Dirty Deeds in Fallout

Last time, y’all decided that our dear, sweet, lovely Athena, so new to the cruelties of the wasteland, so innocent to the horrors of life, only ever wanted to make it a better place to live, was going to be a down and dirty thief. Such a heel turn. And frankly, I’m ashamed of you all. How could you do that to her? Turn someone who so far had never done anything foul against anyone that didn’t deserve it into someone who would willingly violate the sanctity of someone’s home, take something precious and irreplaceable to them, and hand it over to someone else for nothing other than a handful of bottlecaps? I hope you all feel really bad with yourselves.
Which is to say, I actually already did this in the same session I was doing everything else last update, so I’m really glad you voted the way you did.

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But before we get to our Dirty Deeds Done Dirt ExpensivebecauseAthenadon’tcomecheap, let’s get some errands out of the way. First off, we check with Jasmine, a member of the Circle of Thieves on our way out the door. She hands us some flares and a lockpicking kit to get ready for the job ahead of us. We already have a lockpicking kit, and I don’t know what we’re supposed to do with flares given that we’re operating in the shadows now. Vendor trash, the both of them.
She also warns us not to do anything against Hightower, our little thieving target here, other than take his stuff. He’s apparently really good to the Circle of Thieves. He doesn’t know it, but he is. If he gets iced and someone with better security takes his place, they’ll be out money. So peace and discretion is the name of the day. Sort of.

We leave the circle, and start heading back towards central The Hub. On the way there, you remember the building I mentioned last time that has several toughs we’re not yet strong enough to handle? One of them sees us through a window as we pass by, and the entire group of way higher-leveled and better equipped enemies pile onto us. Uh…. that wasn’t supposed to happen.

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And look, I know I’ve had some fun getting Athena into and out of situations she’s barely specced to handle, but not this one. This one doesn’t go well. Continue reading

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Corpse Party

I guess I’ve just been in the mood for this. After I finished up with the Witch’s House, I started up its fellow Japanese RPG Maker developed horror game, which seems really too specific to be a thing but it totally is, Corpse Party. Corpse Party isn’t a freeware game like the Witch’s House, so although it’s got the same basic DNA, it’s got a much more professional presentation. And when you think of professional, of course you think of your main man Aether, so given that totally excellent segue, let’s get down to our review of the game.

Corpse Party is a version of a game that’s a remake of another game from like 1996 or something. There’s a couple different versions of the game, and they all seem to be slightly different in presentation. Basically a horror adventure. Trapped in a school. An evil school. Have to pixel hunt and solve the occasional puzzle to get out. All the while avoiding things that will happen to you. Bad things. Just in case you were thinking you might have to avoid ice cream or something. Wanted to be clear on that. The school is full of traps and also haunted and some of the traps might be haunted to. Maybe you’ll get possessed. Maybe you’ll go crazy. Maybe you’ll make the wrong move and find yourself sliced in half. Doesn’t that sound like fun? And if you die here, there’s no pearly gates waiting for you on the other side. Your soul will linger, feeling the pain you felt at the moment of your death for all eternity.

So it goes without saying that the death scenes are some of the best parts in the game. But let’s get into that later.

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So, like I said, Corpse Party is an RPG Maker Horror game. That should give you at least some idea of what you’re looking at. Sprite art everything, text boxes with occasional options the main means of progressing story, simple chase scenes mixed in sporadically, the works. And let’s get the conclusion out of the way here. Horror games are always going to be a ‘your mileage may vary’ type of thing. It’s so personalized, so built on tapping into just who you are and what makes you tick and twisting that against you, that how you react to it is definitely going to be an individualized deal. And I’m going to say that Corpse Party is going to be even more that than most. The horror is really all it has to it. The gameplay is as white bread as it gets, the puzzles barely require thought, plot is totally ehhhhhhh, so it’s all atmosphere here.

And there’s a lot of ways that horror media. Some go the psychological route. Some fill themselves with jumpscares and play off the fear of that momentary panic. Some will present you with things from your everyday life and twist them into freakish interpretations of themselves. Corpse Party goes the route of just being straight disturbing.

The ghosts aren’t particularly scary, in themselves. Nor are the traps. It’s what they do with you that gets to it. You know how most media, right before it does the horrible gruesome thing, will cut away and leave it up to your imagination? Corpse Party doesn’t do that. Corpse Party shows you the horrible thing the whole way through. And the creators are very creative with their horrible things. You get a few stinkers, sure, but for the most part, the game is full of cruel and unusual ways to die, rendered in disturbing detail. You get spared a bit by the fact that it’s all in pixel art, it’d probably cross the line into being rather disgusting if it was in a more representative form, but the descriptions and audio bits do a really good job of carrying that through. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. And if it’s not yours, nothing wrong with that. You’re probably what the professionals call “well-adjusted”. If that is the sort of thing you’re into, well, it’s what really carries the experience for you.

I do really have to give props to the game for its audio design. You don’t get the usual freesounds.com bits here, the audio is used very, very well to match the scenes. They’re unique, and really carry along the activity, and most of all, are the biggest piece carrying along that horror atmosphere that’s so important in this type of thing. The soundtrack is notably strong, as well. The voice acting was all recorded binaurally, meaning that if you’re listening to the game through headphones, you’ll get some pretty sweet 3D sound out of it. I’m too lazy to walk across the room and pick up a pair, but I imagine it’s a pretty interesting experience.

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The Fallout Legend-Killer

Man, it’s been a while, hasn’t it. Let’s go ahead and correct that.

So, last time on Aether and the Falling Outs, Athena killed some people for money. And this was a good things. Let’s see if we can keep that momentum going, shall we?

Also, Butch, master of the Far Go Traders, asked us to investigate why his caravans are going missing. We suspect a completely unproven urban legend that all the sensible people we know think is completely bonkers. That one chatty woman that buys our corpse-lootings suggested we check with a couple of people on the east side of town for more info, so let’s do that.

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The east side of town… not the best. There is a conspicuous lack of police presence in these parts. And the Hub is the biggest population center in this section of the wasteland. Which means it has a lot of crime, and outside of Decker, a lot of them are hanging out here. Case in point, this building. Full of guys. Bad guys. Specifically, bad guys who are both stronger and more numerous than we are right now, and who will immediately attempt to kill us if we indulge out natural player curiosity and attempt to look at everything in the game. This building will be important for us later on, but it’s a little too much for us to handle right now. So lets leave it alone for a bit, shall we?

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Instead, we head south a bit, and talk to this guy. Uh, sorta.

He’s what they used to call ‘touched by the gods’. Has an alternate view of the world. He suggests we go inside. Talk to Harold. This next guy.

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This guy. He is important. You won’t know this now. But you might have seen him if you’ve played later games in the series. He, or at least some person pretending to be him (Fallout Tactics is a weird one) has been in every single Fallout game released between this one and Fallout 3. Continue reading

Switchery

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Looks like Santa brought me a gift early. A peace offering, he called it. I see through his lies, though. I made my way out of his devil’s workshop with the loot in hand. Always careful, always wary, I checked it over for traps a hundred times. I’m still not sure there isn’t any sort of trick to it. But still, it’s hard to turn down a brand new Nintendo Switch.

It’s odd, but there’s a lot about the Switch that doesn’t translate over until you see it in person. I think part of that may be coming from Nintendo’s recent track record with consoles, where, while they didn’t quite overpromise and underdeliver and definitely have some quality experiences on there, still always felt like they should be something more than they were. The Wii didn’t have quite the detailed motion controls everyone hoped for, the Wii U didn’t have the games that took the hardware features to the limits, there was just a small amount of untapped potential with both of them.

It’s still new enough that I might yet be getting a touch of that new car smell off of it, so I may be changing this opinion in the future, but so far, it feels like the Switch is living up to every bit of what I expected of it.

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Let’s start with the base hardware. The thing is tiny. It’s a little bit thicker than your average tablet, but not by much. It doesn’t seem like there’s much room for the actual console in there, it’s all taken up by the screen. And yet it does. It packs quite the powerful machine within that small space. Graphics aren’t quite as good as the PSBone, but the few games I’ve played off it so far are able to to build things a definite step up over last generation, all within full and complex settings that, much like most of the rest of Nintendo’s offerings, are processed with very little stuttering and load times. Resolution on the Switch screen itself isn’t as high as on TV obviously, or even on many tablets, but it’s still high enough to make things look niiiiiice.

So if you know anything about me, you know that I’m a gorgeously huge sexy mangod. And that means I have gorgeously huge sexy mangod hands. A lot of Nintendo’s offerings don’t fit comfortably in my hands. The Wiimote’s sized pretty nicely for me, but I have difficulty positioning myself comfortably on the Wii U’s gamepad and the 3DS will actually cause me pain if I’m playing it for too long. When I first saw how tiny the Switch’s controllers were, I was worried I’d be running into the same thing here. Especially with the placement of the d-pad and buttons, I did not have much hope for good things there. Yet, I don’t know what it is about their design or ergonomics, but I’ve played for hours at a stretch and had absolutely no problems with it. Slotting the controllers into the… uh… controller attachment… the one that holds them like a traditional controller, that gets a little tighter than I’d like, but it’s still about as comfortable as the average Playstation gamepad. Playing with both of the joycons free has been my preference, and that’s about as liberating as it gets. The controllers are surprisingly small and light, but have a decent rumble to them, and they actually have better motion sensors than the Wiimote did. They’re lacking an IR pointer, which was the best part of the Wiimote, but I’ve still been able to finely aim things just using the motion controls.

One downside, the system has the weakest wireless receiver of any machine I’ve encountered lately. I keep my TV a couple of rooms away from my router, and although my laptop, consoles, and phone all have absolutely no problem connecting there, the Switch has a tenuous connection with the internet there at best. It’s a good thing the system’s mobile, because I had to take it all the way across my house just so it had enough reception to properly download anything. I thought it was broken at first. On top of that, I don’t know if this is a problem with the receiver or the controller, but the Switch does not always have the best connection with the right joycon. If I let my hands drop to my lap, or my aforementioned mangod hands cover up part of the bottom of the controller, my body will block the console from getting signal from that joycon. If that happens in the middle of a hot fight or tough platforming section, it pretty quickly spells doom.

Moving it from console to handheld mode is even easier than I dreamed. Thing doesn’t so much plug into the tv mount as it does rest comfortably on the connectors, so taking it out is a process that’s needlessly simple. It does take a bit of doing to mount and disengage the controllers, but nothing much really. And just like with the Wii U, I didn’t think that I’d enjoy having a mobile console, but surprisingly, I do. I never thought my lifestyle required it, but it is really handy being able to take my game into the other room when the orcs across the street get too whiny about how I spoiled their latest pillaging run or when my hordes of amorous suitors won’t stop calling me to the bedroom. Get to take care of those mild meatspace annoyances, while still bringing my all important virtual worlds with me.

Of course, no matter how good the console is, it’s all about the games on it. The console is a tool. It’s the artist’s palette, the playwright’s quill, the videographer’s camera. It’s necessary, yes, and determines a large amount of what the creators are capable of, but it’s really the creators themselves that determine what’s done with it. And there, I’m cautiously optimistic.

I’ve been a die-hard Nintendo fanboy for most of my life, up until Nintendo had that phase in the middle of the Wii generation where I wasn’t in the target market anymore. Then, Nintendo’s consoles just became one of the myriad array of gaming devices to me. My loyalty dropped, but in so doing, my world broadened. There were a lot of experiences out there, and once I started exploring them, my gaming habits became a lot more diverse. And I’m glad for that. Nintendo still makes some great games. They cultivate some fantastic experiences, and are truly one of the best developers in the industry. Their games are what’s kept them in the console race for so long. But, as the Wii U has shown, if you’re buying a Nintendo console, you have to be prepared to only get Nintendo games for it.

And that does take a lot of faith. And it’s one of the reasons why I was so cautious to pick it up until recently. I did get a Wii U at the very end of its production, but even now, after all the games have come out for it, the only creators that have put out a number of games I care about for it are Nintendo themselves and Platinum Games, who were contracted with Nintendo for those. I wasn’t willing to do so again, dropping a couple hundred on the Switch and only have Nintendo’s properties for it. But I did so, and so far, Nintendo’s the one that’s had any major releases for it.

Why did I do so? Well, for one, the Switch is showing more promise than the Wii U had. A lot of people claim that the Wii wasn’t a ‘real gamer’s’ machine, because they’re dumb. The Wii didn’t have the major releases the consoles of its generation had, but it had a lot more smaller, creative, experimental titles from a wide variety of developers, all of which brought some really nice quality to the console. The Wii U didn’t have that. Its sales numbers meant that niche titles being brought to the system had a long way to go to reach the levels where they could draw a decent profit, whereas PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 had a much more stable install base. I’m trusting in Switch’s surprisingly high sales thus far to take it closer to where the Wii was. It seems to have come out of nowhere for a lot of developers, much like the Wii did, but I’m hoping that once again, they’ll take notice of the Switch’s place in the market, and be bringing a lot more of the types of gaming experiences we saw a couple generations ago to us. It’s a gamble on my part, particularly as Nintendo has always struggled with relationships with other developers, but one that I’m hoping will pay off.

That gamble is somewhat mitigated by the fact that Nintendo seems to have more of a cohesive vision for this console. They’re still marching to the beat of their own drum, like they always do, but they seem to have much more of an idea which way they’re wanting to go. And they’ve been bringing the games to back it.

I’m imagining it’s going to take me a while to build my Switch library. I’m a notorious bargain hunter, and the Switch is still so new that game prices haven’t dropped yet. Moreover, with the biggest releases for the console coming from Nintendo, who are very aggressive in maintaining their games’ prices in a way few other publishers could manage and in the face of conventional economics, I might have to be on the prowl before finding deals I’m satisfied with. I’ve only picked up two games so far; Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Super Mario Odyssey. But those games. Some of the best I’ve played recently.

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Nintendo gets a lot of flak for running wild with the franchising, which is ridiculous, because they mix their gameplay models up withing these franchises a lot more than nearly any other developer out there. Breath of the Wild is a great example of that. It is very, very different than most any other Zelda game you’ve played before. So much so, that it feels like it could be its very own game. It’s a 3D Zelda that largely eschews the gameplay model the series has been using since Ocarina of Time, building something completely new out of it. And although the mechanics, storytelling, styling, everything like that are all so new they’ve still got that new car smell, the game still feels a lot like playing the original Zelda 1 way back in the day did.

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And Super Mario Odyssey. I’m not going to go the full review here, you can probably catch what I would say any other place on the internet. But I will state that I get the same feeling playing this as I did from Ocarina of Time back in the day. You can tell this is something very, very special as you’re playing it, a rare piece of excellence that only comes around every so often. This is the best Mario has been since 64, and given how great some of the other games to come out have been, that’s really saying something. I would be surprised if this has as much impact on the medium as Ocarina of Time did, we’re just not in a place where that’s generally going to happen anymore, but I do get a similar feeling that this is a game people are going to be talking about and coming back to for a long, long time.

Beyond that, there’s some fun stuff to look forward to, even outside Nintendo’s standards. Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Shin Megami Tensei V, whatever Octopath Traveller ends up being, there’s some real promise with this console. I really, really hope it ends up seeing that through.

Lagging Behind on the Leading Ladies, Part 3: The Creative Side

Introduction

Business Perspective

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It’s that time again! Time to talk about how I don’t get to play like a girl as much as I want to, and look into possible means as for why that is.

Today, we’re going to talk about the creative aspect of having women as leading characters in your video games. And it’s purely going to be about the art of making video game women, in a vacuum. We’re not going to discuss the impact audience reception has on creating just yet, that’s going to be a topic for our next post in this series, when we’re talking about the social factors. Most creators do create for their audience, but if we start working that in alongside everything else we’re talking about the lines between this post and the next post will blur and then I’d have to write the two of them together and I am too monumentally lazy right now to do that. So yeah, just focusing on the creative side of things today, looking at things from the perspective of the designer, not considering the marketing or receptive aspects of these.

This didn’t come up so much in the last post we did in this series, but at it’s core, the whole issue behind gender representation and everything else we’ll talk about here stems from the way we as a culture look at gender identity. So let’s talk a bit about that first.

I’m going to say I’m pretty experienced at being a man. I’ve got a lot of experience at that. Enough that I have pretty much mastered the art of physically being a man. On top of that, I’ve known plenty of women throughout the course of my life. Taken in their stories, their personalities, their… eh, let’s keep this G-rated. Never been a women, but I’ve observed them plenty. On top of that, as I continually demonstrate through this blog, I am a genius. My thinking is just of a top-tier quality.

What I’m saying is I have absolutely the highest credentials to talk about matters of gender. Accept no substitutes. My word on this is the best-informed you will ever see. And I’m telling you that men and women just aren’t all that different. Naturally, we barely have anything between us. Personality-wise, we in general have a few different drives, usually related to partnering or evolutionally instilled upon us from a period of life that we’ve outgrown faster than our biology has, but aside from that, we’re basically the same. Yes, we have some biological, hormonal, and brain developmental differences, but the differences account for so little proportion of who we are. Men and women have far more in common than we realize. Stripped of everything else, we all have basically the same capacity for caring, for aggression, for nurturing, and for enjoying video games.

But cultures in general do not recognize that. That’s one of the human absolutes, every single known human culture has developed a distinction between gender roles because people in general have a hard time not getting blinded by obvious distinctions. It’s human nature, in an attempt to understand people we attempt to see them as instant wholes based on the most obvious characteristics, rather than taking the time to figure out their individual features and building our concept of them around that. This creates expectations. Implicit, unstated expectations of how different genders are supposed to act, instilled in us since birth, and the mold by which we’re supposed to grow up into. Which is ridiculous. You cannot define a single personality trait or feature that reasonably applies to a full half of the human population. But cultures try. And in so doing, they create more differences between the genders than actually exists.

And that has negative impacts on both sides of the coin. Those impacts don’t always reach a one-to-one match, but the defined gender roles are hurting both men and women in different ways.

But still, it persists. That’s both the cause of what we’ll be talking about today, and the whole reason I’m writing this post series in general.

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The Witch’s House

It’s the season for it, right? Picking up some good, spookifying tales of your medium of choice. Seems to be one of the funnest things about fall for a lot of people.

This year around, even I, who am convinced that time is an illusion created by the greeting card industry, got into the horror season. Now, I’ve had an odd relationship with the horror genre. I really can’t put my finger on why, but I just stopped feeling it. Haven’t been getting the thrill, chills, and spills that people so much enjoy about it. Even so, I wanted to revisit those feelings this year. See if I could find a hint of that point of being deliciously disturbed.

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So I picked up the Witch’s House. Freeware puzzle horror game made in RPG Maker by Fummy, officially translated into English by vgperson. “Freeware RPG Maker horror game?” I hear you ask. “Those are all over the place. What makes this one so unique.” Just hold your horses. I’m getting to that. Patience is a virtue, you know.

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Now Playing

A while back, I mentioned my quest to beat all the games by console generation, and how close I was to filling out the PlayCubeBox 2 generation that I’ve been working on for so long I really don’t want to admit it. Just as a means of keeping myself honest, I thought I’d run an update on that, as well as what else I’ve been up to gaming-wise. This might end up being like a regular thing. I don’t know. We’ll find out how much it amuses me.

The Recently Conquered

Tales of the Abyss

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Tales of the Abyss is fantastic. I mentioned that last time, so no surprises there. I used a guide this time, and nearly 100%’ed the game. Beat the super tough bonus boss, got nearly all the extra costumes and what not, still fantastic.

Story-wise, it’ll be the subject of an upcoming post. Just need some time to sort through my thoughts on it. Tales games always have unique and interesting twists on typical storytelling tropes, and Tales of the Abyss did not disappoint. So yes. We will have words on this.

Summoner 2: A Goddess Reborn

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I mentioned that I was pretty surprised at actually having a good time with Summoner 2. That kept up most of the game. The beginning is a giant dreg. When you start building up in power, though, and start getting a lot more options in combat, it starts getting pretty fun, and it stays that way right up until the end game starts through a bunch of bullhonky at you. It actually gets more fun as you get more and more overpowered compared to your enemies, as you get to do more than what the horribly clumsy battle system is equipped to allow.

Of course, the final battle did lose a lot of impact by the fact that both the boss and your character were too big for the dumb camera to actually show what you or it was doing. Playtest your games, people.

The Bouncer

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This came out in an era in which Square just was no good at making games that weren’t turn-based. And it shows. The Bouncer is clumsy and feels slower than its game-type should be. But I still love it. I’m pretty sure that all just comes from good memories. I was introduced to this game over the course of a rather long night co-oping with a good friend of mine, and it’s always been very charming to me since.

I think it also helps that the game is really not long, unless you play it through three times in a row like they want you to. If you had to spend more than a couple hours on it, the games problems would get to be a lot more irritating, but as is, you’re in and out before it starts to wear on you. Kind of like my love life, in that.

Half-Life

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I really tried with this. I wanted to finally beat it. And I did everything I could. Took it as long as I could naturally, then worked in the invincibility cheat, and continued on from there. Finished up the dumb rotating teleporter mazes and all. Then, just as we were about to hit a climax, I started running into a persistent bug that continually reloaded a corrupted save. Impossible to continue, I had to end it. They did really try with the PS2 port of it, but the controls weren’t really working for me, and the glitches ended up killing it. A shame.
Although in good news, the internet says I was forced out before the worst part of the game. So it’s not all bad, right?

Now Playing

Star Ocean: Till the End of Time

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I’d played this before, but apparently I never gave it a real chance. Didn’t realize it, but I got farther in this game than I ever had before in only two playsessions.

It’s a decent setting. A really heavy mix of soft political sci-fi with pretty classic fantasy. I’m really digging it. It’s getting my imagination going in a way that only happens occasionally in these games, mentally exploring the world beyond just what I’m shown.

That said, I mentioned last time I wasn’t too enthused for this game, and that’s held up. It’s the battle system, mostly. Reminds me a lot of the Tales series, except it’s really not as good. A lot more 3D, but your moves are more limited, and that Fury system they have governing your combat is just a pain. In short, attacking costs you Fury, standing still builds it back up. If your Fury is full, you’re immune to light attacks, but you get a heavy Fury penalty if hit with a hard one. Thus far, it’s a system that seems to be entirely in the CPU’s favor, when it impacts the battle at all

I’m hoping that this is a game that’s going to be like Summoner 2 was, in that it gets demonstrably better as I get more powerful and more options open up. It’s showing the initial signs of that, at least. It better. I’ve got another 30-40 hours to go on it.

Simpsons: Hit and Run

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I don’t really have much to say here that I didn’t last time. It’s better than you’d expect, but I think I might have had the old whatever-colored glasses on when I implied it was a particularly good game. It’s sound, but has it’s problems. Particularly with adding an arbitrary timer on everything. I didn’t notice it at the time, but that was a really common feature of its era. All sorts of games this console generation drop a timer on something with absolutely no justification other than gameplay. Not everything needs a failure state, folks.

Bonus Round- Planescape: Torment

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Not one of the console generation, specifically, but I picked up a number of classic games since I started this quest. I’m not requiring that I beat them before moving onto my next set of consoles like I am with all the rest, but I can’t say I’ve beat all my games without finishing these up, too, right?

In any case, Planescape and I had a rough start together. It plays a lot like Fallout, which I love like I would my own child, so that surprises me, but yeah, not a fun beginning. The opening area got to be a bit confusing as I was giving conflicting instructions on how to exit, and my opening class was chosen for me, and was the exact opposite of the one I specced myself for. You don’t have to fight very often, but when you do, it’s quite tense. Especially because it runs off of the Baldur’s Gate engine, and I really hated the combat there.

Getting a party started to turn it around for me. I’m still handling most of the situations diplomatically, but now that I can hold my own in a fight and don’t have to worry about being reset with every bad speech check, even though I’m still not fighting all that often, I’m relaxing a bit more and just enjoying the world and its quests quite a bit. I appreciate that its a game that seems built around dialogue and plot and creatively approaching problems, rather than just smashing your way through them. I really enjoy the nuanced approach.