dorchadas: (Awake in the Night)
Metroid II is the only Game Boy game I've played for longer than a few minutes. One of my sister's friends had a Game Boy, and for some reason that is still opaque to this day, her mother asked me to babysit for them. That mainly consisted of the friend watching TV while I played Metroid II, confusing myself with the changes between that and Metroid. Having to hunt metroids? Jumping morph ball? Trying to play a metroid game on a 160 x 144 pixel screen? I played for about half an hour, got nowhere, and then never played it again.

When I heard about Another Metroid 2 Remake, I figured it would end up vaporware like the various 3D Link's Awakening remakes or shut down before being released like Chrono Resurrection. To my utter astonishment, however, it was finished, released, and was out for almost a month before Nintendo DMCAed it. That was more than enough time for the internet to seize hold of it, and it's easy to find if you spend any time looking.

Threat detected

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dorchadas: (Blue Rose)
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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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:

Spoilers )

It's a pretty good movie with some flaws that annoyed me, but not enough to ruin my experience.
dorchadas: (Enter the Samurai)
Shatterhand is one of those second-tier NES games like Kick Master or Vice: Project Doom or Power Blade that don't get talked about as much as Castlevania or Mega Man but are still pretty good. I've wanted to play it pretty much since I saw it in Nintendo Power back when I was subscribed to it, but I never did for reasons that I no longer remember. Fortunately, the state of modern gaming and the fact that I do all of my gaming on my computer means that I can play all the old games I missed out on and then write about them in a way that I never would have thought to do as a kid.

The intro is less than informative about the game. Our hero is fighting either a robot or someone wearing power armor and shooting a machine gun, which pour hero blocks using his bare hands. Then he punches the robot. The end. Truly a story for the ages, or at least for NES platformers.

Step One: Punch. Step Two: It explodes.

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Mass Exalt

2016-Apr-15, Friday 19:28
dorchadas: (Exalted: One True RPG)
So I had a ridiculous idea and I need to share it.

In Shards of the Exalted Dream, the book for Exalted 2e about alternate settings for the game, there’s a chapter entitled “Heaven’s Reach,” which is a space opera setting. Humanity reaches the limits of technological innovation in the purely physical realm until they discover Essence and use it as a source of power to create enhanced humans with a variety of seemingly supernatural abilities. Cue Exalted in space.

Of course, since I’m playing Mass Effect, I ended up thinking of this:
In the year 2148, explorers on Mars discovered the remains of an ancient spacefaring civilization. In the decades that followed, these mysterious artifacts revealed startling new technologies, enabling powers previously deemed to be mythological. The basis for this incredible enhancement was a force that controlled the very fabric of space and time. They called it the greatest discovery in human history.

The civilizations of the galaxy call them...

Emoji The Solar Exalted THE EXALTED. Emoji The Solar Exalted
The basic structure of the world would remain the same, with the relays and so on, except instead of biotics and Element Zero allowing for mass manipulation, it’d be Exalts and Essence manipulation allowing for FTL. Ships can enter into hyperspace, a chaotic dimension of possibility where only a strong anima field can prevent the ship from dissolving into the surrounding madness, and jump from relay to relay. Jumping without using a relay is possible, but is much slower and ships have to periodically leave near a star in order to prevent hyperspace from eating away at their reality. That way, I get to keep the Wyld and use hyperspace as hell.

The Council races would have the most territory and Exalted. I’m a little tempted to add some of Exalted’s Primordial races, or at least use their appearance, for some of the minor one-note groups. Like, change the Volus to the ereta’een (the species that Autochthon ate whole and thus discovered soulsteel), the Hanar to the pelagials, or the Batarians to the hruggha. Asari, Turians, and Salarians could stay as is. Draw a bit on the Mountain Folk for the Quarians, and say that they’re on the run now because they experimented with beings drawn from hyperspace as a work force until those beings banded together in sufficient numbers and started showing signs of self-awareness, which lead to war, which lead to the migrant fleet. These “raksha” are a persistant danger to travelers in the Terminus Systems.

The Protheans are, of course, the Dragon Kings.

Reapers would draw on Abyssal iconography and motivations. Life is chaotic and messy and full of sorrow. We will grant you the peace of death, in which there is an end to suffering and fear. You exist because we allow it, and you will end because we demand it. And husks are already space zombies, so...

I think this has potential.
dorchadas: (Warlords of the Mushroom Kingdom)
The Burrowers
 photo cthonian_by_brainwronged.jpg

Deep beneath the Northern Crater lives...something.

No one is entirely clear what the burrowers look like, because they never seem to come to the surface, but their presence touches the dreams of all who travel near the Northern Crater. Those who are affected dream of strange tentacled horrors, of fire raining from the skies, of a fetid riot of new life, and of the end of all things. When the Hollow Ones are asked about the burrowers, they say that they dream of the Warp and of the Outside, and their dreams are untroubled, and few others stay in the Northern Crater for long. Explorers who know of the burrowers wonder if they are the reason why the crater's climate is so different from the surrounding terrain, but until someone manages to uncover a burrower or decipher the dreams that their presence brings, the mystery is likely to remain unsolved.

 photo Belome-mpuncekar.png

The cold of the darkness beyond the Star Road is not empty. There are many things there, cold intelligences that gaze down at the light and life of the world below with hunger and wait for an opportunity to take that light. The Star Road and its denizens prevent them from descending below on their own, but there are always those in Agarica and Pithek who seek power at any cost who are willing to open the door and allow demons a way in.

Demons come in all shapes and sizes, from things that resemble natural animals with a few startling changes to hideous monstrosities with no terrestrial counterpart. Their desires are varied as well--some of them engage in rampages of destruction, some of them seek build lairs far from civilization and claim territory, and some of them desire to live the lives of mortals. Some of them even take over mortals, possessing their bodies and living their lives, until some unknown condition is met and they vanish, leaving a trail of bodies behind.

Because of this, demons are anathema. The Temple of Holy Flame works tirelessly to hunt them and even the blood-drinkers of Makai ban demonology under pain of death. No civilized nation has any tolerance for demons or those who summon them. Not until recently, when the Dragon Emperor overthrew the Kingdom of Flowers with the aid of the Circle of Xhamekh. Now demon summoners walk openly in one of the most powerful nations on Agarica, and what will happen now, no one can say.

 photo space_pirate_by_azakachi_rd_17-d5lzvur.jpg

The Warp is unpredictable. Some of the Pipes have stable two-way connections, but some only work one way, some lead to a different destination depending on the time of day or the positions of the moons or the Star Road, and others lead to an unpredictable destination, to another world entirely, or to nowhere at all. Using any of the Pipes that's not part of a mapped stable connection is always a risk, and even the Hollow Ones of the Northern Crater, who make the study of the Warp their life's work, are cautious when they use the Pipes

There is one group that does not show that caution, however. Sages have dubbed them the invaders, because they seem focused entirely on conquest, and because they do not come from any known part of Agarica or Pithek. They come out of the Pipes in groups, kill or capture everyone they can, and drag them back to the Pipes, where they are never seen again. Their artificia is more complex than anything the Scarlet City or the Muscalan Confederation has been able to produce and does not seem to use Crystals as a power source. Its principles remain a mystery, and until someone manages to communicate with one of the invaders, it is likely to remain so.

There is one curious aspect of their culture that is known. A Somnambulant Calculator once managed to get inside the dreams of an invader, and while much of their dreams were incomprehensible or even maddening, she did learn that the invaders are looking for someone they think of as "The Hunter" who may be on Agarica. In its dream, the Hunter was a dozen feet tall and fought with a spear made of fire, but whether this reflects the Hunter's true appearance or simply the invaders' fear of it is unknown.

Walking Trees
Walking Tree

The plant life of Agarica shows a bewildering variety of forms. Much of it is carnivorous and some of it is mobile, and the most dangerous plant that is both is the walking tree. They travel in herds through the forests of Agarica, attracted to movement and sound, and while they are slow enough that anyone paying attention can easily avoid them, walking trees are relentless. They do not stop to rest except in the small hours of the night, they can crash over or through nearly any obstacle, and their mobile roots are powerful enough to shatter stone or wooden shelters.

When they catch prey, walking trees grab on to them with their roots and squeeze until it stops moving, and then drive their roots through the bodies, mixing the fluids with the sunlight and water from soil to derive their energy. They are extremely vulnerable to fire and are intelligent enough to know not to approach those who use it, but there is little else that can drive them away. Walking trees are one of the primary reasons that many communities in Agarica are surrounded by high walls of thorn plants woven together into defensive structures, and that those walls are surrounded by land burned down to bare earth and ash.

One of the most distubing habits of walking trees is their penchant for using the bodies of the dead as armor. They will often take bones from those they have slain and plaster them to their bark, where the sap keeps them stuck fast. Some walking trees do this with entire corpses, and a herd of walking trees is often an incredibly macabre sight.

(Partially inspired by these enemies from Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story)

Water Spirits
 photo tumblr_nkjzgvNPVO1qmgvoko1_500.png

The spirits of the waters prefer the deep places and frequently have little contact with mortals. They are thick in the depths of the Narrow Sea and the Great Salt Ocean, and the Lake of Dreams has its own share of them as well, but lesser bodies of water are less hospitable. Because of this, they often have violent reactions to any intrusions into their domains, and water spirits tend to be incredibly hostile. Those spirits which live in smaller bodies of water are more amenable to interactions, but even they are unpredictable, as likely to bring devastating floods as they are to keep a river in its banks.
dorchadas: (Awake in the Night)
I've been playing roguelikes for years, ever since I found a copy of Moria on one of those old DOS shareware CDs that went around in the mid-90s, but I've never been very successful at them. I played Angband for years and I don't think I ever got past the tenth level of the dungeon legitimately, my Ancient Domains of Mystery games went much the same--it's only in the last year that I've managed to get to the pyramid and the dwarf village quests consistently--and even though I somehow figured out how to hexedit my Rogue save to max all my stats, I still never won. The only roguelike I've ever won until now was DoomRL, which is an amazing game but doesn't quite have the depth that the previously-mentioned roguelikes do. But today, I won Tales of Maj'Eyal.

I first encountered ToME back when it was called Tales of Middle Earth, and the main thing I remember is that it had almost nothing to do with Middle Earth. Playable ents? Eagles of Manwë flying through dungeon corridors killing orcs? Noldor oozemancers? Starting in the halls of Mandos as a shade and having to fight your way out? I'm not a Tolkien purist, but it seemed about as Middle-Earthy as Angband was, so I shelved it and didn't think about it for years. Later I heard the whole game got a new engine and a new setting, and when it came out on Steam I bought it. And 72 hours, one expansion, and one heartbreakingly close run where the final bosses killed me, I finally won.

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dorchadas: (Gendowned)
With this blog post, I can officially inaugurate my Nintendo Power Cover Game series. Based on how many other games I have in my backlog, I expect that it'll take me approximately twice as long as my remaining lifespan to finish, but hey, more than one constitutes a series!

Power Blade is another one of those games I saw in Nintendo Power as a child and thought it looked really neat, but for whatever reason I never managed to find a copy. Maybe I lost interest due to youthful (and eventually successful) attempts to beat Final Fantasy, or maybe I was renting Mega Man III for the dozenth time. Anyway, it sat in the back of my mind for decades until recently when, in the attempt to put off the looming behemoth that is Baldur's Gate II, I dusted off the memories, loaded up JNES, and started playing.

The first thing I learned is that Duke Nukem apparently took extra work to pay the bills between the first two games:

Nice try with the glasses, Duke. We know who you are.

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dorchadas: (For the Horde!)
When I was young, my parents bowed to my pleading and got me a subscription to Nintendo Power. I got on the hype train pretty early, around issue #9, and most of the cover articles were on the games you'd expect--Mega Man II, Super Mario Brothers III, Tetris, Ninja Gaiden II, Final Fantasy, and all the games that have stood the test of time. There was one game that doesn't quite fit in to that hallowed pantheon, however, that still got a cover and lit a fire in the imagination of young me: Metal Storm.

Check out those high-rez explosions too.

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dorchadas: (Pile of Dice)
I've had another setting idea lately, probably using a variation of True 20 (as I wrote about here). The basic setting up a world of islands on a vast sea, but instead of an archipelago the islands are mesas and mountain tops, with a sea of corrosive miasma covering most of the world. Water is as precious as gold, and trading airships cross the miasma, binding the remaining inhabitants of the world together. Below the miasma are the illithids, engaged in a long process of terraforming the world to be more to their liking, and the various creatures of the ecology that they're creating--stuff like grick, grell, ropers, various fungi, aboleths, otyughs, and other betentacled horrors. The point here to take the various monsters that D&D usually has as nightmare monsters from beyond reality and cast them all as parts of a single ecosystem.

Non-aberrations would also have been displaced by the miasma too, so there'd be conflict with ogres and kobolds and so on for the remaining living spaces as well as between nations over water and arable land.

The other idea I had, fueled by Planescape: Torment and The War Against the Chtorr series, is that since the mind flayers are basically invading aliens terraforming the world in this scenario, have the githyanki and the githzerai show up as other aliens to battle it out with their ancient foe, turning the world into a three-way battleground. That's the high-end area of the campaign. The mid area is expeditions into the miasma to recover ancient artifacts and fight the ecosystem, and the low end is conflict on the mountaintops.

Fitting with the science fiction-ish theme, I'd get rid of standard wizardry and recast psychic powers through a sorcerous lens. Pyrokinesis would thus be "The Lore of the Flames," Empathy would be "The Lore of the Heart," Teleportation would be "The Lore of the Spheres," and Victorian-style spiritualism would be "The Lore of Whispers." Another part of the reason I want to use True 20 is that it's magic system is already basically psychic powers so there wouldn't be much converting required, other than reorganizating existing powers a bit.

Well, today I was reading my RPG RSS feeds and it turns out that apparently Jeff Grubb came up with that idea twenty years ago.

It's mostly there, other than the githyanki/githzerai angle. Living on mountaintops, cloud sea, mind flayers down below, the works. He focuses on cloudsea versions of existing water monsters as a way to avoid the problems with underwater adventures rather than aberrations as a unified ecosystem rather than lolweird monsters, but the principle is the same. He also doesn't do anything new with the magic and doesn't have the science fiction lens, so I can legitimately feel like I take the basic idea in a new and interesting idea. Still, there really is nothing new under the sun.
dorchadas: (Dreams are older)
Star Trek's Leonard Nimoy dies at 83.

I never watched Star Trek when I was younger, nor did I really watch it when I got older. I've seen a few of the movies (I, IV, and whatever Nemesis was), a few scattered episodes here and there, and part of the first season of Enterprise back in university before we just mutually decided it wasn't worth watching.

Despite that, I still ended up as a second-order Star Trek fan, mostly through library books when we'd go visit my grandmother. I've read dozens of Star Trek novels in addition to spending hours pouring through Memory Alpha and Beta, and my favorite novels were always those of the original series. And of those, my favorite novel is Spock's World. I've been planning to reread it for a while now, but I think I need to push that up to next on my list.

His last tweet seems even more poignant now, in context:

LLAP indeed. ברוך דיין האמת \\//
dorchadas: (Exalted: One True RPG)
While I was plundering the old Exalted wiki for Charms and spells and thaumaturgical effects, I came on a setting someone had written up called the Wyldspan. The basic premise is that the Ten Thousand Dooms all strike Creation at once, and while most of them were fought off, the final assault of the Fair Folk was set to wash over Creation like a tidal wave and plunge it back into the unformed chaos of the Wyld. In desperation, Mercury sacrificed herself to defend against the Wyld, and when the attack came, Creation simply...went elsewhere.

The result is that every Manse and Demesne in Creation became its own stable worldlet in the chaos of the Wyld. Some are a few miles across, some are dozens, and all the animals and people of Creation were scattered. Even the Exalted were unable to cross the barriers, since the Fair Folk raged outside the boundaries of shaped reality and would tear anyone who stepped outside to pieces.

And so on. You can read the rest of it at the link and I won't summarize it all here, but the Exalted invent ships that can traverse the Wyld while shielding the inhabitants from its effects and explore from world to world. Eventually, enough infrastructure gets established that some parts of Creation start interconnecting, and new nations begin to form.

The PCs would be Terrestrial Exalted in a relatively large but not enormous world, maybe 50 miles square (twice the size of Rhode Island) who are unaware the rest of Creation survived. One day, a damaged Wyldfarer with a mutated or dead crew all wearing strange uniforms washes up on the edge of their world, and being Exalted, the Dragon-Blooded of that world repair it, test it, and crew it with a mission to go out and find more worlds, figure out what is out there, get intelligence on their neighbors, figure out how much of Creation survived, and, perhaps most importantly, figure out where the Wyldfarer crew came from and whether they were a threat.

If you haven't guessed it by now, why yes, I am proposing Stargate: the Wyld.

Space Opera Exalted has been a popular idea, from the old Transcendant fan setting about transhuman Exaltedish sci fi to the Gunstar Autochthonia and Heaven's Reach settings in Shards of the Exalted Dream, but I never really took to it. I like this one a lot better because it keeps more of the initial assumptions. Creation is still recognizably Creation. People fight with swords and bows instead of magic guns. There aren't any computers or internets that I have to deal with.

In addition, the Wyldspan setting justifies a lot of space opera tropes with no extra effort required. Hyperspace is Hell is the most obvious, of course, but every planet having a monoculture and a single climate makes sense, because they're mostly less than 100 miles square. Humanoid aliens are covered by the Breeds. Planet of the Week is much easier to plan for when every planet is so small. Space is an ocean, albeit one that wants to kill you. The collapse of government during which each planet developed its own weird quirks.

There is some stuff I'd have to do, since it looks like the rules for Wyldfarers were never finished and some of the factions links lead nowhere. But I've been accumulating my own personal collections of Exalted rules for the last few months, so what are a few more? It's not bad in service of an Exalted sci fi setting I'd actually want to run.

Another idea to throw on the pile!
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.
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dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
Twenty-two years ago, I put a demo disc in my computer and installed a demo for a game called X-Com: UFO Defense. The demo was a single tactical mission with no strategic layer at all, where you took six soldiers with laser weapons and a mix of armor on a terror mission. At night. Against snakemen and chryssalids.

That's X-Com, baby!Chryssalid walking

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dorchadas: (Death Goth)

When I heard that Games Workshop were releasing a new version of Space Hulk, I was pretty excited. I had read about the first edition in Dragon Magazine, read about the PC version in PC Gamer, and heard their praises sung in pretty much every corner of nerddom, but I never got the PC game and the board game was basically impossible to find. By the time I heard about the 2009 release, it had already sold out nearly everywhere, and anyway I lived in Japan, so I didn't want to have it shipped to me at enormous expense and then have to ship it back, or have it shipped to my parents' house and make them store it for years until we came out, since they were kindly already storing everything else we had foisted off on them.

When the new board game come out this year, though, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd had started her new job and we had an FLGS within walking distance, so when I learned that there was a new version only a couple days after I had come out, I walked over to Dice Dojo after checking their website to make sure they had it in stock. They couldn't find it after tearing the store apart, but they told me they would call me when they found one...and a couple days later, I got a call and picked it up, and a few days after that we settled down to play it.

Setup for the first game. The SPESS MEHRENS are all lined up in their boarding torpedos and the genestealers haven't been placed yet.

That was months ago, but the reason I'm posting now after it's been so long is because I wanted each of us to play each side. The first game I played as the genestealers, and it took a bit before for me to get the hang of using my superior numbers and trying to rush the SPESS MEHRENS to trigger gun jams while they were chilling on overwatch. In the end, I won on the last phase of the last turn, when [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd decided to try to move her marines away from me instead of going on overwatch again, and I was able to get close to her and kill the last marine necessary to push into the winning threshold. The second game, I played the marines and it was a genestealer bloodbath, but [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd turned a win into a tie on the last phase of the last turn by sneaking a genestealer in to one of the rooms through a flamer burst even as I had slaughtered her forces almost to the last xenos scum. Ork shake fist

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The basic setup is a modular board made of tile pieces, as pictured in the image above. The game comes with a bunch of scenarios (and this edition has three more than the 2009 edition, I think), and you set up the board according to the mission, deploy the appropriate marines--there are various marine models, some with different weapons and some with command rank--and the appropriate number of interchangeable genestealers, and begin the mission. Each mission takes a certain number of turns and each side has to accomplish different objectives. In the first mission, the one we played. The marines win if there are at least eight of them still alive and there are no genestealers in the room tiles (the squares with the colored lighting). The genestealers win if they kill at least six marines. Any other result is a tie.

Man, fuck overwatch
Genestealers are faster and more maneuverable, able to turn without spending Action Points and having 6 AP to the marines' 4, but marines have ranged weapons and their player can spend Command Points (drawn from a random pool of one to six each turn) to give them extra AP, including during the genestealers' turn. The marines can also go on overwatch, and since the map we were playing in has a ton of long corridors, in both games overwatch was pretty much the main reason why genestealers died. If the marines roll a double on their attacks--2d6 to hit, 6 kills unless you're continuously firing, in which case 5 or 6 kills on subsequent shots--the gun jams and they either have to spend 1 AP clearing the jam or they lose overwatch, so for the genestealers the game is about approaching from areas the marines aren't covering or feeding themselves into overwatch and hoping that the gun jams.

I don't remember many jams when [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd was playing the marines, but when I was playing them I had two incredibly inopportune jams, including one on the very last turn which cost me a marine and turned a win into a tie, so they're very important and setting up overlapping fields of fire is necessary...if it's possible. As you can see from that map, most of it was cramped corridors where only one holy warrior of the Imperium/blasphemous enemy of the God-Emperor could pass, so any kind of overwatch was very difficult. A couple of the marines can't use overwatch, either. The marine with the flamer can't go on overwatch, and neither can one of the sergeants, and at one point I almost got screwed until I used some Command Points to shuffle my marines around to get a marine on overwatch in front.

The shot-by-shot mechanics are thus random, but like a roguelike, the strategy comes in the unit placement and making sure that solutions are in place to mitigate the effect of the randomness. Leaving everything down to a single marine, as I did in the room at the top of the V shape, means that a single gun jam can result in disaster, which is exactly what happened to me. With some better planning, I might have been able to have multiple marines covering the entrance and avoided everything hinging on two dice rolls, both of which went against me. Before that, I was doing great.

Admittedly, some of it is because I was trying to complete my turns quickly because the marine turns are timed. There's an hourglass included with the game and it's the genestealer player's job to track how long the marine player takes and call time when the sands run out, but I always had more than enough time. I should have spent a bit more time calculating genestealer movement vs. marine movement and setting my marines up better.

This is me playing the marines. Notice the lack of any genestealers nearby.

And note that all of this is just covering the first scenario. There are a bunch of others, with different mechanics for winning, multi-level maps with ladders between the levels, air ducts that the genestealers can use to get around the ship faster, a psychic Librarian that can accompany the marines, and probably other things I'm forgetting because I haven't actually read the manual in depth. There's a lot packed in there, though I can't say "into a small box" because the box is enormous.

It also plays really quickly, too. A full match is about 45 minutes to an hour, and that probably runs longer than normal because we kept having to stop to check rules like how the chaingun works or the area of effect of a flamer or what happens in close combat on a tie. A big chunk of time was just setting up the board.

Money well spent!

Lucid alien dreams

2014-Sep-30, Tuesday 09:47
dorchadas: (Awake in the Night)
We were in some kind of spaceship, which was still brightly lit and in good condition even though it had been uninhabited until we got there. I say we because there were a bunch of people with me, including [ profile] softlykarou, though I don't remember exactly why we were there. I think we were sent in to explore an abandoned ship and discover what had happened to the crew, Space Hulk style, though we weren't wearing any Terminator armor or even had any weapons or armor at all that I remember. I don't remember any kind of major organization either. It was just a bunch of people in street clothes poking around through bulkheads and down corridors trying to figure out where everyone had gone.

While searching, the group that I and [ profile] softlykarou were with heard some kind of telepathic broadcast, and we moved to investigate in that horror movie fashion where people just blindly walk into danger without even bothering to take proper precautions. We found a room that might have been a hydroponics station, and might have been a garden. Either way, it was filled with plants and the sound of flowing water, with a dais on one end. On the dais was a man in a grey robe, but he was subtlely...wrong. His skin was a little greyish, his eyes didn't reflect the light right, and his hair was suspiciously immobile as he moved. We all moved closer to him and he started talking, and in the manner of dreams I have no idea what he said, but there was some kind of altercation that ended with the man/alien/thing launching off a barrage of spines from his skin into the crowd. A couple of them hit [ profile] softlykarou, and as I saw the blood splatter and the holes in her skin I thought, "That can't be right."

And then the dream rewound back to the beginning of the scene where we entered the garden room. However, this time as soon as I saw the strange man, I ordered the other people with us to open fire. They pulled out their guns--and of course they had guns, because what kind of complete idiot explores a space hulk unarmed?--and shot the man, who died in an explosion of ichor and chitin, and that's when they started coming out of the G-ddamn walls. We started a fighting retreat back to the central area, and that's when I remembered that I had had this near-exact dream before. [ profile] softlykarou wasn't in it that time, but the same gleaming white walls and groups of people exploring a space hulk and horrible aliens murdering everyone was all the same, so I immediately started organizing the people, setting up patrol groups, making sure there were guards on chokepoints with overlapping fields of fire, that kind of thing.

And as I was doing that, the lucidity of realizing I had a previous dream and trying to change the current dream woke me up, so now I'll never know if my tactics would work better a second time around. On the other hand, the dream did convince me to head down to Dice Dojo and pick up a copy of Space Hulk after work. Their website says they still have a couple copies left.
dorchadas: (Do Not Want)
tl;dr: It should have been a point-and-click adventure game starring Elizabeth. Also, I now know why everyone was going on about ludonarrative dissonance last year.

So, I wasn't the biggest fan of Bioshock. It was...okay, but the whole time I was basically thinking, "This is like System Shock II but not as good." And that's basically the impression I carry to this day. The only reason I bought Bioshock Infinite was because it was $9.99, and having beaten it now I think I was robbed.

One word: mediocre.

It wasn't actively bad or anything, it just wasn't very inspiring. None of the weapons were interesting and there wasn't much reason to switch between them other than to use AoE weapons for lots of enemies and single-target weapons for single enemies. My strategy was basically to use a weapon until I got the achievement for using it and then throw it away and try out a new one. Then when I was done with that, I grabbed the rifle and the volley gun and just stuck with them for the rest of the game. It worked out fine.
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Game Review: Capsized

2014-Jan-15, Wednesday 18:32
dorchadas: (Slime)
I bought this something like three years ago, played a level, thought it was kind of neat but really easy, and then put it aside until last weekend, where I played through all of it except the last two levels. Had I realized that it was that short I probably would have played it earlier, but then you wouldn't have this review.

Capsized is a side-scrolling platformer with all that entails, though its particular shtick is that there's a lot of verticality to the levels and your little space dude has a grappling beam that lets him move around a lot, as well as a jetpack that you can find fuel for. The parts of the game that aren't about murdering everything that moves with your variety of weapons are mostly about using the grappling beam to move rocks around to get to new areas or swinging yourself to higher ledges or across pits. Fortunately, there's no falling damage.

There's plenty of other damage to go around, though. While the early levels are very easy, around level six the difficulty level spikes rapidly. Initially your space dude only has to deal with alien fauna and alien tribal guys who throw spears, but then you run into swarms of bugs, or aliens with bullet-resistent shields who throw exploding green goo at you, or alien priests who can fly and hurl fireballs, or huge alien grunts that shoot lasers and teleport all over the place. How does that work? I don't know. Nanomachines, son.

The art style is really good:

It reminds me a lot of a Aquaria, with all the rich colors and half-seen terrain features in the background as well as the prominent use of flora. And anything that reminds me of Aquaria automatically gets props from me. Also, you should buy Aquaria right now.

The story is...well, you can probably learn nearly everything you need to from that picture and the fact that the game starts with a crash landing. After genociding your way through enough of the planet's population, you manage to make contact with another ship and get off the planet. The end. But like Mario or Bionic Commando, you don't play these games for the engaging story. You play them to jump on goomba heads, or whatever the local equivalent is.

The amount of flying aliens and flying monsters and flying projectiles combined with the verticality means that sometimes the screen gets really crowded with things trying to kill you, and it's quite easy to swing the wrong way while grappling somewhere, collide with an alien, and get knocked into more aliens or alien bullets or alien spears or alien fireballs or alien gas or alien squidbats. It took me quite a few tries to beat level 11 because of that. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd will tell you that I'll fight the same battle in Fallout 3 or Oblivion 15-20 times until I win without complaint or even really any recognizable expression or acknowledgement of what's going on around me, but that definitely didn't happen with Capsized. I suspect the difference is that I always felt like I died because I screwed up my strategy in Oblivion, whereas with Capsized I felt like I died because of stupid random bullshit.

Admittedly, dying due to stupid random bullshit is an integral part of the side-scrolling platformer and part of becoming skilled at those games is minimizing the circumstances where you are subject to randomness, and that's eventually how I beat stage 11.

Overall, the gameplay is fun enough, but it's nothing special. There are times when I'd execute a jetpack+grapple maneuver that let me run rings around the aliens and feel like a badass, but equally there were times when the physics would go wonky and launch me at high speed in a direction I didn't want to go, leading to my hideous demise--sometimes one after the other. The weapons are pretty generic, and while there's a good balance of scarcity that requires you to switch weapons, I often just shot everyone with the basic pea-shooter to conserve ammo, and some of the weapons are so situational in the context of high-velocity grappling or jetpacking around that I barely ever used them because I found them ineffective most of the time.

So, yeah, middling marks. Fortunately, there's a demo, so you can see if you like it before you buy it. Just remember that the first level is not really a good representation of the gameplay of the entire game.
dorchadas: (Kirby sweatdrop)
I bought this when it first came out on Steam last year, but I left it alone because I have a ton of games sitting around and I had heard that it had been rushed near the end, meaning that a ton of planned content got cut, and wasn't that good after a certain point, a lot like Vampire: the Masquerade: Bloodlines. Then I learned about The Sith Lords Restored Content Mod, which was supposed to fix a lot of the problems and bugs that remained in the game. I had a lot of fun with the fan-patched V:TM:B, so I patched KotOR II up and played the game.

First thing I have to say is that, like Knights of the Old Republic, the reliance on D20 mechanics is a big downer for establishing any kind of Star Wars-like mood. The way d20 focuses on gear and gearing up is fun in a video game, true, but endless tinkering with your lightsaber to get an extra 1d6 Cold damage out of it isn't exactly what I expect Luke was doing during the time between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Not to mention the way everyone wears facemasks, two armbands, has cybernetic implants jammed into them, has really bulky armor, etc., etc.

It also retains the utterly broken Jedi combat strategy from KotOR, namely, "Buy Force Wave and win forever." It doesn't take that many Force points--by the end of the game I could spam it literally forever--it affects an unlimited number of targets, it has a chance to stun anyone it knocks down, and it does damage even if people succeed on their saving throws. I even managed to win the final battle by running around with Force Speed on and repeatedly casting Force Wave. Not exactly a heroic duel that fits the Star Wars movies, but I haven't seen any game that managed to actually do lightsaber duels well, either pen and paper or computer. Either people hit each other repeatedly with lightsabers and somehow don't die (Star Wars d20) or the combatants run at each other, both draw iaijutsu-style, and one of them gets liquified (Star Wars d6, the Jedi Knight games).

On the other hand, there's a hilarious callback to d20 mechanics later when one of the character's explains the fluff reason why your character gets so powerful from running around and slaughtering everyone.

Knights of the Old Republic II starts out super-mysterious-like on an abandoned mining station, and in a different universe it would totally have gone survival horror and I would have loved it, but since it's Star Wars, it was just some crazy droids. This part actually almost put me off playing the game entirely as I ran back and forth alone through identical-looking orange and brown tunnels while droids randomly attacked me and a voice over the comlink told me what to do. Then after the Sith showed up and I managed to escape, I went to another planet where I ran through silver and blue identical-looking tunnels while clicking on people and hoping they had quests I could do. Basically, KotOR II has the problem a lot of modern games do where the first X hours are really kind of dull and railroaded and then the game opens up. When most of your Jedi's usage of the Force is for running faster so you can complete quests...

Once I got off Telos and could go wherever I wanted, though, the game got more interesting. Each planet is pretty self-contained, but even the theoretical ability to go wherever I want was a salve that made the railroaded portions easier to handle, though it helped that there weren't many. Except on Nar Shaddaa, where I was wandering around and doing what I wanted to and then all of a sudden it was all railroad all the time until the end, and then there were quests I was in the middle of that I suddenly couldn't do. Or Korriban, where there was barely anything to do at all.


The plot wasn't the most interesting part of this section, though--the real fun was the NPCs. Like Baldur's Gate II, they chat with each other, get into fights, question your decision, and you also have an "Influence Meter" with each of them that indicates how much they respect you and how much control you have over them. Get your influence meter high enough with some of them, and you can train them as Jedi, or upgrade others in other ways. Certain companions have certain tendancies toward either the Light Side or the Dark Side, but even there you can win them over to whatever alignment you choose. You just might have to go about it in a different manner. I do have to admit that at times it ended up more like I was gaming the system to get the companions to do what I wanted, because that's at least partially because I set out with a goal in mind instead of just going with the flow and acting a certain way and seeing how my character would have turned out. Running back and forth on Nar Shaddaa with Mira and Atton to Jedify them was extremely gamey, but I have to admit that d20 brings that out in me. Or maybe it's just the problem with a meter that can go up and down. Even though the Influence Meter is hidden from the player, I knew it was there, and that was enough for me to want to raise it as high as possible. I didn't get influence with all the characters, though, since that would have required a lot of switching characters while I was on planets, backtracking, and otherwise randomly messing with my party composition that I just didn't want to do.

As an example of where the Influence system leads, early on you meet a character called Handmaiden who's a member of a warrior order and is deputised by the Jedi who leads them to follow you and look after you (though apparently this openly happens if your character is male). Later on, you find an apprentice of one of the Sith waiting for you on board your ship when you return to it and fight her, and when you win, she submits to your leadership. Visas the former Sith apprentice and Handmaiden obviously do not like each other, and getting too much influence with one without raising influence with the other pisses that one off and leads to a falling out with her. In my case, I ended up raising Visas' influence up and when I next went onto the ship, Handmaiden freaked out about me hanging out with a former Sith apprentice and refused to talk to me anymore. Though I have to say that all this occurred because I used Visas for a single planet, so I really didn't have any warning that it was going to happen, and it's not like influence decays on its own. On the one hand, they could have done more to warn me it was going to happen, and on the other hand, people do get annoyed sometimes. So, it's kind of an encapsulation of the good and bad points.

And no review would be complete without talking about Kreia. She runs into you on the mining station and follows you throughout the game, and for most of the game she's a really odd character. She has a Force bond with you, where feelings and pain can pass through it, but she doesn't explain where it comes from. She has contempt for the Jedi, but claims she's not a Sith. If you act too altruistic, she points out that you're making people dependent on you by running around and solving all their problems for them, but she also disapproves if you act like a psychopath. She apparently knows you, but refuses to tell you from where. The Sith are hunting her as well, but she doesn't tell you why. And sometimes, in cutscenes, she performs actions which are really suspicious and hint that she has some other game that she's playing.

Here the major spoilers begin: Note that everything in this spoiler is a railroad. Once you start this path, forever will it dominate your destiny.

(Credit goes to [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd for coming up with that one.)

So after completing each of the four planets, you head back to Dantooine to meet with the Jedi council. When you get to the enclave, Kreia waits for you outside. Then the Council says that you're a walking Wound in the Force, that you did not regain your connection with the Force as you suspect but are instead some kind of necromancer drawing on the power of all the people who died at Malachor V (where your character fought the Mandalorians), and for the good of everyone, they have to cut you off from the Force. Then Kreia strolls in, insults them, kills them all, and leaves.

Now you have to head after the Sith who are attacking Telos, lead by Darth Nihilus, who is apparently some kind of planet-eating monster who uses the Force to devour the lifeforce of entire populations. Also, his flagship is a ruined ship with parts of its skeleton visible, and it's crewed by a bunch of mind-controlled troops with creepy grey skin, plus roughly a billion mooks. It feels a lot like Obsidian wanted to include an evil necromancer and his legions of undead and had to come up with some way to do so in the Star Wars universe, and this is what we got. But honestly, this part felt like there was some background I had missed. I knew that the main character was a general during the Mandalorian Wars, and had fought at Malachor V, but since I didn't go through it in-game and not that much is revealed, Darth Nihilus kind of comes out of nowhere. You see him sending Visus after you, and...that's about it.

So, you fight your way through a billion mooks, kill him, blow up his ship, and then you go down to the surface of Telos to fight that Jedi I mentioned earlier, who had actually turned to the Sith! And this is set up as some kind of revelation, except you knew almost nothing about her and only saw her for maybe ten minutes of gameplay, so she doesn't have enough characterization for anything to be shocking about her at all. There are a bunch of Sith holocrons in the room with her that might tell you what was going on, but they all talk in weird growling voices and are nearly impossible to understand, so there's nothing you can learn in that direction either. You just fight her, win, and then you hear that Kreia has gone to Malachor V and is waiting for you, so you head there and crash land on the planet. And now that you've played the game for hours, spent a ton of time building up your relationships with your companions, you get to do Malachor V alone!

This part of the game really feels unfinished. It keeps jumping back and forth between characters, you see cutscenes that imply things are happening or outright show things happening--like Handmaiden and Visas dueling--that never actually get any resolution, and it's actually a lot like the end of Bloodlines, where it just turns into an endless succession of corridors filled with faceless mooks who attack you on sight even through you see Kreia explicitly telling her lieutenant to escort you to her when you get there.

Of course, maybe it's because he decides that he's fighting you. The duel between the PC and Darth Sion was really good in the way that it was set up as a philosophical combat as well as a lightsaber duel, but the actual fight isn't that great because he magically heals between fights and you don't, so it's either running around spamming Force Wave, or healing yourself repeatedly in between strikes. See above for how lightsaber duels in games never turn out like the ones in the movies.

Then once he's defeated, you go further into the citadel and face Kreia and learn that the big secret is that the plot of Knights of the Old Republic II is the Eternal JRPG Plot. Kreia is sad because the world sucks, so she wants to kill G-dthe Force because the Force apparently manipulates people to its will, surrounds us, penetrates us, blah blah, and that's part of why she was following the main character around because of the whole Wound in the Force thing, and because the main character lost their connection to the Force deliberately, and she was interested in someone who willingly turned away from the Force and from its influence.

And...well, this is kind of ridiculous. KotOR II tries to be a deconstruction of Star Wars black and white morality, except that it does it by including a non-character who goes around eating planets and piloting an undead fleet and a final boss that has this big philosophical beef with the Force manipulating her and decides to prove it by manipulating everyone else to such a degree that I was cursing her sudden but inevitable betrayal. She talks a good game, but at the end of it all she's just your standard Sith villain. And the other villains include someone who literally isn't even a character--he has no lines, no motivations, and only exists to be the scary boogieman--and a guy who you fight maybe once, then he disappears for 20 hours, then he shows up again but you don't care anymore.

When you beat Kreia, she uses foresight to tell you what happens to some of the characters--but not all of them because that would take effort--and then you walk out of the room, and the game ends. No splash screens to tell you what happens, no hint of the fate of most of your party. You break a couple of them out of jail that they somehow ended up in without the game ever explaining how they got there, but your dialogue choices are 1) No, I must face Kreia alone and 2) No, I must face Kreia alone. I'm not even exaggerating here.

The whole ending is completely terrible even with the fix patch.

I wouldn't play it again. Even with the patch, KotOR II is far too obviously unfinished to be that interesting. The beginning is on rails, the middle just starts to be interesting, but the end makes it all fall apart. There are gigantic plot holes that seem intentional because what actual plot exists in the game is so vague. Every planet has parts that that make no sense. Korriban barely has a reason to exist. Nar Shaddaa throws you on the railroad with barely any warning. The overall plot makes no sense, the moment-to-moment gameplay is easily solved, and the parts of each planet that actually are kind of fun are overshadowed by the parts that aren't.

Knights of the Old Republic II is an okay half of a game, but I expect most people would rather play a full game instead of a blatantly unfinished one, especially since the half that's unfinished keeps bleeding into the finished half. If you want to play a flawed gem that has a ton of value that can still be extracted from it, play Vampire: the Masquerade: Bloodlines. Don't play this game.
dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
Half-Life is 15 Years Old Today

I missed out on the Half-Life bandwagon when it first came out. At that point, I think I was mostly playing Master of Magic or Diablo I or Civilization II as well as various Sierra adventure games, and I'm not even sure I knew about it until later. I had definitely heard about it before I went to university, but I had been trained by games like Doom, Blake Stone, Ken's Labyrinth, Rise of the Triad, Thor's Hammer, etc., etc., that FPSes were basically free and that I could get plenty of fun out of them without paying, so why would I buy one?

That attitude lasted me until I got a shiny new computer and moved away to university, into a dorm room in Hill House, and went through freshman orientation week with the other people on my floor. I don't remember his name, but one of the people who lived really close to my room eventually offered me a burned CD with the words "Half-Life" on it and told me to try it, and that I'd probably like it. So it took it back to my room, installed it later, and gave it a try.

I still remember the sense of anticipation I had on the train ride. How I felt walking about and watching the NPCs after the solitary experiences the other FPSes I had played were. I played a bit of Strife, which actually did have characters who weren't trying to shoot you the whole time in its hub area, but it wasn't like this. And then came unforeseen consequences:

I still get goosebumps when Gordon is stuck in the darkness between dimensions and the only sounds are his breathing and the beating of his heart.

From that moment on, I was hooked. Say what you like about Half-Life introducing the era of narrative-heavy shooters, but it certainly never went as far as the worst excesses of the modern era. One of the points of pride was that even during nominal cut-scenes, like the monorail ride at during the intro sequence, you still retain full control over Gordon. You can bounce around that monorail car like Tigger on speed if you want, and indeed I've done that several times, but that first time, I just took it all in. I even came to Xen without any preconceptions and actually liked it a lot, so I was really surprised when I heard about how much it was maligned. Maybe it was just that I managed to make an incredibly lucky jump where I missed a platform, flew around the island in some kind of crazy orbit and landed in a cave on the lower area, skipping the rest of the jumps and about half the level. :p

I remember the Blast Pit, and hearing that damn tentacle banging around while I slowly crept along trying to stay out of its notice. I remember the first time I saw a headcrab zombie and the sounds they made while I tried to dodge their hideous claws. I remember the soldiers killing scientists, and the black ops ninjas killing the soldiers, and the aliens killing everyone. I remember launching the satellite to stabilze the portal connection to Xen, and the desperate run through the portal to take the fight to the invading aliens and stop the foothold scenario from overwhelming the world.

And I still think the G-Man's real name starts with N and ends with yarlathotep.

After I beat the game, I went out on the web to learn more about it and discovered the fantastic mod scene for it. I downloaded Counter-Strike and played it during its early days, when there was a variety of popular map and game types and before everything was All Shooting, No AWP, de_dust all the time. I remember hiding under a bridge with the VIP we were escorting, trying to figure out where the terrorists were and where we should go, and not wanting to head up the ramp flanked by crates because it was open territory. I also remember coming back later and finding one server that seemed to end up the way I remember Counter-Strike ever after--the two sides would spawn, they would all charge into one corridor in the center of the map, guns and grenades blazing, and 90% of the players would die in the first 30 seconds. The remaining 10 minutes were the last few people hunting each other down. I was almost always one of those people, and occasionally the last one remaining, because really, who wants to sit around and do nothing for nine minutes? A lot of people, apparently.

I moved on to Team Fortress, where I loved playing the engineer because of the sentry gun and the EMP grenades, and I'm still a little annoyed that grenades aren't in Team Fortress 2. That was almost entirely 2Fort, but there I didn't mind it. After all, playing an engineer is all about camping, so a map designed for ridiculous stalemates played to my desire to hide and have my gun murder all those damn [OTHER_COLOR] guys perfectly.

I played a lot of generic Half-Life deathmatch against my friends, too, though the main memories I have are of a map that was an old gothic house, searching for each other amid the rooms and staircases, dropping snarks from balconies, mutually agreeing to ban the gluon gun because it was basically a death sentence for anyone it was turned on...

What I really loved playing, though, was Natural Selection. This was the first game I really played that had asymmetric sides, since Warcraft III didn't come out until 2002 (though I was in the beta--sort of): one side are the humans, who wear armor and use guns like you'd expect humans to, and the other side are aliens are half-based on the Zerg and half-based on the Xenomorphs. Aliens start out as Skulks and can evolve into different forms, whereas humans can get new equipment. Humans also have a commander that gives build and movement orders, whereas aliens are all autonomous and have a hive mind that lets any of them tell where humans are if any one of them can see the humans. What this meant was that most of the time, aliens were more likely to win because they were designed to work even when the players didn't talk to each other, but humans did really well with an effective commander.

The main moment I remember from my hours of Natural Selection was when I spawned into a game in progress where the humans were holed up in their starting room, which was heavily fortified. Wave after wave of aliens came pouring into the room, but the multiple turrets and humans with heavy machine guns always managed to hold them off until, finally the assault stopped. We stood around, looking nervously throughout the room, waiting for something. Then we heard a banging sound out in the hallway.

"Please don't let it be an Onos," someone said over voice chat.

A moment later, a three-meter tall, two-ton armored monster burst into the room, pulping one of the humans who was standing near a turret. As screams and yells of "ONOOS!!" filled the voice chat, we all started firing at the monster that was demolishing our turrets. Unfortunately, we were so intent on the Onos that we didn't think to pay attention to the rest of the aliens, and as more turrets fell, they flooded into the room and started attacking the humans. I didn't even have time to respawn before the teleporters were taken out and the match was over.

Next to Unreal Tournament 1999 (which I should also do a retrospective on at some point), Half-Life is the FPS that I spent the most time with, and one of the ones I have the fondest memories of. Even when the memory is getting pulped by a giant tentacle, or frantically running as [ profile] uriany drops a ton of snarks down the tunnel I'm hiding in, or lying sideways on the floor watching an alien monster destroy the entire base. Next to Morrowind, it's one of my favorite games. There aren't many other games I've played that I've gotten as many hours of pure fun out of as Half-Life, and to this day a headcrab sits above my desk, perched on my metal skull, watching me.

There's a part of me that's still there in that test chamber, waiting for Freeman to show up for the experiment. A small part, after all these years, but I'm not sure it'll ever leave.
dorchadas: (Do Not Want)
I've been reading a webcomic for three months that I just stopped reading, and the reason why drove me to write about it.

Let me explain. The webcomic is Quantum Vibe, which was mentioned on as pretty good, though with a libertarian bent. "Well, whatever," I thought. "I read Atlas Shrugged[1], I can read this if it's recommended on somewhere I trust the opinion of." And for a while, it did work. The story starts out with the main character losing her job, running out of money, and then being hired on as the assistant of a famous scientist who seems excessively paranoid about his newest assignment for no obvious reason, having to perform really suicidally dangerous tasks like diving under the corona of the sun to detonate some nuclear bombs in order to get some data for his experiments... All in all, it seemed to get off to a really promising start.

Then the Lunar arc happened. The characters started talking about the Lunar government, and that's when the ideological hammer came out. It started with having to go through Lunar customs, which is weird and odd and Lunars (loonies?) do it but no one else introduced has because apparently people living in fragile habitats floating in the endless dark of space don't care about what people are bringing on board? Then the main character is pulled aside for a "random screening." Then at the money-changer, it turns out a post-scarcity civilization still uses gold-backed currency but Lunars are weird because they use FIAT CURRENCY. Then this happens.

That's about the point where I threw up my hands and closed the tab.[2]

I think the problem was the bait-and-switch. I wouldn't have minded if the entire comic had been like that from the beginning, since then I would have had that warning and wouldn't have had all my exceptations changed out from under me. Like I said, I read Atlas Shrugged. And I certainly wouldn't have minded if it hadn't turned into an Author Tract. Changing after I got invested both felt like a betrayal and got really annoying in the way any preaching is annoying when you aren't expecting it.

In writing this, I also realized something else that annoyed me: Lunar society isn't contrasted with any of the other future societies because up to that point almost nothing is described about them. Earth is a cyberpunk hellhole ruled over by a bunch of megacorporations where the population has been genetically engineered into a caste system...and that's about all that's revealed, so Lunar society is a transparently obvious critique of modern America with out-of-control cops, corporations bribing the government, two tiers of justice depending on whether you're rich or poor, a ban on the carrying of personal weapons without a permit, FIAT CURRENCY, etc., etc., etc. So the two societies we know anything about are dystopic, and the main character's habitat is apparently a libertarian paradise which maintains its liberty by virtue of not having to tell us how it actually works.

While looking around the internet for other people's opinion on the topic, I found a Charles Stross essay about how space is often cast is a frontier. In American fiction, the big frontier we always think of is the West back during the days of Manifest Destiny[3], and so space is often cast as the Wild West. But when you think about it, space is really nothing like the Wild We-


But seriously, the usual categorization is Earth groaning under bureaucracy and extreme regimentation, while the true free spirits head out to the asteroids or the outer colonies or whatever to make their fortunes away from the panopticon and obsessive nit-picking of all those dirtgrubbers. But really, this makes no sense. As Stross mentions, on Earth it's easy to strike it off alone and go live in your own community in the wilderness because there's actual wilderness where people can live. In space, the environment is actively trying its level best to murder you literally every second and only constant effort prevents your horrific death by decompression or asphyxiation or radiation poisoning or any of the other ways to die that are really unlikely on Earth. To avoid that, any government in space is way more likely to be a dystopian hellhole than to be some kind of minarchist utopia. And I guess Quantum Vibe does have 2 hellholes to 1 utopias, so that's a start. But one of those is Earth, which gets no points because it doesn't need a dystopia to maintain its very existence.

Summary: Bait-and-switches are terrible, especially if you initially expected it but were lulled into a false sense of security.

[1]: I am aware the Objectivism and Libertarianism are overlapping circles on the Venn.
[2]: Though finally noticing the author's Twitter feed on the side of the page didn't help either.
[3]: To the extent that those days are over, anyway.
dorchadas: (Perfection)
Just beat Doom 3 around an hour ago so I figured, why not give my thoughts?

Contains spoilers for Doom 3 and System Shock 2. Somewhat lengthy )

Whew, that was long. Maybe I should go back and do something similar for Arcanum in full. Anyone interested?

Soundtrack for this entry provided by The Dark Side of Phobos.
dorchadas: (Dreams are older)
...[ profile] softlykarou and I watched Serenity last weekend.

I'd known about Firefly for a while, though I'd never seen it--the people on are, frankly, crazy over the series. I admit, I had a little bit of geek aversion to it at first (i.e., a bunch of other people like it, so clearly it sucks), but when I actually watched it, I realized that they were right. It really was that good.

I'm not sure what I like about it so much. It's not, strictly speaking, sci-fi--it happens to take place in space, but it's really a Western, with any number of of tropes to reinforce it (interfering government lawmen, lawless frontier, the way the characters speak, the weaponry, the Reavers as a "Savage Injun" stand-in, etc.). There are some sci-fi elements (oppressive corporations, government conspiracies, psychics), but... It's just the way that everything mixes together. Especially for a show that only had 13 episodes, it's incredibly well-written. There's none of that rocky start-up time that a lot of shows have, the characters flow well together, the dialogue is funny when it matters and dramatic when that matters... I also like the fact that Mal is willing to actually kill people who need killing (and, admittedly, a few who don't). I've been watching too much anime lately--the "absolute pacifist" always gets on my nerves.

And yes, I do have an .mp3 of the show's theme song, if anyone wants it.

Take my love, take my land
Take me where I cannot stand
I don't care, I'm still free
You can't take the sky from me.

Take me out to the black
Tell them I ain't comin' back
Burn the land and boil the sea
You can't take the sky from me.

There's no place I can be
Since I've found Serenity
You can't take the sky from me...


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