Month: December 2015

Chaos Reborn: Evidently They Made a Game for Me

 

cr
we’ll forgive the cliched title.

I picked up Chaos Reborn (50% off on Steam!), and I played it for hours last night.  You’re all lucky that I’m taking time away to write this, only because I just want to play it more.  There are many people who play this game, but they made specifically for me, of that I am convinced.

 

So you’re a wizard, casting spells, summoning monsters.  It’s more complicated than that, of course, but the greatness of this game is that its complexity is only in the layers of strategy, not by how confusing any individual layer is.

Example: the game suggests an amount of tutorials that are wonderfully done.  They essentially introduce you to each of the game’s mechanics one by one, until the meaty strategic tapestry is complete.  Every mechanic is devilishly simple, but they come together into a symphony of strategy.

I’m gushing.  It’s OK.  I really love this game.

crtactical
tactics!

Some quick observations:

 

  • The “bluffing” effect of Illusions is a masterful way to make PvP/multiplayer interesting.  In essence, summoning a creature as an illusion guarantees success (most spells have a 40-60% chance of actually succeeding, so this is important), and an Illusion will act as a real monster (and be as lethal).  However, the enemy wizard can use a Disbelieve spell to instantly dispel an Illusion, and they get an extra spell that turn on top of it.  However, Disbelieving a real creature effectively wastes their turn.  Again, this is all about risk management.
  • The game’s mana system isn’t a direct resource, but more a risk mitigation tool.  Mana is used to increase the chances of an individual spell.  Obviously this can be powerful, as a legitimately summoned nasty monster usually gives the extra bonus of the opponent trying to Disbelieve it, on top of being nasty.  However, Mana is very finite, and the most powerful creatures/spells still can’t be bumped up to 100%.
  • There’s a Chaos/Order system that makes for more interest.  Essentially, casting Chaos spells will increase the chances of subsequent Chaos spells (for both wizards).  However, Order does the same thing, and one affects the other.  Neutral spells are completely unaffected by this.
  • There are three equipment types that affect your wizard as well; staff, robes, runes.  Your staff gives some stats and defines what your “megaspell” is.  Robes provide further bonuses, and can influence what your deck looks like (decks are randomized in this game).  Then both the staff and robes have rune slots, where you can equip passive abilities, or runes that provide a consumable ability.  All very simple.
crunicorndwarf
unicorn, presented by gilette

The true beauty of this game is that is practically defines “synergy.”  All these different simple systems coalesce into this wondrously deep experience.  Every choice has multiple consequences, but it’s not so in-depth that it’s overwhelming.

 

There’s even a campaign mode that somewhat reminds me of Heroes of Might and Magic, which is always a welcome influence.

TL;DR – Hearthstone and X-Com had a baby.

I’m going to play some more now.

 

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Some Thoughts on Star Things

J.J. Abrams has become a bit of a polarizing figure to me.

He has been associated with some of my favorite movies and television.  Alias was great.  Fringe was pretty good.  The new Star Wars movie was obviously grood (somewhere between great and good).  He’s also supposed to be producing the Half-Life and Portal movies, which I didn’t even know existed until I just looked up his IMDB.

He’s also associated with the new Star Trek movies, which I have extremely mixed feelings about.

I think I’ve developed a bit of resentment over the Trek/Wars thing.

First, a bit of background: I like Star Wars, but I love Star Trek.  I never cared much for the original series, but the original cast’s movies were extremely influential on my childhood, and even more important to me was the Next Generation series.

Seeing the new Star Wars movie, it’s clear that he cares a lot about the source material.  There were many, many details and homages all over that movie.  It’s clear that it was tended to by someone who is a true fan.

The same can’t be said about the new Star Trek movies.  The nicest thing I can say is that they’re above average action movies that happen to involve Star Trek characters.  They’re not Star Trek movies, however.

What makes this difficult is that it’s not easily apparent.  Abrams clearly has a gift for casting; this is evident in almost every project he’s been involved in.  Even in the ST movies, there really isn’t a bad casting choice across the board (and even some excellent ones; Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban are simply fantastic in their respective roles).

However, the new ST films simply aren’t Star Trek, at all.  Trek isn’t about action scenes and fast pacing.  It’s about the conflicts and moral dilemmas that the human race would come across as it explores space and interacts with other alien races.  It’s about a glimpse of a possible future where the human race has ascended to outer space, and has largely cast aside internal struggles in the name of space travel and discovery.  It’s a thinking-mans setting.

Despite that, the new ST movies are just action flicks starring those characters.  And in that, those characters are put into positions they hadn’t been before, which rings false to anyone who enjoyed them before.  I know that technically it’s all “OK” in canon since this is a completely different timeline (and that these characters are much younger), but it doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it.

I think this is also further complicated by the fact that Hollywood wants blockbusters, and Star Wars’ format fits one without much modification.  However, a slower-paced sci-fi movie isn’t Hollywood’s idea of a big-ticket, high-grossing film, so the chances of that being made are pretty slim.  This leads to the question: is it even possible for a faithful Star Trek movie to be made at all, in the current Hollywood climate?  I’m afraid the answer to that is no.

So while I could easily just say “Fuck Abrams for what he did to Star Trek,” I think it’s important to note that he had a job.  His job was to make a popular Star Trek movie.  He did.  The alternative was probably no Star Trek movie at all.

That’s a hard truth to swallow as a Trek fan.

Why Everything Is Bad

Whoa, that’s a broad headline.  So, maybe not everything, but why many things are bad.

OK, what things?

Let’s try this: why every conversation and attempt at critical thought in America is bad.

OK, that’s not everything, but that’s a lot of things.  The way we think?  That directly and indirectly affects many, many things.  I think it affects enough things where “everything” isn’t too far off.

I just had a semantics argument with myself.  Awesome.

OK: Why many things are bad!

So few people really understand the way a democracy works, and even fewer people understand how to think critically in any context, let alone a context where there are multi-layered complex problems affecting an entire society.

Example: the argument over political correctness, a verbal thought war that’s been waged for a couple decades now.  Both sides are populated by many, many dumb people.  These people not only are dumb, but their dumbness continues the argument in perpetuity.

Many people on the “anti-PC” side of the argument are brushing off the PC idea as “soft” and “overly sensitive.”  In many contexts, this is simply wrong.  They are on the wrong side of history, and are resistant to a change that would be so minor and insignificant in their daily lives but very significant to the lives of others.  It’s more than insensitive, it’s crass and insulting.  It demonstrates a complete lack of sympathy for fellow human beings.

However, many on the “PC” side of the argument are so rabid and oversensitive that they may have created much of the argument in the first place.  While eradicating slurs and offensive language should be something we strive for, many people on this side of the argument are blind to the fact that mistakes and accidents happen, and that the kind of change they’re looking for is largely generational, and will not be complete until long after they’re dead.

OK, there’s a rabbit hole here I should probably stop going down.

My main point: everyone looks at shit in a binary fashion, with no respect for the gray area whatsoever.  This would be great if big problems were binary, but they simply aren’t.  There aren’t simple solutions for everything.  There’s actually very few things worth talking about that have a simple solution.

All people have guns, or no people have guns.  All abortion or no abortion.  If it’s not pure capitalism it’s communist.  If you’re Muslim, you’re a terrorist.  All welfare recipients are gaming the system.  These are all idiotic, narrow-minded sentiments that turn blinders to the complexity of life, and the effects any of these issues have on all corners of society.

I don’t think I’m terribly smart.  I think I’m kinda smart.  I don’t have answers to all these problems.  But I do know that no societal problem has a simple solution, and I also know that swinging the pendulum all the way to one side or the other is almost unilaterally a terrible idea.

I simply don’t understand why so, so many people have trouble grasping this, or don’t care enough to try.

It’s an anti-intellectualism that has long taken hold of American society, and I think that’s far more frightening than any of the other problems we face.  It might not directly kill or hurt anyone, but it prevents us from fixing anything effectively.

I weep for the future.

Now Is Another Opportunity For The Chicago Bulls to be Dumb

jimmypoint
jimmy says: wtf dood

Jimmy Butler’s comments about coach Fred Hoiberg have received great attention in the media, and for good reason.  It’s one thing for an all-star player to question his coach.  It’s another thing entirely when that coach is a new hire from college, just signed a five-year contract, and might share a bunk bed with Gar Forman.

This is yet another tale in the long-running saga of the Chicago Bulls’ front-office and management dysfunction.  Nothing will probably come of it, because nobody never does nothing like Gar Forman doesn’t, but as a Bulls fan that witnessed the organization dismantle a dynasty once, I’m not sure I’ll ever feel OK when it comes to this team and the way it’s run.

fredsmile
fred says: this is hard

 

Nick Friedell did a great job iterating the importance of this in the above link, but I had a few more thoughts to extrapolate from this.

  • Butler should know that Hoiberg isn’t likely to go anywhere, right?  Financial commitment aside, he’s literally this front office’s hand-picked golden boy.
  • So if we assume Butler knows this, there can only be two motivations behind his comments: either he feels Hoiberg is malleable and welcome to criticism, or he wants to piss people off and get traded.  Obviously one of those options is frown-town.
  • How the front office reacts to this is critical.  While it’s important to have the coach and system you want in place, talent wins championships.  Period.  Jimmy Butler is the best Bulls player since the 90s, and keeping him happy needs to be the highest of priorities.
  • This highlights what I thought was a questionable coaching change.  I understand that Tom Thibodeau had faults, but he had undeniable strengths as well.  None of his players ever called him out.  His minutes management was archaic, but he got pretty great results overall.  While Hoiberg had a decent college pedigree, that has not proven to be successful in the NBA a good percentage of the time.
  • I think the luckiest thing about this situation is that Billy Donovan has been so terrible so far that it’s kept Hoiberg’s shakiness out of the spotlight.
  • I haven’t lost hope with Hoiberg, but I think it’s obvious that he still has a lot of learning to do.  Hopefully everyone ends up understanding this in the end.
  • I have a slight (very slight) panic that Butler could be traded, if only because that absolutely sounds like something this organization would do.  And it would likely be the dumbest move in recent NBA history.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – A Review with Words

First:

Warning-Spoiler-Alert

I really wanted to find problems with this movie.  I will admit this.  While I can easily enjoy most movies, I often have fundamental issues with anything that appears to be a nostalgia-based cash grab.  I also have problems with J.J. Abrams’ recent Star Trek movies, which are little more than action flicks with Star Trek characters.  I’ll talk about those movies at length another time.

There are problems.  There’s not many.

(NOTE: I very much enjoyed this movie.)

When I see a movie that’s a sequel, a remake, or a reboot, I try to separate the referential material from the rest of the movie.  I do this to see if the movie is still good despite any tugs at nostalgia or fan-services of any kind.  I do this mainly because I don’t inherently trust Hollywood with knowing what I will like, and I find it fun to resent large monolithic institutions wherever I can.

Obviously, this movie would be referential to an extreme.  It’s the seventh movie of the series.  It’s referencing characters and plot points from the most influential and culturally significant intellectual property of all time.

However, in this unique and singular case, this is OK.  Star Wars can reference itself.  How many people are watching this movie without having watched episodes four, five, or six?  Even then, people who have never seen Star Wars still know who Han Solo and Luke Skywalker are; Star Wars has planted deep and entangling roots in American culture.  People make Star Wars references all the time without even realizing it.  Like it or not, Star Wars earned the right to be self-referential decades ago.

Even then, I felt the self-reference went a bit overboard, at times.  The Millennium Falcon just happened to be on the planet where all this other stuff was happening?  Does everyone absolutely have to be related to one another?  Did this movie really have to be a near-clone of A New Hope?

(This is where I remind you that this is nitpicking, and I very much enjoyed the movie.)

  • Rae’s unlikely triumphs in the movie definitely rang false, if only for a moment.  Defeating a long-trained Sith mere hours after discovering her Force powers is definitely a bit of a stretch, even when considering her opponent was already injured.  Also, she demonstrated outright mind control very quickly.  Again, these are rules based on an imaginary thing anyways, but it still felt weird.
  • The “big death” of the movie was very, very telegraphed.  I actually called it before I had seen the movie, not knowing anything beyond what was in the trailers.  Still effective and well-done, but it was clear what was happening.
  • I felt this way after the trailer, and I still feel this way: the cross-based lightsaber is cheesy.
  • Kylo Ren should have left his helmet on.  He instantly became less imposing.  Not saying anything about Adam Driver’s looks or anything, but I felt he was super bad-ass until then.

OK, so that’s about all the bad.  Here’s some good:

  • Being an X-Wing/TIE Fighter fanatic, I really appreciated all the space combat and attention to detail.  Extraordinary.
  • Despite all the returning characters (and other characters either obviously or subtly related to them), there was still some compelling new characters added, and I hope to see them further developed.
  • The lightsaber fights were back to the old style, which is easier to follow and far more dramatic and effective.
  • People say words, they mean things, and little of it was forced.  So it’s already better than episodes 1-3 already.
  • This felt like a Star Wars movie.  This also felt like a good movie.

That’s all I have for now.  I think the movie was a bit formulaic and predictable, but it was so well-executed that I don’t care.  I’m in for episodes 8 and 9.

The Last Final Fantasy Post (Until the Next One)

ff10
this guy.  ugh.

Final Fantasy 10, I’ve found, is probably the most polarizing entry into the series.  There’s a lot of obvious reasons for this.  It’s polarizing because it does a lot right, and a lot not right.  I feel I’ve made my point.

I know it’s cliche, but there’s enough meat on the bone here to do a pros/cons list.

PRO:

  • Sleek battle system that allows for instant character change.  Interesting abilities.  You can control summons.  Repeat: you can control summons.

CON:

  • That same battle system can feel very grindy, and once you discover that a character only gains experience if they perform a battle action, battles devolve into “make sure every character gets a hit in,” which is really annoying.

PRO:

  • The overall presentation is pretty wonderful.  Graphics are great, battle animations are satisfying, the music is top-notch as always, and the dialogue is reasonably written.

CON:

  • The voice acting is pretty terrible.  Lots of awkward pauses, overreactions, deadpan lines; it’s almost a trainwreck.  It gets a slight pass for being one of the first fully voice-acted games, but it’s really brutal at times.

PRO:

  • The Sphere Grid is probably one of the best character leveling systems ever created, only barely edged out by the Materia system in FF7.

CON:

  • The Sphere Grid turns some off with its complexity, and it can bend your brain if you stare at it too long.

PRO:

  • The cast of characters is rather great; Auron is mysterious, Yuna is stubbornly optimistic, Wakka is fun, the list goes on.

CON:

  • Tidus might be the worst main character in a Final Fantasy game, ever.  Honestly, the best way to deal with this is to pretend Yuna is the main character (she sort of is, really), and pretend Tidus is just an idiot that the camera happens to follow.

PRO:

  • The plot is actually pretty great, if a bit convoluted.

CON:

  • It bears repeating: Tidus might be the worst main character in a Final Fantasy game.

PRO:

  • Blitzball is a very interesting diversion within the game.

CON:

  • Whoever thought underwater turn-based soccer was a good idea should probably be punched.  In the heart.

OK, that was long, but that’s the point.  There’s a laundry list of compliments and complaints to give Final Fantasy 10.  I think the positives outweigh the negatives overall, and if you can get past the off-putting awkwardness of the voice acting, it can be a pretty great experience.  Also, the Jecht boss fight music is ridiculous, and totally worth it.

One final thought: not being able to control the airship is blasphemy.


 

ff5
that guy on the left is dumb.

At this point, because this series is weird, I had finally gotten a chance to play Final Fantasy 5.  I had briefly played the PSX port, but then had a Nintendo DS for a while, and played the GBA version on it.  I’ve also since emulated it and played through most of the game.  I can understand why it wasn’t brought over to the USA back in the 90s.

I had high hopes, as I knew FF5 had the acclaimed job system in place, and I enjoyed the hell out of it in Final Fantasy Tactics.  However, I found it a bit clunky and much less interesting when applied to the typical Final Fantasy battle system.  The game in effect had wild difficulty swings without warning, where there were fights that were just plain hard, but others that felt hilariously easy due to a single job choice.

The main character, Bartz (or Butts, or whatever), is largely uninteresting.  The others are rather compelling however, but that doesn’t help a largely cliche story.  It’s the typical fare of elemental crystals, and someone/something trying to disrupt/destroy/conquer the world.  There is a large plot twist in the second half, but I had already experienced a similar twist in FF6 that was frankly far better executed and compelling.

Also, X-Death is probably the series’ worst villain, but in name and in practice.  He seems like a far less interesting Kefka.  Maybe Kefka is just an evolution of X-Death.  In any event, he’s not terribly great.

One final thought on 5: while the graphics and sound appear to be in the middle of 4 and 6 (as one would guess), they don’t appear as polished as either game.  The music is great at points, and strange in others.  Sound effects aren’t bad, but aren’t nice and crisp like the others.  And graphically, it’s “better” than 4, but not as appealing.

I’d still recommend it to series fans, but not as highly as most.  Still a solid game, but not great, and maybe barely good.


 

At this point, I don’t feel I have played enough of any other Final Fantasy game to render a reasonable opinion.  I have tried both 2 and 3, but never got much into them.  I haven’t gotten to 12 yet, but probably will someday soon.  I played through good chunks of 13, but don’t even really care to talk about it, as it was largely underwhelming and slow (oh, so slow).  11 and 14 were MMORPGs, and that’s a totally different genre and discussion.  And I haven’t played any of the “sequels”; FF4: The After Years, FF X-2, or any of the Dissidia games, so I can’t really offer opinions as of yet.  I do plan to play X-2 though, eventually.

What was the point of all this?  Nothing really, just to reflect on an iconic series of games, and their effect on many and mine’s gaming tastes and influences.

Wait, there is one point.  This game is probably better than all of them.  Except Tactics.

More Final Fantasy Things (aka Part 2)

So at this point (that point being after FF7), my relationship with the Final Fantasy series…changed.

Firstly, this gem came out.

fft
#1.

Technically, this is not part of the Final Fantasy numbered series.  It’s a totally different game, and did not have any real tie-ins to previous titles.  The gameplay is a huge departure from the normal Final Fantasy.  The game barely looks like a PSX title; I think it probably could have been done on the SNES if the maps didn’t rotate.

It’s my favorite game of all time.  Or at least tied for it.

I’ll write more about it another time, but let’s just say that the game isn’t perfect, but it’s perfect.  That’s the best I can do without vomiting words for hours on end.

And it’s a good thing that Final Fantasy Tactics was so great, because it allowed me to feel OK largely skipping the next one:

ff8
blech.

Final Fantasy 8 is a hugely conflicted game.  It feels like it’s trying to do too many things at once.  It definitely is in love with itself.  It’s almost as if the game is constantly trying to impress with cinematics and plot and this system and that system and oh here’s a gunsword oh my gosh I’m so amazing.

I feel this is the one where they got too cute.  Too many cooks in the kitchen as well.  There’s enough character customization systems for three games, all smashed into one.  The boss fights are long summon-fests.  It barely feels like a Final Fantasy game at times, with it’s real-word theming and regular-guy character development.  While I personally detest the game, I acknowledge it as good in certain areas.  The story seems fine (and have been told it’s the best love story told by Square, however that’s not saying too much).  Non-boss-fight combat is good.  It looks fantastic.

But it’s not enough to make up for its ample flaws.  It feels that in order to top FF7’s materia system, they decided to add three customization systems all at once.  This turned the game into a never-ending menu fuck, and also introduced more grinding into the game, which is never welcome.  The boss fights rely on summons and little else.  And much of the game just feels like a vehicle to make sense of the cutscenes, which I suppose is fine, but it felt very mechanical.

8 sucked.  At least to me.

Then came a return to form, in my eyes:

ff9
g

Final Fantasy 9, mechanically, is very simple, and I feel that’s a direct response to complaints of too much complexity from 8.  The development system is item-based and simple, characters have gone back to having unique abilities, and the tried-and-true staples of Final Fantasy returned.  Good music (though not terribly memorable, outside of that Chocobo Hot-And-Cold music, good grief), excellent characters, a strong hero, a wily villain.  And throwbacks to FF1!

I call this game good, but not great.  It doesn’t really do anything wrong, but it’s a little odd thematically, and it doesn’t take too many chances on any front.  I feel it’s gone from overrated to underrated and back to properly rated among fans, and I’m fine with that.  A solid 7.5/10.

The only real complaint is that the summons are soooooo long, and that load times for battles are a bit much.  Again, still good, not great, far from perfect.

I’ll stop here as well, since I have a cavalcade of thoughts about FF10.  Stay tuned.