Thursday, February 15, 2018

MIDI Week Singles: "Over the Seas and Far Away" - The Elder Scrolls Online (PC)

"Over the Seas and Far Away" from The Elder Scrolls Online on the PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 (2014)
Composer: Malukah
Album: No Official Album Release

For the last three days I have had this song bobbing around inside my head so I thought it appropriate to share with you all with the hope that you find it just as infectious.

I guess I could have used the male bard version of this song  since we have used Malukah's songs before on MIDI Week Singles, but I am not 100% sure if the singer is Liam O'Brian (whom some a person on the Internet feel did the male bard voice), or if it is Crispin Freeman who is also a voice actor prominent in video games and is credited on the Elder Scrolls Wikia as the source.  But I know for sure that Malukah is the singer here so whynot go with a sure thing?  And why not also feature (again) the one who wrote the music and the lyrics too?

One interesting thing I noticed about the lyrics while writing is the implied dichotomy that in the first stanza, the song chastises the serfs who work the land for their lord and the soldiers who are forced into military service.  Then in the very next stanza is the line ". . .the lord's command and we obey" which means that they too are forced to follow orders of those above them.  I also like that the title of the song could also have two meanings.  One, that the sailors of the Aldmeri Dominion cherish the freedom that being out in the open sea provides them, and two, that they are forever sailing further away from their homeland and the ones they love.  I do not know, maybe I am just reading too much into something that is not there.

Either way, hopefully this song sticks in your head for the next three days too.


Monday, February 12, 2018

A New Way to Craft a D&D Story: Part II

Disclaimer:  This is Part II of what is turning into a much longer series than I had originally anticipated, with the first part post on Friday February 9th can be found here.  There might be three or four parts, but who can know for sure with these things.  I had planned this only to be a single article and now we're talking about a three or four part series.  Bloody hell.

In short, Part I dealt with my idea to use the pre-painted D&D miniatures that come in random booster packs as a writing prompt for a quest.  In the Monster Menagerie II booster pack I received a Clay Golem, a Bullywug, a Human Wizard, and a Human Cleric.

I should also warn you that there are spoilers for quests that I have previously written, so when I become and big famous writer over at Wizards of the Coast and they publish these quests, just know that I warned you first.

So I left off last week with all of the parts in place for a story that ended up being quite different than what came to me after opening all of the miniatures from the Monster Menagerie II line of Dungeons & Dragons miniatures from WizKids.  

That initial story started out that a pod of Bullywugs, with the help of a human wizard, had unleashed a Clay Golem on an unsuspecting town and that the PC's had to stop the rampaging creature.  One problem with this idea was that  I wanted to get the PC's out of Baldur's Gate as they had been there for some time, and the nearest town was roughly 325 miles away to the east; at least on the 5th Edition maps it is, as apparently Beregost, Nashkel, are not present or included in the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, so who knows for sure?  So how would they have heard about this attack in order to make the quest makes sense, if not by word of mouth.  Think about how fast information would take to get from San Francisco, CA down to Santa Barbara, CA with only foot and equine traffic.  So that means that the PC's would need to leave Baldur's Gate under one set of circumstances and then come upon the destruction of the Clay Golem.

[Side Bar here.  Something that Conklederp knows about me when I write quests for our D&D group, is that I like to steep my stories in and around locations in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting.  In our The Taking of the Dawn quest I wrote, I made sure that the island I was using actually existed on all maps going back to 2nd Edition (as the backstory started sometime around 1367, or thereabouts partly because I needed knowledge of events to not be currently known, and I had a trap that required the use of a Continual Light spell, which hasn't existed since 2nd Edition).  So I could have created a village that was closer to Baldur's Gate than Scornubel, but because I was currently in the mindset that I wanted an established village/city, I was sticking to the "real" world.]

Once I had this idea of a rampaged town, I needed to have a reason how the PC's would even find out about the Clay Golem.  Perhaps there were chunks of clay around the village.  Dead citizens with clay residue perhaps.  Maybe they would have to track bits of clay across fields and trails, other attacked settlements until they finally came to a swamp where they found the Bullywugs and the Clay Golem and a large battle ensued?  While that idea technically works, I ultimately did not feel that there was much to do in that quest.  That was when I decided to include Cruenthas Chorster, a wizard whom I introduced the PC's to in The Taking of the Dawn, and who turned out to be the antagonist.  The group has had a beef with him after his betrayal, but had been caught up in other events.  I felt that now would be a good time to reintroduce him, especially since two new people (Stone, and Beardsnbourbon joined us), and I loved the idea of a number of the group members getting riled up about a nemesis of sorts with two people who did not know much about him.  It seemed semi-realistic and I liked that possibility.

So now Cruenthas was included in the story, but how?  I liked the idea of him being involved, but more like someone who influenced events as opposed to the one who is causing them.  Cruenthas is not the type of person who would create a Clay Golem to attack a small village.  Since the last time the group saw him, maybe he was trying to do something with the Phlyactery of Bellamon Anthander (he was a Lich long since killed when The First Order of the Ever Dawn attempted to destroy the phylactery which lead to their organizations ultimate destruction; events included in the backstory for The Taking of the Dawn) that had been the purpose of them working with and being betrayed by Cruenthas?  Maybe the Bullywugs had some kind of relic or artifact, not knowing of its true potential, that could help Cruenthas repair the phylactery?  

So at this point, the story was that Cruenthas befriended a pod of Bullywugs to direct him to another pod that for whatever reason he could not locate himself, convinced the Bullywugs to attack another pod (and since Bullywugs are aggressive towards rival pods, this line of reasoning made sense), and during that battle, he stole a relic that he felt/knew would help him to repair Bellamon's phylactery.  The attacked pod (by this point I started calling them Pod A, and Pod B, to keep things easier to remember which pod attacked whom; this in turn became Pod Agerloschoug, and Pod Blofferocktokkinalochinac since Bullywugs are all about having grand and complicated sounding names, especially in their own tongue) with the help of the female human wizard (what's her story by the way?) creates a Clay Golem (because the clay came from the swamp) to attack Cruenthas who was resting in a town, but ultimately escaped and eventually the Clay Golem had gotten out of control.

I was still running with the idea that the PC's would not have an actual run in with Cruenthas, mainly because a male human wizard was not included in the booster of miniatures, but I also like the idea of the antagonist working behind the scenes.  But the PC's would have to run into the female wizard Bara Gol'iza since her miniature was in the booster, so I needed to have a reason to have her with the Bullywugs; it almost would have been easier and far less challenging if she had been a druid.  So why had Bara Gol'iza taken in with Bullywugs?  Did she start referring to herself as Boarzigala, or was that how the Bullywugs pronounced her name and she accepted it as part of her new identity?  I do not actually recall how the pieces her backstory fell into place, but I decided that she had been a Red Wizard of Thay, or at least in training to join their ranks.  There had been some sort of magical accident 17 years past that teleported her across the continent and left her insane/mad/mentally wounded.  What exactly happens still remains a mystery, so I left it alone, but whatever happened gave her the ability to create a swamp or marshland wherever she went; the land would return to its normal state within a week.  Somehow she came across a pod of Bullywugs (or did they come across her?), quickly learned their language (or did she know it before?) and still exerting magical powers to some extent combined with her "ability" to create a swamp like environment, the Bullywugs began to deify her (think the Ewoks and C3PO) as an emissary of Ramenos.

So now that the main story, or what I thought was going to be the main points of the story, how and where does Gauntlet Charles and the PC's fit into this ever complicating story?  Why can't my brain just come up with an easier to follow story that doesn't rely so heavily on background information that the PC's can figure out?  Well, that section will be covered in Part III on Friday February.


Friday, February 9, 2018

A New Way to Craft a D&D Story: Part I

This last weekend, we had our local group over for the first D&D session of the year and after conducting the most scientific poll ever, it was determined that people wanted to do shorter one off quests rather than longer year long campaigns.  I was perfectly fine with this decision as I very much enjoy writing stories that, to date, people have enjoyed playing through.  

Short stories though, present somewhat of a challenge especially since we typically play from around 2pm until 8-9pm.  So creating a series of events that usually include one or two smaller encounters followed by a larger boss level encounter, coupled with an intriguing story that I would feel good about.  So a few weeks before our meeting, I decided to put into action a plan that I had thought about last year when we started to run shorter one-off stories.

Now, I feel that the pre-painted minis were (and possibly still are) looked down on in a lot of circles as an attempt by Wizards of the Coast to capitalize on the randomness and eagerness of gamers to "collect them all" as is seen with TCG like Magic: The Gathering.  Additionally, the painting of the miniatures has never been of the best quality, and when I looked at pictures way back in the days of 4th Edition, I knew that I could paint miniatures better than what was being sold at the local Borders Books.

So my plan was to buy a booster pack of the pre-painted Dungeons & Dragons miniatures and write a story that included each of the characters.  I really like the idea as a writing prompt since the booster packs are random in that they contain one large miniature, and three smaller or medium sized ones, but the key is that they are all random.  Now, you might be asking yourself why I did not just reach my hand into the box of unpainted miniatures I already have?  Well, I did consider that as it would save me $16, but I already know what miniatures are downstairs, and I really liked this idea as a writing exercise.  So when I decided to try out this theory, I ordered a single booster from the Monster Menagerie II line via Amazon (mainly out of convenience, but also because the large  FLGS only carried Pathfinder boosters and I really just wanted to stick with the D&D line) and eagerly awaited my writing prompt.

When the box arrived, this was the order I unwrapped each miniature, as well as the thought process I went through.

The large miniature was the Clay Golem, which I was a little disappointed with.  I cannot say why this figure was an initial disappointment, but I was hoping for something a little more grand like the Beholder, or the Young Black Dragon.  And this feeling, right as you are opening the package is what I think WotC and WizKids is banking on with their customer base.  Maybe this is like the rush that compulsive gamblers get each time their money is on the line.

I think the other reason why I was initially let down by the Clay Golem was because of how mundane the paint job on this creature was.  Granted it is a golem made from clay, so there probably would not be a whole of definition or highlighting for the same reason.  And I mean, golems are not particularly flashy creatures either and more than likely, they are just pawns in whatever plan their creator has in store for them.  I think that I felt that one of my biggest fears about poorly painted miniatures that I had paid money for was coming true.  With this in mind, I moved on to the second miniature.

The Human Wizard I was a little more impressed with, partly because it included the transparent accents in the staff and in the magical energy in her hand, but also because there were more than two colors of paint.  Perhaps my standards were so lowered by the Clay Golem that I would find this paint job more pleasing?  However, I was not as impressed with the paint job as the majority of the robes were all black with some purple trim.  I was somewhat surprised with the face though, which is not great, but the eyes and mouth were not as muddled as I was expecting them to be, considering my feelings about the Clay Golem.  The inclusion of the wizard immediately made me think that I now had a reason for the Clay Golem to be in existence.

However, that idea for a story seemed a little clichéd, and while I am not against writing a clichéd storyline, I like to have the stories I write to be a little bit more original than an evil wizard creating a golem that rampages a town.

Then I unwrapped the third little package and that was when I had developed what ended up not really being in the story at all, but it is what helped craft the story that I ended up developing.

I never previously would have considered using Bullywugs in a story, but I really love that this little fella happened to be included.  The idea that a Bullywug shaman created a Clay Golem seemed like a great idea that I probably would not have thought of otherwise.  I thought, "why would a Bullywug create a Clay Golem" and the most obvious explanation was that they created it to defend their swamp or their pod against invaders, and maybe as a result of wanting to create a defense, they lost control over the Clay Golem and it later started attacking towns.  I also did not know much of anything about Bullywugs so this was another learning experience.

At this point, I felt that I had the beginnings of the story, but I needed a way to get the PCs out of Baldur's Gate, which is where half of last year was spent, after they escaped a tower in the middle of the Sea of Swords.  I was hoping that I would end up with a miniature that I could use as an NPC as the hook.  

And that was when this guy showed up!

The bottom of the miniature is almost impossible to read, but it says "Human Cleric 9/44), but this guy is wielding a sword.  Now, I'm not one to be an exclusionary DM, but I can't really look at this guy wielding a sword and think cleric.  A mace or a warhammer sure, but not a pointed, bladed weapon (2nd Edition mindset).  But this did not stop me, and now Gauntlet Charles had his own miniature.  

Gauntlet Charles was a low ranking member of the Flaming Fist that the PCs met during our playing out of the events (most of them anyway) in A Murder in Baldur's Gate.  He cropped up I think only once or twice, but for some reason, the PCs really liked him as a character, and with this Human Cleric becoming Charles, I now had my hook for my story; although that changed a bit too by the end of the writing process.

Well, I am going to end the article for today, otherwise it might run the risk of doubling in length as I talk about the story that I first came up with and the story that I ended up creating in the end.  Hopefully you all will stick around and come back next Monday (02/12) to find out how this collection of characters ended up creating a story that turned out fairly well, considering that it was a first draft and half of everything was still in outline form.


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

MIDI Week Singles: "SIVA Swarm" - Destiny: Rise of Iron (PS3/4, Xb360/One)

"SIVA Swarm" from Destiny: Rise of Iron on PlayStation 4, & Xbox One (2016)
Composer: Michael Salvatori
Developer: Bungie

What I personally find interesting about "SIVA Swarm" is that it works well as a cliche'd score for a blockbuster action movie.  As in, this song would not at all be out of place with Steve Jablonksy's score for the first Transformers film.  And while I was very much entertained while listening to this track, it was the choir that kicked in at about the 3:10 mark that made my ears and cockles perk up.  I am an acknowledged sucker for dramatic scores that include a choir in them and I am 43.47% more likely to better like a song if one is included.  That choir, which only lasts for the last 40ish seconds of the song, for me, elevates it from a run-of-the-mill action score, to dramatic piece of heroic ass kicking music.

Now, not having played any form of Destiny, I do not know what exactly the SIVA are but the associated "Swarm" implies that these are the bad guys?  Maybe it is the victory music as the swarm is finally defeated?  All I know is that, bad guys or not, because of this song, I know who I am rooting for.


Friday, February 2, 2018

Monthly Update: February 2018

Happy February everyone!

How about that Nintendo Labo announcement huh!?  Only 77 days until April 20th! 

But first, I guess I have only a few things to cover from last month and looking ahead for the remaining 27 days we have until the almighty month of Smarch.

I am very much looking forward to playing D&D with our Northwest contingent this weekend, which will be our first session this year, and I am pretty excited for what I have planned.  I kind of what what I have written (and why) to be a surprise, although Conklederp already knows what is going on, but it will be covered in a future article later this month.  A few weeks ago I also polled the group and we decided to do more short one-off quests rather than the year long campaigns that we have covered in the past.  I am also very happy that for three of our PC's, this is going into our third year playing D&D, which is the second longest stretch of time I have played D&D with one group; the first being my first group which consisted of Dr. Potts and Dellaños way back in 1992, and I think that group lasted at least until I was in high school, I do not recall exactly.

Just before Conklederp and I left for Christmas (yes, I know this was in December, but hang on), we finally joined the population of people who have all six of the original and prequel trilogies for Star Wars.  I had been holding off for a long time (way back in the mid 2000's) as I was waiting for a release of the original theatrical versions for the original trilogy (pre-special edition), plus I wanted editions that had George Lucas' commentary.  There were separate editions for the original trilogy that had two versions, but I was waiting for a boxed set.  Something may have gotten mixed up somewhere because last December, I found a 12 disc set that had been around for at least I don't know how many years, but it has pretty much everything that I wanted in a Star Wars boxed set, except that crisp crispiness of sound and image quality you get with Blu-ray.  And then there is the making of featurettes for the original trilogy that aren't there either, but hey, at least the commentaries are all present.  And as mentioned earlier on Instagram, I started listening to the audiobook version of Star Wars: Ahsoka, which is narrated/read by Ashley Eckstein, the actress who portrayed Ahsoka Tano in Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series.  I am on Chapter 7 and so far, I am very much enjoying both the story, and the production work that went into this book in particular.  I am now more excited to listen to Thrawn soonish after.

Sadly, as was reported earlier in the last week, my 3DS is not hip to working at 100% capacity, which I guess I do not need to get into again.  Except that I forgot to mention that I had also started up Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir as I thought it would be a great game to play in the house that Conklederp and I just moved into, partly because I love horror games, but also because this year our house turns 101.  Now, that too will have to wait for whatever ends up happening with my 3DS.

Lastly, I have been playing the Switch a lot.  As in much more than any PC games (have I been playing PC games this month?), mainly focusing on both DOOM, and Breath of the Wild.  I have reached, what I believe to be the end game (due to the number of Marine Dolls that are left) and because I have found myself back in Hell.  And let me tell you, I'm not really a fan of the Hell stages overall, and I am willing to guess that that might put me in the minority.  I also detest the challenge stages, mainly because I feel like they were not designed with a controller set up in mind, but since that is a me issue, I'll just work on getting gud when I'm not within a stage.  In BotW, bloody hell that is a fun game.  At times I forget what it is that my quest is and then I get blasted by a Guardian or end up drowning because I misjudged the distance and how far my stamina will allow me to swim.  And in a few weeks I am looking forward to my first foray into the Bayonetta series when it is released on the Switch.  There are just so many game, mainly indie games, coming out on the Switch that it is hard to keep up and is quickly replacing Steam as my system of choice.

So that is really it, or as much as I am able to think about while typing this out.  There is probably more, but it will just have to wait to be momentarily forgotten about in March's Monthly Update.

Written in Torment

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

MIDI Week Singles: "Temple of Anubis" - Overwatch (PC, PS4, XBO)

"Temple of Anubis" from Overwatch on the PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One (2016)
Composer: Derek Duke

I know Overwatch.  

Okay.  I know of Overwatch but I have never played the game as I have never gotten into MOBAs as a genre, but when I have played them, I have really only played Team Fortress 2.  Earlier in the year, as in a few weeks ago, and partly due to an Instagram account we follow who showcases video game music a few times a week (gametracks), I got to thinking that branching out a bit from game soundtracks that I already have to soundtracks to games that I have never played might be a fun way of exploring new music.  So Overwatch it was, since it's apparently a fairly popular game, so I've heard anyway.

After listening to the soundtrack, I landed on "Temple of Anubis" and I was kind of irritated by that because I felt that "Temple of Anubis" was written in order for it to be a well liked song.  Sort of how, more often than not, a single from an album will be one of the more popular songs off of that album.   But what I do like about this song, is that it feels like a combination of The Mummy (the 19 year old one with Brendan Fraser), the first Assassin's Creed, and club music from 2008.  

Now, I do not know what is going on in the Temple of Anubis or why a bunch of people are trying to shoot each other in said temple, but at least there are some rollicking tunes.  Now I cannot say that this song (or the soundtrack as a whole) makes me want to go out and buy Overwatch only to find that my computer could barely handle it, but that is not to say that, again, it is some pretty good music and worth a listen.


Monday, January 29, 2018

At a 3DS Intersection

This is going to be another semi-short post so there is a likely chance that this will ramble on for another 505 words.

I would say, for the last month or so, the B button on my 3DS has been acting a little wonky.  The button itself looks fine, there are no cracks or visual signs of misuse.  The problem is that unless I press the button pretty hard, there will be no response in-game.

When playing Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation, this is not too much of an annoyance as the B button is mainly used to exit out of conversations, to exit out of transactions with merchants, to cancel/back out of actions during combat, and to talk to other members in your party while out walking around.  In games like Mega Man V however, that is the button you use to shoot your arm cannon.  Kind of an important one there.

After doing a bit of research, I have found that I really have three options.
  1. Attempt to find out what is wrong with the B button by delving into the hardware and potentially risk permanently damaging my 3DS while in the process of fixing it.
  2. Buy a Nintendo New 3DS XL.
  3. Buy a Nintendo New 2DS XL.
I did look into seeing about official repair options from Nintendo, but they no longer service original 3DS units, so attempting to fix the unit myself is an option.  I feel somewhat okay attempting this as I have some experience replacing computer bits, but I am still afraid of permanently damaging the system, which is currently frustrating to play, and limited to the types of games that I can currently play.  So if/when I do follow this attempt, to find if anything has been lodged between the B button and the silicon cover, or something to do with the contacts, I will obviously back up my system information to an SD card in the off chance that I end up bricking the system.

There is also the question, do I actually need to replace the 3DS?  Could I get by without it as I have been for the last couple of weeks?  I mean I could and I kind of have been, but somewhat begrudgingly.  I still have a number of 3DS (physical and digital) and even DS games that I have that I have not played for one reason or another (Steam, and time).  And does it have to be the 3DS or can it be the non 3D 2DS?  While I do not always use the 3D to its fullest extent, I do frequently use it on games where I feel it either enhances the game or it's just damn pretty to play with it on but does not add anything to the game; usually during boss fights in non-RPG games I will turn it down or off as I sometimes find it too distracting when it goes out of focus.

So this is where I am at.  To repair, buy, or not.  And I am heavily leaning towards repairing and then buying if that road goes too far south.