Obdormio.com Unwasted Hours

5 April, 2012

A Post without Any Myst at All, except in the Title

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

We have previously established that I am a huge pokémon nerd. We also established that I’m a generation or two behind everyone else when it comes to actually playing the games. During a recent trip to England, I came across a copy of Pokémon Black at a discounted price, and as the full price was already a good bit less than the Norwegian one, this was a bargain I jumped on. The reason it was discounted was probably the not too recent announcement that Black and White 2 are coming, so I am still behind the curve, but I might actually catch up with it before the next release.

I haven’t played too much yet; only now that Easter is approaching did I really have time to sit down with it. I don’t feel ready to do a full review, and don’t see that one would be needed in any case. If you’ve played any pokémon game, you know the gist of it. Travel around, kidnap random, possibly sentient, creatures, and force them to battle each other in gladiatorial blood sports for your amusement and social advancement. There’s a lot of them, and you should capture one of each, for reasons of scientific curiosity. Beyond that, it’s all bells and whistles – but important ones, to be sure.

In lieu of a review, then, have some random thoughts about the game instead.

1. Having to hold B down to run is a step backwards.

In SoulSilver there was a simple toggle switch, always available on the touch screen, which was a much better solution.

2. The touch screen is filled with the damn C-gear.

I get that the C-gear is cool and all, but I play with a DS Lite, which is terrible at the whole connecting to the Internet thing, and I don’t know anybody else who plays, so I very rarely need it. I would much rather have the more often used menu items readily available here, like in SoulSilver.

3. The L key no longer acts like the A key.

Wah, wah, everything was better in SoulSilver, wah.

4. The graphics are great.

Generation IV looked good. This looks great.

5. Snivy is adorable.

Lookit that face! I know grass type isn’t the greatest, but this one looked too cool to pick anything else (see also: Bulbasaur). I named mine McSnooty.

6. The Team Plasma storyline is interesting

Storyline isn’t the strong suit of Pokémon, but in this game the villainous team’s objective seems to be to liberate all pokémon from captivity by trainers. After really dodging the whole blood sports thing for however many games, it’s interesting to see it actually engaged with. I suspect it’ll turn out the Plasmas have hefty ulterior motives, though.

7. Team Plasma has a kick-ass battle theme.

I get so pleased every time I get to battle a Plasma grunt. Just listen to this thing!

Pumped!

29 March, 2012

Five of a Thing: Myst Ages

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Since I wrote Monday’s post, my head’s been stuck in the Myst series, going over the plot and characters once more, remembering when I first played the games and how much story there is to explore in them. Since I am short on time today, and need to crank out another of my emergency lists, I’m going to list my top five favourite Myst Ages. My own Five Classics, as it were. Maybe that’ll shake me out of this track and allow me to move on to other things.

Or not, this might just become a Myst blog.

Anyways, top five Ages. For reasons I’m sure will be obvious, I’ll start the list with the digit one, and leave the top favourite for number five.

1 – Amateria

Myst III: Exile sneaks onto the list with Amateria, which is just such a beautiful age, filled with weird contraptions and cool concepts. It’s puzzles are decent, and it has what is possibly the best exit of any Myst age.

 

2 – D’ni

Yeah, maybe I’m cheating here. This encompasses both the D’ni caverns, with Ae’gura, K’veer, and the Kadish Library, as well as the Cleft, Tomahna, and anything else I’ve forgotten, but as it is technically all one big age, I think I get away with it. Each of those places are different from the other, and they all have cool aspects to them, so when you put it all together, it makes the list. Plus, it includes this music:

 

3 – Minkata

Great concept, great visuals, and really fantastic music. The endless windswept desert, where you can run around and get thoroughly lost, houses a really clever puzzle, which also makes total sense in the context of the Age (it was a training grounds for the Guild of Surveyors). While Uru still ran, I would sometimes just go to Minkata and leave it open while I did other stuff, just for the beauty of it.

 

4 – Myst

Where it all began. Included not just because of what it is, as a section of the game, but for waht it represents, as the heart of the Myst series. This is the place where it all went wrong, where something good became something horrible, and the ghost of Myst Island remains throughout the series, and then all the way through Uru and into Myst 5. This was the gateway into the adventure, into the story, and the first introduction to the twisted family at the heart of it. It is so pretty and innocent and sad, it couldn’t go any lower on the list than this.

 

5 – Riven

If you looked at the previous post at all, where I declared Riven the best game ever made, I doubt this came as much of a surprise. I think I said what I need to say in that post, so I won’t repeat myself here. To add to what is found in the game, there’s all we learn about Riven in the books, which makes it all the more cooler, and tragic. Leaving Riven in the end isn’t as visually impressive as Amateria, but it means a lot more.

As for honourable mentions, there were quite a few that almost made the list. The 233rd Age would have been on it if it hadn’t been so limited in the game; it reaches honourable mention on the strength of its concept and great look alone. Todelmer could also have defended a place on this list on those grounds, if not on others.

I now hope all my readers go out and play the games and read the books and make their own lists. A week or two should suffice, yes?

26 March, 2012

Musings on the Fifth Age

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

The best game ever made is Riven.

Okay, even as I type that, a bunch of qualifiers spring to mind. I am using “games” in a rather narrow sense, excluding board games and, you know, tag. What I’m talking about is what the kids aren’t calling video games, the kind you play on a computer or a console. That’s where Riven is the best.

Yeah, okay, some more qualifiers. Riven is 15 years old now, and it’s showing its age in comparison with more recent releases. The graphics, which were absolutely stunning top-shelf stuff in 1997, now pale in the face of what more computer power can do. The pre-rendered environments are a chapter we’ve left behind, and the point-and-click interface is on the old-fashioned end of what is now an unpopular choice to begin with. In terms of game-play and technology there’s been innovation, is what I’m saying, and Riven‘s been surpassed in that area. Where I don’t think it has been surpassed is in terms of interactive storytelling.

You can have games without any sort of story, like Tetris, where you’re essentially just solving a puzzle, like a Rubik’s Cube, but I can’t get very invested in that. It’s in interactive storytelling games as a medium shine, and Riven tells its story so well it’s mind-boggling. The Myst series in general has an excellent story, and a fantastic way of telling it, but it is Riven which is the pinnacle of achievement. As Riven is the second game in the series, that might sound a bit damning of the following games, but they are still very good games; they just don’t reach as high as the champion. Bronze in the Olympics is still a great achievement.

A Journey Cloth

The hand print glows in the dark! Of course, Uru isn't really a Myst game, but it's set in the same universe, so I think it counts even so. It also has a pretty good story, which makes sense as its intertwined with the main Myst story, though I still prefer that to the more nebulous and back-story focused Uru. Don't even get me started on the so-called "Myst 5", which can hardly be considered part of that original storyline, and you know what, I'll stop typing now.

I should stop at this point and explain where I’m coming from. I am a huge Myst geek. It ranks very high amongst my favourite stories. I’ve played all the games, read all the books, I’ve dabbled in learning the D’ni language, I have a journey cloth hanging on the wall above my desk, I have given deep and serious thought as to the possible identity of the Stranger, and I still number my lecture notes using D’ni numerals. … Hey, I like having glyphs going to 25! Now, is this excessive fanboyism a bias in declaring Riven the best game ever, or does the fanboyism follow from the fact that the Myst games are indeed the most awesome? I lean to the latter, but crazy people others might disagree.

But back to Riven. What makes Riven such an immersive experience? Why do I think it’s a triumph of interactive storytelling? Well, for one thing it’s extremely tight-lipped when it comes to telling you the story. Like all the Myst games, it just sort of drops you into the world with a few cryptic comments for context, and then leaves it up to the player to figure out what is going on, how the world works and the characters fit into it, and what exactly you’re supposed to achieve. You have to snoop around, look at the environment and the clues you find in it, sneak peeks at letters and private journals and recordings, and piece the bigger picture together yourself. This is where Riven in particular excels – nothing in the game is there for no reason. The attention to detail is amazing, even the bolts keeping pipes together are given a particular shape which makes sense in the context. The puzzles continue that theme, there are no rubber ducks to combine with clothes lines, the puzzles all have a function in the world of the game beyond being a puzzle for the player.

This attention to detail contributes to the overall atmosphere of the game, which might be its main strength. I don’t think I’ve ever seen atmosphere conveyed as effectively as in Riven. Where Myst was a very solitary and lonely experience of exploring abandoned worlds, Riven constantly reminds you that you are not alone. Your every move is being watched. You glimpse people in the distance, who sound alarms at your approach. Villagers are hiding in their huts as you pass through. There are periscopes and cameras, and if you turn around quick enough you can catch a glimpse of Gehn observing you in his temple. The whole thing makes what is actually a very leisurely experience feel very tense. I think I actually shouted in terror the first time I unexpectedly came across a little girl in the forest, I was so startled.

There aren’t a great many characters in the game, but there’s one very important one who is excellent. Exploring Riven is very much a dive into the mind of its master, an exploration of Gehn’s madness and megalomania and obsessions, like his fixation on the number 5. The more you see of the world he considers his greatest creation, the more disturbed he appears – and yet without falling into cartoonish villainy, he is too believable an example of a man corrupted by power. When you finally meet him in the flesh, and he greets you by politely apologising for the cage, I get goosebumps.

I started quite bombastically – I obviously haven’t played every game, or any more than the tiniest fraction of the available market, so my opinion is of somewhat limited value when it comes to handing out Lifetime Achievement Awards to game designers. Riven remains my favourite game, though, and I’ve yet to see a game that seems to come close to its level of storytelling.

Okay, so I guess I ended up writing a review of a game that came out in 1997. Way to be topical, me!

12 March, 2012

Flippin’ Voltorbs

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

If you’ve never lived through the wonderfully frustrating experience of trying to catch a particularly recalcitrant legendary pokémon, I don’t expect you to understand why I hurt my shoulder punching the air after finally bagging Ho-Oh last night.

It had taken me quite some time, you see, and been sufficiently frustrating that I took a couple of very long breaks in the middle. Ho-Oh, like most legendary pokémon has a very low catch rate, meaning that even when it is reduced to a very low health, you need a bunch of tries before it gets successfully caught. Putting a pokémon to sleep, or poisoning or paralysing it can help, but Ho-Oh knows the move Safeguard, which protects it from that kind of tampering. Safeguard has 25 uses, while its other three moves have only 5 uses each, which is significant because once it runs out of moves, it begins to Struggle, which does damage to itself – and when you’re trying to catch it, you’ve likely reduced it as low as you can already. In other words, you have 40 rounds to sufficiently weaken and catch it before it kills itself. There’s only one in the game, so when that happens, you have to shut the game off, and start over from your previous save. But yesterday, I got it at last.

The preceding paragraph is probably one of the geekier things I’ve written, and it makes me seem like a huge pokémon nerd, which I really don’t think I am. The fact that I managed to unload all that might speak against me on this, but looking around at some of the truly dedicated fans, I find myself lacking indeed.

I played pokémon as a child, the Red version to be exact, simply because I liked the colour red better at the time. Later, I also played Silver, because I liked Lugia better than Ho-Oh, not because of a preference in valuable metals. I watched a few episodes of the show, and the first movie, and I dabbled in the trading card game, but it was really the actual games that interested me.

After Silver, which I doubt I fully finished, I took a long break. Not from any resolve or anything, I just didn’t get the next one. It wasn’t until the summer of 2010, when I bought a DS on sale, and a copy of the remake SoulSilver (because Lugia is still better than Ho-Oh) I got the bug again. I played a good deal that summer, but when classes stared up again, it ended up in a drawer. Then a played a bit at Christmas, then back in the drawer till Summer again. This time I didn’t even play at Christmas, but yesterday I got it out of the drawer in a moment of boredom, and set to bringing that dang bird down. Now I’m probably going to keep at it. Not like I’m anywhere near done, I’ve got 195 of the 493 pokémon possible to get in this game.

As usual, I am a generation behind everyone else – I’ll probably get around to trying Black or White when the sequels come out. Actually, I was sort of hoping Nintendo would keep doing remakes of old games, like they did with Gold and Silver, and I could maybe jump in and finally see the Ruby and Sapphire storyline when it came out as EarthRuby and StarSapphire or something along those lines. Doesn’t look like that’s the plan though, so I may as well jump ahead.

Pokémon isn’t really about the story in any case; which is not to say that the story sucks, just that it is not the main selling point. It’s about the collecting, the training up and the cataloguing. I think Pokémon would be a very bad game for someone with real OCD, but for someone like me, it’s perfect. Like I said, I’ve got  I’ve got 195 of 493, can’t stop there! Never mind that getting a perfect score is actually impossible, and getting a high one gets harder and harder as others abandon this generation of games, got to keep going till the bitter end.

Favourite pokémon? From previous comments, you might think it’s Lugia, and Lugia is indeed up there, but the number one spot goes to someone else. The very first I had, and the one I keep going back to – stalwart and trustworthy Bulbasaur. When I was moving away from York, one of my friends even used her mystical baking arts to make this fantastic going-away present:

Bulbasaur cake

It was a shame to eat it, really ...

… dangit, I am a huge pokémon nerd!

26 January, 2012

Games of Thrones

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

I have been playing the Game of Thrones board game for many years now. I would also describe myself as a big fan of the books, though I have not yet gotten around to reading the most recent one, and I eagerly look forwards to the next season of the TV adaptation, but the board game was my entry point into the franchise. I think it’s fair to call it my favourite board game. Two expansions exist for it, A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords, though I only have the first one myself. I have tried the second one, but did not really care for it as much.

The game came out in a second edition not too long ago, incorporating several of the expansion features in the core game, and with all new artwork. Before Christmas, I ogled the box in the store, considering purchasing it to replace my trusty old first edition, but decided not to at the time. I recently had the opportunity to play it, and while I did enjoy it, it convinced me that not buying it was the correct decision simply because what is new in it isn’t different enough from what I already have to buy it again.

That sounded very negative; let me try again by looking at the differences instead, and giving my opinion on them. As I am not too familiar with the Storm of Swords expansion, I am not entirely sure which features are taken from that and which are brand new, but I will try to navigate it as best I can.

The most obvious change from the old edition is the new artwork, and mainly the new board. The whole map has been redrawn, and the data tracks along its side have been redesigned. The new map is darker than the old one, and looks slightly more … realistic, I suppose is the word. The labels on the various areas are smaller, and in my opinion each area felt more crowded. While it is a very pretty map, I think I prefer the old one, as I find it clearer – clarity being more important than photorealism during a game. In addition, the new game pieces are not solidly coloured in the new edition, and I found that they could easily end up disappearing on the board, blending too well in with the map.

On the plus side, the map now incorporates the ports from the Clash of Kings expansion, printed right on the map; a big improvement from the port tokens of the old edition. It also uses the expanded south from the same expansion, letting the game support six players from the get-go. These are great advantages, in my opinion. While the borders have been redrawn, I think it is only general shapes which have changed, not which areas border which, so the game balance has not changed. The redesigned data tracks also look good, and the addition of a victory track made it easier to spot who was approaching a win. All these things I liked.

All the tokens have been given a new look as well. I liked the tokens for neutral forces, and the way they incorporated information on when they were to be used on them. I did not so much care for the new Order and Power tokens, which seemed to me both darker in hue and less crisp, and even smaller in size than the old ones. I also prefer the old Messenger Raven token to the new one. The House Start Cards have been done away with entirely, replaced with the new House Screens, which were perhaps my favourite innovation in the new edition – they were much more useful as a reference and useful for hiding your tokens from your opponents. They also looked very nice.

There are some new cards, as well. The House cards have been replaced – or at least, they are not the cards from either the base game or the Clash of Kings expansion. It is possible they are based on cards found in A Storm of Swords. In any case, the mechanic is the same as ever, and the new cards work well enough, though I did not examine all of them. There is a new deck, the Wildling Deck, which I have been told is also a Storm of Swords feature, which alter the outcome of a wildling attack. This adds an element of unpredictability to wildling attacks, which I can appreciate; it makes gambling on the outcome of an attack more risky, and also makes the Raven token more valuable, as its owner can peek ahead at the next card in this deck. The wildlings now attack automatically upon reaching their full strength, rather than waiting for the card that unleashes them, a mechanic than can potentially lead to more frequent attacks. They are also not reduced to zero if they win, but simply lowered one space. All in all, it seems attrition from wildling attacks is much more likely in this edition

An element of unpredictability I did not care as much for were the new Tide of Battle cards, which I believe are a second edition innovation. Drawn at the end of a combat, they add a random number to each side’s combat strength, as well as sword or fortification icons. They also include the possibility of immediately killing one of the opponents forces outright, win or lose. I appreciate that many people enjoy a random element, and as seen above I like it myself on occasion, but the iron clad predictability of the combat mechanic has always been one of the main selling points of Game of Thrones for me. With full knowledge of your opponents forces, and which cards he might potentially hold, it all comes down to the tactics of the situation (no boon for me, really; I am a dreadful tactician), and the support you can persuade neighbouring armies to give you. I understand that the Tide of Battle cards encourage gambits in play, and increase attrition further, but I remain sceptical. I believe they are an optional rule, however, so the game could still be played without them, if you can find a group who agrees.

Finally, a word about some of the rules changes. With the increased attrition, it was nice to be able to muster at will using the starred Consolidate Power order, and it was an order I found myself placing often. I am still a bit ambivalent about it though, the rarity of the mustering card and the potential wait between each appearance of it gave each game a unique flavour – you could end up with every unit on the board within a few rounds, or you could go the whole game eking out existence with the bare minimum of troops. Overall, though, I think this might be a good change. The change of the starred Raid order – no longer capable of two raids, but instead empowered to remove a defence order – did not really come up during our game, so I have no idea how that change plays out.

Some of the Westeros cards have been replaced with cards where the holders of the three great tokens decide the effect – choosing for instance between a mustering, a supply count or no effect at all. This also makes the great tokens more valuable, increasing the reward for bidding high when the opportunity arises, and I have no objection towards that. The garrisons now protecting each of the players home bases are also an interesting and welcome touch.

The final change I can think of is the change in four player games – Tyrell has become a neutral force, while Greyjoy becomes the fourth player. This means that the pressure normally faced between Greyjoy, Lannister and Stark in a five player game is maintained in a four player game, making the riverlands hotly contested from the very beginning. To compensate for the now wide open south, a large number of neutral forces are placed there, but even with the presence of these, it seems to me that Lannister and Baratheon have a fairly free range to mop up a great many castles virtually unopposed unless Greyjoy and Stark work together for much of the game.

I’ve gone on for too long now, so I’ll wrap up. As I said, I do not think I will be purchasing the second edition, simply because the changes made alone are not worth the price of admission, given that I already have the first game. The changes that I liked the most can easily be applied to the old game without too much effort – in the case of the altered star orders, no effort at all! I think I can make my own house screens, and maybe even new neutral force and garrison tokens if I really want some.

A Game of Thrones: The Board Game is an excellent game, and it remains an excellent game in its second edition, and for those who do not have the first edition – or even those who have the first edition but none of the expansions – it would certainly be worth the money.

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