Sunday, October 2, 2016

Starting up a female rpg group. And out of the woodwork...

In falling into this world of DnD, I realised that it too is a bit of a challenge for the geekiness that is lacking in my city. More the lack of female geekiness and those around my age. I'm fortunate that the group of males I play with, while throwing some comments here and there, are all of the non basement-dwelling variety, but such dwellers still seem prevalent. And then there are the bro neanderthals...

Or maybe that's the impression I have and with that impression comes the problem - and the surprise.

Here and there, I've tried to assemble RPG groups. Most of them die in infancy - either because people are too busy or didn't realise that it can take some commitment (read 'work') from people to start off. And, as a DM, you might all but drag that horse to water, but getting it to drink...

So I haven't had all that much success and the group of guys I usually play with also have very hectic work demands... and then they have lives and wives/girlfriends.

Which made me think of those wives and girlfriends. Well, not specific ones, but women in general. I haven't seen invitations for women before, even in the groups I tried to form. But then again, there is the time and commitment thing. But still...

So I approached some women to join a group and two things made them agree. 1. It's a very small group (the two of them and my mom). 2. Because I'm the one running it. The second isn't because I know the game well, or that they've seen me 'lead' and 'organise' anything (I'm usually the one looking for excuses not to go anywhere). It's simply because they know it's a safe zone. No pressure, no judgement, no problem.

But I also didn't know whether it would die off either. And I'm really hungry for playing. Thus, on a whim, I sent out a message on Facebook. I explained that I want to assemble an all-female group of newbie players to play dungeons and dragons. In my world, dnd is still pretty much the devil. So that in itself was a risk. In the post I wrote briefly about what rpg is and what dnd is (four sentences tops) and left it at that.

When it comes to Facebook, I don't really share my life. I post a whole bunch of links to geeky articles, news articles (local drama), deviantart, and other random stuff. I figured that my invitation would be a call that could disappear pretty quickly if it went unanswered.

Only it didn't.

Within minutes I got the first reply, then a second, then a third. A couple of days later one of the three pulled in two other women. Then there are two others that are rumoured to be curious but cautious. How do I know about those two? Through the impromptu grapevine I had suddenly unleashed.

Consider me absolutely gobsmacked. How? Why? How? Wait, what?!

Interestingly enough, the women who stepped in are a spread from different backgrounds, ages ranging from late twenties to late fifties. I mostly used Lord of the Rings references in our first session to explain things and wasn't always sure whether they knew who Gimli was... And yet they were there, not knowing what they were letting themselves in for. They blindly but excitedly stepped into geek/nerd central without hesitation.

Riddle me that.

So why did it take one female calling out for a female group for these women to appear? I bet were there a mixed gender group, or a guy making the call, these ladies might not have stepped up. I know that I wouldn't have stepped up either. Or only if I was feeling super, duper brave and I would have hated myself later. The only way I got into this world was when the dude who ended up being my dm took the first step and introduced himself... and didn't act like an ass.

That this hesitancy is the case for all of us is both sad and mind boggling. It makes me wonder whether they too aren't looking at the pro-"bro culture" society hands out like sweets and expect that they'll find that everywhere. Maybe they too, like me, would rather wait for the testosterone train to charge by before trying to find whatever is left.

Whatever the case, word is spreading and I'm both very baffled and curious to see what's going to happen. Maybe it'll die out, or maybe my city isn't as empty as I thought...

Sunday, June 12, 2016

I've fallen in with the wrong crowd...

... And by that I don't mean this:

Though, boy, have I been tempted.

I mean this:

Tabletop role-playing's influence on PC/TV/Mobile RPG gaming simply cannot be denied. It is the bedrock most games have been built on.

But for decades, and in specific crowds, games such as Dungeons and Dragons has had a very bad reputation. I'm not going to go into it here. I think when you look everything that caused such panic, it's often because of idiots or serious concern that became something destructive. With that being said, I'm glad that D&D moved away from the noted occult imagery and shaped the stories and the world into the more fantastical. Some of the D&D controversies are noted here. It does bear mentioning that imagination can be an incredibly powerful thing. Having a place where you can do whatever you want without consequence can brew something sinister - especially when one is still trying to get into one's hormonal, numb skull brain the concept of ethics. Having a group of numb skulls that share in that imagination gives it far more energy. But that can be said of any social group where numb skulls are involved.  And considering the state of our world population...

But back to tabletop rpg. Most people I interact with don't know what it is, so let me give a somewhat brief (but not) explanation: Role-playing games allow you, the player, to step into the role of someone else in a setting of the game's choosing. Most often it is a medieval fantasy realm, but it can really be anything from western, to aliens, to naval ships, to whatever the mind can conceive. To go on this journey, the player usually needs a pen, paper, and dice. And people who are willing to play the game with them. In my life, the latter was the prime reason for not being able to do any tabletop gaming, so don't think that it can't be a challenge. There are ways to get around that though, but I'm going to skip that particular ramble here.

To help add some structure to the story you play, a dice system is used - be it the 20-sided D&D system or something that requires only 6-sided dice (the normal kind of dice you think of) such as used in the Fantasy AGE system. This 'restricts' things a bit in requiring that a person check whether their character would be able to perform whatever feat imagined. These systems also help shape character abilities, how they grow as they gain experience, and so on. One also requires a Game Master (GM or DM - Dungeon Master) who leads the group in their story.

What really appeals to me about tabletop RPG gaming is simply that I am able to take part in a story without having to go look for one, plan for one, or write one down. The structure is there, the story threads are there. All that I need is to step into it. And in doing that, I can also try playing roles that are different to my own personality or how I've been shaped by society. As someone who isn't charismatic, I can suddenly play a bard - I can take my instrument and play a tune to woo the crowd (depending on how high my die roll is at the end). I can convince people to do things not because I'm naturally eloquent as a person, but because my character is and what ultimately determines my success is the roll of a die. So I don't really have to be able to haul all of that flattery and nonsense out of my rear end - though trying is always welcomed and adds more fun to the game.

Critical Role - RPG group
And don't think that a game such as this is merely a brain dead thing. There are powerful moments to be had in a game. You can have loss, you can have gain, tears can be shed - whether in laughter or distress. What makes it wonderful is that you're able to be someone else, or be a better part of yourself. How you ultimately play is how you decide and with that liberty comes a great deal of fun.

For those of you who are curious about role-playing or just would like to 'sit in' on a session, or for those who currently don't have access to a bunch of people to play games with, or someone who's just bored, I would recommend two Youtube shows hosted by Geek & Sundry.

    The characters Critical Role's players embody
  •  Critical Role where a group of friends - all voice actors - sit together every Thursday to play D&D. What's really nice about this one is that these friends were running this game for around three years before G&S approached them about recording it. And you can see those years of connection there. Delightful.

  • Titansgrave where Wil Wheaton runs a Fantasy AGE game with four actors/celebrities. This show has shorter episodes and has a very different tone to it, but enjoyable and an intriguing story. The first season was shot in only three days. Fans are eagerly awaiting the second season.
Note though that both recommended shows are actually done by people who have no issue with acting and such. I would love to share some other shows with you, but I've yet to discover other sessions on youtube that really struck my fancy. But there are many more sessions out there recorded by people great and small who merely want to share the games they're playing.

Tabletop role-playing has pretty much turned into my fandom, though I'm still actively playing games on my PC. I'll babble about some others in future, but I do need to confess that this particular concept of group collaboration is very appealing.

Which is maybe why I've begun dabbling with this:

Yes... Multiplayer...

My usual stance on multiplayer is:

1. Far too many assholes trolling about.
2. My internet connection is generally shite.
3. Not a lot of friends playing games I'm interested in playing.

How have these feelings been countered?

1. Friends-only games
2. Moving to a place with better reception.
3. Don't Starve Together and Left 4 Dead 2.
4. AlyssC01

Figured I'd own up on taking part in things I usually am vehement in bashing. Can't have me be a hypocrite, now can we?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Game ramble - XCom 2

Happy new year!!

Wait? What do you mean it's March already? What in the world....?!

The first quarter of the year - most especially March - is always a thing of nightmares. That and November. The only difference between the two months is that in March we try to keep our claws sheathed. Try...

But I digress.

Because of the insanity, one must have some way to relax. To get rid of the stress.

Shooting aliens and zombies (L4D2 ftw!) really helps.

So in this post I'll ramble about one of these relaxing methods by talking about:

Following XCom: Enemy unknown, XCom 2 starts off with a rather unexpected turn of events. The XCom project failed. Now, 20 years after that defeat, humanity has found itself co-existing with the seemingly benign alien rulers who have supposedly gone out of their way to improve humanity's way of life. The rebellion lives on, however, and XCom is still providing some resistance, now as the guerrilla underdogs sticking it to the man... er... alien.

XCom 2 is in some ways controversial with the immediate struggles gamers face in attempting to get it to run. This has sparked a substantial amount of gamer rage - with good reason, I believe. And hopefully Firaxis will see to those problems bloody soon, or else...

You will also find that people are conflicted about their views of the game itself. Yahtzee delivers some very solid reasons as to why some are unhappy about it - in his usual crude way... though not as a crude as usual.

So why do I like it so much?

I suppose it comes down to expectation.

I love XCom. I still actively play it - to the point where I know all the maps, which is a little annoying. All I really wanted was more of it.

And, in some sense, that is exactly what XCom 2 is. It doesn't really have enough variety to make you feel like you're transported into a different game altogether. It feels more like a very complex add-on pack. Which is pretty much what I wanted and so I'm playing the hell out of it and not getting anywhere because I die far too much before gaining much in the line of victories.

XCom 2 offers some variation in your monsters - mostly appearing as an evolution of what you had faced in the previous game. The classes are mostly the same though the advancement options are slightly different. The maps have enough variety that it takes you quite a number of hours before you recognize where your people have been dropped and how they've changed the angle - a nice way not to make the maps feel terribly repetitive.

The game is basically a build on to its predecessor. Which to me is fine if not necessarily the ideal of a brand new game one had to wait four years to see released.

Usually, one shouldn't be happy with 'more of the same' when it comes to sequels, but I am... maybe that just shows how delighted I was by the first one. I still get a massive amount of satisfaction when my ranger shoots the shit out of an alien at point blank range. But then I also curse and face palm when he doesn't hit the bugger at POINT BLANK RANGE!!

So whenever I play the game there are a lot of cheering, mad cackling (I kid you not) and swearing that goes on. All of which can be good fun.

But there are quite a few problems and some of them are rather surprising.

Firaxis dedicated itself to PC gaming with this particular project. And yet, for that statement, the game has come out with a lot of hiccups. One of which is performance lag. When gamers have to start fiddling with files and add/modify things to get the game to work better, there is definitely something wrong somewhere. In my case, while the game still pauses every now and again, I have very little lag problems if I turn my internet off altogether. By that I don't mean to switch Steam to offline mode. No, I mean disconnect my internet connection. I also need to wait until two particular notifications come up informing me about this lack of connection before I know I can load up my save file (or start a new game) and start playing the game relatively bug free. If I don't do that, buttons start disappearing, cut sequences freeze and I have to go to the ol' faithful Task Manager to turn the game off before starting again.

Maybe the fact that I discovered the 'work around' so quickly has made my acceptance of it a lot easier. In the case of other gamers, they don't have that simple ways of 'fixing' the problem.

And honestly, these are problems that are not supposed to be there when you've worked on a game and dedicated it to one platform. Actually, I think we've gotten far too understanding regarding the products we buy. These are things that shouldn't happen and yet we do and go 'oh well'.

So yes. Gamers are raging and with very good reason.

I'm not really going to ramble much more about it. I think Yahtzee nails all the annoying bits and I clearly haven't developed enough writing stamina to truly ramble. I'd say, all in all, the game is engaging me at present. It is a challenge, though one I fail a lot which can get very frustrating. The existence of the problems haven't gotten to me all that much yet, but I hope Firaxis pulls finger pretty darn soon. The longer they wait, the more annoyed people are going to get. That's something they should know by now.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Game Babble: Fallout 4

Well surprise, surprise. Life didn't turn out quite as I had expected. Granted the same happened to my nanowrimo. I did, however, managed to write 15 000 words full of complete and utter shite on the last day. It is the most words I've ever written in a day (I think) and I spent two days recovering.


Now November is a terrible month for me. It's the month of working overtime, swearing at people, being sworn at by people, insane deadlines, insaner expectations and the shedding of a tear or two. It is the worst time to try and be creative.

And besides, Fallout 4 came out.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen. The long, long, long, long awaited sequel finally rolled it's irradiated butt through the doors and it is beautiful. How beautiful you ask? Well, that I can't tell you because my super dooper game pc (well moderately super) isn't powerful enough to fully show how awesomely pretty the game is. Needless to say, it is still beautiful. Tons. a bit too demanding perhaps for the pc, but we'll overlook that on account of everything else.

Let the babbling begin:

Let me spoil you horrendously by saying 1. You lived in the time prior to the war. 2. You get bullied into a vault where you're turned into an ice cube for 200 years. 3. Someone steals something precious to you and does things that will make more than one person flip their lid. 4. You get thawed out and find the world got somewhat crispier since you last saw it.

There, now you don't have to play it. You know everything.

Well, everything that starts off the game. So maybe you should play it.

The challenge with open-world games has always been striking the balance between freedom of choice and driving the character's motivations. Either you get that the player isn't invested and mostly detached from everything their character would probably feel something for, or the story is on rails. Fallout 4 also struggles. I found myself enjoying the open road and lack of responsibility (well, somewhat lack, I'll get to that later). Then I'd finally reach an area and discussion that triggers the next main story thread, and my character's voice trembles and is very upset. And then I am moved and have this moment of 'Oh, I suppose I should care'. One mission later and I'm back to exploring the open world, all the lovely places with silent stories, all the lovely places where people shoot at me for no good reason, and I forget about that caring bit. I'm having too much fun doing other stuff.

It can be a little jarring.

But then, I have yet to play a game that gets this balance right.

Since I've mentioned it, let me say that I really enjoy the voice acting in this game. There hasn't been a situation like I got in Oblivion and Skyrim where characters began sounding the same. I'm sure that at some point I feel like they've melded together but at present they don't.

For interest, the female main character (aka Sole Survivor) is voiced by Courtenay Taylor - Jack from Mass Effect, Juhani from SW KotOR. And then I had my OOHHHH!!! moment while checking the wiki for voice actors. Claudia Christian - Susan Ivanova from Babylon 5!! - is also adding her voice to the game.

Ah hem. So yes, there's that.

Everything is essentially been updated and upgraded. There will be tons of other reviews spending time on how exactly. What I enjoy about the game is walking into a 'house' seeing all that was left behind and puzzling out the story. Pointless, but so much detail was put into this game that it is delightful. The VATS system no longer stops everything but only slows things down considerably, giving you that feeling that combat is still flowing and you better move your butt and decide where you want to shoot the dude. Weapons handling feels good. Upgrading weapons and armour is a mix of essential and redundant. You tinker to make things better but don't expect that you won't stumble over some other delightful thing later.

The leveling up system has changed. Less stats, more perks. Here you select what your character will be good at without having to look too much at the numbers. Allow them to be better at rifles, for example. Make them better crafters. Have them scrounge through things with better success. Some might find the simplicity annoying, but it does make you feel that you're creating a unique character in a sense. While you could choose perks all across the board, it makes you the typical Jack of all Trades and master of none.

Right let's get back to that matter of responsibility. Early on in the game, you find Dogmeat (side
note, your companions can no longer die, so you don't have to avoid taking along some like your favourite German Sheppard. He's not going to kick it. Which is good because they tend to keep tumbling off of high places and making clumsy asses of themselves.

But I digress, So after you meet Dogmeat, you (can) wonder down into a town where you (may) meet people, save said people (if you want to), and escort them back to the location you start at namely Sanctuary Hills. Here they start a settlement, or more accurately, YOU start their settlement. This is where the crafters and builders are free to go insane and build beds and shelters and defenses and stuff. There is good and bad too it. One the one hand, the number of settlements you build gives you the resources and help you might find really necessary while travelling the ruins of Boston. You simply shoot a flare gun into the air and they come running (apparently, I haven't actually tried this yet). Or, you later can build artillery, chuck smoke grenades and run away like hell while the bombs come raining down.

Could be useful...

But, they're like the sims. You need to make them happy by doing annoying things like planting crops, building beds, building defenses. While some are shown to be hitting things with hammers from time to time, no one seems to know how to actually use one and build things themselves. Some might like it, total control and all of that. I find it frustrating. You have the opportunity to make yourself a good home in the wastelands, people. Take some initiative!

There are things I can nitpick about. There are four things I will mention since I think they're the most ... well not annoying, but they bug me somewhat.

1. XP for building and crafting:
Maybe it's to nudge you on to building settlements, but you get XP for every single thing you build.
While it sounds great in the beginning, I ended up feeling that I didn't actually do much to get all those higher levels the game was congratulating me on. You get XP for every plant you plant even. I felt they were far too generous in that regard and it actually pushes me away from building settlements.

I want to feel like my character is growing as she sees the world, faces down obstacles, runs away from Deathclaws, screaming and finding shelter in the nick of time (or running through a raider camp and having the two groups kill each other off). I don't want to get that Level up notice from sticking a carrot into the ground.

2. Programming bugs:
Bethesda, we'll love this game as much as we did Fallout 3, as bug-ridden as it was, but that doesn't mean we want to see the same kinds of bugs in this game. You should have moved on by now. But there you have it. Similar bugs pop up in FO4 as in FO3. Dead bodies still jerk around as if their nervous systems haven't figured out that they're dead yet. The pipboy screen sometimes comes up blank of invisible (reloading helps). Objects and people still have moments where they mimic X-Men's Shadow Cat and you see pieces disappear through walls and such.

My favourite example of this is an old lady in Diamond City. She sits politely in a dress with her hands in on her lap. Only, her fingers go through the dress... thus seeming even more determined to defend her modesty...

Seems an annoying nitpick, but here's an example that might explain the problem. I meet mister metal head. He is part of an organisation of very arrogant metal heads who tell you things like "Move along, outsider," and "If you're not part of us, you're nothing." So, not a nice bunch of people. But despite this, I decided to be a good neighbour because, shame, the one is injured and they need a radio signal sorted to proceed with evacuation. Main metal head and I get to the station, hook up the beacon, Bob's your auntie, and the mission is completed. And then the metal head invites me to join the metal head organisation.

'Scuse me? You were an arrogant bastard just three seconds ago, you don't know me from Adam's
cousin, and you want me to join the asshole brigade because I knew how to flip a switch?

Apparently, yes. It's that simple.

In the game, you get offered the position of general, become part of the metal heads for helping them with a radio beacon, become part of a Grease-esque power armour gang for sticking a part into a nearby machine, and goodness knows what else. You immediately get trusted after completing small tasks even when you have no reason whatsoever of trusting them. It felt like a cheap reward and what could have been meaningful introductions and initiations into these organisations (ala Oblivion).

4. Music selection:
The selection of songs are very, very, very limited. Maybe a silly nitpick, but you can only listen to Butcher Pete so many times. I'd have loved if they at least included some of the songs from FO3 and FO: New Vegas. I check in on the radio every now and again, but mostly I tend to just keep it off. Which is a pity. It's such a nifty feature.

If you loved Fallout 3, you're enjoy its successor. There are some things you might not like, but if you want to be the lone wanderer, nothing is stopping you. I would say someone who isn't used to the open-world idea might find yourself losing whatever "main story threads" are floating around. In the end, I take each day as they come. One day I help build beds, the other day I gather parts to build beds. Some days I do missions, other days I wander from random door to random door and see what lies beyond.

In the end the choice is yours and if I have to rate it, I'd probably give it as close as a ten out of ten as I can get while muttering over all of the above.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Nanowrimo 2015

Let's start with me, because I am awesome and this blog is all about me, really. Well, no, but I am the poor sod writing this so it is thus a good place to start, no?

I can't say, in all honesty, that the past two years have been the most unpleasant in my life, but the experiences therein have included some tough times - the lightest of which was the double burglary of my residence within five days... The f- ahem, annoying gentlemen broke in once as a scouting mission and then ransacked the place the second time.

I will add that there were some saving graces in the experience.

1. They waited for me to go to work. These two incidents both occurred during daytime - the last during soft rain - so they really didn't want to face whoever lived in the house. I was safe.
2.They did not in any way, shape or form harm my animals. The horror stories one hears, and the fact that my animals are like my children, makes this a wonderful thing.
3. I managed to recover financially quite quickly based on the particular timing (got a bonus, got my tax money back, yay me). So yes I lost a LOT, but I did manage to fill up what I had lost initially by what I would not have usually received. One can argue that there was a LOT more that now could have been done with said funds - to which I would agree, considering some of the things coming up this year.
4. I learnt that bravery is most certainly not the absence of fear. There is something truly frightening about walking through the house with a grass hockey stick on your shoulder, searching the house for the cause of a noise you heard... And both amusing and satisfying to know that you not only imagined it, but conducted yourself in a controlled manner rather than running away screaming like a girl. Not that I wasn't terrified out of my mind, but it was a rather unique experience (Hopefully unique. I don't want to deal with that again, as light as it was).
5. The item I own that is of the most monetary value is my bed. They didn't steal that. So I can sleep comfortably still. Yay!

So yes. Miserable two years, but it's okay. I have made it thus far. And I'm here. And I'm writing. Sorta. Not fast enough in the opinion of some. But I am here. And hyper because I'm still awake after midnight. And this has been quite a tangent...


This year will be my tenth year participating. Thus far, I have succeeded at my goal five times. On top of the minimum goal I should achieve, I'm hoping to put out a blog post once every two weeks as well. No guarantees, but that's what I'm hoping for. They will not be about nanowrimo (though I might slide a little of that in here) and I won't be counting it as part of the word goal (though I am sure I will be tempted to), but it is something I need to focus on. The blog. Not nano. Oh, also, I don't know what happened to the missing pictures on some of the previous posts. I will try to fix it later. Maybe.

What is NaNoWriMo?
National Novel Writing Month is an (international) initiative to get people to start off writing whatever they please in the shape of a story for the month of November. It's all quantity of words over quality of output.

How does it work?

The original idea was that, on the first of November, you start writing on a brand new story. You write as much as possible with the goal of hitting at least a minimum of 50 000 words by the end of the month. It sounds a massive amount of words, but it isn't actually as much as you would initially think. There are some variations and 'rebellions' to the standard expected task. For example, some people would rather continue a story they're already working on, using November to churn out more material. Some student have used Nanowrimo to charge through writing their dissertations and theses. (Probably feces at the end of it that can be cleaned up into something much better).

Here are some points of clarity:

This is a race, but not a true competition. Your goal is to get 50 000 words and you are certainly going to type as fast as you can. You can interact with people in your own area or around the world and instill a competitive edge to the exercise by 'racing' each other to get the highest word count within a particular time. But, in the end, you are a winner by reaching 50 000. And you get a pat on the head for achieving it.

No one will see what you write. It isn't a matter of other people reading what you write or that you are required to share. I think most people will be too busy writing, that they would not really be all that interested in reading your work when they are writing their own. This is a race for words. Plain and simple. From the 25th you will be asked to paste your writing into a word count text box to 'validate' your 50k. This program counts but doesn't copy the text. However, should you be paranoid about it - or if you are writing by hand and can't actually copy those words over (and yes some people do write by hand... and typewriters... because well, why not? -  you can use a text generator site such as Blind Text Generator to generate the necessary amount of words. But wait, doesn't this mean you will be able to cheat? Well...

...Yes, you will have the ability to cheat. There are no safeguards against cheating. You are given a textbox from the beginning of the months in which to type in your word count and you can increase that number as much as you want, should you choose to do so. But really, what is the point? If you want to be an idiot about it, no one will stop you. There are enough 'veterans' participating who would be able to sniff it out, but they can do nothing but express displeasure at you. Most of them will simply ignore you as the insignificant fly you are. This is your race against yourself primarily. If you want to con yourself then... well, that's your own psychological issue.

You do not have to talk to people. If you want to play the lone ranger, you absolutely can. As said before, this is your race.

You do not have to undergo this exercise on your own. NaNoWriMo presents you with an opportunity to meet people. You can do so with the anonymity of a screen name, or your actual name (that's up to you). The people who communicate on the forums come from all walks of life. And marriages HAVE occurred because of meeting people here - I've witnessed two. You also do not have to worry about getting married, I am sure us single wolves have sufficient internet pepper spray to veer it off. Hey, I've managed for ten years. So why not?

It's meant to be fun. This is your opportunity to murder whatever language you so choose by writing a random story that can make no sense. If you want to write about a duck who crossed the road, then grew fur and shifted into a wolf who died, and became an undead human zombie who has an issue with rotting teeth and a hunger for vegans, you go right ahead and write it.  No grammar required. No nothing. BS to your heart's content. You do have some serious writing folk, but you can enjoy the buffoonery on behalf of them. If you are the serious writing type, just make sure you're having a blast.

There might be no prize, but damn do you feel like a million bucks. You have achieved something at the end. You have written a story the length of some classic novels such as Animal Farm. You have spent a month allowing yourself to do something creative and in the end you've come up with a product - regardless of what utter shite it is. And let me tell you, it is often such shite that it's not worth printing it on paper and using it for toilet paper. But it's real and you made it happen.

Okay, there might be one or two prizes... sorta. What winning does allow you is to get discount on certain writing software. Which can be rather cool. But the ultimate prize is a pdf that you can scribble your own name on, frame it and hang it on your wall... or stick it to your CV... Nah, I wouldn't recommend the latter...

In the ten, non-consecutive, years that I've been taking part in nanowrimo, I have met some amazing people, and less than amazing people. I've had awesome discussions about interests that I have. Interests that I struggle to find like-minded people for in the city that I live. That sounds very dodgy... I mean like being a geek and playing games and such. Really, all innocent past times. And no, I doth not protest too much. I have also had years in which I didn't participate in the forums at all. Granted, I ended up losing motivation and without a group cheering me on, I didn't finish nano. But maybe you are better at it than I am. It's been a lovely mechanism to connect to people and broaden my horizons - and I'm not a social creature at heart, so that says something.

My enjoyment of nanowrimo exceeds any other major occasion, event or holiday. Given the time of year, it is actually insanity with work (in my country the end of the year, really is the end of the year and all the paperwork and reports that go along with it), but when committed, I find a great deal of enjoyment from this exercise.

Despite my natural ability to talk twak, I don't consider myself a "writer". Or maybe I should say I don't see myself becoming an "author". I don't care about publishing, I don't care about publicity or whatnot. I like messing around with fanfiction and that's always a large journey for me (because writing is actually hard when you're just mucking about), but that's still okay. I am not ambitious. I just like being able to play in my own mental playground and realise that I'm not the only lunatic in the asylum.

I invite you to join. The doors are wide open and the straitjackets can be found by going in by the first door on your right.

+/-1800 words. More than one needs for a daily avereage... Just saying.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Legend of Korra

So first things first: I have no idea how to describe the world of the Avatar. But let's try: The four elements mean far more than a normal person might think. For some, it forms the core of their being and enables them to manipulate a particular element they're attuned to. As such the world is divided into governments focused on an element. However there is one person in every generation, someone linked to the spirit world and empowered to make use of all four elements - earth, fire, air, water. This person, the Avatar, is tasked with bringing balance to the world, the elements and the realm of the spirit beyond that which normal mortals can see. It is not for them to rule or dictate, but to guide and preserve. And so as an authority of their own, they travel the world to do what they can, however they can.

There have been two different series based in this universe. The first was Avatar: The Last Airbender of which a movie was made. The second was The Legend of Korra set a generation after the first and revolving around a different avatar.

 As I'm looking at the end of the second series, there will be a few small spoilers. Be forewarned.

Now that the second series is over and I've finished it, I guess it's an appropriate time to write about it.

When the Legend of Korra first came out, I have to admit that I was unsure. As much as I enjoyed Avatar: The Last Airbender, I had to go through a massive slog over insanely kiddie episodes to get to the end... and I'm still something of a Zukatara shipper. Aang and Katara were far too siblingesque for me to ever root of them. Anyhoo, kiddie-ish.

So it was with that uncertainty that I viewed Korra's story, I only got into it and watched the entire series after it finished and the Korasami bomb got dropped. It made me want to give the show another shot. Which I did and I managed to finish the series in a month. And... I'm really impressed. With the exception of one or two episodes, every one of them seemed to have a specific goal, a specific point it wanted to make in the series as a whole. The characters grew perhaps without the viewer realising it until the very end. If anything, the Legend of Korra was what the Last Airbender was not: a story I could watch without ever feeling that I was watching a kid's show. And I really and truly appreciated that.

Korra's story brings in some characters of the first show. You get to see the old team and some of the reoccurring characters that are thought of fondly. What I liked about this is that you also see that they too were only people. Though their deeds were legendary, they were and are by no means perfect. They have made mistakes which filtered through - as no generation does not effect the next in some way.

The creators also managed to bring in some of the show's own memorable characters and artfully stuck them into scenes where they're not necessarily needed but added something to the show, They were almost always in the background but easily noticed. They almost never say anything, but they're people going on with their lives. I loved these little flashes that show you that Republic City is a living entity that has a wholeness to it. It's not only the main cast that grows and changes, but the people in the city as well.

But in the end, the story is about Korra. They managed to create a character whom I wanted to throttle and whom I admired. Korra starts off with the naivety of someone who, due to seclusion, had to paint a world in her imagination rather than grow up experiencing it for herself. You get to watch her become shaped (and on occasion jaded) by the reality of what the world is truly like and through that see her become more than herself.
 Do The Thing, Zhu Li! by Hecarti
Do The Thing, Zhu Li! by Hecarti
There's a quote that I heard in my youth that embodies Korra quite well: When you forget yourself, you do something everyone remembers. For good and bad, that's Korra.

In the four seasons, I got to go on a journey with her and I was moved by both her successes and failures. And the story does end in a place where you feel a wholeness. Not only in Korra as a character but also in the series. It didn't leave me hanging.

To quote Varrick, they 'do the thing'.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Why I'll go back to Dragon Age Inquisition at least one more time.

Dragon Age Inquisition and I had some rough moments.

There were the times where it would stick somewhere in a conversation and I'd swivel the stick and press on any imaginary dialogue line hoping that 1. the game would continue and 2. I didn't tell a potentially powerful ally to stick something particularly painful up his arse.

Or the time where I went through all the pain and effort of having my character try and woo someone just to have that person turn around and tell me "Sorry, you're not my type." Didn't help that I didn't think any other character was really worth woo-ing and that, by that time, no one wanted my poor, lonely Inquisitor.

There was also the tedious waiting times, including the real-time periods before missions you sent other people on got completed.

With that being said, I'm definitely going to replay the game.

For those who have followed the Dragon Age thread at least casually, there are many delightful twists. I was quite pleased to see some threads of Origins weave itself in even though I was playing in the default world. I think for those who can create different worlds (which is something one can do here apparently), the game's replayability value shoots up exponentially. From what I've seen on youtube, a number of characters can make a comeback in one way or another. It was especially interesting to see how things with Morrigan changes. Youtube ftw.

But even if you can't change things beyond your default start off, there are still many possibilities and many different options in terms of the story line that may make you curious enough to play again if only to see how things change.

So wait, am I now for or against the game? In my recent post on the game, I wasn't altogether positive about it. Looking at the game now... I'd give it a 7.5/10, maybe even an 8. Pretty high, right?

I think they sort of got more of the ingredients working towards the end. I dare say I felt some of the Bioware magic begin to flow into the narrative. I again loved the interaction between the companions.

There was a bit more going on and I found myself intrigued if not altogether ready to gush. Is that because of my bias? I dunno. There were still things that frustrated me. Things where I felt that it was more a slog than anything else, but I also recognize that it is a really good game. It's better than DA2 and I'll love Origins more, but it is definitely a very strong improvement on so many levels.

And Fantasy Commander Shepard definitely is in there. I remember playing a particular part, looking at the scenery and thinking "This feels familiar. All I need is a gun in my hand and I'm back to fighting the Reapers." I can't fault them for that, but there's no doubt that that particular element is there.

So what will I do in the next play through? Well, I'll send my minions off to do something and just leave my game running more while I do things like cook, clean and administer some hygiene. It'll do wonders for my patience and I'm sure I'll get a bigger reward for it. I'll also make a lot of different choices in terms of the game. It has a big sense of consequence in it - much like Mass Effect 2 had. I wondered at one point whether your level of approval in the eyes of your fellow companions would change something radically, but I haven't seen anything of the kind. At least there are some major choices that do.

And then naturally play a different character. I don't know what yet. I'm not terribly fond of rogues - though these guys have certainly buffed up the close combat even if the archery is still bleh. I might end up playing a dude. Hm... human? Elf? Ve shall zee.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A tad more than mild babble: Year of Indie Games Part 2

Based on the list of games I've assembled, I'm starting to wonder whether I shouldn't have split it into another post. However, it IS the last day of the year so let's just be about it.

There is one game I'd like to mention that I played endlessly on my phone. It's gotten me through times that I didn't want to think this year and was a delightful distraction. And that game was 2048. The idea is relatively simple. You're given a board divided into squares.You proceed to match the same numbers together by sliding one into the other - 2 to 2 making 4; 4 to 4 making 8 and so on - until you manage to match the blocks to make up 2048. I know there's an online version of it somewhere, but that kept making me motion sick for some reason. I also have a ton of respect for the creator who refuses to charge for the game seeing as he built it up from a similar game called Threes. Not a lot of people would have the scruples these days.

- - - - -

Mount & Blade gets a mention because I spent so much time on it this year, but it is a game, the first that I purchased online without receiving a disc and at that stage I was horribly worried by the thought. The game was simply too good to pass up, however. Now to see if I can describe it...

In Mount & Blade, you create a character by answering some questions on its background. These determine the initial stats you are given. Then you start off in a large country with four nations that're duking it out for domination. You're given a mount and a blade and are left to your own devices. Will you recruit an army to carve out your own little area by besieging castles in your own name? Will you work for one of the nations as a mercenary or perhaps become a lord yourself?

The answers might sometimes start off as the selection of text in a conversation, but ultimately it is determined on the battlefield. Being on a horse in their particular third-person view was a very novel experience for me and I won't deny that I pulled up my legs more than once while my mount barely scraped past a tree, or rock, or charging opponent. Simply gorgeous.

- - - - - is the devil. It is the main reason why I suddenly have a ton of games that need playing. Another culprit is Humble Bundle, but GoG started it and Humble merely finished my demise (and that of my credit card). And in one of the evil sales GoG brought forth, I purchased Don't Starve on a complete and utter whim.

It wasn't a game I was truly convinced that I would play, but it had enough elements to have me
rather intrigued. There was the twisted Adams Family/Tim Burton-esque look and feel to the game. The fact that it got rave reviews and was a "cheap indie" also drew at me. That sounds terribly, doesn't it? But what I mean is that, at that point, my curiousity for indie games and whether I would risk my money on it was very much dependent on the price of the investment. It was very much worth it.

Still, it wasn't until my usually non-badgering friend began chucking whatsapp lines at me such as "So you'll be playing Don't Starve this afternoon, right?", "Have you played Don't Starve, yet?" that I decided to download it from my account and give it a try. That was a mistake.

In Don't Starve, you play a character (which you select beforehand and each has their own particular

perks) who wakes up in a massive island with a dude looming over you and telling you that you better get something to eat, it'll be dark soon. And that's all that's said. The rest you figure out on your own. As you explore the different biomes, you find ingredients that enable you to craft items that become crucial to your survival. It sounds terribly like Minecraft, doesn't it? Only it isn't. You actually have a goal - which is to get out of where you're stuck in - and you don't need to read a ton of stuff outside (or inside) the game to figure out what to do. It's delightfully quirky and time consuming and just wonderful... Okay now I want to go play it....

- - - - -

Picture this: You're sitting in your garage. It's kind of cool, but not quite nippy with nothing but the sound of your old PC's fan whirring away and perhaps the dusty smell of concrete touches your nose every now and then. There aren't any games on that PC of yours. At least not yet. Because you haven't made them yet.

And that's where Game Dev Tycoon begins. You're pulled back about 35 years when games were only really beginning to kick off and you're ready to break into the gaming scene with your own snazzy company. It's up to you to decide which consoles you're going to focus on and what games you're going to make.

The game is quite simple in a way, but nostalgia and amusement plays a role throughout. It follows the history of games and so, while no brand is used exactly, it is something of a walk down memory lane for those who might have followed the development of games in general. I'm honestly not giving it half the justice it deserves. It was quite a lot of fun.

- - - - -

From creating games, how about running your own prison? Prison Architect is an early-access indie that allows you to do just that. Get those inmates a place to stay, feed them, give them stuff to do, allow family to visit, and try to keep the riots down to a minimum. This game has taken up a great deal of my gaming time this year and threatens to do the same next year too.

- - - - -
And then finally, the newest, greatest evil ever since Don't Starve was started up for the first time...

The Long Dark.

You are a survivor of a plane crash, dropped off in north Canada somewhere to try and survive with whatever you can find and manage to hunt. This game is also early access and puts you in a sandbox map (for the time being. Story mode to follow) after a natural disaster that wipes out everyone else within the vicinity. Beyond that you don't know. It's a first person survival game that pits you against the elements. You have to make sure you get clothes that are warm enough to deal with the cold, get enough food into your system, keep hydrated and explore the small fishing settlement you've been chucked into. 

So far I've lasted 8 days max. And I absolutely love it.

Well, that's that for the year. Less than 12 hours to go for me. Let's see what the next year holds. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Babble: Skyrim by Bioware

I avoided the Dragon Age: Inquisition hype as best I could and I did so for multiple reasons. One of them being that Bioware has to hype this game and make it all nice and pretty and tell everyone how pretty it is. I believe they've mucked up enough in the past to have a lot riding on DA:I. And frankly, I wasn't interested in following that.

Another reason was that Dragon Age 2, while having a few profoundly bright lights, was actually quite terrible. Now there HAVE been games that picked up their standards at the third iteration of it - Far Cry 3 (although I was quite partial to the second one even though a few people weren't), Bioshock Infinite, and so on - but that doesn't necessarily make me inclined to spend money on them until I've been sufficiently convinced that things are looking up. Assassin's Creed 3 (which I avoided) was apparently an utter train smash and I hadn't liked the second one. Only massive the hype after the release of Blackflag brought me back to the franchise. And I wasn't disappointed at all.

Anyway, I'm digressing. Point is, I avoided DA:I because 'meh'. But Yahtzee's review of the game pulled my attention to it (warning, he's crude as all hell, so if you are going to watch his review, beware). It was mostly getting favourable reviews, but the thing that got me about what Yahtzee said was that he liked it more than the first Origins. Now, I can't say I am in sync with his tastes, but his feel of games isn't altogether off and so it made me turn my head a little. And so, against my stingy judgement, I purchased the newly released game and gave it a try.

And... it's okay... ish.

Let me say first that my review is mostly spoiler free, but I'm going to say that there are portals in the sky only you can plug because you have a glowy green thing stuck to your hand. That's the main thrust of the game.

I think my main problem of the game is that it doesn't feel like a Bioware game. I know Yahtzee called the protagonist 'Fantasy Commander Shepard' and I can see what he means, but if anything, it reminds me more of an the Elder Scrolls game (from now on referred to as TES) than anything else - and in particular of Skyrim.

You start off as a prisoner - like in TES.

You run around picking up ingredients every three steps - like in TES.

You fight randomly generated animals and foes - like in TES.

There are massive blue-ish giants - like in Skyrim. I haven't gotten close enough to them to see whether they could club me like a golf ball as is the case in Skyrim - which is a personal favourite feature of them, I have to admit.

There are random portals you need to close - like in TES: Oblivion.

There are massive dragons - like in... well, it is Dragon Age, so maybe I shouldn't harp on this one being like Skyrim.

And I am not really going to comment much on the story because... I've yet to discover exactly what it is even after having spent quite a few days on it. Kind of like Skyrim. I do have one nitpick. You don't take a prisoner and say 'Okay, you have the glowy thing on your hand so we'll let you make the decisions' within an hour of meeting him/her. That's a bit of a stretch, but anyhoo. I guess it would take too much time to have that progression of earning trust and naturally flowing into the leadership role.

Now none of these things are bad (with the exception of my previously mentioned nitpick). Just because I'm reminded of a completely different game, doesn't mean I'm against it or that Dragon Age hasn't done these things well. In fact, the game looks really good. The dragons are amazing and even more impressive in my opinion than in Skyrim. You don't go "Aha! A dragon! Let's go slay it!". You're reaction is more "Oh shhhhtttt!! Run!! Owww, oww, fireball, fireball, oww!"

The combat is good. They've brought back some of the elements they had chucked out in DA 2. I think the classes are reasonable. I love that they have given the player the option of playing a qunari - with or without horns. In terms of party AI, I think they've done a pretty good job. They've simplified tactics a bit. I would have liked to have more options pre-set, but you do have some options that enable you to strategise on the fly.

Dialogue is well done. They don't give you the introductory back story, which I sulked about, but they still have the interaction between party members that was one of the bright spots in DA 2. They've taken the 'if it's not broken then don't fix it' approach with the dialogue bar and kept the middle picture icons that give you an idea of the tone a particular dialogue option will be in. They have a ton of different party members to interact with - each with their own flavour and values. Your choices can affect their opinion of you, just like the previous DA games. Hawke has a cameo... he looks terrible. Spoiler perhaps, but yeah, unimpressive.

The scenery is delightful. The game LOOKS good and you can see they've spent a lot of time and attention on detail.

They've brought back customisation of weapons and armour and they've done it rather well. I can't say one really feels any need to use it seeing as you pick up a lot of excellent gear along the way. Unfortunately a lot of the great gear ends up being several levels above what you're allowed to use which can be a bit of a bummer. Maybe there's chest somewhere you can stick it into for future use, but I've yet to find something like that.

They now also have camps you can set up on your map. Going to these camps enables you to rest and heal up and replenish your healing potions for free (which the entire group shares... both positive and negative I think).

So I guess one can say all the elements are there and many will be quite satisfied with the game. I can't say that it is better than the first DA, but that's because I loved the story of the first. Was that not the case, then yes, DA:I is remarkably well done.

For some reason, however, those great elements just hasn't linked up for me. I'm still waiting for the moment where I'm going to be sucked in. After a week, I have yet to have it. I'm now at a point where I want to play the game merely to finish it (because it's bloody expensive as a new release) and I don't think that's ever the state you want your player to be in.

The game is also buggy - which makes me angry. Don't tell me there are patches. I am playing it on console and I don't have the kind of internet to stick onto it to get said patch. And don't tell me 'these things slip in'. Not when you have a glaring problem in your introductory scene. Random bandits, animals and the occasional plant you encounter while you're running through the country side have the odd tendency to disappear every now and then right before you reach them. It's an old argument, but don't put your product out there and then spend time fixing it. That's like selling someone a brand new car and telling them you'll fix up the engine later - and then shrug when they can't bring the bloody thing back to you to get fixed.

Let's be honest, I am biased against Bioware. I'm not going to deny it. There's this big dark black hole in my mind that I've gleefully chucked them into from time to time when it looks like they're miraculously managing to crawl back out, but I really still wanted to like this game. And I still really do.

And it's not that I don't exactly. It's just that it's average. There's no glue that makes me want to come back to it (except that Morrigan is apparently in it somewhere... hmm). It's just that the game is... 'meh'. At least to me. Maybe it's because I've always been one for story and I'm just not picking up on that element which is a core ingredient for me.

Love it or hate it, I don't think it's the hit Bioware was hoping for, but for a Skyrim model, it's not all that bad.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Mild babble: Year of Indie Games - Part 1

I don't know about anyone else, but this year has been a complete and utter bear - and not the Teddy Roosevelt kind. And I really hope 2015 won't be SSDY, because I might then just consider (for a second or two) chewing my wrists or something equally stupid.

This has really been the year of indie gaming for me. I have to admit that, with the exception of Alien: Isolation, I haven't really been blown away by any of the top releases. Okay, granted, I haven't played Farcry 4 and I am curious about Assassin's Creed: Rogue. But other than those... meh. It took me a while to realise that my very enthusiastic gaming streak was completely flooded with indies. And I have to say, I find that rather delightful.

I might spend more time on some of the games I'm going to list in the future, but I figured just to give a nod and a quick description of each.

One thing I've realised about the games I like to play is that they're time killers. Black holes that I somehow manage to escape only when I have to go to bed to function properly the next day or when my stomach is almost done consuming itself.

Triple Town is a terrible example of this. What makes the game even worse is that I can't say that I like it. It gives me no satisfaction and yet it allows me to switch my mind off for a bit. It doesn't help that I can sit and listen to audio books while playing it. Nor does it help that it is a small window on my PC and that I can sit and play it in between tasks (like sending work emails, ahem). The fact that I've discovered that it's also available as a mobile game is most distressing. I'm doing my utmost to forget this fact.

The concept is painfully simple. Match a minimum of three things together so it makes a bigger thing. Then match the bigger things together. And so on, and so on, and so on... Simple. Addictive. A pain in the ass. *resists temptation to play it*    *fails*

*some time later*

I've always loved the idea of being able to see inside large structures - looking at simple schematics or architectural layouts. I can't say exactly why. Perhaps it is the idea of possibility. Whatever the reason, I was definitely the dollhouse type person - only I hated dolls and my GI Joes looked a little awkward sitting around in their surroundings.

Games like FTL thus appeal to me quite a bit. You play a ship captain of a message courier boat who needs to travel from one point of the galaxy to another to let the goodies know that the baddies are coming. Only the baddies are always right on your tail and it takes quite a lot of effort evading them while jumping around from system to system gathering resources, upgrading your armour and doing whatever random event is generated from time to time.

You have a top-down view of your ship with certain rooms that can/should be occupied by a crew member to operate optimally. Enemy attacks can cause damage to the operations of a room, create hull breaches or set a room on fire. Dealing with that, the attacking ship and the occasional unpleasant boarders can be quite a challenge. But a fun challenge. An advanced edition of the game has been released which adds more ships, races, weapons and other things to the game.

Papers, Please has an insanely simple concept and it is very difficult to explain the element of entertainment that's involved in this game when talking about it. You play an immigration officer at a border of the imaginary country of Arstotzka. It is for you to decide whether a person gains entry to the country or not. As the game progresses, the required documents become progressively more complex and you're thrown into a balance of making ends meet, showing compassion and keeping your head down so as to avoid garnering the attention of your superiors.

The game allows for twenty possible endings. I have encountered three thus far, but have given the game (and myself) a bit of a rest. I'll probably pick it back up again later. It's one of those, I don't ever see really casting aside.

Banished is a different kind of city builder that can be both relaxing and maddening at the same time. For whatever reason, your people have been banished to make a new home for themselves in a randomly generated area. Based on what settings you choose, you're given an x-number of resources and buildings and it's up to you to make something of it by first dealing with the immediate needs of your people - food, heat, clothing, and tools - and then working forward to create a thriving settlement.

The game is constantly being tweaked and has seen some delightful updates come up to deal with some of the pesky issues a player might encounter. Overall, the game is something one can play and have running in the background while other tasks are being dealt with. It's interesting to watch the minions at work.

Going Home is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of game. It doesn't have a great amount of replay value, but there's something about it that makes me want to return to it and capture some of what I felt when I played it for the first time. The game is very strongly reliant of its narrative and puts you in the shoes of Katie, the eldest daughter of a small family who has returned after a year of touring Europe. In the time you've been gone, the family has moved to a new town and into a large house. You arrive at the house to find that your parents and younger sister aren't at home and set about exploring your surroundings to see what's happened in the year you've been gone.

I found the game to be quite profound - to the point where I've had to wipe away the occasional tear as I played it. I love the idea and the story really struck deeply for some reason, but that's both the blessing and the curse of the game. It's an exploration of what has already come to past and so might be boring to some. The story is also somewhat unconventional and might end up being abhorrent to the more traditional minds. Still, I would love to see other games like it.

I managed to grab the audio of the letters read to you throughout the game and listen to it every now and again. The voice acting is superb, in my opinion and I think that's also one of the reasons I keep listening to it. My heartstrings get thoroughly plucked every time.

Seeing as it's past midnight, I'm going to stop this here for now. I promised this post to a friend of mine and will be putting down another post before New Year which will conclude with the list of indies I've been playing - or at least the indies I can think of. I played a LOT of different games this year.

For now, all the best in this season of family feuds, overindulgence, tourists, screaming children, and the delightful knowledge that, in the next couple of days/weeks, you'll be expected to take on a new year as if you couldn't be more rested out.

I'm sure we're all looking forward to it.