Wednesday, June 29, 2016

MIDI Week Singles: "Dive Man Stage" - Mega Man 4 (NES)

"Dive Man Stage" from Mega Man 4 on the Nintendo Entertainment System (1991)
Composer: Minae Fujii
Label: Capcom
Developer: Capcom

I decided upon the music from Dive Man's stage for a couple of reasons.  First and foremost, it is the level I'm currently on in my playthrough of Mega Man 4.  It doesn't hurt that the level that I'm currently stuck has, in my opinion some of the catchiest music in the game.  Secondly, it's one of my favorite tracks (see "Firstly"), next to the music from Skull Man's stage.  Thirdly (okay, this form of numbering is getting ridiculous), the melody at 0:32 reminds me of two songs, the first being "Five Little Speckled Frogs" and the second in "Heart of a Dragon."

What's interesting though is that the music from Mega Man 4 does have some detractors with one person saying that the "music was terrible. . ." and while I can say that not all of the songs are great, they're far from being classified as terrible and I actually find the music to be pretty consistent with the rest of the music from the series up to 1991 considering this was Minae Fujii's first foray into the Mega Man franchise and later came back to compose a track for Mega Man 10 back in 2010.


Monday, June 27, 2016

Game Review: BioShock Infinite

First off, an überthanks to SneakiTiki for BioShock Infinite, which was gifted from a year back and I finally got around to finishing this final game in the BioShock trilogy.  And a forewarning, that there might be spoilers as far as story elements go.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not either up-to-date or have a complete handle on all of the lore in the BioShock series, so when the game tells me that this game takes place off the "Coast of Maine" in 1912, I have to think back about when the first BioShock took place and how that year related to 1912, what world events had or hadn't taken place since 1960.  Yes, that was an odd sentence, but it makes sense in the grand scheme of things.

But before I get started, I want to say that there is a lot going on in BioShock Infinite, almost too much to adequately cover in a little review article.  There's everything from the Vigors (BI's version of Plasmids), the overall world of Columbia, the inherent racism in the characters and the story, the connections and similarities to BioShock (sadly not too many to BioShock 2 that I noticed), the use of specific symbols and imagery, the Vox Populi, the clothing mechanic, the types of firearms, scientific theories that I probably would get wrong if I tried to explain them, Songbird, I could go on and on and most likely miss more than a few things that another person may have found to be key to their liking of the game.  The point is, I'm only going to be able to cover a few things here with any real sincerity, and even then, it still won't be up to another person's snuff

So on with the review.

I really enjoyed the mood of the game, and the setting of the city in the clouds, Columbia, the knowledge of which was unknown to the protagonist, Booker Dewitt (classic PI-type name if you ask me).  My biggest criticism though, was a common one that was talked about quite extensively,  The violence in the game I ultimately didn't have a problem with, but the sudden onset of the game being a walking-simulator of sorts to an all out FPS where you kill practically every person on screen.  Granted there were scenes that didn't involve killing/defending yourself, and those times it felt good to have a reprieve from an otherwise 22 hours of killing the citizenry of Columbia.  The violence in FPS games is something that you kind of have to suspend your disbelief around, otherwise you would have a walking simulator with a total game kill count of, maybe 3; but only if you don't want to feel like a totally horrible person for killing. . .and not like a person who killed upwards of 475 people (probably a lot more though).

One thing that I ended up loving was once you find Elizabeth, the game essentially turns into an escort quest, but was handled better than any game I've played that utilized the escort quest mechanic.  Instead of having to worry about accidentally shooting Elizabeth or her getting shot by whomever is shooting, she instead is off in the background, presumably scavenging for ammunition and health packs, and salts (refills your vigors) and from what I recall, never got in the way.  She would occasionally declare that she couldn't find anything, but that she was still looking, which while somewhat annoying when you're out of salts and only have five rounds of ammunition left for your hand cannon.  The rest of the time, she often offered exposition about Columbia, her life, and the antagonist Zachary Hale Comstock.  It was a refreshing way to handle an often frustrating situation that isn't always well handled.  

One interesting new mechanic that was introduced was clothing, which I hadn't thought about until I picked up a shirt, or a hat (or pants, or shoes).  While I really liked this idea that the article of clothing worn would bestow upon the wearer various benefits such as reduced fire damage, or a small area of effect lightning attack every time you landed from a Sky-Line.  The problem I had (first world problem) was that the shirt I found early on, the Ammo Advantage, which seemed too good to ever get rid of.  When a shotgun only holds four shells, having it now hold seven was quite the advantage.  And considering that the shirt worked for all types of guns (except the crank-gun/chain-gun).  And now that I see that it was part of the Season Pass DLC, makes sense that such a perceived powerful item could be found so early on.  I've forgotten which other clothing items I was wearing throughout the game, but even though I would frequently find clothing items in various locations, I liked what I was wearing and very rarely, if ever changed.  They were probably DLC items anyway, now that I think about it. 

One area that I felt that the game was lacking, was in the explanation of the existence of a couple of enemies.  First off were the "Zealots of the Lady" which were also known as "The Crow," which I just mentally referred to as "That Guy Carrying a Coffin with Crows All About Him and Keeps Disappearing."  Their design is pretty cool, as well as their ability, but other than that, I felt that I didn't know anything about these characters.  Only after reading a Wiki article about them did their roll in the world/story become somewhat clearer.  It almost felt like there was a bit of context that could be relayed through their mumblings, but often times, they would attack me and anything that didn't involve evading attacks and firing back was put on the back burner.

Another creature that I felt took the place of the Big Daddy, but to a significantly lesser degree was the. . .(looking up their name) Handyman.  The Handyman had a similar physical presence to the Big Daddies, but with the exception of seeing a deconstructed one, I would only see them as they jumped up/down from wherever they were hanging out and immediately started attacking me.  I don't recall ever seeing them in use around Columbia in a non-combat roll.  There's a very good chance that I just missed the lore that was probably scattered around Columbia in the way of voxophones, posters, informational kinetoscope, or something scribbled on a chalkboard in an operating room.  The point is, aside from a large enemy that took a lot of damage, I really had no idea who/what it was that was trying to kill me.

Thinking back, it was the times when I wasn't being shot at and I could take in the world of Columbia that could really enjoy the story in the game.  Almost as if I was simply shooting my way to the next part of the story.  Don't get me wrong though, I like a good walking sim if the story is a great one, and the story in BioShock Infinite, is indeed a great one, if a little convoluted, aside from all of the bullets flying.  

For me, it wasn't until nearing the very end of the game that the emotional impact of the events spanning that last 22 hours really hit me.  Now that I think about it, it was during a point in the game where you weren't shooting anyone, but were walking and listening to exposition from a couple of characters.  There was even "that moment" during a cut scene where my mind very nearly imploded.  It was a great moment.  

The end of the game felt pretty esoteric, but not so "out there" as to be completely incomprehensible.  And while reading an interview a few weeks back, it was nice to see that creator Ken Levine said that the ending is meant to be open to interpretation.  And the ending felt that it could be interpreted differently and not that it was an unfinished ending.  It felt complete, but still full of questions.

I've heard that BioShock Infinite is the last game in this universe, and while initially sad by this revelation, after having gone through the game (and the Burial at Sea DLC which I will cover at a soon to be decided upon later date), this seems to be a fitting end to this wonderful series.  Unless of course a walking sim in the BioShock universe is released, then I'll be all over that! 


P.S.  I already know that I haven't covered everything that I wanted to about BioShock Infinite, but if you refer to ¶3, I believe that I have absolved myself of at least acknowledging no less than four additional topics that I could have inserted into this document.  The point is, I really liked Bioshock Infinite, and I know that there's too much to talk about in a single blog post and I there's a lot more than I can say that I didn't put down into words.  So if you want to talk to me about the game, go on ahead, I likes me some tippy-tappy talking.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

MTG: Eldrich Moon - Hanweir the writhing township

I just want to share this art:

Have a closer look.  There's some fun details in this disgusting Akira monster that seems to have transformed out of a village and its inhabitants.  This is the art for  'Hanweir the writhing township,' one of the latest cards revealed from the upcoming Magic: the Gathering set: Eldritch Moon

It seems that this is the effect Emrakul is having on the landscape.  It appears she can possess and transform both living things and inanimate ones.  And she does it with fleshy grossness. I think it looks pretty sweet.  

In the previous set of this block, Shadows over Innistrad, there was a transformation theme.  Primarily, this was used for Werewolves, but it also applied to demons, undersea horrors and scientific abominations.  I think that the upcoming set will feature transformation cards for various nouns (people, places and things) possessed and transformed by Emrakul's corrupting influence.  It promises to be disgusting and awesome.

The previous MTG set which took place in the world of Innistrad is famous for what they call 'flavor' - meaning the art and concept of the cards.  In general, art and concept are tangential to the actual gameplay, but sometimes the concept and gameplay synch up so well that it really gives a boost to the experience of the set.  I wasn't around for the first Innistrad, but I've enjoyed the reprisal in Shadows over Innistrad.  I can only hope to enjoy Eldrich Moon half as much, I can't imagine Wizards will be returning to this plane for a few years.



Friday, June 24, 2016

Fallout 2: Maybe I'm Missing Something?

Just to forewarn any mathematicians out there, I'm more than likely going to butcher mathematical laws and theories.  Just to forewarn any English and/or Writing majors out there, I'm probably going to butcher proper syntax and sentence structure trying to explain what I mean in regards to playing Fallout 2: A Post Nuclear Role Playing Game and various mathematical laws and theories.

Y'all've been warned.

Also this post turned into a rambling rant full of un/founded complaints.

Y'all've been doubley warned.

I've previously talked about my paranoia when it comes to dealing with chance and computer systems (although that was over four years ago. . .damn), but while playing Fallout 2, I've seriously begun the question the fairness of computer.

The main point that I'm coming to grips with, is that I feel that whatever equation/logarithm/program is being used in this game to determine hit percentages and/or actually hitting the target is, in non-scientific terms, seems like it's a bit fucked up.  This isn't the first time I've felt this either, although that was previously with Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 2: Grimoire of the Rift.  You know, maybe it is just me, but for the remainder of the article, let's pretend that it's not me.

Based on the Fallout Wiki page, the to-hit % is determined by the base % of that particular combat skill (melee, hand-to-hand, small guns, et cetera) which goes up against the target's AC (armor class).  This makes sense, and I'm perfectly okay with this.  My melee skill was at 90% and I was using the sharpened spear, as it was/is my strongest melee weapon.  At the time when I became frustrated enough with my attacks which seemed to be missing a lot more than I felt that they should have been, I decided to log my % to hit, if I hit, and how much damage I was doing (which at the time also seemed to be on the low side for a sharpened spear which is supposed to do 4-12 damage (there is a good chance that I'm just not understanding some aspect of how the game determines damage output).  I did write this information down for the next 182 of my attacks.  During this time, I was in the Toxic Cave fighting both small geckos and golden geckos.

And before I start throwing more numbers around and (very probably) start using mathematical terms, let me say that I do know that when an attack says "60%" that that means the attack has a 60% chance of succeeding on that specific attack, not as an overall percentage.  I know this is statistically independent from the next 60% attack.  Yet I'm going to continue with the numbers.   Because.

By far the most common percentage I attacked with was 60%, being 142 out of 182 of the attacks, which were performed with the sharpened spear (in case you'd forgotten) while standing in the adjacent hex-tile to the gecko (golden or otherwise).  Of those 142 attacks, 85 were hits while 57 were misses, which comes out to  59.859%, which is essentially 60%.  This doesn't really help my tinfoil hat case at all as this is all of the battles that I kept track of.  

What I believe that is happening here is an example of the Law of Large Numbers, but on a slightly smaller scale.  The Law of Large numbers "describes the result of performing the same experiment a large number of times" and as a result, "the average of the results obtained from a large number of trials should be close to the expected value, and will tend to become closer as more trials are performed."  So this law says/proves that my attacks ended up averaging out to hitting 60% of the time, even though each attack % is only based on one attack and not the average number of successful attacks.  Which while accurate, is frustrating when (in one battle in particular with a golden gecko) I hit only five times out of 15 attacks before I was killed (Hit/Miss: H-H-M-M-M-H-M-H-M-M-M-M-M-M-H-I Died).  Sure it averages out, but missing six times in a row with 60% is a bit infuriating.  Yes, it's still only 60% for each hit, not an average.

In another instance (after I had leveled up, was using an SMG, and had a base 91% in small guns), I had an 88% chance to hit (I was fighting against Wilders) and I missed three times in a row, which if I'm using geometric distribution (correctly and accurately), means that missing three time in a row with an 88% chance of success, is a 1:588 chance of occuring.  In another fight (I forgot against whom I was fighting, but it was still with the SMG), my attacks were as follows:
  • 62% = Miss 
  • 66% = Miss 
  • 62% = Miss 
  • 66% = Hit for 23 damage (crit) 
  • 95% = Miss 
  • 95% = Miss 
  • 95% = Hit for 14 damage (killed)
I mean yes, I killed the guy/thing in two hits, but I had to attack seven times in order to do so, with two misses with a 95% chance of success in a row.  An example would be that in D&D, I would be able to hit the creature with a d20, unless I rolled a 1, and I rolled 1 twice in a row.  It's entirely plausible (as I've seen one of the PC's role 4 or 6 at least three times in a row; but in that example, there were four other PC's to pick up the slack, and not one Vic with a knife since he won't use the god damn sharpened spear that I gave him and told him to use his strongest weapon) to roll the only number that will allow a miss twice in a row, it is however somewhat unlikely.

Another annoying instance that I only recorded on one account was doing possibly the least amount of damage with the sharpened spear, four attacks in a row.  In this string of attacks, granted I did hit eight times in a row, but it was still frustrating watching my character deal such minimal damage while watching my own HP being whittled down to the point of being dead.  I didn't even know that the sharpened spear could deal only 2 damage, again considering that it's damage output is 4-12, so I'll assume that the golden gecko has some type of damage reduction modifier.  It's definitely times like this that I become paranoid that the game is playing against me and fudging my to-hit and damage rolls.

I have since stopped tracking my hits and misses as it became too cumbersome during battles and it seemed to drag the battles out just a little bit longer and all I wanted was to wait for the raiders to kill the molerats so I could start attacking them in order to collect their sweet, sweet lootz (Wow, look!  A spear, two knives, a 10mm pistol, and 6 rounds of ammunition.  This'll definitely score me some mad capz back in town! Lulz).  

It's probably my own fault for only having a 4 charisma which brings up the cost of things, brings down the amount that I can get for selling goods, but I felt it made sense, that a 17 year old boy wouldn't have particularly great people skillz (STOP IT!) after living in/near a canyon (an arroyo, if you will) with his tribe for his whole life.

So about 12 hours in to Fallout 2, I think I'll keep on keeping on and hopefully I'll get the G.E.C.K. back to my people before they turn cannibal, or worse.  That is, if I can make it through one fight (escape is even often impossible; "Damn it Vic, stop fighting the guy with a stick and help me kill his bastard with a shotgun!") towards the Vault City out in the east (Bend?).


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

MIDI Week Singles: "Beyond the Canyon" from Fallout 2 (PC)

"Beyond the Canyon" from Fallout 2 on PC (1998)
Composer: Mark Morgan
Developer: Black Isle Studios

My main reason for picking this song is because I'm attempting (again?) to work my way through Fallout 2.  This is the music that plays in the the starting village of Arroyo.  I've actually made my way back to the village on a number of occasions, none of which have been because I've found the G.E.C.K., and every time I'm there, and each time the song comes up on my computer (usually around the eight second mark with "Ooo-whop-woo" tone which repeats throughout the song), I immediately thing, "Ah, I'm back home."  Which is a nice comforting feeling to have as you wander the Wastelands hoping that you're not going to be waylaid by raiders, super mutants, centaurs, or any other abomination that the desert decided was a good idea to vomit up on the dregs of humanity.

I'm not far enough in the game (heading to Vault City. . .I think, and I only have the leather jacket for armor) to know if this theme is used anywhere else, but I feel that whenever I hear it, I'll feel somewhat at ease; and on the verge of being attacked by a gecko.  Either way, good feelings associated with this piece.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

MTG: Eldritch Moon reveals

this is the art for Emrakul: The promised end

I mentioned in my previous post that I've really been enjoying Shadows over Innistrad, the latest set of Magic The Gathering cards.  The companion set is called Eldritch Moon and will be released July 22nd.  As of this writing, one card has been revealed from the upcoming set, and it was a big reveal.  Emrakul, the third Eldrazi titan, has come to Innistrad.  The full effects of her rise have not yet been described, though it's been a long held fan theory that her presence has been the force that drove mad the Angels of Innistrad.  The card itself gives you the ability to control your opponent for a full turn, which is a pretty sweet ability. 

The inclusion of Emrakul is very cool, and thematically appropriate, I think.  I anticipate a heavy thematic swing from Gothic Horror to Eldritch Horror and a ramping up of the theme of madness and delirium.  The other spoiled image from Eldritch moon indicates that Wizards may have gone full John Carpenter.  I mean, this image of the Eldrazi Angel is frankly disgusting.  I like it. 

hideous eldrazi angel

I'm curious as to how they're planning on balancing the set design.  It seems as though things on Innistrad are degenerating fully into chaos.  In the Battle for Zendikar block, (the previous two sets), half of every color was devoted to Eldrazi creatures spawned from the other Titans, Ulamog and Kozilek.  From what I can tell, it looks like Emrakul will be perverting the living creatures on Innistrad into her own disgusting horrors.  I wonder if the set will be similarly split between Eldrazi and non-eldrazi, or if the Eldrazi will have a smaller, but more horrific presence.    I wonder how much of the original flavor of Innistrad will be lost to the rise of Emrakul. I'm looking forward to finding out.


Monday, June 20, 2016

Movie Review: Warcraft

So I just got back from watching the film adaptation of Warcraft and if you don't take into account my fears about what the movie could have been (circa early 1990s), it was about what I expected with a little bit of disappointment thrown in for good measure; but honestly, how could there not be with a video game movie.

Okay enough of that predetermined video game movie bashing.

If you're the kind of person that will read any negativity in my review and retort with, "Well then you're just not a fan of the Warcraft series, so obviously you don't know what you're talking about.  Stupid person." then I recommend you read my first post about my brief history with the franchise that I posted about 10 months ago.  I'm not a n00b in regards to the series, but I am ignorant about the events after Warcraft II and anything that happened in any of the books.

That being said, I did enjoy the movie for what it was.  It was a high fantasy story set in a fictional world where incredible events happened to fictional species.  It was a fun movie and I didn't feel that based on any of the trailers that I watched a movie that wasn't promised.  There were Orcs, Humans, Dwarves, Elves (and their ridiculously long-ass ears; thanks WoW. . .I think), Worgs and Griffens.  What I missed were primarily troops from the Horde side, the Trolls, Ogres and Dragons did not make an appearance, or if they did, they were very well camouflaged in the background.  The point is, the movie looked and felt like a Warcraft movie.

One aspect of the movie that in fact felt too much like a movie set in the Warcraft universe, was that there were a number of times I felt that objects didn't carry as much weight as their size implied.  When Durotan (Not the largest of the Orcs, but warchiefed sized) poked a rather small human by comparison, there was no reaction from the human who might as well have been poked by someone of equal size, weight and density.  I felt like someone human sized being poked by an Orc warchief (apparently between 6'8" and 8'6" and weighing between 226-625lbs), would be akin to being nudged by an adult elk.  There would be some weight with that poke/nudge.

Along the same lines, with the exception of a dagger that the female Half-Orc Garona used, most of the weapons that the Humans used felt like there was very little weight behind them.  Lothar would frequently one-hand his broadsword, which looks like it could weigh well over however how many pounds a broadsword of that size forged from steel would weigh.  I imagine that it would be of similar weight to this sword, which is an appropriate for today's article.  And even in one scene when either Lothar's sword or King Llane's sword was ceremoniously and gently stabbed into the ground, the sword wobbled like it weighed less than 5lbs.  Yeah, I know this is a movie (obviously) and that I can apparently suspend my disbelief about Orcs entering a fictional world through a magical portal while being defended against by a guy riding a Griffen into battle?  It's just something I noticed that bugged me a bit.  Kind of like how it appears that 93.47% of the time people are "drinking" out of empty cups/mugs; the lack of weight just doesn't look right.

One final cosmetic thing, which is actually two things now that I think about it, that I felt kind of "eh" about was the look of both King Llane and the mage Khadgar, and the wear of the costumes.  For Llane, something about him didn't seem very kingly.  Maybe it was his youth, maybe it was his dialogue, or maybe it was just his demeanor, but I never fully bought into him being a King of Stormwind.  For Khadgar, I don't know if I bought that he was a mage, mainly because of his hairstyle, which reminded me of Jeremy Irons from the Dungeons & Dragons film; (Warcraft, by the way, was a far superior film in pretty much every way).  And with the costumes, it boils down to the same complaint I had with the Star Wars prequels, that very few, if any, of the clothes looked lived in.  I mean the costumes themselves looked great, but only if they had just be purchased off the proverbial rack.  I don't know if I would believe that these were clothes that the characters would have had/worn for any more than a few weeks.

One last criticism is that I felt that the movie lacked a fair amount of exposition, especially on the side of Azeroth, for me to believe in the world.  I guess I just felt like there wasn't enough meat there for me to be invested in this world, at least from the start.  By the end, I kind of was.  However, according to IMDb, the director Duncan Jones has 40 minutes of extra movie that he wants to go into an extended cut of the film, which could contain some of that extra exposition.

I will say though that the CGI for the Orcs was damn impressive.  There was enough variance between the various primary Orcs (Doomhammer, Blackhand, Gul'dan, Durotan, Hellscream) that I never questioned which male Orc was talking.  The females, of which there was primariltdimpy one that had a talking role (I noticed at least three others) were interestingly very sexually dimorphic compared to the males, but that just might make sense in the world/universe that they came from.  And speaking of women in speaking roles, I can safely say that Warcraft passes the Bechdel Test as there were at least two scenes where named women talked to each other that didn't involve a man; not great I know, but apparently better than almost 50% of the movies out of Hollywood these decades.  

There were a number of shots that felt very similar to Warcraft I and II, in that they were overhead flyover shots of the Orc camps building and attacking Human settlements.  While these moments were pretty few and far between, the overall aesthetic still felt grounded in the Warcraft universe (even with the very clean aforementioned costumes).

The music was another semi-highlight for me, which during the end credits I found out it was by Ramin Djawadi.  During a couple of cues, I felt like I was listening to a combination of the music from Pacific Rim with the fantasy hints of Game of Thrones.  Granted there weren't any gallant fanfares that I can recall the themes of, which may just mean that I have to listen to the soundtrack again (It might even be a good one for D&D), but the music came across as something very similar in style and thematically to the music that Glenn Stafford composed for the first two games.

Well, that turned out a bit longer than I was anticipating.

In closing, Warcraft isn't Lord of the Rings, or The Hobbit, or even Game of Thrones, but I felt that it did a good job of delivering a high fantasy movie that I could sit back an enjoy while sipping on my 127 oz medium sized Coke/Pibb Xtra soda.  It wasn't a flawless film, but coming from a video game background only minimally versed in Warcraft lore, I don't feel that money was wasted by seeing it in a theatre.  I don't know if I would go so far as to say that I would be pre-ordering the movie when it's released on Blu-ray, but I would be interested to at least find out what the possible 40 extra minutes contains.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

MIDI Week Singles: "Paper Route - Main Theme" - Paperboy (NES)

"Paper Route - Main Theme" from Paperboy on the Nintendo Entertainment System (1988)
Composer: Hal Canon
Album: No Official Release
Developer: Atari Games

This song came up this morning and I was immediately taken back to my pre-teen days, playing Paperboy at Dr. Potts' house.  From what I recall about wanting to play Paperboy, was that it was a good filler game, either in between long RPGs or just to see if our gaming ability increase at all since the last time we played; it usually hadn't.  I recall that I could consistently get to the third day, but I would have very few, if not my last life and maybe less than five houses left that were still subscribers.

All of that agony aside, I still have fond memories of this game and this song, which is either called "Main Theme" or "Paper Route" depending on which source you are sourcing, none of which are official soundtracks, so I just listed both as it makes sense.  All I think it really needs is the occasional static-muddled sound of a dog barking followed by another static-filled sound of a bike crashing into a storm drain. 


Monday, June 13, 2016

Book Review: Star Wars: Before the Awakening

Well, I finished my second Star Wars book, and this one, Star Wars: Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka, is in the reconfigured, now canon series.  Before going into this book, I already knew that it was geared more towards "young adults" and I was alright with that fact.  The reviews over on Amazon were positive and I figured for the low-low price of whatever low price I paid for the book, it would be worth it.  And I would say that for the most part it was.

Before the Awakening is a relatively short collection of three short stories from the perspectives of Finn (FN-2187), Rey, and Poe and each story takes place over the course of a couple of months to just under a year (depending on the story) and all take place before The Force Awakens.  One thing that I have noticed (in the now two Star Wars books that I've read) and my biggest critique of the entire book, is the the lack of character descriptions and frequent name dropping without descriptions.  Had I not seen the movie, or looked at the cover and illustration per story, I would not know what any of the chapter characters looked like,  I would not know that BB-8 (spelled phonetically as Beebee-ate, which I found rather distracting, but I assume that it was supposed to be similar to the spellings used for Artoo-Detoo and See-Threepio) was a small droid in the general shape of a ball, or that it had a white base with orange highlights.  Throughout the book, I found myself Googling what a "Maxima-A heavy cruiser," a "Lancer" class frigate, a "Dissident class light cruiser" and what a Ghtroc 720 ship looked like.  No descriptions of any kind.  And only from watching the movie did I assume what a "Luggabeast" (on Jakku) was based on the context in the story.  I felt that because this is a Star Wars book, that the reader must already know what various ships, and alien species are and what they look like.  It was like finding your self on the outside of an inside joke and you have to look up the context and the punchline yourself.

The first story, being Finn's, I will say that I was initially afraid that he was going to be referred to as "Finn" as opposed to FN-2187, which would not make any sense story-wise as he was given that name by Poe during the movie, which takes place before the movie and Finn even says that all he'd ever been called was "FN-2187."  This possible anachronism was thankfully avoided.  As I was telling Dellaños this last weekend, FN-2187's story felt a lot like the clone centered stories in The Clone Wars TV series, which felt very appropriate since audiences have never seen Stormtrooper training on screen.  In this story, there was no explanation given for the "FN" prefix, which I had just assumed was simply part of their serial number, possibly a "lot" number rather than having identifications such as ST-2971654755201, considering how many Stormtroopers the Empire and now First Order must go through if/when a Star Destroyer were to go down.

In Rey's story, the problem with writing prequels after a movie is made, I feel will frequently run the risk of creating events that are significant in the characters life that are never mentioned or referenced in the movie because those stories had not been conceived yet.  However, if the stories being told have no emotional weight or bear no significance to the development of the character, the reader is going to question why they are even reading the story in the first place.  One aspect of Rey's story I liked was how much importance it placed on the scavengers of Niima Outpost of finding scrap parts from downed ships.  There was even tidbits about the prevailing religion around Niima (although how far spread this religion was on the whole of Jakku was not made clear), which I enjoyed.

Poe Dameron's story offered snip-its of The Resistance, its relation to the New Republic and their frustrations with the New Republic not recognizing the growing presence of The First Order.  It also offered the most in the terms of character backstory, which made sense since FN-2187, as per the movie, was taken away from his family when he was a baby and Rey was "left" on Jakku when she was a youngling.  

As referenced earlier, Poe's chapter was the one where I ended up looking up most of the Star Wars-y ships.  I knew what X-Wings, A-Wings, and Star Destroyers were, but that's about where my knowledge ends by names alone.

As a whole, Before the Awakening was a pretty decent and very fast read (and I'm typically a slow-ish reader).  It contained little bits about the Star Wars universe 30 some odd years after Return of the Jedi that were not covered in The Force Awakens.  None of the stories offered answers to any of the "big" Enquirer-type questions raised by The Force Awakens either, so while I do recommend this short collection of short stories,  I would not go into it expecting any revelations anywhere near The Empire Strikes Back.


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Mid-Month Update - June

Hi there,   How are you?  Here's how I've been,

I haven't written any blog posts for a while.  I guess I've just been busy, and distracted.  My usual excuses, I know.  I have lots and lots of notes about interesting things that could go in a blog post, but they usually stay that way: as notes.  Primarily, I've been mired in routine, which doesn't tend to leave a lot of time for creative work.  It's the 8-5 grind, grinding me down.  Sounds depressing, I know.  

Work has been especially nuts for the last couple weeks, and it is only getting more stressful.  There's a period from June to August every year that is a rough, stressful time for my position, and this is the first time I've been through it.  Add to that that my boss got a new job and left the office, and I've got new, unfamiliar and urgent responsibilities that I have to tend to every day.  All this is a roundabout way of saying that work really saps the life out of me.

Additionally, I haven't been turning to video games as a release.  Really, it's just TV and Magic: The Gathering.  I didn't want to turn my contributions so heavily toward Magic, but I think I just have to.  So, look forward to more ramblings on MTG.  I've really loved the new set:  Shadows over Innistrad.  It's my favorite set so far, and I've gone much deeper into this one.  The flavor is great-- it's gothic/horror/detective.  There are werewolves, vampires, crazed angels, religious zealots, detectives, mad scientists and creatures from the black lagoon.  Additionally, the mechanics of the set are fun, and I've invested a lot of time (and money) into learning and playing this set.   

That's about it as far as entertainment goes.  What's truly pressing is that I'm moving!  Like.. today!  Jane is in the shower, so I thought I'd crank out this post.  After this, we're getting our keys, and then moving!  It's a big step, moving in together.  I'm very excited.  Maybe in shaking things up, I will slot in more time for writing.  I need to check back on my new years pledge and see how I'm doing.  Year's about half over.  *gulp*


P.S.  I love love love the new summer-time Ultima: Exodus background!  Love it!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Game Review: Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition (PC)

I beat Dark Souls, and by "beat," I mean that I beat the "final boss" in the game and was rewarded with the end credits.  That being said, I did not "complete" the game, which apparently takes at the very least, one additional NG+ (New Game) run through to see everything, experience all the NPC's storylines and to see the multiple endings, of which I have heard that there are at least two.

Now, I've brought up Dark Souls a number of times, the first dating back to December 2014 while playing/starting with my fourth character, and most recently, in April while on my fifth character, whom I was able to finally beat the game with.

I know that nothing that I really have to say about Dark Souls will be new or revolutionary, I just wanted to relay my experience playing the game, while using a handful of pictures to aid my lack of knowledgeable wordings'.  And just a word of warning, there will be some SPOILERS, but I will try to keep it to a vague minimum.

My character, fifth time around was Bjorn, a male warrior with the following image/stats.

I got so excited that I left the chamber and killed a hollow before running back to take a picture, hence the 20 souls.

Disclaimer (I didn't take a picture of Bjorn when I started, which is why "For Pictures" is the name, but the stats are the same.

And now for a comparison with how I looked, roughly 73 hours later

Not a great angle, but damn is that a pretty decent picture!

That's right, level 101.  Overkill maybe.  Overpowered, maybe.  But that's what it takes sometimes, so there.  And in the end, I used the following gear:

Now, keep in mind that while playing, I ran a 95% (+/- 5%) blind playthrough, meaning I didn't intentionally look up information about where to go for the best items or how to get them, or how to react around certain NPCs.  The way I played, from about April through when I finished, was to play the game normally, then watch an episode of Extra Credits' Side Quest series where show co-creator Dan would play Dark Souls.  There were things that I unintentionally found out, such as information about Lautrec of Carim, how to interact with The Painting in Anor Londo, or that there's a guy who may or may not push you off the edge of a cliff, because there's treasure down there.  For these few instances, I tried to think about how I would have played the game had I not known about a certain piece of information.  Although I did end up attacking and killing the pushy-cliff guy as I was low on life and afraid that the fall would be an insta-kill.

And in Dark Souls, doing things without being influenced can be incredibly difficult if you constantly find yourself reading the glowing orange messages that other players have left behind.  It's one of the few online interactions that can occur while playing, although apparently sometime around early/mid-April, the servers for PC players has been quieter than usual.  Even I noticed and I don't do a lot of online play, and I never utilized the "invading" function of the game, although I did illicit help from a player whom I've since forgotten in order to get through the Ornstein and Smough fight (after dying 15+ times and spending a number of hours, trying, dying, grinding, dying, trying, et cetera).  But thank you very much person who helped me out of a tight and heavy electric-induced jam.

There were a couple of times when I felt that watching Dan fight a particular boss would be okay.  His character was a Dex-based knight, whereas I was playing a Str-End based warrior, our gear and tactics would be different, but honestly watching the videos where he would fight Chaos Witch Quelaag, the Capra Demon, the Gaping Dragon, Sif, and Seathe the Scaleless. . .there might be others too, but I don't immediately recall.  Every time, I would give the particular boss a couple of tries and if I wasn't able to figure out what to do, I would watch Dan's tactics.

I also want to add that with my "build," I did not follow any guides, as anyone whose "got gud" will tell you that I wasted three levels by putting them into Resistance.  I also wasn't 100% sure about what a number of the stats were and how they affected my character and the way I was playing.  Sure I could have looked up the definition in-game, or looked it up online, but at the time it didn't seem too important.  I did realize though that at a certain point, my defense stats stopped going up with each level increase so leveling up a stat only increased its corresponding attribute (Str = Weapon Damage since I was using a halberd; Int = Sorceries Damage; et cetera).  And even with increasing Endurance, once my Stamina reached 160, that stat remained static and only increased equipment load, which I was trying to increase as I ended up creating a heavy tank-type build and wanted to try and equip as much of the Stone armor or Havel's armor as I could.

Pretty early on, I decided that I wanted to be able to have some sort of ranged attack (as I wasn't able to figure out how to aim with the bow until I was in the Painted World of Ariamis, so I put a number of points into Intelligence so that I could cast Soul Arrow and later, Great Soul Arrow.  I did get quite a lot of use out of those spells, even though they didn't do a whole lot of damage, most of the time used to egg enemies out to come after me if they were unmoving when I found them.  I also used it quite a lot against the Titanite Demon in order to get its health down to 1/4 or 1/2 (depending on the demon and where I was fighting it).  I also put some points in Faith in order to cast heal spells when my Estus flask ran out (which happened frequently before I gained the Rite of Kindling), although in areas like Sen's Fortress, and Tomb of the Giants, being able to heal further was very much needed.

As far as the story goes with other NPC's , I felt like I did quite a bit.  I talked to as many as I found and I know that I didn't fully complete most/all of their storylines.  The one involving Siegmeyer of Catarina was funny/sweet and I thought took a final dark turn at the end, which turned out not to be the end.  Then there was Solaire, of which I did find out a major spoiler about him, but without that knowledge, there was nothing in-game that hinted at how to "complete" his storyline, so I just played it out to its bitter end, which is how I would have played had I not known.

At the end of the game, I took only one try at Lord Gwyn before being able to kill him, with the first attempt bringing him down to 5% health before he did some horrible multi attack that I was not prepared for and died.  Upon my return, I was able to kill him and did briefly think about leaving to go complete the DLC area (Oolacile), but then I saw a bonfire and figured that I would just warp out of the area.  Turns out I linked the fire and finished the game.

Not what I had intended, but okay.
I also recognize that there is plenty that I did not understand lore-wise.  Even after watching Dan's Lore Retrospective, which did help on quite a few points, but even he said that the video is meant as more of a primer rather than an all encompassing tell all, which apparently is covered in greater depths from other sources.

So I spent, in total, 112 hours playing Dark Souls, about 20 hours or so of that time was spent being frustrated and not really sure how much more I could take and if I wanted to invest any more time in this beautifully created yet difficult game.  It really wasn't until after I defeated the Bells Gargoyle that I really started to enjoy the game.  Even more so after I got my Strength up to 24 so that could wield the Zweihander and I was able to decimate enemies often with a single swing/smash.  But now with NG+, I can start off with all of my equipment and take out the Asylum Demon the first time around; I did notice though that all of my keys (with the exception of the Master Key which I started off with) were taken away, but that's to be expected.

So now, or at least sometime after Dark Souls II: Scholar of Sin goes on sale during the Steam Summer Sale, I will have a go at part II, which should be fun, considering that Dan is now doing a run through over on Side Quest.  Or maybe I'll pick up Lords of the Fallen, or one of the other Dark Souls clones that's out there.  We'll just have to wait and see.

In the end though, I am happy that invested my time getting used to and finishing this game.  It was a difficult and often frustrating game, but ultimately I was able to enjoy it when I began to take my time and notice the details of the world.


P.S.  During the entire game, I was invaded at least once by a real person, who attacked me as I was on my way to fight Ornstein and Smough.  The rest of the invasions were by NPCs in-game (such as Paladin Leeroy), and I only died once, and it was to Xanthous King, Jeremiah.  But to Dekareez who thought he could invade, kill me and make off with some spare souls and humanity:

Your failure has been immortalized.  And thanks for the 15450 souls.