the judges are always professional and offer constructive criticism to even the roughest of entries.

  • I first watched Forged in Fire in Winnipeg, during my Xamarin assignment, and became hooked after watching the KEAL tests – after dinner, I would retire to my accommodations at the Fort Garry and saw the show on TV. While episodes follow a formula, it was engaging to see how competitors could overcome the challenges coming their way, and watching the final two return to their home forges and build the final weapon was fantastic, since it was a chance to really see how a bladesmith worked on their own turf. For me, it also reminded me of the fact that I tended to work better when I had home field advantage.

  • However, the two weeks that followed were even more exhausting as I fought the Winnipeg team on virtually every decision they had made – besides changing the JSON responses arbitrarily, causing the app to crash, they also refused to simplify the endpoint needed to carry out two-factor authentication, requiring users to enter a 26 digit long alpha numerical code. I had suggested that this code be simplified to six digits, but was met with the claim that this would mean the app was no longer HIPA compliant. Nowhere in the HIPA documents is it stated that a 26 digit long code was specifically required (only a PIN), and in the end, I won out: an app would be quite unusable if users were forced to enter a 26 digit code of random strings and numbers during sign in, and my implementation was still compliant while offering a far superior user experience.

  • Three weeks after I returned home, I finished the Xamarin project and finally was in a state where the app was ready for submission. It was approved shortly after, although this ended up being a Pyrrhic victory – the startup I was with folded because I was unable to properly develop our product. Earlier that September, we handed back the keys to our building, since funds had run low enough so we could no longer maintain our rent, and it did feel like things had ended then. With all that was going on, Forged in Fire fell from my mind, but after watching the History Channel recently, my interest in the show was reignited. Going through Forged in Fire again brought back memories of my Xamarin assignment’s Winnipeg phase, and I am very grateful to be able to watch Marcaida say a blade will KEAL, without the dread of what the Winnipeg team would fumble next, hanging over my head.

  • The second phase of the fight agains the Icon of Sin is the same as the first, albeit in a different location. Similar tactics apply here: using the BFG and hard-hitting weapons on the chest, and then automatics on the arms will be enough to bring this monster down for good. When enough damage is dealt to the Icon of Sin, the Doom Slayer will equip the Crucible and plunge the Argent blade into its brain, putting it down for good. This boss fight was reminiscent of Wolfenstein: The Old Blood‘s final fight, and is significant for showing how the Doom Slayer had accomplished the seemingly impossible feat of killing Titans previously, in turn showing that the Doom Slayer’s killing of the massive Titan in the Umbral plains. Lore suggests that the Doom Slayer might’ve used an Atlan to assist in this feat.

  • With my victory over the Icon of Sin, I’ve now beaten DOOM Eternal‘s base campaign in full – this has been a helluva experience, and I am very glad to have bought the Reiko version of the game (I still have The Ancient Gods to look forwards to). I’ll probably start The Ancient Gods later this month. Yesterday had been quite exciting, as I drove out to Vulcan to check out their Star Trek museum. Today, I ended up taking things easy: after a ten-kilometre walk, I enjoyed a homemade burger (whose flavours reminded me of summer), installed new curtains and finally got started on the Harukana Receive manga’s sixth, seventh and eighth volumes (which I’ve been waiting to read since November of last year). It’s a pleasant way to end the Labour Day Long Weekend, and with DOOM Eternal in the books, I look forwards to kicking off The Ancient Gods. In the meantime, the next major post I have scheduled for this month will be for Hanasaku Iroha and The Aquatope on White Sand: the latter will be a talk about the series at the halfway mark, and the former will be a special post celebrating the ten year anniversary.

The approach DOOM Eternal takes towards encouraging players to make full use of their arsenal and equipment is a rather clever reference to real life: while it is often the case that people specialise towards one role in reality, there is considerable desirability in possessing what is known as a T-shaped skillset. This describes individuals who have competence in a broad range of topics (the horizontal stroke in the character T) and have also simultaneously cultivated depth in one area to be very effective (the vertical stroke). Individuals with T-shaped skills can collaborate and contribute in a range of disciplines, while at the same time, offer expertise in one specific area. In DOOM Eternal, players necessarily must understand what every tool available does: if one were to go purely through the game with the super shotgun, they’d find themselves short of ammunition very quickly. However, understanding that the super shotgun can be combined with ice bombs, the meathook and ballista means being able to put together impromptu solutions for less-than-ideal situations. This is where DOOM Eternal‘s genius is: players are compelled to experiment and keep on their toes because one can never be too sure what the next combat situation is going to be. While one might have a preference for certain weapons, success is found by developing an understanding of the full toolset and effectively making use of it. Real life similarly is conducive for T-shaped individuals: having a good breadth and death of knowledge means being able to apply one’s expertise to help in other scenarios, as well as being able to draw on a wide range of problem-solving techniques to solve a particularly difficult challenge in one’s area. DOOM Eternal offers no room for sticking to one weapon type or one set of strategies: the game is fluid, and the tips offered work best in a situation where everything is contained. The moment one is dropped into an arena, it is no longer viable to play an optimal way. In this aspect, DOOM Eternal is masterfully done, since game design can also send a particular message to players. It is the case that one is only really successful when they learn to make use of all the tools and tricks available to them. DOOM Eternal’s combat mechanics remind players that they should get comfortable with being uncomfortable, a state which encourages people to learn and try new things in an eternal quest to improve.

The Aquatope on White Sand: Review and Impressions After Nine

“Life is truly known only to those who suffer, lose, endure adversity and stumble from defeat to defeat.” –Anais Nin

When Kukuru’s grandfather suggests that the staff take some down time, Kukuru reluctantly joins Fūka, Kai, Tsukimi, Karin and Kūya on the beaches of Okinawa, where they frolic in the warm tropical weather before sitting down for a barbeque. To Kukuru’s displeasure, Kai’s younger sister shows up, although this does little to dampen the group’s spirits as they enjoy their meal. After Tsukimi breaks out the sweets, Kukuru remarks that it must be nice to have a sibling, someone to go halvesies with and share in experiences together. With thoughts of work lingering on her mind, Kukuru heads back to Gama Gama, overhearing her grandfather and Umi-yan discussing the aquarium’s closure. Although she’s visibly disheartened by this news, Fūka reassures her, and later during the evening, Karin explains why Kūya is bad with women – during high school, he’d rejected a kokuhaku from someone in the popular clique, and they got even by bullying him extensively. Unable to cope, Kūya dropped out of high school and was directionless until meeting Kukuru’s grandfather, who offered him a job at Gama Gama. Later, Kukuru and Fūka are excited to learn from Karin that Umi-yan’s plans for a travelling aquarium are a go at the local hospital; on the condition that no crabs are featured, they are permitted to host an event. Unbeknownst to the group, a single crab snuck into the exhibit, and while Fūka grows worried after losing the crab, the event proceeds smoothly, at least until the head nurse runs into the escaped crab. A young patient, Airi, pulls the crab off the head nurse and rediscovers her joy of aquatic life: she’d distanced herself from the aquarium after becoming hospitalised, and refused to meet Umi-yan until now. As the clock counts down before Gama Gama closes, an aspiring aquarium keeper, Chiyu Haebaru, heads here, hoping to learn from Kukuru’s grandfather. However, she accomplishes little except irritate the living daylights out of Kukuru, and determines that Gama Gama has nothing to offer her. Kukuru is visibly upset by how blasé Chiyu is, and decides to check out the new aquarium being built in Okinawa, while Fūka receives a call from one of her former colleagues. We’re now three-eighths of the way into The Aquatope on White Sand‘s run: the series’ direction is still unclear, as, like its predecessors, The Aquatope on White Sand has chosen to focus primarily on giving the characters a chance to shine in their own right.

P.A. Works has never been a studio to shy away from portraying adversity on screen: in Hanasaku Iroha, Ohana receives a slap to the face shortly after starting her time at Kissui Inn, Yoshino ends up injuring Ushimatsu after attempting to renege on her contract in Sakura Quest, and Shirobako sees Aoi in tears as their latest project appears in jeopardy of being cancelled. Challenges appear, pushing characters to their absolute limits to test their resolve and determination, and in The Aquatope on White Sand‘s predecessors, the protagonists had always risen to the occasion. Here in The Aquatope on White Sand, Kukuru finds herself under mounting pressure to do something substantial for Gama Gama as the deadline draws nearer: she’s unable to relax, and constantly on the edge. Chiyu thus brings out the worst in Kukuru – as someone looking to develop a career as an aquarium keeper, Chiyu is focused, motivated and determined. However, despite the stories she’d heard about Gama Gama, she finds reality disappointing. Chiyu’s animosity for Kukuru is matched by Kukuru’s perception of her as a foe whose existence accelerates Gama Gama’s demise. Where these opposing forces collide, conflict is inevitable. Conversely, this same conflict is what drives growth: Aoi ends up standing up for MusAni after determining the copyright claim has a hole in it, Yoshino embraces her role in helping Manoyama host events that keep the town alive, and Ohana comes to make peace with Minko, before coming to terms with her grandmother’s strict manner and credos on running a good inn. Similarly, conflict in The Aquatope on White Sand is present for a reason. What Kukuru faces now seems insurmountable, but making amends with Chiyu will be an integral part to her own development, preparing her for whatever lies ahead with respect to Gama Gama Aquarium. With under a week left before August draws to a close in The Aquatope on White Sand, time is relentlessly ticking away, and short of a miracle, Gama Gama appears consigned to shutting its doors as they enter September.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • While the clock is ticking away, Kukuru’s grandfather suggests that she and the remainder of the staff get some rest: Kukuru initially complains, but in the end, relents, and the entire group hit Okinawa’s beaches together under beautiful skies of azure. Kukuru initially believes that time away from Gama Gama is equivalent to allowing Gama Gama to inch closer to being shut down, and I once shared similar sentiments. However, as I would find over the course of time, it is important to take strategic breaks in order to clear one’s mind and regroup.

  • Fūka is surprised that Kukuru, Tsukimi and Karen didn’t bother bringing swimsuits to the beach – she’s rocking a frilled white bikini, a pleasant fashion statement for the white sands of Okinawa, and grows embarrassed until she spots other beach-goers in their swimsuits, as well. I imagine that the explanation Fūka is offered is to indicate that locals are so accustomed to the beaches that they’re not terribly concerned about needing a swimsuit to enjoy the warm waters.

  • In August, the ocean temperatures in Okinawa is an average of 28.7ºC, making it slightly cooler than Cancún’s temperatures of 29.3ºC – when it’s this warm, one could walk into the ocean without ever feeling cool, and when immersed, it’s like being surrounded by pure bliss. My visit to Cancún was now five years ago: this was for an artificial life conference, and on mornings prior to the conference’s start times, I ended up walking along Cancún’s extensive beaches. The hotel I chose to lodge at wasn’t located along the waterfront, but the nearest beach was only a few minutes’ walk away.

  • I’d love to be able to visit a tropical destination in the future, and Okinawa is a tempting one. Back in The Aquatope on White Sand, Gama Gama’s staff set about for a fun-filled day, while Kukuru focuses on trying not to think about work in any capacity. This is easier said than done, however, since they are by the ocean’s edge. After Fūka grabs a snorkel and swims alongside the fishes; she notes that it does feel quite different than an aquarium, being a magical experience. When Fūka and Kukuru share their experiences, the latter’s mind immediately wanders towards how aquariums are magical in this regard.

  • Kukuru and Tsukimi are disappointed that Kai’s younger sister, Maho, has shown up. Maho is voiced by Saya Hirose, and despite being only a primary student, she’s quite mature for her age. Kukuru’s immediate reaction to Maho suggests some longstanding rivalry and a mutual dislike for one another – the two immediately have a go at one another upon meeting. Maho is very similar to Maho Kazami of Please Teacher! and Ah! My Goddess‘ Skuld, fulfilling the role of the adorable but also mischievous younger sister.

  • I’m quite fond of Hirose’s portrayal of Maho, whose soft voice sounds very soothing. While Maho and Kukuru slug it out, I will recall a memory of three years earlier – on this day, I flew out to Winnipeg to continue on with a Xamarin project that I’d been brought on board to prepare for submission to the App Store and Play Store after their mobile developer unexpectedly left. I had spent much of August in Denver, scoping out the project to get a feel for how things were organised, and looking back, this was the easy part of the assignment: by the time my second week in Denver was up, I had a rough idea of where everything was, and moreover, had resolved a few tickets.

  • I thus enjoyed my evening meal under the setting sun before returning to the Hotel Fort Garry for a good night’s sleep. As stressful as the Winnipeg assignment had been, a good meal helped me to stay focused, especially when the backend team was lagging behind and consistently failed to deliver the endpoints I needed to continue on with my work. This assignment taught me the importance of being able to relax during downtime so when it came time to work, I was ready to hustle. Kukuru struggles with this, and here, after sharing some cold sweets with Fūka, begins to wonder what it’d be like to have a sibling.

  • As an older sibling myself, I sometimes wish I had someone above me to show me the ropes. Of course, when the younger sibling demonstrates exemplary wisdom and shows me how it’s done, I’m not too proud to decline help. Here, Fūka reassures Kukuru after Kukuru had overheard a conversation between her grandfather and Umi-yan about Gama Gama’s future. While understandably worried, Fūka manages to help Kukuru regroup, fulfilling the role of an older sibling and helping Kukuru to put things in perspective.

  • As evening sets in, Kūya shares a story with Kai that Karin simultaneously recounts to Kukuru and the others: as it turns out, Kūya had once been a high-achieving and promising student, but after turning down a girl from a popular clique, was bullied relentlessly. He ended up dropping out of high school and ultimately, found a position at Gama Gama Aquarium thanks to Kukuru’s grandfather. While he may not show it, Kūya is definitely grateful to Kukuru’s grandfather, and this moment serves to both indicate that Gama Gama means something to many people, as well as the fact that everyone’s got their own stories to tell.

  • When Karin announces that he’d managed to get approval for Gama Gama’s travelling aquarium, Kukuru is ecstatic; she begins to eat lunch with renewed enthusiasm. This is a fine chance to bring their show to other people and give them a taste of what Gama Gama offers. It turns out that the idea of a travelling aquarium originally came from Umi-yan, and like Kukuru, he’s quite happy that there’ll be an opportunity to show some of Gama Gama’s exhibits at the local hospital.

  • I spent an hour digging around near Nanjo to see if I could find the real world equivalent of Nanjo General Clinic. The closest spot is Okinawa Medical Hospital; it’s located a mere 270 metres from the shore, but the hospital’s design is completely different than what The Aquatope on White Sand portrays. I conclude that the location is probably the one and the same, but creative liberties were taken to create a location unique for the anime.

  • It turns out that the head nurse has kabourophobia (fear of crabs); the very word sends a shiver down her spine, and she prohibits Kukuru from bringing any into the hospital. While kabourophobia is uncommon, it does have a basis in reality, and moreover, fears are not always rationally rooted. For instance, there are some folks who are deathly afraid of garlic, onions, shallots, spring onions and the like. The term for this is alliumphobia, and while to me, there’s no good reason to fear something like green onions, individuals who do have alliumphobia fear it anyways, without any explanation for why this occurs.

  • Naturally, because The Aquatope on White Sand introduces kabourophobia into the episode, it must be utilised later: while preparing the exhibit, Fūka comes across a black crab that was accidentally brought to the hospital. Unfortunately for her, the crab escapes: Fūka has no luck finding it, and quietly lets Kukuru know when the latter returns. Given this setup, what would happen next was inevitable. For now, Fūka and Kukuru focus on getting the setup finished so the patients can have a chance to experience the aquarium.

  • As it turns out, Umi-yan had promised Airi, a little girl who visited one summer, that he’d bring Garra Rufa (Red Garra, more informally, “Doctor Fish”). With an omnivorous diet, the Red Garra prefer oxygen-rich, fast flowing water and have become famous for grazing on dead skin cells. The practise is not particularly sanitary, nor is it effective for dealing with certain skin conditions, but as an aquarium exhibit, this works just fine. Unfortunately for Airi, she became hospitalised and was unable to visit. Since then, she’s tried to distance herself from Umi-yan, unhappy that their promise was never fulfilled.

  • Other children from the hospital are immediately enthralled with the aquarium, impressed with the variety of marine life and their distinct traits. In The Aquatope on White Sand, children are portrayed as being particularly fond of sea animals and possess a curiosity to learn more. However, in spite of its topic, The Aquatope on White Sand never forces viewers to go pick up Sam Ridgeway’s The Handbook of Marine Animals to get: like Koisuru Asteroid, the science is simply used to drive the characters and their goals, keeping the story accessible to viewers.

  • As a child, I was always fond of learning, and one thing I remember particularly vividly was that, after field trips to the local science museums or local exhibits, I would always make it a point to visit the library and pick up books on the topic. In today’s age, a quick trip to academic journals and the online version of Encyclopædia Britannica is all that’s needed to satisfy my curiosity. One of my long-standing weaknesses is that everything related to the sciences, natural and applied, interest me, so I’ve developed knowledge of reasonable breadth by reading.

  • Without fail, the head nurse ends up being the one to find the escaped crab. She lets out a blood-curdling scream of abject terror, but Airi is able to pull the crab off the head nurse, sparing her of further agony. Airi regards the crab with curiosity, and subsequently reconciles with Umi-yan. Admittedly, while crustaceans are a fascinating form of marine life, I see them also as a delicious food source. With this in mind, not all crab species are edible: smaller crabs lack an appreciable amount of meat and are not a worthwhile food source.

  • Encouraged, Airi sticks her hand in the tank and smiles as the Red Garra do their magic. Seemingly disconnected stories are the norm for P.A. Works’ longer anime: they’re to establish the small changes that occur from chance meetings and give viewers a strong sense of who the characters are. Once things become better established, P.A. Works changes gears and gives the characters a concrete objective to focus on. Having been with P.A. Works since Hanasaku Iroha back in 2011, I can say with confidence that I have a good idea of their style.

  • It suddenly hits me that, prior to Hanasaku Iroha, P.A. Works would’ve only had True Tears and Angel Beats! under their belt. The latter was a masterpiece, and the former, I’ll forgive because it was their first work. However, some folks continue to hold True Tears against P.A. Works even to this day. I find this incredibly immature, since P.A. Works has since gone on to produce many solid of series (and only a small number of failures). As the day draws to a close, Karin reflects on Kukuru’s words about wanting to not go quietly into the night: the event had been successful by all accounts, but small victories alone won’t change Gama Gama’s situation overnight.

  • When Chiyu Haebaru shows up from another aquarium for training, Kukuru regards her with immediate hostility, viewing her as an enemy and a competitor whose existence endangers Gama Gama. This is apparent in how much vitriol she cuts the fishes up, and while Chiyu’s aquatic knowledge is impressive, Kukuru cannot bring herself to open up. This forms the bulk of the conflict for the ninth episode, since Chiyu is aspiring for a career as an aquarium keeper; in this role, she’d look after the various animals and ensure exhibits are properly maintained and safe.

  • Because of this goal, Chiyu is very serious about what she does, and out of the gates, she disparages the way things are run at Gama Gama to one of her colleagues. Whereas she had shown up with the wish of learning from a legend (Kukuru’s grandfather), she is surprised that one of Okinawa’s most iconic aquariums is become so run-down and aged. Her disappointment is understandable; while discussions elsewhere have been quick to vilify her, I found that Chiyu’s actions create a situation where she and Kuruku need to reach some sort of reconciliation.

  • This is why the conflict is introduced at all; the fact that Kukuru’s found a foe in Chiyu (and Chiyu’s mutual dislike of Kukuru) means that this is one more thing that Kukuru must learn to deal with in a professional and courteous manner, befitting of a fully-qualified aquarium director. At this point, Kukuru lacks that particular skill, and she goes ballistic when Chiyu slings a few insults her way. A physical fight very nearly breaks out, but fortunately, Fūka’s on hand to diffuse things. The stress and anger Kukuru experiences here creates some of The Aquatope on White Sand‘s best funny-faces, something that was quite absent from The World in Colours.

  • Kukuru’s experiences here bring to mind my own experiences with the Xamarin project I’d mentioned earlier: at the time, I was quite convinced that the hostility I was met with came from my approaches to mobile development being incompatible with HIPA-compliant practises. In retrospect, my conflicts with the Winnipeg team also came from my lack of familiarity with their DevOps procedures, and the fact that delivering an acceptable mobile workflow for onboarding caused them quite a bit of extra work. On my last evening in Winnipeg, after a back and fourth meeting with the Denver and Winnipeg teams, we met halfway, and I left the office for dinner at the Beachcomber: I ended up having a char-grilled Steelhead trout filet topped with salsa on a bed of rice pilaf.

  • While I left Winnipeg a little stressed, I was confident the project would soon wrap up. Unfortunately for me, the Winnipeg team continued to drop the ball with their backend development, constantly changing the JSON responses coming back from each endpoint in an attempt to make it look like the mobile app was failing. The me of now would’ve dealt with this by recording the responses while things were working so I’d have a video demo of my work, and then speaking to management about what I’d need (e.g. communications about endpoint changes) to do my best work. I am speaking from having three more years of experience since then, and looking back, I was no more mature than Kukuru as a developer. Here, Kukuru confides in Fūka, stating that it’d be wonderful to have an older sister like her. As it turns out, Kukuru is aware of her parents having another child, but she’s too worried to ask.

  • The next day, Chiyu is able to get some time to watch the legendary aquarium director, Kukuru’s grandfather, in action. However, Chiyu is completely dissatisfied that he spends more time tending to the customers than the aquarium itself, and feels that the afternoon was a complete waste of time. This is something that Chiyu has missed., but the contrast is readily apparent to viewers; Kukuru’s grandfather wishes to cultivate a sense of home for his visitors, and Gama Gama isn’t merely an institution for marine life, but also a place where people can go to relax.

  • Had Chiyu been aware of this from the start, there’d be no story to speak of. To really drive the stakes up, Chiyu gives voice to all of her displeasure, leaving Kukuru shaking with indignation. This was quite unprofessional on Chiyu’s part: I’ve certainly never felt the need to put down high school students while assessing their work at science fairs, for instance, although I do understand that leaving on such a rough note sets the stage for what is to happen next. A quick glance at the calendar shows that we’re down to a week for things, which means there’s precious little time for fights like these.

  • A week can indeed go by in the blink of an eye, although for Kukuru, time’s standing still – she vents her frustrations after Kai offers to act as a shoulder to lean on (in a manner of speaking). It speaks volumes to their friendship that Kai jokes to Kukuru about wanting hazard pay when she head-butts him. Much as how Fūka has proven to be quite distinct from Hitomi, Kukuru is different than Kohaku: P.A. Works’ characters are often quite similar in appearance and superficial traits, but ultimately, these small differences are enough to alter the look-and-feel of a given work. For instance, Ohana, Minko and Nako from Hanasaku Iroha return as Tari Tari‘s Konatsu, Wakana and Sawa, respectively, but different contexts and personalities mean that the character dynamics are drastically dissimilar.

  • When Fūka speaks to two of the boys who’ve come to see the aquarium as a cool hangout spot, they mention that they’ve been here often enough so that they’ve memorised every exhibit. However, Kukuru had heard from one boy that he’d once had a vision of his dog here. The supernatural aspects of The Aquatope on White Sand have been completely set aside for the time being, but the fact they’re occurring for so many people means that there’s a significance to them.

  • As evening sets in, Kukuru decides to head on over to the new aquarium under construction for a look, while Fūka receives a call from an old coworker, ending the episode on a cliffhanger of sorts. The Okinawan skyline here brings to mind the scenery that was seen in The World in Colours, which reminds me of the fact that The Aquatope on White Sand feels like it’s meant to take the magical piece from The World in Colours and add a Hanasaku Iroha component, as well. With this post in the books, I will note that I’ve never been anticipating an episode of The Aquatope on White Sand more, since things cut off very abruptly.

Racing against the clock had always been something P.A. Works had incorporated into their works, whether it was Hitomi doing her utmost to spend time with Kohaku and her friends before returning to the future, the merciless deadlines of anime production, the constraints imposed by the “Queen of Manoyama” contract, the Kissui’s Inn closing, or the drive to put on a performance before their school closes. Each of The World in Colours, Shirobako, Sakura Quest, Hanasaku Iroha and Tari Tari have the central characters fighting a countdown to do the most they can before one chapter draws to a close, and in each case, the series have all structured its pacing smartly, keeping the pressure on to create a sense of urgency while at the same time, giving everyone enough space to achieve their goals before time’s up. Here in The Aquatope on White Sand, a glance at calendars in-show suggest that we’re now down to a week before Gama Gama is set to shutter up for good, but we’re still three episodes away from the series’ halfway point. Pulling a miracle out of nowhere now would be disingenuous, and so, one cannot help but wonder if The Aquatope on White Sand is going to be going in a different direction: previously, P.A. Works’ anime have all hit their stride after their halfway points, with the first half being to establish everything and build the world up, before giving the characters a well-defined goal to pursue. It therefore stands to reason that Gama Gama will likely close as expected, and we might even see the aftermath of things (similarly to how Nagi no Asukara utilise a time skip to portray a story over a longer time frame). Regardless of where The Aquatope on White Sand ends up going, it is clear that this series has a large supernatural piece, as well – frequent mention of the visions visitors see at Gama Gama indicate that this will play a large role in things. As such, as The Aquatope on White Sand moves ahead, it will be important to have the supernatural occupy a more prominent role and affect the story more substantially than it currently has so far, as tying the workplace piece with the supernatural does seem to be where The Aquatope on White Sand is headed.

World of Warcraft: Setting Foot in Northrend and Exploring Wrath of the Lich King’s Coldest Frontier

“I came through and I shall return.” –General Douglas MacArthur

The end of my vacation was approaching: I was sitting on a bench at Taikoo Shing’s City Plaza mall and waiting at our rendezvous point for everyone to gather so that we could take a bus over to the airport for the flight back home. This had been a particularly memorable trip, during which I had the chance to check out Beijin’s Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven, Hangzhou’s West Lake, Suzhou’s legendary canals, and Shanghai’s world-famous Pudong skyline. At the end of two weeks, I was quite happy, but also quite ready to go back home. I stretched my feet, brought out my iPod and put the music on shuffle. Moments later, Howling Fjord began playing. I watched the crowds pass by while listening to the song’s Nyckelharpa, and my thoughts strayed back to a time a year earlier, when my friend’s private server was still running. It was not lost on me that while my friend had upgraded the server to support Wrath of the Lich King, I never ended up travelling to Northrend, since I’d been busy exploring Azeroth and Outland. The music of Northrend had been very enjoyable, making use of a variety of Scandinavian instruments to convey the sort of beauty associated with northern landscapes of boreal forests, striking fjords and snowy mountains. However, with my friend’s private server now offline, I imagined that the time to finish exploring the whole of Wrath of the Lich King had passed. I shook those thoughts out of my head and returned to the present, ready to board the half-day flight back over the Pacific, certain that I’d never have the chance to visit Northrend for myself. Eleven years later, I ended up putting together my own private server together; after growing salty at some overly serious players who saw fit to kick me from a dungeon, I decided to get my own Wrath of the Lich King server set up. Since then, I’d finished exploring Azeroth, built back my old mage and warlock, and finally got the chance to check out all of the major regions in Outland. With the old goals done, it occurred to me that here was the opportunity I’d been longing for. I thus spun up the server and boarded a boat that brought me over to the Howling Fjord.

As I began exploring more of Northrend, it became clear that, far from the dark, cold and frozen wastelands of the Arctic I had imagined it to be, Northrend possessed a variety of biomes, from thermal hot springs in tundra plains, to steep fjords, boreal forests and glacier-capped mountains. The world design in Northrend speaks to the improvement in period hardware: Northrend is bigger and bolder in design than any of Azeroth or Outland’s locations, featuring dizzyingly high peaks and tremendously deep ravines. In particular, Storm Peaks’ terrain is such that one must have a flying mount to even consider traversing some of Northrend’s most gorgeous vistas. It becomes apparent that Northrend was designed to accommodate the players’ ability to fly, and unlike Outland, vertical movement has been integrated seamlessly into map design to encourage players to get to a point where they can have access to cold-weather flight. Beyond the scope and scale of these new maps, one area in Northrend I absolutely was not expecting was Sholazar Basin, a tropical paradise surrounded by massive cliffs whose magic kept out both evil forces and the frigid weather. This was such an unexpected surprise: to find anything approaching the tropic in the far north would be a fool’s hope at best in reality. Stories of tropical valleys tucked away in the deep in the mountains of the Nahanni dominate the myths about some of Canada’s most remote regions, as adventurers of old imagined that geothermal springs of the Nahanni would create fantastical landscapes. Today, advances in cartography corresponds with the understanding that anything resembling hidden tropical gardens that far north would be implausible in reality, but in the virtual world that games like World of Warcraft provides, it would appear that these constraints are no concern. Thus, I took some time to check out the lush, verdant tropical forests in the Sholazar basin before concluding my journey at Dalaran, finally having done something I’d figured was impossible twelve years earlier.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • During the Heritage Long Weekend this year, temperatures were actually even hotter than they had been last year (33ºC to last year’s 28ºC). However, unlike last year, I had the presence of mind not to spend six hours doing dungeons; instead, I visited the Grizzly Hills for the first time. I found myself in a region of evergreen forests, rolling hills and swift rivers, and decided to take on a few quests to familiarise myself with the area.

  • Besides towering conifers, fields of violet also adorn the hillsides. Grizzly Hills is a decidedly beautiful area, and the background music has a very Nordic feel to it. However, unlike my earlier experiences, the monsters here are closer to me in level; they now take a few spells to kill, a world apart from when I was slaughtering everything trivially with my wand. In World of Warcraft‘s latest expansion, the game has been updated with what’s called a level squish, allowing new players to reach the endgame faster and get to the activities that most come for.

  • For me, raids and dungeons aren’t my objective – I’ve gotten my share of grinding for loot through games like The Division, and there, the game had been sufficiently well-designed such that one could solo the levelling experience and then still work towards unlocking a working loadout for endgame activities solo if they felt so inclined. In The Division, I used matchmaking to periodically party with others to complete legendary missions, while in The Division 2, I ended up finishing the entire game solo.

  • For me, being able to complete things solo is a vital part of a game, and when a game with a large group component accommodates this play style, I end up with nothing but respect for the game. Solo players are often at a disadvantage, fighting off larger numbers of enemies, and rewards are typically better with groups, but I find that being able to do things like collect most of a game’s most powerful items alone is an immensely satisfying experience.

  • I’ve now entered back into the Howling Fjord, capitalising on my cold weather flying to travel more swiftly over the northern continent. While Wrath of the Lich King‘s aurora might not be as stellar as those of Skyrim‘s, they look solid and fit Northrend’s aesthetic well. The aurora can be seen from almost everywhere up here, and they certainly liven up the long flights around: while Northrend is quite large, flights up here do not feel anywhere as lengthy as those of Outland’s.

  • I understand that I’m playing through Wrath of the Lich King in the most unconventional manner: this is something that is afforded by the game master (GM) powers my account has access to. In general, GMs are staff who oversee the game and will enter the game with an avatar to help players out (for instance, if they’re stuck somewhere or lose an item of importance), as well as to enforce policies. To allow GMs to carry out their duties, their accounts have access to powerful commands that allow them to become invisible, invincible, spawn items at will and teleport players.

  • On my friend’s private server, the GM powers were used to quickly gather all of the players for evening parties, as well as kit everyone out with a fully-levelled character so that we could take on some of the end-game content. During the server’s last week, I was given access to a GM account so I could build a level 80 character capable of travelling around Azeroth and explore without worry about being wiped. I utilised my abilities to create an Ashbringer, too – such actions would’ve certainly defeated the purpose of playing the game with friends, but at that point, since the server was about to shut down, my friend didn’t see any harm in giving me a chance to really play around.

  • While the role of GM was highly coveted back then (several of my friends had requested GM accounts for the purpose of spawning powerful items instantly), the role of GM is an actual role. A quick glance around shows that the average GM makes around 56000 CAD a year pre-tax, which goes out to 43000 CAD a year after deductions. Having access to a host of commands and being a virtual god is nice, as is the feeling of being able to help players in need and punish those who seek to degrade the experience for others, but it’s not an occupation I could see myself doing. Consequently, I’ll stick to acting the role of GM on my private private server.

  • With this being said, the exploration in Northrend has been quite unlike anything I’d previously seen on Azeroth and in Outland. Some of Northrend’s best sights are truly spectacular, and here, I find myself overlooking the seaport of Valgarde, which consists of a small town cut into the fjord’s narrow cliffs. Everything seen here can be visited, and while folks rocking a flying mount have it easier, the level designers fortunately had the foresight to create footpaths for players to walk down there, as well: it isn’t until level 77 where one can unlock flight for Northrend.

  • I’ve long had a fondness for watching sunsets from different places in World of Warcraft: the combination of mostly playing the game after finishing the day’s assignments and busy weekends meant that a large majority of my World of Warcraft memories are set during the evenings. I had previously mentioned that I would like to try and visit some spots in World of Warcraft by night, and wondered if changing sunset times might impact the times where night sets in. However, I never got around to trying that out last year, since I’d been wrapped up in Halo.

  • This year, with Battlefield 2042 and Halo: Infinite on the horizon, things are looking mighty busy, so time will tell as to whether or not I get around to testing my theories out. The Howling Fjord’s got areas that appear exactly as I imagined Northrend to appear, and with a flying mount, exploring becomes considerably easier: Northrend is very much walkable, and there are plenty of flight paths, but nothing beats having one’s own flying mount when it comes to pure exploration. Flight paths are only a bit faster, but they don’t always take the most efficient way to one’s destination.

  • Here, I’ve managed to fly out over to the Boreal Tundra’s Valiance Keep. This is the first place players would see of Northrend if travelling from Stormwind: the decision to have two starting areas in Northrend, as opposed to Outland’s one, was a consequence of The Burning Crusade suffering from capacity issues when all players congregated in Outland’s Hellfire Peninsula. The idea was that having two starting areas would lighten loads on different parts of the game world. Here, I look in on the city, having flown in over from Dragonblight.

  • While the Boreal Tundra isn’t too exciting of an area compared to the Grizzly Hills, directly north of the Boreal Tundra is the Sholazar Basin. This tropical area caught me completely off guard, and within moments of landing here, Sholazar Basin swiftly became one of my favourite areas in Northrend, mainly because it was so unexpected to see a tropical area so far north. Previously, I’d only heard of such a concept in tales about the Northwest Territories: prospectors in search of gold would return with tales of fantastical travels, and it was rumoured that tropical forests existed in the Nahanni National Park area.

  • Today, it is accepted that those travellers probably encountered geothermal springs in the Nahanni, and imagined that on the other side of the mountain, it might’ve been so warm that thermal energy was seeping through the crevices in the rocks to reach them. Such tales, while fanciful, are still fun, although the Nahanni is also known for being the home of many mysteries, including the macabre “Headless Valley”, so named for the compelling forces that produced a pile of decapitated corpses from visitors who were brave enough to venture into territories unmarked.

  • Nahanni National Park is a tempting place to visit: tales of tropical valleys and an unknown force aside, the area is home to some of Canada’s most striking scenery, such as Virginia Falls (twice as tall as Niagara Falls), Ram Plateau (a series of plateaus that rise 1800 metres above the rivers below) and Cirque of the Unclaimables that have no equal anywhere else in Canada. For now, the Nahanni is an area that is a little above my skill to reach (the drive is 1500 kilometres north of Edmonton), so I’ll settle for exploring spots within my grasp (and checking out more fanciful spots in games like World of Warcraft).

  • In the end, I spent an hour completing quests here in the Sholazar Basin and sought out the flight master here so that I could fly here more readily if the need required it: Sholazar Basin is a spot I’d definitely be interested to revisit in the future.

  • Dragonblight was the next region on my list; it’s a quest hub for players looking to level up, and its western edge is covered in forests. The eastern edge is more barren and home to a massive tower known as the Wyrmrest Temple. Wyrmrest can be seen from a great distance away, and it dominates the landscape. While the tower is marked as being a meeting place for Dragons, the area was quite quiet by the time I reached it. Exploring Northrend, I experienced the slightest bit of melancholy; this was something I’d wished to do twelve years earlier.

  • I occasionally wonder if the group of us on my friend’s private server would’ve stood any chance at all against the dungeons and raids of Northrend: save for one of our friends, the remainder of us were complete novices on setting up characters properly for end-game content and utilising our abilities in a party setting. I’ve seen for myself that players can become very serious about raids and dungeons, to the point of kicking people from a party for doing five percent less damage than is optimal. I’d never quite gotten over that, and this is why I have a private server to begin with.

  • If memory serves, I used the Dungeon Finder to join a group at Shadowfang Keep, but my level 20 frost mage was not equipped with the best possible gear for that level, so my spells weren’t dealing much damage. After clearing the first room, the party kicked me, sending me all the way back to the Stonetalon Mountains. I’ve heard that this is actually a more common experience than I’d initially thought, and veteran players note that this sort of behaviour comes from people power tripping; it’s something players learn to ignore. However, since I’m only a novice in World of Warcraft, and since my goal is exploration, I determined it’d be easier to explore on my own server.

  • During the past weekend, I had a few errands to tend to, and these sent me downtown. Since I had some additional time before my appointment, I decided to walk on over to the building where my seminar with World Vision was held some thirteen years earlier. I’d driven by every day last year returning home from work, and seeing this building reminded me of the Stonetalon Mountains, in turn lighting in me a wish to return to World of Warcraft. The World of Warcraft today is radically different than the one I remember, and while the game has seen numerous improvements, there is a charm about Wrath of the Lich King.

  • Here, I set foot on the Storm Peaks, a mountainous and gusty area covered in snow and ice. The foes here are closer to me in level, and while I can still engage elite enemies my level, it is clear that were I to be surrounded by enemies, I’d be finished in the blink of an eye – my most powerful spells can do a reasonable amount of damage, and with the Hot Streak talent, I can potentially have an instant-cast Pyroblast. Pyroblast is the most powerful single-target spell fire mages have available to them, but also has an extremely slow cast time.

  • For most fights, I open with Pyroblast owing to its high damage, and then follow up with a Fireball and Fire Blast where appropriate. Because fire spells also deal damage over time, I can whittle down individual enemies very quickly before they can get within melee range. Besides these utility spells, mages also gain access to the Frostfire bolt, which is essentially a best-of-both-worlds type spell: the spell takes a slightly longer time to cast, but will hit the enemy for whichever element they have less resistance against, making it a versatile spell to utilise.

  • The Storm Peaks’ greatest sight has to be Ulduar, a massive temple built by ancient beings known as the Titans. Nothing in Wrath of the Lich King quite matches it in scale, and its labyrinthine interior is home to a raid dungeon. Upon exploring Ulduar’s exterior, I was absolutely blown away by how large everything was, but it was a little surprising to see it so quiet outside. In retrospect, this is quite similar to how Blackrock Mountain had been deserted on the outside.

  • With Ulduar done, I changed course and prepared to fly on over to the Crystalsong Forest. Here, I pass back over more ordinary terrain in the Storm Peaks – it appears that it’s always night here, allowing the aurora to be seen in greater clarity. It hits me that a large number of places in World of Warcraft have the suffix -song as a part of their names, although I don’t have any background on what the origins of this are within the lore.

  • After arriving in the Crystalsong Forest, I was greeted with groves of golden-yellow aspen as far as the eye could see. Running through these forests, a very peculiar sight soon greeted me: violet-white trees composed entirely of crystal, which gives the region its name. According to lore, dragons fought here, turning the once-normal trees into crystal when they died and released their magic in to the landscape, transforming trees into glowing, purple structures.

  • We are at the end of August now, and truth be told, I’ve been pushing my blogging to the limits this month, averaging a post every 2.2 days. With September fast approaching, the Labour Day Long Weekend will offer some time for me to write out a few posts I’ve had in the wings for a while. September is actually looking quite relaxed – I have six posts planned out for the month so far, which leaves me with a bit of extra time for anything unforeseen that comes up. I’ll kick off the September posts come Saturday, and in the meantime, focus on making a progress on the drafts that I already have.

  • Here, I’ve reached the heart of one of the crystallised forests – it looks like a photo negative of sorts, although my character and HUD still have normal colouration. World of Warcraft‘s locations have always been fun, and while the starting areas are pretty ordinary in design, levelling up would really allow one to check out the more exotic-looking places. This was what I’d missed out on with my friend’s private server, and now, having set foot in all of the places of World of Warcraft up to 3.3.5, I wonder if it’d be worthwhile to create a post-Cataclysm server. On one hand, a newer server would have newer features available, most notably, transmogrification and the ability to fly in Azeroth, which had previously been a no-fly zone.

  • The tradeoff is that the old maps have seen considerable changes, and in Mists of Pandaria and later, the spells and talents have been completely overhauled to the point where I’m not too sure how everything fits together. Returning to Wrath of the Lich King, the overall effect in Crystalsong Forest is quite pleasing: in some places, the ground has cracked, releasing an eerie blue light into the air. After I concluded with the exploration, I ended up flying up into Dalaran: the city has a no-fly zone; although players were allowed to fly up (as of Patch 3.3.5), once in the city, flying mounts would be disabled.

  • The last destination on my list was the sanctuary city of Dalaran. As it turns out, there’s a crystal in the Crystalsong Forest that can be used. Of course, being a mage, I could’ve created a portal here without any additional cost to myself, but I preferred to do things the old-fashioned way. Upon arriving, I found myself in a very peaceful and well-kept city floating high in the sky. I ended up finishing a few quests here for the mage quarter, before reading through a quest that led to a raid (and then turning it down, since I don’t have the ability to solo raids on my own).

  • With this, I’ve now finished checking out Northrend’s more peaceable regions. I did fly over Icecrown, home of Arthas the Lich King – a glance at the area finds it swarming with the undead, and they are numerous enough to completely overwhelm individual players. In fact, Horde and Alliance forces alike use airships to observe the area, so I’m thinking that flying here is necessary to reach Icecrown Citadel; the aesthetic in Icecrown is basically a frozen, icy version of Sauron’s Mordor. I doubt I’ll be taking on Arthas myself – even in later expansions, where players become powerful enough to to solo entire raids on their own, the fight against him requires a group to handle the mechanics, so this is one thing I won’t be checking out for myself.

Having now explored Northrend, I’ve checked out all of the regions in World of Warcraft that would’ve been available to me back when Wrath of the Lich King was the newest expansion, fulfilling an twelve-year-old wish. I am aware that as a solo player, a great deal of Wrath of the Lich King‘s best content is simply not available to me; even the Molten Core was much more challenging than what I could handle on my own, and this was with level sixty enemies. It is evident that 25-person raids featuring level-appropriate enemies would be impossible for the solo player to attempt, and for this reason, I won’t be able to waltz into Northrend’s raids and slaughter my way to victory, the same way I’ve done in DOOM Eternal. This is one of the hazards about the most private of servers: without other players, much of World of Warcraft‘s most iconic experiences (gathering a party together and smashing up raids over the course of a few hours for the game’s best equipment) remains unknown to me. Having a private server means missing out on much of this experience. However, my interest in a private server wasn’t to experience the end-game content on my own; my original mission had simply been to revisit some of the experiences I had back as a secondary student, as well as try out some of the things that I never had an opportunity to. In this area, the private server has absolutely fulfilled its intended function, and I’m happy to have brought such an old experience back to life. With Northrend’s more scenic location now in the books, my mind turns to whether or not I’d like to try putting a Mists of Pandaria server together, or if I should take an even further trip down memory lane and get my old private Ragnarok Online server back up and running. There are stories behind both decisions, and both stories offer a bit to talk about, so I’ll recount them in more detail in their appropriate posts, at the appropriate time.