Wednesday, October 21, 2015


If there’s a tool to becoming a more successful anything, it’s probably mindfulness.

I’m not 100% sure if there’s a universally agreed-upon definition for it, but I kind of like Wikipedia’s. From the mindfulness article: “the practice of mindfulness involves being aware, moment-to-moment, of one’s subjective conscious experience from a first-person perspective.”

There’s a lot to that concept! However, it’s a tremendously handy process, one I’m surprised I haven’t really explicitly written on. I touch on it, but I haven’t explored this specifically. In many ways it’s the cornerstone of self-improvement in all areas! Let’s get cracking.

Listening to yourself

Maybe you’ve heard somebody being a hypocrite, or saying something exceptionally stupid or ignorant, and you thought “if only you could hear yourself right now!” That is, essentially, mindfulness.

The hearing part, not the stupid hypocrite part.

It means taking an active awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors right now. Usually, it also means doing so while withholding judgments about them. However, if you do have judgments, you also observe those.

I find the most passive, observer-oriented phrase to use is “I notice that…” and then I follow it with what I notice. “I notice that I’m feeling angry.” “I notice that my jaw is tense.” “I notice that I want nothing more than to go home and play video games.”

I just notice. That’s it. No other big gameplan in mind other than to quiet down, listen, and collect some data.

There is a form of meditation called “mindfulness meditation” (surprise surprise) based on this. Rather than attempting to clear your mind, you attempt to observe your mind. You sit still, somewhere quiet and comfortable, and you just listen to your thoughts. Often they will run away with you, but eventually you notice that, and you bring it back. You wait patiently for the thoughts to come through, and then you just watch them go by without forcing anything.

It’s actually a lot harder than it sounds. Especially for me, since my thoughts really like to rev up and take off without my say-so. After awhile, however, you do start getting the hang of it, and you bring yourself back to noticing rather quickly.

With practice and time, you will become more skilled at doing it in everyday life. It’s an internal process, so while you’re standing in line somewhere, you can stop for a moment, and honestly listen to your own thoughts as if you were an outsider. You can listen to your body as well, being mindful of the tension in your limbs, or maybe the pains and aches you’ve blocked out because you’re so used to them.

The skill of mindfulness is a nuanced one that takes time to cultivate. Over the time I have spent practicing it, I have become more and more aware of automatic, formerly unconscious processes in my head. It was almost like getting to “see” my thoughts in higher and higher resolutions, noticing gaps and shifts where I hadn’t before. Our motives, our thoughts, our beliefs, our wants, our desires, they can take on fractal degrees of complexity. And even though I knew that consciously for a long time, it amazes me how many little zigs and zags are inside my mind. I have always been an introvert, but mindfulness has an entirely different flavor to it.

Why do this, again?

There are a few objectives with mindfulness.

One of them is to avoid getting carried away with long trains of thought. Like I said, I struggle with that in general. It gets worse for me when I’m in competitions, when I’m nervous and anxious, when I’m trying to sleep, when I’m bored in school, things like that.

In many ways, writing has been a mindfulness tool for me, because it displays my thoughts on screen or paper, and that forces me to confront them as an outsider, to structure them, challenge them, understand them. It doesn’t seem like we should have trouble understanding our own thoughts, but if you just observe them, you will quickly confront how illogical and paradoxical your own mind can be. You will wonder, “why did I think that?” Then you will notice that you wondered...

And you will stop. You won’t get whisked away on that bullet train of the associative stream of consciousness; you will watch it from the hillside, noting its turns, its hooks, and places where the tracks could probably use some repair. Which is the second reason you do it.

When you work on a math problem (which I seem to spend a lot of time doing nowadays), you may spend a lot of time trying to figure out why you’re constantly getting a wrong answer. It seems like everything is going right, but you’re just not getting the answer from the book, or that the teacher has given you, or whatever.

Usually this happens because you have a faulty interpretation of how to solve the problem, or a faulty interpretation of the tools that you use to solve it. Sometimes you’re just going too fast and making a mistake without noticing. So the simplest thing is to become mindful of your thought process, and in this regard, you might describe it to yourself, noticing every component of it, one at a time.

Then you realize that, somewhere in the problem, you were hastily zipping over the part where you calculated “six squared,” and you kept getting “forty-eight,” and it was ruining everything.

With mindfulness, you turn your gaze onto your thought processes. You don’t judge it, you just observe it. You watch the train go by, you don’t necessarily get on it.

And that’s the third big reason. Noticing something, like a stressed or anxious thought, can help you get a bit of distance and perspective. Have you ever given great advice and then noticed just how bad you are at using it? Happens to me all the time.

When I am mindful, I see my problems or my thoughts from an outsider’s view; because they don’t carry me away, I also don’t receive the emotional components of them. At least, I don’t receive them to the same degree. This relieves that pressure, which lets me give myself the advice I would give somebody else.

The improvement part

“What gets measured, gets managed.” -- Peter Drucker

I dial you up and ask you to help me fix my computer. You ask me what’s wrong with it, and I hang up instantly, disgusted that the problem isn’t fixed.

You stare at the receiver, confused. Why on earth would I ask for help fixing something, but not give you any information on how it works, on how it’s malfunctioning? No description? Nothing? How can you fix what you have no information on?

“How do I get to the restaurant from where I am?”

I don’t know. Where are you?

“I hardly see how that’s relevant.”


Mindfulness means you can measure your thoughts. You can collect data on the mind. With data comes patterns, shape, and structure. You can see flaws in your thought processes, dysfunctions, the places where you are causing yourself issues. This, however, is where it’s important to withhold judgment on your own thoughts.

There is a bias in psychology called the “social desirability bias.” Basically it means, if I ask you a personal question on a survey, you might not answer it accurately because you don’t want to look bad. This sucks for me, the survey collector, because I don’t want data that makes you look good, I want accurate data. Otherwise I’m not measuring things right. I’m certainly not going to manage well.

For instance, if I bring a box of bagels to my office, and then I have a jar for payment or donations or whatever, and I ask people how much they give on average, they might try to say a higher number than is true. I’ll compare the averages, and notice that I should be walking out of that office with $200 because my co-workers are apparently just that generous. Well bad news, I know you’re not that generous, and now I know you’re all liars, too. Not that I’m judging, of course.

If we are too judgmental of our internal thoughts, we can easily trigger that bias, even when we’re completely alone! It can be painful to confront a negative truth about ourselves, to accept that we have acted irrationally, or out of line with some value we hold dear. We may try to be more desirable and good in our own heads, because we don’t want to feel negatively towards ourselves. Even when it means lying to ourselves, making things up, or completely avoiding certain thoughts. This is the root of the cognitive dissonance model (look it up!), which explains so much goofy human behavior it’s kind of scary.

So you must not judge. You can’t say, “I notice that I’m angry and that’s bad because i’m not supposed to be an angry person oh god what happened to me I’m just like my father.” If you do judge, you must notice the judgments (and don’t judge them either!). You may want to (don’t judge that either), but resist. Because if you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it, and if it’s your thoughts causing a bunch of your own problems, that is going to cost you dearly down the line. The line they carried you down.

However… if you become mindful, if you start noticing your thoughts in a calm and dispassionate manner, you start getting real data. You also reduce your own tension and anxiety about the thoughts (since the judgments often trigger those things), which will help you be more accurate and useful with your assessments.

Being here, now

“There was a tale he had read once, long ago, as a small boy: the story of a traveler who had slipped down a cliff, with man-eating tigers above him and a lethal fall below him, who managed to stop his fall halfway down the side of the cliff, holding on for dear life. There was a clump of strawberries beside him, and certain death above him and below. What should he do? went the question.
And the reply was, Eat the strawberries.
Neil Gaiman, American Gods (taken from

I thought I understood that quote, but its weight actually hit me hard recently.

I was walking through my campus, immediately after a class, headed back to my car. I was stressed out thinking about the homework I had coming up, and then I was stressed because I know that stress just destroys my ability to focus and study. When I’m stressed, I have this tendency to bail on the stressful situation, and do something comforting instead, especially if I can convince myself I have enough time to take care of it later, when I feel better.

Procrastination! The absolute best. Best best best.

Anyhow, I wanted to cut down the stress, and I mentally began cataloging the methods I had at my disposal. Listening to music helps me a lot. Going for walks helps. Deep breathing. I started to wonder when I was going to do that. Maybe I could do all that once I got home? Pop in headphones, go for a nice slow walk (it was good weather), and…

That’s when I realized that I was walking across my college campus in lovely, mild weather, and my headphones were already in.

I was so stressed about becoming stressed that I didn’t realize I was already doing the thing that fixed it. Because I wasn’t paying any attention to my relaxation methods, I wasn’t receiving the benefits. Without noticing the breeze on my face, without hearing the playlist that always gives me energy and motivation and confidence, I was completely wasting my own time. It was worse than waste! I was receiving no benefit and adding stress to it by dwelling!

To bring it back to that quote, I had my metaphorical strawberries, and I wasn’t eating them.

Actually... to talk about that quote a bit, it’s important not to oversimplify the idea. You don’t just give up when you’re in a stressful situation and look for the nearest serotonin/dopamine pump to distract you from real problems. Hey, we’re all gonna die, we’re surrounded by tigers and spikes and cliffs. Eat the cocaine infused strawberries.

No. Not quite.

The point is be here, where you are, right now. Do not get sucked away into thinking about things in the past you can’t change, or into future stuff you can’t impact by worrying. Don’t meta-worry by stressing out about the stress. Don’t become anxious about the anxiety. Don’t get nervous about your nervousness.

Look at where you are, right now. Do something productive based on that. In my case, it was “focus on my walk, and enjoy my music on the walk to my car.” That was the stress reducer that would help me focus more when I needed it. It was exactly what I wanted, so I did just that.

This is one of the applications of mindfulness. You hear and observe your own thoughts, you become aware of your feelings, your behaviors… but you also become more aware of where you are right now. That lets you act more productively! It can even save your life, like when you get into your car but you’re so busy thinking about something else that you drive like crap.

If you observe, calmly and without judgment, you can also avoid over-focusing on the things that just aren’t helping. You notice them. You notice they aren’t giving you solutions, so you look elsewhere. You can start to see things you didn’t before.

You might see strawberries, but you also might see a handy ladder. These are the things you might be too panicked to notice because you were imagining your fall, or you were still staring at the tigers above you.

If we generalize this to competition, we begin to notice thoughts like “oh god I hope I don’t lose,” and realize we aren’t using the tools that normally calm us down instead. We notice that we are just standing there fumbling with our controller, that we’re just tapping an empty energy drink on a nearby counter nervously when we could be warming up or stretching.

We notice that we’re obsessing on the crowd, and we ask “well, does focusing on the crowd help me play better?” I repeat, I repeat, I repeat; judgment needs to be turned off for this. Otherwise you get sucked into a different thought current. Things like, “ugh, I shouldn’t be so distracted by the crowd I’ve been playing for eight years now, why can’t I just learn to deal with it, why do I always do this right before I play…” Stop!

Sorry for yelling.

Take that moment to notice without judging. Take that moment to observe yourself, to be mindful. The advice you might give somebody else might come to mind, things like “take some deep breaths, stretch those hands, and start warming up, it’ll help you take your mind off that crowd.”

You may also realize that because you’re focusing on the thought as its own object, rather than what the thought represents, its emotional association is already weaker. You are already calming down. You are already asserting a control you didn’t have before. That lets you get to business.

When to turn it off

There is definitely a weakness with mindfulness and introspection and stuff like that. Rather than a weakness, we’ll call it a danger.

I mean, it sounds really awesome. I’m examining my thoughts! I’m being productive and being more “right” more of the time. It’s better than getting lost in the moment and not realizing what I’m doing, right?

Rrrrright…. wrong? Rightwrong?

If the goal of mindfulness is to keep yourself centered on your current moment, to be accurate and productive and notice where you are… then you do want to be in the moment. Just not lost in the moment. Immersed is a better word. Immersed, but not lost.

The inside of your head is not always the moment you need to be in. Sometimes the moment is laughing with your friends and having an amazing time. Sometimes the moment is focusing hard on this test, right now. Sometimes the moment is feeling badly about a wrong you have done, because if you don’t feel badly, you might not feel motivated to do things differently next time. Sometimes the moment is feeling nervous, because nervousness gives you the adrenaline to focus harder, to react faster, and deal with the situation as it is.

Mindfulness, as a tool, is not about constantly exerting tight control on your mind. It’s about being able to step outside and see where you are, so you can re-orient and continue. It’s about figuring out which moment you’re in so you can immerse yourself in that, rather than in something that isn’t useful or productive.

A comparison might be riding a horse. You are the rider, your mind/brain/emotions/body/whatever is the animal. The rider does not get down and start moving the horse’s legs for it. It doesn’t jerk the reins around crazily to make sure the horse does exactly what it wants all the time. The rider wants a light and delicate touch that keeps the horse on the path, then it lets the horse actually do its job. The rider might let the horse know it needs to pick up the pace or slow down, it might stop the horse completely to check and make sure it’s healthy. It keeps an eye out for things the horse might not notice, but also trusts the horse will be aware of things it’s not. In an ideal situation, the rider and the horse are working together.

The rider also wants a horse that actually listens to it when it really does know what’s best, which is why they train and ride together. No rider is quite the same, no horse is quite the same; with time and understanding, they figure each other out and get used to each other.

Most of us are not that rider, and our bodies/minds/brains are not that horse. We can get by, but it’s a little bit of a struggle. Or a huge one, depending.

But that’s mindfulness. You quiet down listen to yourself. You don’t judge and deny or distort the observations with other preferences. You just notice.

You learn the patterns, you learn to manage yourself, to keep yourself calm, and you figure out how to keep yourself on the path. You measure yourself so you can manage. But when you’ve put yourself in the right place, pointed in the right direction, you don’t keep trying to steal control. You just ride.

Thanks for reading. See you next time.

Thursday, August 6, 2015


In a way, competitive gaming taught me empathy. That's not to say that I didn't have any to begin with. But it definitely encouraged me to think about it from a different perspective.

That’s not exactly where I’m going to start though.

At a group dinner (might have been a holiday), I remember somebody saying, “rationality is not part of empathy, it’s an emotional process,” and I stared at them funnily for a bit.

You have to legitimately think your way into another person’s mind to try and understand them. Why do they think how they think? If you don’t already agree with them, then your emotions probably won’t do the trick. You will just go, “no you’re wrong,” and the process will shut down. Anytime you see somebody screaming “you need to be more empathetic!!” at somebody, they should probably be screaming at themselves. Because it’s really hard to scream and yell at somebody if you have actually bothered to understand them.

Rationality becomes an important part of this process. You do not experience the world the way others do. So if you try to use empathy, but you do it lazily, you just wind up being yourself, except in a slightly different perspective. The two phrases “if I were you” and “if I were in your position” sound similar, except they’re very, very different. Empathy is the process of using the first sentence to more fully understand the world. The second one is used for advice, or angry blogging.

One case I see in real life is religion. You may believe that tolerance is a virtue, and you should never force your belief down somebody else’s throat. But this is only virtuous if it’s a value that you already hold.

But let’s imagine. Let’s use a bit of rationality too.

Imagine that you live in a world where you truly believe that there is heaven and hell. Let’s imagine that you truly believe that the wrong behaviors, thoughts, and attitudes will send you to a domain of eternal pain and suffering. Now stop panicking, because that’s actually terrifying.

Now let’s pretend that you truly care about your fellow human beings. You tell them these things (because apparently they don’t know) and they say “go away you’re annoying me.” Your response?

I’m annoying you? That is nothing compared to having malevolent spirits torture you and your soul for an unfathomable length of time. This tiny amount of irritation you feel, the social discomfort I feel knowing that people find me a bit insufferable, this is literally nothing (as a ratio) compared to the evils that await non-believers and non-practitioners. You do not understand. I am trying to help you. And if I let a bit of social discomfort stop me from doing my damndest (ha) to save you from an eternity of pain because it annoys you? What kind of awful, terrible person would I have to be? That is so awful that *I* would go to hell. How can you honestly ask me to do that? If tolerance, as a virtue, means letting my fellow human beings endure infinite pain, then it’s not a virtue I want to have!

Empathy is such a strong tool that people don’t really want to exercise it. I think it’s because they fear that using it on somebody they dislike means becoming what they dislike. And in a way, it is. But not really. You can have empathy and sympathy for a viewpoint without adopting it. I am not religious whatsoever. But I imagine somebody religious, who truly wants to be good and save people's souls (remember, they honestly believe your soul is in danger) would think this way.

It’s the kind of thinking that makes a missionary give up a comfortable life at home to travel into a foreign land filled with disease and spiders and angry natives, to try and save their souls when they don’t even want to be saved. If you ask somebody filled with that belief to stop because they’re being annoying, you probably have not bothered to try and understand.

What About Video Games

“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them.... I destroy them.” -- Ender’s Game

To compete against somebody successfully often means seeing the world the way they do. You must know what they want so that you can prevent them from getting it. To do this most effectively, you must have a tremendous empathy for them. You must adopt their worldview, you must know what they are looking for, and then you can prevent it.

You do not understand how to defeat a certain character in a given matchup. What do you do? Well, you might think the best thing to do is to study the best players who have won that matchup. However, it can be equally effective--if not more effective--to try playing as the opponent’s character. This gives you a significantly greater feel for their weaknesses and frustrations. You may come to understand that things that seemed invincible were full of holes. You may find a technique that seemed broken and overpowered was risky and preventable.

You are suddenly your opponent. Where do you find yourself weakest? Where do you find yourself strongest? What suddenly becomes your gameplan, your target? Once you understand those things and you reverse the situation, you can begin the process of defeating them.

Curious sidenote: At some point, almost everything in Splatoon frustrates me when I’m trying to win. But there is one thing that has yet to actually annoy me, which is the Inkzooka. It is easily one of the specials with the most raw power; it’s a long range, one-shotting cyclone of ink that can take out an entire team, shut down any weapon in the game, and is especially brutal in a laggy online environment.

This special, however, is part of the kit of my favorite weapon, the Tentatek Splattershot. My strategies with that weapon depended, in part, on using the Inkzooka to win situations that would otherwise be unfavorable. I have used that special too much to get mad when it’s used against me, because I understand how important it is for it to exist, otherwise the weapon would not be nearly as effective. Compare that to other weapons I use far less; when they beat me, I have decent odds of thinking, “ugh, that’s so stupid.” But not for something that I know in and out.

I also know when somebody on the other team will want to use it. As a result, I attempt to shut down the other person when it would be most inconvenient for them. This helps me win. By thinking my way inside the mind of the other person (because I’ve been there) and this provides me an advantage. It helps me come up with answers to it faster, and the nice part is, when I see things I don’t expect, I can relate them back and use them myself.

So the act of putting myself in another’s shoes makes me stronger, in a variety of ways. Use empathy, and destroy your enemies. That sounded better in my head.

This isn’t just about the game though. It’s also more about the spirit of competition in general.

I had a brief and silly conversation with a friend after losing a tournament match against them. I jokingly admonished, “how could you beat me? I wanted to win.”

So they said back to me, “yeah but… I did too.”

This seems like the dumbest, most obvious conversation two people could have after having a tournament match. But let’s think about it anyhow.

You and I both show up to a tournament. We both play to win. We both do what we think will lead to victory. Neither of us want to be eliminated. Neither of us want to play badly. Both of us prepare and practice, both of us are looking for ways to advance. Only one of us gets to. Only one person gets to win a tournament. How do you get to be friends outside an event while trampling each other’s dreams inside it?

Well, empathy. You know what it’s like to be them. So you understand. That’s what the “good luck” is for at the start of the game, and the handshakes after. It’s partially for politeness, but also an acknowledgment that you both are there to play and win. This is why you don’t hold it against somebody for defeating you; you both know why you’re there and what you want.

Of course, you don’t always use this empathy. Sometimes we hate on people for doing something, when we would have done the same thing in their shoes. We don’t stop to think from their mind. Sometimes it takes a lot of extra thinking and questioning. Questions like, “what would it really be like to be this person? If I really was in their position?” You have to use imagination and reasoning that can lead to uncomfortable conclusions.

But it certainly does help. It can help you win, and can also help you when you lose.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Thoughts on Splatoon

Splatoon came out recently, and I know a lot of people have been pretty excited about it. I’ve had several hours to play it, so I thought I'd talk about it a little.

First, the game’s a terrific time thief. You will “one more game” yourself through a whole day if you aren’t careful. That’s usually a selling point, as far as entertainment goes.

Second, it reminds me that the hidden star of the show for video games are their sound effects. Splats and splortches abound, they make everything extra satisfying.

Third, it’s pretty and smooth and stylized. Rather enjoyable to look at, overall. Plus the use of opposing colors is such a smart way to guide the player’s eye, and the initial moment of the match (where you start spraying ink over the level) is a great moment to acclimate the player to “this is my ink” and it mentally turns into your “good” zone. This draws you mentally to the other team’s ink as the “bad” zone and so there’s clear objectives everywhere. This means you can easily keep up with the shifting lines of attack and possibility. You see a big pool of enemy ink, it’s both a target but a hazard, and you instantly know this.

But really, let’s talk about the gameplay!

The two most common complaints that I’ve heard are pretty simple; there are only 5 available maps, and there’s no voice chat. The maps one… well, I disagree. Here’s why.

Play Counter-Strike (any of its versions) and 95% of the games are on Dust2. Play TF2 and you will see 2Fort and Dustbowl. DotA, League, HoN, and for the most part they all use one map. Most fighting games don’t have meaningful differences between the levels.

Smash is the obvious game to point out here, but having played it with numerous groups of people over the years, I can say this; only a fraction of the levels get used, whether your friends are casual players or tournament players. In fact, tournament players get criticized for taking out the casual levels, but all groups of casual players spend over 80% of the time playing on one level, which is Hyrule Temple (well, for Melee). Over the games, you'll find that people mostly want to play Smashville, Battlefield, Final Destination… and most stages end up forgotten. People will dip in once in a while, then go back to their standbys.

For Splatoon, there are five maps. This is already more than most people gravitate to in any given game. If the five maps are well designed, then there isn’t actually much to complain about. So far I have a favorite level (Blackbelly Skatepark), a least favorite (Saltspray Rig, because I am awful there) and I enjoy the other three fairly equally. So I enjoy four of Splatoon’s five maps, and the fifth one I can tolerate. To me, that’s a winner. Especially since there will be more later, I’m fine just learning these and exploring them as deeply as I can.

I want to give some credence to the other perspective, however. Some people enjoy the feeling of exploration and constantly trying out new things in a game, and that is the appeal to them. The value of a game lies in how many new things it has to offer, and so the complaint goes “I can’t believe I paid $60 for five maps.” Because once somebody knows a map, the map stops being fun. So for them, fun correlates to the amount of content.

There is also a very wise reason for making numerous maps. If you don’t know which map or stage is going to be the most popular, then the shotgun approach can be the most valuable. Make twenty stages, end up with two that people play forever, and you’re golden! Conversely, if all of Splatoon’s five stages fail to become the game’s version of Dust2, people will quickly stop playing. They will feel cheated of the money and time they’ve invested. Then you’ve got a dead game. No bueno.

If somebody tells me that makes them wary about the game, then I understand. But judging the maps before playing them doesn't seem fair.

My own preference tends towards “depth in simplicity.” Or rather, include few features, but make them excellent so they last a long time on their own. Take a map that is really good and you will enjoy it for a long time, finding new strategies and tactics, then perfecting them. Take a game whose basic rules are simple but well thought out, and it creates emergent gameplay. I like when a simple idea gets expounded upon in numerous subtle ways, and I have hope Splatoon is going to do that. The fact that you can approach positions from so many angles because of the ink/movement combination means that stages feel very dynamic. The feel of the levels changed tremendously as I improved. That’s a good thing, I think.

I think this will apply to the game’s mechanics as well. First off, it’s a team game. I hope to see synergies between coordinated players as the game develops more and more. Strategies for taking different parts of maps, coordinated two person tactics, balanced team loadouts, things like that. I have a few ideas in my head for some basic tactics and the roles that various weapons might play, as well as how the stat modifiers on the equipment might influence gameplay to suit preference and strategy.

One possibility is simply two players trying to attack over a hill or ramp; one hides in ink, the other fires a line of ink up the hill, and his/her teammate swims up the ink trail to surprise whoever is holding the position. Another is the use of various subweapons and super weapons in conjunction to control large amounts of space. Those are just the ones unique to the game; any squad based shooter should always have elements of flanking, angle control, and target diversion for teammates to make plays. Splatoon, when players get better at it, should have that as well. I feel like the game is going to evolve in a very interesting fashion, as long as the players push it intelligently.

So moving on, this is also why I have to agree with the voice chat criticism. Nintendo’s philosophy on the subject is “people will be mean to you and ruin your fun, so we won’t let them.” That’s entirely understandable; after growing up on a variety of online games, I know too well how that goes.

But the real solution to that is just have voice chat disabled by default (for the kids), and let players activate it if they’re interested. Then let them mute each other if somebody is being a twerp. This lets the communicators communicate while avoiding trolls and jackasses.

I have another few criticisms, most of which involve menus and how the game handles lobbies. You have to leave the lobby you're in if you want to change any settings. If you’re having fun matches with a lobby full of equally skilled players, but you’re tired of using your current loadout? You have to leave, or just play with the same setup. You can’t even change things like aim sensitivity or axis inversion. This turned out to be a source of hilarity when I was swapping the controller with my friends, since I use X-Axis inversion and they don’t. So to change one thing meant going through multiple menus and leaving the lobby. That was irritating.

I think having the ability to save loadouts would be useful as well. The clothes you wear offer stat bonuses, and one outfit might be tailored more for a given weapon. So if you want to switch weapons, you not only need to leave your lobby, but also individually select each part of the outfit. Saved loadouts would be unbelievably convenient, and it saddens me not to see them.

Menu annoyance continues. You can’t cancel from joining a game; once you’ve said “yes I’m joining the lobby,” you’re stuck. These criticisms aren’t part of the gameplay per se, but they still can inhibit it and annoy the player. If the annoyance comes before the fun, then you’ve done the fun a disservice.

Because, as it turns out, I find the gameplay incredibly fun! I enjoy using the ink and squid form to navigate and attack from surprising angles, I like predicting enemies, I like setting up positional traps with teammates, and I like camping a tiny splotch of ink around a blind spot then popping up and getting a double splat. I look forward to playing with buddies and setting up team tactics (of course, this necessitates me actually getting a Wii U somehow, rather than just playing it at my friends’ place).

I noticed a tremendous difference between how the game felt when I was new compared to when I’d practiced a few basic maneuvers. Being better at the game makes it feel more and more fun, which is always a good sign. Hopefully this trend continues and the game will be worth playing for months to come.

Some other thoughts:

  • I like that you claim territory with your weapon. This means that while camping ink in squid form has power as a surprise attack, it’s not an unstoppable strategy . It also means you can cut off people’s escape by claiming the ink behind them, and that puts them in awful position.
  • Again, I cannot wait to see how people manage team synergy. I’ve got some pictures in my head of different setups and purposes for various weapons, I hope a couple pan out as viable tactics.
  • A few of the duels I’ve had in areas with relatively even ink-spread (constantly switching to squid form, trying to predict their position, all that) have been pretty fast paced and intense. Hopefully this continues to be true as average player skill rises.
  • I’m glad that splatting happens so quickly, considering the power of squid form as an escape. If you lived too long then it would be too easy to escape and counter-claim territory and the gameplay would go nowhere fast.
  • The sniper squiffer guns seem pretty weak. Aerosprays are very strong and prevalent among high level players. The roller is amazing when everybody in the room is bad; once they become good at dealing with you, you suddenly require some finesse and intelligence. Splattershots (Jr. and otherwise) all seem solid and have various purposes. Weapon balance seems mostly decent, for now.
  • Being efficient at covering territory is a darn useful skill. Time is the resource you consume to spread ink; wasting even one extra second in every place you spread ink adds up to tremendous loss over the course of the game. The same is true with hunting for splats; they’re fun to get, but they only matter if it means denying the opponent territory. Chasing somebody for six seconds while their teammate paints half the map is no good.
  • Using the walls well is amazingly fun. I’ve gotten out of some awful situations by wall riding to safety, and also done some tricky ambushes. Squid form is 85% of what makes this game interesting, so getting good at maneuvering in it is key.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading. Hopefully I’ll be able to play with some of you soon!