Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Gantz: First Phase


The first "phase" of Gantz ended around 240 chapters into it. While I have since read up to chapter 272 (the latest chapter) there are some thoughts that I had while reading.

1. In the last entry I said something to the effect that I wanted several of the characters back. Looks like that's not as far-fetched as I thought. This series is approaching DBZ levels of resurrection.

2. The fights still drag terribly. Seriously, they get really frickin boring. The first few were great. The very first in particular was excellent. It had only two aliens, one of which went down without a great fight. But it was tense, and visceral, and didn't outstay it's welcome. It was used to extend character motivation and was chilling in places. The current fight started about 30 chapters ago, and is still going strong.

3. There are still no significant advances in the plot. All we know is that there are some other Gantz spheres, and there may be a master sphere in Germany. The vampires are probably aligned with the aliens, but that doesn't stop them slaughtering each other if necessary. I really want to know more, but it doesn't look like I will any time soon.

4. The death of Izumi seemed a little quick. He had been built up for 70 or so chapters as a cool anti-hero. While his death is suitably epic, it seems like wasted potential.

5. I'll restate my opinion on the vampires. Seriously, katana wielding vampires are really original. Unless you count Anita Blake, or Underworld, or World of Darkness, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or any vampire fiction written since 1990. Why can't vampires go back to being solitary predators of the night? You know, scary.

6. Seriously. MORE PLOT! I read stories for the story. The violence is cool and all, but I really want the plot to kick in, and there's no signs of that happening soon.

Gantz has so much potential, but it seems wasted somehow.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Gantz: Enjoyable, yet infuriating


Don't get me wrong, Gantz is a good series, but there are several things that pissed me off about it.

1. The fight in the temple, where the entire established cast bar one is cheerfully annihilated, including the coolest character in the series.

2. The fight scenes are epically long. The Dinosaur fight for example took almost 30 chapters to complete. It was a cool fight, but it dragged after a while. I actually tend to prefer the parts where fights aren't going on, as the plot and characters get their chance to shine. The fights have also lost the sheer, visceral horror that made the first couple of them so tense and fun to read.

3. Apart from the introduction of the vampires, which I'll get to in a minute, the plot really hasn't gone anywhere since the temple fight. I'm 167 chapters in and I still have no clue about any of the forces at work in the series. New mysteries have presented themselves, but none of the old ones have been resolved, in fact they seem to have been ignored entirely. This is unsatisfying to say the least.

4. The introduction of katana wielding vampires. Some people just might say that that is a little bit cliched.

5. The relationships between characters are developing nicely, but I still want some of the old characters back, especially Kato. The story is on the back-burner.

Still, the series is somewhat addictive, so I'll stick with it for now.

Gantz: First Impressions

After finishing Suzuka I needed another manga to read, so I chose largely at random from the list of manga on onemanga. I ended up with Gantz. The story is...unique, to say the least. Sometimes, when people die, they get taken to a small apartment in Tokyo to fight aliens on behalf of a giant sphere that speaks only in leetspeak. No....really. Imaginative? Yes. Crazy? Yes. Still, it's a blast. I haven't read manga this fast since Battle Royale, and the series does actually share some similarities stylistically with that cavalcade of fetishistic violence and extravagent nudity. It's bloody, to say the least, and it does seem that it sometimes uses blood and gore as a standin for actual storytelling.

Still, it's fresh and original, and fairly dark too. The main character seems to be undergoing a fall from sanity, probably from gazing too long across the abyss. The character development is reasonably well done so far, and I look forward to seeing where this one is going.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008


I just finished reading the manga series Suzuka. I was initially sceptical about it, and the terms that Onemanga described it in really didn't help. They said something to this effect:

Yamato is ready for a fresh start. So when his aunt invites him to stay rent-free in her big-city boarding house in hustling, bustling Tokyo, Yamato jumps at the chance. There's just one teensy-weensy catch: It's an all-girl housing complex and spa!

I was not convinced by this at all. If I was lucky, I thought, it would be a Love Hina clone. If I was unlucky, it would be a Hanaukyo Maid Team clone. The latter I don't want because they suck, the former I don't want because I've already read Love Hina and, while it isn't the greatest harem comedy around (that honour goes in my opinion to Akamatsu's other opus, Negima), it is about as good as the genre is ever going to get without going into other genres like shonen fighting.

So it was with trepidation that I approached the series. Fortunately, I was pleasently surprised. The manga is not a typical harem manga at all. There are a couple of characters who do play up the stereotype, but it's in a light-hearted way, and they are developed characters, not placeholders.

The main romance is handled well for the most part, although a little clumsily at times. There's just a little too much of the main character screwing up and having to work out why and how he should apologise. That gets tedious after the fifth or sixth time. However, the mature plot and well developed characters more than makes up for that fact. Yamato Akitsuki stands out in particular. Usually I hate the main characters in romance, and Akitsuki joins Keitaro Urashima and Kasuga Kyouske in the critically small list of 'romantic comedy protagonists that don't piss me off.'

The main female lead, the titular Suzuka, is an equally interesting character, albeit marred by a tendancy for the author to keep trying to make her motivations and thoughts a mystery to the reader even after we have figured them out, which leads to her being annoying at times.

Now one of my opinions, of which I have many, is that the quality of a romantic comedy can be assessed by how it handles secondary romances. That is, other people who fancy either the male or female protagonist. There are basically two ways I can see of doing this right. Love Hina did this well by largely ignoring all of them as potential candidates except for Mutsumi. Kimagure Orange Road, on the other hand, does it well by giving these other candidates personality and depth and giving the protagonists real reasons to think about choosing them. This is the more mature route, but it is very difficult to pull off. Most harem comedies try this route, and end up failing miserably, leaving them with a cast of bland, generic secondary females who exist for no other reason than to hamper the main relationship and provide fanservice.

Suzuka takes the Kimagure route, and does it well. Part of this is that there are only three other potentials in the whole series, one of whom does not appear very long. They all have their own personalities, none of them are annoying, and there would have been valid ways to characterise Yamato going with any of them. To top it off, they all have their own story arcs, which means that they are never there solely to try to get the guy. This is the way to do multiple potential romances, if you're going to do them at all.

That being said, the series is not without its problems. The ending feels rushed, and happens very quickly. I won't spoil the ending, but I will say this: while there is no doubt that it's a very happy ending, it might annoy people. It is certainly a fairly mature ending, and it is reasonable to imagine that real life might go a little bit like that, but there is a bittersweet tinge to it.

The art is good, but not spectacular by any means. The character designs are also nice, and all characters have a certain feel to them. The obligatory fanservice is not as intrusive as it can be in some mangas, and it takes a back seat to the story, which is the driving force of this series.

All in all I can heartily recommend this series to anyone who likes shonen romance. If you liked Kimagure, or Maison Ikkoku, then go ahead and read it. If you're into anything more violent, or with lots of fanservice, then give this one a miss.

Friday, 9 May 2008

In which an interesting weekend is described

Friday 2nd: My birthday. We went to a Japanese restaraunt first, and then to the pub, where fun was had.

Saturday: Gaming was done...all day. I tried Tribe 8 for the first time. A post-apocolyptic science-fiction fantasy horror mish-mash....SET IN CANADA! Actually it's an astoundingly good game with a tight system and a rich setting. I will almost certainly try to get my hands on the rulebook at some point. A mammoth game of Arkham Horror was also started. And Arkham Horror is always good, although it steals your time and life away, much like the actual Cthulu.

Sunday: Mostly played Iron-Man DnD. Rolling 3d6 down the line has never been so entertaining!

Monday: The highlight of the day was without a doubt Classroom Deathmatch, aka Battle Royale the RPG. A class of Japanese schoolchildren dropped on an island and told to kill each other. The mechanics are geared for co-operative storytelling more than anything. Each character has a best friend and a rival. If you succeed on an action, your best friend describes the results. If you fail, your rival does it. There are no real limits on what can be described, so death is very common. But that's ok, because that's how it works, and you can always quantum leap into a new student. Scenes are set by all the players, even those whose characters aren't participating, and flashbacks can be used to get bonus dice. The only problem is that it is most definitely a one-shot game. The mechanics as they stand would not work for anything longer than that. Oh, and avoid the swim team; they're lunatics!

Sunday, 13 April 2008

In which I apologise for being a closet powergamer

I was statting up Star Wars characters today, as one does, and my train of thought actually caused me to stop dead. There I was putting together some kind of Zabrak fringer (I had the model, okay? It seemed appropriate) and I envisioned him as a sort of Scout/Scoundrel mix. So anyway, halfway through I realised that I was actually statting the character out for optimum efficiency. You know, I'll take this feat because it stacks with this talent allowing me to leap out of cover, shoot, and dive back it, all while never exposing myself to counter-fire. Isn't building a character like that, you know, being a munchkin?

Well not wanting to be thought a munchkin, I desperately tried to justify it. Perhaps min-maxing was ok, as long as you roleplayed properly. But wait, I hadn't even thought of a personality for this guy yet. Perhaps as long as I made sure the mins were there as well as the maxes. But wait again, that's what a min-max is. In the end the only justification I could come up with was that perhaps as long as I didn't annoy the others it would be fine. But that's a pretty lame justification. So in the end I did what anyone would do. Seek out the biggest powergamer I know for advice.

So he gave me some interesting things to think about. Principally that there is a difference between powergaming and being a munchkin, and I had to work out what that line was. So I admit it world, I am a powergamer. I love being effective in combat. I love stacking feats to create an unstoppable badass capable of offing stormtroopers and dark jedi in a single shot. I like being impossible to hit. Because you know what? Being a non-combatent sucks in a game designed around combat.

Powergamers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your dex bonus!

Monday, 7 April 2008

This just in, Tate not bad

Well actually I saw the new episode of Doctor Who on Saturday, and I have to apologise to Catherine Tate. I assumed on the strength of her terrible comedy show that she wouldn't bring anything to the show, but she was actually not bad. No Martha or Rose, but certainly better than that awful woman played by Kylie Minouge (sp?) in the Christmas special.

I actually look forward to seeing what happens, perhaps she will grow into the role. Also, it's certainly nice to see some older talent joining the show (no offence to her, of course). Still, it seems we're still a long way from the Doctor being allowed heterosexual males as companions, like he used to be. Perhaps they could bring back Matthew Waterhouse, I hear that he's good, and it would be nice to get someone who remembers the good old days, because Russell T. Davies really makes me wonder at times.

Also, I saw the actual Buffy the Vampire Slayer film today. I never thought I would say that Luke Perry could rescue a film, but apparently he can. Damn he was cool as Pike. And of course Rutger Hauer makes everything good. Still, SMG is a better Buffy than Swanson.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Graduate your game-a followup.

The Fear the Boot podcast talked about Graduate your game today, and the host, Dan, made a point I hadn't really considered. White Wolf are suggesting that people graduate to a game by suggesting that they should move not to a deeper style of game, but to a more powerful kind of game. That seems to be missing the point entirely, and suggests that Exalted is a game of dungeon-crawls, which it really isn't.

They seem to be trying to bring in powergamers by misrepresenting the entire game.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

White Wolf, what the hell?

As a lover of both World of Darkness and Exalted, you would think that I would love the publishing company, White Wolf. In truth my relationship with them is very hit and miss. I love their games, don't get me wrong. Some of the Old WoD stuff wa sub-par, and I think nWoD has a much better feel to it. Also, Storyteller 2 is a much better system than Storyteller. On the whole though, I love all the games of their that I've played. So why do I not like them so much?

Mostly, it's their arrogance. White Wolf can be incredibly pretentious at times. Just read the storytelling chapter of Changeling: the Lost and you'll see that in a hearbeat. Look at this section of it:

Imagine an artist's palette, first of all, a color-box from which you, as Storyteller, will "paint" your chronicle: the locales, the characters, the weird quests and dream-remembered promises. Don't consider the actual colors yet, though. Instead, think about the properties of those colors. Imagine the bleak, painterly neutrals of the Hedge and the sharp, dry-brush edges of the thorns. Imagine the oversaturated, high-contrast variety of colors present at an august Court function. Imagine the textured patinas of a lost artifact unearthed, an untarnished metallic luster yielding into verdigis, or perhaps the luminous nacre of a pearl plucked from between a dead man's chalky fingers.

What the hell does that even mean? Seriously, it's pretentious wank that tells you nothing in practice about how to GM a game of Changeling. (Incidentally, I wouldn't mind so much if Changeling wasn't in all other respects a fantastic game, probably my favourite of the nWoD line). So yeah, White Wolf can be arrogant as hell at times, but this takes the gold in stupid things that they've done.

The basic idea is that you send in your copy of the DnD Players Guide, and they send you a copy of Exalted in return. In itself, it's not a bad idea, especially seeing as 4th Edition is coming out soon. If they can drum up a big of interest in Exalted on the side, more power to them. It's the way that it's phrased that really annoys me. You're supposed to graduate to a better level of roleplaying.

Now you won't find me arguing that DnD is better than Exalted. I prefer Exalted, to be honest, but they're different beasts entirely. DnD is high mortal fantasy, with mortal characters in a fairly generic fantasy world. It is by no means a bad game, indeed I love it. Exalted is Epic level immortal fantasy. Your characters are, for want of a better word, gods. They are gifted with the power of deities, and capable of truly earth-shattering feats. It's at a much higher power level than DnD, and comparing the two in this fashion is simply not something that you can really do.

People who like DnD aren't necessarily going to like Exalted, and White Wolf have basically shot themselves in the foot by saying 'come and play a better game, leave those plebs who play DnD behind, what do they know?' The sort of person who would think like that is not the sort of person I want to play tabletop roleplaying games with.

That's not to blast those people who would make the swap because they are moving up to 4th edition anyway, I have nothing against them, and that's a good way to get yourself a little extra out of the bargain. But people who would make the swap solely in order to feel superior to DnD players, which seems to be what this deal is implying, you aren't welcome in my games, ever.

Now I'm sure that this has been in the works for a while, but they have done it at a truely, spectularly disrespectful time, considering that Gary Gygax only passed away last tuesday.

Shame on you White Wolf. Your games are great, we know, but stop being so arrogant about it.

EDIT: People of various forums are now suggesting that this move was done with their tongue firmly within their cheek. If that's the case, then I apologize profusely to White Wolf. Either way, I think it's pretty tasteless, but not so malicious as I thought it was.

But you're still pretentious!

Thursday, 6 March 2008

RIP - Gary Gygax

I haven't been around for a week or so, firstly because I attended Minami-con in Southampton over the weekend, and then because of some personal things in the week that I'd prefer not to go into, but I was devastated to hear the news. Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons, passed away on tuesday.

His influence on the RPG industry is unquestioned and, while other people may have come up with tabletops, given time, the fact remains that he is the one who did, and he is rightly called a pioneer and father of Tabletops. Dungeons and Dragons is, and remains, the most popular and the most well-known of all of them.

Blogs and webcomics everywhere are mourning the occasion, and Penny Arcade replaced their strip with a memorial to him.

Thank you Gary, and good luck with whatever next life there is. The impact you had on our lives can not be overstated!

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Points of Light, or How I learned to stop worrying and love 4th Edition

Any RPGer who hasn't had their head in the sand has probably heard by now about Fourth Edition DnD, announced at GenCon last year. I have to admit that when I first heard about it, I was very sceptical. Wasn't this just some way for WotC to make a bunch more money by releasing the same sourcebooks over again? After all, 3.5 only hit shops in 2004, and 3.0 was printed in 2000. Surely there was no need for another edition?

Well, perhaps that is part of it, especially on marketing, but everything I've read about fourth edition makes me want it more and more. So what was the turning point? Quite simple, it's summed up on the phrase "Points of Light in a big, dark world." (Article requires a free membership to view)

What does that phrase mean exactly? The site itself explains it quite well:

Most of the world is monster-haunted wilderness. The centers of civilization are few and far between, and the world isn’t carved up between nation-states that jealously enforce their borders. A few difficult and dangerous roads tenuously link neighboring cities together, but if you stray from them you quickly find yourself immersed in goblin-infested forests, haunted barrowfields, desolate hills and marshes, and monster-hunted badlands. Anything could be waiting down that old overgrown dwarf-built road: a den of ogre marauders, a forgotten tower where a lamia awaits careless travelers, a troll’s cave, a lonely human village under the sway of a demonic cult, or a black wood where shadows and ghosts thirst for the blood of the living.

That's quite an interesting way of looking at things, and it does something to distinguish DnD from legions of generic fantasy games. It conjures up images similar to those from authors like Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard and Michael Moorcock. This is taking Sword and Sorcery back to its original, pulp fantasy roots. I really hope that it actually gets rid of the Tolkein feel that DnD has had so far, and makes something slightly fresher. I know it will keep the trappings, Elves, Dwarves and Dark Lords, but those are pretty seminal in fantasy. The feel, however, seems completely different. Characters are more powerful, combat is cooler, and enemies are more numerous. You really could see Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser adventuring in this game, you'd never have seen them in the old Forgotten Realms.

This is a real example of where the feel of the game can really get me excited about something. I had assumed that this was a financial decision to boost WotC, but it really seems like they know what they're doing here. I can't wait!

The World of Darkness- Session Four

So with news that the Doctor was stable, our three heroes head home to sleep. In the morning, a full-scale investigation is scheduled of his computer. Not much is found, except for some map co-ordinates revealing the location of a small village about thirty miles outside of London called Greensville. Known for being quite pretty and near a set of caves that was a tourist destination until some people died there about thirty years ago. Surely this bared investigation!

Meanwhile, scientists work on the serum that they found, identifying all of the key components but one, which refuses to be identified under any scientific tests. Doctor Johns, meanwhile, lies comatose in a bed in the discrete lab of Parasol Corp.

Hopping into various cars, they sped towards Greensville as fast as they could, arriving in time for a pub lunch in the Fox and Goose. However, raised voices with angry locals, and repeated insistance that they will go into the caves eventually forces them to flee to a friendlier pub, the Green Dragon Inn, so named for an old folk legend. Here they find out that the other pub is a haven for members of a group called the Julian Society, a supposedly benevolent organisation dedicated to the improvement of the village.

After lunch, they head off to the caves, spending a little time looking around the tourist section. They get a little bit of information. The first cavern is open to the public, and while they can't be prohibited from entering the rest of the caves, it is not advisable, they will need breathing apparatus, and the management can not be held responsible blah blah blah. Breathing apparatus is summarily requested from London, and soon it arrives. Time to enter the caves.

The walls are dripping with water and covered in fungi and moss. Samples of all are taken. Progressing through the cave reveals something odd, there is a door set into one of the walls, with the sound of screaming from behind it. It is quietly opened, and a man is calling for help, chained against the far wall, behind what looks like an altar that would neatly sluice blood into a small basin. He screams at them to unchain him, and some fiddling around with lockpicks gets him out. He thanks the heroes. Meanwhile, exploring one of the pools of water, Thrace finds a secret tunnel which leads into a small bedroom, not the sort of thing you'd expect in a cave. He steals the small battery lamp that's there.

When he gets back, sounds are heard of people approaching. The heroes hide, but the intruders notice that their captive is missing and run over. Throwing a rock into a nearby pool, Thrace distracts them for a critical few seconds, enabling them to get the jump on their opponents, using his own time to capture one of them and use them as a bullet shield. Their new friend, William Kursus, goes first, running at one of the thugs before his knife can be drawn and delivering a sucker punch to the gut. Fisher moves in to combat another...before pepper-spraying him to the face. Thrace notices a gun on the hip of one of the men, and fires, his fine-tuned military reflexes serving him well as he hits the man in the gut. The various thugs, shocked from this initial offensive, scatter and attack various groups. The one who had been shot is woozy, but still manages to score a glancing hit, shooting Fisher in the shoulder. One of them struggles with Kursus, and another attacks Thrace with his knife, but misses and slices his own friend's shoulder open. Finally, Burns, hiding behind the altar due to his lack of weapons, calls out that the men should surrender.

Kursus scores a devastating hit, flipping the thug over his shoulder and leaving him unconcious on the ground. Thrace shoots the man with the knife, hitting him in the arm and causing him to drop his knife. Fisher runs over to the woozy man with the gun and similarly manages to score an excellent hit, kicking the man backwards. His head hits the wall, and he slumps down, either unconcious or dead. The man in Thrace's grasp rips free and runs for the gun that his companion dropped, but the other man with the knife attacks. However, Thrace steps to the side and the knife cuts nothing but air. Burns agains repeats the offer of surrender, but the thugs refuse, shouting out that their sacred spot has been defiled and there can be no mercy.

Kursus captures the thug running for the gun, pinning him from behind, allowing Fisher to deliver several punches to the stomach. Meanwhile, Thrace plays a game of cat and mouse with the knife-man, moving from cover to cover firing off shots. This game ends when he steps out and delivers one final shot to the head, killing the man instantly. The last man is swiftly knocked unconcious. The man who had been pepper-sprayed is subjected to a brief interrogation in which he reveals that he is part of the Julian Society.

Making good their escape, the heroes head out of the cave and take their samples back to London. The doctor has woken, and an interview with him reveals that he manufactured the serum for an unknown paymaster, and that he himself was doing it in a purely disinterested pursuit of knowledge. The missing ingredient definitely comes from the caves, and shows up on all of the samples they brought with them. Clearly the connection between the serum, the cave and the Julian Society bore further investigation...


Saturday, 23 February 2008

New purchases

I recently ordered 2 new World of Darkness books from Amazon Marketplace. The first is their newest WoD game, Changeling: the Lost. This I have wanted for a while, and the number of positive reviews from everywhere sealed the deal. I didn't like the original Changeling game, its focus on capturing childhood innocence at the expense of anything resembling maturity smacked of Michael Jackson, and didn't sell the game at all. I never actually played it, but just looking through the book made me feel uncomfortable.

The other book I bought was the new splat book, Midnight Roads. It's about characters who travel, and basing campaigns around them. I shall have to work it into the Chronicles of Storge somehow.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

The World of Darkness- Session Three

Scarpering from the scene of the crime, the three unlikely heroes make their way back to various places. Eventually the rendevous at Parasol, and discuss what they know. A strange drug is in production that makes people go insane and wild, and then quickly die of a heart attack. The most recent test subjects were people abducted from an insane asylum. A report comes on, which talks about the events of the warehouse, and mentions that there were people trapped in the building, who were swiftly rescued by the police. Cursing at the lack of insight from the cops, Fisher calls his contact, who tells him that the people bribed their way out of the situation. Clearly the Met is corrupt from top to bottom. He mentions that the escapees from the asylum were probably abducted with the help of an insider. Clearly this bore investigating.

Organising a tour of Bedlem Asylum is easy, they simply show up at the gates and request one, which starts about half an hour later. It is initially led by Dr. Crick, a rather high-strung woman who wastes no time in starting arguments with our heroes about how much more seriously they should take mental illness, and asking them not to pry into questions of security. Eventually she gets annoyed, yells that she has work to do, and leaves them in the care of the much kindlier Dr. Johns, who takes them to the third floor. While in the course of the tour, he is clearly shifty at some of the questions they are asking about security, repeatedly asking them not to pry into things that weren't their business.

Eventually, he leads them into an empty ward, and then immediately turns, locking the door behind him with them still in the room. Calling back over his shoulder, he points out that he told them not to pry. The door across from them starts to be pummeled from the other side, and there are yells and calls from the other side. Thrace tries to unlock the door, eventually unpicking it, but not before the other door bursts open, disgorging several rage-infected inmates into the room. Fisher engages in a little fisticuffs with one of them, but neither are able to do much to the other. Thrace calls for them to leave, backing out into the corridor. Burns climbs onto one of the bed, while one of the inmates claws at his legs. Stunningly acrobatically, he leaps over him, kicks off his back and lands running for the corridor. Meanwhile, Fisher backs away and makes for the corridor as well. The inmates chase them in, but the first three to do so is met by a flurry of pepper spray from Thrace. They fall to the ground, apparently trying to shred their own faces to stop the pain. The next one suffers chemical burns when Burns empties a CO2 fire extinguisher at him. Finally, Fisher manages to jam the door closed and they make a run for it, carrying one of the flailing people with them.

Having to stop to unlock another door, they are soon accosted by an orderly, who they cajole into helping to carry the body. He helps them down a fire escape and to their car, before they throw him out of the car and speed off. In the rear view mirror, he can be seen taking a note of something. They speed to Parasol, stopping only to change the plates. The body is taken to one of the more clandestine labs for dissection, and an autopsy report is hastily put together, which doesn't say much that they didn't already know.

However, they have a lead, and the techie is put to work finding everything he can about Dr. William Johns. In the meantime, a safe-house is organised, as the heroes are now wanted for abducting an inmate of a local asylum. Some of them go for changes of appearance, while Burns is confident that an extravagent false moustache will throw off the persuit.

That night, they stake out the house of Dr. Johns, whose address had been uncovered by the techie. He is still clearly awake, and can be seen moving around upstairs. They stealthily move in, and start looting the downstairs. A comedy of errors ensues, however, when one of them knocks a lamp over and another trips over a wire. Clamour can be heard from upstairs, and seconds later a very dirty, clearly homeless man charges through a door at them and begins to run down the stairs towards them. Thrace fires three bullets at him, but in the dark they go wide, and only one clips the guy's arm. He falls down the stairs, clattering to the ground, where Burns throws a sheet over him, innefectually. Fisher kicks for the head but misses, and Thrace cooly shoots him again, missing completely and hitting the floor. The guy rips the sheet apart and leaps up, as Thrace finally plugs him through the head, killing him instantly.

Upstairs, it becomes clear that the doctor has escaped through the window, and Thrace runs after him while the other two loot the house for research notes and chemicals. The guy is caught, but as he is cuffed a dart hits him and he falls unconcious. There are no signs of where it comes from. He is dragged back into the kitchen, and a private medical team summoned. Before they can arrive, he wakes back up and starts going wild, showing all the same symptoms as the previous rage-infected. The medical team arrive and, knowing that he has valuable information about what is going on, do their best to stabilise him.


Saturday, 16 February 2008

Dark Heresy, what the hell?

I flipped through a copy of Dark Heresy the other day. For those of you not in the know, Dark Heresy is the new Warhammer 40K RPG dealing with the Imperial Inquisition. The story is kinda odd.

1. Games Workshop has already done fantastically well with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (WFRP). The game is astounding. The production values are really high and the system is well designed.

2. Fans eat it up, and clamour for a 40K RPG.

3. GW announces that they'll make one. In fact, they'll make three. One focusing on the inqusition, one on other humans, and one on alien races.

4. Dark Heresy is announced. It sells out during pre-order and you can't find copies anywhere.

5. Dark Heresy is released. Already sold out.

6. Less than a week later, GW announces the termination of the 40K roleplaying line.

What the hell is wrong with this picture? The only rational explanation I can think of is that the RPG is a niche product. The wargame is far more profitable. Why make £25 selling a chunky hardback with fantastic writing and and artwork, with a lot of thought that has gone into it, when you could make £25 selling a few dis-assembled, unpainted figures that the player has to put together themselves? If this is even close to the truth (I am shooting in the dark) then it's exactly the same attitude that makes me hate GW in general.

They really suck when it comes to giving good deals to their customers.

Monday, 11 February 2008

The World of Darkness- Session Two

Here is the second part of the campaign:

Thrace kept the gun leveled at the advancing Frank Johnson, and after repeated attempts to get him to put the weapon down, he shot him in the leg. Handcuffing him to a railing, he went after his friend.

Meanwhile, Fisher was desperately trying to catch up with the fleeing man, and not having much luck. The man made it to a car park, throwing himself into a white van that was parked up and powering it up. Fisher slowed down, taking a note of the numberplate, and thinking it was best to retreat. As he was doing so, the back doors of the van opened, and a huge dog leapt out. A gigantic german shepherd, feral and beserk, started to chase him. Waiting until it was within a few yards of him, Fisher fired a taser blast, the probes catching the dog in its haunch and stunning it to the ground. In its jerking about it manages to catch Fishers arm with its claw, giving him a nasty, but not deeply. It seems then to have a heart attack and go limp.

Going back to see their unconcious friend, they wake him up, before interrogating him as to what was happening. He isn't talking, however, so Thrace knocks him out again, planting evidence of his crime on him (all for the greater good, right?) and scarpering. Stopping only to torch the car they arrived in, they both go home.

The next morning, they are called into the office by Mr. Bryson, who asks them what they'll do next, and tells them two things. Firstly, Frank Johnson was arrested the previous night, which they pretend to know nothing about, and secondly, the security guard who they had arrested the previous session had died in custody. Apparently going insane, he killed two police officers before succumbing to a heart attack.

Fisher contacts an informer he has in the police department, who agrees to get him the autopsy report, and information regarding the vehicle that he had chased the previous day. This quickly gets back to him, and tells him that the vehicle is registered to a Sam Marwick, the address of who he supplies. He also says that he can't talk much, as a situation is developing. Eight people have disappeared from a local asylum.

A late night breakin nets some interesting clues. A laptop and a hard drive are recovered. Once cracked open, most of the information is useless, but some of it is good, including extended exchanges of emails between Sam, Frank and numerous others. Experiments are mentioned, as is a sinister formula. A map to a warehouse is provided, and a newly arrived email provides directions that Sam should come to the warehouse as soon as possible.

Heading down to the warehouse in Adam's car, they spot several people heading inside. Finding a back entrance that leads into the office at the back, they peek through the door to the main area. On the balcony that runs around the inside, several people can be heard talking about the experiment, mentioning that the fatal side-effect of the drug is still there, but comes into play much more slowly as will be shown by the next test.

In the centre of the room, several people can be seen stirring in a cage. They appear dishevelled, but feral, and they immediately begin tearing at the cage door. All of them wear uniforms marking them as inmates of a local asylum. They tear through the cage, running for the front door of the warehouse and freedom. The three intrepid heroes leap into the car, and the semi-psychotic Thrace started running them down. A couple ran back into the warehouse, so he called the police, fled the scene, crashed the car intentionally, sabotaged his own brakes and claimed to have been in an accident.

As the police vanished towards the warehouse, with the fates of the conspirators unknown, our heroes take stock of their situation.


Sunday, 10 February 2008

Review: Romeo x Juliet

So here's something a little odd, an anime series that draws from the works of Shakespeare. Perhaps that's more common than I realise, but this is the only one I know. Anyhow, it's a loose adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. And by 'loose adaptation' I mean 'the characters have the same names'....well most of them do.

As the story opens, the floating city of Neo Verona has been ruled for 14 years by the tyrannical Duke Motague, who acquired power by overthrowing the rival Capulet house. The only survivor of that house was Juliet, who was rescued from the coup when the royal knight Conrad intervened and spirited her away. She has lived the past 14 year pretending to be a boy named Odin, under the care of Conrad, two other knights Camio and Francisco, and her best friend Cordelia. She spends the bulk of her time running around the city dressed all in red acting as an odd Zorro-like figure called the Red Whirlwind.

Meanwhile, the Duke's son, Romeo, is fast maturing and finding out that he really doesn't like the way that his increasingly insane father is doing things. Along with his friend Benvolio, he spends more and more time out and about. Eventually he bumps into Juliet on one of the few occasions that she has her hair down. Needless to say, the two fall in love and go through many happy adventures trying to keep that love alive while Juliet is trying to avoid being killed by Romeo's father.

It may seem like I'm mocking the plot, but this is a really good series. The plot is well paced, and has several points where it actually raises real questions. How far can you go in persuit of justice? What's the correct response to collective punishment? Can collective punishment ever be appropriate? How can you balance your freedom against the suffering of others? The show tries to make you think about all these and more, and for the most part it succeeds without being preachy.

The graphics are good. The lines and colour are crisp and clean, although somewhat lacking in shading. The music is without exception superb.

The characters are also pretty well done. Even the insane Duke Montague is in some respects a sympathetic character. There are a few who are less so. I couldn't get my head around the slimy coutier Mercutio, he seemed to have no redeeming features whatsoever. I'd have to say my favourite is the tragic lover Hermione. She seems to have Romeo in her grasp, before he's snatched away by Juliet. She convinces herself that Juliet must have wickedly seduced him, and is unable to handle it when she finds out the Juliet is actually a quite nice person!

The voice acting is all very good, but props have to go to Kazukiko Inoue (also Kakashi in Naruto) for his work portraying a character who is basically Shakespeare himself. Portrayed as quirky, effeminate and somewhat philosophical, his dryly humourous comments and annoyed barbs steal the episodes in which he appears.

All in all I would recommend this series. It's 24 episodes of fantastic action and romance. Go watch it now, if you're at a loss for what to do.

The World of Darkness- Session One

I'm currently running a World of Darkness campaign. The first session was the other sunday, and the second starts in about an hour. The campaign is set in and around the London offices ofParasol Incorporated, a pharmaceutical company with a slightly shady reputation. Yeah, shamelessly ripped off from Resident Evil, but they story is going in a different direction.

The characters are the following. Donald Burns, who is on the board of directors. David Fisher, who is a Private Investigator, and Adam Thrace, who heads the security team. This is a coincidence, but it more or less means that there is a mental character, a social character and a physical character. Anyhow, this is what happened last week.

Mr. Bryson, the Chairman of the Board, called all three into his office. Fisher had been called in to find the source of a leak in the company's security. He had been partnered with Thrace, the head of security, and put under the command of Burns. A quick search of the research room, which required a code to enter, revealed a dead body there. Whoever it was had been completely eviscerated, and was unrecognisable. A scan of the cameras revealed that they had been tampered with, completely covered in static and white noise.

Fisher took a closer look, and realised that the footage and sound still existed, but completely covered. A techie was quickly summoned, and he began work on the video and footage. He said, however, that it would take a while.

In the meantime, the body was identified as David Kaplan, a low-ranking member of the security team who had been on security duty that day. Thrace is shocked, and immediately summoned the person who had taken over from him, demanding to know what happened. A quick questioning session revealed that he had hadn't seen Kaplan, who was supposed to have passed the shift off to him. Not only had he not investigated, but he hadn't brought the anomoly to the attention of anyone. He was immediately put on unpaid leave, pending a firing.

The sound was restored to the video camera footage, and it revealed a conversation between Kaplan and an unknown voice in the research room. It appears to be a conversation about stolen research. Kaplan demands a bigger cut of the profits, and is swiftly dispatched.

It is realised that Adam Weaver, the security guard who had just been fired, might hold a valuable clue. He is brought back in, and a makeshift interrogation room is set up in the basement in the janitor's office. Thrace fills the room with various nasty looking implements. Weaver is clearly shocked at the room, and his defences swiftly crumble. He admitted that Kaplan had promised him £3000 if he said nothing about disappearing early. With gambling debts looming, Weaver had no choice but to agree. However, he had no idea that Kaplan would end up getting killed. The last piece of imformation he could give was that Kaplan had said he was meeting a man from a rival corporation, Solomon Corp.

Fisher was volunteered to infiltrate Solomon Corp, and he started by taking a guided tour of the building. In one of the labs he heard a voice that sounded very much like that on the sound of the footage. He is introduced to Frank Johnson, a supposed genius researcher whose research topics synched eerily with those stolen from the research room. The tour swifly concluded, and his finding were brought back to Parasol. After a long argument, it was decided that they should search for more evidence on Johnson before alerting the police.

That evening, Fisher and Thrace stake out his house. At about 2Am, he leaves the house and begins walking down the street. Thrace breaks and enters, while Fisher follows the man. No incriminating evidence is found in the house, and Thrace gets a message from Fisher telling him that the man was meeting with another person in the local graveyard. Thrace makes his way there quickly and the two of them hide behind a tombstone. After a few minutes of quiet talking, Johnson leaves one way, but quickly draws a machete and starts walking towards their hiding place. The other man scarpers behind the church.

Pulling out his gun as Johnson advances, Thrace yells at Fisher to follow the other man.


Saturday, 9 February 2008

Wii is where it's at!

The seventh generation of the console wars has seen Nintendo come from behind to win a startling victory over the other two competitors. As the oldest of the three currently fighting, they had a lot to live up to, but they had seen steadily declining sales culminating in the Gamecube being beaten by a coffee table...errr...X-Box.

Anyway, the Wii was a masterstroke on their part. Realising that there was a significant number of people out there who didn't need better graphics and special effects, they focused instead on re-defining the way that video games are played. The Wiimote seems a little gimmicky when you first use it. Surely this can't be the way forward? But after using it for a while, you realise its potential. As soon as game developers start realising that as well, the true potential of this devices will be seen.

The 360 and PS3 are fighting it out to attract the hardcore gamers, and the Wii has cut right through the centre and stolen all of the casual ones with its low cost and the perception that it is the most 'fun' of all three of them

That's why I bought one, anyway. That, and I'm a raving Nintendo fanboy......Princess Zelda so wants me.

Review: Advance Wars: Dark Conflict


The Advance Wars series has always been a beacon of excellent design and storytelling on the GBA and DS. Turn-based strategy is a niche market even on the PC, and on consoles there are very few that are well known, unless you count things like Final Fantasy Tactics. So it's to the credit of Nintendo that they've managed to get this series right. They combine an excellent story and character driven single-player experience with a truly addictive and limitless multiplayer.

Dark Conflict brings a lot of new stuff to the table. Firstly, the world and characters from the last few games are completely gone, and the game itself has gone post-apocolyptic. I loved this, but they I love anything post-apoc. In the ashes of a world devestated by a cataclysmic meteor shower and dust cloud, a few survivors live on, scavenging for food and continuing old hatred. Ed is your first Commanding Officer, and is the only survivor of the Laurentian Military academy that he studied at, and is then rescued by the First Independant Laurentian Batallion under the command of Captain O'Brien and his subordinate Corporal Lin. I rate the story as one of the best in the series, partly due to it's post-apocolyptic nature, but also partly because it's less obvious who the bad guys are. In all three of the others, the answer was always 'Black Hole did it.' The characters also get better development through various cutscenes, and it's the first time in the series that I remember them killing major COs off.

The game, like all the others, is heavily mission-based, and you can gain points for completing each mission based upon your speed, power and technique (basically: how many turns it took, how many things you destroyed, how many of your things were destroyed). I was a little upset to see that the system that you could use in Duel Strike to spend points on upgrades for your COs was taken out, but it means that the focus of the game shifts to the units themselves as opposed to the people commanding them, making for a slightly different style of gameplay. On that note, the power differences between units has decreased slightly. In Duel strike, a Mega Tank was incredibly powerful, and could take repeated batterings from bombers and live. Infantry were next to useless against it. Now, the differences are still there, but less pronounced. Infantry have a role to play besides captures, which is good. Indeed, you can make a coherant strategy out of an infantry wave. This is something they tried in previous games with COs like Sami and Sensei, but never managed because of the focus on the CO themselves. I still bemoan the lack of infantry with decent anti-air capabilities, but there are enough anti-air units to go around.

The role of COs in this game has been dramatically scaled back. CO powers are far rarer and are no longer as game-ending as they could be in Duel Strike and the GBA games. The individual abilities of COs are also less pronounced. Of note is the ability of COs to command particular units. For example, you can plut your CO in a tank, and they will generate a command zone. In this zone the attack and defence of all unit is somewhat increased, but make sure to protect that unit. Leave it exposed and you might just lose. This is a nice touch, but doesn't come into play all that often.

The unit roster hasn't changed dramatically. What were fighters are now interceptors, and the unit called fighters are a sort of hybrid of battle copters and the old fighters. There are missle-boats which basically act as landers with a single attack, meaning that transporting of troops across large bodies of water is significantly easier. There are motorbike units, which are basically fast-moving infantry, and various units have small tweaks in how much damage they can do and how much punishment they can take.

Basically, if you're a fan of the Advance Wars series, this is an addition that I heartily recommend. It has all of the creative storytelling and tactical gameplay that has made the series great so far.

I'm back

I know this never got many (or perhaps any) readers, but I'm gonna start it up again anyway, just for the lulz. I have a lot to write about, so why the heck not?