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Feb. 29th, 2012

The Blog is Dead, Long Live the Blog!

So, you may not have noticed, but my dragons and I kinda stopped updating here.  Aside from personal reasons and several distractions, I have always felt this is an inferior method for doing what I want to do with a page like this. 

Enter my new blog, caelstales.tumblr.com! I plan to reopen my Page-a-day updates, and the weekends will see the dragons again, either with individual posts or a full on Dragon Talk.

I will make no promises, but I feel this has been the best strategy in the past, and I desperately want to make this work, my writing has suffered severely in the past few months and I want to fix that.

So I’m just gonna do it.  Join us on this magical journey, won’t you?

Nothing more to say here,

Cael Tyr.

Sep. 3rd, 2011

Tanas’ Post: A Brief Timeline of Ayreon

This might be a little late, but at least now I have a topic that will not make me ramble.

The unique thing about Arjen A. Luccasen’s massive project Ayreon is the organization of the story.  Throughout the course of the project, all the albums have a different story, but each one weaves into the others in some way.  There is only one album that is the exception to that rule, but even that is tied in at literally the last second.  Throughout the whole thing, a variety of different voices and characters are introduced, and a whirlwind of synth and guitar work make for emotional rides that rival any blockbuster or novel. 

The storyline that Ayreon follows isn’t overly complex, but it requires some thought to organize properly.  Now, I don’t want to spoil the albums, but I thought I’d layout the general situation of the albums in the order they take place in the storyline.  That way, if you want to listen to them in order, you have a general idea of what album comes first in the story.

A good place to start if you just want an overview of the plot and don’t mind missing the other stories is the last album, “01011001,” from this point on called Zero One.  In this chapter we see the events that trigger the story of some of the other albums.  It correlates directly to two of the albums, and alludes to the story of a third one.  However, in order for this story to have it’s maximum effect, it should be listened to last, as intended. 

Where MOST people would start is with the first actual album, “The Final Experiment.” Within, a message from the future is sent into the past, to an unlikely recipient, a blind man with the titular name of Ayreon.  This is the base for the other stories, the beginning tying directly into the near end of Zero One. This is perhaps the hardest to track down of all the albums (I believe it came out in the early nineties) until it came out on eMusic a few months ago. 

The next logical step is the album “Universal Migrator,” wherein the last man alive tries to keep himself entertained with a device known as the Dream Sequencer, which shows you your past lives.  We also find out that the Colonist, as he is named, is a descendant of Ayreon.  His journey leads us into the very last events of Zero One, but also beyond.

Here’s where it gets a little sticky.  The second album, “Into the Electric Castle,” and the fourth album, “The Human Equation,” are a little nebulous in where they take place, rather literally.  Electric Castle finds us in a place of no-time and no-space, where eight souls from the earth’s history are lead by a mysterious voice, later named Forever of the Stars, into the corridors and parapets of the aforementioned castle.  We find out later that it ties in somewhat to the events in Zero One, but it doesn’t really have a place in the timeline. 

Human Equation, however, could be thought of as a part of Universal Migrator, because it is discovered that it was all brought on by the Dream Sequencer.  This album is perhaps the most allegorical and thought provoking, detailing the twenty day coma of a man who doesn’t remember why he is there.  His personified emotions attempt to guide him through his memories, while his best friend and wife in the real world stay by his side to convince him to return to them.  It’s an epic told on a microcosmic scale of an everyday sort of story.  Brilliant doesn’t begin to describe this. 

(On another note, this album brought Arjen Luccasen to the vocal talents of Marcela Bovio, whose band “Stream of Passion” got its start with Arjen’s help.  Her music is some of the most soulful stuff you can hear a person sing with breaking down into tears, though you might anyway.)

This next bit has a few spoilers in it if you care about such things.  I just want to get my analysis complete, so if you want to avoid reading this just skip down past the next part.  Everyone else, highlight below these words to read it easier:

The trick is that the voice of Forever is heard at the end of Human Equation, throwing into question who the Colonist really is … or who Forever is supposed to represent.  It’s easy to assume that Forever is one of the voices in Zero One, but due to this coincidence, a shrewd observer might think that Forever is actually the Migrator.  It would seem to make the most sense, but parts of it don’t quite fit.  Forever’s speech at the end of Electric Castle marks him as the old race, but there’s nothing saying that it was for certain.  However, in MY opinion, Forever is actually the New Migrator, the result of the Colonist’s evolution, and the remnants of the old race that joined with the Migrator at the end of Zero One.  It’s a far shot, I know, but it would explain Forever’s appearance in Human Equation.

The true place of Zero One is here, to be fair, as it summarizes and wraps up the whole story. This album chronicles the search for a new planet for a dying race to seed with life.  Along the way we discover the creation of earth (what really killed the dinosaurs) the origin of humankind, their mechanical devolution and eventual salvation of the species.  This one feels like a good end, but as sort of an epilogue there is a track on the compilation album “Timeline” that alludes to a new beginning, a second chance for man in the universe.  Goddammit but you people get all the breaks.

Lastly, I want to mention Actual Fantasy, the sort of black sheep album to the Ayreon family.  It’s a good listen, but it is nothing like its other family members.  It’s a string of unconnected stories related by the same singer, but they do explore some interesting themes.  This is what I recommend to listen to last if you want to make the most out of Ayreon and you’ve finished the other albums.

Bear in mind that this is an interpretation of the storyline, what made logical sense to one dragon.  Maybe you get a different feel for it, but this is the closest I’ve gotten to sorting it out.  Maybe at some point I’ll do a song by song timeline for those interested, but I figured a general idea of how things worked together would be better.

Loyally Yours,

Myrcanth “Tanas” Shadowheart.

Aug. 17th, 2011

Kay’s Post: Kay’s Demo Night 2: 60 Minute Trial by Fire

It’s me again.  Well, we haven’t done much in the way of new games recently, and there’s not much to cover concerning old games lately.  To be frank, Cael’s playing a lot of Warcraft.  I really don’t mind the game, but it’s more Nerimay’s thing.  But we have had a demo night recently, so let’s look at that.

Now I did this before pretty not long ago, but it’s really been the only source of new game stuff that we’ve seen recently, what with the being poor and everything.  Hopefully that changes soon, but until then we have demos.

Some of the recent selection was of a fairly similar build, so I’ll get to those first.  If you frequent the PlayStation Network or Xbox Live Arcade, you may know all too well the subset of games I’m about to discuss.  In these games you control movement with one analog stick and your aim with the other.  These aren’t bad, but it’s weird that there’s so many available.  We’ve played more than just what’s coming up, but here’s some of the dual stick games we’ve played the other night.

Gatling Gears: Do you ever wish you had access to old school aesthetic in a next gen engine?  You do?  What’s wrong with you?  That sounds like a dumb idea.  But until your sick fantasy comes to pass, you can engage yourself with Gatling Gears, the closest you can get to the Super NES without violating the warrantee!  The old fashioned style and enjoyable shoot ’em up gameplay is a great mix.  You play as the pilot of a bipedal walker mech, armed with a cannon, grenade launcher, one hell of a gatling gun, and more ammo than you know what to do with.  you are presented with enemies and obstacles, all of which are made to eat more lead than lead eating machines.  You can upgrade your basic weapons and your chassis, using gears collected from downed opponents.  You have unlimited ammo for your main gun, but the cannon and grenades can run out, their shots replenishing over time.  In other words, give little care to your ammo usage and just let loose.  Between all your weapons and the random powerups that bolster your arsenal, you’ll have no lack of weaponry for taking out the enemy.  One of my favorites to date.

Warhammer 40,000 Kill Team: As a demo in general, this felt really lackluster.  The movement and controls feel forced and uncomfortable, and the overall aesthetic feels dull and washed out.  Actually, for a 40k game, there seems to be very little character.  Your characters are not voiced; in fact, the only understandable voicing at all is a deadpan and grumpy radio communicator.  There’s nothing to explore as far as your character customization goes, even though you earn some powerups you don’t see much use from them, and some are outright locked from the demo.  I thought the purpose of a demo was to show you the kinds of things to expect, not wave them in front of your face from behind a sheet of bulletproof glass.  On the other hand, the level design is nice, with nothing but hordes of slavering orks and gretchins, and whatever weapons your character has.  This is great, but there seems to be something missing from this game.  Also, I have to say that using the dual stick build for this game was a bad idea.  Having one button draw your gun and plant you in place while the left stick controlled your aim might have felt a little more old school, but for the perspective and feel they were going for it would have made more sense.  Besides, who’s more old school than 40k fans?

Dead Nation:  Alright, internet, I’ve got something to confess.  I hate zombies.  They don’t scare me or anything, I just think zombies are dumb.  The thought of killing them by the airplane hangar load seems more tedious to me than cataloging books by size, shape, smell, and insight.  Even in the greatest game ever (read: Hellgate London) I longed for the more meaningful demon slaying over the zombie dismemberment.  However, the flipside to this trick is that I love flamethrowers, as I suppose any true dragon would.  There are not many excuses in games to have flamethrowers in, and zombies happen to be one of the most frequent rationales (with spiders being close behind).  So with flamethrower in hand, Dead Nation was played.  My oh my but this game is engrossing.  You run around a decaying urban ruin, sometimes with a friend, looting cars and dumpsters, setting off traps and shooting unfriendly post-people in the head and lighting them on fire.  Grenades, flares, and car alarms are also part of the massacre, but really, who needs more than hot lead and combustible fuels?  Actually, I wouldn’t mind seeing some truly ridiculous vehicular mayhem in a game like this (anyone else think of the armored car from the end of Army of Darkness?) but that’s what Zombie Taxi is for.  The really awesome part of this game is the menu screen before the game starts.  The whole thing is treated like a news broadcast featuring the ongoing war against the zombies.  you can even check how other countries are fairing against the infection (I’m disappointed in you, Canada).  Immersive, action-packed, and stylish, this game will appease even the most diehard zombie hater.

That’s it for the dual stick games, I guess.  There were more games that were played on demo night, but I rambled a bit with these ones, so I’ll call it for now.  I’m praying that we’ll have a game to talk about next month.

She Fights For the Living,

Kay the Beast.

Aug. 11th, 2011

Nerimay’s Post: Alts–Utility or Addiction?

Hello, audience.  I’m back, and life is good.  World of Warcraft is once again a part of Cael’s life, and things couldn’t be going better.  The TacAp crew are all a part of the Tactical Apocalypse Guild on the realm of Silver Hand (except for Grimm, who has denounced MMOs) and we even have an alternate alliance guild now called StratArm, or Strategic Armageddon.  Cael’s been working to make that guild a great place, starting with leveling the HELL out of his guild leader, Branth the Worgen Warrior.

It’s been almost a month now, and he’s swiftly approaching level 40.  That’s a pretty good clip for him, seeing as how he needs to keep up on both sides (his main horde character is waiting for Trent’s paladin to catch up to level 40, so he started a new solo character who’s approaching 25).  But we both feel there is something missing, and that is because the two of us (and Trent) are Altaholics.

For those of you not in the know, alt is shorthand for alternate character, differentiated from main, or main character in an MMO.  Many people use alts as a sort of vacation character, to take a break from the character they’ve been playing.  Alts are fun because you can send your new character money and gear from your old character, making the beginning of the game much easier.  In Warcraft, having an alt also means you have a character that can do things differently.  Did you start off as a night elf priest doing the night elf starting areas but later decided that you liked Dun Morough better?  Well, roll yourself up a dwarf hunter and get to mountaineering!  It’s that easy!

Alts are also useful to the hardcore player.  For example, in Warcraft, your character has the ability to gain two professions, which are a subset of abilities that let you gather resources or craft items with those resources.  These abilities can be super useful, but you are limited to only two out of nine primary professions.  Alts give you the chance to build on a new set of professions without giving up the ones you’ve already worked so hard to master.  Does your orc miner/blacksmith find he needs some extra “oomph” during combat? Just make a tauren herbalist/alchemist to send him some  potions to help him out!  Or maybe a blood elf enchanter/inscriber to send some useful scrolls and enchantments to make that boost a little more permanent!

But then there are those like us for whom making one character is never enough.  The mechanics of a single class or one set of professions only serve to whet your appetite for the game.  These people normally keep several characters, sometimes on different factions.  They may even try to keep all those characters the same level, if they are insane enough.  This altaholism may stem from a desire to explore the game in its entirety, or it could simply be the result of a severely distracted mind. 

Cael’s problem though, is that he is a writer.  When he gets a neat idea for a character, he’s usually good about sticking to it, but every now and then he’ll think of a really cool idea that absolutely needs to become a character, and takes the time to develop it in game, whether or not he sees it all the way through.  Not all of his characters have stood the test of time.  Examples of this include …

Dracia, the Draenei Paladin who was commanded by Alexstraza herself to become the bane of demons …

Todric, the treasure hunting dwarven rogue who intends to be the next big name in the Explorer’s League …

and Mathrath, the chartered accountant turned warrior for whom the thought of unbalanced equations make him SO. ANGRY.

… I really think he should bring back Mathrath actually.

But some of his concepts have really held up, and when I finally pester him enough to make the Warcraft Fanfiction he wanted to start, you might meet some of these people …

Demistra, the tauren druid with an intellectual nature who enjoys the art of language and is adamant in her pursuit of lost knowledge …

Samnon, the undead rogue who is using this second life as a chance to do all the crazy things he never did while he was alive.

Branth, the worgen warrior determined to make the most of his curse and use his bestial wrath and mastery of weapons to overcome his obstacles …

and Tersible, the gnome mage with quick wits and cold magic.  His friends call him Terse because sometimes he can be a little short.

…You seeing a pattern with his gnome characters?  Why are gnomes so easy to make funny names with?

Cael: At least Tersible sounds like a legitimate name.  What the hell was I thinking of with “Mathrath”?

… You clearly were not thinking at all.  Still, I think you could make that work.

Cael: We’ll see.

Anyway, that’s just a little insight as to why we hate sticking to one character.  When there are so many good options, how can you pick just one?  Look for us on Silver Hand, between 8pm and 2am eastern time.  Tactical Apocalypse and Strategic Armageddon need more players!

Watching while you sleep,

Nerimay.

Aug. 2nd, 2011

Sapphire’s Post: Comedy is No Laughing Matter

Good day everyone!  I do not believe we’ve met.  I’m Sapphire, one of Cael’s fellow artists.  I also happen to be a dragon, of blue scale, if that makes any difference to any of you.  Something that does matter is that I am the new regular on this journal, replacing Ruby.  There isn’t much he could bring himself to speak of in angry terms on command.  I’m sure once this page gets more time, you will see all the others again.  Until then, Nerimay, Kay, Tanas and I will do our best to fill the void.

Now, what am I here to talk about?  A fair question, wouldn’t you say?  Art is my bailiwick, as well as philosophy, aesthetics, and storytelling.  Something tells me that you would be bored to death with writing of that kind – the pedantic, scholarly sort of writing that only enthusiasts and educators can bring themselves to endure …

Nonfiction, urgh. 

Anyway, even though I could write on these subjects, there’s no need of it.  Entertainment is my venue, and that is what I will be speaking on.  Movies, Television, Music (not to step on Tanas’ toes, but there’s more than enough music out there for us to both speak on it), Internet Media, and perhaps even Anime, if that happens to be relevant to us at the time.  Now, on to the story!

A few nights ago, Cael and Trent were looking at movies on Netflix.  Now, be informed that Cael doesn’t really watch movies, much to my chagrin.  We’ll have to work on that, I guess, if I’m going to talk about them.  Nevertheless, they happened upon the comedy listings, and I was intrigued at first.  Comedy is really something special when you get it right, and can end up being a source of memories and material for years to come if you are an artist with a penchant for humor.

As we go through the list, my face began a kind of evolution, in which my mouth began a curious transformation.  The curvature of my lips began to get lower and lower, and my jaw got tighter and smaller until I started to look like I had been sucking on a rotten lemon.  Predictable romantic comedies, raunchy toilet humor, and low brow, unchallenging ideas abounded on that list.  While that was a limited list, it was a very recent collection of titles. 

This isn’t to say that comedy is a failing genre.  Comedy, like I said before, is really special when done right.  It just so happens that making a movie funny and making a good movie that is also funny are two different things.  One of those raunchy stoner comedies are more likely to sell, so when faced with making another “Dude Where’s My Plot Device” or something genuinely entertaining and memorable, the people who make these decisions generally tend toward the option that pays off immediately for less effort. 

This isn’t to say that all low brow humor is bad.  Why, as learned and brilliant as they were, Monty Python still made ridiculous and puerile jokes and had blatant gags and props (like the giant hammer).  But they understood that these baser funny bits are not a good foundation for funny, but best when used as a spice to make comedy in general well rounded and worthy of peoples attention.  So I’m not trying to be elitist about my jokes; if the late great Graham Chapman thought that bums were hilarious, then who am I to argue? 

As it is, original, enjoyable comedy still exists, found in places that are easy to get to, but hard to find.  For example, we were introduced to the Escapist Magazine only recently, where we have found a plethora of comedic and informative video features and even some hilarious articles and music have originated there.  It’s also the place we first saw the works of Loading Ready Run, a Canadian sketch comedy troupe that reliably puts out entertaining videos every week and definitely knows what funny is and isn’t.

Despite popular belief, Comedy is very hard.  True comedy is something more than funny, because a groin kick is funny at first, but you’re not going to want to see it more than once or twice before it stops being funny.  Real comedians know that timing and variety are key concepts to making humor last longer than five minutes.  Witty, intellectual humor is not a lost art, it is alive and well in the hands of the strangest people.  And for that, strange people, you have my undying gratitude.

But if anyone asks, I don’t know you.

Courteously impertinent,

Sapphire Shocksong.

Jul. 24th, 2011

Tanas’ Post: Edenbridge–A Link to Heaven

I have had the chance to experience some excellent combinations of powerful music and sweet vocals in the subgenre that female fronted metal has become.  There seems to be an unnamable impetus for metal that goes for a symphonic or orchestral sound to use feminine vocals to front their music.  It seemed to be a response to the popularity of Evanescence at first, with bands like Nightwish starting up all around.  But these bands’ success is far more than coincidence, and these woman headbangers have cemented a female role in the thunderous halls of the castle of musical steel.

My theory on their success is that adding sweet, melodic feel to the wall of sound you get with metal brought out qualities in each that didn’t exist there before.  The music became richer and more pronounced, while the vocals gained power and life from the juxtaposition.  It seemed so blindingly obvious that I wondered why this was not discovered long ago. 

Nonetheless, Female Fronted Metal is enjoying a boom of sorts now, with plenty of such bands bringing quality music to the forefront.  Out of all the bands recently listened to, I think I should bring one in particular to this column, a strange and mystical band called Edenbridge.

Edenbridge’s music has a quality I would call light.  Don’t get me wrong on this: this band can rock out pretty hard.  I just think there is an aspect of their songs that makes you look up instead of down, if you get my meaning.  Their music is not really surprising like Therion, or insightful like Ark.  It shows you a spirit in all things, a light behind a colored veil.  Their sound is very pure -- there are no tricks or hidden meanings – but at the same time it is not diluted with by the simplicity but enriched, touching themes we all feel. 

There are times that the imagery conjured up by this broadly touching music is so vivid that it evokes deep emotion.  Many of their tracks are fast paced and free moving, evoking the unfettered sensation that only flying can bring.  Some have such a powerful ebb and flow that you are submerged in an ocean, held rapt by the rhythm of the water.  The surface of the music is so clear that you see yourself in it;  it reflects in itself only what you bring to the experience. 

On the talent, I have to say that it is neither the best or worst I’ve heard.  It is excellent in sound, but while it is inspired, it lacks the kick present in bands like Dragonforce or Sonata Arctica, or the pure storytelling found in Rhapsody of Fire or Ayreon.  Still, it is atmospheric and enchanting, something that you don’t really see a lot in metal.  The point is that they aren’t trying to be like those bands, they are unique to a degree that is hard to find. 

The greater vision of what Edenbridge has set out to show us with their music falls into greater relief when you read the biographies on their webpage.  Sabine Edelsbacher, the lead singer, says in hers that she wants to “bring heaven on earth with music.”  The divine, debated often, is a quality sought by many, shunned by some, and feared by the unjust.  When you finally hear it in their music, you realize that divinity means so much more, beyond all fear and belief, and is closer than we think.

Loyally yours,

Myrcanth “Tanas” Shadowheart.

Jul. 15th, 2011

Kay’s Post: To Dig Deep or Mine More

Alright, we missed last week, no big deal.  We had an extra week this month so there's no harm done.

One of the reasons we missed last week was exposure to some truly awesome deals on Steam during the summer sale.  I think the only game we missed out on was Singularity which was $10 at some point.  However, one of the games we didn’t miss out on, at $2.50, was Terraria.  We grabbed that up the first night, and have not looked back since.  At the same time, Young, the DFG intern, was visiting last week and he showed us the world shaking hit known as Minecraft.  Exposed to both games at the same time, we were reasonably taken aback by the similarities. 

The graphical quality aside (Terraria is a 2D side-scrolling platformer in 16-bit quality and Minecraft is what 8-bit looks like in 3D) the whole central gather/craft mechanic is painfully familiar going from one to the other.  Minecraft tends to be a little more complex on the crafting and gathering side, but Terraria has less of the hang ups that plague it’s 3D sister.  I know it’s reasonable to have item degradation in a game like this, but Terraria’s unbreakable tools and weapons are much more attractive to me. 

But despite this, you could probably be happy playing either game if the gathering, exploring, and crafting were all you were in it for.  Personally, I’d support the Minecraft guys for the potential they display, and to be fair, they had the idea first.  Also, this is the kind of game where community is important, and Minecraft has an unbelievable community.  This is the sort of game where you may spend much of your time playing it on FAQs and forums finding out what you can do with it. 

Terraria turns out being different in this respect.  The game provides you with a helpful guide NPC at the beginning of the game, who among other things can tell you what can be made from any of the materials in the game.  It’s up to you to find the stuff, but you don’t really experiment as much in this game.  It turns out that Terraria’s emphasis is on the exploring and delving more than the crafted, which although involved is much more straightforward than it’s counterpart.  The rarity of the metal is much more important than it’s real life application.  You’re basically going to be making gear out of the newest metal you’ve got an abundance, going copper, iron, silver, gold, and on to more exotic ores like demonite. 

There is a distinct difference of motif in these games as well.  Minecraft has a build your own world thing going, but it also does have monsters in it (ssssssss…) though they’re sort of just a natural hazard.  The monsters and obstacles in Terraria are definitely of a fantasy-esque feel but do a good job of avoiding classic RPG tropes (except zombies … but zombies are always fun to squish… for the living).  You definitely have a bit more of a purpose in Terraria, and there are all kinds of secret bosses and treasures to look for (and don’t just look deeper, build high and have a look around Smile).

Really these are both great games.  Tactical Apocalypse already has established a base known as the TacAp Holequarters in Terraria, and keep an eye on the front page of Darkfire for when we give the info for joining us on there!  We may eventually have a server in Minecraft too, but we’ll take it one time sucking obsession at a time.  So, back to trying to find the meteorite to make our phaseblades…

She Remembers the Dead, But Fights For the Living,

Kay the Beast.

Jul. 2nd, 2011

Nerimay’s Post: Of Mice and Dice

This week, because the only MMO of note in our sights is Kay’s favorite game ever, Hellgate, and she can say more about it than I ever could, I’m going to talk about a tabletop game we’ve played recently. 

One of Darkfire’s reviewers, Zap, led us in a game of Mouse Guard.  I’m not going to review it, that’s what Zap’s Games Out Of Time review was for.  Now, you can play a tabletop game covering most situations.  But why would you ever want to play a mouse, even one in a little mousey society, as a part of a guild that protects that society? 

I’ll tell you why: because the perspective changes everything.

Imagine that you are one of these Guardmice, and you are charged with carrying the ever-vital mail to the outskirts of the territories.  It’s springtime and you have a rainstorm in your future.  When the streams of rain and lake sized puddles are between you and the outskirts, along with ravens, snakes, and other hungry critters, you start to understand the scope of what this game is about.  It’s just you and your patrol, vastly outnumbered with the weight of your whole world on your inch wide shoulders. 

You wouldn’t believe the sense of purpose that you can get playing this game. 

Another reason this is such a good game is that it follows an incredible guideline of fiction that most tabletops have little acknowledgement for.  In order to make fiction engaging (and what is tabletop gaming if not shared storytelling?) it needs to do one of two things: make the amazing commonplace, or make the ordinary extraordinary.  Mouse Guard does the latter so well you just can’t look away.  If I told you in, say, D&D that you see a frog, you wouldn’t think much of it (unless it was a slaad or something).  But that means something in Mouse Guard.  This frog is a real obstacle you need to get around, that you need to devote time and resources to overcome. 

The last thing this game excels at is character development.  So much goes in to just making a character that you intrinsically become invested.  Your parentage, your education, your friends, enemies, and contacts all play a part in the game and its mechanics.  Not only that, but you will be choosing all kinds of skills, and you’ll need to figure out how your mouse contributes to mission, because not every mouse is a fighter.  There’s plenty for you to do in this game, and all of it can be made to work toward your goals.

Not only that, but every character has three goals in every mission.  There’s the mission goal, that everyone shares and ultimately everyone works for.  You also have a personal goal within the mission that you want to accomplish, and this can be anything from “protect the new guy” to “find a new path to put on my map.”  The last kind of goal is an overarching belief that you strive for in every session, called your Belief.  This can be a very complex, vague goal that you may never achieve in many sessions, or it might be a simpler goal that is just a motto you have and try to keep to.  All these motivations and agendas come together to make a very dynamic environment that can bring about conflict and trial, but after all of it the victories are so much sweeter.

As a dragon, this game presented to me a way of viewing the world and games in general through the eyes of someone very different from myself, and I enjoyed it much more than I thought.  Sympathy for the little guy is an optional state of mind for all dragons, and without a reason for to do so, it’s not a easy state to keep up except for the good souls like Kay, Di, and Arithar.  I think I get it a little more, and I vow that the next time I see a poor tiny mouse just trying to make his way in the world, I’ll just pick him up and stick him outside instead of stepping on him.

Watching you while you sleep,

Nerimay.

Jun. 28th, 2011

Kay’s Post: Kay’s Demo Night

Alright.  Here we go.  Time to write.

… This is not as easy as you make it look all the time, dude.

Cael: Sorry.

… This actually happens to you a lot, huh?

Cael: Especially when I’m out of practice.  I also forget to do it at all when I’ve lost track of my muse.

… Yeah … still though, I better do something, even if it’s late.  You too, you know…

Cael: I promise.

… Good!  Now, games.  We’ve played a lot of inFamous lately,  but I don’t think we’re far enough yet to review and nothing has jumped out at me yet.  There was demo night though. 

Yeah, why not?  I’ll tell you all about some of the demos we’ve played lately.

inFamous 2: First of all, what happened to Cole?  This guy looks so different!  Although the overall character design is an improvement to the old version, there was just something about Cole’s grubbiness that was endearing.  This feels much like the first game, so if you were look for more out of inFamous, this is sure to please.  We haven’t finished the first one yet, so we don’t really want more yet.  There is a new melee mechanic, where you smack people around with an electric stick instead of your bare hands, and the charge builds up and allows you to do a cool finisher.  The demo lets you play as Good Cole and Bad Cole, or Blue Cole and Jerk Cole.  The difference in powers is typical for a game like this, in that the evil powers are good at doing as much damage as possible and the good powers are useful in creative ways (though sticky electric grenades seem kinda cruel)  You get the idea that the designers intended for you to take the evil powers, but I’m not about to suck out people’s bio electric energy to get some cheap tricks.  Ridiculous electric shackles for the win!

El Shaddai: The … the colors … Where’d the floor go?  Who’s talking? Where am I?  For the love of little green apples, what is going on?  That roughly sums up the first impression of this game.  Joking aside, this is one of the prettiest games ever, in that it grabs at the side of your brain the can’t stop staring at shiny things.  Sometimes the game uses this to trick you, and where you thought was a reflective puddle is actually a gaping hole in the floor.  But that’s okay, because the game doesn’t really penalize you for losing.  In fact, even if you die in combat, if you mash the controls hard enough, you’ll just get right back up, a decent portion of your health (read: pieces of armor) restored.  On that note, the weapons and armor are the coolest things I’ve seen since some of the Cabalist gear in Hellgate.  Sword of light?  Hell no, how about a reverse bow (you hold it where you would hold the string) with an arc of light?  Guns? Pedestrian.  Have some orbiting daggers that follow you around and buzz around your enemies like little fighter jets, slicing them to pieces!  You’ll never want to swing a sword or shoot a gun ever again.  Definitely worth a try.

Outland: Now, I’ve heard of Ikaruga, and I’ve seen bullet-hell shooters before, but why try to make an platform game out of this concept?  What’s that?  You’ll get a sweet platformer with a silhouette motif aesthetic and smooth controls?  Damn, sign me up for two of those!  Seriously, it might not be unique (like orbiting jet daggers) but this is a solid game if the demo is anything to judge from.  Silhouettes never looked so good, if you ask me.

Cael: We never played Limbo, though, so we’re somewhat biased.

… meh, we’d play it if we could.  Oh yeah, Obulis had that kind of silhouette-ey feel in one of its level types, didn’t it?  Well Outland still looked better.  That and being able to destroy extra health power ups to get money is a neat idea.

Sonic Generations: … That was what Sonic used to be like?

Cael: Sort of.  It was actually still better before.

… Oh man, that must have been nice.  So, I guess this is the first level of the first game but done with “modern” graphics?  I don’t really know, the old Sonic is before my time.  I will say that it couldn’t have been this bad. 

Cael: No, that’s roughly what it was like.  If I could put my two cents in, What Sonic Team doesn’t realize is that what made the high speed gameplay of Sonic good was that the visuals were not nearly as busy as they make them now.  You have to have a clean look and be able to see where you’re going.  The closest they’ve come to this look lately is in the Seven Rings game on the Wii.  And someone needs to shoot the guys that decided that Sonic needed electric guitars.  A more synth soundtrack would be much better.

… Okay, I guess that’s pretty much all that’s relevant about Sonic Generations here.  I didn’t like it, but then again they say it’s a test level and not finished yet.  So take it with a grain of salt.

That’s most of the new stuff we’ve done lately.  I’ll give you another update next week, on my regular day!  Oh, right, Ruby will not be a regular updater, which is why there was no update last Friday.  He’s getting soft in his age, and doesn’t anger as easily.  Instead, you’ll get his stuff infrequently (meaning in the Monday/middle of the week update slot) and a new, exciting, shiny, brilliant column will show up at the end of July!  He’s never posted before, so that should be fun.

She Remembers the Dead but Fights For the Living,

Kay the Beast.

Jun. 21st, 2011

Nerimay’s Post: Why Buy Games?

Kay and I missed our opportunities this month for our articles to go up, so we’re gonna hijack the monday slot (yes this is late, I know) for the next two weeks.  Ruby will get his time on Friday like usual, and I’ll be putting something up the same week as Kay does her extra piece.  Oh, and we’re pretty much the only game in town now, Cael will start figuring out a schedule for completed chapters of his stuff.  Sorry folks, the daily updates were just not working.  He’ll think of something.

Enough chat, lets get down to the topic at hand.

I am something of an opportunist.  Part of my old line of work – if you haven’t already guessed – was looking for ways to make money between jobs.  Sometimes that meant doing things that took advantage of other peoples lax awareness and personal security.  So when I’m given the chance to get something for free, I take it. 

Just to clarify, I’m not talking about pirating.

Kay: Yeah, she’s more of a ninja than a pirate.

… Clever.  I’m referring to the increasing trend of free to play games, MMOs in particular.  Cause, y’know me and MMOs.  I love em. 

Cael has a distaste for free games, much to my chagrin.  This may be in no small part, I understand now, because a good number of them are crap.  Granted, there are good ones, but the droppings far outweigh the dreams. 

Recently, Steam began providing its users with access to free play games, and the first one we’ve tried was Forsaken World.  I thought it might be prudent to use this game as a pretty good example of the pros and cons of a free play game.

Pro Number One, ideas that end up in free play games are ones that might never see the light of day in a triple A production.  From big choices like race and class deviants (the Kindred race and Vampire class are pretty niche classes this game entertains) to mechanics and other inclusions (the autodestination feature that lets you run to a location you click on your map is a clever touch), the free play platform is a great testing ground for developers to watch.  Not only that but you might stumble upon a game that came up with the next great idea.  There’s also a good chance that if you can’t find it on retail, you might find it in the free play pastures.

Con Number One, you might find some great ideas in these games, but there are plenty bad ones too.  The dwarven race in Forsaken World does not have a very unified aesthetic.  The Stonemen are a good idea in theory, but they feel like the developers ran out of substantial plot juice when fleshing them out.  And whose idea was it to not have voice acting for this title?  It would have done wonders for the substance and characterization of the world, and give it a chance to characterize the races a little more. 

Pro Number Two, microtransactions are a beautiful evil.  People complain that they are just a way to nickel and dime players to death.  I say you will likely not spend as much on a triple A title as you will ever spend on a microtransaction-supported free play game.  It keeps the game running, provides extra content, and if done well is icing on an excellent layer cake experience.  The Forsaken World microtransaction store is completely unobtrusive; we found it by accident clicking on the menu icons.  There’s some delightful extras there (including some nifty wedding-themed stuff for roleplayers) and we wouldn’t have even seen it otherwise.

Con Number Two, some of these games can run for years and not have the most basic things fixed.  Stepping away from Forsaken World, Cael played Fly For Free (Flyff) a couple years ago, and there was absolutely no attempt at a coherent translation.  That’s a risk with a lot of asian made games, but this was the worst we’d ever seen.  Going back to Forsaken World, not being able to see your quest objectives on the map or even know the general direction they are in is an inexcusable omission, which the autodestination feature tries and fails to compensate for.

Pro Three, if you have nothing to lose, there is only opportunity to gain.  These games are FREE, people.  Hard disk space is easy to make, and not that expensive I’m told, should you need to upgrade.  If you gotta make a little room for one that’s the least you could do to give them a try.  if you don’t like it, just uninstall.  There’s a much better chance you’ll find something that’ll distract you for a while.

Con Three, these games often cater to the diehard or enthusiast.  You could find a game that grabs you, but the audience for a particular game is particular indeed.  Specialization is what drives the creation of these games, and where they thrive.  There are some broader based games available, but aesthetics and mechanics usually lean toward a niche appeal. 

Overall these games can be well worth checking out, but I’m sad to say we haven’t found one that clicks with me.  Or with Cael.  Forsaken World is a good game, and don’t let me stop you from trying it, but it’s less of what we’re looking for and more of a good idea.  I’ll keep you posted if we find anything.

Watching you while you sleep,

Nerimay.

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