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09 April 2017 @ 10:13 am
Well, the time has finally come.

I've had a Dreamwidth for years, ever since the initial migration, and I've always kept it updated with content from my Livejournal just it case. It turns out that case has arrived. I'm still waiting for the comments to import again, but a lot of the conversation on my posts has moved to Facebook and Twitter anyway. I'll be sad to lose some of those old comments if they don't import, but not too sad. And I'm not super interested in making sure that my blog follows the laws of the Russian Federation with respect to political or sexual diversity content.

I'm not looking forward to fixing all the internet links on my posts. Since I extensively link to things I've already written, there's a lot of Livejournal links buried in everything I write. I'll get to it eventually, probably starting with stuff like my video game reviews and my let's play of Baldur's Gate II, and move on from there. If you're someone who looks through my old posts, I ask for your patience.

Sigh. I used LJ for 14 years, but all things end. 永遠のものがない, after all.  photo shrug2.gif
Current Mood: annoyedannoyed
Current Music: Days of Futurecast
It's been a while! Various things came up, we had packed weekends, softlykarou was gone for a retreat, she made me a tasty olive oil cake with no chocolate whatsoever--yes, I do sometimes eat desserts that contain no chocolate at all!--we had a Call of Cthulhu game...you know, things. But this weekend we didn't have much to do other than one thing that I'll probably also write about tomorrow, and so I took down some chocolate from our supply, opened it up, and we tried it.

I should have skipped another week.
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Current Mood: grumpygrumpy
Current Music: Mononoke-hime - The Talara Women Work Song
This post is partially inspired by the eternal complaining about "censorship" and localization, and partially by this article about Vagrant Story's localization.

One of my favorite games of all time is Chrono Trigger, and my favorite part of Chrono Trigger is the Kingdom of Zeal, where dreams come true. It's the lynchpin of the game, the only part that isn't inspired by a historical era, and the most overtly fantastical. The Enlightened live on a floating continent above the clouds and away from the ice age below, using their magic to create a post-scarcity society and leaving their Earthbound cousins without magic to fend for themselves on the ground below. With the goal of surpassing even those limits and ensuring the eternal glory of the Kingdom of Zeal, they build a great machine.

In Japanese, this is just the 魔神器 (majinki, "Demonic vessel"), which is awful. For one, it gives the game away immediately and lets the player know that the Kingdom of Zeal is corrupted. For another, it's silly. No one thinks that they're evil, and the people in Zeal who mention the majinki talk about it as a means to attain greater power for helping Zeal, but with a name like that, how believable is that? Why would anyone name the machine designed to power their society the "demonic vessel"?

It's possible to read it slightly differently, as 魔・神器 instead of 魔神・器, but that just means "evil sacred treasure," which isn't any better.

In English, the majinki was localized as the "Mammon Machine," which is a fantastic name. It's alliterative and slightly ominous, but doesn't immediately make you wonder why all these people are okay with a demonic vessel powering their society. The people in Kajar and Enhasa spend their time in magical research or idle dreaming in their utopia, fed by cornucopia machines and with magic to do all the work, and talk idly about how the Mammon Machine will make their kingdom even greater, and it sounds a bit strange. And then you get to the Zeal Palace, and this music starts playing, and you know something is very wrong with the Kingdom of Zeal.

Of course, the name "Mammon" already gives it away, but subtly. Mammon, the pursuit of wealth which is the root of all evil. The people of Zeal already had a utopia, where no one needed to work and everyone could spend their days in the manner of their choosing. It was a bit like Omelas, it's true. There's a quote about how the Queen conscripted a bunch of Earthbound to work on the Ocean Palace, though the man phrases it in an obvious euphemism for slavery:
"The Earthbound Ones are being allowed to work on the construction of the Palace. So they do have a purpose after all."
But it's not directly build on the suffering of others, just on social exclusion, which is at least marginally better than active oppression. The Kingdom of Zeal had everything they could want, but in their pride and greed they wanted more. So pushed on by their Queen, they reached out to the power slumbering beneath the ocean, and they built a machine to tap into that power to push them beyond their already lofty place. And because of it, they lost everything.

Much more evocative than the "demonic vessel." A localization isn't a literally translation, and it shouldn't be, because sometimes it adds something that the original was missing.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
Current Music: Chrono Resurrection - Zeal Palace
06 April 2017 @ 09:58 am
For the last couple of years, we've been ramping up to switch database software at work. This makes sense--the old database software was 19 years old and has been running on twine and duct tape for roughly the last decade, never conclusively overhauled because we were just going to replace it, so why put too much effort into it? Well, we finally replaced it.

You can tell from the title what I think of it.

Some of it is sour grapes. They made an effort to ask us what we thought of the new system and get our input on its development as we did testing, and as far as I can tell, they completely ignored every suggestion we made. For my part, the UI is still garbage. The new system is completely mouse-driven to the point that it doesn't accept hitting enter and you have to click the Search button like some kind of animal. The search window hides the original record and can't be moved, so checking to refine the search requires cancelling the search and losing the results, and searching takes long enough that I just have to chant the other bits of data myself to remember them like some kind of Leibowitzian monk.

A lot of old complaints don't even seem to be fixed--searches are still slow and it crashes roughly twenty times as often. It still offers suggestions for matches that are completely unrelated--different name, different state of residence, different specialty, different everything--to the record in question. Furthermore, the old database kept sending us the same records to research month after month with no way to tell the system that no, we were never going to find out who this physician is so stop asking, and the new system does the inverse by repeatedly popping up people who are already identified and asking me to identify them.  photo _thisorthat__or__compare__by_brokenboulevard-d4tole3.gif

And this leads to my main complaint. My work doesn't have great social value and I'm not saving the lives or children or anything, but at least I was accomplishing something. There was data, and I sorted through it, and I made the resulting output better than the raw input was. I no longer have any indication that's the case. I come in and I have 500 records to look through, around 99% of which the system already seems to know the answer to but just wants to waste my time with, and that number goes down as I work. But when the system inevitably crashes or logs me out for no reason and I login again and get back to work, that number is back to 500 again. Every day I am moving sand from one pile to another, one grain at a time, and then the wind blows it all back overnight.

And this is the system after it was delayed for six months.  photo emot-psyduck.gif
Current Mood: frustratedfrustrated
Current Music: Sword and Laser podcast
04 April 2017 @ 10:18 am
Before Kingdom Hearts, there was another time that Square created a strange hybrid RPG with action elements!

I first played this with my sister and another kid who lived across the street, and we got almost to the end. If I remember right, we nearly stalled out in the volcano and then couldn't beat the Smith Gang when we went on to the final boss, which strikes me as almost unbelievable now that I'm replaying through. Was I ever that bad at video games? Is my memory just bad and we actually won?

Well, I won this time.

Shine get.

Super Mario RPG is the story of Mario and KoopaBowser. Peach is visiting Mario at his house when Bowser shows up and kidnaps her, leading Mario to go to his castle--which is apparently a mile or so from the Mushroom Kingdom--and the two continue their eternal battle. Then a gigantic sword descends from the heavens, shattering the Star Road and plunging into Bowser's Castle. When Mario returns the sword speaks to him, saying he's a member of the Kajiō Army (Eng: "Smithy Gang") and that the castle is there's before destroying the bridge, and so Mario begins his quest to get Princess Peach back.

Of course, a quest needs allies, and Mario quickly finds some. In the Mushroom Kingdom he meets Mallow, the son of the Frog Sage (Eng: "Frogfucious") who is white and fluffy, like a frog; round and slightly clumsy, like a frog; and makes it rain when he cries, like a frog. Soon afterward in Rose Town, the duo are joined by Geno, a doll inhabited by...well, by an angel--when he goes to fight Yuminpa (Eng: "Bowyer"), he introduces himself with the line “ボクは、 天空の使者!そして星を追う者!!" ("I am the messenger of Heaven! The one who chases the stars!"). This is where Mario learns the true danger of the Kajiō Army. Their arrival shattered the Star Road, and without collecting the stars and rebuilding the road, no one's wishes will come true! Disaster!  photo c9a2ed93dbfb11e324f5b3e281e5e1b2.gif

And then, outside Bukki (Eng: Booster)'s Tower, he meets Bowser. Bowser has been abandoned by his army and despairs of getting his castle back and now even his beloved Princess Peach has been stolen away from him, but seeing Mario, he agrees to a temporary alliance and joins the partyinducts Mario into the Koopa Army. After climbing the Tower and chasing Bukki down, Mario returns Peach to the Mushroom Kingdom and explains his mission to save the Star Road, so when he leaves the castle, Peach comes along with him. And with those five members of the party, the quest to save the Star Road really gets underway.

Spoiler alert: the white cloud thing is not a frog.

Kind of surprisingly to me, it's the character interaction that makes the game. Mario is the classic silent protagonist of the area, but to make up for that he has a surprisingly strong command of pantomime, to the extent of being able to transform into other characters to explain the destruction of the Star Road, meeting Bowser, Geno's appearance, and anything else necessary. Geno doesn't have much personality other than being the strong warrior of heaven, and while Peach has the most feminine speech patterns of any protagonist in a game I've played, she doesn't actually have much to say once she joins the party.

It's Mallow and Bowser that are the stand-out party members. Mallow is someone I didn't appreciate at all as a child but which grew on me while playing as an adult to the point where he's my favorite character in the game. In the beginning he worries a lot about being a 泣き虫 (nakimushi, "Crybaby"), and when Mario goes to fight Yuminpa he runs behind and says that even though he's weak, he'll be cheering Mario on from the sidelines before tripping and falling. He looks up to Mario as a great warrior and as he travels, he becomes braver and braver, until by the end he's standing in front of Kajiō and demand that he turn over the last star piece.

There's an attitude in Japan that softlykarou has commented on before about failure and effort. I don't want to overplay it, since I'm positive this isn't true in the workplace, but there's often an attitude that the important thing is trying one's best and the results are secondary. We say that in America too, but here it's almost always a lie, and in Japan it's only frequently a lie. Mallow shows the good side of that attitude, where he starts out in the shadow of Mario but, in the course of their journeys together, he comes into his own. He's really the only character who has an arc--Mario doesn't talk, Geno and Peach don't say much and Bowser is funny but static, but Mallow grows. It makes me sad he was never in another game.

"Next time, with my great power and your pathetically weak power together, we will open this door!"

Bowser also ends up a star player. Every game before this, he's been an uncompromising enemy of Mario--well, unless you subscribe to Miyamoto's explanation that it's a play, they're a sort of actor, and that on weekends Mario, Peach, Toad, yoshi, Bowser, and all the rest get together to play golf or tennis and race go-carts--but here he's a party member, and one of the better ones. Once he was available to me I kept him in my party for most of the game, since you can switch party members at any time and there's no worry about missing out on dialogue based on who is in the party.

He has his pride. He certainly won't join the party, since that would imply that he is under Mario's authority. Instead, he graciously inducts Mario and his friends into the Koopa Army with the goal of retaking his castle. He repeatedly uses "wagahai" as the pronoun to refer to himself, which is hard to tranlate but is a bit like using the royal We (including the connotations of arrogance), and throws it in about three times as often as would sound natural in Japanese just to emphasize how important he is. He talks about his "great power" as opposed to Mario's "weak power" and tries to smash down any door that stands in their way. And then, after the "Koopa Army" retakes his castle, he balks at going after the Kajiō Army because he has what he wants.

He's not deep, but he was well-written and funny. He's exactly what I imagine Bowser to be like.

Manly bonding through battle with a (shark)Man of the Sea.

The secondary characters are fantastic too. The Mushroom Kingdom's chancellor talks like a Tokugawa Shogunate-era noble and is full of dignity, but then when Mario goes to check on the bridge to Bowser's Castle and is gone for maybe twenty minutes, he comes back to find the Mushroom Kingdom has been conquered by shyguys on pogo sticks and the chancellor is cowering in a corner. The shyguys themselves show up in multiple places and they're always very cheerful, from the shyguy who holds up the chandeliers in Bowser's Keep and is apologetic about the possibility of throwing Mario and his friends off to their death to the shyguy who waters the piranha plants in BeanBean Valley and sings to itself while it works.

I also have to throw some confetti to Kino and Nancy (Eng: "Raz" and "Raini"), a couple of young mushrooms in love who Mario and friends run into multiple times in the first half of the game. Eventually they all simultaneously arrive in Merry Marry Town (Eng: "Marrymore"), and after Mario defeats an evil wedding cake and rescues Princess Peach, Kino and Nancy get married. If you want, you can go to Yo'ster Isle afterward and find them on their honeymoon!  photo wheeeeee_emote_by_seiorai.gif

The wishes on Star Hill, with Luigi's wish that he can be useful to his bother. Jonathan Jones the shark pirate who hands over the star to Mario because he respect's Mario's battle prowess. Belome, the weird genius loci who has his own temple and only wants to eat and eat and eat. The mouse who is returning to Monster Town through the wilderness and gets very cross when Mario jumps on his head. It's almost like Earthbound in its cute, quirky, memorable characters.

I don't even remember this one's name. Sword Pogo Guy!

Sadly, the same is not true of the villains. This is no SNEs-era Final Fantasy with a single villain that haunts Mario throughout the game. The Kajiō Army is represented by a punch of living weapons who show up once and then are defeated, with no build up and no follow-through. What's more, the game doesn't set up Kajiō's goals or motivations at all until the very end, after multiple no-context boss fights that drain the player's goodwill. By the time I ground through all the fights and finally got to Kajiō, I didn't care anymore. I just wanted the game to be over.

What's worse, the game doesn't even introduce Kajiō until the last half an hour or so. For most the game, you're led to believe that Kajiō is the giant sword that felt from the sky and pierced Bowser's Castle, but in the boss fight with him his name is Caliber (Eng: "Exor") and then Mario is pulled into the World of Weaponry (Eng: "Factory") and at the end is Kajiō. Sure, it's Square traditional to have a final boss out of nowhere with no warning--see also Zemus in Final Fantasy IV--but that doesn't mean that it's good. It just contributed to my dissatisfaction with the ending. Honestly, there's no real resolution either. I think the best thing to do is to play through and beat Caliber and then quit the game. All the fun character interactions are already over and what's left are just jumping puzzles and boss battles.

Do not want.

Yes, jumping puzzles.

At the time, I remember thinking that Super Mario RPG looked amazing. It had three dimensions! Mario can move all along the ground as well as jumping, and there are pits, floating platforms, and other mainstays of the Mario series. When I first played this in the 90s I was astonished at how good it looked, but like almost all early 3D, it does not hold up today. Compared to the clean pixel work of the SNES Final Fantasies, or even of Super Mario World, it's often a bit muddy and indistinct. Geno is a doll with a curl of orange hair, but kudos to you if you could figure that out from any of the in-game pictures of him.

And like most early 3D platforming that isn't Super Mario 64, this is not a good platformer. It's hard to tell exactly where Mario is, exacerbated during the platforming near the end of the game where a single mistake sends you back to the beginning of the room. I'm glad that most of the time the platforming is just used for traversing the landscape and allowing 3D terrain rather than forcing tricking jumping across rooms full of lava, because otherwise I would have been much more than mildly annoyed.

Geno Flash!

There are secrets available by jumping as well, like the hidden chests with frog coins or secret items, but almost none of them are necessary because the game is incredibly easy. There's an attempt by the game to force the player to pay attention with timed attacks and defenses--pressing the button at certain times during regular attacks or when attacked respectively increases or reduces the damage, and all of the special attacks have button combinations that need to be used. Sometimes you need to rapid-fire press the button, sometimes you need to hold the button for a certain amount of time, sometimes you need to press the button at exactly the right time. There are no fighting game-style button combinations, much to my surprise.

Most of this was pointless to me. All of them were unnecessary in random battles after the first hour of the game, and while I used them in boss battles, I probably didn't need to. Once I got Peach in my party and got her the Fat Koopa Shell (Eng: Lazy Shell), she could just heal to her heart's content without really having to worry about incoming damage, and battles were not a threat from that point forward. If anyone died, Peach could get them back on their feet. Mario did enormous damage with his own Lazy Shell weapon, and nothing was dangerous. Not even Culex, the secret boss who crossed the barrier from two-dimensional Final Fantasy land seeking the power of three dimensions.  photo 65599addbaf4d227.gif

By the end, I was mostly just fast-fowarding through battles so I could get to the next conversation. That was the good part.

Everything is back to normal, until next time. No thanks to shyguy.

And that's why I'm a bit hesitant to recommend actually playing Super Mario RPG. Watching a playthrough, absolutely. The story isn't deep, but it is engaging and cute, with a lot of fun side characters and great interactions between the party members. But the battle mechanics are deeper than the difficulty has any requirement for, and while the jumping mechanics were novel at the time, now they come off as quaint at best and infuriating at worst. I can see why the mechanics were simplified even further in the Paper Mario games--on their own, Nintendo realized that the complications weren't necessary.

Also, I think it's criminal that Mallow, Geno, Booster, and the other characters introduced here remain stuck in IP hell and have never been reused. Okay, Geno gets a cameo in another Mario game, but Mallow is the best! How come there's no Mallow platformer? "Mallow: Prince of the Marshmallow Kingdom"? I would definitely play that!

But, it doesn't exist. Tragedy.  photo c9a2ed93dbfb11e324f5b3e281e5e1b2.gif
Current Mood: peacefulpeaceful
Current Music: Instant Classic podcast
Dramatis Personae
  • Demir Sadik, Turkish Revolutionary/Field Medic
  • Jazmina Moric, Croat Linguist
  • Luc Durand, French Professor of Linguistics
  • Rosaline St. Clair, American Antiquities Dealer
  • Valentina Durnovo, Russian Countess/Gentlewoman
The train pulled up to Belgrade at 9 a.m., disgorging the investigators amongst a swarm of children eager to help them with their luggage and calling in a variety of languages. Demir snatched his suitcase back from a child and the rest of the party tried to keep track of their luggage when a young man called out to them in accented English. He introduced himself as Pieter Riticht and offered to guide them during their stay in Belgrade, suggesting the Hotel Moskva as a good place to stay. After a moment's consultation, the investigators took him up on his offer.

After dropping off their luggage at the hotel and arranging for Pieter to return in an hour, Jazmina called the National Museum to ask after the director. The secretary replied that Dr. Todorovic would not be available until 3 p.m., so the investigators decided to go to the Turkish Bazaar first and then go to the museum in the afternoon. They waited until Pieter returned to the hotel and allowed him to guide them to the bazaar.

The rest of the group was astonished to see the chan in Demir's mannerisms at the Turkish bazaar as he laughed, told jokes, needled the merchants, and was generally jovial while the professor followed along as best he could with his textbook Turkish. Rosaline wandered off to go look for antiquities and the others looked for new sets of clothes--Demir's clothes had a conspicuous hole in it, but the others' clothing was a bit worn after a month and a half traveling across the continent. As they were shopping, they noticed a fortune teller, an old woman of indeterminate ethnicity with a black hen at her feet, and the professor and countess went over to have their fortunes told. After a moment and with some reservations, Jazmina followed them to translate.

The woman reached into the hen's nest and pulled out an egg, and after waving it three times widdershins over their heads, she poked a hole in both ends and blew the contents out onto a plate. She peered at the contents and told them that they had lost someone or something, both recently and in the distant past. They seek something that was once whole and now is not, and they are on a journey. She told them to "Beware the one who is unseen" and that "The three who greet you are old as man," but did not explain and ends her divination.

As she was speaking, Jazmina had noticed that her hen was staring at the professor and countess fixedly, almost with anticipation, and as the divination ended, she questioned the fortune teller about it.
Jazmina: "Your chicken is staring."
Fortune Teller: "It is a chicken."  photo emot-colbert.gif
She was dismissive and broke off conversation, grumbling that she didn't have to explain herself, and Jazmina did not pursue the issue.

As they left to look for Rosaline, someone called out to them from the crowd and then a man walked up and asked them to help find his lost child. Demir brushed him off, but turned back to find that his brass knuckles had been stolen. When Pieter noticed this, he apologized profusely, blaming the Roma in the city. Demir scrutinized him carefully, but he seemed genuinely remorseful and not as though he was the point man in part of a scheme to rob travelers, so they accepted his explanation.

When they met with Rosaline in an area of the market devoted to antiquities, Jazmina spotted something that looked very similar to the simulacrum! They entered the stall and asked the man about the arm, but as he brought it out to be inspected, a burly mustachioed man ran into the stall, shoved Rosaline aside, and grabbed the arm, running off into the market! The seller shouted about thieves as the investigators gave chase, followed by some of the dealer's friends. They shoved their way through a narrow alleyway, leaped over a carpet seller, and pushed into a dense crowd. At this point Rosaline and Jazmina caught up with the thief, who swung the arm at them and a melee broke out. It was brief, ending as the man smashed the arm into Jazmina's right side, causing it to shatter into pieces and severely lacerating her. The professor ran up to administer first aid as the thief withdrew to join his associates, and as the shouts of the police drew closer, Pieter urged them to run and they followed him advice.

After a leisurely lunch and a visit to the hospital for Jazmina, the investigators went to the National Museum to meet with Dr. Todorovic, which they found in a museum hall, inspecting a statue of Venus. Throwing caution to the wind for once, the professor introduced himself and his companions, explained that they came on behalf of Professor Smith of London, and sought the Sedefkar Simulacrum. Dr. Todorovic wasn't familiar with the statue, but he knew of Professor Smith and mentioned his antiquities contact in the countryside, including showing some pieces provided by said contact, but said that there was a prohibition on exporting antiquities without a specific permit and would not give the name of his contact without a permit. The professor arranged a meeting the following morning and they went over to the government offices to get a permit.

Jazmina spoke to the secretary and after being led down several corridors, through stairs, through rooms, and down a stairway that almost certainly should have led to the boiler room, the investigators arrived at a small office. The man inside was unloved by their protestations until the professor revealed his station, at which point the man mentioned the poor of his village, the orphans left by the war, and gave the professor a knowing look. After a brief bit of haggling, the professor handed over £12 and the man wrote up a blank permit that the investigators could fill out later, and they were almost pushed out before the offices closed. They went back to the hotel and had dinner, after which they spent the evening relaxing and Demir went to have his tattoos repaired by a black market tattoo artist. Then, everyone went to sleep.

In the morning Dr. Todorovic arrived at their hotel to inspect the piece of the simulacrum. He was astonished at what he saw and said that he was unable to determine its provenience or its material, but he said that when he looked at it under the microphone, the arm appeared to be carved entirely out of entwined smaller arms. After asking if he could examine the other pieces and being told there was no time, he gave the investigators the name of his contact--Father Christian Filipovic, the village priest in the town of Orašac south of Belgrade. After offering to examine the statue when the investigators make their return trip, Dr. Todorovic bade them good day.

Before arranging tickets, the investigators went to the national library to research Orašac. In addition to some national propaganda about how the village was the birthplace of first Serbian uprising against the Ottomans, they found a record about a Byzantine expedition by Nikephoros I against a local cult of Cybele, where during the burning the form of the goddess rose out of the flames, hair waving like serpents find screaming with many mouths such that hardened soldiers fled in terror, but in the morning there was nothing in the temple but ashes.  photo Emoticon.gif

They went back to the hotel and packed their luggage, among sure to arrange storage of the pieces of the simulacrum with the hotel since it was far too dangerous to bring with them and too dangerous to leave unguarded. As they were packing, Demir reached to move the Mims Sahis after noticing that it had somehow come unwrapped and accidentally brushed his skin against it. Before he had realized quite what had happened, he wrapped his hand around the handle and thoughts filled his mind of skinning and using the skins to achieve...something. He made half a movement toward the pieces of the Sedefkar Simulacrum before he managed to put down the dagger and, carefully wrapping it up again, he tied it with string and put it away.

The train to Orašac was extremely crowded, mostly with Serbs, though there were also some animals as families brought food home into the countryside. At one point, the countess left her seat and when she returned, she found it occupied by a large, stubborn-looking, and very determined to remain in place rooster. Nothing she did could dislodge it, when it pecked through a coat that Demir threw over it, the investigators decided to leave the seat to it for the remainder of the journey. After fighting through a crush of people to change trains in Mladenovic and taking a small rural train to Arandjelovac, the investigators disembarked in a rural area as the sun began to set. Seeing their confused looks, a local pointed to a set of wagon tracks and Jazmina managed to convince a farmer to allow them to ride in his wagon to Orašac.

Orašac was a rural town, with dirt roads and animals visble from the road. Children stopped playing when the investigators approached, and things seemed like they might be difficult until a housewife approached and asked them their business in the village. Jazmina explained that they were looking for Father Filipovic, whereon the woman offered to guide them to his house at the top of the hill. They were greeted by the father and his wife Ibrisa, as well as the local mayor, Todor Nedic, and his wife Ilija, all of whom are happy to meet foreign guests. The priest asks the investigators their business, and when told about Dr. Todorovic directing them to the wilderness, he asks if they wish to meet "grandmother." She is a local woman who lives alone in the woods, as long as anyone can remember, but who is sharp as a tack and who has made good money from the National Museum with the sculpture she sends on. The investigators cannot go there tonight, however, since it is already very late, so the priest and mayor offer to allow them to stay in their homes and the mayor invites them to dinner.

As they leave for dinner, Rosaline notices a photo of the priest's wife from their wedding day. A younger Father Filopovic, and his best man Todor Nedic, beam out in wedding finery, while the Ibrisa is also radiant. Rosaline does notice, however, that while Filopovic and Nedic look their age, perhaps in their sixties, Ibrisa appears to be her in late thirties at most now, little changed from her appearance in the photo...
Annals of the Fallen
  1. Gianni Abbadelli, Italian Vatican Parapsychologist, arm torn off by čudovište in Vinkovci, February 8th, 1923.
This is the section of the original Horror on the Orient Express that I remember the most about and part of the reason for all the [REDACTED] in my earlier posts. I thought it was one ridiculous nonsequitur the first time I listened, but mutantur has said that they've made more of an effort to blend it in with the rest of the campaign, so I'm eager to see what happened.

I really want to harness the black chickens and unleash them on our enemies, though. There was some frustration over the inability to move the chicken out of the seat, since it was set up as a moment of weirdness but without enough context to explain why it was that it refused to move or why no effort by the investigators could move it either. Fortunately, we eventually gave up and moved on without taking too much damage from the Immovable Chicken's claws of doom. I have seen HotOE players who were not so lucky.

Also, as mutantur was describing the camaraderie on the train and the way the villagers welcomed the foreign guests with open arms, softlykarou and I kept confirming everything he said. We have real-life experience with that kind of thing, in Japan. Of course, this is Call of Cthulhu, so they could be setting up for the Foreigner-Skinning Festival, but I guess we'll see!  photo shrug2.gif
Current Mood: discontentdiscontent
Current Music: The Legend of Zelda: Wink Waker - My Grandma
30 March 2017 @ 07:40 pm
Last week I saw an article about snake people moving to dying Japanese mountain towns. It seems a bit overstated--I mean, how many rural mountain towns can sustain an economy on brewpubs, artist communes, or drone testing--but I love the idea, especially in spring or fall, when the sakura or the momiji are in bloom and I really miss Japan.

I'd never consider moving to rural America if I can help it, and reading this made me think about the difference. Some of it is political, but I think a lot of it has to do with distance. Even in Chiyoda, we weren't that far from anything. It was a forty-five minute bus ride on the highway into Hiroshima City, but the important thing is that there was a bus and it came three times an hour. If we had lived in Miyoshi, we could have taken the train. There were towns further in the mountains that were more isolated like Takamiya or Geihoku, but even then it wouldn't have taken that long to get into the city. And crucially, the only thing we'd need a car for is driving to the train or bus station. There are very few places, if any, where that's true in America.

I never thought I was a country kid until I moved to Japan. Like most 80s suburbanites, I assumed that there was nothing to do and "out there"--i.e., anywhere more populated than where I lived--was where it's at. That's part of why I decided to go to university in the city, an experience which proved that I really did prefer urban areas. But those three years in Chiyoda were wonderful and there isn't a week that goes by that I don't want to move back. If there was some way to do so and still keep my job, and for softlykarou to not have to change her line of work entirely, I'd advocate for it in a heartbeat. But for some reason, the AMA considers working from home a perk of management-level employees rather than assigning it based on job duties, so even though everything I do is web-based now and could theoretically be done from anywhere, I still have to head down into the office every day. We'll see if that changes with the new database (more on that in a post next week, probably!), but I doubt it.

It wouldn't let me move back to Chiyoda, though. Probably nothing ever will.  photo japan001.gif
Current Mood: quixoticquixotic
Current Music: Abadoss, DragonAvenger, Nutritious - There in My Dreams (Dreams of a Lonely Past, Funeral Procession)
30 March 2017 @ 03:39 pm
This is my favorite Kirby game!

I haven't played that many Kirby games, admittedly. Just this, Kirby's Adventure, and maybe five minutes of the original Kirby's Dream Land. But of those three, Kirby Super Star is definitely the winner. It doesn't have the complexity of Kirby's Adventure's wide levels and multiple secrets, or the simplicity of Kirby's Dreamland...but then again, in a way it has both. The real strength of Kirby Super Star is that it contains multitudes. It's structured as a series of smaller games, each of which is played and beaten individually. The first, "Spring Breeze," is a remake of Kirby's Dream Land, and the only one where King Dedede is the enemy. Another one, "The Great Cave Offensive," replicates Kirby's Adventure with its poking around every nook and cranny and using Kirby's various power-ups to unlock secrets through the medium of a treasure hunt. That's just two of the available games.

And, in perhaps the best part of the game, it's multiplayer.

Riding together.  photo emot-glomp.gif

This is the second time I've played it all the way through after my first time playing it with greyselkie in university. She liked it for much the same reason that softlykarou likes it now--it's low stress for the non-Kirby player, Kirby is really cute, and there's a wide variety of stuff to do and shapes to adopt.
softlykarou's Comments:
"My biggest worry when gaming with dorchadas is my poor performance ruining the game for him. I'm alright at videogames but tend to get a bit too excited and make silly mistakes that lead to death. Kirby is much less stress and i can just enjoy the ride instead of being upset with myself when I make mistakes."
As I mentioned, it's multiplayer. The first player controls Kirby and the second player controls the "helper," who can be any of the possible powers that Kirby can adopt through his swallowing mechanic. After adopting a power, Kirby extrudes a helper, which is either CPU-controlled or controlled by the second player. A life is only lost if Kirby dies, so the second player can be as reckless as they want and all it does is cost a little time to hunt down a new power or require Kirby to give up his existing power to create a new helper. And that's good, because while the system is overall pretty good, if the helper gets too far away from Kirby for too long, they lose all their health and start exploding. It's possible for Kirby to heal his helper if he picks up a health item and then touches them--where he transfers the health by kissing the helper, this game is so cute--or by discarding his current powerup and allowing the helper to pick it up, which changes them into the new powerup. But otherwise, they explode.

There was a lot of exploding when we played through, because while the helper can teleport to Kirby at any time, it's not always reliable if they're off the screen. The screen is always centered on Kirby and sometimes the helper can't quite keep up with Kirby's flying. But any helper death is fixed in a few seconds, and Kirby games are generally not particularly hard in any case. It's a relaxing co-op game.

This looks familiar...

In addition to the "The Great Cave Offensive" and "Spring Breeze," there are several other game modes. In "Dyna Blade," Kirby must stop Dyna Blade from doing something nefarious--I was never really clear on what--to Dream Land, and the game has a world map with Kirby moving from level to level, secret levels, and even a wandering mini-boss that Kirby can defeat. "Gourmet Race" is more like a minigame than an entire game mode and is the only major section that isn't two player. It just involves Kirby racing King Dedede across a field while eating as much food as possible along the way. "Revenge of Meta Knight" is a narrative-based game mode where Kirby is attacking Meta Knight's ship and involves destroying different sections from the ship and running commentary from the ship's crew about Kirby's performance. Strangely, it seems more like revenge against Meta Knight since they're just sailing through the skies of Dream Land when Kirby attacks them without provocation...  photo Kirby_Shake_WaddleDee_Emoticon_by_D.gif

The final game mode is "Milky Way Wishes," where Kirby travels from planet to planet to stop the sun and the moon from fighting through restoring the powers of NOVA, which can grant wishes. Unlike the other Kirby games, swallowing enemies doesn't do anything at all except defeat them. Instead, Kirby has to find the power ups in each level, and once a power up is found, Kirby can transform into it at any time. This was softlykarou's favorite game because there was even less stress than any of the other game modes. Not only could I instantly replace her whenever the helper died, but she could pick whatever power she wanted instead of being limited to whatever Kirby had or what was nearby at the time she died. That meant that she spent most of the game as Waddle Doo, her second-favorite enemy in the game. I spent most of as Kirby the mad bomber except when hammer or wheel were more useful.

We did run into a problem where we got stuck and had to restart the game, though. I did the first planet of "Milky Way Wishes" and didn't find the power up inside, and then when I got to the second planet I needed that powerup to progress, didn't have it, and couldn't figure out how to leave the world. I'm sure I was missing something, and we only ran into it once, but it happened.
softlykarou's Comments:
"I loved the amount of choice Milky Way Wishes gave me, and it encouraged me to be even more reckless! There were moments when I got frustrated (stop pushing on me, wind!) And Waddle Doo is my second favorite because of the range beam and that his flight is almost as good as Kirby's, which lets me feel like I'm keeping up better."

I'm pretty sure I was lost here.

My favorite was "The Great Cave Offensive" because it was basically a metroidvania game. Kirby descends into a mysterious cave and has to find a bunch of treasures, about half of which are references to other Nintendo games like the aforementioned Falcon Helmet, the Triforce, Mr. Saturn, the Zebra Mask, or the Screw Ball. Some of these treasures are out in the open, but a lot of them require tracking down certain powerup and then following a set of steps to locate. I didn't put in all the effort to track down every single treasure since I was playing for fun with softlykarou, but I did it with greyselke when I played it long ago. It's exactly the kind of collecting challenge that triggers my instinct to make number go up, the way that achievements in World of Warcraft had a grip on me for so long.

My second-favorite is probably "Spring Breeze," partially because of its simplicity and partially because of its environments. A lot of other games take place in mechanical, space, or underground environments, where the bright and cheerful nature of Kirby games doesn't really have a chance to shine through. "Spring Breeze" and "Dyna Blade" mostly take place in outdoor environments, so there's green...uh, greens, brilliant blue waters, colorful fruit for Kirby and his helper to eat, and rainbows and stars everywhere. It's that kind of bubbly cheerfulness that makes the Kirby games so great.

Kirby's in a pickle!

It also contributes to their relaxing feel. One common complaint about the Kirby games is that they're too easy, to the point of sometimes basically playing themselves. You'd think that might annoy me, since I do things like mod Baldur's Gate II with Sword Coast Stratagems to make sure it's hard enough, but that itself explains why I like the Kirby games. They are hard, but it's progressive difficulty.

Like here, just getting through all the levels is not hard at all, especially with an endlessly respawning helper who can take on most of the risks. The bosses occasionally caused troubles, but we weren't stuck on them for longer than a couple attempts. The real difficulty would be solving all the puzzles and tracking down all the treasures in "The Great Cave Offensive," or all the transformations in "Milky Way Wishes," just like the real difficulty was opening up all the map areas in Kirby's Adventure. It's not required and there's no special prize for doing so, it's just a challenge set for the player by themselves that they can finish if they want. For a game like this that's adopted the niche of cute, fun, and relaxing, that's the best way to present difficulty. It's available for people who want it, and there's no pressure for the people who don't.

The only score that matters.

It's that relaxing nature that makes it a perfect game to play with softlykarou. There are games we play that require careful thought and tactical planning, like Divinity: Original Sin, or which require puzzle solving like Dare to Dream. Kirby doesn't require either, like Super Mario Galaxy, and that makes it a great game to play together on lazy afternoons when we're both off from work. Relaxing cuteness is a valid and worthy game design goal, and honestly, something we'll probably need more and more of in the coming years.  photo wheeeeee_emote_by_seiorai.gif
Current Mood: chipperchipper
Current Music: Brandon Strader, halc - Kirb Your Enthusiasm (Mallow Castle)
28 March 2017 @ 11:15 am
Dramatis Personae:
  • Shining Star, mandragora sorcerer-priestess of Nyarhé.
  • The Green Knight, mandragora briarwitch.
  • Bonnie, kong Auspicious Orator.
  • Amos Burnham, a human from Earth.
  • Elaphe, a chuzan junior member of the Black Rose.
Bonnie dragged Shining Star away to give her time to summon a Knowing Whisper, a spirit servant of Nyarhé that can detect lies and read others' hearts, as Amos and the Green Knight questioned Spring Breeze. The amanita claimed that they hadn't seen any people as they walked, only wild animals, and asked again if there really was all that trouble to the north. Amos confirmed that the walking dead were rampant north of them as Shining Star and Bonnie returned, and Shining Star told the spirit to verify Spring Breeze's story. The Knowing Whisper confirmed that Spring Breeze was not secretly a necromancer in disguise or some kind of spirit-possessed monster and that they believed their story. They did ask about locla battles and were told about a story that mentioned a battle between the Kong Imperium and an unnnamed enemy that took place there long ago during the Imperium's attempt to expand into Agarica.

And so after advising the amanita to turn back and take the longer road around to get to Etemenanki, the party turned around and rode north as the amanita's whistling faded into the distance behind them.

They spent the night in the ruins of the same village that they had left that morning, stabling their horses and eating trail rations in an abandoned house. They go to sleep and Shining Star's watch is uneventful, but in the middle of the night, the Green Knight hears something prowling around outside the house. He grabbed his shield and crept outside, but banged the shield on the doorframe as he left (botched the Stealth roll). As soon as he stepped outside, something grabbed him from behind.

As the other members of the party all groggily woke up, the Green Knight grappled with his unseen assailant. He tried to claw them with his wooden claws, but was seized with an unbreakable grip--and then fangs plunged into his neck!

Elaphe and Amos exited the house to find a chuzan holding the Green Knight's arms to the sides with its mouth over his neck, and Amos circled around to try to get a better shot with his musket. Elaphe threw the torch at the assailant, but the chuzan sidestepped without seeming to move, not crossing the intervening distance but avoiding the torch entirely. Amos fired, blowing off the creature's ear, but as they watched, the blood flow slowed and the wound began knitting itself closed. It lifted its mouth from the Green Knight and hissed, revealing blood-covered fangs and blood-matted fur. A vampire!

Shining Star summoned up blazing chains of light that closed around the vampire as it threw the Green Knight like he was a toy, hitting Amos but failing to injure or even phase him as he reloaded his musket. Elaphe darted forward and slashed at the vampire, ripping open its chest with his dagger and using the secret arts of the Black Rose--unlike with Amos's musket blast, this time the blood flowed freely. Bonnie sent her iron jaws to attack the vampire, but it dodged aside as its claws blurred. Elaphe blocked the first strike with his dagger, but he was unable to block the second, which torn a chunk of flesh out of his side and sent him reeling backward.

Shining Star blasted the vampire with white flames and the Green Knight stood up and readied his shield. The Green Knight and the vampire charged toward each other to little effect--the vampire sidestepped the Green Knight's claws, and the vampire's strike impacted on the Green Knight's shield. Elaphe retreated into the house as Bonnie hurled a flask of glue which her familiar caught and then it ignited on the torch that Elaphe had thrown, and it bit down on the vampire's shoulder and began to gnaw.

Amos fired again, and the vampire tried to get out of the way, but not fast enough. It reeled back and hissed, and as Shining Star hurled another beam of holy fire at it and Elaphe threw a dagger from inside the house, it fled, moving so quickly that it left only a blurred afterimage in their eyes, around the corner of the house and out of sight.

Injured and bleeding, the party decided not to pursue, and Elaphe drank a cinnamony Hero's Recovery while Shining Star administered first aid to him and the Green Knight. Real treatment of his wounds would require a longer period of surgery, but for the moment he slathered on an alchemical paste to prevent his wound from becoming infected and the party mostly went to sleep. The vampire did not return that night.

In the morning, Amos and the Green Knight tracked the vampire north to a stream, where the tracks vanished. The Green Knight spoke to the local plantlife which, after some prompting, said that their quarry had killed a deer and then flew away to the north, confirmed by a monjara hiding in a nearby bush that Amos asked. With their leads exhausted, they returned to the village, everyone climbed on their various mounts, and they rode out to the north.


I was a little worried partway through that I was going to have at least one death on my hands. The vampire could have killed Elaphe in a single blow--it did 2/3rds of his health with one attack--but beyond using a Charm that let it convert damage dice into damage successes, it didn't roll very well, which is a pattern with my NPCs. It's also possible that that vampire would have died, since several attacks only barely missed. But it got away to fight another daynight.

Elaphe doesn't wear armor--Black Rose Style forbids it--which is why he took so much damage. Enough damage to be seriously injured to the point of disabling. He has a crippling wound requiring surgery (or sorcery unavailable to the party) to heal, but it would require several hours of downtime the party isn't willing to spend yet. Maybe after they check out that ancient battlefield to see if there's a necromancer there causing this zombie problem!
Current Mood: worriedworried
Current Music: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night - Festival of Servants
26 March 2017 @ 04:59 pm
This is the first thing I ever kickstarted, back in the heady days of 2012 when Double Fine Adventure blew up on kickstarter and revealed the wonders of crowdfunding. I had only ever played the original Wasteland for maybe an hour, but I had read multiple let's plays of it and, more importantly, I'm a huge fan of the Fallout games which were its spiritual successors. So I kicked in for a physical copy of the game (with cloth map!) and waited. And then when it came out, I heard there were some bugs so I waited for them to be fixed. And then I heard there would be a director's cut with new mechanics, so I waited for that. And then I was playing other games. But now, five years later, I finally sat down and decided that this would be the next game I would play so I could taste the fruit of that kickstarter long ago.

It's okay.

All in a day's work.

It's fine. It's not bad. It's pretty fun.

Maybe it's because I grew up playing so much Fallout that I didn't develop a huge attachment to Wasteland II. I've played Fallout I and II a dozen times in the 90s, I played a long game of Fallout: New Vegas where I did every quest I could, and even though it wasn't a great Fallout game, I played three heavily-modded run-throughs of Fallout III totalling hundreds of hours. I have a fan-created game called Fallout: Resurrection waiting in the queue and I almost played that instead of this until I decided that maybe I should get to this game I've owned for years and that I gave money to make happen.  photo latest.gif

But I don't really care if there are mods for Wasteland II, and I certainly wouldn't take the time to install them. There's not that much here that makes me want to spend more time in the world.

Not me.

For huge Wasteland fans, this is probably a treasure trove. It's clearly designed for them, and anyone who doesn't know the plot or characters of Wasteland is going to spend a large chunk of the early game confused. The default Wasteland party, the fantastically-named Snake Vargas, Angela Deth, Hell Razor, and Thrasher, are all relevant NPCs or background characters. Angela Deth is even a party member early on as a kind of soft tutorial, and Snark Vargas is now General Vargas, leader of the Desert Rangers. The beginning quest features the Ag Central and Highpool being simultaneously attacked and forces the player to choose one, and choosing Highpool as I did leads to a lot of conversations about how the rangers are dog-murderers based on Wasteland, where a rabid dog attacked the Rangers. Then the dog's owner also attacked the Rangers, so after being called dog-murderers, they're called child-killers.

None of this will make sense to anyone who comes to Wasteland II fresh. I suspect it might make the game impenetrably dull and boring, actually. If I had come in without knowing this, then all I would know is that I'm supposed to care about a bunch of people I've just met, I'm being yelled at by NPCs over things I didn't do, and events are constantly being referenced as though I should know them. A lot of games do this, but most of them make some effort to ease the player in and try to give them some connection to the setting first. Wasteland II really doesn't--it throws the player straight in and hopes their nostalgia or willingness to deal with incomplete information will carry the day.

And really, as the game went on and leaned more and more on the background for its pathos, my interest waned. By the ending I was just playing through to finish up the game.


Wasteland II also suffers from reusing its basic narrative structure. In the beginning, Ranger Team Echo--that's you--is sent off to attach repeaters to radio towers to allow the Ranger Citadel to triangulate the location of some strange broadcasts that speak of a merging of human and synthetic life and bear an uncomfortable resemblance to the ideology of the AI from Base Cochise, the final boss of Wasteland. This requires traveling around the wasteland of post-apocalyptic Arizona, meeting people like the Rail Nomads or the Servants of the Mushroom Cloud or the Red Skorpion Militia, finding the location of other radio towers, upgrading radiation suits to survive the radiation belts that remain, and exploring until the radio signals are deciphered. And then the Desert Rangers go to a new location...and do it all over again. California is out of radio contact with Ranger Citadel, see, so Team Echo needs to attach boosters to several radio towers, which require finding new radiation suits, meeting new people, and  photo 58-2nsylaw.gif

There are new organizations and new enemies, but this is definitely one case where the isometric, Unity-asset look hampers the game. I played with the camera zoomed pretty far enough because I didn't bother making any melee characters and opened most battles with a sniper bullet to the head, and that meant that all humanoid enemies looked basically the same. Most robots were also humanoid, with none of the mapcap Wasteland enemies like the cybertrike. There were no oddities like Fallout II's wanamingos. Nearly everything was just some guy with a gun, and what wasn't was either a humanoid robot or a dog. Or a honey badger.

Fighting the Scorpitron Mark II was pretty fun, though.

*Tips hat* "Ma'am."

There is one major difference between this and most other post-apocalyptic media. Usually in the wasteland, whether it's after a nuclear holocaust, a zombie plague, an alien invasion, a viral outbreak, or whatever horrific disaster has befallen the world, the protagonist is on their own, or at most has their band of misfits and outcasts they've assembled as they wander the world. The main character in Fallout 3 is called the Lone Wanderer, but that could just as easily be the generic term for anyone in Post Apocalytpia.

Not so in Wasteland II. Not only are the characters part of an established organization, they are the law. They are explicitly cops, and the Desert Rangers' mission is to bring peace and prosperity to the Arizona wasteland. When you play you can be a good cop, or you can be a bad cop, but unlike Fallout: New Vegas you can't decide that the robot menace has the right idea and sign up to get computers put in your brains. Not every course of action is acceptable to General Vargas, either--kill too many people and he'll send another Ranger team to stop you, since you've clearly become one of the raiders that the Desert Rangers fight as part of their mission.

It doesn't quite work, though. At the beginning it's obvious that the Rangers are active in more places than just wherever Team Echo happens to be at the time, but as the game goes on, there's less and less evidence that the Desert Rangers exist outside of the Citadel and your squad. I'm not saying I want them to solve all the quests, but one of the best mods I ever installed during my playthrough of Fallout 3 was the mod that added Brotherhood of Steel patrols through the DC area. It instantly made the Brotherhood's rhetoric about patrolling and fighting the menace much more believable, and when I came on a group of Brotherhood paladins fighting a squad of Super Mutants I felt like the Capital Wasteland was battleground and there were more people than me working to keep it safe. I never got that sense in Wasteland II.

And yeah, it took a mod, but the Lone Wanderer is the Lone Wanderer. As I said, Team Echo is part of the local constabulary. There should be some evidence of it.

Hard Ass: Let him be stoned! Kiss Ass: Shouldn't we convene the Sanhedrin for this?

The gameplay is more interesting than the story, though it was slightly hampered by being incredibly easy.

It's explicitly squad-based, with each character probably able to master four or five skills out of several dozens. A lot of those are weapons skills and a given character will only need one or maybe two, leaving plenty of room to spread out the skills over the rest of the seven-person squad. The default Team Echo is four custom characters and three companions found along the way, so I had more than enough skill points to pass every single skill check I ran into throughout the entire game. Some of this is because I took the Delayed Gratification Quirk at character generation--one fewer skill point up to level ten, one more skill point at every level thereafter--so by the end of the game I was swimming in skills, but even in the early part of the game I had enough coverage between my team members to do okay. Also, Angela Deth.

Some of this is because most skills have percentage-based chances of success, so if I found a lock to pick or safe to crack or computer to hack with a minimal chance to succeed, I just reloaded until I got it right. There's no penalty for this and therefore no reason not to do it. It's doubly strange because the dialogue skills--Kiss Ass, Hard Ass, and Smart Ass--are all threshold-based, with the appropriate responses either possible or not depending on the party's skill levels. Why the other skills in the game weren't similarly designed I don't know. It would have made more sense, since the vast majority of random skill uses are just to find extra leveled loot and aren't story-critical, and most of what remains is just to bypass having to go find a door code or a key or something similar. Even maxed-out skills still have a chance of failure, but only a critical failure causes a problem. All a simple failure does is require another skill use and waste time. It seems poorly thought out for something that's the basis of the entire system outside of combat.

They do not have a flamethrower called "Disco inferno."  photo onfire.gif

Speaking of, combat is squad-based grid combat with action points, which should be exactly the kind of thing I love the way I loved Fallout's combat. But as I said, it's incredibly easy, so most of the time I was clicking on things and killing them without having to worry about the outcome. There's no real flanking (unless the ranger has a perk that adds a bonus for shooting people in the back) and positioning only matters in terms of being in or out of cover, so battles were mostly just everyone running behind a fence or the corner of a house, or crouching if no cover is available, and then trading shots. Assault and sniper rifles have a penalty to hit at close range, but I always found it better to just run from melee targets and then shoot them rather than invest in melee attacks.

Gaining levels provides a full heal, and for almost all of Arizona and half of California, the First Aid and Surgery skills were basically useless. I'd just keep the injured person away from the front lines and behind cover and heal them when they leveled, and that was enough to keep up with damage. It wasn't until I was fighting killer robots that I really had to heal. Or a couple times that I caught another ranger in a crossfire and one of my snipers shot them in the head. Oops.

Apparently higher difficulty levels remove the "heal on level up" factor, but since the difficulty modes don't actually explain what they do, I went with "Seasoned." I mean, that sounds like it's hard enough, right? I've played Fallout games, I've played original and nuXCOM, that should count as seasoned. But the only battles I ever had to try more than once were the Scorpitron battle and the final battle, and I can count the number of battles where I had to heal during the battle on one hand. Clearly I should have played on Ranger difficulty, but on the other hand, that just increases enemy damage and reduces player damage, going with the time-honored tactic of making all NPCs bullet sponges. Making combat more annoying is not making it harder.

On the other hand, breezing through combat made up for the unengaging story. I'd be significantly more negative if the story had been bland and the combat had been annoying.

No, you go first.

I'm still glad I spent the money on the kickstarter, though. Both because this is a game that should exist, and because I'm glad to contribute to games that are deliberately old-school in their aesthetics and gameplay. At the time this game was kickstarting, party-based tactical RPGs that weren't Japanese strategy RPGs were pretty slim on the ground. I'm not sure how much of a connection there is, but there's been an explosion of the kind of games I like to play ever since kickstarter revealed that there was an audience for them and digital distribution meant that there was no need to get games into stores to get them into players' hands. If alien space bats banned the production of all video games forever, I have enough games now that I could play them until I died and be happy, and a lot of those games that I'm looking forward to came out to due kickstarter and don't follow any of the game design trends set down in the 00s and early 10s. Darkest Dungeon, Pillars of Eternity, Torment: Tides of Numenera, Telepath Tactics, Divinity: Original Sin, Rain World...hopefully someday those will all be links to my reviews after I played them, and they can all thank kickstarter for their existence.

And so can Wasteland II. I'm happy I helped in some small way to create it and I'm happy for its indirect legacy. But I doubt I'll play it again, and unfortunately with all fifty hours of the game behind me, most of what sticks with me is what could have been done to make it just a little bit better.
Current Mood: okayokay
Current Music: Miracle Of Sound - Beauty Bleak
24 March 2017 @ 10:09 pm
I didn't stop watching, I just got very sidetracked!

The best line in my notes for this episode is "collective unconscious dream woo woo bullshit," because that's the perfect explanation of this episode's Mulder Moment. You know what I mean. When Mulder says, "But what if it's [incredibly unlikely woo woo explanation]," and everyone explains why that can't possibly be true, and then it is. I was fine with sleep deprivation research, but I'm not sure that we needed extending the collective unconscious into other people's brains and convincing them that their nightmares are really happening.

When they first revealed that Preacher was sending the dreams to others, I immediately to turned to softlykarou and said, "He's using Phantasmal Killer." I spent the whole time thinking that Preacher was a wizard and thinking about spells per day and it completely took me out of the episode.

That said, the mood was great, and I liked the conversation at the end between Preacher and the doctor. How should blame be apportioned? The soldiers were volunteers, but this experiment obviously wasn't approved by an ethics board and I doubt any long-term studies were done of its effects. This is X-Files, it was probably just two people in black suits in a room saying, "What if...you never had to sleep again?" and then cackling evilly and approving a $1 billion secret budget appropriation. I wish they had taken the time spent on magic dream power and spent it in culpability, on "you did this to me" vs. "your hand pulled the trigger." Or at least spent a little more time than a single conversation.

I also liked Krycek, even though I realized almost immediately that he was evil. It's not just that he stepped out of a 1950s recruitment ad for the bureau, though that was part of it; it's that he was being too accommodating of Mulder. I mean, Mulder is a nutjob, and the only reason he's sympathetic is because this is X-Files so he's always right. It was when Mulder explained his theory that Augustus Cole is a sorcerer with the dreamspun bloodline and Krycek was like, "Yeah, that totally makes sense."  photo emot-ms.gif No! No it doesn't! It's the most ridiculous possible explanation and there's no reason you should believe it. Even if it is right. Honestly, I think they should have delayed the reveal for at least a couple episodes. Keep the suspense going.

I suspect Krycek will be compromised/redeemed (replace as applicable based on your employment by MAJESTIC) by associating too much with Mulder and turn on the bad guys, but we'll see.

Duane Barry
This episode would have been much more effective if the aliens hadn't clearly been people in suits. I could see the seams where the gloves met the rest of the outfit! They should have stayed behind the plastic sheeting with the white light and remained silhouettes.

The rest of the plot is very strange, and I'm not sure if it's because it's a two-parter and it'll get resolved next time or if there's genuinely something I'm missing. Mulder has no hostage negotiation training, but gets called in to consult on the hostage scenario for unclear reasons. The other agents think that Barry is delusional and are clearly annoyed when Mulder starts feeding into his delusions, but isn't that why Mulder was called out in the first place? Because the government knows that Barry was actually experimented on, and they want Mulder there to...what, exactly? What is this supposed to accomplish for MAJESTIC? Is it all a disinformation campaign, where Mulder was supposed to feed into Barry's delusions, screw everything up, and be horribly discredited? If so, that's almost how it worked out. Especially when he asked Barry if he was telling the truth, which led to Barry going into a rage and this quote:
softlykarou: "Mulder, you are a fucking idiot."
My favorite part was at the end after the hostage situation had been resolved, when the lead negotiator told Mulder that X-rays found bizarre metal implants in Barry's body, in his nasal cavity, teeth, and belly, just as he describes, and even gives Mulder one. Then she just leaves. It's easy to think she's in on the conspiracy, but I think a simpler explanation is likely--she finds the concept uncomfortable, so she's going to ignore it. That happens all the time in real life, and right now I'm rereading From a Buick 8, where a big chunk of the plot is about that very human tendency. If that happens a lot, it helps explain why a world of man-eating bigfoots, alien abductions, mutant flukemen, murderghosts, and evil clones still remains wainscotted instead of leading to all-out war against the supernatural.

The truth is out there, but it's kind of weird so leave me out of it, thank you.

I had to laugh at the Netflix blurb for this episode:
Mulder attempts to rescue Scully after she is abducted by a deranged man who believes in UFOs.
Why is Mulder kidnapping Scully??  photo emot-sweatdrop.gif

Poor Skinner. Caught between a rock and a hard place. I have to imagine every morning, he wakes up, drinks his coffee, and stares into the middle distance while muttering to himself before heading into work and wondering what it is that Mulder has done now. And then he goes to work and finds out, and yells at Mulder. Or, as softlykarou put it:
"You're a loose cannon, Mulder!"
I'm surprised that Krycek made his villain turn so quickly. I suppose after they immediately revealed that he worked for MAJESTIC in the first episode that he was introduced, that it wouldn't be long before Chekov's gun was fired. But maybe draw out the anticipation a bit? I mean, Chris Carter had a twenty-three episode-long arc before the alien invasion of Earth, right? Take some time.

I did like that he just vanished into the ether once his cover was blown and that the mysterious contact told Mulder that MAJESTIC can do anything they want. Skinner seemed to give up pretty quickly for being told that Krycek hadn't come to work and his phone was disconnected, though. Surely he could at least have some agents go to his house? How much does he know? Is he working for MAJESTIC, or aware of them? Is reactiving the X-Files part of a long-term plan to discredit Mulder, like Cancer Man seemed to indicate was the point of keeping him around?  photo ashamed2.gif

It's like when Mulder was talking to Scully's mother and asked her why she wore a cross if she was a skeptic. Mulder doesn't seem to realize that just because you believe in one thing you don't have scientific proof of doesn't mean you immediately have to believe in everything. The existence of aliens does not prove the existence of murderghosts or vampires. These are all discrete phenomena.

Also, Duane Barry proves that you should never trust someone who talks about themselves in the third person.
Current Mood: curiouscurious
Current Music: Nothing
24 March 2017 @ 10:13 am
I hadn't listened to the songs at all, originally just because it's not my favorite kind of music. Then it was slight annoyance with the saturation, but after we learned it was coming to Chicago, I told softlykarou that I wanted to wait to see all the songs in context and not listen to them beforehand. And that's what I did, so last night was the first time I heard any of Hamilton that wasn't quoted by my friends.

Something something the room where it happens:

softlykarou told me she spent the first part of the musical glancing over to me and thinking that I was going to hate it. And it's true that the early part wasn't to my taste. The choreography was great, but the music I tend to listen to is heavily if not exclusively melody-driven, to the point where probably more than 80% of it is instrumental, or whatever you'd call chiptunes (is "a gameboy" an instrument?). It wasn't really until "Wait For It" that I really started to warm up to it. I mean, that song is a perfect encapsulation of my life philosophy--things are often terrible, much of your circumstances are completely outside of your control, but it is what it is and you have to make the best of it:
Death doesn’t discriminate
Between the sinners
And the saints
It takes and it takes and it takes
And we keep living anyway
It remains my favorite song and really the only one that stuck with me. A lot of the songs I either didn't care for or they just weren't memorable to me.  photo emot-sg.gif

The other moment that I clearly remember is "Best of Wives, Best of Women" because it's the sort of thing I'd have a very hard time not doing if I were in a similar situation. A problem I had caused that I could fix, which would cause incredible worry in softlykarou if I told her? It would be extremely tempting to try to fix it and avoid the worry entirely. Not ethical, you understand, but tempting.

It didn't much stay with me, though. I'm not going to be listening to the soundtrack on repeat or thinking about the character interactions. It was pretty good and I can see why other people love it so much. But that's that.

It does make me want to read more founding father biographies, though. Especially after seeing this quote yesterday which seems like an angel of G-d came to Hamilton and granted him prophecy:
The truth unquestionably is, that the only path to a subversion of the republican system of the Country is, by flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their jealousies and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion. Tired at length of anarchy, or want of government, they may take shelter in the arms of monarchy for repose and security.

Those then, who resist a confirmation of public order, are the true Artificers of monarchy—not that this is the intention of the generality of them. Yet it would not be difficult to lay the finger upon some of their party who may justly be suspected. When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits—despotic in his ordinary demeanour—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day—It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may "ride the storm and direct the whirlwind."
-Alexander Hamilton, Enclosure: [Objections and Answers Respecting the Administration], [18 August 1792]
Current Mood: satisfiedsatisfied
Current Music: Nothing
21 March 2017 @ 10:54 am
Dramatis Personae:
  • Shining Star, mandragora sorcerer-priestess of Nyarhé.
  • The Green Knight, mandragora briarwitch.
  • Bonnie, kong Auspicious Orator.
  • Amos Burnham, a human from Earth.
  • Elaphe, a chuzan junior member of the Black Rose.
With Shining Star as a translator through the Royal Speech, the party questioned the lurker about his business. He gave his name as Sigeferth, son of Osric, a Veiled One from Sarasa. Unfortunately, he did not know much. He told them that the Dragonbone Speakers had sent him to investigate the "darkness in the south" and that he had only recently been sent south, as well as that he had seen witchhunters from the Temple of the Holy Flame traveling in Fontina. He disavowed the accusations that he and his "brothers and sisters" were the ones causing the disappearances and was surprised to hear that ghul were working with the walking dead, but seemed very interested when the Green Knight revealed that he had seen a strange, bat-winged figure fly in front of the moons. There was little moonlight as both Tharu and Diang were crescents and Nyarhé, while full, was dark and gave off little light, but there were few clouds and so the group took to scanning the sky. It was Amos who spotted it, just as he turned his head, a figure diving from the sky and falling into another part of the town.

Elaphe immediately slipped off the roof and moved toward the shape as the others raced over the rooftops. Elaphe found it first, tall and bulky, towering head and shoulders taller than him in an alleyway and shrouded in a large cloak. He could barely see it in the gloom, but it seemed to be waiting for something, so he stepped out into the courtyard to invoke a hedge ritual to enhance his resilience. When Shining Star arrived, she spotted him and told him of their arrival in the Royal Speech, and Elaphe gestured at the alleyway and put up a hand. Sigeferth made a gesture and shadows enveloped him as he slipped off the roof. Unfortunately for Elaphe's plan, the rest of the group grew tired of waiting, and while moving into position across the rooftops they made enough noise that the figure heard them and dashed out of the alleyway.

The Green Knight and Bonnie immediately gave chase, keeping pace with it as it dashed across the town's dirt roads, now sprinting, now running on all fours. Shining Star tried to bind it with sorcerous chains, but it scuttled sideways as they closed on it and escaped their grasp. It was less lucky when Amos stopped running, took a moment to aim, and shot it with a flaming arrow from his bow, which sunk into the creature's flesh. To the party members on the roof it seemed to disappear, but the Green Knight and Bonnie saw that it just moved so quickly they could barely see it, down the street and around a corner behind a house. And then it took wing and flew above the rooftops. Shining Star hurled a blast of searing flame at it, but it corkscrewed through the air and dodged before flying away to the north.

During all this, Elaphe had attempted to give chase, but timed a jump badly and hit a wall face-first.

(Don't botch, kids!  photo ashamed2.gif Or, as summed up by Bonnie's player...)

The group reconvened afterward and Bonnie shared what she knew. From the wings, the appearance, the speed, and the apparent desire to hunt, she guessed it was a jiang, a type of vampire almost more beast and mortal. They could not enter structures built by living hands, but she was less clear on their other vulnerabilities--silver or garlic or running water, she could not say. The party decided they needed to tell the militia, and so they walked over to the militia staging area where they were waiting for the upcoming attack by the walking dead. On the way, Bonnie got Sigeferth to talk to her in Sarasan, so she could study it using her sorcery, and he sang a lay of the Sarasan's coming to their grasslands that Bonnie didn't understand a word of, but after which her sorcery granted her knowledge of his language. He seemed surprised at her sudden mastery of Sarasan, but mostly took it in stride.

Shining Star and Bonnie told the militia captain, a grizzled amanita who had probably been a farmer until a month ago, that there was more to worry about than the walking dead--that they had a vampire loose and needed to set up a curfew since the jiang couldn't enter their houses. The captain reacted with disbelief, pointing out that a curfew was impossible since the people of the village needed to be ready to defend against the walking dead who always attacked at night. The group did not really have a response to that, and after making sure they weren't needed against the night's attack--there were only a handful of walking dead, so they weren't--they returned to their lodgings to sleep. In the morning, after buying food and questioning some of the refugees, who worried about the food supplies in Fontina with winter coming on and so many crops abandoned, they left town and traveled south.

The weather was misty but not raining, and the whole first day they saw no one. There were some bodies on the side of the road, not badly decomposed, and after a debate over time vs propriety Shining Star settled for making a small blessing over each of them as they passed. It wasn't until they found a merchant caravan all dead that they stopped and build a pyre for them from the ruins of the wagon, piling the raptok's body, the bodies of the amanita guards, and the empty red robes and mask of a Silent One onto it. They spent that night in an empty farming village, in a house with a broken-in door but shutters that still worked. They wedged the door shut and piled furniture in front of it and lit a fire, but nothing troubled them in the night.

The next day, they were a few hours on the road when they heard singing from the distance in Muskalan heavily mixed with Floral. They thought about hiding, but on seeing that the figure was alone they waited until they saw it was an amanita traveling alone. Bonnie questioned the amanita, asking them why they were traveling alone in the wild. The amanita introduced themselves as Spring Breeze and said that they were a traveling minstrel from town of Tannin to the south and were hoping to make it up to Etemenanki before the winter hit to make money in Tower Town, and when the group expressed incredulity, they asked if there was something wrong. Bonnie explained the zombie plague, and the amanita was shocked--they said they hadn't heard anything about this Tannin, though they had noticed fewer travelers from the north.

At this point Bonnie, overwhelmed with suspicion, scribbled a note and ensorcelled it with a message to Shining Star, asking her to fake a sickness so she could call up a Knowing Whisper, which might be able to determine whether the amanita was lying. Bonnie dragged the "swooning" Shining Star away from the confused amanita into a ruined farmhouse, and we ended there.

Vampires! Oh no!

The party seems to have found that the walking dead plague is confined to the kingdom of Fontina specifically, but what will they do about it. Keep going, or turn back to defend the kingdom? They don't seem to have very strong goals at this point other than following the map, though previously they went far afield thanks to finding a ghost by a roadside. Is this wandering minstrel another divergent point, or will they turn out to be another victim of Elaphe while the rest of the group isn't looking?
Current Mood: curiouscurious
Current Music: Nothing
This is going to be a shorter post because we've both had a lot to do today, but I didn't want to go another week without trying more chocolate! The chocolate is piling up faster than we can eat through it. Pretty soon, softlykarou's spring break is coming up and I took several days off to coincide with it, so we might do some Darker than Black supplementals during that week to make our way through the excess. Or we might just decide to start eating some of the chocolate. Either way, we'll definitely use our days off to eat dark chocolate. Just like we use our workdays.
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Current Mood: busybusy
Current Music: Mysterious Universe podcast
18 March 2017 @ 06:43 pm
Just a grab-bag of things that have been happening lately.

I got my yearly bonus and annual raise this week. Higher than average on both, because we managed to exceed our department goals by a respectable amount and I did pretty well. There also wasn't as much pressure to hold down salary increases this year, so I got more of a salary increase and less of a bonus. And I put it all into tax withholding and 401K contributions. Well...that's responsibility.  photo 58-2nsylaw.gif

Yesterday was also the last day that we're using the old database system, and over the weekend they'll be switching over to the new system that they've spent the last two years working on. And true to software project form, it was a complete mess until the last week, where it was pulled into at least semi-reasonable condition. That also meant that I couldn't do anything involving the database on Friday, and since my work almost entirely involves editing database entries, I had to make work for myself. On a co-worker's suggestion, I did some prep work so that when the new database is up and able to accept new entries, I can go add in all the disciplinary actions to the appropriate physician records without having to scan through state board orders for what the doctors did wrong. Unless the database upgrade doesn't go well, in which case everything will be on fire.  photo onfire.gif Hopefully it all goes smoothly, but these are computers we're talking about.

Today was the first session of softlykarou's 7th Sea 2e game! I read the book through to make sure I knew the system and I had some misgivings--it's much more loose and narrative-styled than the systems I tend to prefer--but in play it worked out really well! And doing a silly Russian accent and coughing at the republican and revolutionary talk for my Ussuran nobleman was a lot of fun. He's not that great in a fight, but he has magical powers. He's also really rich, which is kind of like a magical power! The star moment was when I called a raven to our jail cell where, we had been treacherously imprisoned for a crime we didn't commit, and asked it to fetch the keys in exchange for a bauble from my nobleman's clothing. I then let everyone out, locked the cells behind us, and left. The legend grows.

I paid our 2016 taxes. Last year we owned an enormous amount because I forgot to take into account softlykarou's new job and thus that our salary was commensurately larger. This year I spent more time modeling our income vs. taxes paid and I came a lot closer--we owed 4% of what we owed last year, in terms of additional payments beyond our normal withholding. I'm not sure how much we'll owe on state taxes, but the state is usually much better at figuring out how much we owe than the federal government is and we rarely get a large refund or have a large deficit, so I'm not that worried. Edit: We owed more on state taxes than federal taxes. Looks like I spoke too soon!  photo shaking_fist_emoticon.gif

We're going to see Hamilton on Thursday. I've successfully avoided most news about it, so while of course I know the subject matter and the characters, I haven't listened to a single song all the way through, nor do I know what parts of history the musical covers. I'll probably write about it after I go, but until then, it's a mystery! Question block photo emot-question.gif
Current Mood: happyhappy
Current Music: Mazedude - Saren (Mass Effect) - Saren's Prayer
On Friday, I was feeling a little tired. By Sunday I was feel achy and run-down, and when I went to bed I was lying under a bunch of covers with the internal apartment temperature at 18°C but so hot that I kicked off almost all the covers. It was then that I realized I would probably not be going in to work tomorrow.

And I didn't. I stayed home and rested, venturing out only once to replenish our medicine supplies and then returning to the comfortable apartment and playing games like Stardew Valley to relax. But I still ended up kind of feeling vaguely anxious. We're working toward updating and releasing the new database system on Monday and I've been doing testing on it for days now. Wouldn't it impact that if I stayed home? Should I go into work?

I didn't, of course. The company does not care about you even if some of your coworkers do, and I have no desire to work while sick, get coworkers sick, or avoid using my employer's generous vacation policy. But there's that bit of me that thinks that lazing around, even if it's for a good reason, is somehow wasting time. That I should go in anyway and do what work I can to avoid letting other people down.

That bit should be purged with flame. I still have some work to do.
Current Mood: sicksick
Current Music: Square Roots podcast
I was one of the Final Fantasy fans that failed to make Dragon Quest popular in the West. I borrowed a friend's copy of Final Fantasy and played it to death, even beating it after weeks of work, but I saw someone playing Dragon Warrior and I just wasn't that interested. Simplistic sprites? Shakespearean English? Dying to magicians when he tried to head out to Garinham to buy stronger weapons and armor? No thank you. It wasn't until I went to university that I tried playing Dragon Warrior again, and I thought it was fun enough, persisted to the end, and then left the series behind.

Until I saw that some of the Dragon Quest games had been ported to iOS and I had a two-week-long trip to Japan coming up. I had vague memories of seeing Dragon Warrior IV in Nintendo Power and I'd heard good things about it, so I bought it, downloaded it, and loaded it up during the flight. And while I didn't beat it during the trip--I decided that writing thirty thousand words in daily blogging about it was a better use of my time--I've beaten it now! And it was pretty good!

The operative word here is "try."

The subtitle is Chapters of the Chosen, and it's probably half the game before you actually get to take control of the hero (other than in the brief prelude added in the remakes). There are four other major characters, each with their own quests they have to undertake. Ragnar MacRyan, a captain of the guard who investigates disappearing children. Tsarevna Alena, who seeks excitement outside the walls of the palace her father has confined her to. Torneko Taloon, a shop assistant who wants to strike it rich and own his own store. And Maya and Meena, the dancer/fortune-teller pair of sisters who seek to avenge their father's death at the hands of his renegade apprentice. Each one has their own chapter with a short goal they have to accomplish, and all the time they hear the stories of the rumored resurrection of the Lord of the Underworld, which can only be stopped by the Legendary Hero, and the monster's plan to find and stop the Hero before they can attain their full power.

No prize for figuring out who the Legendary Hero is.  photo 58-2nsylaw.gif

I really liked the structure here. It's a good setup for the second half of the game, since by the time you take control of the Legendary Hero you've already spent time with everyone else who will join the party and can look forward to when they appear, but each of the individual chapters is interesting too. They're a few hours long, providing just enough time to get to know the focus character without overstaying their welcome. The only chapter that I felt was too long was Alena's, which involves escaping from her castle, fighting a monster at a nearby village, entering a tournament to try to defeat someone named "Psaro the Manslayer" only to have him not show up. Then everyone in her father's castle has vanished. It went on just a bit too long for me, and was the only prequel chapter I didn't beat in a single sitting.

The true measure of a man is the size of his...shop inventory.

On the other hand, Torneko's chapter was a delight to play. Unlike the other characters with chapters focused on them, Torneko is neither physically nor magically powerful. And he's not even a merchant himself, he's just a merchant's apprentice. The start is waking up, going to work, and buying and selling weapons, day after day, over and over, without end. Torneko gets an aisai bentō from his wife each day, and she changes it for a fresh one if he wakes up with it still in his inventory. It was this that finally told me what I needed to do, after probably a week straight of retail work waiting for something to happen. Torneko woke up, took his lunch, and then went out into the field and started fighting monsters.

The goal of the chapter is to earn a ton of money so Torneko can buy his own shop, and everything is in service to that. Torneko doesn't get any companions who join him, but he can hire mercenaries named Laurel and Hardie--Laurence and Scott in the Japanese, which gets at one of the worst parts of the game that I'll talk about later--and the monsters have a greatly-increased chance of dropping items, which he can sell. And later, when he opens his own store, can give to his wife tending the shop and she can sell. It's easy to earn a huge amount of money in a short time, and then use that to get an arbitrarily high amount of money later by carrying forward high-value weapons and armor and selling them as soon as the Legendary Hero finds Torneko and gains access to his inventory again. It was basically a mini-dose of Recettear in a sea of fighting the forces of evil, and it was one of my favorite parts of the game.

Our destiny, after enough XP.

Yūji Horī is on record as saying that one of the design goals for Dragon Quest was to make an RPG that anyone could beat. Unlike Wizardry, one of the inspirations for what became JRPGs, players for Dragon Quest could never die permanently and if they found a battle they couldn't beat, they could just go out, grind monsters for a while and gain a few levels, and then come back and try again. I remembered this when I died during a boss battle and then reappeared at the church I had last saved at and then went out to go grind some more levels before taking on the monster menacing the small town with Alena and her companions.

I've heard that in the original the player only controlled the main character of the chapter and everyone else was CPU controlled. That would have been a nightmare in any battle that required any kind of tactics, and I'm glad that it wasn't followed through here. It's possible to set AI for each character so that those with no spells, like Alena or Ragnar, can just berserker attack every round if there's enough healing from elsewhere. Otherwise, it's a game from 1990, so everyone has FIGHT, MAGIC, and ITEM, and any character differentiation is through whether they know magic or not, what magic they know, what items they can use, and their character stats. Alena has very high Agility and Luck, so it's advantageous to give her the falcon knife earrings so she can attack twice in a row, giving her two chances to crit. Torneko gets a lot of hit points--when I finished the game, he had more HP than the Legendary Hero even though I gave all the HP-boosting items I found to the hero--and he's a jester, occasionally ignoring battle orders and performing actions that can cause status effects or sudden critical hits.

This is why the opening chapters are so integral. They provide the characterization, so when everyone folds into the Legendary Hero's party you're attached to them by virtue of the time already spent with them and they don't just fade away into collections of stats and available equipment slots. It probably would have been more optimal to swap out Torneko for Ragnar or another spellcaster, but I kept him in my party for the entirety of Chapter V because the 99 cautery swords he brought in funded the war effort against Psaro.  photo latest.gif

You don't say. Emoji Kawaii frog photo croaking_frog_emoji_by_kaidahthedragon-dabw3kq.gif

In terms of plot, Dragon Quest IV was pretty basic. Even beyond the localization making it impossible for me to take it seriously, there's no real complication or emotional depth in the story. There is a Lord of the Underworld, fated to be defeated by the Legendary Hero. This is not a secret, since random townspeople talk about the monsters and the Legendary Hero and the prophecy, so it wasn't a case of the protagonist realizing their destiny the way I've heard that Dragon Quest V is. The Legendary Hero's hometown is destroyed, so he (or she, if you prefer) is thrust forth into the world to defeat evil, he gathers the chosen companions, and kills slimes and monsters with silly pun names--platypunk, Venus guytrap, buffalo wing, weartiger, etc.--until he's strong enough to win.

The effective part was the individual chapters and their protagonists, even though they lost some of their depth when I reached the final chapter and everything was folded into the quest to destroy the Lord of the Underworld. There's a "talk to party" button with location-based responses that provides some connection to the party, but mostly it's used to help figure out where to go next. I ended up using a walkthrough several times while I played the game it was mostly to remember where I was going and what I was doing, since I played over the course of nine months. If I had played straight through, over the summer vacation or after finishing homework while I was ten years old like the game was clearly originally designed to be played, I doubt I would have had those problems. Most of them were pointers to events in previous chapters that I remembered as soon as I looked them up but had forgotten in the intervening time.  photo shrug2.gif

So the story wasn't a huge draw, and the gameplay was pretty simplistic. But because of that, it was the perfect game to play on an international flight, or while i was cuddling on the couch with softlykarou while we watched a YouTuber playing video games. It didn't change my life, but it was fun.

"Balzack" is really "Baalzack."  photo emot-stare.gif

I was a bit leery of playing a complicated RPG on iOS. I've played full iOS games before, but only platformers like Tiny Dangerous Dungeons--probably the worst genre to play on touchscreen controls, as it turns out. After managing that, Dragon Quest IV wasn't a problem at all. The interface is well-suited for a touchscreen and since combat is simplistic with no options beyond the standard old-school JRPG menu, there's no complexity to get in the way. Occasionally the movement was a bit oversensitive and once I fell into a pit, but it took me thirty seconds to get back to where I was. It was never a big deal.

And one benefit is the art, though with a slight downside. The backgrounds are all in the Nintendo handheld-style 3D and the view is at ¾ above, presumably to allow for rotation of the levels so that the designers could put doors and chests behind other objects. This extends to the background art during battles too, which does accurately represent the area where the battles take place.

But the pixel art is gorgeous. There are some examples of in the screenshots I've included in so far, but even that doesn't really get into how great it looks in motion. The fluidity of the sprites as they bounce up and down in battle readiness, the attack animations like the tree-stump enemies growing leaves as they attack or the way that Psaro's flesh burbled as he mutated in the boss battle or the dragons flapping their wings...it looks amazing. It really makes me wish that they had done the rest of the art in that style rather than the generic 3D art. The border between the two is more jarring than if either had been used for the entirety of the game.

Settle down there, old man.

I'm much less impressed with the localization, though. I mentioned above that two characters were named "Laurel and Hardie" to throw in a joke where the original Japanese didn't have one, and this seems to have been the localizer's approach to everything. Different countries have over-exaggerated accents to distinguish them from each other. Names are changed just to make extremely bad puns, like the hilarious jokester Tom Foolery (originally "Panon"), the town of former pirates named Dunplundrin (originally "Seaside Town"), El Forado the hidden village of the elves (originally "Elfville"), Laissez Fayre the theatre town (originally "Monbabara"), Archie O'Tect, who builds a bridge, and Archie O'Logist, who's in the town that springs up thanks to the Legendary Hero's actions to search for remnants of the old town there...

I hated all of this. I understand that localization is an art and that the nuances of trying to convey the spirit as well as the meaning of the original text might require changing what it says in order to best accomplish that, but that's not what's going on here. Especially with the only game I played previously being Dragon Warrior, so I'm used to But Thou Must-style language. Coming from that to puns everywhere and people speaking like a middle school drama club who don't understand the value of subtlety just made me grind my teeth. This is the kind of thing that makes me understand why people are up in arms about localization changes.  photo emot-objection.gif

I suppose if it really bothers me, I should play in Japanese. Unlike a lot of Western fans, I could actually do that.

Nobody here but us slimes.

I didn't have any nostalgic memories of Dragon WarriorQuest going in, and I was worried that it wouldn't help me smooth over the difficulties inherent in the game the way that my memories of playing, say, Jill of the Jungle helped smooth over its DOS platformer eccentricities. I certainly can't see what it is that got hundreds of Japanese schoolkids arrested for truancy for skipping school to buy the new ドラクエ game as soon as it hit the shelves. But as I said above, it was fun, and when I was about halfway through I went out and bought DQV so I can play that as well. The simplicity and charm is perfect for a game that I'm going to play sitting on the couch while watching something else, on the train, or while lying in bed.

First, though, I suppose I should finish Chapter 6. I've still got plenty of couch time available to play.
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished
Current Music: Dragon Warrior I - Hail to the Throne (Tyler Heath OC ReMix)
11 March 2017 @ 04:51 pm
Has it already been six years?

I wasn't affected at all by the Tōhoku earthquake, and neither really was anyone I knew personally. The worst that happened was an acquaintance in Tokyo at the time had to walk the twenty kilometers home in heels after the trains stopped running. In the western part of Japan, we weren't even affected by the power disruptions, because the different halves of Japan use different power standards due to buying equipment from different countries during the modernization of the Meiji Era.

I remember how others were affected, though. I still remember the Japanese word for "buried alive."

On Twitter earlier, I saw this photo of an advertisement of the Sony Building in Ginza.

It's all over Japanese news now, which gave me a clearer transcription of the Japanese, so now I can translate what it says:
3/11, every time that day comes, we think back on the things of that time. From the Great Tōhoku Earthquake, six years have quickly passed. Another such disaster will not happen again. We may think that way every year, but at some point, another disaster will certainly occur.

On that day, in Iwate Prefecture, Ōfunato City, the tsunami was observed at 16.7 meters (55.3 feet). If it came to the center of Ginza, it would be as high as this. Rather than imagine it, you can experience the height. But, rather than only knowing this height, action must change.

We, now, can prepare. We will retain the power of imagining for the victims of the disaster, and we can store up [their] wisdom. We will not forget that day. That is the greatest disaster prevention.
The last line is because it's a Yahoo advertisement, but it works best without that, I think.

Current Mood: melancholymelancholy
Current Music: Kyoto Imperial Court Music Orchestra - Etenraku
06 March 2017 @ 11:05 am
Dramatis Personæ
  • Asinius Ravila, Iberian medicus
  • Belasir of Tihama, Arabian sagittarius et speculatore
  • Emeric of the Suevi, Germanic auxiliārius, and a Christian
  • Galerius Evodis, Constantinopolitan optio
  • Milonius Kanmi, Carthiginian sagittarius
The legionnaires returned to the fortress with their prisoners, immediately reporting to the commander. After the local medicus saw to Emeric's injuries and they explained the bat-monsters they had fought to Longinus, he urged them to question the prisoners and learn what he cult was planning. They first tried a good cop/bad cop routine, but the two cultists just smiled with far-off expressions and ignored their questions. It wasn't until Galerius hit the boy across the face that he reacted, and that single hit opened the floodgates. The cultists began ranting about the doom and plague that would sweep over the Empire, and claimed that the "Army of Skin and Blood" was even now on its way. The legionnaires immediately reported the news to Tillius Corvus and Centenarius Longinus, who begin making preparations. At the legionnaires' urging, the refugees were brought within the walls and bonfires were kindled. As the soldiers made preparations, Galerius gave a rousing speech about the glory of Rome and the fortitude of the legions, sending up a wave of cheers from the men.

Almost as soon as the sun dipped below the horizon, the army arrived. Groups of skin creatures and bat monsters, mixed with howling cultists with strips of their skin ritually flayed off. Emeric was more far-sighted than his companions, and beyond the army he saw a skinned parody of horse, bearing a robed rider that lifted a curved knife above its head. Overwhelmed, Emeric began to babble Christian prayers in Germanic as the army moved to the wall and began to scale it, paying no heed to the arrows and javelins of the Romans.

Several of the monsters gained the wall and combat dissolved into melee. One of the skin beasts latched on to Belisar and began to drink his blood, only to be shoved off and then chopped to ribbons by Galerius. The other monsters are quickly dispatched now that they don't have the element of surprise, a process that repeated itself across the came. Apparently, necromancy was no match for Roman steel.

After the battle, Emeric felt slightly ill, though he waved it off as the effects of his earlier fight. Tillius ordered the legionnaires not to pursue the fleeing army, but rather to wait until morning. After several hours of fighting, they were glad to obey that order, and they went to sleep. In the morning, they met with the centenarius, who assigned another group of legionnaires to accompany them as they followed the trail to the cult headquarters. The trail required no expertise to follow, littered as it was with blood, the bodies and greasy remnants of monsters, and discarded weapons from the Army of Skin and Blood. It led into the mountains, through a narrow defile that there would have been almost no chance to find if they hadn't had the army's trail to follow. As the proceed into the mountains, Milonius notices that the other legionnaires have abandoned them and turned back for the fort, but Tillius orders them to proceed with the mission.

After a few hundred yards, the trail opens up to a bowl-like depression in the mountains, with seventeen tall menhirs, half again the height of a man, each covered in weathered hieroglyphs and with a skinned human corpse lashed to the stone. In the midst of the menhirs was a pit, descending into an unnatural darkness. A dropped torch vanished into the darkness, and it wasn't until they spread out and searched that they saw a cunningly-concealed stairway descending down the rim of the pit. With no other choice, the legionnaires descended, finding a pool of liquid blackness near the bottom. A spear poked into it came out clean, and so the legionnaires steeled themselves and kept walking. The blackness felt slightly unclean and seemed to leave a thin film on them, but they were not further harmed.

At the bottom of the stairway was a cave complex, with three tunnels leading away and mosaics of implike creatures all around the floor and walls menacing primitive humans armed with spears.
Me: "Did you say, 'Impolite creatures'?"
Belasir's player: "I also heard impolite."
The floor was covered in a curling mist and the legionnaires heard the faint sound of whispers. As well, the sound of footsteps echoed through the caves, and so the legionnaires took one of the corridors that led to the cult's food stores. Milonius suggested destroying the stores, but Tillius was against it, and so the legionnaires continued, finding a barracks with two injured cultists who they quickly slaughtered and then hid the bodies in the human skin hammocks and covered them with the human skin blankets that furnished the room. When the patrol's footsteps had vanished again, they continued down the corridor and found the cult's main room. The mist was stronger here, coming out of holes in the wall, and there was a column in the center with a flayed human figure and some kind of instruction or ritual area in the back. After ambushing the patrolling cultists and killing then, Milonius and Emeric examined the column and were stunned when it transformed into an image of their own faces, each seeing his representation. The others examined the ritual area and the rugs and wall hangings made of human skin, drawing their swords as the skins began to move and attack. There were three against six legionnaires, though, and when they were cut to ribbons another passage was revealed leading further into the cave.

Through that passage was a floor carpeted in human scalps and walled with the skins of legionnaires. Bone windchimes hung from the ceiling and in the back was a bone bedframe with human skin sheets and bedding. In the center was the cult leader, who lifted aloft a curved knife with an unnatural sheen to its blade and babbled that "Your skins are mine!" and then the skin the chamber animated to surround the cultist as he started chanting in Gothic. The legionnaires charged, but Milonius was overcome by the cult leader's magic and attacked Emeric. Emeric managed to block the blow with his shield as the others attacked the skins, and when they were shredded, the sorcerer's skin fell away. Most of it became a strange insectile monster, slithering to attack, except for the skin of his face which animated as a bat-like flitting abomination. But none of it mattered as the legionnaires charged in, and Tillius drove his blade into the sorcerer's heart, causing all the skins to crumble to dust and the mist to fade away.

But the blow unleashed a fountain of blood, much more than a human body could contain. The flood knocked Tillius over, and when it faded Asinius examined him, noting that he was still alive but in a coma. The other legionnaires picked him up and carried him out, back to the fort, and arranged for transit back to Constantinople, where the magister militum offered them two months' leave and a year's pay in exchange for a promise never to speak of this again. He also demanded that Emeric surrender the knife he had taken from the sorcerer, which he did with extreme reluctance--at this, the professor and the other investigators reading the account stopped and looked at Demir, who simply shrugged.

The legionnaires all took that offer and, after their leave, they gathered for Belasir's wedding to Nona and then, when Tillius finally awoke, his wedding to Eudoxia, held on her family's barge on the sea. Just before the wedding, the magister militum summoned them back for one more mission, saying that the the knife has vanished. All of them except Belasir agreed to the mission, but first they attended the wedding.

Tillius gave a toast to the men of the Fortes Falcones, commending them for their bravery...but ended it by saying that Tillius was dead, and then snarled at the wedding guests as a wave of pain and nausea spread through the group. Before anyone could react, he tore out his new bride's throat with his bare hands and began drinking her blood! Milonius, Belasir, and Galerius died of the poison almost immediately, but Emeric and Asinius managed to fight off the nausea and crippling pain and flee to the side, deliberately knocking over several lanterns into their flight. They leapt into the sea as the tapestries and decorations caught fire, and looking back, they saw Tillius killing the wedding guests until the flames grew too high, where he transformed into some flitting winged thing and took off into the night. They knew they were not strong enough to swim back to the Golden Horn, but a passing fishing boat saw the flames and came to investigate, hauling them aboard.

Emeric quickly succumbed to his injuries, the shock of the sea, and the poison, but Asinius lived. He finished the journal stating that he planned to change his name and take ship to Iberia or Gaul, traveling as far as he could from Constantinople and the horrific sights he had witnessed. This was the last page.

Mr. Johnson!  photo shaking_fist_emoticon.gif

I was expecting something to go wrong, but I was not expecting the commander to turn into a vampire. Maybe a bit more explanation would have been nice, since the historical Constantinople scenarios seem partially set up to explain where le Comte came from and why a Call of Cthulhu game has a vampire as a villain. Or, okay, an evil sorcerer who just happens to have all the legendary powers of the vampire. But it doesn't, really. Was Tillius possessed by the blood? Does the Gothic cult leader live on? Is it unrelated? Who knows. It's fun to play Romans, but this didn't actually seem to serve much story purpose.

I did like the combat, though. It turns out that our modern-era investigators should probably go buy some chainmail, since that, our shields, and our high combat skills matched with Fight Back meant that we slaughtered our opposition without much effort. We need more combat prowess from our elderly academics.

I like to think that Asinius is the ancestor of Professor Durand, but assuming he had children, he died probably around 360 or so. He's undoubtedly an ancestor of the entire group of 1920s-era investigators.

Next session, back to the 20s and on to Belgrade!
Current Mood: shockedshocked
Current Music: Square Roots podcast
04 March 2017 @ 09:22 pm
While nowadays I listen mostly to synthwave, chiptunes, and video game soundtracks, my playlists used to almost entirely consist of goth music. I picked Philadelphia for university without realizing that it was the headquarters for Dancing Ferret Discs, the record label for a lot of the bands I listened to--and probably named after the Dancing Ferret in the Borderlands series, something I didn't realize until recently--so I spent a good portion of time at places like Dracula's Ball. Then I got older, my tastes changed. It happens.  photo shrug2.gif

However, on the way to work I listen to music-based podcasts because I don't want to try to pay attention to a talk podcast over the noise of the L, and one of the podcasts I listen to is Communion After Dark, which is goth music, of course. A couple weeks ago they had a song that kept making me rewind to listen to it again, and when I got home I looked up the song and found the music video, and it may be the single most profound encapsulation of the goth scene in one video I've ever seen:

It starts off with the band making soulful gestures with profound gazes, on a black background, from the shoulders up. The lyrics are pure "you don't understand us, we are too deep for you":
We're nothing like you
A wall in black
We're nothing like you
And you don't get who we are

We're nothing like you
We dare the flow
We're nothing like you
And you don't know who we are

In a land of seals and sorrow
We kept waiting for the spark
So hail your kings and hail your queens
We're different, we're the children of the dark!
And then when the woman's voice cuts in, it's all people dressed up at concerts, smiling or making silly faces at the camera, and clearly having a great time dressing up and listening to music.

And that's it, isn't it? There is something kind of silly about dressing up in black lace and Victorian coats or strappy leather and vinyl. And who am I to comment? I dress like a mixture of a William Gibson character and a post-apocalyptic citadel denizen. But it's fun. That's why we do it. And sure, the beauty of the night and the emergent mono no aware inherent in decay, but sometimes I just like dressing up like the protagonist of Vampire: the Masquerade: Bloodlines and listening to music like Another World or Deception or Burning Heretic or Ghost Love Score or Night of the Wolf.

I don't demand that everything I do justify itself on some cosmic scale anymore.  photo _thisorthat__or__compare__by_brokenboulevard-d4tole3.gif There are other things I can devote my emotional energy to. Like enjoying ridiculous music.
Current Mood: amusedamused
Current Music: Mono Inc - Children of the Dark (feat. Tilo Wolff, Joachim Witt & Chris Harms)
28 February 2017 @ 11:13 am
Woohoo! Twenty sessions and still going!

Dramatis Personae:
  • Shining Star, mandragora sorcerer-priestess of Nyarhé.
  • The Green Knight, mandragora briarwitch.
  • Bonnie, kong Auspicious Orator.
  • Amos Burnham, a human from Earth.
  • Elaphe, a chuzan junior member of the Black Rose.
Sakuya led the group to Old Three Eyes' house, built away from the wall in a cluster of other houses with their backs against a courtyard. The inside was spartan, wooden floors with an opening to the dirt for a fire pit, a table and chair, cupboard, and a chest next to the mats set on a small platform above the floor, all in one room. The group spread out and searched, finding the remnants of what smelled like stew in the pot over the fire and an eating knife in the dirt and ash nearby, a few coins in the bedding which Elaphe pocketed, and--more damning--a few scratches on the windowsill. Amos muttered a few words and summoned up a witchlight, leaving the blue foxfire bobbing near the window as he walked around outside to the courtyard and checked the windowsill again, finding more claw marks on the underside. Shining Star opened her senses to the corruption of the darkness beyond the Star Road, but smelled nothing but dust. Elaphe and Bonnie climbed to to the roof and looked around, and Elaphe found a tuft of black and grey fur caught on a corner of the roof tiles. After about twenty more minutes of searching turned up nothing, the group decided to go back to the tea house and catch a few more hours or sleep.

In the morning, they split up. Shining Star went to the where the injured from the battle against the walking dead were kept and ministered to them, finding another victim of ghul fever and using her magic to aid them. She told the militia standing around to let her know if the victim's condition changed at all and, especially if they fell into a coma, to fetch her immediately.

Elaphe went looking for any kind of criminal underworld, and eventually outside a tea house he found an amanita who understand his comments about rose gardens and led him to a more secluded table. Bonnie had secretly followed Elaphe, somehow managing to stay hidden, but she wandered off bored as the amanita asked Elaphe if he was in town on business. When he said no, she visibly relaxed and chatted with him about how her quiet life had been disrupted by the animated dead. She didn't know about the source of the plague, but was happy to keep an eye out, and took Elaphe back to her house briefly to introduce him to her pigeon, Zephyr, saying that it would provide a way to carry messages between them if necessary.

Amos went back out to the courtyard to talk to the other people who lived nearby and the refugees who had fled to the safety of the walls. They had not seen much, but they mentioned that Old Three Eyes had mentioned eyes watching him, and had sometimes trailed off in the middle of a conversation and then seemingly snapped out of it, returning to the previous topic without any sign of time having passed. One older amanita also mentioned that they had seen something flying high, silhouetted against the moon. Probably not a roc--it wasn't big enough and they didn't know of any rocs that nested nearby--but they were not sure what it was.

Around this time, Amos noticed a beroringa nearby licking some of the damage to the buildings and spoke it to. The spirit turned, seemingly surprised, and poked Amos for a moment with its tongue, which felt like being poked with a slightly warm feather even though it was larger than his arm. Amos asked it if it had seen anything, and the spirit mentioned the "darkness in the south" and that it could feel the rot in the earth, in a voice that Amos both heard with his ears and felt in his mind. Being a spirit, it didn't entirely understand Amos's perspective, but it did promise to keep watch any tell him if it saw anything. At this point Bonnie arrived and, seeing that Amos was speaking English to the air, quickly pulled out an old dose of spirit-flower tea and choked in down. She was delighted as the swirling colors resolved into the beroringa's body and questioned it in English, since that was what she heard Amos speaking, but the answers came to her in Chaian. However, she didn't learn much more than Amos did.

The party regathered near where Shining Star was administering medicine and shared what they had learned. They quickly formed a plan to stake out the courtyard near Old Three Eyes' house and watch for anything strange, along with some members of the militia, and returned to the tea house, this time paying for a private room and sleeping until sundown. The militia roused them, they ate a quick meal of stewed rice and mushrooms, and then took up their places on the roof.

Shining Star had summoned a Knowing Whisper, a spirit of knowledge in service to Nyahré, and as they waited on the rooftops it alerted her that there was something out there. She told the others and Amos, who could see in the dark thanks to the crystal he carried, gripped his musket and began to creep across the rooftops toward the distant shape as the Green Knight looked up and saw a shadow pass over the moons. There were arms, and legs, and wings. Perhaps one of the pidgit-folk, but with what they knew was happening in the town, that was not an assumption he would make.

Amos got close enough that the could see a shape shrouded in scarves or wrappings crouching next to the chimney of the tea house, and he remembered the rumors in Rockfort about people being attacked in an alleyway. He raised his musket and shouted out in Floral not to move, and the shape, clearly hearing him, looked up at him, letting him see the bridge of a nose and eyes peering out from the wrappings. Amos summoned a witchlight, illuminating the area, and asked who the shape was. He received an answer, but it wasn't in Floral, nor was it in Muskalan, which Amos didn't speak but had spent enough time around it being spoken to know what it sounded like.

The others arrived as the shape stood up, a tall mandragora- or human-shape with a red eye and teardrop embroidered on the chest of its clothing. When Shining Star saw it, she thought to use the Royal Speech, and greeted the shape. In a moment, she received a reply: "The Dragonbone Speakers sent me here to scout out the darkness in the south."

Mysterious! The Dragonbone Speakers are the shamans of the Sarasans to the northwest, which are a group of thunder lizard-riding grassy plains tribesmen that I based on the Hengist and Horsa-era Anglo-Saxons, so I can already say that this guy's name is "Sigeferth, son of Osric." I was tired of every horse-based riding culture either being based on the Mongols or the Native American plains tribes and wanted to do something different. Something different with dinosaurs and dragon-worshipping wizard priests.

The hordes of animated dead is something I thought that the players would want to go after earlier on, but I'm glad that they're checking it out now ten sessions after I expected! That also means they're better armed to deal with the enemies they might encounter, too, so it should all turn out of the best.

Elaphe's player pointed out they're amassing an army. A veiled one, the spirit of that courtyard and the buildings, the town militia...will it do any good? Hmm.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
Current Music: Instant Classic podcast
It's been a long while since I did one of these posts, but I've written a lot more about spirits since last year, so here's a few more bestiary entries!


The spirits of the new moon, the dark, and the rare triple conjunction when all the moons are shadowed and the inhabitants of Agarica lock their doors and windows and light candles against the night, darkrai are harbingers of fear and bringers of nightmares. There are no ceremonies in their honor and no praises chanted to them, only propitiatory offerings in the hopes that they will keep away. They are occasionally called on by vengeance-minded summoners who seek to bring madness and despair to their enemies, but darkrai are exceedingly difficult to control, and more than one would-be avenger has died screaming under an assault of nightmares.


Hitokage are the bright spirits of sunlight and the heat of the day. They contain both the pleasant warmth of a sunbeam and the life-giving energy that causes flowers to bloom and crops to grow. They are often seen playing in the sunbeams on warm summer days, and are occasionally beseeched to provide extra light to help crops grow.


Bakeccha are the spirits of ripened crops, trees laden with fruit, and plants ready for the harvest. They sleep dormant for most of the year, emerging in late summer and remain awake until the first hard frost falls, which sends them back into their slumber. This cycle varies based on location—in B'rabt, for example, the bakeccha are merely drowsy for parts of the year, awakening each time the B'rabti bring in another crop of rice.

Because of their association with grain, bakeccha are also spirits of alcohol, and it is this patronage that makes them one of the most popular spirits in Agarica.


Nyoromo are the spirits of the tides, the coastal waters, and the river-mouths, all within view of the shore. They are used to mortals in their domains and usually do not hinder them during the course of their normal activities, but they can easily be roused to wrath by too much change. Fishing boats or children playing on the beach, for example, almost never provoke a nyoromo, but attempting to dam a river or building a pier can cause them to attack.


Pippi are the spirits of full moons, of the light that illuminates the countryside and turns night into almost-day. They are found on clear nights, dancing in the moonlight in rings on top of hills. They are usually placid, but do not like their dances to be observed and have been known to curse those who try to watch them.

In B’rabt, pippi are regarded with holy reverence as messengers of Yarikh the Lunar Serpent, and they are frequently summoned to dance at important festivals.


Camome are spirits of rainclouds, dancing in the raindrops and flying amidst grey clouds heavy with coming storms. They are most common near the sea, but will ride rainstorms inland and can be found far from the shores as long as the rain is heavy enough. Camome are not particularly intelligent and are easily distracted by shiny objects, and some farmers without the power to command them will place crystals or bits of glass near their fields in the hopes of attracting them.
Current Mood: creativecreative
Current Music: Pokémon Sapphire - Gotta Catch a Wave and a Memory (M4PLEHOODI3 OC ReMix)
Yesterday, softlykarou and I went with my parents to the orchid show at the Chicago Botanic Garden. The weather wasn't great for garden-viewing, but fortunately this was an orchid show, so all the flowers were indoors. When I was a child, I hated looking at flowers, hated being dragged along with my parents to flower shows, and didn't understand why they cared. There are a lot of things parents tell children that they'll understand when they're older only because they don't want to actually answer them, but sometimes, it is true.
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Current Mood: contentcontent
Current Music: Final Fantasy I - Find Your Way (Darangen OC ReMix)
Yesterday I saw an article on Twitter about how video games are better than real life, and it got me thinking.

I'm lucky enough now to have a job with reasonable pay and excellent benefits, but something I'm always conscious of is that my job exists as a stop-gap. I do data quality curation, so my day is checking the results of machine algorithms and dealing with what they can't handle--since we get millions of records a month, there's no way they could all be checked by hand and no need to do it when well over 99% of the work can be automated. But automation keeps getting better, and that means the space for what I do now is continually shrinking. Eventually, it'll be gone. Not this year, probably not in the next five years, but almost certainly before I retire.

(Incidentally, this is one reason why I save so much of our income. I'm trying to get ahead of the curve while I can  photo latest.gif)

And then I think about the last year we were in Japan, after Suzugamine cancelled its contract with Lang due to a shrinking student body (shrinking so much that it later merged with another school and changed its name), when I was out of work. softlykarou told me to treat it like a vacation, and that I could get a job when we got back to America and she was in grad school. We made an attempt to look for work closer to Chiyoda, but there wasn't much to be found, and in the end that's what I did. I taught the eikaiwa we had, but otherwise I studied Japanese, walked around the neighborhood, and played video games.

Like the article says, it was fine. I really enjoyed much of that year, though in the end I was having serious sleeping problems and it was clearly having an effect on me. But while I regret not doing more Japanese studying during that year, playing games was fun. It was interesting and challenging. The lack of a job didn't bother me at all. And why not? Unlike life, video games are fair. They have understandable rules that can be challenged and mastered, and predictable results from those rules. And if they don't fit those criteria, they're often bad games, and there are other games to play. There's no other lives to life.  photo darksouls.001.gif

That's one of the few things that provides me some hope about the automation apocalypse. Large groups of unemployed young men is usually a route to massive social unrest, if not outright revolution. If those young men are fine without work as long as they get to play video games, and if robots can do the work, well...why not let them? With some kind of basic income scheme rather than having people fight over increasingly dwindling jobs, which is what we're currently having people do? There will be massive social hurdles to overcome--"what do you mean, I'm working and my taxes are paying for him to play World of Warcraft 2?!"--but it seems like the only option that doesn't end in massive bloodshed or social unrest.

That part I'm less optimistic about. But at least I have a little hope.
Current Mood: pensivepensive
Current Music: The Egyptian History Podcast
20 February 2017 @ 11:02 am
In the comfort of the salon car, surrounded by his fellow investigators, and one new addition, Profesor Durand opened Chronicon de Tillius Corvus and began to translate the classical Latin into English.
Dramatis Personæ
  • Asinius Ravila, Iberian medicus
  • Belasir of Tihama, Arabian sagittarius et speculatore
  • Emeric of the Suevi, Germanic auxiliārius, and a Christian
  • Galerius Evodis, Constantinopolitan optio
  • Milonius Kanmi, Carthiginian sagittarius
XII mensus Martius, F. Gallicano et A. Valeriō consulibus

The men of the Fortes Falcones were in Nova Roma, supervising construction crews for the Imperator's new capital. All of them had served long years in the legions and were looking forward to finally retiring and getting their pensions and land--other than Galerius, who loved the soldier's life and was grumbling about being forced to leave. As they went about their various tasks, their tribunus Tillius Corvus found them and told them that the Magister militum had told him that he had one last mission for them, and they needed to assemble immediately. Grumbling slightly, they did so.

They waited in the magister's office, along with their fellow veteran legionnaires Laurentius (Lorenz) Germanicus and Nabidius Ursus, both of which looked very disgruntled. Galerius asked the magister's aid why they had been summoned, and while the aid demured, eventually he explained that a courier had come from Lydia, and after hearing the message, the magister had the man imprisoned and immediately summoned Tillius.

Eventually they were invited into the magister's office, and he explained his tasks. There were rumors of plague in Sardis and the Ghilian Outpost in Lydia had been out of contact for days. He required a small force to investigate in absolute secrecy. The people were saying that this was the work of a Satanic cult, and it had to be dealt with before the Imperator opened his new capital. He brusquely commended them for not trying to speak with the courier and then ordered them to leave in the morning before dismissing them. Outside, Tillius apologized for the summons and the sudden calling away from their duties, but he said he was asked for his best men. He wouldn't force them to go, but he urged them to flee the city immediately if they had second thoughts. For his part, he was going to celebrate since his amica Eudoxia had promised to marry him as soon as he returned. The legionnaires eventually joined him, though some took care of other business first--Belasir said goodbye to his own amica Nona, and Galerius and Milonius both made sure to make a sacrifice to Aesculapius. Then, with much praise to Tillius and much ribbing of Belasir, they went to sleep.

The next morning the legionnaires assembled, minus Laurentius Germanicus and Nabidius Ursus, and they boarded a ship and crossed the Sea of Marmara. On the other side, as they were relaxing, other soldiers asked them what they were doing, as is the way of soldiers, which they deflected with varying degrees of skillfulness. Then, in the morning, they left.

They rode for days through the countryside, the villagers getting less and less friendly as they went until after three days the they hid at the legionnaires approach, shouting of plague. Finally, they arrived at the fort and several outriders rode out to meet them. The soldiers anxiously asked where the reinforcements were, and Tillius assured them they were only a few days behind, having been delayed by washed-out bridges. Then, they were taken to meet Curio Longinus, the local commander, who explained the problem. There was a local cult called "The Flayed," who were harassing the villagers, and there was an illness. The Valerian Plague, it was called, and it caused fevers and hallucinations, eventually leading to death. Longinus said his men had also been attacked, and so he finally ordered all of his men to remain within sight of the fort walls. The legionnaires ask if they can speak to the refugees, and Longinus agrees, so they go to the refugee camp.

The legionnaires split up and ask about the situation. They learned that the villagers were being attacked by bats and strange, flat ghost-things, that the plague had a 40% fatality rate and there were always six days of symptoms, that whole villages had been depopulated, and that the cultists were in the mountains to the east.

While Asinius was speaking to the refugees, a plague victim surged up from his bed, raving, screaming to G-d to save him from his fate. Asinius shook him off...only to have the man's skin come off in a single piece and fall to the ground. The man vomited black bile and stopped moving, and the camp's medicus and his assistants carried him off toward the trench in the north, where they had put the bodies of those who died of the plague. The legionnaires followed, and when the oilskin over the trench was removed, they found that all the bodies were skinless and piled haphazardly, and there were no flies or smell of decay. The medicus was shocked by this, saying that they had treated the bodies with respect, and the legionnaires carefully approached to examine the trench. Belasir found a strange trail, like a man walking dragging something, and followed it to the east to see where it led. Meanwhile, Emeric heard something moving in the bodies, and as Milonius readied his bow, Asinius and Emeric drew their swords and began moving the bodies, only for something leathery and white to surge up out of the pile at them!

Despite the initial surprise, they made quick work of the thing, which seemed to be made of human skin, but there were more sounds of movement in the trench. The thing's body burned away in the sunlight, and when it was nothing but an oily stain, Tillius arrived and asked the legionnaires for a report. He agreed with their plan to check the rest of the ditch, and when Belasir returned, they pulled the oilcloth back and found three more of the things, which surged up to attack as the sunlight began singeing and blackening them. When they were dead, Tillius ordered them to follow the trail immediately, and they did, eventually finding a farm with several corpses on the ground and an ominous silence.

The legionnaires began their search by opening the barn, and again they were surprised as three chiropteran, chimeric monsters rushed at them. Emeric howled at them, foam flecking his beard, but Tillius and Galerius met the rush with their blades, cutting one to ribbons immediately.
softlykarou and me simultaneously: "Die, monster! You don't belong in this world!"
The remaining two beasts were harder to kill, with one latching onto Emeric as he barely defended himself in the depths of his berserker rage and drinking his blood, but they finally chopped down the creatures. As they did, they noticed two youths running from the smokehouse. Their skins were marked with ritualistic scars, and they were wearing black robes and carrying knives, so the legionnaires chased them down and overpowered and bound them. The youths had far-away smiles and said nothing, and Tillius ordered the legionnaires to return to the fort and report what they had found.


One of the reasons I've been looking forward to this section is that in the modern world, bat monsters running around and attacking people tend to raise questions among the players. How come they aren't being reported? Where are the photographs? In the past, where so many people already assumed that there were monsters, the gloves can come off. Bring on the Draculas.

I wasn't a fan of how two of the PCs are archers but everything we found so far takes half damage from impaling weapons. That's always been a flaw of Call of Cthulhu, though. I mean, Pickman's Model has Pickman deal with the ghouls using a revolver, and yet ghouls take half damage from impaling weapons. Mi-go take minimum damage from guns even though in The Whisperer in Darkness, a guy with a shotgun kills like a dozen of them. Monsters being unstoppable in the face of modern weaponry is a trope of Cthulhu RPGs, not the original media, and I suspect is mostly just to prevent the investigators from solving everything with tommy guns and dynamite. I just wish it wouldn't extend back to arrows.

This could have been a very frustrating scenario, what with having a commanding officer, but mutantur struck a good balance by characterizing Tillius as a wise leader who listens to the advice of his men--i.e., lets the PCs make the decisions. Some of the orders above were made after listening to us discuss our course of action, so it was more like an imprimatur than explicit orders. If we have to have NPCs telling us what to do, having us do what we were going to do anyway is the best way to go about it.
Current Mood: mellowmellow
Current Music: Square Roots podcast
It's been a while, but we're back! This is a bar I've been wanting to try for a while as well, since part of the reason I wanted to write about dark chocolate was to see if there was anything to the single-origin trend. Does chocolate, like wine, have terroir? The advertising certainly makes a bit deal of it, and I'm exactly the kind of person those claims are targeted toward--as I've told softlykarou, the way to get me to eat pizza is to call it "flatbread" and charge twice as much for it. So when my parents gave me this bar, we put it aside and waited for the right time. That time is now.
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Current Mood: happyhappy
Current Music: Martin Ahm Nielsen - City Lights
17 February 2017 @ 11:48 am
Last night, softlykarou and I finished watching Tamayura: Hitotose. I gave it a nine. It's not super popular. The animation is fuzzy and obviously not particularly high quality, it's a slow slice-of-life anime shows about cute anime girls doing cute anime things, and the hook is that the main character likes photography and moved back to Takehara, in Hiroshima Prefecture, after her father died.

And that, of course, is the in for me. We watched the intro OVA when it first came out, while we lived in Chiyoda, so everything was familiar. I recognized the view from Mt. Asahi. They went to a shrine in neighboring Onomichi that I knew because an old man complimented softlykarou on the boots she was wearing, saying that boots with kimono was popular during the Meiji era but had completely fallen out of fashion nowadays. And because it's Takehara, there was an episode set during the Bamboo Festival, and we spent the whole time looking at the scenery of all the places we had been and the sights we had seen, like this bamboo and lights sculpture. There's a quote that's relevant here, I think:
“It is the curse of age, that all things are reflections of other things.”
-Neil Gaiman, The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains
Our love for Tamayura comes maybe half from what it's actually about, and half from our memories of living in Hiroshima, going to local festivals, eating okonomiyaki, living in a house with tatami floors, and standing on a mountain over the Setonaikai, watching the sunlight on the waves.

ping816 has an anime club he runs, and one of the shows we watched was 5 Centimeters per Second. softlykarou and I loved it and everyone else hated it. Some of that is differing tastes, but I think part of it is because we lived in Japan and the other people watching did not. We had at least some of the culture context for appreciating what it was trying to say. That's what I seek out in anime now, rather than moeblobs or hot-blooded anime pilots. I can get those from video games, whereas getting an experience anything like living in a small Japanese town is pretty rare in games (though Stardew Valley comes close).

Now I want to go back to the Bamboo Festival. Someday...  photo 58-2nsylaw.gif
Current Mood: nostalgicnostalgic
Current Music: Watch Out for Fireballs podcast
I've spent a long time putting together compilation documents for Dragon-Blooded Charms, hearthstones, sorcery spells, and martial arts and putting together a (currently 76-page) bestiary for that game I wrote about two-and-a-half years ago that I'm sure I'll get around to at some point. But despite that, I was never super happy with the Dragon-Blooded mechanically.

Dragon-Blooded abilities, and the Charms associated with them, are split into the aspects, with a surcharge on any power not part of the Exalt's own aspect, and it locks out a lot of character concepts or makes them more expensive. An Air aspect archer? Nope, Archery is a Wood aspect Ability. You'd think Fire aspects make good lieutenants because they're passionate and inspiring, but War is an Earth ability, so they pay a penalty for all the Charms. Earth should be good at contemplation and planning, but Bureaucracy is a Water ability and Lore is an Air ability, so no. And so on.

A while ago, I found a document by Ekorren from the Onyx Path forums called "Dragon-Blooded Revisions, Making Terrestrials Terrestrial" that cut all this out and gave each aspect its own set of Charms. Now there were just Air Charms, which covered a huge variety of concepts. Sure, Air aspect combat is focused on range, but it's possible to play an Air aspect swordsman and use the element of Air to do it, rather than having to take Fire-aspected Melee Charms and no longer have any Air powers despite being an Air aspect. Unfortunately, it was half done, with finished Air and Earth and only a bit of Fire.

Well, I took it, modified it, added a bunch of stuff from that compilation document, and now it's done. All five aspects, each with their own Charmset. Each with more ability in that aspects' thematic strengths, but with a broad range of powers that can accommodate a wide variety of characters.

I don't know if it's balanced, and only a quarter of it is my original work. I wrote a lot of Charms here and there, but I was also building on an existing framework and I made heavy use of Charms borrowed from fanworks like Hundredfold Facets of Enlightenment (PDF) or Ever-Cascading Torrent of Glory (PDF) or conversions of A Clutch of Dragons. But it exists and it's enough to run a game on, and I'm finally happy with the way that Dragon-Blooded work.

Now, to just get a game off the ground.
Current Mood: creativecreative
Current Music: Instant Classic podcast
08 February 2017 @ 09:29 pm
For all the time I spent on DOS games in my youth, I don't go back and play them very often nowadays, even compared to how often I go back and play old console games that I used to like. Some of that is because many of the games I liked were, objectively, not very good. Replaying Jill of the Jungle reminded me how inferior it is to Super Mario Brothers 3, with the central conceit of changing forms seemingly like an afterthought and the save system removing all challenge except for going for the maximum score possible, but without the bragging rights of playing in an arcade.

But other games were great, and Solar Winds is one of them.

This is the first dialogue in the game.

Top-down spaceflight action RPG is not a genre that was well-represented on early consoles, not even in 1993 when Solar Winds came out, or in 1994 when I found it on one of those old shareware discs with dozens and dozens of games. I installed it based on the one-line description--probably something like "You are Jake Stone, bounty hunter. Explore three solar systems!", but unfortunately I don't remember which shareware CD I got it from--and loaded it up, and then was drawn in by the intro. Immediately after the player learns that there are humans in a star system far from Earth, Jake Stone receives a hot tip on a bounty available and then it drops you into gameplay, after which an alien ship uncloaks and hails you. Then, after proclaiming its superiority, it vanishes, leaving the player with plenty of questions and a desire to learn more about the world.

At least, that's how it worked on me. I've learned since that it's extremely easy for a more bloodthirsty player to lock themselves out of beating the game in the first few minutes, either by attacking the alien ship and being unable to win the battle (which, at the very beginning, is almost certain), or by executing the bounty as ordered. Emer Kane tells Jake Stone about a dangerous criminal who needs to be killed, but the criminal claims to be a scientist, and indeed he is. Killing the scientist locks out the entirety of the plot. I can see how people who took the game at face value would be annoyed by it and think that it was badly designed, but I never did. I listened to the scientist, and so I thought of the game as being filled with hidden secrets and conspiracies, where I should look underneath the surface everywhere I went. It's not a large game, but that sense of mystery made it feel much larger and more intricate than it actually is.

Government City, home of Government Man, from The Government.

This is reinforced after the opening mission with other characters mentioning that the rebellion against the government being more active lately, rumors that the government is clamping down on any research into hyperdrive technology with draconian force, and even one planet in the star system that seems to be the homeworld of an isolationist alien race who tell Stone that they're tired of the government badgering them for technological aid and they aren't going to listen to any further entreaties.

Or is it...that humans are the aliens here?  photo tali.001.gif

I'm sure I don't have to answer that. It all comes out when Jake Stone gets a prototype hyperdrive and is asked to rescue a captain who was captured by the Rigians, the aliens who showed up at the very beginning of the game. Halfway there is a planet with an alien who reveals that Stone is not the first ship sent to the Rigian system and that none of them have ever returned, and that they are put there to watch. But of course, there's no choice but to keep going despite knowing that it's all a trap.

Let battle be joined.

I said that Solar Winds was an action RPG, and while there aren't levels in the traditional sense, the game still has a version of experience. The reward for completing the first mission is an "E-Band Convertor," which through a technobabble process converts the radiation burst from starship reactor explosions into power. That means that killing enemy ships provides extra power for Stone's ship, which can then be allocated between weapons, engine, shields, life support, and four quadrants of shields. Add to this dumb fire and homing missiles and shield and weapon frequencies which can be changed on the fly to blunt the impact of enemy weapons and increase the damage of your own, and the fact that enemy attacks permanently reduce shield strength, and there's plenty of bits to collect and fiddle with over the course of the game.

Unfortunately, the frequency system feels superfluous. When I played as a child I never used it simply due to not being able to press all the buttons at the same time, and, admittedly, not really understanding how it worked. When I played now, I tried briefly to use it, and then stopped because it was too complicated for the benefit it provided. Nothing in the game actually needs it.

Despite that, energy management is a lot of fun. Sure, it's literally making numbers go up, but I like watching the long-range sensors going from detecting only planets and stars to detecting moons to detecting enemy ships, or seeing the shields go from dim red to incandescent white.

You will stare at this screen a lot.

For all that I still think the story is elegantly told, albeit with a major breaking point very early on and the depth being more feeling than reality, the gameplay feels pretty simplistic now. It's top-down, and the limitations of VGA display means that the screen is very cramped. The way around that is the screenshot above of "war mode," which the game will automatically switch to if enemy ships ever open fire. And when they do open fire, they're without exception pushovers. It's incredibly easy to get behind an enemy ship and just keep shooting until it dies. This continues even in the Rigian star system, where Jake Stone's single ship destroys entire fleets by itself and shows the words of the alien in the beginning to be dust in the face of hot plasma.

It doesn't get stale, but partially that's because the game isn't very long. While I love the idea of a longer space-action RPG game like this, with the complexity of Solar Winds refined and expanded on, that doesn't happen here. About the only threat during the entire game are multiple ships at once, and even that isn't too difficult because enemy ships don't coordinate in any meaningful fashion and have a very low player awareness. Most multi-ship battles quickly became duels when one enemy ran off and, while following him, the other enemy's AI forgot I existed and it went back to what it was doing. Solar Winds is not the game for complex strategic decisions. It's a game for pew pewing at spaceships, watching them explode, and seeing your available energy increase and then pouring that energy into your ship systems.

And sitting and watching space scroll by. A modern game would have fast travel, with energy automatically being deducted fro the appropriate distance, but this is an old DOS game so all flying is manual. It does allow the Picard Maneuver, where you active hyperdrive, blast behind an enemy ship, then turn and fire, but that's not really worth the long periods staring at interstellar space. It certainly does have a sense of scale, but at the cost of a lot of downtime flying around.

Same.  photo emot-ohdear.png

It ends on a cliffhanger, because of course it does--it's a shareware game. The whole point is to get the player hankering for volume two, subtitled "Galaxy" (or "Universe," I've seen both). I never bought it, but I did track it down years later and play it and it was extremely disappointing. It didn't have a lot of the extra color that the first episode had, and without it, the multiple star systems all just felt empty. Planets without any description don't make the world feel expansive, they make it feel padded.

But this doesn't have that problem. It's a couple hours long and obviously the intro for a larger experience, and I love what it promised rather than what ended up being delivered. I'd love to see a version of Solar Winds' RPG-like systems merged with the scope and complexity of EV Nova. Maybe it'll happen someday. But as it is, ignoring the second episode, the first episode is a fun game in itself.

A few minutes of opening gameplay are visible in this video.
Current Mood: happyhappy
Current Music: Cryobiosis - Frigid Silence
08 February 2017 @ 09:51 am
Multiple people have sent me this article about a parody of Wolfenstein 3D that relates to the current controversy. It is not subtle, but neither are Nazi calls for genocide. Hiyooo!  photo emot-sun.gif

Though actually, I think this is an excellent example of games as art, using the mechanics of the game to support its central point. "Isn't fascism just another political ideology?" you consider. What about their free speech? Isn't the best way to deal with bad speech more speech? If you resort to violence, aren't you no better than them?

And meanwhile the Nazis keep advancing, and keep shooting, and keep shooting, until you are dead. Because they don't care about free speech except insofar as it allows them to subvert and destroy liberal democracy from within. As the article says:
Naturally, people playing by a completely different set of rules will take advantage of this, and you’ll suffer.
This and a version of Papers, Please set in Dulles Airport are the games of our time.
Current Mood: amusedamused
Current Music: The Crate and Crowbar podcast