dorchadas: (Darker than Black)
Monday isn't the usual day, but I already skipped last week and I didn't want to skip another week.

Over the end of the year, we had a lot of candy and other desserts that wouldn't fit Darker than Black, so we stopped updating quite so much other than the marzipan, which only barely qualifies here. But now we've worked our way through everything except the giant bag of frozen Halloween candy that my parents gave me after they realized there was no way they could eat it, and due to the hiatus, we've built up our backlog again. Hopefully we can get through it before it goes rancid.
Read more... )
dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
Dramatis Personae
  • Demir Sadik, Turkish Revolutionary/Field Medic
  • Gianni Abbadelli, Italian Vatican Parapsychologist
  • Luc Durand, French Professor of Linguistics
  • Rosaline St. Clair, American Antiquities Dealer
  • Valentina Durnovo, Russian Countess/Gentlewoman
The party headed to the newspaper office to ask about the article on the dig site, written by one Vesna Femic. The receptionist was dismissive to the point of being hostile, but after some persuasion by the professor, including mentioning that the subject of the article's daughter was there and would they pass up this element to the story, she revealed that Fenic was nothing but a gossipmonger, scarcely better than a village fishwife. She provided an address as well, and that was the investigators' next destination.

The small cottage was in a residential area nad when they reached the door, they noticed signs that it had been forced open at some point. Checking for people nearby, the group swiftly entered and searched the rooms. They found bloodstains in the bathroom that had been hastily cleaned up, a darkroom stripped of film and negatives, a missing rug, a few loose teeth behind the couch, and a note that said:
He knows. Fired us and closed down. Summoned daughter. Acting weird. Tell you more tonight at Rose Garden. Same room.
Jazmina mentiond Lazar, one of her father's grad students, who might be this L.

The next destination was the dig site. Gianni attempted to pick the lock but accidentally jammed it shut, and Demir snapped it off after checking to see if anyone was nearby. Inside, the dig was covered by a tarp, and opening it revealed a set of stairs descending into the dark. In the light of Demir's flashlight, the investigators searched the cross-shaped building. Most of the site was empty, though it was obvious where the artifacts had been, but there was a small sarcophagus or font in the center with the lid on its side. The entire interior was lined with lead, as was the bottom of the lid. There was a strange symbol in the center which the professor did not recognize, and Demir snapped it off after a moment. As he did, he felt a forceless wave pass through him, and the professor suddenly realized what had happened.

Dr. Moric had found the Serpent's Claw, the knife possessed by Sedefkar and hidden by the Order of the Noble Shield. He planned to destroy it, which is why he mentioned a cement factory in his notes. Dr. Belenzada had tried to talk him out of destroying an old artifact and had hidden this fact from the investigators, and may have taken the knife and harmed Dr. Moric. They would have to return to the research facility.

At this point, the investigators split up. Demir went on to the Rose Garden to ask about Ms. Femic, and the others went back to the hunting lodge. The attendant at the Rose Garden unhelpful until Demir handed over a large stack of bills, which jogged his memory. He mentioned both Vesna and Lazar and the room they had rented, but mentioned neither had been there in a week and what's more, the rug had been stolen. Demir asked about possessions and was told that they were thrown in the alley out back, so that is where he went. Digging through frozen garbage, he found two rugs...with bodies in them, whose faces had been skinned off. They had no clothes or other possessions, and he moved them so they would be obvious to passersby and then left.

On the way back to the hunting lodge, almost back, the other investigators were surprised by a hideous shape that emerged from an alleyway. It was wearing the shirt and hat of a man, but was a horrifying chimera of forms--the head of a boar, the arms and body of an ape, but the legs of a human being. At the site, the countess, professor, and Gianni immediately ran. Rosaline bravely grabbed a board and swung at the monster, but was struck down in a single blow and lay unconscious in the street.

Jazmina drew her pistol and shot the monster, hitting it in the throat, but not killing it. It pursued Gianni as the professor threw a rock and missed, reaching him and grabbing for him. Gianni tried to flee but it trapped him with its long arms and, catching the Italian in its grasp, it tore off his arm and hurled it aside, squealing in triumph. The professor hammered on a nearby door, shouting in German until he caught the attention of the inhabitant, who let him and Jazmina in. Jazmina explained what happened to the inhabitant as the monster prowled outside, until eventually they heard rifle shots and the sound of boots.

The countess ran until she reached an army checkpoint and, finding they didn't speak English, French, or Russian, tried to use gestures to explain what she saw. This is where Demir found her, and the two of them successfully convinced the army to investigate. They find another patrol had already discovered something, and the professor and Jazmina exited the house to see Rosaline being treated by army medics...and a sheet lying over Gianni's body.

All the investigators cannot help but notice that the missing arm, lying near the body, is his left arm. The same arm whose partner they have sculpted in mysterious stone, sitting among their luggage.

After pausing to collect themselves and hearing from the army that they would come speak to them the next day, the remaining investigators went back to their hunting lodge, where they ordered several drinks and toasted to Gianni's memory. The countess aluded to an incident in her past where Gianni had been of great aid to her and her late husband, and they all drank and ate dinner. Demir did not order any food.

The professor ordered boar.

The next morning at breakfast, after reading an article about a čudovište ("monster") who had been seen prowling the city, they received word that the body of Dr. Moric had been found in the woods of suicide. Jazmina was disbelieving, saying her father would never do such a thing, and after going to the hospital to pick up Rosaline, who had made a very quick recovery thanks to Call of Cthulhu's generous healing rules, they traveled into the forest.

After some convincing, the army permitted Demir to examine the body since he was suspicious due to the lack of blood, but soon objected to his treatment. While the Serbian army medic questioned Demir's credentials at increasing volume, the others used the opportunity to examine the body closer. The professor found a bullet found in his back with no front exit wound, probably indicating a punctured lung; gray dust around his shoes from granite, a component in cement; and tracks like the body had been dragged her.

Jazmina tried to explain what they had found, but the army brushed her off, and she angrily told the investigators that the army said they would not put many resources into investigating the death of "a Croat." The army wanted to question them further, but Jazmina successfully convinced them that "the women" were feeling faint and needed rest, and so after saying they would be by to talk to them later, the army let them go.

At the hotel, the investigators borrowed a series of rifles and prepared to travel to the medical facility to retrieve the Serpent's Claw, and we ended there.
Annals of the Fallen
  1. Gianni Abbadelli, Italian Vatican Parapsychologist, arm torn off by čudovište in Vinkovci, February 8th, 1923.
Our first death!  photo c9a2ed93dbfb11e324f5b3e281e5e1b2.gif

We've done pretty well in avoiding danger until now, since few of our characters are good in combat. I should have known that a random encounter would have been our bane. We should have been advancing in close ranks with shields in front and the rogue scouting ahead. Or at least, start carrying pistols. Or maybe the professor should do a quick dive through the books and learn Red Sign of Shudde M'ell or something.

I'm worried about the plan we have to attack the farm, but fortunately I have some time to think it over. If there's a way for an assault to turn them against each other so we're not fighting guards and monsters simultaneously...hmm. This need some consideration.
dorchadas: (Office Space)
So at the inauguration today, some reporter was interviewing Nazi scum Richard Spencer, the guy who coined the term "alt-right" and has managed to fool a large portion of the media into treating his views as worth of attention by the devious tactic of "wearing a suit." He was explaining the frog lapel pin he was wearing and then this happened:

I could watch that gif all day.

Of course, on Twitter a lot of white men are worried about his free speech rights. And those were definitely violated, which we tend to frown on in America. But there's a reason why espousing Nazi viewpoints is banned in Germany and why I've never thought the free speech we have in America is somehow morally superior just because we allow Nazis and assorted garbage humans to spew their bullshit.

For one thing, Nazi ideology is inherently violent. Spencer talks about an ethnostate and is deliberately vague on how that would be achieved, because it's not like there's any prime land they can move to and "we're going to dispossess everyone we consider subhuman at best and murder them at worst" means he wouldn't get glossy portrayals in unwitting Nazi-sympathizer magazines. Other Nazis are less subtle. As someone who would be subject to the purge if the Nazis gained power, consider that I have a different viewpoint on how threatening a man is just because he's wearing a tie and a frog pin while talking about taking back America.

In a way, it's self-defense. They want to kill us.

Second, Nazism is a cancer on democracy. The whole point of it as a political movement is to use the methods of democracy to attain power and then destroy democracy. We know this because it already happened once before, and while the Weimar Republic had a lot of structural and political issues that modern democracies are less subject to, here in America we don't have some kind of magical blessing passed down to us from the founding fathers that would prevent a Nazi in power from declaring himself a dictator and seizing power as long as he had enough support. And the amount of support necessary isn't that much. One terrorist attack that's bad enough and a huge portion of Americans would happily hand over their freedom only to find that hypothetical Nazi was no Cincinnatus.

This is also why I roll my eyes at any "but what if they were in control of your free speech?" counterpoints. They're Nazis. They have no respect for free speech at all. They only talk about it now because it allows them to spread their poison, and if they seized power they would overturn it immediately. It's another tactic in their mission to undermine democratic processes.

The argument is that the cure to bad speech is more speech, but people who say that haven't been following up on the science. The most obvious counterpoint to this is the Backfire Effect, now well-established, that often trying to convince someone with evidence makes them more secure in their beliefs, not less. Another is that being more intelligent is no cure against false beliefs, since intelligence allows its possessor to justify those beliefs easier. Argument can work, but its efficacy usually has nothing to do with the substance of the argument itself and more with how similar the other party considers themselves to the persuader. And I'm sorry, but Nazi trash are obviously not going to listen to someone they think is subhuman. Here's an example of what I mean.

Twitter itself is actually a great argument about the harms of free speech. It's not subject to some limits that the physical world is, like the harassing mobs all having to be physically present, and also multiple people all independently deciding to argue with someone can look like a coordinated assault to the person being argued with, but there are plenty of examples of people being harassed off Twitter for daring to be a woman or black person with opinions.

So yeah. If more Nazis get punched, if they can't leave their homes and go out in public without worrying about being assaulted, I'm not going to cry. All ideologies are not equal. Sorry.

("But what if they said that about you-")

They already do. Thanks for playing.
dorchadas: (Dreams are older)
"Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph."
-Exodus 1:8
How timely.
dorchadas: (Warlords of the Mushroom Kingdom)
Dramatis Personae:
  • Shining Star, mandragora sorcerer-priestess of Nyarhé.
  • The Green Knight, mandragora briarwitch.
  • Bonnie, kong Auspicious Orator.
  • Amos Burnham, a human from Earth.
  • Elaphe, a chuzan junior member of the Black Rose.
The first half of the session or so was taken up with more logistics from last session in the Scarlet City. Buying a few more hedge magic spells and equipment, getting various alchemical concoctions to deal with future injuries likely while fighting the walking dead, and so on. After all that way accomplished, we picked up back in the Kingdom of Fontina.

B'rabht had been hot and sunny, but in the city of Rockfort it was pouring down rain and much colder. The party clutched their cloaks tighter around themselves and made their way through the crush of refugees to the closest tea house they could see, the Gateside, on one side of the square. They negotiated for a place in the stable and bedded down for the night, sleeping comfortably on the straw, though they were unpleasantly woken up early, shivering in a sudden cold snap.

Shining Star went to offer her services in the temple of the Blue Lady, the Fontinan goddess of love and the family, healing the refugees. Most of those she treated were wounded by exposure and malnutrition, not the claws and teeth of the walking dead, though there were some who had been injured in fights with other refugees. Amos prepared his armor and weapons and then went down into the tea house and spoke to the patrons, asking them what they had heard. They mentioned the walking dead coming from the south, and that some villages had to post guards around their graveyards because while the bites of the dead were not infectious except in the normal sense, their very presence seemed to raise other bodies nearby into unlife.

Elaphe pretended to sleep by the fire and listened to the chatter, and he heard people talk about shapes on rooftops and mysterious attacks by shrouded figures. The chatter wasn't clear on their appearance or exactly what they were wearing, but Elaphe remembered the rumors they had heard three weeks ago, about Sarasan Veiled Ones being seen in Fontina, and wondered. He also heard that the mercenaries from Etemenanki had arrived, but they were being used to guard Rockfort.

Bonnie went to visit Onyx to ask her to teach a spell to keep off the rain and bask in the wisdom of the sorceress. Onyx seemed pleased that the party had found what they were looking for, but she and Bonnie did not speak long. Onyx mentioned that killing the walking dead would probably be a good idea, and Bonnie made her excuses and left.

After lunch, the party took their gear and rode out the south gate, heading toward the place where the walking dead were coming from. They didn't meet any zombies on the road, though they occasionally saw corpses, both fresh and rotted, by the roadside. They didn't take the time to bury them, and Elaphe thought better of looting them to avoid trouble from wraiths, but Shining Star offered a brief benediction over every corpse they found. At sundown, they rode into a town surrounded by a palisade and took space in the common room at the sign of the Three Wheat Sheaves, and we ended there.

It took a while for people to figure out what else they wanted. Having not been in civilization for well over half the period of this game and finally being in a major city for a longer period--they were in tower town, but only for half a day--they went on a shopping and XP-spending spree.

I'm looking forward to seeing what the party does to deal with the zombies. Are they going to try to just kill all of them? Find the source? Blame the Sarasans? Bring in the witchhunters? We'll see!

Amos's player asked for a preparation montage, so I played the Shatterhand stage select theme. I also played the Super Mario 2 Underworld theme for B'rabt and then cut to the Link to the Past Opening Theme for rainy Fontina. I have so much music to draw on for this game. It's fantastic.
dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
Dramatis Personae
  • Demir Sadik, Turkish Revolutionary/Field Medic
  • Gianni Abbadelli, Italian Vatican Parapsychologist
  • Luc Durand, French Professor of Linguistics
  • Rosaline St. Clair, American Antiquities Dealer
  • Valentina Durnovo, Russian Countess/Gentlewoman
Tossing and turning, most of the investigators managed to get some sleep, but Demir awoke just before dawn and noticed that the train was moving extremely slowly. He questioned the night conductor, who replied that there was some difficulty ahead, but didn't receive any elaboration, and eventually went back to sleep. After dawn, when the others awoke and ate breakfast, the train was still moving slowly, the passengers were grumbling, and the conductor made an announcement: there has been an "incident" on the tracks ahead, and the train will have to make a stop in Vinkovci while the track is repaired for three or four days. This caused some grumbling and arguing, but the conductor was firm that nothing else could be done.

Newspapers were passed out and, while they're written in Serbo-Croatian, a local English teacher spotted the professor scanning the paper for anything familiar and offered his services. He translated an article about a local archaeological dig being conducted by Dr. Dragomir Moric on "The Crusader's Tomb." The article was a hit piece, accusing Dr. Moric of hiding his discoveries due to some ancient secret, but it did prominently mention the name of Sir Miho of Dubrovnik, which the professor recognized as the man in the Latin account of the Fourth Crusade who had come to remove the treasures from Constantinople. He showed the translation to the other investigators, and they agreed that as long as they're stuck in Vinkovci, they may as well look into this tomb.

As the train slowly pulled into Vinkovci, the party noticed the conspicuous line of policemen with rifles who were awaiting them on the platform, and then there was an announcement that everyone must disembark for inspection. Grumbling, the passengers all alighted from the train and lined up in a queue to be questioned. The policemen inspected their passports and then asked if they've ever been in the area before, their profession, and if they are veterans. All of the investigators answered honestly and without any attempt at concealment or disdain, and the policemen let them go after some suspicious glances. Other passengers were not so lucky--some of those who were too self-important and demanded that the delay be ended immediately had their luggage dumped in the mud for "inspection." There had been a bombing, they heard from the chatter around them, and the police suspected an anarchist group.

As Demir assisted a man he saw being backhanded by a policeman, Rosaline spotted an agitated-looking woman and a man in a fisherman's hat who seemed to be following her. The woman ducked into the bathroom and Rosaline followed, briefly spoke aloud to herself about how competent her traveling companions were and how great they were at helping someone in trouble, and then left when she received no reply. Her announcement bore fruit moments later, however, when the woman left the bathroom, walked straight up to the professor, exclaimed her greetings, and kissed him.

As she hugged him, she whispered that she was being followed and needed help, words which were soon confirmed when a delivery van pulled up, boxing in the taxi in which the investigators' luggage was being loaded, and two men jumped out as the man in the fisherman's hat ran toward them. A melee ensued, with the party trying to prevent the assailants from reaching the woman, and the woman trying to get away. After one of the assailants was stabbed by Demir, the other two ran, and a shot rang out from their getaway vehicle, hitting the fallen man and killing him instantly. The woman introduced herself as Jazmina Moric, the daughter of Dr. Moric, and said they needed to leave immediately because the police would have them shot. The investigators didn't need to be told twice, and they piled into the taxi and sped away.

Jazmina said she was here looking for her father since she had received a strange note from him in English, talking about his excavations and how some things should remain secret. There was a message for her at the Hotel Lehrner, and she knew that he was staying with Dr. Goran Belenzada, and Jazmina asked if she could direct them to the Hotel Lehrner. After the group's assent, the taxi took them to the hotel, where she did find a strange note waiting for her:
Zagrebacka / Zvonarska / Kralja
Be careful. I love you.
Also in English. She didn't recognize any of the words, however.

After lunch and a visit to the Belenzada house, finding that the doctor was not home, they took another look at the letter. Demir suggested that they might be addresses, and consulting a map they found a streetcorner at the intersection of Zagrebacka and Kralja Zvonimia. Traveling there revealed a few stores and the book shop Odlika Knjiga, a famous seller of rare and secret books. Rosaline's eyes practically blazed as the investigators immediately entered and spoke to the owner. The professor asked about Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Gibbon, which Dr. Moric had mentioend in his letter, and the owner demurred and said that he had sold his last copy and it was being held for the daughter of the buyer. At this point, Jazmina intervened and introduced herself, and the bookseller gladly handed over the book, warning the investigators to be careful as it was a first edition. This produced a moment of tension between the professor and Rosaline, but Jazmina checked the book and found a claim ticket inside with the number 187 and the note:
Go to Pouzdan Zalihi. Use your mother’s maiden name.

Key submerged in the nearby Roman Bath. I’ve left instructions. Be careful.
Rosaline left her card with the bookseller and the professor asked him about a copy of Unaussprechlichen Kulten by von Junzt. The bookseller apologized and said he did not have the German edition, since the copies were all in libraries and universities, but he had a copy of Nameless Cults, the Bridewall translation that the professor had flipped through in the library in Trieste. The professor purchased it for a considerable sum of money, and the bookseller handed it over with a note to be careful--there were only twenty known copies remaining.

After a trip to the hospital to ask about Dr. Belenzada also proved fruitless--the orderly said that he came and went with irregular hours, though he did give them the address of a medical research facility on the outskirts of the city--the investigators ate dinner. As they did, they saw a large troop of military entering the town, probably over a hundred soldiers, and they speculate that they'll probably be under a curfew soon. But not yet, so they go to Pouzdan Zalihi and after some initial confusion, find the key submerged in a birdbath in the park across the street with a statue of the emperor Valens, who was born in Vinkovci when it was still called Colonia Aurelia Cibalae. The claim ticket is for a box, some eight feet long and four across, that when opened revealed a number of artifacts packed in straw and a journal written in Serbo-Croatian. The artifacts include a silver coin labeled Unas ex tr etc, "One of the thirty" [pieces of silver], which Gianni takes particular interest in; a box with a stone carved with a pentagram-and-eye symbol and the engraving obex sancti gabrielis, "The Barrier of Saint Gabriel," which the investigators urge Jazmina to carry; and a number of texts, some of which are in Latin and Arabic and catch the professor's eye. Chronicon de Tullius Corvus, "The Accounts of Tullius Corvus," a hand-written Latin work dating from the Imperial Roman period; Kitab Rasul Al-Albarin, an Arabic text which the professor's Arabic was not good enough to understand without further study; and Sapientia Maglorum, which the professor translated as "The Wisdom of the Magi." There were also a large number of documents related to the Order of the Noble Shield, mentioned by Dr. Moric in his initial letter.

The group retired to the hotel to rest before bed. As Jazmina worked on translating her father's journal, Gianni and the professor begin reading Sapientia Maglorum. They read tales of leaping flames, of beings that danced amid the fires, of ancient Persian sorcerers calling out to the void and the stars that burned as fires in the heart of the black, and the things that answered their call. They were named with words obviously transliterated from Arabic into Latin and Greek. Words which the professor was unfamiliar with, though something in them recalled phrases he had heard the cloaked stranger in nightmare Zagreb speak--al shabb al muthlim, an Arabic phrase meaning "The Young One of Darkness," and the Greek word Ξαστυρ, "X'astur," accompanied by the sobriquet Magnum Innominandum, "The Great One who is Not to be Named."

The professor loosened his collar as he worked. He smelled smoke, and saw movement in the corner of his vision, until as he read of sacrifices being given to the flames, something in him...broke. He stood and ran from the burning building, out into the snow, where it was cold and no fire could catch, with Gianni running after him shouting his name. The other investigators, awoken by the commotion, found him in the center of the square outside, glancing from left to right, rubbing his hands with snow. It took some convincing for them to get him back inside, and only after firmly showing him that the building was not on fire, that the smell of smoke was only from the oil lamps, and that the fire in his room had been banked could they convince the professor to sleep. Demir asked him if he needed someone to watch at night, and after a moment's thought, the professor thanked him but demurred. Then the group all slept.

In the morning, they were informed that there was indeed a curfew, ending at 7 p.m., which still gave them plenty of time. They traveled to the medical research facility, but Dr. Belenzada was not there, only some taciturn guards who grudgingly served the investigators vile tea and said that Dr. Belenzada wasn't there and didn't tell him his schedule. The party waited the two hours before their taxi was scheduled to return and then went back to the hospital, where they finally found the doctor.

The doctor told them that Dr. Moric had indeed been staying with him, but that he had not seen him for three days. There had been an argument, with Dr. Moric saying his discoveries were dangerous and needed to be hidden and Dr. Belenzada appealing to his scientific mind and the desire to share knowledge, but to no avail. Dr. Moric had gone missing, and so had one of Dr. Belenzada's shotguns. The doctor says that he may have gone to Kunjevci, a forest to the south of the city, close to the lodge where the Orient Express had arranged lodgings for those who were displaced by the bombing. The investigators make plans to go on a hunting trip, and we ended it there.

The professor's first serious SAN loss! It was 2d6 for the Sapientia Maglorum and I rolled 9. Gianni only lost 4, so he maintained his presence of mind. I'm up to 29% Cthulhu Mythos as well, so I'm well positioned to follow in the footsteps of Professor Armitage and become the old guy who knows everything and helps combat the horrors. That's the path I'm trying to go down, anyway. The professor isn't going to be that much use in a fight. I failed all of my rolls in combat and got slashed for my trouble.

This is not something I remember from the old Horror on the Orient Express. I wonder if it's new for this edition? It might be, since it seems to tie in heavily with the past interstitial pieces, which I know are new.

Next session, hunting party!  photo 58-2nsylaw.gif
dorchadas: (Dreams are older)
I'm not sure I've written about it at all here, but I went to therapy for a year, starting last January and ending yesterday, spurred on by the stomach pain I suddenly developed a year and a half ago. I'd thought over the last couple months about why I was still going and didn't have a good answer, so I talked about it with my therapist last night and ended our sessions for now.

I always felt a bit guilty going. Like, am I really in enough distress for this? Is there someone else who could use this time more? I don't know the answer to that. I do know that I found it helpful.

It was mostly a re-calibration of my expectations. I went in with the goal of "stopping my stomach from hurting," and that didn't happen. But I suppose that was like going in with a goal of no longer being anxious, and that's not realistic either. Something I thought of as I walked away that I didn't get a chance to say is that anxiety is like fear. Courage isn't the absence of fear, that's either stupidity or foolhardiness. Courage is acting even though one is afraid. Successfully dealing with anxiety is the same way, and talking about it is what made me realize that. I'm never not going to worry before a social event or consider cancelling half-a-dozen times or assume it's going to be terrible, but as long as I go anyway, then I have succeeded in some way.

And I'm pretty good at that, overall. Other than back when I was a university student, this is probably the most full my schedule has ever been, socially. I keep going to Japanese tutoring even if I'd rather a meteor fall on me when I'm walking to class, and I can see my Japanese improving. I'm in a better place than I was a year ago.

And a lot of my other worries...well, there's nothing my therapist or I can do about the possibility of global thermonuclear war.  photo ashamed2.gif

She mentioned that I should email her to set up another session if I felt that I needed to talk in the future. Hopefully I won't, but it's good to have the option available.
dorchadas: (Do Not Want)
Or, be careful when hiring businesspeople to manage a nonprofit.
So the new vice president of our unit read a book called From Good to Great and got fired up with missionary zeal. Having already inflicted it on the senior management, she decided that everyone in the unit should be subject to it as well, and thus I suffered. And this from a woman who said we needed fewer meetings.

The book is the standard sociopathic business trash. Great companies come from hiring great people, who are people who are fanatically devoted--the word "fanatic" is used repeatedly--to the mission of the company without thought of personal compensation. Companies should develop their hedgehog concept, the one thing at the world they're the best at, and if they can't be the best, don't even try. Bureaucracy is created to compensate for bad employees, so by only hiring great ones, bureaucracy isn't necessary. And don't run around like a fox who can't focus on any one thing at a time. And there's nothing about actually cultivating leadership or employee greatness. It's business Calvinism--some employees are great, so hire them. The rest are trash and should be thrown off the bus. How do you tell who's great beforehand? Who knows. Not the book.

The book also has the quote:
Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.
Which is a blatant lie. Ambition is needed to make the most of circumstances, but circumstances are the majority of what contributes to success in life. It's just another way to justify firing everyone who isn't "great."  photo emot-colbert.gif

Fortunately, the meeting was just banal and mediocre, not actively offensive. They didn't read through the fifty pages of notes on the books that we were supposed to read beforehand, instead having each table come up with its own lists of things that we should stop doing, what our hedgehog concept was, etc., and then present them to the group. I particularly noticed in the stop list, "Stop going to meetings to learn, go to do" and "Stop having trainings that don't pertain to what we do," which are my picks for the favorite. I left an unkind evaluation on the way out.

The worst part was definitely the line at the beginning about how this is going to become routine for the purposes of team building. We're well on our way to having fewer meetings!  photo cripes.001.gif

Tatami love

Jan. 9th, 2017 09:22 am
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
While I was catching up on my news articles this weekend, I saw an article on the Japan Times about the popularity of tatami among foreigners. And while the article reads a lot like a press release from the tatami-promotion association mentioned in the article itself, it does remind me of how much I loved the tatami mats in our house in Chiyoda.

What it says there is true. Tatami does feel really nice to walk on, with a kind of springiness that neither wood nor carpet has, and while I'm not sure agree that it "has a comforting, therapeutic effect reminiscent of strolling in a forest," I do like the smell.

Of course, it also has problems that neither wood or carpet does. There's a reason that futons always get folded up and put away in wooden cabinets when not in use, and that reason is tatami mold. It never happened to us, but Wide Island View ran an article while we were living in Hiroshima about someone else who found the source of the rotten smell in her apartment was a gigantic patch of black mold under her futon. I think that's less likely to happen here, since unlike Japan Chicago isn't incredibly humid all year, but it's not impossible. There's also 壁蝨 (dani, "mites") that live in the tatami.

None of this even happened to us, though, which is why I have such a rosy opinion.

If we really committed in some future house, I'd probably get a platform bed for our futon to keep it off the floor, but still close enough that it's sleeping near the ground. Or something like this, though perhaps not that expensive--that's five times what we paid for our futon.  photo capitalism.001.gif

This is all assuming I get a free hand at decorating, admittedly. And something tells me that tatami doesn't come in black unless it's pre-molded.
dorchadas: (Darker than Black)
I've loved marzipan basically as long as I can remember. My father always used to get boxes of See's candies for any holiday or birthday available, and eventually I developed a taste for them too. I presume that my father picked up his love of marizpan from his time living in Germany, and that's also why he pronounces it without the R (which is much more subtle in the German pronunciation). As I mentioned in Week 33, [ profile] softlykarou and I go to Christkindlmarket every year and get food, and there's a giant marzipan display in one of the buildings set up by a candy-maker. So of course, I had to get some marzipan bars to write about.
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dorchadas: (JCDenton)
I would have had this up earlier today, but first there was a power outage that took up forty minutes of our time and then I went out to a three-hour-long dinner. Add in some other things I was doing, and there was a short delay. But it's still the first, so it's still a retrospective on the New Year!

I don't bother with New Year's resolutions. But I did find this tweet that I like:

The biggest change I made this year is that I got serious about Japanese. Technically I've been taking lessons since August of last year, but this is the year where Aya-sensei suggested that we read 世界の中心で愛を叫ぶ and where I've worked my way through a fifth of a Japanese novel. I also played multiple games in Japanese and read a manga volume in Japanese as well! I never really sought out opportunities to use and practice my Japanese other than through flash cards and listening to podcasts occasionally, and that's why I was stagnant for so long. Now I'm getting better because I'm making a space for myself to do so and moving into that space.  photo wheeeeee_emote_by_seiorai.gif

This is also the year that we went back to Japan! And with friends! It was a whirlwind tour, and there were several places I wish we could have spent more time at, but it was a fantastic experience. And I wrote something about it every day for a total of over 50,000 words under the Japan (日本) tag, so I'll say no more about that.

I was not more social than last year, and if anything, I was even more of a hermit. A regular game night on Mondays, Japanese lessons on Tuesdays, and book group on Wednesdays along with softlykarou having a standing commitment on Wednesdays meant that time for the two of us was in shorter supply than previous, so I valued it more highly and make extra time for it, pushing other things to the side. This isn't actually something I mean to change either way. It's not something that bothers me. But I would like to play more board games in 2017, like Kingdom Death and Android and Chaos in the Old World and our old copy of HeroQuest with the cannibalized DragonStrike parts, and that means I need to reach out and not just retreat into single-player video games. We'll see.

Also, maybe I should have a minis assembling session for Kingdom Death. Still in the box.  photo chryssalid.gif

I managed to keep saving money even with going to Japan and the bulk of replacing my wardrobe! Discovering Orimono and Guylook and similar sites, to say nothing of the designers I already knew of, gave me a pretty wife selection of clothes I loved, but fortunately my closet is only so big and is basically full now. There's a few more pieces I want to acquire, but my wardrobe is basically complete for now. And I put a good chunk of our salary into savings every month, aided by our lack of student loans. It'll be worthless after the Last War when the only currencies will be bullets and the heaped skulls of the dead, but maybe I'll be able to trade with some feral hedge fund managers for toilet paper and beef jerky.

We were supposed to switch to the new data management system at work, but the project is behind schedule, so no news on that front. Question block photo emot-question.gif

I usually post pretty hopeful quotes at the end of the year, but I'm not feeling that hopeful now. The quote I think is the most apt is a bit more pessimistic:
"There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . .

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back."
-Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Hopefully 2017 will not be as bad as we fear, for me, or for any of you.

dorchadas: (Perfection)
This week [ profile] softlykarou and I received our shipment of mirin, the sweet cooking sake that we use to make some meat and all the だし巻き (dashimaki, "dashi-flavored fried eggs"). It took us months to use up the last two bottles and this time in a fit of exuberance, I ordered five, which will probably take us years to use. Fortunately, since it's mildly alcoholic, it's not going to go bad. But because we ordered them close to the new year, they sent along packets of spices for お屠蘇 (otoso, "spiced New Year's sake").

I'd never even heard of this before the packets arrived. It's not something I was familiar with in Hiroshima, though it's possible that I just never noticed it. I could read enough on the packaging that I understand the recipe from the spices comes from Three Kingdoms-era China, and became popular in Japan during the Heian era, and we had to look the rest up online. And then we had a bottle of sake around, and we're going to a party tonight, so we took out some of the packets, put them in a bowl with some sake, and set it to soaking:

It should have just enough time soaking for the flavor to really permeate it, and then we'll bring it along to the party and drink it at the turning of the year. Hopefully it will drive out the evil of 2016--屠, "to slaughter," 蘇, "to be revived"--and taste good to boot!
dorchadas: (Green Sky)
I first became aware of Hyper Light Drifter a couple years ago, after the kickstarter had finished but before there was much more info available about it, when I saw this promotional image that seared itself into my brain.

 photo emot-gonk.gif

My first thought was, "That looks amazing." My second though was that the picture reminded me of the god-warriors from Nausicaä and the Valley of the Wind mixed with sharks, and anything with that influence and that kind of amazing pixel art was something I had to own, even just to support the creation of more modern pixel art games with some craft behind them. We don't need to use pixel art in games anymore, but by the same token, we're not bound by the limitations of old pixel art either. It's a stylistic choice, and one I wholeheartedly support. Like voice acting, modern graphical standards are raising the cost of games to a point where innovation is discouraged because a failure costs far too much. Or maybe it's just that I'm not a big fan of most AAA-level games nowadays for a variety of reasons.

I mean, some of my attachment to pixel art is from playing old DOS and NES games, and that's part of why I liked Shovel Knight. But only a part of it, because they have to be good games as well or I'd just watch the pretty pictures on someone's Twitch stream. And like Shovel Knight, this is a good game.

Not so dangerous now.

I do have to talk a bit more about the art, though, because it is gorgeous.

In a year where I played games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Secret of Mana, Hyper Light Drifter was still my favorite-looking game, though only just. I mixed in screenshots from other games with my generic pixel art folder for our television's screensaver, but once I beat this game I immediately went and set the screensaver folder to my Hyper Light Drifter screenshot folder.

Each of the four areas in the game has an obvious visual style, from the vibrant swamp to the east with its pools of cerulean water and green vegetation to the rain-drenched wasteland to the south and the cold, mechanical secret labs hidden beneath. One of the advantages of pixel art is that is allows more suggestion and allows the mind to fill in the gaps with the art as a template. That was helpful with the various animal people that the Magician--the main character, as the Steam trading card that bears their picture calls them--meets, and especially helpful with all the horrible things that happen to them. I would have been much less interested to play a game showing the otter people tortured to death by toad people if it had modern-Tomb-Raider levels of graphical fidelity. I can look at the sprites and summon it up in my head, and that is enough.

This will end in tears.

The story is most conveyed through the art as well. After awakening from mysterious dreams(?), the Magician travels until they collapse, then are brought to the City by another Drifter and nursed back to health. They hear of the troubles in the neighboring lands from some refugees in the town, all of which is conveyed by pictures. The only text is the brief tutorial prompts explaining what the buttons do and how to recharge gun ammo. I remember reading an article where the designer commented that he spent a long time trying to convey that through gameplay or pictures as well with the goal of having a completely textless game before finally deciding that a small amount of text at the beginning would be a problem.

As the Magician continues on their journey, they solve the problems in each of the four quadrants. The mutated toad people who had massacred the otter people of the east. The raven people who destroyed the hawk people's rookery except for a small remnant of eggs saved by one hawk person. The blue-skinned people of the west--similar to the Magician--and their nameless foe, and the crystals that sealed them both in eternal imprisonment. And the alligator people of the southern wastes and what they found beneath the sands of their home. The other Drifter who found them, traveling the same course and warning them of the dangers ahead. In each of the four quadrants, a dead god-warrior of the time before.

And all the while, the Magician keeps coughing up a strange pink substance, and dreaming of a city, a cataclysm, a gateway, and a dog.

What does this button do?

There's more to it with some analysis--others have translated the symbols found on the monoliths throughout the game, which are an actual message rather than just gibberish designed to look good. Spoilers found here.

It's pretty easy to piece together the basics, though. There was a city, performing experiments, and something went wrong. There was an accident that destroyed the city, seared the landscape, and scattered its people to the winds. Their descendants live in the ruins of their ancient civilization with barely any understanding of how the old technology worked. Remnants of the old war, of people who are affected by the pink liquid, which seems to be some leftover of the old experiments, are a constant threat, as well a war machines, ancient defenses, and mutated creatures. Only in the central city is there peace, of a sort, but most of those who try to venture beyond the walls return seriously injured, if they return at all.

It's very Gamma World, with the cataclysm and all the mutated animals. And now that I've finished this, I really want to run a game of Gamma World.


The gameplay is primarily sword-and-gun action. If I had to use an analogy, it's like playing Devil May Cry 3 with the Tricker style at all times. The Magician has their sword and a gun, initially only a pistol but with other guns available during the course of the game, and the ability to quickly dash to avoid attacks, cross gaps, or reach enemies. Finding "gear-bits" throughout the world are the currency used to purchase extra abilities, including a dashing slash, extra ammo for the guns, the ability to hold more health packs (which I only discovered right before the final boss when I no longer needed it  photo emot-irony.gif), a more powerful slash, and probably the three more important upgrades in the game, the ability to reflect shots with sword swings, immunity to bullets while dashing, and an increase in dashing power beyond the initial three in a row.

This makes gameplay pretty frantic at times, with shots coming from multiple directions while enemies are closing in and you have to keep track of multiple sources of danger at once. While there are long-range guns available, sniping for any prolonged period is impossible because no gun has more than a handful of shots and the only way to regain ammo is to stab things. Mostly enemies, because while stabbing scenery and breakable objects does restore ammo, it does so at a much lower rate than stabbing enemies does. I noticed this the most when fighting the tougher enemies, when I'd run out of shotgun ammo and have to quickly dash in and get a couple hits in before running away to avoid a counterattack, then dashing in again to fire the shotgun and point-blank range. When it worked, which was most of the time  photo stab.gif, it felt really good. When it didn't work, it was mostly because I mistimed things.

There were only a few times when it felt like I was killed by circumstances beyond my control, and they were mostly due to being stunlocked. And that can easily be laid at the feet of me mistiming my dashes or moving into circumstances beyond my control.

That crow man failed him for the last time.

I was really convinced to get the game when I read the review on Rock Paper Shotgun where John Walker hated the game. That's why I don't want objective reviews, I want reviewers to lay their cards on the table up front. I can read a game John Walker hates and know that I'll probably like it, and stay away from the games he likes. That's just as valuable to me as a reviewer who has similar tastes to mine.

It's a casualty of the text-free nature of the game. The intended order is East, North, West, South--South is actually locked off until the other three are finished--but there's very little indication of that in the game itself. The only sign is a dog that runs to the east when the Magician approaches the central square of the town, but I expect that would be easy to miss among all the rest of the art. I probably would have missed it myself if I hadn't known it was there, at least the first time.

But I didn't have much trouble. There wasn't any boss fight that I had to try more than a handful of times, and every boss fight has a save point immediately before hand so it's easy to get back and try again without losing health or needing to expend ammo. There was one time that I had to leave the area, go out and get more health packs, and come back, but that's partially due to ignorance on my part. The Magician starts the game with the ability to hold three health packs and I figured that was it, but no. There's a store off to the east that sells more. Oops. If I had done a bit more exploring the way the game expects the player to, I would have found that and probably not had any trouble with that fight.

At least they found a peaceful place to die.

Finding secrets is a huge part of Hyper Light Drifter's gameplay, and without scouring the map, a playthrough of the game would probably take several hours less than my own playthrough took. Fortunately, nothing outside the direct route is necessary to beating the game, and there's a consistent method of indicating where a secret is. It's visible on that screenshot on that island in the middle bottom, the small dot-within-a-square. The vast majority of the time, a secret is discovered by dashing onto empty space from that symbol--the screen didn't scroll west to reveal that area until I dashed off the platform--or activating that symbol to reveal hidden platforms.

However, finding the secrets is compounded by my major complaint with Hyper Light Drifter--the map is almost totally useless. After maybe an hour, I went and found an annotated map (spoilers, obviously) that has the locations of all the items in the rooms where they are found, but with no specifics about where in the room they are. The in-game map doesn't have that--it has the section (or room, if underground) the Magician is in, the location of four modules that the other Drifter tells the Magician about, the teleporter, and the final boss room. That's it. New modules will appear on the map when you find them--each quadrant has eight, with four necessary to proceed--but the monoliths with the story, the keys that open secret doors, the extra weapons, the gearbits...none of that shows up on the map. Good luck.

I mean, Super Metroid at least put "there is a secret here" indicators on its map and showed when those secrets were uncovered, and still had areas outside the maps Samus found so there were other things to discover. This is a solved problem and I'm baffled that Hyper Light Drifter decided to introduce unnecessary obfuscation. It's the definition of fake difficulty.  photo emot-psyduck.gif

If the game gave the player a way to annotate the maps themselves, the way that Axiom Verge, it wouldn't be nearly as much of a problem, but it doesn't. It just throws up an inadequate map and expects the player to like it.

A moment of rest.

That is a major complaint, and I don't want to downplay it. A terrible map in a game about finding secrets is a huge flaw. But that was pretty much my only complaint about the game, in the entire time I played it. Dashing around and cutting groups of enemies to ribbons feels great, the art is beautiful--hence the higher-than-normal proportion of screenshots in the post--the music by Disasterpeace is wonderfully atmospheric, and it is in all ways a great game. Probably my favorite game of 2016--though that's not really a contest, because looking back over my records, this is the only game released in 2016 that I played this year other than Stardew Valley, and I haven't finished that yet so I can't properly rate it.

But I can rate Hyper Light Drifter. It's a must-play.
dorchadas: (Not the Tale)
I don't usually go to see a movie for a variety of reasons, but as a Christmas present--they can call it for the holidays all they want, but everyone who doesn't celebrate Christmas knows what it really is--the vice president of our unit gave everyone two free tickets to an AMC movie, and when [ profile] softlykarou mentioned wanting to go see Rogue One, so I told her I would go see it. And today, we did.

Further comments in the spoiler below:

Let me start with a story.

A long time ago, a friend was running a D6 Star Wars game where our characters, generic space pilots out to make a quick credit in a modified YT-1300 freighter, ended up rendezvousing with the Rebel Alliance. The rebels treated us almost with contempt, were incredibly suspicious, and were not of high moral character. Our GM pointed out that the Rebel Alliance doesn't exactly have a rigorous screening process and mostly has to take what they can get, and anyway, they were fighting a war, and wars are not nice. At the time, we were incensed, and the game fell apart.

I think he'd have loved this movie.

The parts of Rogue One that I loved were the parts that would have made a fantastic D6 Star Wars game. The only "Jedi" is a Force-sensitive with no training who occupies the blind monk archetype and is basically Zatōichi. Everyone else is a card-carrying member of the hive of scum and villainy, Local 1138, and if you gave me a moment, I could probably flip through my D6 rulebook and assign everyone an archetype. Jyn is the pirate, and Baze Malbus is the bounty hunter, and...

It definitely made me want to crack my books and start up a D6 Star Wars game, and in that, it's a definite success.

The parts I hated were the parts where they were apparently not confident that people would understand that this was a Star Wars movie so the movie had to constantly remind us through callbacks. If there had been one or two, then I wouldn't have been bothered so much, but after a third of the movie it was like nails on a chalkboard every time. Blue milk. "Never tell me the odds." That guy and his partner in the Tatooine bar that Luke bumps into, apparently running some kind of bump-into con on multiple worlds (no wonder he's wanted in twelve systems) R2D2 and C-3PO showing up. Red 5 dying so that Luke has an open spot he can fit into on red squadron. It's pandering and was totally unnecessary.

The movie can stand on its own merits. It doesn't need to have a death grip on its older siblings. Though [ profile] softlykarou mentioned that since I know more about Star Wars than she does, I picked up more of the references and probably was more annoyed by it.

The one bit of pandering I liked was Darth Vader. There's one lightsaber in the movie, and it's Vader using it to kill people.  photo wheeeeee_emote_by_seiorai.gif

I did like that they had the courage to kill off everyone. It was a suicide mission to a fortified Imperial stronghold that still succeeded. It evokes the memory of "Many Bothans died to bring us this information" without having someone mention it. Just Admiral Raddus looking down at the planet and saying, "Rogue One...May the Force be with you," when he realizes that there's no chance of a successful extraction. And most people just died without a big scene, because this is war, and people die.

I didn't really have an attachment for any of the characters, but I did get attached to their mission as a whole. I mean, that's war, right? Some sacrifices need to be made for the mission to succeed?

It's a pretty good movie with some flaws that annoyed me, but not enough to ruin my experience.
dorchadas: (Darker than Black)
[ profile] softlykarou and I don't celebrate Christmas, but every year we go to Christkindlmarket in Chicago for the German food and crafts. A lot of it we can't eat because the Germans are fond of their pork, but the Döner Men have a booth there where they serve chicken kabobs that are wonderful with some spiced apple cider and a cold wind blowing around you. Though honestly, I could do without the last part.
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dorchadas: (Dreams are older)
Judging from the graphical style I was playing Super Mario World, though not with any level set I knew. There was some kind of extra secret level mechanic, whereby completing a set of very specific conditions in a level would warp you to another level, provide a suite of power ups, and off you go. I was trying to get past a particular jump out of a pit that required jumping on the heads of three enemies in succession when I triggered one of those warp conditions and was pulled into a new level where I bat Mario. I warped in, assumed bat form and mounted on Yoshi among the gnarled, dark trees, a flame appeared and set Mario on fire, and then, Castlevania bats started flying in from both sides.

Then [ profile] softlykarou came in and woke me up, so I'll never know what fire bat Mario's powers are.  photo emot-psyduck.gif
dorchadas: (JCDenton)
So yesterday I was looking up the lyrics of the Hymn of the Fayth from Final Fantasy X, and after a bit of searching, I found a page that listed them as:
Ieyui (pray)
Nobomeno (savior)
Renmiri (dream)
Yojuyogo (child of prayer)
Hasatekanae (forever and ever)
Kutamae. (Grant us peace)
And I thought that can't be right, unless it's an invented language. Do I decided to look up 祈りの歌 (Inori no Uta, "The Song of Prayer"), the Hymn of the Fayth's Japanese title, and see if I could find more information on it that way.

The first page I looked at, I found this picture and looking at it, without reading any of the other text, suddenly everything made sense:

 photo AB95ECF9-E762-40B9-A30E-FA9FFE2C2FA8.jpg

Red and green added by me.

I always thought the words of the Hymn of the Fayth were nonsense, but apparently they're based on a syllable scramble! The song is sung from top to bottom, left to right, red part, then green part. That gives the lyrics above. But if you read it left to right, top to bottom, then it's actually Japanese and reads
Inore yo
Yume miyo
Which translates to:
Pray to
Dream of
The Fayth
Without ceasing
Make us prosper.
That's where the lyrics above came from from. Though the second two lines might also be addressed to the Fayth, telling them to dream.

Of course, all this is in the wiki article about the song, so I could have just looked there. But I didn't, and I'm happy I figured this out.
dorchadas: (Enter the Samurai)
I suppose I should technically put "Hero Quest I" in the title, but I'll get to that.

I grew up on Sierra adventures, your Kings' Quest and Spaces' Quest. But those actually came later. The first Sierra adventure game I ever played was this one, at a friend's house when we were playing around on his parents' computer. I really took to its weird combination of genre styles and, ignoring the message at the beginning of the game about piracy, I borrowed the disks from him and copied the game to my computer, where I proceeded to play it obsessively. This was around when Quest for Glory III: Wages of War came out, so I bought that and imported my character--which blew my mind, by the way--and continued his adventures, and that began a love affair that lasted to this day.

I'm not the only one. I played Heroine's Quest last year, a game that was clearly and obviously inspired by the Quest for Glory games. But I haven't played the original in over a decade, and now that I'm on vacation, and since I still remember the solutions to all the puzzles, why not?

You called?

The Quest for Glory games, original "Hero's Quest" until Milton Bradley got in touch with them because of the existence of HeroQuest, are hybrid adventure/RPG hybrids. They have all the characteristics of adventure games, like talking to people, picking up items, solving puzzles, getting points, and instantly dying in various amusing ways. But they're also RPGs, with a requirement to pick a class at the beginning from Fighter, Magic User, or Thief, that glorious Gygaxian trio, and then fight monsters, get loot, raise your stats, and die of starvation or having your hit points reduced to zero.

I say "raise your stats" instead of "gain levels," because unique to me at the time, the RPG aspect of Quest for Glory doesn't have levels. It's a learn-as-you-do system, with each class starting with a selection of the available skills and practicing those skills causing them to increase. There's an "experience" trait in the character sheet, but I'm not sure what it controls. It might control how difficult the random monsters you encounter are. In the beginning of the game, I spent most of my time running from battles and occasionally fighting a goblin or a saurus, and by the end of the game I was fighting saurus rexes during the day time and a non-stop stream of trolls at night. Or, I would have if I didn't sneak everywhere, partially to avoid encounters, but mostly to raise my stealth skill.

"Recommended strategy: run away."

And that gets to the main problem I found in Quest for Glory, coming to it after a decade of being away from it. In some ways, it has the disadvantages of both adventure games and RPGs. Like in adventure games, it's possible to end up in an unwinnable situations because you haven't brought the right item, or didn't talk to the right person, or wasted an item you needed on something else, though fortunately there are far fewer situations here than there are in the King's Quest games. And like in RPGs, you know exactly what you have to do and where you have to go, but be underleveled and have to grind your stats up before you can actually conquer the challenge. The beginning of this game is especially bad, since stats scale 1 to 100 and most stats in the beginning are in the 20-30 range, though new skills picked during character creation begin at 5. Each later game raises the cap by 100, but that obviously blunts the effect. The ratio between 5 and 100 is much greater than the ratio between 105 and 200.

That's the major reason why I played the EGA version of the game. There's a VGA version that came out after the EGA version, with a cursor-based interface and point-and-click graphics, but I have a nostalgic attachment to the original EGA since it's what I first encountered. But more than that, the EGA version has cheat codes that allow adjusting stats and granting items. Most of what I did is that after putting in a bit of time at the beginning, earning some money by stealing from the houses around Spielburg (German, "Game-town"  photo 3327b7f6b45a33781e80dce4e4461510-d4ipx9c.gif), I cheated in a ton of potions so that I could restore my Health, Stamina, and Power Points as much as I wanted. Potions can't be drunk during battle, so I wasn't giving myself an unfair advantage on the fights. I was just reducing the downtime.

The first couple in-game days, I'd practice skills, spend some time typing "rest," and do it again. Maybe get into one fight, then I'd have to run from other fights because my Health was too low to survive another fight and the only combat skill a wizard starts with, Zap, is cast on the weapon, which means you have to hit in combat with it. I love the idea of learn-by-doing skill systems, but just like in Morrowind, it produces a ton of degenerate gameplay. In Morrowind I was bunny-hopping everywhere and casting weak fire spells on myself, and in Quest for Glory I was sneaking everywhere and climbing up and down a tree for hours at a time.

"Success! Your nose is now open!"

It's hard for me to offer any kind of assessment about how difficult the puzzles are, because I didn't have to figure any of them out. I remember everything, from what flying water was, to how to get the green fur, to where to go to find the dryad and what to give her, to how to get the glowing gem to put into the skull to gain access to Baba Yaga's house, to how to beat Baba Yaga and fulfill the final part of the prophecy. But I do think that there wasn't anything that was as obscure and terrible as how in King's Quest V, pies are yeti's natural enemies. The only real way to end up in an winnable situation is to arrive at the brigand's lair without the dispel potion. There are other ways to render the game unwinnable, but they mostly involve attacking everything in site, including friendly townspeople. Hard to get the dispel potion if the healer refuses to open the door to a murderhobo.

There's even multiple ways to win. For the first few years of playing, I wasn't used to parser-based adventures and so I didn't exhaust all the conversational options, so I never learned about the magic mirror, never took the mirror from the brigand's lair, and never defeated Baba Yaga. That didn't happen until much later. Probably when I finally bought the VGA version and got a list of topics, so I realized the breadth of material that I could ask about. I suppose that is what the grognards feared when icon replaced the parser, were those moments of discovery of typing everything into the parser and hitting on something the game understood.

Quest for Glory I beat Baba Yaga photo sciv_288.png

 photo getin.001.gif

I think one of the reasons I took so well to Quest for Glory is that it's one of the earliest games I can think of that replicated both sides of a tabletop RPG game. For most of computer RPG's early history, they were synonymous with dungeon crawling, as in Rogue and its various descendants, or Wizardry, or Dragon Quest; or with tactical combat, like with Wizard's Crown, or the SSI gold box games. While some games like Ultima IV broke from that mold, usually there wasn't much of a sense of a world around you.

Quest for Glory was a huge departure from Moria and AntKill and the other shareware RPG games that I played on the shareware CDs my father brought home occasionally. It had characters you could talk to, with their own limited routines (going home at night, but that's something at least), a character arc from zero to...uh, hero, and a sense that I was solving problems and making the lives of people in the valley better. It couldn't match the flexibility of a human GM, but the multiple solutions to puzzles to accommodate the three classes meant that I could try magic, guile, or force for any individual puzzle, and if I couldn't figure out one solution, maybe I could find out another. Throw a rock at the spirea to intercept the seed mid-flight, or cast Fetch to haul the seed out of the air, or climb the rocks and pluck it from the air as it went by.

And, unlike Heroine's Quest, I got full points no matter what solution I picked. What mattered was that I overcame the problem. Just like a real RPG.

I swear, they were like this when I got here.

Does the game hold up after a decade away? Absolutely it does. Even with its flaws, I had a ton of fun playing, though that's with the caveat that I skipped the grind at the beginning. As a child I had a lot of fun climbing over that initial mountain, but now I'd rather play a game that does the initial grind in a more interesting way, like Dark Souls, than a game where it's just about getting big enough numbers. And while the characters aren't as memorable to me here as they are in later games--especially in Quest for Glory IV, my favorite of the games--I still remember the first time I saw the dryad, or beat Erasmus at Mage's Maze, or learned who the brigand leader really was.

And to this day, it has one of my favorite bits of pixel art and music in a game--Erana's Peace (QFG VGA here). If we had room on our walls, I'd get a print of that meadow and hang it there.

There's only an official EGA version of the second game, but fans went and remade a VGA version, including character importing and the icon-based gameplay of later games in the series. I'm looking forward to playing that, now that I have a character with good stats and a ton of money from repeatedly slaughtering those poor goblins.  photo emot-qfg.gif I remember all the puzzle solutions from that game, too, so playing these games is like taking a long, hot bath for me. A bath with bad puns, RPG stats, and great music. Just what I need right now.
dorchadas: (Angst)
Studying isn't useless! Who would have thought!  photo doomguy.gif

One thing that paying for Japanese lessons has done is that it's encouraged me to pick up my studies in other parts of my life. Playing video games in Japanese, finally trying to read those manga we bought in Japan but that I've never really opened before, and writing more Japanese as well, like the notes we wrote back to our students in Japan after we visited last summer. But the lessons are also paying off in and of themselves, and I'm noticing that my ability to speak Japanese is getting better. I'm still heavily limited by my vocabulary, but that's because memorizing a giant list of words and their meanings is probably the most difficult task of language-learning, in term of effort that must be expended.

For example, at the last class I was at, we read an essay by Hideo Levy about the difficulty of translating the Japanese word 文学者 (bungakusha, the dictionary gives "scholar of literature"). Levy writes that there are connotations of bungakusha being the guardians of the essential Yamato spirit by means of literature, and mentions how as a younger man he was very annoyed about being an eminent writer but not being considered a bungakusha because he wasn't born in Japan, so people thought he lacked a certain...something.

So we started talking about the difficulty of translation, and I brought up playing Pokemon Fire Red and how I had posted a screenshot that was pretty difficult to translate into English in an elegant way. Here it is:

"Kono ore-sama ga! Sekai de ichiban!

Literally, it's just "I am the best in the world," but that doesn't really capture the way that someone saing kono ore-sama is elevating themselves above the person they're talking to, and translating that sense into English is nearly impossible without being really clumsy. The royal "we" kind of works, but that has its own connotations in English that this doesn't. Translating is hard, is what I'm saying. And I'm just a guy with a dictionary and some study, so I don't have to worry about my audience's knowledge, technical limitations (like in a game), meddling executives, and so on. But on the other hand, we were able to talk for forty in minutes, 85% of the time in Japanese, about difficult translating, pronoun selection in Japanese, and the time that [ profile] libby_may's husband and [ profile] melishus_b wandered around a park in Hiroshima offering people absinthe and two Japanese men chatted with us for about an hour.

All that money and time I'm putting in is working! Just need to keep 頑張るing. まだまだだけど、できるよな。
dorchadas: (For the Horde!)
I am not a member of the Pokemon generation.

Like I've mentioned before, I got out of consoles after the NES, so my first introduction to Pokemon as something more than that thing people talked about that I didn't know anything about at all was in Smash Brothers, so I thought of pokemon as basically natural disasters. Sometimes they were avoidable, sometimes not, and sometimes you could control them and really annoy your friends by spamming lightning bolts. But nothing about the context around them. And then while we were on the road to Chiyoda, Pokemon Go came out in Japan and I finally managed to create an account and play the game. And for whatever reason, I find it really fun and still play basically every day. Mass Transit makes it easy.

Then year is the 20th anniversary of Pokemon, and so I thought now is definitely the time. And after consulting my friends, and then ignoring most of their advice, and loaded up a copy of Pokemon Fire Red--in Japanese, for the practice--and set out on my journey to ポケモンゲットだぜ! (pokemon getto da ze!, uh, something like, "Pokemon, I'm gonna get them!")

I love how overconfident my rival was, since he lost literally every battle with me.

I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't this.

I'll warn you at the outside here. I have no nostalgia for Pokemon at all, so unlike something like Master of Magic I don't have a warm haze to glance through to it. And so the most cutting statement I can probably make is that the best part of playing this game for me was that I found out my emulator has a turbo function that increases gameplay up to 1000% normal speed and, according to my napkin calculations vs. the in-game timer, it saved me 15 hours.

My expectations were wrong, was the main problem. I had been led to believe that Pokemon was mostly about catching them all, since that's the catchphrase (hiyoooo  photo emot-3.gif). And that is indeed part of it. But actually, Pokemon is about wandering around long roads and having psychopaths challenge a minor to animal fights on the flimsiest of excuses.

"Ha ha ha! You're a healthy child!"  photo emot-gonk.gif

I knew about going to the gyms and fighting the elite four--or, as they're called in the Japanese, the 四天王 (shitennou, "The Four Heavenly Kings"), which is a much better name--but I didn't realize that literally everyone in the entire world is completely obsessed with pokemon to the exclusion of all other topics.

This might be an artifact of playing Fire Red, rather than X/Y or Black/White like were also suggested to me, but I was expecting a bit more to the world. Some kind of backstory, or explanation about why Pokemon were such a big part of the culture. Fire Red clearly takes place in our world in Japan, and references a pokemon fossil being found in South America and マチス, (Matis, localized as "Lt. Surge") is clearly an American solider who fought in some war and came to Japan to adopt the Way of the Pokemon. Pokemon evolved, because you find fossils. What's going on here?

Well, who knows. The game doesn't tell you, because it's a remake of a Game Boy game where there simply wasn't enough space on the cartridge to deal with these problems, and anyway, they're honestly not important. There's plenty of weird implications in the Pokemon games, but they mostly come out through the Pokedex entries and fans asking each other, "So...if there are no animals except pokemon...what do people eat?" (Wholesome answer: they're all vegetarians and eat all the berries that are everywhere). The gameplay is the main character walking down long roads, passing by people walking in circles or standing around who say something of questionable relevance, and then you fight them. For hour after hour after hour.

Also there are pokeghosts.

I am familiar with the depth and complexity of pokemon evolution and the battle system second-hand, though I don't know any specifics because the game doesn't explain it.

I know about vulnerabilities and super-effectiveness partially because the game does tell you when attacks are good are bad against certain types, but mostly because I played with a chart in the background that has all of the types on them. I know about Same-Type Attack Bonus because the walkthrough I was looking at mentions it and i looked it up. I didn't even realize that pokemon could learn moves that weren't part of their types or something they learned while leveling up, or why one would want to do so. I still don't know what EVs are, how they work, why I would want to feed my pokemon berries, what the benefit of attacking particular types of trainers in order to raise specific stats in the pokemon I'm trying to train, anything about breeding at all...

Some of that is because in the normal course of the game, none of that is necessary. My final team when I beat the shitennou and Rival-san was:
  • Raichu: Level 51, Thunder Shock, Thunder Wave, Thunderbolt, Slam.
  • Gyarados: Level 46, Water Pulse, Dragon Rage, Bite, Twister.
  • Charizard: Level 54, Flamethrower, Spark, Aerial Ace, Fly
  • Snorlax: Level 55, Strength, Psychic, Rest, Body Slam
And then a Farfetch'd and a Vaporean along for Cut and Surf respectively. And it took a couple attempts and I often had to hide behind Snorlax while I revived and healed my other pokemon, but it wasn't really hard. I didn't have to go grind...though of course I still did, at the beginning of the game. And maybe that carried me through.

What has science done?

I realize it's hypocritical of me to complain of obfuscated game mechanics when I love roguelikes so much and Dark Souls is one of my favorite games of the last decade, and I will cop to some hypocrisy. Throwing all those mechanics at the player would have been counterproductive when it's possible to win and the game was originally designed for pre-teens.

Also, a lot of that comes down to the social experience of the game. Like the original Legend of Zelda, and like Dark Souls hearkening back to it, Pokemon games are about talking to your friends who are also playing the same game. Hearing that you can capture the legendary birds, not just hear the bird trainers talk about them. Learning that certain pokemon and trainers carry items and you can steal with them the right moves. Stumbling on something yourself and excitedly going to school the next day and telling people that if you level that useless flopping fish pokemon for long enough...  photo wheeeeee_emote_by_seiorai.gif

That is a valuable experience and designing for that is a good choice. Multiplayer in the age of the internet gets a deserved bad reputation because it's so easy to be a terrible person when dealing with people you aren't forced to care about, but local multiplayer with people you know is one of the best experiences in gaming. Pokemon is designed for the latter, for secrets on the playthrough and breaking out the link cable during lunch to prove that you are the very best, the best that ever was. Without that element to the game, I just didn't enjoy it that much.

Victory is mine!

I'm positive that was the problem, though. I've read repeatedly that the games get less opaque and more accessible down through the generations, and there's strong suspicion that there's going to be a Pokemon game coming to the Switch. [ profile] softlykarou and I are probably going to get a Switch, and if we do, we'll pick that up. I'm sure I'll appreciate it more. Most of my problems with Pokemon came from wanting to play Fire Red, to see the first generation and the story that everyone always talks about when they're complaining that Pokemon went wrong somewhere.

The problem isn't with the game. The problem is with me. And in a different context, if I had grown up with a Game Boy, I'm sure that I would have loved playing this game and mostly focused on the differences between the English and the Japanese. But as it is, I'm just glad I finished a Pokemon game and can move on with my life.  photo 65599addbaf4d227.gif


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