2010 Aug 10 aeris

Guy Blade Guy Blade---02:30:00

This Killing Zone has been designated "Knife Only"
Early last week, I finished my path through the single player mode of Killzone 2. I'll preface this review by stating that I only played the single player campaign of Killzone 2. Also, I believe that any game that takes the time to have a single player mode--even if it is primarily built as a multiplayer game--should make that mode strong enough to stand on its own.

When I started playing Killzone 2, I had choosen to play on the second highest of its four difficulty levels. I have played many first person shooter and even a fair number of console first person shooters (the retarded cousins of real PC first person shooters). I quickly found that the controls were too cumbersome for me to be anything but rubish at the game and downgraded the difficulty to the second lowest tier.

Even at this level, I was still having trouble with the controls, but soon discovered something iteresting. It turns out that the game offers an always-available knife which is an instant kill on most enemies and which has a a radial range slightly wider than the field of view. At that point, rather than playing the game properly, I became Sev--the madman with the knife. As an example, my totals kills with the knife at the end of the game were over 400 whereas I hadn't broken 100 kills with any other weapon.

It actually turns out that the enemy AI is poorly adapted for a crazy man with a knife rushing them. Part of their behavior seems to be an attempt to maintain a certain distance from the PC. Thus, a common occurance was me rushing an entrenched location and watching as the enemies flee from the guy swinging the knife and strafing to avoid their fire. I once even watched as a gunner in a machinegun nest fled at the sight of me and my knife.

Gameplay wise, it is rather similar to most other console first person shooters of late. It uses the relatively standard Gears of War style health regeneration system. Weapon sets are similar to most FPSs though with a disappointing emphasis on assault rifles. They even took the irritating Halo-style "you only get to have two guns" system even further by having the two weapons being restricted to a pistol and a larger weapon. Maybe this is yet another reason to go for a knife-only game.

On the other side, I found the plot mostly incomprehensible. I hadn't played the previous game, so there were certainly things that I had missed, but I really didn't get why I was part of this invasion force. It seemed like the bad guys had invaded wherever our force was from at a point in the past (probably the last game), but since we defeated them, we decided to invade back. Stragely, despite the game treating nuclear weapons as serious business and a legitimate threat in a spacefaring universe, the "good guy" faction doesn't choose to simply bomb their invaders back to the dark ages and instead carries out a protracted ground war with them. I mean, I can understand maybe wanting to capture the territory, but there is a point where I really have to question whether or not resources are being used efficiently.

Between the impermeable plot and my concerns with the controls, I didn't really find much to like here. Luckily, the game was short--less than 10 hours even with all the deaths that using a melee weapon in a gunplay setting brings.

Killzone 2: 0

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2010 Aug 05 rinoa

Guy Blade Guy Blade---21:08:00

Two for the Price of One
Last weekend, I flew back to Indiana to go to Krallja's wedding. It was a rather massive affair: he had two weddings in one day. The first was a Vietnamese style wedding that involved a lot of awesome outfits, tea serving, and a big. The second was a Western style wedding. Overall, it was probably one of the most complicated affairs that I've ever seen, but they managed to pull it off successfully without any major hiccups as far as I could tell.

Aside from the wedding itself, I saw a fair number of my old Rose friends. I actually saw Herbig for the first time since I graduated. Dietrich was also around with Nick and Ken (from Speed 3). I also ran into Tom, but I see him most every time that I'm back near Terre Haute anyway.

I took a handful of pictures from the wedding with my camera phone.

Unfortunately, I think I planned the trip wrong. I ended up with flights at bad times that meant that I had to cut out on festivities early. In the future, I'll just allow for more time for such events. I have a ton of vacation time, after all.

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2010 Jul 30 emeralda

Guy Blade Guy Blade---02:35:00

Title Drop 4: The Prequel
Last night, I finished up Star Ocean: The Last Hope. It is the fourth in a long spanning series of actiony RPGs going back to the SNES era. The series tends to focus on spacefaring humans who end up trying to save the universe/galaxy/world but inexplicably end up on planents with medieval fantasy levels of development.

The Last Hope is actually the chronologically first game in the series, taking place right as humanity is beginning to seriously begin extrasolar exploration. Later games take place once humanity is already an established power in the galaxy. The story here follows Edge Maverick, a bridge officer in the new Space Reconnaissance Force, who quickly ends up the captain of his ship due to field promotion. You're then tasked with searching out new worlds fit for human colonization due to the Earth being in something of a bad way after all the wars and such. Of course, you quickly become aware of threats to the galaxy and are off to save it as in the other games.

The game uses the rather standard JRPG division of overworld and battle modes. The overworld contains visible enemies who you can encounter to enter battle and all of the other trappings of a JRPG--scattered treasure chests, sidequests, item creation, etc. The battle system is highly similar to the previous games and is nearly identical to Star Ocean 3's system in terms of control and flow. Luckily, they've done away with the idea of being able to either "MP kill" or "HP kill" characters and use the more familiar HP is for damage and MP is for casting. Otherwise, you are simply able to move around the map, carry out special attacks or magic, and otherwise fight. The game up battle slightly by incorporating the "battle gauge". This guage allows you to gain special benefits by completing certain conditions. The guage contains 14 slots which get filled as these conditions are met: killing an enemy with a critical hit gives an experience bonus slot, killing multiple enemies at once gives a money bonus slot, getting ambushed (being in two consecutive fights) gives a skill point bonus, and killing an enemy using only skill results in an HP/MP regen bonus.

This is where the first noticable bad design decision appears. For the battle gauge bonuses, the level of utility varries massively: for XP and Money, each slot gives a 10% bonus. This means that maxing the guage with one of them would results in getting as much as 240% of base XP or money for a fight. For SP, which is relatively common, but vital to both character advancement and item creation, each slot gives one additional skill point per battle. In the early game, this allows for very fast advancement and access to special abilities. For HP/MP regen, however, you get 1% per battle per slot. This last bonus is completely worthless for the cost of carrying it out. Given the choice of getting to recover 14% of your health and MP after every fight without expending items or getting a 140% bonus to XP, the answer is completely obvious. Furthermore, given how common healing items are in general, this shouldn't even be an issue. That isn't the only problem with the battle gauge though. The gauge is not retained when you save and load. This led me (and I suspect others) to simply leaving their system on when they had acquired a relatively large bonus. Since it can take a fair amount of time to aquire certain bonuses (SP especially), this is the only pragmatic solution offered.

Of course, this wouldn't be such an issue if the game were more stable. At this moment, I'll say that I played the game on the 360 and that I have not played the PS3 (International) version. I had at least a dozen hard locks of my console while playing this game. Every single one happened during a battle and every single one was frustrating. Worst of all, I had one hard lock occur during my first attempt at the final boss resulting in me having to go back and beat its first form again. Luckily, I was able to skip the pile of cutscenes ahead of it.

Less annoyingly, but still evidence of poor thinking, is the late game transit system. Once you are able to access the final area, you can return to most of the areas previously available. In total, this consists of 5 worlds. Going to the first three worlds requires you have the game using disc 2 and going to the last two requires you to use disc 3. This is completely unacceptable. I shouldn't have to wander around my apartment playing disc caddy in the late game.

As much as these technical issues grated on me, by far my biggest complaint against the game is from a particular section of the plot. At one point, you end up in a situation with a person who is so obviously evil that from the first word the character spoke, I knew they were out to betray the party. I was then forced to watch as my characters happily hand over the giant world-ending bomb to the obviously evil character who proceeds to blow up the planet. Worse, I then got to listen to the character who did it angst about it for the next fifth or so of the game. I understand that the characters should get tricked sometimes and that the narrative may drive things, but at least write a plot where I can maybe see myself getting tricked in their place. Genre saviness isn't even required!

Overall, between the grating technical issues and the (mostly) lackluster plot, I can't recommend the game. I've played all of the Star Ocean games at this point and this is the least compelling of them. Also, since it is a prequel, that means that it ultimately has no actually effect on the ongoing progress of the game's story (aside from providing more backstory for established elements), so it can be skipped without too much trouble.

Star Ocean: The Last Hope: 0

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2010 Jul 13 garnet

Guy Blade Guy Blade---21:24:00

What does "moe" mean?
Over the weekend, I played all the way through No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle. For a very long time, I considered the first No More Heroes game to be the best game available on the Wii console. It was and continues to be certainly the best Mature title for the device that I'd played.

No More Heroes was the story of Travis Touchdown--wrestling and anime otaku, probable NEET, and general loser--who won a lightsaber off of eBay and decided to become an assassin for the chicks. This set up alone was enough to sell the game to me. The first No More Heroes catalogs his ascension by murder to the top of the world-wide assassin's organization--the United Assassins Association.

This game picks up three years after the first with Travis back to mostly being a poor, unemployed user. The difference now is that he is famous for his exploits of the first game and has been targetted by enemies that he made back during the first game. So, we end up climbing the ranks of the UAA again.

Gameplay wise, not much has changed. The game alternates between the assassination areas and the between mission upgrade/minigame section. In the assassination areas, Travis still wades through hordes of enemies with his beam saber before eventually arriving at his designated target. The assassination fights themselves are still the core of the gameplay and remain quite strong in this second iteration. The between mission areas have been altered somewhat in that Santa Destroy is no longer an open, explorable world.

The loss of the explorable world is not really that big of an issue. In the first game, the primary purpose of the explorable world was to obtain money with which to buy weapon upgrades. In this one, there are no weapon upgrades per se. Instead, each weapon offers a different style of combat. Additionally, only two weapons are available directly for sale and the time to get the money to buy both is rather small (assuming you get good at the minigames). Unfortunately, the game unlocks the second purchasable weapon--the Peony--very early in the game. This particular weapon makes the game far easier due to its huge damage and equally huge hit areas. In fact, it was so imbalancing, it gave me flashbacks of using Hymir's Finger in Drakengard.

They have mixed things up a few things this time. A couple of the boss fights are different than the usual beam saber flair. Travis gets a motorcycle shoving match and a giant mecha fight, for instance. There are also a couple of levels in which you play as alternate characters with slightly different movesets.

Unfortunately, the things that I liked most about the first game were the interplay between characters, the bizarre and off the wall way the characters behave, and the plot which was full of random and mostly arbitrary plot twists complete with characters ignoring the fourth wall. Although there are still some good moments between the characters, there is still some craziness from the characters, and the characters still occasionally ignore the fourth wall, none of it seems as solid this time around.

Furthermore, it seems like the assassination targets themselves have less "life" than they had previously. Although a few of them are interesting and have colorful backstories, there just aren't any that can live up to "Bad Girl" or "Holly Summers" from the first game.

So is the game worth it? Well, much like what I said in the Diabolic Box review, this is a game targeted at fans of the first. If you liked the first, you will at least enjoy this one, even if it isn't quite as good as the previous. If you didn't like the first one, there's probably nothing here for you. In all honesty, I was disappointed with it given how amazing the first one was. My hope is that the inevitable No More Heroes 3 makes up for this one.

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle: 0

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Guy Blade Guy Blade---05:21:00

Professor Layton and the Meaningless MacGuffin
Last week, I finished playing through Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box. If you missed the first one, the Professor Layton games are puzzle games for the Nintendo DS. Diabolical Box is the second one released in the US with a third one coming to the US later this year.

Once again, the Professor has gotten himself stuck in a closed circle with mysteries all around him. The game begins with one of the Professor's old friends finally obtaining a box which said friend had been researching and searching for. The box has a reputation for killing anyone who opens it, so said friend thought it would be a good idea to open it. Needless to say, the expected happens and the Professor and Luke go off in search of the secret behind the (now lost again) box and the death of the Professor's friend.

The gameplay is almost identical to the first iteration of the series. You wander around a world, adventure game sytle, and periodically encountering people with puzzles for you to solve. This one includes about as many sidequests as the former did, but they are at least different this time around. Rather than assembling a robotic dog, you get to train a gerbil so that it loses weight, for instance. The other two sidequests involve a set of spot-the-differences puzzles and a tea brewing/serving quest.

Unfortunately, the game suffers somewhat due to the fact that I had played the former so recently. Although none of the puzzles in the first game were repeated verbatim, many of them were using similar gimicks just repeated with slightly different constraints or with a different framing device. As an example, the first game had a number of variations of the eight queens puzzle on progressively larger boards. The second game replaces this with the knight's tour at various board sizes. This is actually one of the better examples as it is a relatively distinct (if somewhat related) puzzle. Others are "yet another logic puzzle" or "yet another sliding block puzzle".

Given that the plot of any Layton game is mostly just a framing device for a large pile of puzzles, this one continues the tradition of crazy plot twists. I might even argue that the plot twists here are even crazier.

Ultimately, Diabolical Box is mostly a carbon copy of Curious Village. If you enjoyed the first, you'll probably enjoy the second. Similarly, if you didn't like the first, you won't find anything here to encourage a second look at the series. If you aren't sure about the series, I would suggest starting with Curious Villiage as there are numerous references to the first game in the second that are spoilers for the first.

It is difficult for me to come to a numeric value to represent this game. On the one hand, there is nothing bad or wrong with the game itself compared to its predecessor. On the other hand, the game takes no risks and introduces next to nothing in terms of new gameplay. It is the very definition of a "safe play". I think ultimately, I wouldn't recommend the Diabolical Box outright. The former is just as good and a fan of it would likely pursue this one regardless.

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box: 0

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2010 Jul 08 emeralda

Guy Blade Guy Blade---21:06:00

They call it Psychonauts because they only go into crazy minds.
Last night, I finished Psychonauts. I know this review may not be timely, but I'd never played it until Steam had it for $2 a while back. For those left unaware, Psychonauts is a platformer released in 2005 for the PC, XBox and PS2. It was a critical success, but didn't have a great deal of commercial success.

The game itself centers around Razputin--usually shortened to just Raz--a young psychic adept who runs away from his life in the circus to go to a summer camp where other young psychics are trained in how to use their powers. Most of the game takes on a similar quirky sort of humor.

Gameplay itself comes in two forms: the real world and the various mental worlds of camp residents. For the most part the two sections play identicaly. The main difference is that the real world has far fewer enemies and a large abundance of collectables (like most modern platfomers) whereas the mental worlds tend to be more enemy infested and have a completely different set of collectables. All of these collectables are used ultimately to raise your character's level and thereby upgrade your abilities. The abilities themselves come in the sort of standard psychic toolbox: pyrokinesis, telekinesis, mind bullets, levitation, etc.

Surprisingly, the game actually holds up rather well given its age. Since most of the characters in the game are deliberately rendered highly stylistically, there is less of a realization that you're playing a game that is as old as it is. A sort of "cartoony" vibe is everywhere and helps to gloss over what would otherwise be outdated graphics. The voice acting is also very solid (Raz is voiced by Invader Zim's voice actor) which helps. Also, the plot manages to hold together despite its silliness to create a believable world--something that games which go toward off-beat routes have the risk of losing.

My main complaints about the game are, unfortunately, the last two areas. At the end of the game, there is a final "real" world and a final "mental" world. Both of these are far less polished than the rest of the game. Rough jumping puzzles abound in these areas. To make matters worse, in the earlier levels, the game always was kind to leave you with something like "recovery points". If you managed to get high up in one of the jumping puzzles, the game would periodically add things that would let you skip the rest of the puzzle to get back to your starting location if you fell. In the last two areas, the game--for whatever reason--refuses to provide any. Several times, I fell down through minutes worth of puzzle only to have to climb the entire thing again. I'm not sure if they were aiming for an increase in (fake) difficulty or what. Of course, these were also the areas where all of the foibles of the control system became obvious. As an example, I beat all of the final bosses without losing more than 2 lives between them. On the other hand, I went through two complete stacks of lives (10 lives per stack) in the final platforming areas.

Despite the end game being a bit less satisfying, I think this game is still worth the time I spent playing it. It is rare to find a game with such a bizarre sense of humor that still manages to mostly be fun.

Psychonauts: 1

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2010 Jul 06 utena

Guy Blade Guy Blade---23:36:00

Anime Expo 2010
This last weekend, I went to Anime Expo. I discovered last year that Anime Expo was somewhat less fan-driven than Anime Central in Chicago was. That impression mostly followed this year. I believe that during the entire course of the convention, I never went to any panel which wasn't industry driven. That isn't to say that the industry panels weren't interesting--they tended to be so in fact. Nevertheless, the industry centric approach leads to a different feel to the convention overall.

I mostly organized my weekend by going from industry announcement/status panel to industry announcement/status panel.

Highlights (in no particular order):

Bandai licenses K-On!
FUNimation licenses Trigun: Badlands Rumble (and had a screening on Saturday).
Nozomi/Right Stuf is rereleasing Revolutionary Girl Utena with remastered video.
Bandai/Aniplex are releasing both Gurren Lagann movies this month in the US. The collector's/premium editions contain the Parallel Works.
Bandai will be releasing Haruhi Season 2 in a single box set sometime this year.
No release timeline for The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi (the movie) from Bandai/Aniplex.


I didn't actually pick up much stuff this year at the convention. I grabbed a couple of items that were on sale at the Bandai booth: Rocket Girls (the story of how not to run a human spaceflight program), and a movie that was on sale rather cheap. I picked up the first Toradora! box set from NIS America's booth. I picked up the one DVD of Project Blue Earth SOS that I was missing.

Most of the money that I spent at the convention was actually in Artist's Alley. I picked up about a dozen prints that I'm going to (somehow) put up in my apartment. I picked up a handful at last year's con, but there were quite a few that sparked my interest this year. Once I get frames, I'll take some pictures.

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2010 Jun 26 relm

Guy Blade Guy Blade---04:00:00

Last night, I went to the second US theatrical screening of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. Bandai put on a few little things there: they were raffling off Crunchy Roll memberships, they had some of the English voice actors signing posters, someone was singing the various Haruhi theme songs (relatively well, actually), Yen Press/Little, Brown, and Co. were apparently giving away copies of the light novels and manga, etc. The main event was, of course, the film.

First off, the bad, the movie basically requires you to have seen some of the second season of Haruhi. So far, there has yet to be a US release of the second season of Haruhi. There isn't even a release date (beyond the vague indication of "2010") as far as I know. I blame Bandai for being Bandai. Much as I might dislike Funimation, at least they tend to give release schedules for things that I care about. That aside, I don't think the movie is at all accessible to people who haven't at least seen the first season. Very little of the backstory is explained in anything more than a passing way. Honestly, I consider this a fine thing as it gives the movie more time to focus on its story rather than wasting time relating what I already know.

Setting that aside, I would say that this movie is probably the best of the animated Haruhi properties so far. I'm almost willing to forgive Kyoto Animation for the Endless Eight debacle. Almost. Regardless, once Bandai decides to actually release it on DVD, I would recommend picking it up with a great degree of insistence.

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2010 Jun 25 peach

Guy Blade Guy Blade---01:08:00

Good Ideas
So, I just found out that Studio Ghibli--the people who make Miyazaki movies--and Level-5--the people who make the Professor Layton games--have formed a partnership to make a game. This is the kind of pedigree that makes me excited. Hopefully, it doesn't just end up as another Blue Dragon.

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2010 Jun 24 garnet

Guy Blade Guy Blade---20:35:00

Walk in the Rain
Last night, I defeated Heavy Rain. By defeated, I mean that I earned the platinum trophy and am thus completely done with the game. If you've been living under a rock, you might not be aware that Heavy Rain is an "interactive thriller" for the PS3 (currently an exclusive title) made by the people who made Indigo Prophecy. Because Heavy Rain is heavily story driven, you would be wise to expect unmasked possible spoilers below.

Much like its predecessor, Heavy Rain is mostly composed of quick-time events with interspersed exploration scenes and a heavy emphasis on narrative. This time, our four-man band consists of Ethan, the downtrodden father; Madison, the nightmare-addled reporter; Scott, the private dick; and Norman, FBI profiler. The story begins with a very shiny prologue with lots of bloom lighting and a virtual guarantee that something horrible is going to happen to transform the idyllic life of Ethan into the dark and gritty version seen on the game's box art. Honestly, I was spent most of the prologue trying to figure out how many and which of his family members would die. After the inevitable death in the prologue, we pick up with Ethan two years later.

Within minutes of beginning the game proper, Ethan's son is kidnapped by the Origami Killer and he is thrust into a series of "trials" in order to save his son. Coincidentally with this, Scott and Norm are seperately attempting to hunt down the Origami Killer. Madison is added on a bit later as a romantic foil and makeshift medic for Ethan.

As I said above, the gameplay comes in two main varieties: exploration and QTE. The exploration areas usually consist of puzzles and tend to be a bit more subdued. Unfortunately, the controls for the exploration areas are a bit klunky. The game uses a sort of "driving" paradigm where you point with the right control stick and move in that direction using R2. Unfortunately, the turns are rather lousy, so the game doesn't quite respond as expected. This isn't enough to cause many problems, but it can be annoying. The QTEs make up the bread and butter of the gameplay, however. Despite what might otherwise seem like a relatively restricted set of actions, the game actually manages to mix up the QTE options somewhat. In addition to using all 8 of the available buttons (X, O, Square, Triangle, R1, R2, L1, L2), they also make good use of the sixaxis controller by including rotations (especially in driving scenes) and more complex analog stick manipulations to denote fine actions. Also, unlike its predecessor, the game seems to have relatively few unwinnable QTEs. I believe there is only one QTE that I was never able to complete successfully in the entirety of the game.

I found the story to be relatively compelling if somewhat short. My first pass from beginning to end took less than a day and I was able to get the platinum trophy in under four days. Playing through the last bits of the game so many times in such a short period (one of the trophies is "Get All Endings"), did lead me to discover that the game is severely lacking on replayability. QTEs in general are fixed and don't change from playthrough to playthrough. Puzzle layouts and hidden items also don't change, so the second lizard will always have the key no matter how many times you play through the level. At the same time, playing through a second time does allow you to see more subtle things that show off characters' true motivations. For instance, some animations that originally seemed just like "idle animations" gain new significance when viewed with full knowledge of the game's plot.

I was a bit disappointed with some of the voice acting/writing. Most of the children that show up in the game have very strange or perhaps stilted dialog and the voice actors chosen have strange delivery. This occasionally happens to the adult characters as well, but is slightly less noticable. I attribute this most likely to the game's dialog having been originally written in French and then translated into English later. This may explain their constant use of the word "wasteland" to describe certain kinds of deserted areas within an urban area--a usage which I'd not heard before.

There are also some loose ends that I felt the game didn't properly address in any of the endings. Mostly, there is some background characterization at the beginning of the game which is supposed to muddy the waters in your search for the killer. Some of it ends up getting resolved, but some is simply dropped on the floor once the real killer is revealed. At the same time some characters (Madison and Norman especially) have internal struggles that you seem to be set up to try to help them through, but player actions seem to have little effect on the outcome.

Overall, there is a lot to like here. Indigo Prophecy is a good bellweather for whether or not you'll like this game (surprise, surprise). Without that bit of data to provide help, I'd recommend it for general fans of mystery and old-style adventure games.

Heavy Rain: 1

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2010 Jun 22 terra

Guy Blade Guy Blade---03:00:00

Over the weekend, I did some more updates for XPost.

Firstly, I finished with the generalization of the user addition framework. Previously, the parser for user configuration files had to be updated whenever a new type of blog was added or removed. Now, I'm using the reflection framework to automatically deal with new user/blog types. At this point, all that needs to be done is to create a new pair of classes--SomethingUser and SomethingBlog--that are subclasses of the appropriate generic classes--BlogUser and Blog--and compile them in. That will automaticalling add them to the list of available blog types to add.

I made that change so that I could easily add a new type of blog service. As of yesterday, XPost now supports the Cheapass Gamer blogs. Of course, some parts of the support are incomplete. Since CAG uses BBCode to format posts, I have a rudimentary HTML to BBCode converter. Currently, it only handles the things that I use (bold formatted text, links, and line breaks) and strips out any other html tags. Nevertheless, it is better than nothing and I'm now crossposting my game reviews to CAG.

Eventually, I'll probably put up a new binary at the XPost site, but for now the changes are only in SVN. I'm not terribly excited about trying to do another binary build because I've not done one in like 3 years and I no longer have a machine with NSIS set up and running. More importantly, I haven't tested on Windows in like 5 years. I'd like to make sure that whatever I release at least works on Windows with GTK#.

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2010 Jun 21 emeralda

Guy Blade Guy Blade---23:47:00

Ok, We'll need a Crucifix and a Knife Sharpener
Over the weekend, I finally beat Cross Edge. For those unaware, Cross Edge is a tactical(-ish) JRPG for the PS3 published in the US by NIS America--the Disgaea people. It's primary selling point is that it is a big crossover of various other games, notably bringing in characters from Disgaea and Darkstalkers. Less notably, it brings in characters from series that I'd never heard of before (Ar tonelico, Spectral Souls, Atelier Marie, and Mana Khemia). None of that matters though because everyone starts with amnesia, so you don't need to worry much about the backstory of the characters.

The game itself is segmented into four main "modes". The first is the overworld "wandering" mode. On the overworld, you are tasked with finding "souls" and releasing them. What this means in practice is that you wander around the overworld map, periodically mashing the square button. If you are lucky, there will be a soul or event within the area of effect of your search. If, as is much more likely the case, there isn't, nothing happens. Of course, the game includes random encounters, so during this combing effort, you are periodically subjected to fights.

The second mode could best be described as "event" mode. In this mode, you get to watch a short cutscene of various party and non-party characters interacting. Unfortunately, almost all of these are scripted together using perhaps a dozen different still poses of each character in an attempt to convey some action. Rarely, they will use some sprite-based animations to show something more important happening. Events also sometimes have battles in them when you wander across threats and the like

The third mode is the "dungeon" mode. Dungeon mode differes from wandering mode in two ways: your 2d-grid is now oriented like a platformer (complete with jumping puzzles) and your characters don't auto-heal between battles.

The last, and most important, mode is that "battle" mode. In battle mode, you take your party versus a set of enemies (Hey, its a JPRG, what did you expect?). The "tactical" part of the game comes into play here most. Both your party and the enemies are assigned a 3x4 grid on which characters are placed. The PC party is, generally, made up of 4 characters. Each side gets to take turns wailing on the other with perhaps the most important parts being making good use of the combo system to string together long and deadly attacks.

The game, unfortunately, shows many failings. First and foremost, the plot doesn't matter. In fact, one of the characters even says as much about two-thirds of the way into the game. Even setting that aside, it isn't a very strong plot anyway. More egregiously, the game basically ignores the last decade of development in the JRPG genre. Pacing could be best described as horrible with level grinding routinely required even between events which are nominally supposed to occur immediately after one another. The game eventually gives you upwards of 40 possible player characters, but rather than having everyone be at the same level, the "current" party gets full experience with reserve characters getting less. This quickly leads to a huge power disparity between the "main" party and your other characters. This could be ignored, but the game insists on periodically forcing characters into your active party for certain plot-related battles. There is even one event battle (where failure, luckily, has no effect) where your entire party plus your starting formation is chosen for you. Also, the game explains the combo system to you, but fails to stress that mastering it is the entire point of the battle system. In fact, once I had finally grokked it, I was able to beat the final 4 or 5 bosses in two turns each and did the same for the first 5 post-game bonus bosses.

As if these issues weren't enough, the entire game seems to be build out of guide dang it moments. For instance, there are events which are on the world map and discoverable. Periodically, some events will unlock others. Of course, the game doesn't make any mention of the newly unlocked events in any way. Since they only show up when searched for, even a map doesn't necessarily help. To make matters worse, many events disappear after key events if you haven't found them yet. And woe be to you if you are trying to get the "True Ending". In order to get it, you basically have to do every optional event in the game (a feat in and of itself). Additionally, you have to do arbitrary, unclued things in various battles. For instance, some characters who are outright hostile to you, you aren't allowed to attack in battle. Other characters must be completely defeated (getting them to zero hit points) rather than allowing the battle's turn limit to expire.

Underlying all of this is a layer of creepy Japanese otaku appeal. For instance, one of the things that you can do is change character's constumes in order to change their stats. Ok, sounds reasonable. The character who describes the system to you informs you that when females characters change, you "get to watch them, so its a bonus to the player" or something similar. Incidentally, said explanatory character is like an 8 year old girl. Oh, and the game also includes hot springs scenes. So yeah.

Ultimately, I can't say that there is much here to like: bad pacing, weak story, unclued puzzles, and endless random encounters. Honestly, I thought the best part of the game were the handful of post-game events. Since the main story was over, there were many instances of the PCs breaking character and being somewhat hilarious. Unfortunately, those handful of scenes aren't worth the investment.

Cross Edge: 0

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2010 Jun 20 peach

Guy Blade Guy Blade---12:20:00

I think "New" is a Misnomer
Earlier this week, I beat the final boss of New Super Mario Bros. Wii. I didn't actually end up beating all of the levels because I had skipped one world entirely due to finding the warp whistle equivalent.

Gameplay wise, NSBW is nearly identical to the NDS version of New Super Mario Bros. that came out a few years ago. The main new bits are a few new suits and the fact of it being on the Wii.

The platforming itself is relatively solid, though I think the wiimote makes a rather terrible controller for this sort of game. You really only have three actions available: jump, run/shoot, and spin. Unfortunately, they decided to bind spin to the "shake the controller" button. This means that precision spinning is mostly impossible.

The game gives a handful of new suits, but the main one of interest seems to be the "propeller helmet" suit. I say "main one of interest" because so many of the levels and challenges become trivial when using it. It seems like the "propeller helmet" is as important in this game as the "mini-mario" suit was in its predecessor given how often level designers chose to include things that are there specifically to appeal to it. Unfortunately, that means that some of the other new suits were heavily overshadowed. For instance, I never once got a penguin suit. I don't even know what it does and I've finished the game.

From the perspective of someone who played it single player and who had actually played the NDS game to completion, I can't say that there is much here. I would say that it might be worth it to the two or three people who haven't yet played the NDS iteration. It might also be good for people who want to experience the multiplayer--something that I've not done. Mostly though, I just didn't care at all. The game never engaged me to a level where I was either impressed with it or angered me to the point where I was beating it to beat it. Perhaps the best thing that I can say is that, when I stopped playing, it was because I reached a save point almost every time. I played it just long enough to get to the next checkpoint and then didn't care enough to keep playing.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii: 0

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2010 Jun 18 emeralda

Guy Blade Guy Blade---04:19:00

It may have "My" in the title, but I disclaim all responsibility
So, a while back Blogger announced that they were ending support for users who used ftp/sftp to post. I had been one of those users since before Blogger was bought by Google, so I was a bit annoyed. Nevertheless, I basically ignored the whole issue and the cutoff was over a month ago. Since then, hasn't updated due to the fact that it is driven by blogger. I've still been crossposting there, but the updates are just not pushed out. After freasha was replaced last week, I finally decided to do something about the issue of keeping (at least) up to date. Originally, I had considered creating an entire set of posting infrastructure with a metaweblog framework and the like, but I decided to go with a simpler, if less robust, solution.

Basically, what I intended to do was to import all of the old posts from into a database, then use a periodic script to sync new posts into the database by reading the blogspot atom feed. This mostly allows continuity of everything that was working before (comments, etc) without requiring a whole lot of work. I've mostly coded up the entire thing at this point, but I've run into two major problems, both due to MySQL.

Firstly, I should note that SQL requires certain things of literals used in queries. The main thing that it requires (as far as this problem is concerned) is that numeric literals must not be quoted. That is, when saying "SELECT blah FROM foo WHERE value = 3", the 3 must not be quoted. MS-SQL is very pedantic about this, but MySQL has always been rather lax and allowed you to quote numbers as strings without issue. Or at least, that is what I thought.

It turns out that for some very large numbers, MySQL will fail when doing comparisons between numbers and numeric strings. In fact, I've narrowed it down a fair amount:

mysql> select 15271058505994179526 = "15271058505994179526" ;
| 15271058505994179526 = "15271058505994179526" |
| 1 |

mysql> select 16951940091101346629 = "16951940091101346629";
| 16951940091101346629 = "16951940091101346629" |
| 0 |

The worst part about this is that I discovered this while using the perl DBI interface which is supposed to handle the type massaging on its own when I do parameterization. Eventually, I replaced the "= ?" in my query with an " = CONVERT(?, DECIMAL(60))" which fixed the problem (I used DECIMAL(60) as the column type because these values exceed the limits of BIGINT and I didn't want to screw around with finding the right size of DECIMAL to use). Incidentally, mysql will happily accept a quoted numeric value in an insert even with these large numbers. The problem that I had was violating primary key constraints when this comparison failed and I tried to insert the same userid again.

The second problem I have not yet managed to solve. Because I use php for certain parts of already, I decided to implement the updated code in php as well. Also, I decided that I'd finally move away from the mysql interface and use the (shiny, new) mysqli interface. It is somewhat more clunky than the equivalent DBI interface, but it at least allows for parameterized queries (though it doesn't allow you to merge bind and execute into a single call). Nevertheless, it is mostly straightforward. Where I ran into problems was when I was trying to pull data out of my database. I decided to use LARGETEXT fields for the "body" field of my blog postings. This seemed reasonable as the overhead is rather small and I can conceive of situations where I might want to dump more than 16M of text in a post.

It turns out, however, that the mysqli interface cannot actually read values from large text fields. The old mysql interface can do this properly, so I will probably get to rewrite all of the code using the old interface. Luckily only a few dozen lines actually dealt with the sql directly...

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2010 Jun 11 aeris

Guy Blade Guy Blade---21:49:00

Some time ago, I decided to replace the machine that I used as my webserver. I purchased new components and assembled them. I'm still using my rackmount case, but since I can afford to spend more on my hardware these days, I built the replacement machine around a 1U barebones server. Unfortunately, I ran into some problems with trying to set up NetBSD on it. The main issue wasn't getting NetBSD install (netbsd runs on everything after all), but it was instead setting up the machine to boot off of a software RAID-1 array. NetBSD has some explicit instructions for doing this on their website, but I just couldn't get them to work when I first got the machine about a month ago. Eventually, I got frustrated with it and distracted by other things and the machine sat around on the floor in my apartment until two days ago.

The reason for my desire to replace the old NetBSD machine was twofold. Firstly, the hardware itself was getting rather old: the CPU was bought my freshman year of college and was a handmedown from my gaming rig at the time; the other components were bought inbetween my freshman and sophomore year and were the cheapest available on NewEgg at the time, etc. Secondly, I hadn't upgraded the core NetBSD software since I replaced the hard drives in the machine my junior year or so. This meant that the machine was running NetBSD 2.0.2 in a world where the current version was 5.0.2 and no packages were being maintained for systems older than 4.0. To make matters worse, my attempts to keep the machine in working order had eventually left me without a working C compiler after the last failed upgrade attempt. Nevertheless, the machine, being NetBSD, had soldiered on valiantly by running the software that was already in memory even as the underlying object code had gone missing due to my botched maintenance.

Two days ago, however, something finally caused the Apache server to finally attempt to recycle (my guess is one of the keep-alive scripts triggered an automatic restart of the Apache server) and brought the system to its knees. Although it would still boot (and in fact hadn't even reset or failed in any externally noticable way aside from the webserver), it was unable to start the web server successfully. Imani brought the situation to my attention by asking if the link was down.

This time around I was eventually able to get the root raid-1 to work on the new hardware. I initially thought the problem was that I was trying to use the AMD64 install set (and they weren't explicitly listed as supported for raid-1), but it may have actually been due to an error in my disklabel configuration. I then began the difficult task of migrating data from the old machine to the new one. I started with the MySQL data since it is arguably the most important, and I only had a vague idea of how to actually copy it over. Apparently, using mysqldump requires the -x (lock all tables) flag to work properly even if nothing is accessing the data, but I did manage to get a usable dump file and copy it over to the new machine without too much trouble.

Next I began to try to migrate the normal file data and ran into a problem. I had expected to just be able to rysnc everything over without any issue, but the old machine was so decayed that attempting to run rsync resulted in the program crashing with an "Unable to find PLT symbol __stat30" error. I eventually solved this by finding a NetBSD livecd and booting off of it. Of course, the livecd's version of rsync was also borked (for reasons unknown), so I had to copy the new machine's binary to the old machine, running off the live cd, and use it. At that point, I was able to get everything that I could think of off the old machine. There may still be more, so I'm going to keep the old machine around for a while (though probably powered off).

If you previously had an account on freasha, you probably don't anymore. I should still have any data from there, so let me know if you need access again. If you were using any of the web services (like the link), the service should be working properly again. Since I just moved the databases over without changing them at all, passwords, usernames, preferences and the like are unchanged. This also affected by DNS hosting, so dynamic DNS may or may not be working again yet. I haven't followed through to verify one way or the other. Incidentally, freasha hosts webservers for,,,, and along with any associated .net or .org versions thereof as well as primary DNS for in case you were wondering about effected services.

I also took this opportunity to finally move the mail service over to Google Apps. I hadn't been attempting to maintain the mail server for some time, so it was basically just full of junk mail. Moving to google relieves me of having to deal with any of the spam filtering headaches and I can just have the mail forwarded to my primary address.

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