Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Game Review: Mass Effect Andromeda

Don't let the negative user reviews fool you. This is a good game. I bought this game day one for the PS4. As a huge Mass Effect fan, I've been waiting for this game, and bought a PS4 just so I could play it. Since then, I've played every night for a couple hours at a time, sometimes more than that, and have thoroughly enjoyed it.
Yes, it has its problems. The facial animation is not what I would expect from a triple-A game on a next-gen console, but it's hardly as bad as people are making it out to be. Addison, one of the Nexus (Andromeda Citadel equivalent) fixture characters is probably the worst, but you don't spend much time talking to her, and honestly, it's just not that awful.
I've seen quite a few reviews commenting on the ugliness of the women in the game, particularly the female Ryder twin. Personally, I find the female Ryder to be attractive to look at. More to the point, she looks believable. She's a space explorer, not a supermodel. Looks all come down to personal tastes, though, and if you don't like her look, you can customize her. This really is a non issue.
Overall, this is a beautiful game, with an outstanding score and superb audio. The combat is much improved, something that seems to be fairly universally acknowledged. The Nomad replaces the Mako and the Hammerhead, and is likewise much improved, though it has no armament.
Another complaint people have made in reviews is the lack of new races. Statements like, "A new galaxy and only two races to populate it." This really is not fair. You're limited to one cluster of the Andromeda, and like the Milky Way of Mass Effect, a single cluster is not representative of the galaxy as a whole. Remember, there is no Mass Relay network in Andromeda, so races will be more isolated to their galactic points of origin.
Probably my biggest criticism is that unless you're already a Mass Effect fan, there's not enough context. Biotics having a hard time fitting in, for example, need more explanation for a new player, as do things like the Krogan animosity toward the Salarians and Turians. Also, if you run a biotic character, Cora Harper, your one biotic human crew member does not offer any unique dialogue options like Kaiden Alenko did in Mass Effect in your early conversations with him. Since this the first game in a new series (?), I would have like to have seen more context to connect new players with the existing Mass Effect universe. This game is written with the understanding that you already know the universe, and have already played through the first trilogy ...
... which brings me to my final criticism: it does not feel like a Mass Effect game initially. The class and skill interfaces are set up very differently, and the bumpers don't bring up the power and weapon wheels like the previous games did. Certainly not a deal breaker by any means, but as a longtime player of the series, it meant that I had to relearn the game, rather than just jump right in as I was able to with ME2 and ME3. Once you get into it, it does feel more like a Mass Effect game, but it takes time.
The story takes a bit longer to get moving, but it makes sense, as it's an exploration game, rather than a military campaign with an exploration element, like the first game was. Once it gets going, though, it's a decent story. And that seems to be the major factor: this game is about taking the time, exploring the various nooks and crannies, and letting the story unfold. Even the side quests and loyalty missions are more appropriate to the story, and in most cases, are better than in prior games, but you’re not beaten over the head with them; Cora won’t repeatedly call you to her cabin to discuss her loyalty mission. She sends you an e-mail, and that’s it. There’s no Kelly Chambers to keep reminding you every time you walk past, and she won’t refuse to talk about anything else the way characters in ME2 did until after you do her mission. Side quests and loyalty missions are things you must seek out to a certain extent.
All in all, this is a solid game, and if you liked the original Mass Effect, then you'll probably like Andromeda.

Who Am I?

Born in 1967, I still remember the Vietnam war, Richard Nixon, Watergate, and the Cold War. I grew up in a time when the pledge of allegiance was still a mandatory part of school, and attending parochial school from fifth grade until I graduated high school, I also experienced prayer in school. It was a different time.

We had telephones that were attached to the wall and phone booths scattered about the cities, towns, and countrysides for making calls when out of doors or in public places, such as malls. For mobile communication, it was CB radio or walkie talkies. We had no video games until various pong games and eventually Atari. Arcades were mostly pinball machines. Mostly, we played outside, read books, and played board games. There were no VCRs, DVDs, or streaming video. The internet did not exist. If I wanted to see a movie, I had to go to the cinema. Television was limited to three or four channels and cable television did not exist. If I wanted to see a program, I needed to catch it when it was on or wait for it in a rerun. Movies that I missed I might be lucky enough to see on television a couple of years later.

It was a time of Americans with no hyphens; African-American, Asian-American, Irish-American, such terms did not exist. We were all just Americans, though the lack of such terms did not make us any more united. Evangelicals were still calling themselves Fundamentalists, and "spiritual, but not religious" was a term yet to be popularized. Culture and religion were, at least on the surface, simpler things back then. It was also a time of uncertainty about the Soviets, nuclear proliferation, and the far off threat of Arab terrorists (we did not call them Muslim extremists back then). Our nation was somewhat schizophrenic, and I grew up with mixed messages of unbridled patriotism and deep seated cynicism. Religion was still more a part of public consciousness than it is today, though again, this was a cultural matter and does not imply an innate holiness or spirituality.

Growing up in a Roman Catholic household and attending parochial school, God, Jesus, and Mary and the Saints were always a part of my life and the concept of guilt was constantly reinforced. It also made for a schizophrenic morass of mixed messages and conflicting ideas. Both far left/borderline "communists" ideas were espoused in equal portions alongside hardline conservative ideas. Forgivness and faith alongside the tallying of every misdead (remember that guilt thing?) and constant worry. Endless criticism alongside unrealistic encouragement. The worship of money alongside messages on how unimportant money is. And the most maddening of all enforced conformity alongside messages of 'be yourself.'

All of these things influenced what I read, and how I read, how I wrote, and how I interpreted the things that I read and saw. It took many years, decades in fact, to finally start to strip away the parts of my person that were not really part of me at all, but which had been superimposed upon me by family, teachers, and society. To strip them away and to reveal who I was before I was told who I was supposed to be.

And so, here I am now. I am not a single defining thing, a nice neat category. I am a single father of two, I write, train and teach the martial arts, draw, paint, game, ride, and drive. I also work a day job as the inventory manager of the PC Technical department of a large data collections company. I am no one single thing. I subscribe to no political party. Yes, I have a religious affiliation, but it is my personal choice of how I connect with God, not the category that I fit into.

And my site is as multifaceted as I am. No, I'm not conceited. You are just as multifaceted as I am. None of us are neat categories. None of us are 'types.' None of us are defined by our ethnic or cultural origins. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

After a long absence ...

It has close to a year since my last post here, and a lot has happened. I suppose I should have made regular writing here a 2015 resolution.

So let's start with the motorcycle related news:

Remember that 2012 Switchback that I talked about riding in a prior post? Well, I bought it. I traded Comet in on Red Sonja, an ember sunglo red FLD, which had been equipped by her prior owner with an oil cooler and a Harley Signature Touring Seat with a rider backrest. It was a decision that I agonized over for months, but Lynda and I both agreed that it was a decision that made sense.

I added a detachable passenger backrest when I got it home. This one has the wide cushion, which Lynda loves. Being an FLD, she has a detachable windscreen, larger, locking detachable panniers, floorboards, and the big FL forks.

The bike rides much smoother than the old Super Glide ever did, but when the panniers and windscreen are removed, something magical happens: the bike's personality transforms from that of a 'Road Queen' to that of a Road Warrior. The stripped down FLD thinks it's a Fatbob, and urges you to ride with spirit and gusto. All that, while getting better mileage than the old Super Glide did.

The Twin Cam 103 engine is a true torque-monger, but it's not just for barhopping. Where my old 1340 ran out of breath around 75mph, the 1690cc FLD will easily take you into triple digit speeds. Having a six speed transmission instead of a five speed makes a big difference as well.

Since getting the bike on the last day of February, I have put over six thousand miles on it, and have added engine guards. I kept the Kurykyn iso-pegs with heel rests, and added those, and I kept the Python mufflers, though I will need to change the head pipes to use them.

On the personal front, I have published my science fiction novel at long last. The Silver Liner: Takes Flight! is available for purchase from Amazon, Barnes & Noble Online, iUniverse, and is available on both Kindle and Nook.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The littlest Harley, the V-Rod, and wny the Switchback made me want a new bike.

Hello fellow riders!

Sorry for missing you in July, but I was way too busy riding! In fact, I rode three Harley Davidson motorcycles that left very strong, and very different impressions on me. The first was the Street 500, literally the littlest Harley! The next was the V-Rod Muscle. It's a 1200cc, 130 horsepower beast of a bike, at least on paper. The third was the Dyna FLD Switchback, the Swiss Army knife of Harley's line. And without further adieu ...

The Street 500

I just rode on June 29th. It was certainly peppy enough, and I weigh about 220, but man is it SMALL! Tiny little thing, like an 8/10ths Sportster. And it isn't just the physical size; the rider's triangle is much smaller than that of a Superlow or an Iron 883, both of which have the same seat height and mid controls. Light as a feather too.

Overall, I was pleased with it, and the seat was surprisingly comfortable; a definite improvement over the stock Sportster seat. But if you're over 5'10", forget it. I'm 6'4" and I could barely fit on it.

Aside from being much more compact than I expected, the littlest Harley handled nicely and pulled strongly enough; more than strongly enough given it's intended mission. Revvy little thing, but it didn't lack pep and the ride was better than I expected.

And it looks a lot better in person than it does in the photos. The bike had a fairly solid feel, though the hand controls and switchgear feels more delicate than what I'm used to on my Superglide.

Overall, I think it's a homerun, though I'm definitely not the target customer for this bike.

The V-Rod Muscle

The V-Rod Muscle lives up to its name: muscle. It oozes muscularity and power. Long, low, with a thick back tire and an aggressive stance, this bike screams 'fast,' and with 130 horses on tap, it's no poser.

But that doesn't tell the whole story. In fact, it's speed is almost meaningless. The bike is too big to be sporty; way too long, and the riding position is terrible!

In fact, the riding position was the first thing I noticed, and it was so bad that I almost turned the bike around before I left the parking lot! The seat was comfortable enough, but the tiny little drag bars mean that you're leaning forward a lot, but unlike sport bikes, which have controls mounted under your hips, the V-Rod has forward controls. Mids are an option, and I've seen one with mids on the road, and for riders without my long legs, it would be a huge improvement.

But with forward controls, narrow (they felt like they were only about twenty inches, though I think they're actually about 24" across)drag bars, and a long, low frame, your riding position resembles that of a villain that Superman just punched in the gut. Being tall, my long arms meant that I was probably more comfortable than a shorter rider, and I was not comfortable in this position at all! And in spite of having forward controls, my legs were cramped up due to the angle of the controls; I had to lift my foot entirely off of the peg to upshift, and both braking and downshifting were uncomfortable.

I should note that these bars are unique to the V-Rod Muscle; the V-Rod Night Rod Special has a more traditional low rise bar. According to the dealership, the Muscle's bars cannot simply be swapped out; you'd probably have to replace the riser.

Did I say that this bike is long? With a 67" wheelbase, this bike is longer than a Road King! And once I had the bike moving, it was the first thing that I noticed. The length of this bike makes itself known constantly. When riding down the straights, this bike is stable; rock solid! It has that smooth, controlled ride that you get from a long wheelbase and thick tires. When you're turning, it feels ponderous, recalcitrant.

Part of this is the length, but I feel that those tiny handlebars really cut down on the ability to maneuver this long machine, which needs wider bars for anything other than going in a straight line.

Power was never a problem. In fact, for as much power as this bike has, it was surprisingly well controlled, and not at all twitchy. Throttle progression was smooth and even, and it only delivered what I was asking for. And when I asked for power, it really delivered! Though it doesn't get its power as low in the powerband as an EVO or a Twin Cam 103, it's rev range is nearly twice that of either engine!

In summary, this bike has a lot of very good qualities, but not necessarily the right mixture of them. I will have to ride a Night Rod to see what it's like; the seat looks a bit nicer and the bars are definitely wider and taller.

The Dyna FLD Switchback

I spent two weeks after I rode this bike trying to figure out how to buy it. I loved it that much! This bike felt almost made for me. The bars are almost as big and as wide as the bars I added to my Super Glide in my efforts to size it to my long build, the floorboards are nicely placed, and the seat was incredibly comfortable. And power; it had power in abundance, and its exhaust note was so sweet that I had to ask the salesman if it still had a stock muffler!

The FLD has a smooth, controlled ride, handles crisply, and has ample bags in comparison with the throw-overs that I'm currently using. It comes with a quick detach windshield and those hard, lockable bags also detach in less than thirty seconds.

This bike is well suited to a wide range of sizes too; at 6'4", I felt like this bike was made with me in mind. So did a guy who was 5'7".

About the downside. Well, there isn't one, other than that I have a car payment that's preventing me from buying it. It's heavier than my 620 pound 1996 Super Glide by about a hundred pounds, but you'd be hard pressed to notice it. It's rated for 42mpg combined, which is about what I get on my machine. And with that 6th gear, this bike probably does better than mine on the highway despite its engine having a 300cc size advantage.

So, if I traded in my current bike and sold my car to CarMax, I could do it. But when I rode home on my own machine, I did not feel like I was riding an inferior machine. The truth of the matter is that I am very happy with my 1996 Dyna. Yes, the Switchback is definitely an upgrade, but not one that I can afford, or can justify.

Thankfully, I can make the parts department at the dealership and J&P Cycles very happy by adding the parts that made the Switchback so appealing to my existing ride, and doing a few upgrades to improve the engine performance. All for much less than the cost of a new bike.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

One Year of Riding

First of all, many apologies for not writing sooner!

It's been a busy 2014; I completed writing two novels, both projects that began more than two years ago, completed a novel length fan fiction, and have put together curriculum for my spring and summer sessions of martial arts classes. All that in addition to working my 40 hour a week day job and spending time with my family and fiancée!

It's been a little over a year, and I have just about doubled the original 8250 miles that were on the bike when I purchased it last April. I've been riding it more regularly this April/May than I did last April/May when I first purchased it. There are a number of reasons for this, the largest being that I have a lot more confidence riding than I did, and I am using it for taking my fiancée out on the town (as weather permits; rainy motorcycle dates are not fun for her).

It seemed that the winter would not let go this year, and I rode through most all of it. Coming out of winter and a rainy spring (all of which I also rode through), I enter my summer riding season with supreme confidence. I also enter the summer riding season with forward controls; I installed these in May, and it made a world of difference! Wider handlebars, mini-floor boards, and a more comfy seat are on my list as well.

Riding from winter into spring was a magical time for me, as I was much more aware of the slow return of spring. The greenery slowly filled the gaps between the trees, changing the delicate lattice-work of branches into a tapestry of color and beauty.

Now, the corn is growing in one of the fields that I pass and some of the roads that I ride daily, after a month or two of grooved pavement, are now resurfaced just in time for summer.

In my year of owning a near two decade old Harley Davidson, the replacement of the voltage regulator aside, the bike has been bulletproof and easy to service. It has also proven very capable as a do-it-all bike. From daily commuting to weekend pleasure rides to light touring, this bike quite literally does it all.

After a winter riding season, however, I am considering buying a second bike to ride in winter weather, most likely a dual sport.

Anyway, I'm back. Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Musings on the ride of 2013

I know, I know, it's January 6th, 2014.  Yes, this is December's blog.  Yes, it's late.

So where to begin?

First, riding in the cold.  The coldest ride of last year was 16 degrees.  On the cold rides, most all of me stayed reasonably comfortable except my hands.  I'm seriously considereing heated gloves!  I purchased a really thick neck warmer and honestly, that's warmer with the half helmet than the full faced helmet is.  But then you have to deal with goggles.  Seriously looking at a three quarter helmet with a visor.  Finally, when you ride in the cold, you do get respect!  Especially if there's snow on the ground!!

Second, two up riding.  Lynda got her first ride on the back of my Harley on Christmas day.  Then we went on the Battley Cycles Winter Lights ride.  Finally, we went on the MC Hog Polar Bear ride on New Year's Day.  She's a good passenger, leaning with me and never leaning proactively or worse, in the opposite direction.  Comet, my 1996 Harley Super Glide did very well with a passenger.  She sports a carbureted 1340cc Evolution engine.  I was a little concerned that two people might noticably affect the bike's pick up and acceleration, but it did not.  Even the handling was not altered as much as I was expecting.  Breaking?  Now that's another story!

Thirdly, holidays.  If you want stuff for your bike or stuff for riding your bike, the holidays are a great way to put a dent into that wish list.  I'm sure that it's the same for riders of other brands; I got tons of Harley stuff, from a new bell to boot gaiters to a high visibility vest to payments on a jacket that I had laid away.  While asking for new pipes might be a bit presumptuous, some of the other items, like boots or gloves, are a great idea. 

And about that stuff.  Boots, jackets, etc., I spent the summer riding with the big, bad biker look.  Sleeveless denim vest and my bare arms in the wind.  It was a lot of fun, and likely I'll get some riding like that in this year too.  But I also picked up a summer riding jacket with pockets for the protective padding.  For daily riding, it's probably best to have a bit more padding and protection, especially in an area with the kind of traffic we have.

Finally, I have amassed thirteen thousand miles on my Harley, five thousand of which is from this year and is mine.  Had the bike not been taken out of commission for two solid months, it would have been higher.  I ride as often as I can and it truly has made my life more enjoyable. 

In fact, having the bike made 2013 one of my favorite years, as years go.  If you have ever thought you might like to ride, stop thinking and get out and do it.  You will never regret it!  Believe me! 

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Back in the saddle!

After almost two months in the shop, Comet is back up and running.  She looks like she was never in an accident and rode beautifully.  The one difference?  They couldn't get a black tag bracket so they asked if I minded a chrome bracket.  It's a Harley, so Chrome was more than welcome.  And so it was that my first modification was performed!  That first ride home was exhilarating.  Lynda drove me to Battley Cycles to pick up the bike on a Saturday, which meant hotdogs and soda for their weekend.  Summer was gone and we were in the last gasps of autumn.  Which meant that weekend outdoor picnics at the dealership would likely be coming to an end. 

I missed writing all through October.  Why?  I don't know.  I felt spiritually disconnected until I was riding again, and perhaps this affected my writing pace.

One of the things that I've noticed is how hard it is to tune out the surface noise.  I don't mean ambient noise, but the surface noise of the mind.  My mind is constantly thinking, evaluating, speculating, and commenting on what is going on, or on some matter in the past, or perhaps some future event.  A near constant din of inner monologue.  Most of the time, this is okay, but when I am trying to connect to the divine, to the spiritual, I want mental calm and peace.  I need the inner monologue to subside so that I can actually enjoy the silence and meditate.

When I'm on the bike, however, the inner monologue subsides and I have calm.  Mental and spiritual calm.  Time to simply be.  How often do we do that?  Just be.  So often, there is a multitude of things  pulling at us and demanding our immediate attention.  When I ride, those things are gone.  It is just machine, man, and the open road under God's blue heavens and Mother Nature's green earth.  It doesn't get more spiritual than that.

I was back on the bike to enjoy the beautiful colors as the leaves changed and then eventually fell away.  The process is not complete, but there is a lot more space between the branches than not and the usually green scenery around me is a mix of browns and grays.  My rides home are dark, as the days are shorter.  The mystery of the woods is a mystery no longer as I can see at a glance what is normally hidden by the veil of leaves.  With the veil lifted, I can see the many bare trees, the creek beds and in some instances, the homes built way on the other side of the wood.  The skies are magnificent as they always are, but the sun sits a little differently in them during the winter months. 

But it is the change in the seasons that ads another dimension to the spiritual.  It is easy to see why ancient myths arose depicting the annual death of a nature goddess who would be reborn each spring.  But a thoughtful look reveals not death, but the shedding of her summer regalia in order to prepare for the coming year's mantle of greenery.

And with the winter months come the winter celebrations.  Harvest and Yuletide, and the new year.  With the celebrations will come the preparations for celebrating Christmas, with all lights and tinsel.  And of course the occasional snowfall.  The lights and the crisp cool air make for a magical, whimsical time.  The malls and the stores are decorated and a feeling of good will comes to many, who are suddenly moved to a more charitable mood with the joy of the holidays.

Eventually, the holidays will be over and we will be in the dead of winter.  But only for so long, as spring will come crashing through soon enough.  Life will find its way back to the world and color will return to the trees and the ground. 

Ride through it as much as you can.  Take it all in.  Be mindful of it.  Appreciate it while the time is here.  The winter months are a time of reflection and peace.  What better time to ride?