Saturday, March 28, 2009

Now That was an Role Playing Game

Note how I spell that out. I don't think I've mentioned it before, but I'm in a gaming club up here at college. We're having our annual gaming con this weekend. Honestly, there wasn't too much of note. I wasn't involved in really interesting games, and I sort of blundered into helping with one event that I ended up doing badly in- really, I think, because of luck more than anything else.

Except the game I signed up for tonight. I was waffling over helping one of my teammates for a general challenge thing with Super Smash Bros Brawl, as I'm pretty good at that game, and going to this one, but I play a lot of smash and wanted to do something different for one, and there were a lot of other players for two.

One of the best decisions I've made in a while. The game was d20 Modern, described as a cross between "The Chronicles of Narnia" and "Lord of the Flies". There were eight of us playing, of whom I knew 2 other folk. We all sat down and the GM handed out good, detailed characters built around simple backgrounds. We were all kids, for one thing. I was an older brother to one of the other characters (luckily I knew the girl playing her, or things would have gotten a touch awkward), traveling in a convoy to Canada to get away from the Blitz, essentially, during WWII. The first part of the game was some exploring and an eerie chill my sister and I got when a heavy fog rolled in. There were a few other touches that no, we were not dealing with a completely mundane situation. My character was somewhat in denial about all of this, which made for some interesting roleplaying. That night, we got attacked by a U-Boat wolfpack. A lot of the other kids were running around trying to help, but I had my sister to watch out for, so I mostly stayed out of the way. We had thought we'd get away, but our engines died* and we got lit up. Everyone ended up in the lifeboat. That's when things started getting strange. We ran across an empty lifeboat that came from another boat (that probably shouldn't have been there empty) and then a Canadian plane started appearing from directions it couldn't have. We saw an island, and landed there. That's when things took a turn for the supernatural. We were investigating, finding food, when the rest of the party found a crashed plane- supposedly the one we had seen before, and got weird messages over the radio. Then...a dragon attacks the plane and sends us rolling into a ditch, where we go exploring. Nearly get caught by weird goblins, and ended up running into a crypt/cave thing that was the home of a Fae Queen. She tested us with this weird lovecraftian horror that we diplomacy'd into submission (it ended up being friendly) and she fed us, clothed us, and gave us cool gear. The thing about that was that the other players (and the GM) mentioned how capricous and manipulative the Fae are, and that we should not under any circumstances make any promises to them. We didn't, and she asked us to go kill her evil counterpart. Because of what a conniving, manipulating bitch she was, we ended up going to her evil counterpart to ask for her take on things, expertly bluffing our way past her gnome guards (one of 'em was going to duel me for asking if he had parents, but there was no time for that. Would've been fun.) She gave us considerably more info, telling us more about the conflict between them and continuing, as the Fae did, to make a choice. Who do we kill? She told us where to find the Queen's weak point. So we all had a choice to make. Go with the manipulative queen and her gifts and the promise of sweetness and light (however superficial), or the openly evil, but far more honest witch. It ended up being a choice between progress and stasis- do we stay in Neverland or go back? We ended up choosing to go back.

The GM crafted an incredible story and atmosphere. We really got completley drawn into the plot, played everything in character, and never got into combat. That's amazing, and it really impressed me with how well the GM ran things. Made me realize what I'd been missing in terms of real roleplaying.
*Turned out to be sabotage, actually

Friday, March 20, 2009

Battlestar Galactica- my thoughts on the finale.

Sweet jesus, that was awesome and amazing.

I don't have a lot to say about the first part of the series. It was Epic, it was GAR, it was total badassery and completely awesome. Galactica, you magnificent ship you, that was amazing. Stuff blew up, shots got fired, Centurions were on the colonists' side, it was awesome. Galactica rammed the Colony to deploy her marines, the Vipers generally kicked ass (I was disappointed Apollo wasn't in a Viper) even if we didn't see a lot of them, and the plan went off perfectly.

Earth...I like it, and I've got a few problems. I suppose it's very possible that they settled into an "old west"-esque level of tech with stuff that wouldn't be preserved in the fossil record, but I'll just let it slide for the sake of giving everyone a happy ending. I still think it's absurd that everyone would agree to give up indoor plumbing, but maybe that' s just me. So them being our ancestors? Pretty cool, if you don't think about it too hard. So I'll just go with the assumption that everyone got a happy ending, and maybe look (or try to write?) for fanfic detailing what would have happened if they'd landed the ships and made a city. I'd like that.

Now, on to the most important part of BSG- the characters.

Bill Adama- these three episodes made me remember why I love this guy. And why, if Bill Adama pulled out a gun, handed it to me, and said "shoot yourself, son", I'd ask him to move so that the splatter didn't hit him. The man is fucking amazing, badass, and awesome. He comes up with the single most reckless plan I can ever imagine, and then makes it work. Truly, awesome. And then he goes and takes his woman home and builds her the home she'd always wanted. This was classic Bill Adama, and it's good to get back to that.

Lee Adama- I dislike him for being the guy who thought up giving everything away with regards to tech, but he really didn't do too much besides listen to Kara and almost have drunken sex with her in the flashback. I do agree with him that exploring the place would be awesome. But nothing new from him, if you ask me.

Saul and Ellen Tigh- wonderfully Frakked up before, they seem to have finally gotten their happy ending and made peace. Saul was typical badass XO for the battle, and I loved his comment to Tyrol that he'd have done the same thing. I loved how he was willing to give Cavil resurrection tech in return for getting Hera back and leaving humanity alone. Ellen didn't do much. Those two are good together, I'm glad of it.

Tori- Karma's a bitch, ain't it, you bitch?

Tyrol. Tyrol, Tyrol Tyrol you poor bastard. Dear god, how much more shit could they have thrown at you? I don't want to bore all of you reading so I won't list it, but it's long. And so after being betrayed by everyone and everything, he goes off on his own to just live in the forest. I can respect that. And I can respect killing Tori. Interesting that it threw a wrench into the truce, but everything worked out. So Chief, you've got my respect. Go enjoy Scotland.

Gaius Baltar- man, I just don't know. Baltar is Baltar. I never really saw him as evil or anything, and seeing him in Marine getup was awesome. I'm glad he got closure and Caprica 6. Now go farm, Gaius.

Various redshirts and what I think happened to them- Hot Dog raised his kid, got remarried, and lived in Australia. Because he looks like an Aussie. Racetrack died in space after those nukes, obviously. Shame. Hoshi? Stayed in Africa, most like. Cottle? Went somewhere and farmed tobacco. Being a doctor on the side as well. Seelix? Survived on in humanity's collective unconsciousness and became a Pokemon- Steelix. Seriously, that was the only way I could remember her- "the chick whose name sounds like a Pokemon". Can't remember anyone else significant I cared about. Favorite characters coming up. And Starbuck. Oh, Starbuck.

Helo, Athena and Hera- happy ending! Yays! They recovered during the action sequences and Helo's injury. They go and live happily, Human-Cylon fully integrated, and proven in that Hera becomes the one ancestor of humanity. I'm a bit skeptical on how she could have had that many kids and died in a way that let her become fossilized, but meh. Great ending for Helo, a character that was slated to die on Caprica back in the miniseries. He gets his daughter and his awesome Cylon wife.

Boomer- best possible ending for her in my mind. She realizes what a bitch she's been, but that doesn't stop her from getting shot up by Athena. Good end for a character I had sympathy for in the past, and they did a good job of letting me sympathize with her a bit in the end.

Starbuck- alright, here's my theory. God had nothing to do with her coming back. She was just that determined- it was her spirit that allowed her to take form and come back all whole-like, such was her dedication to not letting the old man down and finding a place for humanity. And I fucking called it that she'd figure out the notes as a star chart or something. There was probably that bit planted by "God" with the song, but that's it. Most of it was because Kara Thrace was Just. That. Good.

Now, if you ask me, as Johnny Q. Public what I'd do on the new Earth? Well, as nice as Africa is, it's a bit too volatile and hot for my tastes. I'd have a few preferences- the major one being the East Coast, maybe around Virginia. That's beautiful country, and it doesn't get too cold in winter. More importantly, I know the weather's mild. No tornadoes, no major hurricanes, no earthquakes, no volcanoes. Found a little community, start farming, and try and write a story in my spare time. If it's really a personal fantasy, throw in a Cylon model 8 I had previously fallen in love with in the fleet and a few half-cylon kids running around.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Tales of Vesperia: Whee!

So, I got back home for spring break, and immediately sank myself into Tales of Vesperia. I was about 2/3 of the way through it, and just managed to finish up this afternoon. So, having played through the full game, let me give you my rambling review that will bear little resemblance to anything like a real review and basically consists of me just talking about the cool shit that went down in this game!

Now, let me say right out- Tales of Vesperia is nothing special. It pushes no boundaries and does nothing unique you haven't seen before. It stays firmly within its comfort zone. If you've played another jRPG, you can probably guess half the plot twists. The worldbuilding is simple and basic, the only twist being that monsters are genuinely present as a threat. We don't get a lot of information on it or a great deal of backstory about any of the characters. Saying that, it tells a well-crafted story, the characters are excellent, the world is fracking huge, the villains are well-crafted, no one in the plot suffers any major Idiot Ball moments, and combat is fun. In short, though it pushes no boundaries, it does what it sets out to do extraordinarily well.

Let's get s0me technical praise out of the way. On my big ol' HDTV, the game looks fantastic. There are a few areas that took my breath away, and that's tough to do with a cutesy styled game like this. There's almost no slowdown in the combat that I've seen, and the cutscenes are all great. There, that's done.

The story is fairly simple at first, and I like that. Unlike Tales of Symphonia, which starts off with this massive plot to save the world, Vesperia starts off with Yuri Lowell, your Robin Hood-esque main character meeting up with Estellise (Estelle as she's known for the entire game). They each have their own objectives- Yuri wants to get back a stolen Aque blastia- basically the control device for the local fountain, and Estelle wants to find Flynn, Yuri's friend and a Lieutenant in the Imperial Knights. For the first part of the game, the plot deals with fairly mundane issues- corrupt officials and conflict between the guilds who control one continent, and the empire on the other. The second part of the game mainly deals with Estelle and discovering her identity-there's a lot of this for the whole cast as well. The third part is a standard save the world plot. Again, nothing new, but it's all very intelligently done- there's no moment where I said "boy, you guys are idiots", and it was genuinely fun to play through. I would have liked it more if there had been less focus on the "save the world", but I'm weird that way.

Your main cast is composed of six people and a dog.

Yuri Lowell is your protagonist. He's cool, tough, and very sarcastic at times. He's your standard chaotic good character, with an emphasis on personal freedom and personal choices- so much so that he's willing to commit murder, which sets him apart from a lot of other wishy-washy antiheroes. He's still committedly awesome, if you ask me. He wields a sword or an axe. Really, he's not particularly involved in events, but his presence is such that people rely on him- he tends to take a lot on himself, which inevitably leads to him becoming more entwined with the plot. His best friend, Flynn, I'll talk about later, but the conflict between how they do things is essential for his character.

Estelle is a pink-haired princess. She looks like she's going to be stereotyped as your typical "naive noble"- she's never been outside the royal palace before the journey starts, and in a way she is. But she's still an awesome character, and never gets annoying. Part of that is because she is one of the nicest people you will ever meet, and comes preequipped with healing artes to compliment that. Another part is that she's got plenty of book smarts to make up for it, and part of it is that she's willing to learn and adapt. She suffers a bit from not knowing what she wants to do with her life, but basically she finds out she wants to help people. Simple, really.

Rita Mordio is a young mage, your typical bratty tsundere type. Really, there's not a great deal to say about her. She's loyal to her friends, particularly Estelle (from what I've heard there's rather active shipping of those two), she can come up with solutions to most of the party's blastia-related problems, and she's wonderfully sarcastic, which oftentimes makes her great fun to listen to. Michelle Ruff does a standout job voicing her, giving her a lot of personality she'd otherwise lack. I listened to a few lines from the Japanese version and eurgh!

Karol is another fairly stereotype, stock character and he's probably my least favorite. He's a young idiot hero out to prove himself despite the fact that a lot of things scare him. He comes to learn the value of teamwork and not being headstrong and doing things on his own, which is an odd lesson to teach someone who is so involved in guilds. Meh, whatcha gonna do? He's certainly not a bad character, but there really isn't much to say. Yuri, Rita and Raven get a lot of good jokes at his expense, so he's not all bad.

Judith is a Krytian, a member of an elfin species that is supposedly separate from humans but really doesn't get elaborated on. She starts off alone with her companion, a dragonish thing named Ba'ul out to destroy those blastia that are utilizing aer (magic energy, mana is something separate here) at a dangerous rate, earning her the ire of Rita, who researches and loves blastia. She meets up with Yuri while the two are in prison and tags along with the group, becoming ingratiated and working towards the group's goals over her own- that they happen to present a better solution doesn't hurt. She's wonderfully witty and calm, and very fun to use in battle. But really, not a great deal to say.

Raven is an old, fairly laid-back man who tags along with the party for his own reasons. He fights with a bow or knife as the situation depends and tends to complain a lot. He gives advice to the rest, and has his own reasons for doing things, which are spoilerriffic, so I won't bother. He's not terribly well-executed (those of you who have played will know what I'm talking about), but not horrible. Props again to his voice actor for turning in a stellar job.

Repede is a dog, and Yuri's friend. Not anything else to say.

Minor characters- Flynn is your textbook Lawful Good without being Lawful Anal- he abides by the laws, sometimes to a fault, but he never stops being a good, nice guy. He's set up as Yuri's foil and it works very well. Sodia is an interesting character, but again, it's spoilerriffic. Don Whitehorse is another awesome leader-type, and Cumore makes an awesome villain to hate, if only because Liam O'Brien turns in a creepy performance.

Combat is hella fun. The Tales games have always been fighting games for their combat, and this one's no different. In Tales of Symphonia, I was only really comfortable using Lloyd, but in Vesperia I got to the point where I could use Yuri, Judith, or Rita well, and my goal in my next playthrough is to master everyone. Combat consists of an open field, where you use basic attacks and special artes to deal damage and the like. Yuri's a typical frontline fighter with emphasis on multihit combos along with several knockdown attacks, Estelle is a backline support/healer who can hold her own in melee (figuring her out in close combat is where I'm at now) and is apparently an incredible tank, Repede is a quick mover, I think (didn't really use him much at all), Karol is slow and heavy hitting and uses up TP like there's a hole in his pocket, Raven is an all-around midrange/longrange jack of all trades, Rita is a longrange spellslinger who can be incredibly broken in Over Limit and has a few decent close combat moves, and Judith specializes in aerial combat, something that's ridiculously fun. I got to be good with Yuri and Judith, and Rita's really easy to use- pick a spell and target it. The game at times was ridiculously hard, but either I got better (not likely after the break I took) or the game got easier towards the end.

So, it's a long (took me 50 hours), fun game with great characters and an interesting if formulaic story. Best game I've played in a while.

But here's something I've noted about stories as a whole. There are two main types of stories- character-driven and event-driven. Most stories tend to be character-driven. There's something that only they can do, or it's less about the events and more directly about how the characters do it. To give examples, Battlestar Galactica is all about the characters. William Adama, Starbuck, Baltar, et al are essential to the show, how it works, and how things get resolved. More so, they tend to trigger the events. Whereas if you look at Lord of the Rings, it's very event-driven. Apart from Frodo and Sam, there's not a lot about what the rest of the fellowship does that couldn't be done by someone else- there's nothing inherent about the character's personalities that means that they are perfectly suited for this task. Events are driven by the fact that they have to win the war, and little personally. In fact, we learn very little about most of the fellowship's personaliteis and motivations. Halo is another one- for all its focus on the Master Chief, he's little more than a mask. The story is all about the war. I tell you this because, despite all the awesome characters, Tales of Vesperia is event-driven. Someone's gotta get the aque blastia back, someone's gotta save the world, etc. It's an interesting observation.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Bleach, Negima and Naruto: Can't think of a Witty Title

So, first and foremost, our girl isn't dead! Yet... But Sakura knows she's bleeding out, so she'll get there to fix Hinata, hopefully. I swear, I'd be even more mad if this whole thing ends with Hinata tearfully dieing in Naruto's arms. How this scenario ends depends on how sappy and cliched I'm feeling. If I'm really feeling cliched, Sakura heals Hinata up and, just as Naruto causes Nagato to high-tail it out of there and then starts looking for more non-motherfucking bastard blood (being six-tails and all that), Hinata calms him down. Awkwardness ensues, but eventually they start going out. If I'm feeling less sappy, skip straight to the awkwardness. Other than that, Naruto smashed the ridiculously expensive necklace that helped to seal him. That's a problem. Pain can't handle 6-tails this far from Nagato and so books it and is apparently unleashing some jutsu next issue. Ten bucks says it doesn't do jack. There's also a bunch of reactions to Naruto going Kyuubi, including Yamato, who's apparently out with Sai and Anko, of all people (haven't seen her in forever), hunting down Kabuto. So yeah, I'm happy, waiting to see what happens next.

My only complaint is that there needs to be some sort of extenuating circumstances as to why Pain didn't kill Hinata- It's out of character for him to spare her, and physically impossible for him to fail to kill her. So explanation needed.

Negima- Rakan and Kagetarou get up and start kicking Negi and Kotarou's asses. This is a problem. We get a bit of Rakan's backstory- he's been a gladiator all his life. Go figure. And he apparently wasn't trying before, as he's countering every single move Negi makes and beating the crap out of him. Fate is displeased that Negi's losing.

Bleach is out- A decent chapter, if only because the action was pretty cool. Ulquiorra apparently has a level 2 superpower that no other Espada has. So why isn't he #1? He beats the snot out of Ichigo, and apparently kills him as Ishida and Orihime watch. Now, this is Bleach, so clearly he's not going to die, but if he does, I will gain huge amounts of respect for Tite Kubo for having the balls to kill off his lead. I'll be mad, as I do like Ichigo a lot, but I'll be far more impressed with the plot twist. That said, my money is not on it, logically. Nobody dies in Bleach. Especially getting curbstomped like this. Guess we'll wait and see. Ulquiorra's new form looks cool, unlike his older one.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

My Thoughts on Fandom.

I’ve been slacking off of late. Nothing new, right? Anyone who knows me knows that this is a regular occurrence. Well, it’s a bit more problematic when you have three tests this week. But, I’ve been slowly studying, so I’m not ready to just jump out my window and fall to my doom just yet. But I’ve been slacking off at this completely inane livejournal thing called “fandom secrets”. Now, I am never going to get a livejournal account. I think I remember that they were mainstream sometime around middle school, maybe my freshman year of high school. I honestly don’t give a shit. This site is where a bunch of people (and when I say people, I mean fangirls. Folks who talk about there being no girls on the internet have clearly only been to select parts of it.) post their innermost thoughts and concerns on various fandoms. Which mainly comes down to a picture of a guy saying “I’d hit that”, various complaints about how they find heterosexual shipping to be boring* , or various personal things that they relate to fandom and are too chickenshit to say in real life. It’s stupid, but I find it addictive. Maybe because it’s fun to come across material I know. But one thing that comes across is that there’s a really strong sense that there’s one fandom for a show/movie/whatever. It’s apparently centered around livejournal, heavily involves fanfiction of the short, quickwrite type, and there is a large number of “BNF”s, or Big Name Fans. It tends to be cliquey, self-insulated, and generally full of a ton of stupid discussions and pairing wars. Basically, there’s a huge number of people gathered around, who have one thing in common, and they really don’t have a lot to say on it. That’s true for everywhere, not just on Livejournal. I occasionally cruise the Onemanga forums when I’m really bored and it tends to be the same thing on boards dedicated to one particular manga. Hell, it’s pretty true on the Order Of The Stick boards at Giant In The Playground, though I have seen plenty of good debate there (man, there was that one long debate I got into with David Argall that one time…stupid, but fun. And I was still right, dammit!) But here’s Rogue 7’s law of good fandoms-
The Best Fandoms are found on boards that don’t deal with your fandom. I offer as evidence three cases- TV Tropes , the Giant In The Playground boards, and the forums. I’ll start with Giant In The Playground. I’ve been a member of GiantITP roughly since I started college- I found the webcomic just before coming up to school and signed up for an account shortly thereafter. I drifted around a bit at first, but now there are two boards I regularly check- the Media Discussion and Other Gaming boards. More specifically, there’s the General Anime Discussion thread, which is what made me watch Full Metal Panic, Nanoha, and a whole mess of other stuff. I find that if I want an honest opinion on anime, I go there and ask and I’ll be given good advice. When the folks there get on a topic of discussion, it’s intelligent, well-written, and usually fairly quick. That holds true for other threads as well. It’s the polar opposite of a board dedicated to one subject. Instead of a huge number of people talking about a narrow topic, it’s a small group of people talking about a fairly broad topic, which makes for much better conversation., (I lurk) is much the same, only with the scale upped a bit as they’re a bigger board. I go there when I want to read analysis of this week’s Galactica episode as the Giant In the Playground thread on it isn’t what you’d call regularly posted on. They also just have generally good discussion and an awesome thing called “Where I watch” which is someone taking a show and making commentary on it when they haven’t seen it before, while fans get to enjoy their reactions. The guy doing the Naruto thread is awesome in his writeups. TV Tropes is probably the largest of the boards, and as it’s a wiki it involves the smallest amount of actual interaction, though the forums have been picking up as of late. But if you want good fan fiction? Go to TV Tropes, look up your series, and see if it has a page for Fan fiction recommendations. I guarantee it’ll be better. Particularly, look for stuff with multiple recommendations.
So, to review- boards that deal with one particular fandom? (or, gods forbid, one particular pairing?) Stupid, wanky and pointless. Boards with wide topics that have individual threads on one particular work? Awesome.
• As a relatively sane human being and a straight male, I must say I’m confused and irritated by the tendency of women in fandom to “slash” everything with a penis. Slashing, for those of you blessed not to know (hi, mom!), is the practice of writing, believing, or drawing two male characters in a romantic relationship. Also known as Yaoi. Which means that regardless who you are, you’re going to get slashed. Let’s take a gander at the Harry Potter fandom, shall we? Here are, from what I have heard (honestly, I was only involved in a Harry Potter forum for something like 4 months. Doesn’t stop me being a huge fan). Our hero, Harry James Potter, gets regularly paired up with Severus Snape and Draco Malfoy. Fangirls are adamant that Sirius Black and Remus Lupin were gay. Et cetra, to levels man was not meant to know. Anime fandom probably has it worse. Fullmetal Alchemist, for example, regularly has the lead Edward Elric paired up with Roy Mustang and quite possibly his metal suit of a brother as well. Et cetra. Naruto features every single male imaginable written in smutty, pointless relationships. Am I the only one who finds this creepy as hell? I’ll admit to a small bit of a double standard here: I have a number of lesbian couples I support, but that stems mostly from being a Nanoha fanboy (If you need to ask, clearly you know nothing about the show) and thinking that Setsuna Sakurazaki is really gay for Konoka, and therefore finding that coupling to be inordinately cute. But those at least have some basis in canon, which is why I can see where people think that Naruto and Sasuke are gay for each other. But this concept that “Everyone is gay”? I think it’s weird, creepy, and stupid. I’d excuse it if it only seemed like porn for girls- that is, that they write it to get off on (which in itself weirds me out as well but I’m willing to think that that one’s me- I think it’s creepy to enjoy that sort of thing about your favorite characters and still look at them in the same light afterwards. Which is why I prefer regular porn of girls I don’t know), but it seems like they do it because they honestly think that these two dudes belong together. Which is just…no. Guys don’t work like that, and thinking that we do is just…yeah.

Anyways, to sum up- Slash and/or Yaoi is creepy and weird, and I don’t understand why it’s so prevalent.
Let me end by stating that I have found a suitable punishment for Pain for what he did last chapter in Naruto. Completely ripped off from Dragonball Z Abdridged Episode 9:
Cue ass-kicking.