Saturday, 26 May 2007


So I mentioned that I had picked up a Nintendo DS. To that effect, I yesterday picked myself up a copy of 'Pheonix Wright: Ace Attorney'. I got it in the bargain bin at the local GAME, and to be honest, I didn't have high hopes for it.

My fears were put to rest soon. I love this game. Basically, you are Pheonix 'Nick' Wright, a defence attorney fresh out of college, and you are in your first real case. Your best friend, Larry Butz, is up for Murder 1, and it's your job to prove he didn't do it. Well, that case is basically the tutorial, showing you how to go through witness testimony and find contradictions and falsehoods. After all, if Larry is innocent, then the witness who claims he saw it must be lying, right?

After that you get thrown into the game headfirst. You must talk to people, examine the scene of the crime for clues, and then battle it out in court to prove your client's innocence.

This game could have been a real dud, and the worst mistake they could have made would be to have a series of completely unconnected murders for you to solve on by one. This game instead has an actual storyline. For example, for the first two major cases the prosecuting attorney is Miles Edgeworth, and there are masses of rumours surrounding him. They say that he hasa never failed to get a guilty verdict, and isn't above faking evidence, hushing up testimony and surpressing clues that don't help him. You can see how this could have gone wrong? He could have been a cardboard cutout who escapes at the end of each trial screaming 'I would have got away with it if it hadn't been for those meddling kids!'

No, Edgeworth has a storyline, a background, and reasons for doing the things he does. In fact, it seems that both Wright and Butz know him from before. This storyline all comes down to the line in the fourth chapter, where the defendent is Edgeworth himself and the prosecutor is his erstwhile mentor.

I won't say more for fear of spoiling it, but I will mention a few problems I had with the game. Firstly, it is too dependent on dialogue trees, and it never feels like you have quite enough freedom to say and do what you want. Secondly, it always seems like your are about to lose, and there is nothing you could have done to stop it, when suddenly some deus ex machina comes in to save your ass. This is somewhat lazy storytelling, and detracts from what I was saying about the otherwise high quality of the storyline. The last major flaw is that, once you have played the game through, it does not have great replayability, as you have already learned the dialogue trees that will get you victory.

Overall, however, this game is a superficially flawed, yet fundamentally innovative and interesting concept. I will definitely be getting the sequels.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Glory of Glories!

So I recently got my mitts on a Nintendo DS. This is news in and of itself, but crucially it has allowed me, for the first time ever, to play Final Fantasy III. Now, the game isn't exactly as it originally was on the NES. It's had a facelift, and the graphics are more-or-less equivalent to the graphics of FFIX. The story is a fairly conventional early Final Fantasy story. Warriors of Light have to bring balance back to the world by collecting power from crystals, each of which represents an element.

The job system is fairly flexible, although it is a little annoying that if you switch jobs, your character has a breaking-in period where he/she is less powerful. Now, this makes sense as something to stop gratuitous job switching in dungeons, but you would think that resting should stop it happening!

Anyway, more on that when I finish the game.

Future Shadowrun campaign

Over the summer I will be GMing a Shadowrun game. The story takes place in and around Las Vegas, and is focused on investigating and eventually toppling a very powerful drug dealer. There will be only three players (there was a fourth, but he decided to accept a work placement scheme in London instead. Talk about poor priorities!), so I'm throwing in a couple of NPCs as well.

The story will start with all of the characters awakening and finding themselves in a small room, which looks very much like a high-security prison cell (mostly because it is a high-security prison cell). They all have envelopes in front of them with various instructions on how to escape which will only work when combined. With any luck they will escape the prison, and will then have to find their way to Las Vegas, the nearest city, whereupon Mr Johnson (for those of you who aren't Shadowrunners, "Mr. Johnson" always refers to a person who hires shadowrunners, in order to disguise whatever their true identity is) will contact them, and offer them a job. Although they don't know it, he was in fact the one who put them into the jail cell.

The job he offers them is to take down a local drug dealer and shut down his operation. It isn't a difficult job, but if the players dig a little deeper into the situation, they will find a tangled web of evidence suggesting that Mr. Johnson himself is the one who supplied the dealer. Either way, Mr. Johnson will continue to give them jobs of various kinds, one of which will bring them into contact with a group who claim that Mr. Johnson is poised to betray them. Whether or not they beleive these people, they will soon find themselves attacked by thugs.

Various things happen and, with a dash of luck, the campaign will end with the overthrow of Mr. Johnson's operation. He may or may not be the 'final boss'. Of course, players have a nasty habit of throwing your plot off course, so I have a few sidequests prepared for if such a thing should happen, which will give me time to prepare.

More on this as it comes in.


Here's something worth watching.

Watch the series called XIN. It's a wuxia style flash animation set in a dystopian future in which physical beating and abuse has replaced expulsion and detention as punishment in schools. Student gangs are rife, and fighting in school is commonplace. Yeah the idea is a little absurd, but the story makes up for it in many ways.

The characters are hella cool, but special mention has to go to Legend, Ghai and the titular character, Xin, all of whom kick ass. The music is fantastic. The fights are really high quality for a flash series. Everything is very tight and well put together. The later episodes especially are very professionally done, although the animation in the earlier episodes is a little less well done.

Go. Watch. Now.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Ten things I hate about you!

The 'you' so prominently referenced in the title is of course, my arch-nemesis, video games. Now before I go any further, let me clarify. I love video games. I rarely find a video game I don't like. However, they are also the most annoying thing on the face of the planet. So here, mostly to clear my own thoughts on the matter, are the top ten things that annoy me in video games.

1o. Loading screens with no progress bar: Loading screens themselves are pretty bad, but those without a progress bar, or counter, or percentage, are the worst of the crop. This is my thought pattern when I see one: 'Oh, loading eh? If you insist. But wait! How long are you gonna be loading for? I've seen fricking long load times before! Can I go make a sandwich, or if I do will I come back to find it loaded, my character dead, and 'Game Over prominently displayed?' Seriously, if you must have loading screens, at least put a progress bar.

9. Repetetive Music: This one should be a no brainer. Music should be varied and interesting, or the player (namely, me) will get bored and restless, and project that onto the game itself. Final Fantasy has always been really good at this. Nobuo Uematsu is a fantastic composer though, and most game companies can't be bothered to get someone even approaching his calibre.

8. Requiring you do repeat the same pointless task until you finally succeed at it: There are some very bad offenders at this, but one of the worst has to be Super Mario. Remember that video I posted a while back? That ain't so far from the truth. The only difference was that that video was funny.

7. Game Over: The very idea of game over sickens me. It's like the game telling you that you aren't good enough because you can't complete it with a certain number of lives. I hate the 'game over' screen more than just about anything else apart from the rest of the items on this list.

6. Lack of progress: In most games, after a game over, you just have to re-load and try again, knowing that you are no closer to your goal, indeed you are further away because you have to fight your way back to the scene of the game over. How should this be done? Well, look at the much underrated Pokemon games. If you lost a battle, your character may lose a bit of money, but all progress that you made is kept, and any experience your pokemon gained, including that gained in the battle that you lost, remains. All you have to do is walk back to where you lost and challenge the person who beat you again. No trainers on the way will challenge you, as you have already beaten them. That's a good system, where game over doesn't exist, and losing is a setback, but not an annoyance.

5. Random Battles occuring too frequently: 'Ah, a random battle? Piece of cake. There I've won. Doobie, doobie, doob- what the crap, another one? I hadn't walked three steps!' Random battles I understand, mostly because games did not used to have the capability of rendering those monsters in real time. I don't mind random battles at all. If they are set to occur every two paces? Fuck that.

4. Jumping puzzles in games patently not designed for them: By 'games patently not designed for them', I obviously mean first-person games. In games designed to switch between first and third person, like the Jedi Knight series, they are acceptable, as you can switch to a view much more amenable to the idea of jumping puzzles. In first person games, get rid of them, they suck.

3. Irritating music at game over screens: Super Mario is guilty of this to the greatest extent I know. I have already pointed out that the game over screen shouldn't be there, but if it is, don't put annoying music there. Especially if that music seems to screem 'hahahahaha you suck' at the player. Seriously, at that point, the player is probably annoyed and frustrated, so putting bad music is like kicking them in the crotch when they're down.

2. Unskippable cutscenes: Cutscenes are good the first time around. They build story and character, they get the player from one place to another, and they often look damn cool (Final Fantasy VIII's 'Dollet Landing' scene is one of the most brain-defying great video game moments of all time.) They aren't so nice the second time around. Or the third. Seriously, make it so that your cutscenes can be skipped. Players don't want to watch them over and over just because they keep failing.

1. A lack of save points: Does this one really need explaining? Seriously, put adequate save points in the game. I don't want to fight through a dungeon, lose to the boss, and then have to fight my way through it again. The golden rule of video games has to be 'always put a save point before the boss.'

Let me reiterate. I love video games, but they can be hella annoying.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

My current manga collection

Because I wanted to quantify exactly how much manga I had, I will list them here. This also serves to display my arrogance at the fact that I have a shocking amount. This is from memory, so I probably have more.

Dragonball: 42 volumes
Naruto: 37 volumes (technically cheating as some is computerised. English manga hasn't been released that far yet, so I have to get scanlated manga, which is actually better quality translation!)
Oh! My Goddess!: 26 volumes
Battle Royale: 15 volumes
Love Hina: 14 volumes
Negima: 13 volumes
One Piece: 13 volumes
Great Teacher Onizuka: 9 volumes
Ikkitousen: 8 volumes
Arm of Kannon: 8 volumes
Chobits: 8 volumes
Priest: 6 volumes
Psychic Academy: 4 volumes
Ai Yori Aoshi: 3 volumes
.Hack// Legend of the Twilight: 3 volumes
Deus Vitae: 3 volumes
Azumanga Daioh: 2 volumes
Saiyuki: 1 volume

So there you have it. 226 (if my maths is good, which it usually isn't) volumes that I recall, probably a couple of dozen more that I don't. At between 5 and 7 quid a time, that totals a shocking amount, although I got a lot of them on special deals. For example, I bought a lot of them at this small comic shop near where I live. The guy who owns it is cool. He gave me pretty much all of Dragonball free when they were clearing stock because he knew I liked it (and I bought the first dozen or so volumes.)

Manga is cool, and looks cool while displayed on a shelf in alphabetical order.

Dungeons and Dragonballs

So I was thinking about a topic that I have rambled about before. Power progression in anime, specifically Dragonball Z. How, they continuously power up until they are not just in a different league to how they were before, but playing a completely different game. In the first few episodes of DBZ, Goku gets clobbered by a saiyan warrior named Raditz, and eventually has to sacrifice himself to kill him.

Within a dozen episodes, Goku is at a level far higher than Raditz. Maybe five or six times stronger than him, all told. By the end of the anime, Raditz simply doesn't measure up. Goku is literally maybe five or six million times stronger than him. His son, Gohan, is even stronger. Goku could literally beat infinite an infinite number of Raditz clones without breaking a sweat.

Thinking back over this, it shocked me how similar it was to the character progression in Dungeons and Dragons. In DnD, there isn't a huge gap between levels. You gain a few extra hit points (3 or 4 for a spellcaster, maybe 10 to 15 for a barbarian with the rest of the classes somewhere in between.), you might gain a feat or a class ability, and you gain a few skill points. You don't go up a huge amount in terms of power.

And yet, a level 20 character is far more than twenty times more powerful than a level 1 character. It literally gets to the point where, even if a level 1 character can get an attack in before dying, they will only be able to hit the level 20 on a roll of 20, and that's only because a natural twenty never misses. Even if he hits, the level 20 will undoubtedly have some method of preventing the damage going through, or nullifying it when it has.

I have never played this out because it would take forever, but I would imagine that you would need somewhere in the region of a thousand level 1 fighters to bring down a level 20 fighter who is nominally only 20 times more powerful than they are. And you would have to be lucky.

So how does this come back to Dragonball? Well the powerups that the characters seem to get at various stages roughly correspond to levelling up. They don't always become that much more powerful, but it all adds up.

I guess it works along the principle which I will call the Einstein principle. It has nothing to do with Einstein himself, I am merely using him as an example. Einstein was more intelligent than I am. I don't know exactly how much more intelligent because to me, him being ten times more intelligent and him being one hundred times more intelligent look very much the same.

Similarly, Goku being five times more powerful than Raditz, and Goku being five million times more powerful than Raditz? It really doesn't make a difference unless you introduce someone more powerful to set a benchmark. Enter Vegeta, stage left.

Is there a point to this? Hell, no.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Sky Raiders of Champion City

So the local geek shop recently had a four day gaming convention. Literally 10AM-2AM every day from last friday to monday. There were loads of one-shot RPGs, board games, card game tournaments. And of your yours truly was there for most of it, and enjoying it intensely.

I played, for the first time the RPG of Legend of the Five Rings. I have to say that I was incredibly impressed. The setting is lovely, the mechanics manage to be fluid and easy to use while simultaneously encouraging roleplay to a huge degree. It is also one of the few RPGs I have played where social interaction is at least as important as combat, if not more. Most games have several different stats for social interaction, but they are so rarely used. In contrast, Five Rings has those skills, but they actually get used. For example, there is a skill which represents your familiarity and expertise in strategy games like Go and Shogi. This skill is actually useful, and I myself used it twice in a four hour one-shot. What is more, social characters are not just characters who have a small bonus at talking but still do fights. My Kitsuki Courtier was completely incapable of any combat. She carried a wakizashi, but whenever combat came up, I had to duck behind my Yojimbo. In other words, completely realistic.

I also played some Deadlands. I like the setting mostly because it reminded me of the manhwa Priest, zombie steampunk in the wild west. However, I wasn't so sure about the mechanic of increasing your die-type as you improved your stat. It just seemed that you could either succeed completely or fail utterly. There didn't seem to be a mechanic for 'you succeeded, but not very well,' or 'you failed, but made some progress or had some positive effect.'

However, the main point of this post is the game I played on saturday evening. Most people were playing one game or another and thsoe of us who had just finished a game, or had been playing something shorter were all sitting around one of the tables waiting for something to come up. One of my friends, Ash, got some of the more bored people together and asked the most profound question ever:

'Why is there no steampunk RPG involving catgirl sky-pirates, bowler-hatted dwarven anarachists with bombs in each had, Bob Marley and ninja pizza-delivery-boys?'

Well obviously no-one had any idea. I'm sure you get the general direction this is going. Within 10 minutes we were playing 'Sky Raiders of Champion City', an adventure that Ash was GMing pretty much on the fly. The mechanic was made up on the spot. Each character had one major skill and one minor skill. You rolled 3d6 for the major skill, 2d6 for the minor skill and 1d6 for absolutely everything else. We moved on to character creation. We ended up with the following:

My character: Dr. Von Herzelberg, pizza-delivery ninja.
Major Skill: Ninja Antics
Minor Skill: Pizza Delivery

Trixie's Character: Guy Incognito, Master of disguise
Major Skill: Disguises using things beginning with the letter 'J'
Minor Skill: Gentlemanly Discourse

Beef's Character: Holland N. Barret, Blind Pirate Gunslinger
Major Skill: Blind gunslinging
Minor Skill: Monkey control

Alex's Character: Sir Spiffenburg, Gnome of Hats
Major Skill: Things to do with hats
Minor Skill: Ferret-charming

The other guy's (I didn't know him, and then forgot his name) character: Boris Von Helmutt, Sky Pirate Barman
Major Skill: Piloting an airship
Minor Skill: Mixing Martinis

I will post soon about how the game turned out. Twas a great story indeed.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007


It's my birthday! Woot!

Soon I'll have my kendo armour, and all will be well. Only cost me £210, and it is worth every penny.