Katawa Shoujo Review, pt. 1 — Shizune Route

•January 13, 2012 • 1 Comment

So, last week, Katawa Shoujo finally had its full-version debut. It was the Original English Language Visual Novel That Could — one of those rare times when the stars aligned right, the auras were attuned, and there were just enough people to spur each other towards a distant finish line. And by distant, I mean it took them five years from the initial idea to the final production of the game.

But was it worth it? Other OELVN projects were… somewhat on the derpy side. They were generally marred by the use of rudimentary engines, amateurish writing, cheap art and crappy music — and when the entirety of the game is its UI engine, its writing, its art and its music, scoring so low across the board would’ve suggested that the American VN fan community simply didn’t have what it took to produce something on the level of a Japanese release. That is, of the more popular Japanese releases — honesty compels admission that visual novels, and especially doujinshi VNs, are as subject to Sturgeon’s Law as any other form of media.

Furthermore, and as a note of embarrassment to the American attempts, even the most popular VNs had numerous flaws. Umineko no Naku Koro ni, arguably more popular here than on its own native soil, was infamously plagued with bad art — characters were literally ham-fisted, blocky, and awkwardly rendered, though the series enjoyed sustained infamy via its convoluted and brain-wracking metaphorical writing and often jaw-dropping orchestral arrangements.

But the demos for Katawa Shoujo suggested that its rather large staff was uniquely earnest in their attempt, and at the bar they’ve set for it. The initial alphas were extremely shoddy, sure – the dark viridian school uniforms and blocky interfaces were more revolting than the already questionable base concept of overtly seducing a disabled female student, but the changes in artists and luring in of more talented programmers and writers finally presented a beta demo worth paying attention to.

So, I’ll play through it, route by route. And we’ll see if the final product lives up to the promise.

Naturally, everything under this cut is prone to spoilers.

Continue reading ‘Katawa Shoujo Review, pt. 1 — Shizune Route’

Some Words on the State of My Thoughts

•November 21, 2011 • 2 Comments

For those meager few of you still listening in, waiting for the ghost of some insight or amusement from me, there’s a reason why I haven’t been writing in here as much – for months on a stretch. I’m having a crisis of identity, you see. A realization that I have not lived long enough nor fully enough to truly encapsulate my thoughts, dreams, inspirations and angers. That even if I were to buck it up and write it down, I wouldn’t even be giving an original perspective.

Everything I want to say is being written by better, or at least more insightful, men and women.

Take, for example, a little eight-hundred-word piece I had started typing in here a few weeks back. A little analysis on the state of music now that Bandcamp and Soundcloud are real things, run and utilized by real musicians, and they’re everywhere, good god I can’t turn a metaphorical corner on the fandom side of the internet without running into a little ditty I’d be more than happy to cough 99 cents up for if I wasn’t unemployed and getting increasingly desperate.

I trashed it just now. Warren Ellis’s spoken, and I can’t add anything to that, or even reword it for a crude facsimile  of originality.

I’ll be honest. It’s a little frustrating. And I’m on a creative  high at the moment too, writing rather well-received fiction in a fandom I would’ve never expected to have been a part of, so it isn’t as if I’m short on words. Hell, if I were a hired columnist, lack of originality wouldn’t be stopping me.

But this is my blog, you know? And so satisfaction has to be met. And I just haven’t been very satisfied, lately, with my comparatively meager toolkit.

I think I have word envy.

I had this long and rambly thing written up about WOTC’s changes to tournament Magic…

•November 2, 2011 • Leave a Comment

…but realized I could summarize it better.

Tournament Magic is what makes me care about the game. Period. If it wasn’t for the competitive scene, it’d be like yet another Steve Jackson game and expansion. Entertaining for a few sessions with a handful of friends that are conveniently in town AND with free time to spare, then packed up and left to dust.

Tournament Magic is the difference between playing Big 2 in the playground, and Texas Hold’Em at the Bellagio.

And Wizards is fucking stupid for not only just ignoring that allure, but going out of their way to tear it down.

Revamping their Elo system to degrade to a default value if left over time? Would’ve driven more play while still holding competitive value. Reducing per-tournament payout while increasing the number of major tournaments held? Would’ve solved whatever problem objectively existed with the Grand Prix -> Pro Tour system. And now even Nationals doesn’t play into a Worlds tournament.

Let me repeat:

National tournaments no longer play into an international setting. Each nation’s best of the best, regardless of the size or prestige of their local regional zone are told that that’s all they can aim for. They didn’t just split off bigger nations into regions of influence – no, they had to scrape it out entirely.

I hate the hardcore vs casual debates in gaming – mostly because they miss the point by wide margins sometimes. But it doesn’t mean that the debates in of itself don’t have value and substance.

Let me be clear: I don’t think the changes made will kill Magic. I’m not one of those who perpetually whine about every damn change made to the rules – even as I harass Mark Rosewater about double-faced cards, most of my actual debates about Magic are solidly in favor of the game’s exploration of design space. I think the game will continue to thrive – be for another year or another full decade, who knows? The design of Innistrad, besides the DFCs, was one of the game’s best in a while, and speaks favorably of how fun the actual game will be in the short future.

But the game isn’t for me anymore.

The game isn’t aimed at the competitive gamer, the tournament-goers, the dreamers and the contenders. Magic isn’t a game anymore for those that can see and appreciate the mechanical intricacies of stack order, of counterspell fencing, of tactical metagaming and mastery. It’s not for those that feel a frisson of delight for being able to outpredict their opponent, outdesign their decks and outplay the field.

They’ve neutered accessibility to the Pro Tour, sucked the incentives out of the Grand Prix, and now even their showcasing of international talent is getting the boot. Over the last few months, since the declaration that they were going to scrape clean the Elo system in the first place, Wizards has been knee-deep in the process of dismantling the competitive culture of Magic as we know it.

Magic just isn’t my game anymore.

I think…

I think I mourn that.

Dust off and wind it up…

•July 27, 2011 • 1 Comment

There’s a lot of things I want to say. Politics to rant about. Video game design theory to analyze. A few announcements (nothing major), and a few vague wishes to jot down. Since I (finally) moved out of my parent’s house (hey, shut it, I’m 23 – that’s just about the right time), I’ve had a lot of swingy moments in my life, and a lot of quiet and lonely moments too.

So I have a lot to say, and sometimes I feel too rusty, too embattled, to say it properly. But I’ll get around to saying it. 23 years, nearing ever so implacably to 24, and the only real skill I’ve picked up in all this time is a particular capability to communicate.

I might as well keep it sharp.

Until then, I’ll leave you with the Beatles’ “Let It Be.” Recent news, personal and national, has filled me with a certain quality of bile lately, and finding that the Westboro Church’s done a parody of a Beatles’ classic’s only made it worse – even if Sharon apparently has a very talented voice for a woman so twisted with rage and dogma it makes you despair for all the bodhisattvas.

But listening to McCartney soulfully plead for inner peace goes a long way, I think, towards making up for it.

Street of Gilt and Shame

•March 27, 2011 • 2 Comments

Corporatism is evil. Full stop. It isn’t that the Free Market is a corrupt cesspit of murderous intentions. It isn’t that government interference causes poisonous and self-destructive eddies of incentive warps.

It’s that the whole fucking shebang, as it is set up right now, is a haze of pure, fucking evil upon both the regulator and the marketer. That every level of it doesn’t so much skew the incentives of the financial practitioners and enforcers under its aegis, but defines the very practice of monetary trade.

A while ago, author John Scalzi had made a pointed and levelheaded post outlining why the common charge of sociopathy against corporate entities is, at least, not quite accurate. To summarize, while there may be problems aplenty with corporations and the business of monetary billions, sociopathy certainly doesn’t fit – the behavior of corporations is not fundamentally different from that of a sane and healthy individual, after all, even as they dodge the taxman and figure out loopholes. We certainly don’t begrudge our neighbors (or ourselves) when we ask the accountant to figure out a way to decrease our taxes – more foolish would be not to, in our estimates, when such an option is available to us.

I agree. Sociopathy isn’t the issue at hand here. The symptoms of it certainly don’t fit. CEOs, presidents and regulatory department heads are quite the other thing from sociopathy. As Matt Taibbi’s article illustrates in stark, defiant detail, it’s not that they’re antisocial, but that they’re excessively so.

The bankers and regulators have formed a fucking tribe on the rest of us. They’ve gotten chummy. There is, effectively, no line drawn between the SEC and Lehman Brothers. In terms of people involved, in terms of incentives at play, in terms of the lucrative, lucrative business they operate and oversee, their relationship is less that of cops and robbers, and more of occasionally fractious departments under the umbrella aegis of Dollar, Inc.

This isn’t a partisan issue. This isn’t a matter of governmental interference or big corp greed. This is a matter of both at once. There is no difference between Government and Financial Corporation on this issue – they are one and the same.

And anybody not disgusted by this, not willing to scream at their senators for not pushing the issue harder, not willing to commit whatever little noospheric manipulation and control they have available to push momentum against this farcical tide of wealth and corruption, is merely feeding their gluttony.

There is no justice, merely the mocking pretense of it, while our jails are stuffed to bursting with non-violent offenders whose only crime is wrecking their own health… and these fucks roam free, their colons unscathed by the raging stiffie of a three-hundred-pound murderer.

Trillions of dollars. A literally unimaginable quantity – one our brains had not evolved to deal comfortably with except in the abstract.

It represents every lost home. Every lost career. Millions upon millions of shattered dreams and forced hardships.

Yours and mine.

…seriously, fuck those assholes.

From Kanto to Unova: A Pokemon White Review (of a sort)

•March 21, 2011 • 4 Comments

As with many folks in my generation, Pokemon was a major (MAJOR) part of my childhood. Its initial blitz and dominance of youth culture during the late ’90s wasn’t isolated to the isles of Japan – it was bloody everywhere, in every school, upon every television set, showing in every theatre…

For those of you unfortunate enough not to have lived through it, my baby sister amongst them, let’s summarize it with “it was kind of a big deal.” I remember my first exposure to it – crowding around some long-forgotten classmate one recess with dozens of other kids, wowing as he played through Red version. I remember later buying a copy of Blue at a long-since gone Electronics Boutique, using a huge chunk of my saved-up allowance in the process, thanking whatever odd twist of fortune it was that found myself with an old, classic Gameboy that a family friend had gotten bored of and given to me.

(The rumors are true – the damn things ARE unbreakable.)

My first real Fandom – one that I had an identity with, a reputation amongst, and friends made in – was with Pokemon. I actually met my second girlfriend via that community (a memory that I can recall wryly now, but caused a lot of heartache and headache during my, ah, hormonal years). It was amongst them that I learned something about the pleasure of writing – and for good or ill, via them I developed a means of dealing with and channeling drama, both in and outside of the literary sense.

It’s maybe a little weird to talk of a game franchise in such poignant terms. Maybe. You’d have to have been of a certain age, I think, to understand – this is bedrock stuff for me. This was the communal culture for me, while I was growing up.

I’ve ignored it since Generation I. Never could afford a Gameboy Color or SP or subsequent models – and by the time Generation IV came about, emotional baggage and simple Time had turned me away from the franchise. At best, I can say that I was dimly aware that it was unusually popular amongst the college crowd. That there was, apparently, a competitive scene, and it was fairly evenly split between young (so very, very young) newcomers, and those that, like me, had grown up with it. I was aware that it had become progressively more complex with every iteration – friends uttered, almost out of hearing, about stats and breeding regimes, event collectibles, generational differences… hundreds of new Pokemon had been unleashed, at approximately 150ish or so per generation, not that I had known anything but of the original 150+1 (only those specifically of my age range, I think, can really remember all the hype and misinformation about how to acquire Mew, back in the Geocities and pre-Wiki era).

It’s only recently that I’ve taken a gander at the franchise again. People seemed, oddly, to talk more and more of it every year, and there was, you see, a cheap copy of Platinum at Gamestop. And I had a DS, and I had a bit of money.

And upon finishing it, to make a long story short, I found myself wanting more. A lot more.

It wasn’t nostalgia anymore – not nostalgia alone. They’d done something to my childhood. Weeded out all the bugs, for one (can I explain the devastation I felt when I found that my savefile in Blue had been erased by Missingno? I don’t think I have the skill). Added layers upon layers of complexity, for another – Psychic, notably, wasn’t the king of elemental typing anymore, though it still retained a nasty edge to its blade. While it was overwhelmingly familiar in so very many ways, from its nearly unchanged gameplay to the story progression (to the GODDAMN BATS IN EVERY CAVE AHHH HATE ZUBAT HAAATTTEEE), it wasn’t the same Pokemon I’d grown up with.

It was better in many, many ways.

But Platinum, for all of its heavy symbolism and philosophical undertones, lacked something. This was still a game about a pubescent youth (of either gender) out in the world to learn something of strength and purpose from a rather obvious set of Shinto-influenced kami stand-ins (along with worrying overtones of cockfighting). While the backdrop had grown thick with meaning and nuance, the foreground had been left nearly unchanged in both its simplicity and absurdity – both in graphical presentation, and in a thematic sense.

As it turns out, Gamefreak was fully aware of this. They’d simply waited for the next generation to address it.

I want to gush about the story changes they’ve made – first and foremost being gym leaders that don’t simply sit back and let preteens fight criminal organizations (first, you’re supposedly 16 in the game now; second, well, at least they shoulder SOME of the burden this time…). They address, or at least touch upon and acknowledge, some of the more troubling Fridge Horrors inherent in the franchise – even making it the centermost focus of the plot this time.

Don’t get me wrong – this is still a mainstream kid’s game, marketed at kids (if slightly older than with past iterations), and made for those kids. This isn’t going to change Roger Ebert’s rather eggheaded belief that video games can’t be art. But it isn’t just a step in the right direction – they’ve made their way deeply into more mature territory and more meaningful discourse, and not by accident. If Generation I was defined by its stark simplicity, being nothing more than a thin eggshell of a story wrapped around an autistic programmer’s desire to create something new to collect, then Generation V is defined by its ambiguity, where the role is reversed, and the game itself is merely the dressing around the enigma of the relationship and exploitation between Mankind and the world around us.

Some spoilers here: the dragons featured prominently on the cover of Black and White represent Truth and Ideal respectively. To add to the ambiguity of the story’s intentions, the main difference between the two games, in terms of the story, is which one you end up with as part of that version’s canon – while the other goes to support the game’s antagonist in his messianic goal of liberation and justice.

At no point, no point at all, are you ever explicitly told that you’re entirely in the right. Or that your enemy’s entirely in the wrong. The game has actually be criticized for this – its antagonists said to be too wishy-washy and hippie. Well, maybe. I can’t deny that Team Rocket had cojones the size of the moon – creating mindboggling powerful bioweapons, infiltrating a massively powerful corporation, even influencing the very League you sought fame within… they weren’t exactly subtle, but subtle was never the point. Team Rocket, at least the game version, has fans because they’re brash.

Plasma has converts, because people on 4chan’s /vp/ can’t entirely agree whether they were really wrong.

There’s a significant difference there.

Also? Updated graphics engines. The more familiar you are with the franchise, the more you’ll jawdrop at Skyarrow Bridge. Updated music too – having played a few emulations recently, I can tell you that the music’s generally been okay, if generic, for the genre and demographic the franchise targets.

Black/White takes it to another level entirely.

The climax. THAT GODDAMN CLIMAX.

I restarted the game. Why? SOLELY so that I can reach the main arc’s climax again.

I’m going to enjoy myself immensely.

Get the new Pokemon game. You might never be able to reclaim the innocent joys of your childhood, but that doesn’t mean that a riff on it can’t be better than the original.

Updates and a Response

•March 16, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Wow, haven’t updated in a while. Um. No real excuse – I’ve just not been feeling like writing much. Happens once in a while – sometimes I go on productive streaks, sometimes my muse takes an extended vacation.

At least I’m finally employed!

Anyhow, the last update was lengthy, thinky, and didn’t get much attention except, apparently, from one rather outraged dude. It’s a little late, but anybody that took their time to respond to this obscure a blog, angrily or not, deserves some attention.

To reader Jimmox, I have a short response:

A. See the italics, read the linked article on WEIRDness, and understand that I’m accusing the author of having an EIRD-based worldview. Not that he’s white. The use of whiteness in WEIRD is merely a side effect of the western monoculture and its European origins – it’s the concepts that matter, and whether or not they fit the person in question. Given that he writes from the perspective of an educated, western individual with a relatively affluent background, he still fits the psychological profile in question – and therefore is subject to the shortcomings and blind points of a worldview dependent on a WEIRD-specific background.

B. It’s cute that you think utilizing an argument-from-authority fallacy makes your points persuasive in any way. People herd to ideas that sympathize with their prejudices – numbers and blogs written in support of something only indicates support and the quantities thereof, not of the soundness of the arguments made. And there is no soundness in the “Futurist’s” screed against the political empowerment of a traditionally maltreated gender.

C. Did you read anything of what I’ve written on the subject, or was the idea that misogyny was and is still a bad thing just too much to stomach on its own? Seriously?

Anyhow, with that out of the way – again, I’m employed! Fuck yeah! Not the greatest job in the world, but it’s full-time, it’s not particularly demeaning or unethical, it doesn’t deal with customer interaction, and while occasionally repetitive, it pays well enough for me not to care about that.

It’s also game-related, so expect some posts on the subject some time in the future. Nothing related to my work – you will NOT find me amongst the sad, pathetic cases of bloggers, tweeters and facebookers that get fired because they make public, written works subject to libel laws online, and forget that their boss knows how to Google just as well, if not better, than they do. That, and I’m in no hurry to break the NDA.

But you might see me review their competitor’s products more often. And make more thoughts about the state of the industry, theories of game design, and a few notes on my own ambitions in relation to it all.

Y’know. Stuff.

 
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