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.
Read more... )
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
dorchadas: (Darker than Black)
It's a yearly tradition from [ profile] softlykarou and a friend and I--and I can say that, because this is the third year we've gone--to go to Svea in Andersonville for brunch. They have a Christmas Plate they offer for the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas that's $16.50 for a giant smörgåsbord with pickled herring, cheese, ham, korv, limpa bread, potatoes, meatballs, tomatoes, and a glass of glögg. It's also the time of year that the owner comes out and sings songs whenever someone orders lutfisk. It's amazing and I'll be really sad if the restaurant ever closes.

This year, after we finished eating, we all went to the Middle Eastern Grocery Store next door to pick up some hummus and cheese (and baklava at my urging), and I noticed some chocolate by the cashier. [ profile] softlykarou suggested it for Darker than Black but was worried because it was only 60% cacao, and normally that would be a bit low, but I want a bit of variety here and I have seen that chocolate before and wanted to try it, so we bought it. And then moved it to the top of the list, since the only other chocolates we had aren't as interesting as this one. I mean, it's in Turkish! Who knows what it contains! Certainly not me. I don't speak a lick of Turkish.
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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
Having successfully evaded two cults for most of the day and boarded the Orient Express, the investigators finally had a chance to relax. They settled into their cabins and, when the time came to go to dinner, turned out of their cars and made their way to the dining car. On the way, though, they found a man in his dressing gown, standing between cars, staring off into the distance and repeatedly muttering to himself, "He called, and I have come. He called, and I have come." The professor laid a hand on his shoulder to wake him, and found it easy. The man was profoundly embarrassed, claiming to have had no dreams, and quickly made his excuses and retreated to his cabin.

At dinner, after a delicious meal, the waiter Maurice brought out a bottle of Sauternes from another guest and offered to pour it. The investigators agreed, and after the professor inspected the wine and the cork was pulled, a soothing sweet scene filled the air, bringing calm to everyone and more than a bit of envy from the other tables. The countess asked Maurice his opinion, and he took a taste and nearly swooned, saying it is the best wine he has ever tasted and that it is for such moments that he would not trade his job for a dukedom. The group--except Demir, who refused--drank their wine, luxuriating in the taste, and then looked expectantly to the corner when Maurice indicated their benefactor...only to find an empty table. Apparently he had slipped out during dinner.

Full of delicious food and drink, the investigators went straight to their beds after dinner, falling almost instantly asleep, only to be awakened just after three a.m. by the night conductor, who told them that they had arrived at their destination. He was unmoved by the party's protestations that they were going through to Belgrade, showing them a list of departures at Zagreb with their names clearly printed on it, and said that their luggage had already been unloaded. As the investigators reluctantly glanced at the fog-shrouded platform, they saw a cloaked figure, muttering to itself, and holding something gleaming white in its hand.

Since their luggage was already on the platform, they debarked and approached the cloaked man, who greeted them with a strange speech:
"What ho! Abed so early? And you too? sluggards! Did you plan to slumber like swine and forgo one of Europe's great cities, hurrying onwards to your gathering task? Bah! Come, come. I have arranged your stay here. Time flows swiftly, and we have much to talk about ere dawn. Perchance you will permit me to tell you the full strange history of the Sedefkar Simulacrum, and of what you can expect to find on your arrival in Constantinople. Hah! Follow good fellows, and let the Devil steer the course."
Before the investigators can ask him anything, he walks forward into the eddying fog, vanishing in moments. As the bells rang in the distance, the investigators found a nearby area with a lock to stow their luggage and followed him. Where he stood when giving the speech was a crumpled page from a diary, and Demir stooped to pick it up, but he quickly blanched and handed it to the Countess, who handed it to the professor. It read:
We were always destined to be together. From the moment I saw you I loved you; so beautiful and cruel, so heartless and perfect. I, your vile servant, was not fit to worship at your feet. Yet I caressed your alabaster limbs. I kissed your shining eyes. I held you close, closer than skull to skin.

I knew from that first moment of ecstasy that we were doomed to part, that you would use me and discard me as a snake escapes its old skin.

I tried to write down all you were. I thought that way I would remember you. I thought I could pin your essence down like a flayed hide and hold you forever in my heart. I should have known that any attempt to describe your loveliness was doomed from the start. Yet I wrote in a fever of longing, and I drew you on scrolls of skin. I hoped and dreamed that you would always be with me. But now you are gone. All I have left are a hollow hide and words, empty, useless, tormenting words.
There was no signature and no clue in the handwriting, but something about it seemed ominously familiar.

The investigators wandered the city of Zagreb, encountering no one, but occasionally seeing the cloaked figure of their host, always just out of reach above on a bridge or across a canal or around a corner. They followed the sound of hissing and squawking and found a statue of a gryphon and a serpent locked in mortal combat; a fish dying on the cobblestones that Gianni picked up and threw into the river; a shadow on the wall following their own, with pointed ears and long talon-like fingers, that on inspection turned out to be cast by a tangle of leafless trees; frosty message on bare earth that spelled out "But do they dream?"; a river of milk and a flagstone under which was a tarnished silver ring. And at each place they found another strange passage, written on tattoos on skin, or diary pages, or on a swirl of snow in the air. One, in particular, written in blood on the inside of a straightjacket, caught the professor's attention:
I lust. I hunger. I thirst. I rave. I cannot live without you. You are under my skin. You are my self. I had you once. Then I was perfection, killing and reveling and laughing with joy. I lost you and became a brute. Mad with desire for what I have lost I want to kill myself but I cannot. My shriveled skin resists the knife-thrust, my dead heart cannot be stopped again. I will kill all those pathetic would-be lovers who stand between us. When I seize you at last I will despoil you, ravish you, consume you. You will be me. I will be perfection, and laugh and kill and revel once more.
After the professor read it, he stood, looked off into the distance, and muttered to himself, "Le Comte."

In one square was a woman laughing and weeping alternately about a man ahead ("a man, a head"?), and when asked about the shrouded figure, she told them to:
"Ask the Tide, and name the one you seek by his proper title. She can tell you where to find him."
And she walked away, smiling, with blood on her lips. The professor addressed the black waters of the river as to the whereabouts of one Brother Merovac, called Le Comte Fenalik, but there was no reply other than the sound of the river sluggishly flowing in its bed.
[ profile] mutantur: "Is it the Styx? Perhaps. Chunks of ice whirl in lazy spirals, quiet testimony to the biting cold of the dark water. No bridge dares to conquer this slumbering wet beast."
Me: "...I'm pretty sure I saw Slumbering Wet Beast open for Seraphim Shock."
There was a man in one square turning over flagstone after flagstone, searching for something, and when Demir gave him the ring, he exclaimed with joy that now he could be married and Death should be his bride. When asked about the cloaked man, he told Demir to find the One Who Knows, and ask for "He Who Knows Great Men's Secrets." Then he stepped off the quay onto a patch of ice and sailed off over the black waters until the fog swallowed him up.

Lashed to a statue of Mary was a woman who cried out about her crime, that of assuming that as her son also suffered as all men suffer, and her toil was as onerous as all mother's toil, why was he not as worth as the son of G-d? When asked about He Who Knows Great Men's Secrets, she directed them to fort at the center of town and told them he awaited them there. She refused food, and when Demir spent time cutting her free, she fell to her knees...and as the party turned away for merely a moment, they looked back and found unmarred ropes bound her again to the statue.

When the party reached the fortress they found the shrouded man was indeed there, and after a brief acknowledgment he lets them in. Doors, bars, and gates all opened with a mere touch, and finally at the top of the highest tower, he bade them be seated. He told them he also once sought all knowledge, and he would be willing to impart what he knew, but there was danger. He claimed the skull he bore was his own, blasted by its inability to contain what he knew, but the party have already paid the price of his assistance, and so he would grant his knowledge.

And he did. As the investigators sat down, words poured almost in a torrent from his lips, burrowing into their brains. Of the secret history of the Earth, and the species that dwelt there before there were any humans. Of the ultimate futility of all human endeavor and the end of history, of the cruel Empire of Tsan-Chan thousand of years hence, of the feeble attempts humanity made to reach for the stars and the desperate retreat back to the mother world, and the dark conquerers fifteen millennia in the future. Of the Great Old Ones that lie dead but dreaming, and wait for the stars to be right. Of the ultimate source of reality, the blind idiot god Azathoth, who dances mindless to the piping of demoniac flutes from the blasphemous Throne at the center of the universe, and of its voice and soul that is the Crawling Chaos, Nyarlathotep-

His brain reeling with what he had heard, the professor wrenched his attention away from the shrouded figure's words to find that his companions had already stopped listening--except for Rosaline, who also shook her head violently and looked away just as the professor did. As the figure saw that his words fell on deaf ears, he stood and shrieked:
"You are lost anyway! For if you have not returned to your beds at dawn, you are doomed to walk the endless night of this place with the rest of us!"
As his voice died away, the bells began to toll, pitilessly and relentlessly, and the investigators rose from their seats and scrambled down the stairs from the tower in a headlong dash through that maddening City of Bells and Towers, shrouded in fog and horror. And as they ran, stumbling in panic, as the sixth bell tolled and their doom approached, they saw the lights of the Orient Express in the distance and they flung themselves aboard as it pulled away from the station, dashed to their rooms, and opened the doors--to find they were too late! For there they were, safe in their own beds, starting awake at the interruption! And as the knowledge of their doom pierced their brains, they fell into a swoon-

-and awoke in their beds, in the middle of the night, as a violent wrench threw open their doors and they came face to face with themselves, gasping and white-faced, with staring eyes filled with fear, and oblivion took them back into its embrace rather than face what terror it was that they themselves fled from.

Only to be awoken just after three a.m. by the night conductor, who told them that they had arrived at their destination. He was unmoved by the party's protestations that they were going through to Belgrade, showing them a list of departures at Zagreb...but then he looked again and apologized profusely, for their names were not on the list. After an assurance that this mistake would not be repeated, he bade the investigators go back to sleep and exited the car.

That morning, at breakfast, the countess fussed over the professor's health...and he poured her a cup of tea.

I did not remember this at all!

[ profile] mutantur last session mentioned that this wasn't in the original HotOE and I would be surprised, but it turned out that it was, it was just much less relevant. Originally it was all quotes from The Journal Of J.P. Drapeau by Thomas Ligotti, but in the revamped version it's all quotes from the various players in Horror on the Orient Express. The first quote is from Sedefkar himself, who wrote the scrolls, and I correctly guessed that the second one in the post--the third one we found, I think--was from Comte Fenalik. There were a half-dozen others, but this is already over 2000 words long and quoting them all would add a ton of space. It's especially ironic because the session only took about an hour and a half to play through.

The professor is no longer Sanity Man. He's now Cthulhu Mythos man, with a score of 26% after the shrouded figure's knowledge dump. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
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.
During the night, Elaphe took the shield that Summer Rain was possessing and snuck into Dim Ember's room. As he opened the door, he saw the raptok's eyes open, and as she hissed out something in Raptok, he dropped the shield on the floor and returned to his room. In the morning, Dim Ember's party was gone, as was the shield, but there was a note underneath the door addressed to Shining Star. After a brief, wry expression of gratitude for the "present," Dim Ember assured Shining Star that she has a way of dealing with spirits, thanked her for her aid in killing Kurome, and said that they had to leave before dawn. She left a location that Shining Star could leave word if she needed to get in contact with her, at the Inn of the Three Coins on the Street of Clouds in tower town.

In a driving rain, with Shining Star nursing her wounds and the Green Knight and Bonnie slumped listlessly over their mounts, the party climbed the scaffolding around the pipe in the center of town, and entered the pipe. They emerged on a hillside under a cloudy sky, and spread out below and ahead of them was the Scarlet City.

It was bigger, and more consistent, than tower town. Inside the crimson walls ringed with cannons were dozens of tall towers topped with turnip-shaped domes, slender walkways spread between them like a web. Some of the walkways were even thinner, and the party was confused about their function until they saw some kind of car going between them. And above it all, anchored by ropes to the highest towers, was a giant floating balloon with some kind of cabin beneath it that they could see, faintly, movement on it as Silent Ones swarmed over the scaffolding.

The Scarlet City was order, but there was a riotous collection of buildings outside, and that's where the party went. After a bit of asking around, mostly done by Shining Star, they found their way to the Floral Quarter, where Shining Star visibly relaxed as she was surrounded by the clean stone lines and intricate metal grillwork of Floral architecture and as the amanita cast their eyes down and the mandragora nodded to her as she passed. She knows how Floral towns are built, and so she followed the roads to the center, where the temple of the goddesses is. Elaphe waited outside while they entered.

In the center was a pool surrounded by three statues of the goddesses. To the left was Diang, her long hair bound in braids around her head and her arms bare and she forged a blade on an anvil made of solid rock. To the right was Tharu, crowned in lightning, and her statue had been designed so that it was crying, and the water flowed down her cheeks into a bowl, which overflowed onto a small plot of rice and then into the pool. And in the back was Nyahré, robed and masked so no part of her was visible, and bearing a closed book in her left hand and a dagger in her right hand.

Shining Star spoke to the acolyte, who started and then bowed when she saw Shining Star's eyes. She said there was no priest of Tharu there on duty, but that she would go get one, and she came back later with an older mandragora man with a long light-green beard who walked with a cane. Shining Star explained their situation and then man agreed to look over Bonnie and the Green Knight. He couldn't diagnose their illness immediately, and so asked them to come back the next day after he had some time to research the symptoms.

The party took a room at the Inn of the Blooming Rose and settled down to heal and recuperate. Elaphe sent out some feelings to sell Kurome's black sword, eventually finding a Silent One who was willing to buy it, no questions asked, for a sum of money that was less than it was worth but with less trouble than selling the probably-cursed sword of a warlock would normally bring. Bonnie took a trip to the local outpost of the mandarinate in the Chaian Quarter, reported in and signed the forms in triplicate. The Green Knight grumbled about civilization. Shining Star sought out another doctor to treat her own wounds, allowing the priest of Tharu to treat her friends' Void Sickness without any distractions. And Amos wandered around the outskirts of the city, looking at the sheer variety of people. The kremling venomancer and his yojimbo, and the enormous, mutated kremling they had with them, almost twice as tall as the others and bearing a mace even taller than it was. The party of Veiled Ones from Sarasa, who had left their grasslands on an unknown purpose. The people from Makai, pale and hunched over, who spoke in low tones and kept to themselves. And, despite his searching, no other humans.

One day, the party bought day passes into the Scarlet City and passed through the gates under the watchful eye of the Silent Ones. Inside was the whirring of gears, the hiss of steam, and slow shuffle of robes, and...silence. The Silent Ones went about their business in complete silence, and the only voices were those who had bought day passes. They looked around, finding a few stores they didn't enter, and a library with a place to leave word if they wanted to hire the services of the Somnambulant Calculators, the Silent Ones' strange oneiromantic sorcerer-engineers. They left without buying anything.

After a week and a half, the party had fully recovered their strength and made to leave to return to Fontina and investigate the plague of walking dead. The temple of the goddesses threw a feast for them the day they left, with vegetarian Floral cuisine and wine aplenty, and then the next morning they took a pipe they had learned about that led to B'rabt, and which wasn't far from the pipe in the square in Rockfort, capital city of Fontina.

B'rabt was blazing hot in the morning and almost unendurable during the day. Shining Star took off her robes, Amos removed his armor, and Bonnie suffered in her fur, but the party rode north on the rode by the shores of the Kintai, with the Berha desert off to their left and boats going up and down the river and travelers on the road. They passed through several towns and villages along the way, and after nightfall, just as the temperature started getting very cold, they reached the next pipe they were going for and entered it, emerging in Rockfort.

And we ended there.

This session was mostly recovery from the battles in Greenwall and people healing, spending XP, and buying new items. The party still made out with a net gain in wealth with even after spending more money than a peasant family would make in three years on a private room at an inn and stabling and feed for their horses and Elaphe's claw strider--owning mounts is expensive and also peasants are very poor--and on training in hedge magic. A couple people are thinking of picking up hedge sorcery for their characters. They thought their characters had to be sorcerers to learn it, but that was a mistaken impression, so they might add cursing people and summoning spirits to their repertoire.

I'm also really happy I got to play the Temple of Time Theme when the party went into the temple of the goddesses.

But next session, we'll see what's happened in Fontina in the almost three weeks since they were there last!
dorchadas: (Darker than Black)
A while ago, we signed up for a service called Shoshbox that delivers a monthly shipment of Japanese candy. It's since merged with Tokyo Otaku Mode, and we've upgraded to a larger box size, but it's nice every month to get a shipment of candy even if a lot of it isn't to my taste. The gum goes to [ profile] softlykarou, as do some of the more cracker-like snacks, and sometimes we get something amazing like the 菓実グミパイナップル (kajitsu gumi painappuru, "Real fruit gummy pineapple"), which actually does taste like it has real pineapple inside. And, very rarely, we get something that's suitable for Darker than Black.
Read more... )
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
I never used to care about the leaves changing or the flowers blooming. When we'd take trips to Oregon, my parents would go to a garden and I'd sit by the pond and watch the water striders because whatever, who cares about flowers. But I got into the mood of leaf-watching when we lived in Japan, both the cherry blossoms in the spring and the colors in the fall, and while there are no masses of cherry trees here, there are still colors.

I didn't get much of a chance to go leaf-viewing this year because the cold came so late--when we went out for the Scarecrow Festival, it was 25°C and sunny--but I've enjoyed looking at the trees in our neighborhood. And a couple weeks ago, we found a momiji tree only a few blocks away! Momiji are famous in Hiroshima, to the point where the local manjū are momiji-shaped, and we'd go every year to Miyajima to see the momiji change to that deep, uniform crimson color. It was a lovely touch of nostalgia to see.

Then last weekend, it snowed, and I took this picture:

Last month snow fell in Tokyo, and there were a ton of articles about it because everyone knows that Japan is Tokyo and Tokyo is Japan (and also it had been 54 years since the last time but whatever). The photos of snow on fall colors were amazing, though, and I'm glad I got to see a taste of it in Chicago.
dorchadas: (Darker than Black)
I know we do a lot of chocolate from Raaka, but hear me out. Part of it is just because I have a chocolate subscription from them, so we get a lot of chocolate already, and I do try to mix things up. This week, though, there's a reason why we did this particular bar.
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dorchadas: (Office Space)
So, I think my motherboard is going bad.

Background--I noticed on Tuesday and Wednesday when I went to use my computer after work that it had restarted sometime in the middle of the night. That's not normal behavior, and at first I thought it might be something weird due to the new mouse I bought and the software to configure it, so on Wednesday I uninstalled that, did some basic tests--sfc, chkdsk, and so on--and all of them came back with no problems. Alright, I thought, let's try to hibernate the computer and see what happens.

Disaster, that's what happened.  photo emot-byodood.gif

The computer hibernated. Then it shut down. Then when I booted it up again and logged into my account, Firefox crashed with an out of memory error as soon as it opened. Then the comptuer froze. Then trying to log in gave me a "something went wrong" message and it dumped me into a temporary profile. I ran MemTest and stopped the testing when it passed 5000 errors because even one was too many. This...was bad.

After removing RAM sticks, swapping them around, and testing with MemTest again, I have one 8 gb stick in slot 2 that works fine and returns no errors. But so far I've tested two sticks in slot 4 and each time I got 7 errors, all of which showed up after hours of testing. I'm going to test another stick tonight, and if it also returns 7 errors, either there are hidden errors in the stick in slot 2 that I thought was safe that only show up when the RAM is running in dual channel mode, or slot 4 is bad. Either of those is not good. My computer is fortunately still under warranty, but if I have to ship the whole thing in, especially over the holidays, it'll probably take three or four weeks to get back to me and I have two weeks of vacation coming up soon.  photo emot-nyoron.gif

My computer current works fine, though it does run noticeably slower with 8 gb of RAM rather than 32 gb. Fortunately, everything I want to do with the computer can easily be accomplished with 8 gb. Editing LiberOffice documents, putting dialogue in my BGII Let's Play, and playing pixel-art games like Stardew Valley and Pokemon Fire Red do not take a lot of RAM. But it is having serious problems, it is under warranty, and if I can't isolate the problem to the RAM, I'll have to send it in eventually. Just hopefully after the New Year.

I have everything backed up now, both in the cloud and locally, so I haven't lost any data other than my browser tabs. My saved games and screenshots are still around. My RPG work is still fine. I nearly had a panic attack for the entire day on Thursday--at elast, it felt like it--but I'm doing better now that my computer is working, even if in a crippled state.

I'm going to update the BIOS today and run another MemTest with the last stick I haven't tried tonight. Hopefully that comes up clean, but if not... Well, I'll deal with that if it happens.

Also, I asked my father to give me some advice, and we had this exchange when I managed to make a new user account and move my old data over after the last one got corrupted:
Me: "I think I got it working thanks to legacy workarounds."
My father: "Good. Now go and sin no more."
dorchadas: (Moonkin)
For how long I've kept this blog--over a decade at this point--and how much time I spent playing World of Warcraft, I wrote surprisingly little about it. The last time I remember checking the /played on Manaan, my balance druid and the subject of the user picture on this entry, it was something like 410 days. Over six years, that's over four hours a day on average. I played a lot of World of Warcraft. If you check the blog tag, there's one post about the RPG campaign I want to run, two posts about my memories of playing, and two posts from the very beginning of my playing time. Almost nothing else. I guess when I was playing all the time, I didn't feel like I needed to write about it? The fish does not see the water, and so on.

Well, eventually I grew disenchanted and drifted away, and nothing I've seen since has ever convinced me to go back. Not even finally adding a real travel form. I spent six years turning into a cheetah by clicking on a hoof icon, but the pull is not strong enough.

I still really like the Warcraft setting, though. I want to run that game, I've bought the art books that I didn't get in the collector's sets that I own, and last night, I received something else I've been after for a while:

With art book for a backdrop.

Here's a dirty secret--I actually never liked Moonkin Form. I thought it was silly and didn't like the idea that druids needed to transform to accomplish anything. I do think moonkin are cute, though, and I spent years staring at feathery moonkin butt, so I have a big soft spot for them. I can see them now in my mind, wandering around Winterspring.

I set this guy up on my computer desk, where I keep most of my computer gaming memorabilia. I don't have much there, and don't usually want much there, but this was worth getting.
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.
Shining Star attempted to diagnose the strange illness affecting Bonnie and the Green Knight that was turning their skins a greyish color and making their veins stand out black against their skin, but after a close examination she simply had no idea. Elaphe searched through the burning building to find the pieces to reassemble his bob-omb, while Meohan the hedge wizard sat despondently and Ringo and Dim Ember tended to their wounds. Amos got the idea to ask the nearby birds if they have seen Kurome, so he cimbed to the top of the tea house with Bonnie's help and began chanting the words of the Discourse with Birds spell.

The first set of starlings Amos asked flew away without an answer, but then he took some of his travel rations and scattered them around the roof. A pair of crows took the bait, and Amos asked them if they had seen anything of the warlock. They answered that they had, tripping over their own words and interrupting each other, and indicated the overgrown orchard to the northeast of the town center:

 photo Greenwalltown.png

The burning town hall is the building south of the central plaza area.

Elaphe sent his claw strider familiar to the east to search out that area, and the party asked Meohan about his scrying spell. He said that he could cast it, but he would need a reflective surface, and Elaphe went off to find one while Shining Star searched to the west, walking around the town and looking for any spot where she could smell lingering taint. The whole town smelled faintly like rancid meat to her sorcerously-enhanced senses, but she found a few houses where the smell seemed stronger. One house was empty, with a table set as for a meal but abandoned mid-feast, but another had a barred door and shuttered windows, though Shining Star could hear the sound of movement within.

The Green Knight walked around the town hall to the trees in the south and summoned up his connection with the forest, asking the plants nearby if they had seen Kurome. The grass did not remember, but the tree said that two rains ago, Kurome came from the rising sun. The Green Knight moved northeast and asked the trees the same question, and they told him that they had seen Kurome enter the orchard several times.

Elaphe brought out a bottle of wine, after taking a long drink for himself, and poured it into a bowl in front of Meohan. The hedge wizard stared at it for a moment, then shook their head and began moving his fingers over the liquid and chanting. Shining Star returned to the town center, as did Elaphe's familiar, and the group moved into the orchard, following the crows. Elaphe remained behind, some distance from Dim Ember, Ringo, Cheerless Sword, and the chanting Meohan, eyeing his bob-omb and considering.

The party searched the forest and, where Shining Star smelled the strongest odor of rancid meat, dug into the ground. They found several chunks of obsidian, shallowly buried in the dirt, and Shining Star recognized them as a ritual tool for summoning demons. She wrapped them in cloth and took them with her. The party then returned to the town square to find a distinct lack of explosions.

Meohan finished his scrying ritual and began searching the places that Shining Star pointed out. In the barred house there was a family of mycon who had pushed a table against the door and were cowering behind the bed, and another house was empty. But at the final house, to the northwest, Meohan frowned and said that something was interfering with the spell.

The party, accompanied by Dim Ember and Ringo, immediately traveled to that part of town. Elaphe climbed up to the roof and dropped his bob-omb through the smoke hole, and after the explosion, the door and windows were blown open. The house was empty of mortal inhabitants, but in the middle was an ever-moving, vaguely humanoid shape of greenish liquid. The ground hissed where it stood, and curls of smoke arose from the dirt. Shining Star and Bonnie recognized it as a metody, a demon formed of liquid corruption!

Amos fired an arrow, which went straight through the demon, but the arrow's fire singed it. The Green Knight charged forward to engage, swiping with his wooden claws, but the metody flowed out of the way and then dissolved into a green foam, washing over the floor--and the Green Knight's feet, eating away at his boots and flesh. Shining Star thought of using the last of her Essence to cast a spell, but chose to fire her bow. The arrow sunk with a splash into the metody and began dissolving to no other effect.

Bonnie pulled out some of her alchemical glue and began to craft a crude bomb as the Green Knight leaped out of the acidic foam. Ringo danced forward and swiped a claw through the metody, and its color changed to a slightly darker shade as it began moving slower. Bonnie gave the bomb to Elaphe, who tossed it into the foam. The bottle began dissolving, leaving flaming liquid in the demon. Amos shot another arrow at the house, setting part of it on fire, and Elaphe and his mount leapt into the wall, knocking a piece of flaming debris onto the demon.

The Green Knight, seeking more flammable material, crossed the street to another house and opened the door...and came face to face with Kurome! He made to shout a warning, but the sound died in his throat as he stared into Kurome's good eye and felt like he was falling into it. Kurome swung his black sword at the Green Knight's head, but the briarwitch retained enough presence of mind to turn it aside with his claws.

Galvanized, the Green Knight yelled "Kurome!" and charged, swinging his claws, but the warlock blocked with the flat of his blade and escaped injury. Bonnie and Shining Star spun around, and while Bonnie tried to silence the warlock's voice, Shining Star saw her chance. She called up the power of Nyarhé and hurled a bolt of white fire at Kurome. The warlock raised his sword again, and the fire split on the blade...but not far enough. It hit Kurome on both sides of his body, and as his arms and shoulders kindled in white fire, he threw back his head and soundlessly screamed. Then, smoking, he crashed to the ground. The demon pulled itself back together from its foam and, to everyone's eyes but Amos, vanished. Dim Ember stepped forward and fired an arrow at Kurome's head, and in a rain of floral blossoms, the warlock's breathing stopped.

Shining Star and Dim Ember both made the sign of the goddesses over the dead warlock, and in the most formal way, Dim Ember thanked Shining Star for her help. Shining Star also expressed her thanks, and she leaned down and stripped Kurome's eyepatch from his body, handing it to Dim Ember. Then they bowed to each other. Meanwhile, Elaphe searched the warlock's body, taking the warlock's sword--an unattuned enchanted item, so it was incredibly heavy--and a black crystal that is freezing cold to the touch. Then the party withdrew to the tea house to regroup.

At the tea house, they drank mushroom beer and wine, and Bonnie told Dim Ember about the ghost of Summer Rain. Dim Ember explained that Summer Rain's father was a merchant who sold arms to the Dragon Emperor during the way and used that money to fund a dowry for his daughter, ending with, "But what good will that money do him now, I wonder?" and taking a drink of her wine. After more drinks, everyone went to sleep. The villagers did not come to the tea house that night, and they slept undisturbed.

Kurome is dead! I made the map and chose a location for Kurome beforehand to give the party a chance. He picked a ruined house to hide and stuck a demon nearby, figuring that the taint would be enough to metaphysically disguise him and that the party wouldn't be able to search every house without bothering the residents. And he was right! It was pure chance that the Green Knight went off looking for flammable material and opened the right door.

The party got lucky in other ways too. If Kurome had hit with his first attack, he could well have incapacitated the Green Knight, dragged him into the house, and then made his escape. If the search had taken longer and the Green Knight's disease had been further progressed, Kurome could have commanded him to fight his friends. There was a real chance that Kurome could have won and driven them away to lick their wounds.

And that's good! The best way for an RPG to go is for the PCs to win...barely.

Next session, the PCs are thinking of going through the pipe at the center of town to the Scarlet City, stronghold of the Silent Ones, to sell their loot and figure out what to do next. It'll be nice to be in civilization again after a half-dozen sessions in the wilderness.

I made the map in Cityographer and projected it onto our TV during the game, so the players could always see it while they were planning. Maybe I should do that with the world map, if I expand it from its current contained-sandbox boundaries.

Also, I have to post this great quote:
Me: "I've got rules for dysentery, too."
Bonnie's player: "Great!"
Me: "Don't fail those Survival rolls, is all I'm saying."
dorchadas: (Awake in the Night)
[ profile] softlykarou doesn't like the dark. I do. That's the way of it. Left up to myself, I leave most if not all the lights in the apartment out, since the light filtering in from the alley outside through what few openings are left in the curtains we have up is enough for me to see by. Even at night, I usually don't bother to turn on the lights when I get up and move around. The apartment layout doesn't change, after all, and my night vision is pretty good. But sometimes, when I come home, the curtains are open and all the lights are on as [ profile] softlykarou soaks up the light.  photo Dawn.png

The last couple nights, I've been reading a Let's Play of a Japanese RPG Maker game called Corpse Party. You can probably tell what kind of game it is from the title, and even though the links to the music and sound had vanished into the internet ether--sadly, since they're the highlight--I still found it creepy enough that before I went to sleep last night, I left the living room light on.

It would have made more sense when we lived in Japan, since we basically lived in a J-Horror house. We literally had an abandoned house right next to ours, plus another abandoned compound just down the street. We had steep stairs with no railing that a spirit could easily have pushed us to our deaths down.  photo japan001.gif But here, where three quarters of the apartment is always visible from any other point in it?

Well, it's the dark. [ profile] softlykarou was worried that I would think less of her when she told me that she didn't like the dark, but I don't. The dark is scary! And who knows what could be out there. I can tell myself whatever I want, but my instincts are the instincts of a savannah-dwelling ape who stayed with the group or huddled by the fire and lived, while those who knew there was nothing out there were eaten by lions. So it took me a long time to fall asleep, and while I didn't have nightmares that I remember, I woke up an hour and a half before my alarm.

Maybe it's also that the game takes place in a school. I taught in a Japanese school, and I've been in other schools. They're all laid out pretty similarly, so it was easy for me to convert the minimal RPG Maker graphics in my mind into what a decayed, rotting school would actually look like. Maybe more effective than if the graphics had been more realistic.

Usually I'm fine in the dark, but it doesn't take much.
dorchadas: (Warlords of the Mushroom Kingdom)
I still remember the day that I first played Super Mario Bros. 3. My grandparents were visiting, one of the few times they came out to visit rather than having us come to them, and my grandmother had brought a copy of the game just released that year. I had already read all about it in Nintendo Power, and I think to this day it might be the present I have anticipated the most in my entire life. When she gave it to me I literally danced all around the room, yelling "Thank you!" over and over again. Then I sat down with the Nintendo, then plugged in at the TV in the living room, and booted the game up.

It was just as great as I was led to believe. I've never seen The Wizard, but I understand why Nintendo used it as an opportunity to market the game. People call that movie a feature-length commercial, but honestly, SMB3 deserves a commercial of that length. It is, to this day, my favorite Mario game.

 photo emot-iiam.gif

The main reason I prefer SMB3 over the other Marios I have played, even Super Mario World--the eternal rival in the question of best Mario game--is the variety. There's one example in the screenshot there, since the raccoon suit and tanuki"tanooki" suit are pretty much the mascots of the game, but after Super Mario Bros. featured only the fire flower and the super mushroom, and Super Mario Bros 2 didn't have any powerups at all, the variety here was dazzling. I content that the hammer brothers suit is still the greatest powerup that has ever appeared in a Mario game, and even the frog suit has its place. Like all-frog-suit runs. The ability of power-ups to affect the world as well as the levels, like using a cloud to bypass a level or the hammer to open up new areas, was also amazing and definitely something missing from Super Mario World. The cape is good, and I appreciate the skill it takes to use well, but if we're talking infinite flight I'd rather have a P-wing.

And variety doesn't just extend to power-ups. I like the themed worlds of SMB3 better than I like the more complex levels of Super Mario World. I admit that Vanilla Dome blew my mind when I first really sat down to play through SMW, how there was an entire second set of levels only available to people who found the secret exit, but the worlds of SMW were more similar than they were different. There was nothing like World 2 with its desert zones and its angry sun, or World 6 with its ice levels and physics changed, or World 3 with its aquatic levels where the frog suit actually made them interesting and fun to play. That kind of theming makes SMB3 much more memorable to me. SMW is an excellent game, but with many of its levels I couldn't tell you from looking where they are. That's absolutely not true here.


One of the best parts of SMB3 is the inventory. It greatly increases the available tactical options, allowing a careful player to always have the proper tools necessary to attempt any level--or not attempt them, as the case may be. When I was younger, I'd always skip levels like World 5-9 and King Koopa's air force using a P-wing just because I couldn't be bothered, even though every time I played through I'd get 99 lives in World 3-9 using the bouncing-shell-and-bullet-bills trick. If I was in a hurry, I'd save up the clouds I'd gotten from the hammer brothers and use them to skip nearly all the levels World 8, then use a P-wing on one of the auto-scrolling tank levels to make sure that I didn't have to go back if I died.

Add in the warp whistles, the music boxes that I never found a good use for, the ability to start a level invincible to get past a tricky opening section... While I appreciate that only have in-level power-ups enables more interesting and constrained level design without having to worry the player will just use a P-wing to ignore the level, I like the choice afforded by the inventory. It's the player's option if they want to try the "standard" way, or try something weird like beating King Koopa with the frog suit.

I have the megalixir problem and sat in front of final castle with multiple hammer brothers and tanooki suits, but that's my fault, not the game's fault. I should have been more adventurous and not worried so much losing my powerups.  photo emot-shroom.gif

The best power-up in the game.

And it's not like SMB3 is wanting for interesting level design, either! In addition to the interestingly-themed worlds, there are a lot of levels with fun gimmicks. Kuribo's Shoe is probably the most well-known of those next to the angry sun, and I think it alone could justify SMB3's design approach. But there's also the Tower in World 5 that connects the land with the sky, which Mario has to ascend up and down to chase after the airship if he fails to kill Roy Koopa the first time; the giant piranha plant in World 7, filled with all varieties of pipes and carnivorous flora; the rising and sinking of World 3-3 and the relentless pursuit of Boss Bass; or the doors in World 4-6 that transforms the level from giant to normal-sized.

It took me a couple minutes to look all that up, and that was just to make sure I had the right level numbers in the worlds and to find the links. SMB3 sticks in your mind.

Good thing Mario doesn't sweat.

I was a bit worried that playing the All-Stars update would be even more jarring than it was when I played Super Mario Bros. I mean, I played the first game some, but the vast majority of my play time has been in SMB3. I would recognize if something was off.

But mostly, it wasn't. SMB's update looked much different, but SMB3 already looked great. The All-Stars version just made the graphics a bit sharper, changed a few things slightly due to no longer being bound by the NES's sprite limitations, like the colors of fire flower Mario, and added some backgrounds to the levels. Even the music, by far the most jarring part of the SMB All-Stars update, was mostly unchanged from the original NES version. Some tones were changed, and I recognized a few sounds that had obviously been backported from Super Mario World, but for the most part any changes were minor and didn't change the nature of the music to me. For example, here's the original Overworld theme, and here's the All-Stars version. They're different, but not enough that I noticed. It wasn't like SMB All-Stars where the music constantly took me out of the game.

And the graphics just look amazing, honestly. It looks like I remember SMB3 looking in my memory rather than how it actually looks like in reality.

Look at that leak! Finally, a chance for Mario to use his plumbing skills!  photo emot-golfclap.gif

This is still the best Mario game and is just as worthy of dancing around the room as it was when I first played it back in 1990. I'm not sure it'll ever be beaten, based on the way the Mario games are going nowadays. I really don't like the pseudo-3D look of the New Super Mario Bros. games, and I accept that is personal preference on my part, but it's true. Give me flat pixels any day.

I checked the wiki when I was writing this review and it said that this is the only game that has the hammer brothers suit, which right away should enshrine it as the greatest game. I think cat Mario comes close, but hammer brothers Mario is the greatest Mario power-up. At least, the greatest power-up that sees broad use. Kuribo's Shoe is the greatest power-up of all.

This was well worth the last day of my Thanksgiving vacation.


dorchadas: (Default)

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