Wow! It’s been a while, but I am finally back. In truth, I’ve been here the whole time, but if all you had was this blog to verify my existence or non-existence, it certainly wouldn’t have been apparent.
I had a variety of intentions (mostly good) regarding my life and the various projects I was working on, etc., way back in 2019 when I wrote my previous post. The vast majority of those went swiftly out the window when my job, my hobbies, and my mental state were turned completely on their head by the arrival of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020. While I’m fortunate enough that none of my immediate family or close friends have succumbed to the disease, being trapped inside for several years made many aspects of my job (teaching at the high school level) and my primary outlet of expression (singing in choirs) much more difficult, less enjoyable, and in some cases simply untenable.
I had recently departed from a professional chamber choir following a change in branding and direction, only to then have concerts put on hold indefinitely for my only remaining singing outlet, a community choir based out of Bellevue, WA. I’m happy to say that now in the 2022-23 season we’re finally back to full steam ahead, but my passion for music was challenged severely by the events surrounding the pandemic.
Tabletop role-playing games, one of my other major hobbies, was perhaps the least troublesome when making the transition to online-only interaction. My players and I had already had a moderate amount of experience participating in and in some cases running games using a combination of Discord, Roll20, and various game-specific websites and tools, so running game(s) online was more of an inconvenience than a radical paradigm shift. Still, as with teaching, creating an environment that encourages the same levels of engagement that you would get in-person can be challenging. I ended my Tomb of Annihilation campaign feeling mixed about the experience as a whole and how it had concluded, feeling constrained not only by the medium in which we were now forced to play in, but also by the choices I had made in deciding to run the campaign more or less by the book.
I contemplated writing a post about my challenges with the experience and frustrations with this book specifically, as well as some of the issues endemic to the majority of Wizards of the Coast’s modern adventures, though unsurprisingly that fell by the wayside, as did many other things. My memories of what happened and when during the pandemic have since turned into a soup, so I’m not entirely sure when that campaign actually ended. Thankfully, game release dates are much easier to track…
Gotta Catch ‘Em All! Wait, Wrong Franchise…
During the summer of 2021, I discovered the Monster Hunter franchise. Okay, okay, “discovered” may not be entirely accurate. In fact, I’m pretty sure at that point I already owned Monster Hunter World and Monster Hunter Rise, and I had vague memories of playing demos of previous games on the DS handhelds. However, all my previous attempts at engaging with the series didn’t last long enough to form any real attachment, mostly due to the games’ extremely poor methods for trying to teach new players how to play. It shouldn’t be surprising then, that the game that finally got me into the series wasn’t one of the main series’ games or even the “off-season” handheld titles, but a game occupying an entirely different genre: Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin.
Being a big fan of Pokémon as well as Digimon, this monster-collecting RPG was a no-brainer for me. I remembered owning the previous Monster Hunter Stories on the 3DS and being captivated by not only the monsters’ designs but also the rock-paper-scissors combat between Speed, Power, and Technical monsters that was similar to Pokémon and other JRPGs but different enough to establish its own identity. Having since gone back and taken a look at it, I don’t think I ever finished the 3DS game; its large world felt a bit clunky and constrained by the tiny screen of the 3DS in a way that Pokémon games on the system never did, possibly because they chose the route of simply emulating the 2D overworld of their predecessors.
I’ve since completed the Nintendo Switch sequel twice, and writing this blog post is almost enough to make me want to go back and play it again. I was hooked! And still am. I fell in love with the monsters, and by the time I finished the game, I wanted more. As is traditional for games in the series, there were several content updates for the game that added new and rare monster variants and various challenges to tackle, but as interesting as these were, once I had obtained most of these monsters, there wasn’t much drive for me to actually use them, seeing as I had completed the game’s main story, and what remained was simply retreading of the somewhat lackluster end-game content.
Rise of the Monster Hunter
Not wanting to simply replay Stories 2, or at least not immediately, I was faced with a choice. I could play other monster-catching games, but I knew the monster designs wouldn’t captivate me as much, and in any case I’d already played both Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield to their completion by that point. As for Digimon… well, if you follow Digimon at all you know there aren’t many options there.
I could also give Monster Hunter Rise another chance. I already owned the game, so there was the guilt of having bought something that I wasn’t actually using adding pressure to the decision. I also knew some people who also played it, so that was another potential plus, though I hadn’t been doing a great job of keeping in touch with people at the time. Eventually, I caved and decided to just dive right in and really try to engage with the game, even if it resisted my attempts to do so.
Boy howdy, did it resist. I remembered essentially nothing from my previous attempts at playing World and Rise, and the barrage of wall-of-text tutorials doled out at a blistering pace were almost enough to make me shut the game off and never come back to it again, but somehow I persevered. I needed to fight those glorious monsters! One thing that helped me immensely was choosing a weapon that, at least on a surface level, was dirt simple: the dual blades. With the dual blades, I didn’t need to worry about blocking, only dodging and attacking, and I could move fast even when my weapons were unsheathed, something which is difficult or impossible to do with most other weapons. Missing an attack turned from a major penalty to a minor nuisance, and I was able to run circles around all but the fastest creatures.
I also ignored most of the knowledge that the game was desperately trying to shove into my brain and took things one at a time. I didn’t engage with extraneous systems until I saw a reason for it or it became necessary, and I looked to videos from community members to explain the more complex aspects of many of the weapons. It didn’t take me very long to finish the single-player “story” of Rise, though a large part of that is because there really isn’t much content if you don’t engage with the multiplayer hub… which, by the way, you can (and should) also use as a solo player. The decision to create this largely artificial division between single-player and multiplayer content still confuses me immensely, though thankfully the developers came to their senses and merged them together for Sunbreak, the expansion to Rise.
I’ve now successfully fought nearly all of the monsters in Rise, including most of the ones they’ve added in the expansion and their post-launch “title updates,” and while I haven’t gone back and played through the previous entry in the series (Monster Hunter World and its expansion, Iceborne), I’m fully invested in the series going forward. I’ve even gotten a few of my friends into the series through Rise and Sunbreak, though not without resistance in one particular case; he enjoys playing with us but, like me, is perturbed by the bloat of poorly tutorialized systems in the game. He has an even lower tolerance for it, so I’m surprised he’s still with us, but I digress.
Why Should You Care?
By this point you’re probably wondering why I’m going to such lengths to talk about Monster Hunter without going into a deep dive on what makes it so great, which is understandable. Other people have made that post/video, however, and that’s not what I’m here to do. I’m here to talk about projects I’ve started that have come about as a result of my newfound love for Monster Hunter. I’m going to do a quick synopsis of each one here, and then a more detailed post about each one later on. Before we get to that, though, I need to address the Gammoth in the room, which is, of course…
As with much of the music I write – and I didn’t write much during the pandemic – a lot of the projects I work on end up falling by the wayside either because I find myself no longer driven by what inspired me to create the project in the first place, or decide that I’m not growing or learning what I need to by working on the project. The project I wrote about in my previous posts, Diablo Simulator, falls under both of those categories. The inspiration for the project, Blizzard Entertainment’s Diablo series, is still very much within my realm of interests, but the company itself has recently come under a lot of scrutiny, mostly for good reasons. Beyond that, the project was mostly just an excuse for me to learn more about C#, which it did help with, but I also needed to learn more about pre-existing game engines like Unity and Unreal, and as the C# equivalent of a Windows forms program, this wasn’t doing that.
I chose a card battle game (ala Magic the Gathering) as my next project, inspired by recent roguelike card games such as Night of the Full Moon, but this too was relegated due to things at work getting a bit hectic. I even took a class to help with getting the initial architecture of the thing set up, but when I returned to the project I realized I’d be doing UI design and implementation forever and not getting paid for it. Thankfully, the artist friend I’d recruited to help with the project had similar misgivings; this was, as it turns out, not what either of us wanted to be doing with our free time.
After I halted development on the card game, I decided to sharpen up my C/C++ skills and get familiar with a new codebase by working on a hack of Pokémon Emerald. Or more accurately, after growing tired of playing the same old Digimon games, I found some frustratingly imbalanced Pokémon hacks that replaced all the monsters with Digimon, then decided I could do better myself (hah). At this point, the entire source code for the game is decompiled thanks to the absolutely incredible community around it, so I don’t know that there’s much to “hack” per se, but I don’t have a better term for it. “Mod” seems improper given I was literally rewriting the source code, but I digress. Redesigning and replacing art for all of the 300+ Pokémon that can be obtained in Emerald is a monumental task for one person, as I soon found out – in retrospect, duh! – but I learned a fair bit about how git repositories interact with each other, how Pokémon Emerald works, and how damn difficult it is to shrink pixel art while retaining its clarity.
With no incentive to continue the card game project and interest dropping in the mountain of Pokémon to Digimon conversions I had to do, I scrapped the card game, put the Digimon project on hold, and thought about something I could work on that was less UI-heavy and more akin to traditional games, something with more action, something where you could maybe fight monsters and collect loot and… Wait a second, I have an idea.
Leviathan (PC game)
Though I’d never played a Monster Hunter game with underwater combat, leviathans (the category of monsters closest to sea-serpents) comprise some of my favorite monster designs in the series, and I’ve always been fascinated by underwater biomes. Not wanting to dive completely into the deep end, however, I knew if I made something anywhere near as complex as Monster Hunter, it would need to be 2D, at least from a gameplay perspective if not from a graphical one. Thus, LEVIATHAN was born, a side-scrolling shooter where you explore underwater environments and hunt giant mechanical sea monsters. I’ll be doing a full post explaining the path the project has taken so far and its current status later on, probably after my D&D post.
Rise of the Blood Moon (D&D campaign)
Having finished my previous Dungeons & Dragons campaign, I knew I wanted to start a new one, but wasn’t exactly sure what to do with it. It turns out being a game master is loads of fun! The idea of running a campaign from a pre-written module again, however, was something I wasn’t super keen on. Never being one to do thing half-way, I decided, perhaps foolishly, to write the campaign myself… oh, and build a new world to go with it. Though it wasn’t part of my initial concept, my growing obsess– err, fascination with Monster Hunter eventually led to me revising the campaign and the lore of the world it was built on to incorporate nearly all of my favorite monsters from the series. Nearly two years after its inception, the campaign is still going and no one has dropped out, which I consider a tremendous success! I’ll be writing more about some of the interesting challenges I’ve faced running this particular campaign in a later blog post, so you can look forward to that if you’re a tabletop junkie.
Whoa, are you still here, or did you skip ahead? Thanks for reading, regardless, and feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions about anything. I am looking forward to writing about my new projects and other new adventures in the coming days.
Peace and TTFN!