dorchadas: (Darker than Black)
​I will warn you now, dear reader, that this is my most biased review yet. How could it not be? I've been eating See's marzipan dark chocolates for almost as long as I can remember. My grandparents always gave boxes to me and my father at birthdays and holidays, and then my father continued the tradition whenever he went west to visit them, and I'm sure that should I have children they will also be receiving boxes of See's from me on appropriate events.

I mostly hate #brands and I follow See's on Facebook, such is the depth of my love.
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dorchadas: (Default)
Nearly every year since we moved back from Japan, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I have made time to go out to visit my parents in October because in addition to seeing them and getting to eat my mother's delicious food, St. Charles's Scarecrow Festival is held that month. We last went two years ago, noting that the scarecrows were better than when we went three years ago, and last year we didn't go because I kickstarted tickets for the H. P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast live show and it turned out that was the same weekend. But this time we didn't have to worry about that and so after work on Friday, we took the train out to the suburbs.

We originally thought about going out to Kuiper Farms to go pick apples, where we went with [ profile] uriany two years ago, but my mother mentioned that my father couldn't come because he was playing in the community band at Batavia Octoberfest. I asked her what else was going on there and she said that she had no idea, because it was the festival's first year, so we decided to go there instead. After walking from my parents' house to downtown and being disappointed that the leaves were mostly still green, lunch at East China Inn, the Chinese food that I grew up eating which I'm pretty sure hasn't updated the prices since I was a child either, we walked over to River Street just in time to see the band performance.

When we got there, I was in for a surprise:

That's Mr. Heath on the right, directing the community band. He was the band director at Batavia High School when I was a student there and played euphonium in the band, like my father before me. And speaking of that, my father is in the band, though out of the shot to the left, sitting next to my middle school band director Mr. Stiers who is playing the tuba.

They played several songs, most of which I didn't know because they were by a local composer, and then struck the set to clear it for the next performance. While they were cleaning, my father pointed me out to Mr. Heath, so I got to talk with him for a bit, introduce [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, tell me about how we lived in Chicago and had taught English in Japan. And then on the way out, we had almost the same conversation with Mr. Stiers, who looks like he hasn't aged in the last twenty years, though my father later mentioned that he's had some health troubles. I only got to stay about twenty minutes at the Oktoberfest, but it was a great twenty minutes.  photo wheeeeee_emote_by_seiorai.gif

After a stop into a tea shop that had just opened called The Tea Tree where we bought some banana tea (which was delicious), we all piled into the car and drove to St. Charles to see the Scarecrow Festival. Unlike previous years, and unlike the weather forecast had suggested, it was cloudless and sunny, with little wind, so the relative temperature was probably around 25°C and it was much more crowded than I've ever seen it in the past.

There were some good scarecrows, though:

That was one of three Pokemon-themed scarecrows. My parents are of the opinion that the scarecrows' quality has been progressively going down over time, and while I sort of agree, I thought this year was pretty good. In addition to that one, there was a giant headless horseman, and a Calvin and Hobbes on a sled, and, in a major surprise to me, a R.O.B. scarecrow, which is a real deep nerd dive. I think I liked this year's scarecrows just because of that one, though the various Pokemon scarecrows showed me that pokemon translate very well to painted spherical objects.

Then we bought some fudge at the craft fair and before returning, we took a detour out to Gould Cider and Apple Pressing to get some apple cider.  photo heart_emoji_by_kawaiiprincess2-d51re77.gif I've been drinking it for years, ever since my parents found out about it sometime when when I was in university, but this is the first time I've ever been to the actual location. I'm still a bit amazed how abruptly rural the countryside gets just by crossing Randall Road. Only a couple mintues of driving and it was farmhouses with barns and fields of corn, and then the cider farm with a goat wandering around outside. Inside was the operating cider press, a wooden frame with wooden boxes covered with cheesecloth and filled with apples being pressed. It probably violates any number of FDA regulations, but damn if it doesn't churn out some delicious cider.  photo latest.gif

Then we went back to my parents' house, ate their barbecue, and then took the train home to avoid the Chicago Marathon crowds.
dorchadas: (Awake in the Night)
Did you know that Metroid is a girl?!

(I used that joke on [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd earlier. If looks could kill...)

My first exposure to Metroid was the original game, which I sadly seem to have lost somewhere over the years. It's also one of the original NES games that I beat on the original system, after hours of wandering around through Zebes, using JUSTIN BAILEY to get a preview of later areas with an overpowered Samus build. JUSTIN BAILEY also meant that I was spoiled on the secret of Samus Aran's real identity. I heard it on the playground, as you did in those days, went home and tried it out, and my mind was blown. I mean, the wave beam? What madness was this?

Oh right, also Samus Aran was a woman. I don't remember having strong feelings about it at the time, but memory is fallible.

My strongest memory of the original Metroid is actually the time I ruined a game through idiocy. There's a part of Norfair that has a series of one-block pillars over lava pits that you have to navigate to progress:

It was somewhere around here.

While I was jumping over them, I wondered if I would be able to get out if I fell in, so I deliberately fell in. And then I spent a while trying to bomb-jump my way out and continuously failing over and over again. No matter how hard I tried, at times getting within a block or two of the top, I would fall back down into the lava again. Eventually I gave up, turned the game off, and went to go do something else.

"But [personal profile] dorchadas!" you say, "Metroid had a password system! If you had died in the lava, you could have put in the password and just restarted that way!" And you are absolutely right, but let me direct your attention above to the word "idiocy."

The next time through, I ended up falling down into the lava accidentally, but that time I managed to get out and go on to beat the game. Not under the time limit, of course, but a win is a win. And then I didn't play another Metroid game for over a decade until my roommate in Ireland lent me his GBA and copy of Metroid Fusion, which I barely remember except that I wasn't a fan of the constant AI companion. Metroid is space horror at its roots, and that's always been a thorn in the side of any attempt to make it more narrative-based. The point of space horror is that you are alone and there is no one out there to save you. Adding companions and commanding officers and so on works against that in a way that I don't like.

Even adding extra info is a problem. Take Metroid Prime's Space Pirate scan data:
Phazon mining is under way. Several garrisons have been established, and terraforming of the Chozo Ruins is under way. Security systems are operational, and Science Team continues to make progress in their biotech research. The Phendrana Drifts have proven to be an optimal location for Research Headquarters, and soon it will be joined by a fully operational Combat base and starport. If Command's predictions are half true, we shall rise to dominance in this sector within a deca-cycle. Truly, these are glorious times.
Blah blah blah blah. All the additional information is like that, and you have to scan all the time. My main memory of Metroid Prime is entering a new room and immediately switching to the scan visor and scanning every available surface. Compelling gameplay!

I didn't come to Super Metroid until 2009, two decades after my first Metroid game, but even then I didn't beat it until later. I wrote about that already here.

Other M and the fan reception to Federation Hunters seem to have killed Metroid at this point, but it was always a lot more popular in the west than it was in Japan. And Sakamoto doesn't seem to understand what bothered people about Other M and isn't that interested in doing another Metroid game anyway, so who knows if it'll come back any time soon. In the meantime, though, the fans are stepping up to the plate: Another Metroid 2 Remake finally came out today after eight years of development! Get it before it gets C&Ded!

Also, this fan film is pretty neat:

And while Nintendo might not care, and Sakamoto might not care, Hirokazu Tanaka (the composer) does:

dorchadas: (Darker than Black)
Sea salt is one of my favorite dessert flavors, though I usually get it in caramel or toffee form. One of the highlights of trips to my grandparents' house in Oregon when I was a child were the bags of sea salt toffee that were in all the stores along the coast. That trip was the only time we would get it, too. It was during the summer, close to my sister and my birthdays, so it's not like we'd get any in the mail as presents. We would look forward to that trip for the whole year, anticipating going to the beach, swimming in the pool in my grandparents' retirement community, looking in tide pools, and eating sea salt toffee.

It's too sweet for me now, of course. Insert profound statement about how the delights of childhood turn to ash as you age here.
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Mar. 13th, 2016 12:54 pm
dorchadas: (Angst)
I've always preferred having longer nails (same with hair) and I'm really not sure what the reason is. When I was a child, I remember telling people that I liked having them longer because it made it easier to turn the pages of books, which--much to my surprise nowadays--they accepted as a legitimate answer, maybe because they all knew how much I loved reading. When I got a bit older people stopped caring, except for when we went on field trips when various girls would fawn over my nails out of jealousy that I didn't do anything to maintain them and they still looked great. I specifically remember the time when we went to the Shakespeare Theatre to see Julius and Caesar, where they wanted to paint my nails and I figured why not?

And speaking of that, Yesterday, [ profile] softlykarou and I went to go get a manicure.

Hey now, hey now now.

I think it looks pretty good, actually. I wasn't sure whether I would like it before I went in, and I was originally planning to just get a clear topcoat and get the nails filed until the woman behind the counter asked us to pick out a polish color and I figured sure, why not? (this is a theme...) I got black, obviously.

I used to occasionally wear makeup in certain settings--[ profile] ashiri_chan and [ profile] softlykarou can both attest to that--but much like my fashion changed in my mid- and late-twenties, I fell out of the habit. Fashion was pretty much the same way, where I went from a bit more diversity to basically wearing untucked dress shirts/polo shirts and khakis all the time. I'm glad that I've settled on something a bit more distinctive, though really it's more just reverting to the way I would have dressed back in my late teens and early twenties if I had unlimited money.

It took an hour and a half, so I'm not sure how often I'd be willing to do this. On the other hand, [ profile] softlykarou picked the salon we went to because the few bad reviews complained that it was too quiet and no one said anything at all and she knew that would be a huge selling point for me. And it was! Not just for the normal reasons, either. I've only been to a nail salon with [ profile] softlykarou once before and the conversation I had there went like this:
Salon attendant: "Is that your daughter?"
Me: "That's my wife."
No further words were spoken.
dorchadas: (Default)
I'm sure that comes as news to none of you.

I was going to write about this in my New Year's Retrospective, but since I forgot it gets its own post. One of the other changes I made in 2015 is that I started listening to new music again. I only listened to the radio for about two years during the 90s when I was mowing my parents' lawn and needed something to listen to, so that's the sum total of my exposure to pop music. Once I went away to university and found Napster, I developed a taste of goth and industrial spurred by buying a copy of "Music from the Succubus Club," probably after seeing an ad for it in a Vampire: the Masquerade supplement, and that's what I listened to for a while. That fell away over time, though, and by the time I was living in Japan I didn't really listen to any music at all other than the ambient zone music when we'd play World of Warcraft. Even on my two hour each-way commute, I mostly slept.

That changed when I started working at the AMA and learned I could use headphones. Not too long after that, I found 8bit Peoples, an online repository of free chiptunes albums, and that got me into chiptunes. And then I developed a podcast addiction, and a few of the podcasts I added were music ones. I currently listen to:
  • The Irish and Celtic Music Podcast: I used to listen to a lot of Celtic music, but it fell almost completely out of favor in the last decade. This is still probably my least favorite of the music podcasts I listen to, but I've found quite a few gems.

  • This Week in Chiptune: When I found this, I went back over the course of a couple months of commutes and listened to every single back episode. Love those bleeps and boops.

  • Group Therapy with Above and Beyond: I think this showed up in the top podcasts category and I subscribed to it on a whim. There's a lot of stuff that's obvious way better to dance to than to listen to on the L, but I've found some surprisingly (to me) good songs, like this one or this one or this one. I skip past the four-on-the-floor stuff and don't miss it.

  • Space Radio: This updates only irregularly and has a bit of a variable quality, but I like it when it comes out. However, it did inspire me to find:

  • Communion After Dark: This one is amazing, and is probably another one that I'll go through the entire archives of. It's like being back at Dracula's Ball, and this podcast reminded me that bands like Diary of Dreams, Beborn Beton, Neuroticfish, Suicide Commando, et al still exist and are still making music. They have a relatively wide reach, though--this song showed up on the podcast and ended up being launched straight on to my cyberpunk playlist.

  • Steampunk Radio: I have no idea how this is "streampunk" or if it's ever going to continue after the first few episodes, but what I found is pretty neat. Like, this song--how is that "steampunk"? I mean, it's really good, but does it fit the advertising? Not sure about that.
That gives me plenty of weekly new music exposure.

Also, Bandcamp. It's not actually any different than poking around any other digitial music service, but for some reason I've taken to it more. I've found great stuff like Halfont 2 by William Kage (guy composes music using the soundfonts of 16-bit games, so they sound like lost tracks), I Am the Night by Perturbator (another for the cyberpunk playlist), The Spoony Bards by The Spoony Bards (shoutout to [ profile] stephen_poon!), Transmission Lost by Sjellos (I have a whole selection of albums that are basically low hums, groaning metal, and space noises set to music), Tome I by Erang (Bandcamp introduced me to Dungeon Synth as a genre)...I could go on. You can see everything I've bought here if you want an example of my modern musical taste.

I've also gotten heavily into Overclocked ReMix (edit:and its podcast) again now that they're posting more. They're a big chunk of what I listen to on my commute if I don't have any podcast updates, and I jumped on their Patreon as soon as they set it up--which also introduces me to new music, since one of the perks is that I get a free album every month from the selection on Overclocked Records, not all of which are video game related. Of what I've gotten, I can recommend the Tale of the Rat King OST by Tom Miller and Quixotica by .mpegasus. I admit, I haven't listened to as many of these as I should, but I just recently sorted them into their own playlist and once I put them on my phone, I can go through them.

This turned out longer than I thought. I guess it's a good thing I gave it its own post?
dorchadas: (Teh sex)
Okay, I'm not sure that's an entirely accurate characterization. Even if I did consider buying this suit when I found it online. That's pretty much exactly the kind of formal dress style I want and it would look great on me. I just don't wear formal clothing nearly often enough to justify it to myself.

Anyway, suits aren't the point of this post (I'll get back to you if I buy one).

For a long while, I basically never bought any clothes for myself. My parents would occasionally make remarks about how I would only wear black, but then whenever they would buy me clothes it was usually black t-shirts with cutesy white text on them (I had something like two dozen of those at one point). Through most of high school and university, I pretty much dressed in all black unless all of my clothes were dirty[1]. When I got a more respectable real job at the newspaper, my parents would start mixing in khakis and the occasional plain color t-shirt or polo to their presents, and so the black clothing kind of fell away and turned into, well, something pretty generic, and that's basically what I wore for years.  photo emot-effort.gif

Until a couple months ago, when out of nowhere I decided that I had my own personal style and I was time to build my wardrobe around it. The kind of clothes they sell here. Or here. Or that get reblogged here or here.

And now I'm buying a bunch of new items, and going through my closet and throwing away or donating a bunch of worn out clothes, or even just clothes that I keep to wear to work because they're solid color and thus appropriate--I have a powder-blue shirt two sizes too large for me I've inexplicably kept for several years until today, when I got rid of it--and replacing them with pieces that I think fit me a lot better.

This is me in "clothes for rich elves" mode.

And here, right before I head out to do a run on that Mitsuhama server bank.

Not wearing black for once.

I think I've spent more on clothes in the past couple months than I've spent in the past...maybe the past decade, if you exclude the new coat I bought. And maybe even including that, honestly. And that's not because I spent an unreasonable amount recently--less than that suit I linked above would cost me--but just because for the longest time, I didn't buy clothes. Maybe one new shirt a year. And now the floodgates are opened.

I realize one of the reasons for this might just be that this is always the way I wanted to dress, but it wasn't until [ profile] softlykarou and I both had adult jobs that I could afford to dress that way.  photo latest.gif I think there's a lot of merit to that. On my meager university budget, I did buy a few pieces that I still have and that fit in with my new wardrobe (and still fit!), but that was about all I could afford. Now that our apartment is decorated, we have all the furniture and utensils we need, and I'm saving enough money to quiet that internal voice that spent most of [ profile] softlykarou's years in grad school screaming in terror, I need something else to decorate. And, well...

Hmm. I guess it's also true that I've had an interest in fashion for a while, it's just that I used to use it to advise [ profile] softlykarou on her style choices. She has a pretty good sense of what she likes now, though, and my help isn't as necessary anymore. So I guess that it's being repurposed? Maybe that's it.

Maybe it's just the latest thing I've latched on to. That happens a lot when I'm working on RPG stuff.

[1]: I had a pair of red pants that [ profile] greyselke hated, and you could tell when it was laundry day because it was the only time I wore them. I probably shouldn't have worn them even then, but...
dorchadas: (In America)
I tend to write pretty detailed posts about my vacations because even though they're mostly only of interest to me, I like to have a record for when I go back and reread old posts. But this time I was gone for two weeks and, taking into account how verbose my blog posts tend to be, a detailed account of everything I did would run for 10,000 words and be exhausting to write, so I'm going to do what I did when we first moved to Japan and didn't have any internet and write a series of smaller segments and put them all in one post.
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dorchadas: (Green Sky)
I honestly think that some of the reason I love roguelikes so much, why I mod games like Oblivion and Skyrim and Fallout 3 and XCom to be much harder, and why I'm so excited to play Dark Souls is because I grew up on Sierra adventure games. You have died isn't exactly something I'm unfamiliar with. Neither is permadeath, really--realizing that you forgot to do something or pick up an item six hours ago and have been playing in an unwinnable state since then and all your saves are worthless is pretty much adventure game permadeath.

There was one LucasArts adventure game I played that bucked these trends, though. Loom.

There's a kind of poignant mood over the beginning that this line sums up.

I never played any other LucasArts games even though I loved X-Wing to death, but Loom really affected me as a child. We had the PC CD version with the voices and the CD quality music, and while the version I played now was the FM Towns version, which has the enhanced graphics of the CD version but the unabridged script of the EGA version, I could often hear the lines in my head when the text appeared. If you want to hear what I did, there's a Loom Longplay on YouTube. I still get a little shiver when she says "Welcome to the age of the Great Guilds."

I actually dressed up as Bobbin Threadbare for Hallowe'en when I was nine or ten. My mother made me a blue robe, and I got a walking staff and attached a glowstick to the end of it. I wore that robe for years as essentially a bathrobe, if I didn't want to get dressed on Sunday mornings, until I grew too small for me and eventually I got rid of it. The staff was in the corner of my room at least until high school, but I think I threw it away when I left for university. It barely came up to the chest at that point anyway.

Loom was unique among the point-and-click adventures I played in that there isn't any inventory or combining of inventory items. The only item Bobbin ever picks up in the game is the distaff that allows him to weave drafts, and drafts take the place of inventory items. You start off learning how to Open--which is a net cast as widely as possible, since while you can open doors and cages and so on, there's an early puzzle that requires you to Open the sky, and trying to cast Open on your mother's grave goes almost all the way to ending very poorly--and over the course of the single day that Loom takes place on, Bobbin learns how to Reflect others' appearances onto himself, turn Straw into Gold, become Invisible, Untwist twisted objects from a spiral stair to a tornado, and Unmake the fabric of reality.

Here's Bobbin changing those awful green bits of cloth into white.

The distaff is at the bottom of the screenshot, and the notes there are musical notes. Each draft is a series of four notes, and some of them can be reversed by playing the notes backward. In the game I just played--there's three or four variants and it could be any of them--was CCCD, with DCCC as the way to Undye. There's no way in the game to remember them, so the game shipped with a Book of Patterns that had a list of all the drafts in the game, plus a couple more that you see used but never actually learn, and another dozen that never appear anywhere but are included just for lorebuilding. That's the kind of thing that the demise of physical manuals full of lore has people like me lamenting for.

Sure, there are codex entries for games like Dragon Age or Mass Effect, but it's not quite the same. It might just be that the circumstances that led to actually reading lore books are mostly gone. The best time for reading them used to be when the game was installing, while you were eagerly watching the progress bar and looking for every scrap of information you could find in the meantime. Nowadays, I can just install games in the background while I do something else, and while that is objectively superior, I love those little lore books.

Including notes from smaller me.

For Loom specifically, there was even an audio drama that shipped with the game, though I don't think it came with the CD version. It has a half-hour of backstory, telling you who the Guild of Weavers are, why there's barely a handful of them left (spoiler: "Thou Shalt Not Marry an Outsider" doesn't work over the long term), why they're living alone on a tiny island, and why it is that everyone seems to hate Bobbin Threadbare. I didn't have that, so Loom had an incredible sense of mystery for me. Was this supposed to be the future of our world, and that's why the dates are all set in the far future (it's the year 8000-something in the game)? What was it that caused the world to divide themselves into the Guilds? Is that sense of loss and isolation, somewhat remnant of the elves in The Lord of the Rings, an intentional feeling? None of that ever comes up in the game, but it kept my interest.

You probably could have guessed that.

I wasn't as fond of the FM Towns version as I was of the PC version, and I'm having some trouble teasing out whether it's just nostalgia for the old version or whether I have actual legitimate criticisms. The unabridged script is nice, but I feel like the language in the CD version flows a lot better and sounds better too. You can see an example of some of the differences here, as well as examples of graphical differences. I do think missing the full-screen portraits is a loss, and it was nice to see those. Elder Atropos has some fantastic eyebrows in his full-screen shot.

Another thing I didn't like is the music. That's not phrased quite right, because I love Loom's music, which means what I actually love is Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake because all the music is directly adapted from it. However, on the PC version, the music is used quite sparingly and the notes of the drafts that Bobbin has to learn are pretty easy to pick out. This is important because the difficulty level at the beginning of the game determines the interface. On the hardest difficulty, the notes aren't visible and there's no feedback for the drafts other than listening, but in the FM Towns version there's music playing constantly throughout the whole game and the notes of the distaff are barely audible. I can't imagine how annoying it would be to try to play Loom on Expert that way.

That's why I didn't try it. I was fine going through the story I remember so well, which is only a couple hours long and where it's impossible to ever put yourself in an unwinnable state. Considering I failed several games of King's Quest back in the day because I forgot something in the beginning of the game and then arrived at the end only to find myself unable to proceed, that's nice. I really need to play more LucasArts games, and now that there's remastered versions of Grim Fandango out and Day of the Tentacle coming, they just need to announce Full Throttle remastered and I'll hit the games I really want to play that I missed back in the day.

When I was very young, we were at the store and I wanted an NES game. I don't even remember what it was, but my father suggested that I get Maniac Mansion instead. I didn't listen to him, but now I'm pretty sure I should have.

This will obviously end in tears.

Loom ends on one of the most obvious cliffhangers I've ever seen, but there was never a sequel, apparently because no one at LucasArts was really interested in working on one. I've learned quite recently that there's a fan-made sequel called Forge, the first part of part of which is playable, and that Brian Moriarty said he's finally up to making a sequel at GDC, but apparently the rights are so hopelessly tangled that Forge is probably all we're likely to get. There is a the Loom postmortem that he did at GDC that's up for free, though.

The game wasn't as affecting for me now as it was when I was a pre-teen, but it's still a good game, even though it's pretty short and not even remotely challenging. I love worldbuilding and I have a fan's obsessive need to know more and more about the worlds I'm interested in, but I still realize that what's left unsaid can be as or more important as what is said. On that score, Loom does quite well. It's been available on Steam for a while if you want to play it (as the PC CD version), and if you don't want to play it yourself, that longplay is about as long as a movie and at least as interesting.
dorchadas: (Broken Dream)
I just finished reading and reviewing Spock's World, which I've wanted to reread for a long while but which got pushed to the front of my queue by Leonard Nimoy's death. It made me remember the influence the book had on my as a child, and I figured I'd write about it. I'd love to make this a nice, pat causal relationship, but while it's that way in my memory, memory is so unreliable that I can't honestly say there's a direct connection. But in my mind, there is.

I first listened to Spock's World instead of reading it. I don't remember if I picked it out or if my father did, but it was the CD edition read by Leonard Nimoy and George Takei. I still remember the way some of the quotes sounded, and when I read the passages in the book I could hear, clear as day, George Takei saying:
"We give her remains to the night from which we arose," Sarek said, opening the porcelain container to the light wind that had sprung up. "Surely we know that this is not she; she and the Other know it well. And we wish her well in whatever may befall, til the Moon is no longer, and the Stars are no more."

The wind carried the dust away into the silence. T’Khut slipped upward in silence flooding the ocean of sand with light.

"Light with her always," he said, "and with us."
It was amazing.

I was not the most popular child. It probably comes as no surprise, and I was lucky in that by high school everything was fine and I had a great last four years of secondary education, but I had few friends before that. I also tended to feel things very strongly, such that I would occasionally overreact to attempts at camaraderie and treat them as insults (which I received a fair number of, to be fair). I sometimes think that strength of feeling is why I don't like watching movies at all anymore, and why even when I would go to the theatre I hated horror movies or any movies based on embarrassment comedy. But it meant that I spent a lot of time on the computer and most of middle school hating the time I spent there.

I never watched Star Trek, but I found the Vulcans fascinating, and especially their portrayal in Spock's World. A species that has incredibly strong emotions but developed a discipline in order to control their effects? That honestly sounded like something I needed, and so with all the unreasonably strong conviction a pre-teen can muster, I set out to burn all emotion out of my heart.

It didn't work. Of course it didn't work, because that's not how humanity works. But it worked well enough, and even my parents noticed the change and commented on how I was less moody and more pleasant to be around, which of course served as encouragement. I can't tell how much my parents themselves influenced me in this, as they're architypal reserved Midwesterners and I could have picked up plenty of my inspiration from them. But the end result is that I went from being sad almost all the time to not crying for close to a decade and generally being a lot calmer.

I later decided that this kind of iron control was unnecessary and it was preventing any kind of deeper connections forming with my friends--I used to take pride in being described as "mysterious"--but it's effected my emotions to this day. I generally don't feel very strongly about much, and one of the reasons [ profile] softlykarou likes to listen to me talk about RPGs or old DOS games is that they're two things that I obviously get excited about. Even though I know that logical decision making is actually impossible, I still hold to logic as probably the important motivator in my reasoning. I can't directly attribute that to Spock's World, but I am reasonably sure that it's the source.

So while I didn't grow up watching Star Trek, I can still trace a lot of my personality to its influence.

Mene sakkhet ur-seveh. \\//_

Edit: I found that audiobook! It's up on Youtube:
dorchadas: (Green Sky)
I first played Doom's shareware version pretty soon after it came out. I'm pretty sure I got it from a PC Gamer disc--though it's possible my father downloaded it for me through Gopher--loaded it up and started the game, and from the moment that first guitar riff that gamers nowadays know so well started playing, I was hooked:

This is pretty much the standard story for a PC gamer alive in the 90s. What makes me different is that I asked my father for the full game and he said no, and that was pretty much the end for my foray into major first person shooters until someone living down the hall gave me a copy of Half-Life my first year of university. I played Master of Magic and the Quest for Glory and King's Quest series and Diablo and Castle of the Winds and other games, and Doom mostly faded from my consciousness. I played earlier FPS games like Catacomb Abyss and Ken's Labyrinth, but nothing later and nothing of Doom after the Bruiser Brothers. What happened to poor Doomguy after that? I had no idea.

Until now.

Now with dynamic lighting!

Read more... )
dorchadas: (Dreams are older)
The Aethra Chronicles is on!

The Aethra Chronicles has the distinction of being one of two shareware games I ever mail-ordered the full version for. Or, more accurately, asked my father to mail order the full version for, the other being the excellent Castle of the Winds, an early graphical roguelike which is sadly a Windows 3.1 game and thus not likely to be included in's collection. It also doesn't run on 64-bit systems, so I installed Windows XP emulation entirely so I could play it, but that's a story for another post once I beat it and post a review.

It's also the second game that I've assembled a soundtrack for myself, the first being the top-down space shooter Solar Winds I: the Escape, and the only one where I manually recorded the audio from the game and assembled the mp3s by hand. Which admittedly wasn’t hard, because there’s only a handful of songs and most of them are 15-20 second long loops, but still.

Anyway, The Aethra Chronicles has the somewhat dubious distinction of being the only CRPG in existence to be based on Rolemaster. And similar to Rolemaster, it's extremely obtuse without pouring through the game's documentation, which of course I didn't get until I sent away for the full version after I had done everything possible in the shareware version. After doing that, learned that I should have maxed my main character's Wisdom instead of his Intelligence, since he was a Ranger and of course Rangers get their magic from Wisdom. Oops. No wonder he barely had enough spell points to turn into a bear.

Most of the Rolemaster heritage didn't matter, because as an early CRPG non-combat interaction was basically non-existent and there wasn't anything really approaching the Movement & Maneuver Tables. There definitely were critical hits, though, even though they were rolled behind the screen and most of the Rolemaster's color and flying limbs were lost. One of the skills you could put points was called Deadly Strike, and as near as I can tell it it gave you a massive boost on the critical hit severity. Later in the game, you get a chance to hire a thief named Chrissta, and the best course of action is to do that, max her Deadly Strike every level, use a wizard to cast Summon Shadow Guardian to duplicate her, and have two permanent cuisinarts murdering their way through everything. That could reasonably be considered to be breaking the game, but it's how I beat it so I have a soft spot for it regardless of its cheesiness.

Image found on the internet so I didn't have to run though character generation to get a good picture. You can tell I didn't take it because the main character isn't an elf.

There were some elements of the story that showed up in my imagination for a long while afterward, like the demon-slaying Grey Swords or the Oracle whose powers come from actually being from another dimension and wanting to get home. The game is also somewhat of a white whale for me, because while I did finish the game and beat all the bosses, including the optional Kahzreen Vader, I didn't beat him "legitimately," which is to say that I didn't solve the puzzle required to get to him, I just cast Pass Through Stone and walked through the wall to the room where he was hiding and fought him that way. I've been tempted to play again to see what I was missing the first time, since I've checked walkthroughs now that the internet is a thing and as near as I can tell I was doing everything right, but it has been twenty years.

I actually think that at least half of the interest I have in running a game of Rolemaster comes from this game, the other half being from Middle Earth Roleplaying. If you like old CRPGS, it's a great game.
dorchadas: (Grue)
This Geek Girl Chicago post reminded me of my own experience with night terrors. Fortunately rare and all when I was young, but I still remember some of them very vividly.

In the one I remember the best, I was standing on a bridge over a lake. It was somewhere in the Pacific Northwest--no surprise, since we were visiting my grandparents at the time--with the pine forested hills all around. The bridge was made of metal, or at least had metal supporting post. I remember because there was a small crab crawling along one of the bridge posts, and in the dream I watched it for a while, then picked it up and dropped it down the open entrance to one of the poles. I waited a moment, then I had an overpowering sensation that something vast and terrible was coming up the supporting pole, and I ran screaming off into the forest.

When I woke up(?), there was a crab perched on the ceiling, a meter across and slowly waving its claws at me. I just sat there petrified, staring up at it, until my father noticed I was awake when he was walking past my room. He asked what was wrong and I told him, still not taking my eyes off the crab, and after a moment, he said, "Well, tell it to go away." And it sounds ridiculous and I thought it was ridiculous at the time, but I guess it helped because I was able to close my eyes and eventually fall back to sleep.

The second one I remember, I don't actually remember the dream. I just remember suddenly waking up standing in the bathroom, with both my parents awake and having thrown my clothes in the toilet. My parents were asking me to pick my clothes out (since I had, after all, thrown them in there), but I just kept screaming "NO! NOOOO!" and running away, filled with some kind of nameless fear that I wasn't capable of expressing. And even at the time, there was a small part of my brain that wondered why I was doing this, and why I wasn't just grabbing the clothes so I could go back to sleep...but not enough to overpower the rest of my brain. I think after a long time, my parents eventually gave up, but I don't remember that.

Nowadays, I barely remember my dreams at all, which is why the dreams (夢) tag is so sparsely populated, and I haven't had a night terror in years. A lot of the vivid dreams I had when I was younger are much stronger in my memory than the dreams I have now, like the repeated dream of the house on the edge of the cliff and falling into the sea, or all of my friends being vampires. Remembering my dreams is so rare that when I woke up from a nightmare a few months ago with my heart racing and the sheets damp with sweat, the thing I was most surprised about was that I had been affected by the dream strongly enough to react to it. Maybe it's true what they say about your dreams dying as you get older--or maybe it's just my memory that's going.  photo emot-ohdear.png
dorchadas: (In America)
Confession: I don't actually like pumpkin at all, much less the spiced variety. I don't like kabocha, or most squashes. Zucchini scrapes by as acceptable due to exposure.

I do love fall, though.

Temperatures in °C. Get with the program, Americans!

That was Thursday's weather. The day before, it was closer to 25°C, and then we woke up to cold winds and rainy skies. It was like those old cartoons where things are great and the sun is shining and then all the leaves suddenly fall at the same time.

I'm not exactly sure why fall is my favorite season. I suspect a lot of is the weather--I've always said when people ask that Ireland is the place I've lived with the best weather, because in Cork temperatures ranged from 5° to 30° with none of the awful extremes we get in Chicago--but the leaves play a part in it as well. Last year when I went to the Scarecrow Festival in Geneva I wrote a blog post about going down by the river to view the leaves and how disappointing it was. With the weather changing so early this year, maybe in a month when we go to the Scarecrow Festival again the leaves will actually be worth looking at.

I never would have thought I'd be the kind of person who'd like leaf-viewing. When I was younger and my parents would take us to gardens, my sister and I would usually find some place to hang out so we wouldn't have to look at the stupid flowers. When we'd go to Shore Acres State Park for a picnic and so they could look at the flowers, we'd always go to the "a Japanese-style garden with a lily pond" and watch the water striders and fish in the pond. And now, I willingly go on walks to to look at leaves.

See, this is why children think adults are boring and adults think children are dumb.
dorchadas: (Not the Tale)
I was reading and stumbled across this WIP of The Guardian Legend, which was one of my favorite games as a child even if I never managed to get more than halfway through the game, though I did go back four years ago and finally beat it.

Well, while looking around the internet to find a link to an OC ReMix of the Blue Lander theme (it's here, if you're curious) and instead I found a link to a two part article on The Guardian Legend (Part 1, Part 2) describing the author's childhood experiences and a picture Let's Play of the whole game.

The writer has a lot more emotional connection to the The Guardian Legend than I did, though he does describe some of the reasons I like it so much. The haunting feeling of being alone in a world filled with unknown hostile monsters, the message from the long-dead alien who urges you to destroy the planetary superweapon before it's too late, the dual gameplay which is part action RPG and part shoot-' has all the story complexity of most NES games (i.e., basically none), but I still found it really evocative.
If someone is reading this... I must have failed.

This star ‘NAJU’ was our home.

But we were invaded by evil life-forms.

Everyone except me was killed.
Not exactly Oscar material there, but to a nine-year-old it's much more compelling.

There are a lot of similarities to Blaster Master, which is the game I have my own connection to, and I chronicled my last attempt to beat it here. It...didn't go well. I got through The Guardian Legend using save states, though I limited myself to save-stating only in rooms where you'd normally get a password.

Anyway, the article is a good read, and has the full soundtrack (which is excellent) linked there and everything. It's worth twenty minutes of your time.

P.S.: Someone made a website!
dorchadas: (Green Sky)
I went to visit the doctor today due to my foot injury, and now I have considerably more peace of mind. After the preliminary check-in bits, he felt along the heel and the ball of my foot, poked about the toes, and when none of that drew any pain from me, he took out a tuning fork, asked me to close my eyes, smacked it on the table, and touched it at various places on my foot.

The idea is that if any of the small bones in the foot were broken, the tuning fork's vibrations would causes said bones to vibrate, naturally causing pain and providing an easy way to know if something was broken with pretty high certainty. Since there was no pain at all no matter where he touched the tuning fork, and the only pain anywhere was when he poked the very center of the swelling on my foot, and even that was minimal, his opinion was that there probably wasn't anything broken and it was probably badly bruised. Wrap it in an ace bandage, keep it elevated, apply heat as needed, and come back in a month if any problems remain. I can do that. (^_^)v

I was reading Robert Silverberg's Nightwings a couple days ago (shameless plug: review here) and I was surprised how much nostalgia I got just from the physical existence of the book. Most of the stuff I read nowadays is on kindle or relatively new books from the library, but Nightwings was an old paperback with yellowing pages and that old book smell that all readers love.

It took me back to the days of visiting my grandparents in their retirement community, where one of the first things we would do when my family arrived was go down to the town library and get a giant handfull of books for me to take back and read. I'd always pillage the sci fi and fantasy section, and my grandparents' house is the place where I first read Robert Heinlein, Anne McCaffrey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Gordon R. Dickson, Diane Duane, Katherine Kurtz, Robert Jordan, Arthur C. Clarke, Ursula K. LeGuin, Susan Cooper, Lloyd Alexander, and a bunch of other authors I can't remember.

The books were almost all yellowing paperbacks or those old hardcovers that didn't have plastic jackets, and the smell stuck with me. Smelling it again takes me back to days at the Real Beach (so-called because it was distinct from the beach along the river in their retirement community) building dikes and sandcastles with my grandfather's WWII army entrenching tools, going for picnics and paddleboats at a nearby lake, shopping in Coos Bay, picnics, seal-watching, and clambering over rocks at Cape Arago State Park...

Now I really want to go visit Oregon again.
dorchadas: (Zombies together!)
I bought this game back when it first came out after renting it a few times, as we did in the days of yore before digital downloads and virtual consoles and web stores, but I never really managed to get very far because I couldn't figure out the boss mechanics. Despite that, I loved playing it. I used to play it with my sister all the time, and we'd wander around beating up rival gangs of high school kicks, downing vitamins, and playing in-game baseball using a rock and a lead pipe, and that gave us enough fun that we'd rent it over and over until I finally bought it. Even then, we never managed to beat it, and it sat in my brain's list of games that I loved until I got to university, checked the internet, figured out where Blade was and the whole "backtrack to the park" thing, and then I beat it.

I had occasionally told [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd about how great the game was, but for a long while we had one PS2-to-USB plugin and otherwise had to use the keyboard, and If there's any genre that suffers from having to use a keyboard other than platformers, it's side-scrolling brawlers. Recently, though, we picked up a USB Xbox 360 controller, and after playing around with that a bit I suggested that we play River City Ransom so I could show her why this was so nostalgic to me:
 photo River-City-Ransom-NES.jpg

Read more... )
dorchadas: (Green Sky)
When I was a boy, every summer and sometimes during the winter, my family would pack up our things into our car and drive west to visit my grandparents in Oregon. One of the first things I would do every time we arrived was borrow my grandmother's library card and head down to the local public library and check out a double handful of books. That's where I read a ton of classic sci-fi and fantasy--the Foundation and Robot books, the Rama books, a bunch of Heinlein's stuff, the Chronicles of Amber, the Riftwar books, nearly all the Valdemar books, and, relevant to this post, Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover books. She was personally a terrible human being, but I really took to the stories about politicking and personal relations in a feudal society with a psychic nobility. Maybe because the psychics were redheads.

Anyway, half a decade ago, I read Stephen King's The Mist and absolutely loved it. And based on the title of this post you can probably see where this is going. I had it that the Towers had figured out a way to extend the force fields they use to prevent experiments from blowing up to keeping the Mist out at long range, set the game during the Ages of Chaos so all kinds of crazy psychic insanity is on the table, and wrote the whole thing up in Unisystem.

I found it a few days ago and looked back on it, and there are some major flaws. For one, in a game that's supposed to have political intrigue and the players playing nobility who are members of the ruling families of various kingdoms, the utter lack of any real social systems beyond "roll some dice and make stuff us" is a major flaw. I also exhaustively detailed the way psychic powers work because I've always been one for systematizing my games, even though the way the powers work in the books is basically "i dunno lol" and constantly changes depending on the plot and when the book was written. It's ~50 pages long and I wouldn't run it at all nowadays.

I'm thinking of converting it over to post-GMC nWoD, though. A lot of work is already done, since GMC has a better social system and updated psychic powers in it that I can steal. I can finally adapt the Company rules from Reign to nWoD like I've been planning to do for months. I just need to add the Darkover-specific bits around the edges and convert the stats over.

I do like the idea of getting to use it. Darkover is a great setting to run an intrigue game in, with the competing demands of familial loyalty vs. personal ambition, the lure of the Towers as a source of power and a neutral ground to settle disputes, and the addition of the Mist adds a tragic aspect to the society where they might be able to solve the looming end of the world once and for all if they weren't too busy stabbing each other in the brain with mind-daggers all the time. Humanity in a nutshell.
dorchadas: (Pile of Dice)
Story time!

So, one of the first multi-session RPGs I was in was a Shadowrun 2nd Edition game in high school (with players I met through the Games Club I was in), which was also the first time I played Shadowrun and one part of what got me hooked on the game, the other parts being playing the Genesis game at [ profile] uriany's house and seeing ads for Shadowrun in Dragon magazine. We only got through one run before the game fell apart, though, and now I'll recount to you why.

I played a mage, because it's me. I also played an elf because it's me, but that's much less relevant to the story. Anyway, I had bought the Tír na nÓg book previously and devoured it, and I was really taken with the different kind of magical traditions listed inside based on the old Irish social classes and the elements. If you've read that book, you're probably already shaking your head, but hey, I was 15, cut me some slack.

So mages are already an I-win button in Shadowrun just because of their versatility and the breadth of capabilities that spells can cover, and I played that up to the hilt. I took a couple combat spells, a telekinesis spell, a spell to control emotions, a spell called Chaotic World that makes people's senses go haywire (phantom sounds, visual hallucinations, etc.) as AoE crowd control, a healing spell, and some other stuff that's not relevant, and we went out on the mission.

I don't remember it that well, but I remember that we walked in to the front room with the receptionist, where my character proceeded to flirt with her and successfully gained access to the building (elf = Charisma bonus). We were stopped by a guard, but I used Control Emotions to allay his suspicions. When we ran into trouble and a squad of guards was summoned, I dropped a Chaotic World on top of the enemies to disorient them, then summoned a Spirit of the Great Fiery Firmament from a heating vent using my overpowered Tír na nÓg magical tradition powers. I don't think we even played out the combat, despite the presence of a street samurai in the group, since the GM realized they were totally outclassed.

I might have also used the telekinesis spell to steal something that we would otherwise have had to hack through, making the decker also superfluous, but I don't remember that clearly.

We went back and got the pay data, and the next mission involved transporting explosives somewhere. We went to the payload, and the street sam immediately threatened to detonate the bomb while we were all standing around it. We tried to negotiate for a few minutes, and then I used Control Emotions to calm him down so we could restrain him. The game fell apart shortly afterward.

I was confused at the time, but in hindsight it's obvious what the problem was even if it was handled in an incredibly passive-aggressive way because we were all 15. While some people like playing supporting characters, most people don't like being the sidekick, and even less do they like playing characters who are literally pointless. What we learned in that run was that the other characters in the game were just bullet-sponges for my super-mage who could solve any problem by himself. Sure, you could say that the GM should have stopped from casting that initial Control Emotions on the guard because waving my hands around and chanting is obvious, but I don't remember the circumstances clearly enough to know whether there were extenuating circumstances.

Some of this is just the wizard problem, hence my preference for casters to be "a pyromancer" or "a diviner" or "a skinchanger" or "an astromancer" instead of just "a wizard," but it also taught me a valuable lesson about properly spreading out areas of character competence and making sure there's at least one area where each character can shine. It's too bad I had to learn it through the implosion of a game.
dorchadas: (Pile of Dice)
At least according to Jon Peterson, author of Playing at the World, which I haven't read yet but which I'm going to get around to...eventually.

I was introduced to D&D at a very early age through my father's story. Yes, singular--it wasn't really his thing, but he played a tiny bit in college and remembered that he had been a crossbowman and had the highest Charisma so they made him the party leader. It obviously didn't have much impact on him because that was all he could remember, but I asked him to tell me that story again and again, hoping to glean some other tidbit or scrap out of him all to no avail.

At the end of elementary school, I met some people who invited me to play in their D&D game and I lept at the chance. I'd love to talk at length about what happened in that game...but I honestly don't really remember anything. I remember that we were using a battered copy of the old AD&D 1st Edition book, with the iconic image on the cover. I remember rolling 4d6-drop-lowest and having a spread between 10 and 17, I remember being told that Charisma was basically worthless--and I don't remember any reaction rolls or morale checks, so that at least was an accurate summary for that game--and I remember making a dark elf illusionist. I don't remember why I was allowed to make a dark elf because I clearly didn't know what was going on. The DM ran me through an intro scenario in a town where I went into a bar (of course) and ate with my character's hood up and an elf came and sit across from me. When I lowered my hood, he of course immediately attacked, and after a verbal warning, I cast Hypnotic Pattern...which did nothing, because elves have sleep and charm resistance, which I didn't know about. Having to go home and eat dinner fortunately prevented my character from being murdered right after being created, though maybe that wouldn't have happened.

Of the actual game that followed, I literally remember nothing other than that I made a joke about a key we found after killing a whole room full of skeletons being a "skeleton key."

And come to think of that, that was my only experience of playing D&D. While the game had run I had picked up the AD&D 2nd edition Player's Handbook (after Drow of the Underdark, the first roleplaying book I ever bought), which did lead to some confusion trying to reconcile between first and second edition (though admittedly the differences are small). But after that I picked up the Dungeon Master's Guide and the Monster Manual and proceeded to run a game for my sister. That went about as well as you'd expect from a 12-year-old's game, though I did tend toward the "Grand sweeping story" end of the pool. Of that game, one of the things I remember is that I had this conception that D&D adventures had to take place in an adventuring party, so I made a bunch of NPCs to accompany her, most of which just kind of followed her around without ever interacting with the game world. That's probably just as well, because it's bad enough when the GM has to NPCs talking to each other in front of the PCs, much less 6 or 7, though admittedly me being 12 might have had something to do with that too. The other thing I remember is that she killed a balor by turning it into a rabbit with a wand of polymorph, managing to get through both its magic resistance and its saving throw.

I also ran a Dark Sun game for some of the same people I played that AD&D 1st Edition game for, but that game fizzled because of my fascination with technomancy as a concept. Long story short, giving the PCs weapons of mass destruction in a campaign based on wandering around getting into fights in a world focused on hardscrabble survival doesn't end well.

After that, I mostly moved on to Vampire: the Masquerade (about which more in two years or so on its 25th anniversary) and considered D&D beneath me with all the pretension that a teenager can muster, but I eventually realized that the way one pretends to be an elf is not in fact a measure of one's personal taste or maturity or inner character. And while I still am not that fond of class/level systems as a whole, playing some kind of skill-based D&D derivative isn't anathema at all. So here's to 40 more years, now that the OGL means D&D is free to be used by just about anyone who wants to!

Now, if only I could decide what kind of game I wanted to run... (^_^;)
dorchadas: (Not the Tale)
Well, in PDF form.

Occasionally for the last few months, I've been trying to find a copy of a magazine that I remember reading over and over again when I was young. Unfortunately, I didn't really remember much about it, and while I do remember that my family subscribed to PC Gamer, Dragon Magazine, and Nintendo Power at various times, I went through the digital archives that are variously maintained online, but I couldn't find anything. I even checked Electronic Gaming Monthly but that didn't turn up anything either. It wasn't until last night that my brain dug up a random memory that a magazine existed called "Computer Gaming World," so I started poking around it's own archive. I originally checked 1993-1995, and it wasn't anywhere in there, and then I started going back earlier and I found this:

I remember I read that magazine over and over, because this was back in the day before I could find all of the gaming news I wanted for free on the internet. I remember thinking a lot of it sounded amazing, but I had no idea how to get a hold of most of those games and didn't want to ask my parents for anything that couldn't be found in a store. The only two games I ever acquired from mail order were Castle of the Winds 2: Lifthransir's Bane, which is an awesome mouse-based dungeon-crawler that's now freely distributable, and Aethra Chronicles, which was a party-based RPG using Rolemaster--I think the only CRPG that used Rolemaster. Which is somewhat odd, because Rolemaster would work way better on a computer that can easily calculate all those critical hit tables than with a GM that has to flip pages all the time.

Huh. Random aside, if you want to hack off people's limbs Rolemaster-style in your d20 games, I found this webpage.

Anyway, here are my observations after having paged through it for the first time in nearly two decades.
  • Advertising - There are a ton of ads in here. I'd estimate that at least 50% of the page space is taken up with ads and it might be even more. Having used adblockers for most of a decade at this point, I sometimes forget exactly how saturated with ads the internet actually is and how much old magazines were similarly ad-filled. And modern magazines, I guess, since that's a common complaint leveled against fashion magazines. On the other hand, when there were a lot fewer ways to learn about games, I was more tolerant of them. Some of those ads even now make me curious about the games, and at least one of them was effective--I ended up buying Dark Sun: Shattered Lands, and the CD is sitting on my desk even now. Also, the way the ads talk about the games hasn't changed all that much. Everything is the most awesome graphics, advanced AI, and heart-pounding gameplay that has ever existed, and then there are pictures of blocky pixels killing other blocky pixels.

  • Proto-MMOs - Those and play-by-mail strategy games. There are a lot of ads for them in here. Stuff like The Shadow of Yserbius or Star Quest or The Hundred Years War or Portinium or The Next Empire or Legends of Future Past or The Island of Kesmai. I guess that makes sense, because putting ads in computer gaming publications was probably the best way for them to get new players.

  • The Hundred Years War - I put a link above because apparently HYW is still going--or was pretty recently--and reading the webpage I can kind of see why. It seems like a proto-Crusader Kings II crossed with an MMO. There's an article in the magazine (starting page 146) that talks about playing it and mentions that each player takes the role of a noble in Hundred Years War-era France or England and then is statted out with various traits and characteristics like glutton. Also, it was real-time--each turn was one day of real time for 90 days of in-game time, and if you didn't log in one day, you might come back to find you'd been assassinated, your family killed (which was bad, because if your character died and you had an heir, you could keep playing), and your lands laid waste. This in the era of dial-up.

  • Origin - On page 176, there's an article about EA's acquisition of Origin. I know a lot of people were annoyed at EA's Origin downloader because they view EA as a murderer that killed Wing Commander and Ultima and stripped Origin's corpse before dumping it by the roadside. I was never really into Wing Commander--I was an X-Wing player--and haven't beaten any of the Ultima games, but I've seen enough complaining on the internet that it's interesting finding this article buried at the end of the magazine.

  • Filler - In the first half of the magazine, there's a review of The Legend of Kyrandia and then in the second half, there's a "Game Hints" section on the same game that repeats a lot of the basic information. I remember that even at the time I thought this was kind of silly and that they should have combined them into a single article. Also, I already mentioned how many ads are in here.

  • Scathing Reviews - The review of The Dark Half on page 58 is pretty funny because the reviewer really rips into it. With all the worry nowadays about how game reviews are just ads for the industry, it's nice to see an extremely critical review in a vintage publication. And the magazine has enough ads already, so making the articles ads would have just been too much.

  • The JetpackVR Future - On page 80, there's an article titled "Affordable VR by 1994," and it's completely hilarious to read in hindsight now that VR headsets are only really becoming popular 20 years later. There's a guy in the article predicting home VR by 1995 who said, "In a full virtual world, 3-D, interactive, everything. I think in December or January of '94 or '95. It'll do what a workstation will do right now. You'll be inside the world, flying airplanes or playing interactive games where you can have four to five players in one game." That's some 640k-is-enough-level incorrectness there. The article also has some nice pictures of dorky old VR setups.

If you have time, give the PDF a download and take a look into a age that has faded into the past.
dorchadas: (Ping Kills)
One of the best NES games is called Blaster Master[1]. Jason's pet frog jumps down a hole in the ground after being mutated to enormous size, and he follows it and finds a big metal tank hidden down there, which he immediately gets in and starts driving around because plot (although hey, big metal tank with the keys in the ignition, teenager...). Seeing the giant horde of mutants that live within the bowels of the earth, he decides the logical thing to do is fight them all to get his pet frog back. Of such elements were the stories of NES games made.

Note that the story of the Japanese version was totally different, with nary a frog to be seen.

It was hard. Not because the moment-to-moment gameplay was hard--it was a fairly standard Metroidvania[2] platformer, though with the addition of top-down dungeon segments when Jason left the tank and walked around and shot things--but because the bosses were brutal and there were limited continues and no way to save. A few of the bosses had a special cheaty way to beat them, whereby you could throw a grenade and pause the game and the grenade would continue exploding and doing damage even while the game was paused. The game even looped the hurt sound effect during the pause screen, so I'm not sure how this bug made it into the final game, but nonetheless it did. Not all of the bosses were vulnerable to it either, and one of the bosses that wasn't was the boss of Stage 3.

That boss was a square that teleported around and moved between various avatars while shooting you. As you shot him, he a) started moving faster b) started teleporting at more frequent intervals. That took me a lot of practice before I could reliably beat him, and there were several playthroughs that ended at that boss or not long after due to how many lives I lost trying to kill him.

(Skip forward to 2:00)

Yeah. It's like that.

Okay, now put on this music to set the mood, because it's fantastic and is also relevant to the story:

Stage 5 mostly took place underwater, and when you first get there the tank can't navigate. It can jump higher underwater but can't swim, so the stage is mostly just a continuous process of descending to the bottom of a gigantic underwater trench and fighting the boss at the bottom, who gives you a module to install into the tank that lets it swim, thus allowing you to make the climb all the way back up to the top. On the way down, you have to destroy a barrier using your tank's gun to descend to further depths. This will become important later.

The boss of Stage 5 was a Giant Crab Thing that shot bubbles at you. That sounds ridiculous, but it was actually quite difficult:

Note the "zero gun" challenge bit there. That probably needs some context, so let me explain. You could power up your tank only by killing bosses and getting the enhancements they dropped, but you could power up your character by finding powerups in the dungeons. Obviously there were health replenishing powers, but there were also gun powerups that would power-up your main gun, so it went from shooting tiny bullets about 30 feet to shooting bullets across the screen to shooting bullets that moved in a wave pattern to shooting bullets that moved in a wave pattern and went through walls. If you got hit, your gun lost power, and the scaling was unequal--it depowered faster per increment than it powered up. I'd usually power my gun to max in an early dungeon[3] and try to avoid getting hit for most of the rest of the game, because a fully-powered gun makes the game vastly easier.

Well, it turns out that filling the whole area in front of you with bubbles while having your only weak point being the mouth from which the bubbles are actively shooting out of is a pretty effective counterpoint to a gun that shoots wave bullets through walls. Even assuming that I had managed to maintain my gun level, it was hard. And if I hadn't, or if I died? Forget it. Any game that managed to make it past Stage 3 died at the boss of Stage 5.

Except for one. One game, I was dodging bubbles and throwing grenades and fighting and all of a sudden, the crab started exploding. I think I kept shooting for a couple seconds because I couldn't believe it. I mean, the boss of Stage 5 was unbeatable, right? Well, apparently not. And I grabbed the tank powerup that allows the tank to swim and left the dungeon.

When I got out, I started swimming. See, this time I had left the tank farther behind than I usually did, just to see if I could make it all the way down to the bottom of the chasm without it. I mean, I wasn't going to beat the boss anyway, so I was setting other challenges. But then when Giant Mutant Crab was dead, I had to swim up back to the tank, so I did. I swam up and up and up, halfway up the trench, and that's when I found the wall. I had left the tank on the other side of the barrier that you had to shoot through to progress, and when I went into the boss dungeon, it had regenerated. The tank was there, mere feet away, but may as well have been as far away as the moon. I had one life left, but if I tried to die to restart with my tank, the game would end and I'd lose all my progress.

I stared at the TV for a few moments, turned the game off, and never played it again.

[1]: Though with a much better Japanese title. "Super Planetary War Records: Metafight"? Awesome. It's like how Crystalis is "Godslayer: Sonata of the Far-Away Sky" in Japan.
[2]: Pre-dating the term! It has the same "get powerups, backtrack, now you can go new places" mechanic, though.
[3]: That dungeon had enough powerups to take your gun to max and the enemies were so weak you were highly unlikely to be hit; a combination that was rare to nonexistent in any other dungeon.
dorchadas: (Dreams are older)
Yes, that song I'm "listening" to is a real song, and it's exactly as bad as you're probably imagining it to be.

For Labor Day weekend, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went out to visit my parents in the suburbs, prompted by them mentioning that they had tickets to go on a boat ride on the Fox River, which was pretty much exactly like I expected. It was only an hour and the boat wasn't that fast--and it wasn't a real steamboat, since the paddle is just for show--but it was still really relaxing. There was even an overcast sky, so I didn't have to worry about being sunburned.

That's not the main thing I thought was notable, though.While I was looking through the stuff that I told my parents to throw away that they never threw away, I managed to find one of the books I was looking for--the World of Warcraft RPG, about which I'll have another entry later--and didn't find my Warcraft III CDs and had to buy them again, but one of the things I did find down in the basement while rooting through the storage room were the journals I kept in high school.

For pretty much the entirety of my four years in high school, I kept a pen and paper journal. I wrote at least a page every day, and sometimes more. Thinking back on that now, I wonder what exactly I wrote about? The daily minutiae of life in high school, I assume, and all the ponderings that only an adolescent who doesn't realize that their amazing philosophical insights have already been better expressed by others can think are worth writing down. That's what I remember going into that journal, and while I was there, I didn't pull them out and read them again. Maybe I should have. I've often thought of taking them and transcribing the entries in them into LJ, which wouldn't be as bad as it sounds because I wrote them using allusion and obfuscation with the aim of making anyone else who read them have a difficult time figuring out what it going on. Unfortunately, that works for me too--[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd read them a few years ago, and I couldn't answer most of her questions about them because whatever the context for the references within had long sense passed from my mind.

I think the main thing that I want to keep is continuity. I started out on Ujournal, which just vanished out from under me one day (which is why I back everything up on Dreamwidth, just to be safe). A while later, the entries came back on, and while I saved some entries (you can see them under my Ireland tag), I reasoned that I had changed enough that it didn't matter and let the rest go. I still regret that. I posted a lot of random stuff, and a lot of worthless stuff...or at least, that's what I remember. Even is gone now, so there's basically no way to get the others back. At least if I wrote down the stuff from my high school journals, it'd be saved, and in re-reading them to transcribe them would probably be personally valuable. But it's the probably that stops me, and also how much work it would be. Typing in more than 1500 handwritten pages would take a very long time. But if I don't do that, it'll probably get lost somewhere, like the other book and my WCIII CDs did. Ugh.

I haven't looked at it in over a decade. Maybe it doesn't matter.

"All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return."

Is it...

Jul. 8th, 2007 11:44 pm
dorchadas: (Broken Dream)
I've been feeling pretty out of sorts for the last couple of days.

I threw away almost all of my childhood mementos in the move. Pictures, school report cards, awards, everything.

I try to tell myself that's the reason. I mostly succeed.
dorchadas: (Dreams are older)
I was not a very culturally aware child. I rarely watched movies, and didn't start really listening to the radio until my sophomore year of high school (and then stopped again once I got to college). I rarely watched television--I'm lucky my sister did, or I probably would have missed out on things like Scooby Doo and Fraggle Rock. Tonight, I watched Goonies, which I somehow managed to miss earlier on. So much I missed in the past.

I'm currently reading an extremely depressing book called When the Rivers Run Dry which is about, essentially, how a lot of developing nations are doomed to starvation and chaos due to depleting their water tables faster than they can be renewed. It also goes into interesting detail about how the rotting plants at the bottom of dams account for a large amount of methane, how a lot of rivers that people used to talk about being huge are now getting sucked dry (in, for example, the American Southwest), and about the amount of water needed to produce a lot of things being a hidden cost. It's interesting, but hard to read in a Malthusian sort of way. Yay.

Brunch tomorrow!


dorchadas: (Default)

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