2010 Jan 01 yuffie

Guy Blade Guy Blade---00:45:00

Back Home
So, I've been in Indiana for about a week now. I flew out on Xmas Eve and arrived later that day without any particular incident. Since then, I've mostly been relaxing and playing video games. I will talk about those games in the coming days, but first I would like to talk about the game that I finished most recently before leaving: Viva Piñata.

Viva Piñata is an open-ended game. I would compare it most readily to Harvest Moon or Animal Crossing. In the game, you are given a plot of land which has grown fallow and are instructed to make a beautiful garden capable of attracting all manner of piñatas. To that end, you can plant various forms of flora, you can dig lakes, and other such things. Once you've managed to attract some piñatas to your garden, more options open up to you. You can "romance" piñatas. Romancing forces a small minigame, after which the piñatasgo to their racially designated house and perform the "romance dance" which in turn leads to the delivery of a piñata egg by the large woman wearing a stork hat. Also, some piñatas can only be attracted by having other kinds of piñatas in your garden for them to eat. For instance, the Lickatoad will only join your garden if you have a Taffly and it kills and eats it. This sort of progression continues on and up to even the very high level piñatas.

Since the game is open ended without any real victory condition, I had to choose my own. There were two obvious answers. First option: get to level 108. Level 108 would mean doing every possible thing in the game which provides experience. Second option: get all of the achievements in the game. I ended up choosing the second option.

Ultimately, I would say that the game is quite good at being what it is. It is an open-ended time-waster that manages to have a very good sense of humor. It is also old enough that the game can routinely be found for next to nothing. I believe I picked it up for approximately $15 from Newegg several months ago and would expect it to be similarly priced or lower elsewhere.

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2009 Dec 22 harle

Guy Blade Guy Blade---04:56:00

On my way to CAS on Saturday, I decided to stop by Gamestop to pick up a game for my brother for Xmas. I requested it new and the person began pulling it out of the cabinet. I noticed that he had opened the case, presumably to place the disc in it, and asked for a sealed copy. Despite having at least a dozen copies of the game in the cabinet (that I could see in my brief look), not a single one was sealed. I told the employee to forget it and that I'd buy it elsewhere. He seemed somewhat put out by this, as though perhaps I had wasted his time, but I am not the one breaking the cases on dozens of games and then attempting to pass them off as new.

I ended up going to Target instead where they had the game that I was looking to find nice and sealed. I ended up deciding to pick up another game for him as well because Target's prices were discounted as compared to Gamestop. One of the games that I chose was rated M and they asked for a birthdate or a driver's license by the cashier. I was dumbstruck by the ridiculousness of being carded for buying a video game when I am quite obviously not a child. I gave them my birthdate, but the cashier was too incompetent to figure out how to input it correctly. I eventually gave them my driver's license to swipe because I wanted to get out quickly. I find it idiotic that I must give my driver's license to buy a video game. What is going on with the world? If a bought an R-rated movie, would I have been carded? What if I'd bought a steamy romance novel (an admittedly unlikely scenario)? How about a TV-MA show? I suspect that only one kind of media is being singled out.

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2009 Dec 18 celes

Guy Blade Guy Blade---22:18:00

Magical Economics
I currently play in a 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons game. In it, I am running a wizard. It turns out that there are two kinds of spell casting that wizards can do in fourth edition. The first kind consists basically of combat abilities: scorching burst, magic missle, thunderwave, shield and the like. The second kind of casting is called ritual casting and is where all of the real utility powers are. Things in this category include comprehend languages, Tensor's floating disk, enchant item, and resurrection.

Ritual casting is somewhat different than the combat skills. With the combat skills, you're basically stuck using a specific set for the entire game and only learn new ones by either gaining higher levels skills due to the standard leveling process or by retraining away one to replace it with another. Rituals, however, can be accumulated without any real limit. The strange thing about rituals is the set of rules that they operate under. For instance, if you find a ritual book, you cannot use it unless you spend eight uninterrupted hours studying it. This seems like a completely arbitrary number choosen only to limit spell gain to about 1 (maybe 2) per day. Next, if you find a ritual book and want to copy the rituals into your own ritual book (so that you aren't carrying around a library), you have to first master it, and then spend another 8 hours copying it into your own ritual book. I should note that the act of copying the ritual book requires an expenditure of gold equal to the cost of buy the ritual book outright. This rule leads to some interesting fridge logic. Firstly, it means that there is really no reason for anyone to ever go into the business of selling spell books: the books require the expediture of the ritual's base cost to make, plus the cost of the ritual book itself, plus time. Add to this the fact that the PHB specifically says that (PC created, at least) spellbooks sell for 10% of base cost and one quickly discovers that being in the business of making ritual books is a losing proposition. Apparently, there is someone out there flooding the market with ritual books at under cost. Also, it means that finding a book with rituals in it is a bit of a booby prize (I'm not complaing too much, Greg) because it basically gives you the options of lugging around another book or just having the opportunity to pay for all of the spells in it. It is, in a sense, an items with value that is difficult to adequately determine. Yes, you have access to new spells, but at the same time, you have some serious expenditure required to use them.

It seems like the only way any of this makes even the slightest bit of sense is in the context of the RPGA. My thinking is that the only reason to make copying spell books no cheaper than buying them is to prevent a specific kind of behavior which otherwise applies to information exchanges: ease of copyability. In the context of RPGA, characters are meeting and parting all of the time. Since at least two different roles are both ritual casters (Wizard/Controller and Cleric/Leader), there would be a decent chance of ritual casters appearing in the same game. If the copy cost were free, or even merely reduced, every RPGA game would begin with all of the ritual casters exchanging spells and spending a few pre-session days of game time copying the spells them. Ritual casters would quickly reach a critical mass wherein every ritual caster knew every ritual spell that they could cast at their level. A reduced cost case instead of a free case would lead to similar trouble insofar as it would reduce the effective cost of spells to whatever the reduced cost was so long as one could find another player with the appropriate spell and land in a game with them.

I don't think that the RPGA is a good enough reason to introduce such a glaring economic problem into a game system, but I doubt that Wizards of the Coast particularly care about my opinion.

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2009 Dec 15 emeralda

Guy Blade Guy Blade---04:40:00

I'm Batman.
The week before last, I went out searching for a cheap copy of Batman: Arkham Asylum. Eventually, I found it through a British retailer (Zavvi) for what ended up being about $35 (PC version, of course). It arrived on Thursday and I began playing it through. I completed it late Saturday night, and was quite impressed. First, and most importantly, the gameplay is solid throughout. With a licensed title like this, there is a substantial chance of it being simply shovelwear. That isn't the case here at all. The game plays as a third person sneaker with melee combat and platforming (of the hookshot variety) being rather common. Over the course of the game, you slowly unlock additional combos, movement methods (such as a zipline), and the like.

Aesthetically, the game seems to fit perfectly in the Batman universe: the asylum is grim and dingy, lighting is poor, and inmates are in the drab brown one might expect. The game itself is an Unreal 3 Engine game, but is perhaps the best looking game to have come out of that engine yet (that I've played). It also seems to have overcome the texture pop-up issues that plagued earlier games (like UT3 and Last Remnant). What's most striking, though, are the character models of the villians. All of the models are new and unique, almost certainly due to the realistic nature the UT engine tends to inspire, but nevertheless are extremely good at evoking the characters in question even when the models are substantially different. As a prime example, I'd offer Harley Quinn. In B:TAS (where she originated), as well as in the comics into which she was imported, she tended toward a harlequin outfit of the skin-tight spandex form with a bi-color scheme. Here, she has something more along the lines of "crazy, slutty, catholic schoolgirl" complete with bi-color miniskirt, thigh-high boots (of matching color) and low cut blouse with excessive cleavage. This is a completely different model, but instantly it is recognizable at Harley even without her speaking. They've done this sort of update with all of Batman's Rouges Gallery that actually appears. In no case was I disappointed with the adaptation.

Finally, all of the voices are right. Batman is Kevin Conroy (who has been the DCAU Batman for like 15 years). The Joker is Mark Hamill. Quinn is Arleen Sorkin.

I recommend this game strongly.

Now, there are some things about it that I found frustrating. First, I never really grokked the combat system. I made most of my way through the game using only the basic strike without ever really advancing to the better moves. Also, the game uses a combo system that it fairly unforgiving. Missing a blow, for instance by Batman throwing a high punch above an enemy lying on the ground, causes the combo meter to reset. Being hit or waiting more than about half a second between blows will also reset the counter. This is especially frustrating with the game has an acheivement for getting the combo meter up to 40 (my best for the entire game was 36). I also never managed to understand when I was supposed to counter. The enemies have a trigger symbol over their head when I am supposed to be able to counter, but it seemed random as to whether the counter would work, be ignored completely, or result in my foolishly readying a batarang while in melee (due to the button for counter being shared with the alternate weapon button). Also, a couple of the true platforming puzzles that involve gliding seem to be arbitrary. I would seemingly repeat the same action several times with me coming up very short once or twice before making it on a later try with no obvious change in strategy. Lastly, I am sad that the game doesn't provide a "level select" option once the game is cleared. I can reenter the game even though I've finished, but since I have been everywhere and collected all of the collectables, I am left on an empty island almost entirely devoid even of enemies to fight.

Nevertheless, it is certainly one the better games that I've played recently. If you like Batman, buy it. If you like action games, buy it. If you like Mark Hamill making snarky comments in a crazy-person voice, buy it.

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2009 Dec 08 yuffie

Guy Blade Guy Blade---00:56:00

Note to self
Umbral Pirates.

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2009 Dec 07 namine

Guy Blade Guy Blade---13:42:00

The Third
Since I've been out in California, I've been attending the Caltech Anime Society. Generally speaking, they've shown things that are pretty decent and I've continued to attend. However, during this same time period, I have been exposed to about six Lupin III movies or TV specials. For those of you unaware, the premise of Lupin III is that the titular character is the grandson of the Maurice Leblanc's Arsene Lupin. Lupin the younger's characterization ranges from gentlemen thief (as in Miyazaki's Cagliostro) to...less so in other incarnations.

Unfortunately, due to the sheer number of movies, OVAs and TV specials, the Lupin III library is somewhat hit or miss. Given that the movie-length TV specials have been released at the rate of one per year for the last two decades, it isn't entirely suprising that they aren't all great. Regardless, there are at least a couple of them that I'd recommend. Firstly, if you haven't seen any of the rest of the series, I suggest starting with Episode 0: First Contact which was the 2002 OVA. It provides a backstory for how the main cast met as well as being one of the better specials. It hasn't been licensed in the US, but is available from the usual places. Obviously, I'd recommend Castle of Cagliostro because it is Lupin as proffered by Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke, Ponyo, Spirited Away). Once someone has seen both of these, they've managed to see both Green-jacket and Red-jacket Lupin, which means that Green Vs. Red might be viable. Green Vs. Red is really more of a deconstruction of Lupin than anything else, but is nonetheless quite good.

All of this commentary was triggered by the Lupin special that I watched this weekend, though: Lupin III vs. Detective Conan. Detective Conan is the titular character of the series of the same name (Case Closed in the US). Detective Conan is another long running series, though primarily in anime form. Conan has been ongoing on Japanese television since 1996 and currently has over 560 episodes. This particular special is a relatively standard cross over whose plot seems to have been cribbed somewhat from Cagliostro. Nevertheless, it is a decent Lupin movie even if I didn't get all of the Conan-specific jokes. It isn't a place to start, but at least seems to indicate that the series is still producing quality works.

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2009 Dec 03 emeralda

Guy Blade Guy Blade---14:36:00

Yesterday, when I got home I didn't notice any package outside my door. A few hours later, when my landlord came to collect the rent check, there was a package there. At the time, I thought that I had simply not noticed it since it was opposite the door against the wall. Today, I got home from work around 6:15 and again noticed no package. About 30 minutes ago, I opened my front door and looked out and there was a package there. This time, however, it was 2 feet wide, 2 feet tall, and 4 feet long. I could not have missed this package because I would have had difficulty entering my apartment without stepping over it. Nevertheless, at some point between 6pm and 3am, my new printer arrived at my apartment without any fanfare or knocking. I am a bit confused.

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Guy Blade Guy Blade---03:19:00

Blue Curiosity
During the past two days, I have beaten two games. The first game was Professor Layton and the Curious Village. This game had been a birthday gift from Imani, so it got to jump in line once I finished 358/2 Days. The game itself is essentially a never-ending onslaught of puzzles. The game itself claims to have 120 numbered puzzles, of which I ultimately beat 102 of them (the remainder I was unable to find). The puzzles themselves vary widely. Some are word puzzles, some are math puzzles, at least one I solved using trigonometry. Most of the puzzles are clever, but I find that too many of them rely on imprecise wording to create their difficulty. In word puzzles, this is acceptable even perhaps expected. In peg-and-string puzzles, this becomes incredibly frustrating. Overall, I would say that it was a rather fun game, and would recommend it to people who like puzzles. Just be aware that the game has essentially zero replayability due to the fact that the puzzles themselves don't actually change.

The second game that I beat was Blue Dragon. Blue Dragon has been in the game in my 360 since the beginning of September. In general, it is a classic Japanese console RPG. It is perhaps most notable for its pedigree: its story was written by Hironobu Sakaguchi (Final Fantasy) and character designs by Akira Toriyama (Dragon Ball, Chrono Trigger, Dragon Quest). Nevertheless, the game itself is quite average. Gameplay follows standard job-based JRPG tropes. I also had serious issues with the game's achievements. Most of them are of one of several forms: (1) Do something annoying perfectly, (2) Max out something, (3) Kill an optional boss that is ridiculously difficult. Eventually, I got tired of attempting to get 100% completion and just went and killed the final boss. Due to getting several of the type 2 achievements (maxing out all the jobs for all the characters), the final boss' second form never got a chance to attack me and the third/final form only got two actions before death. I had picked up the game relatively cheaply from Newegg at some point, but honestly I can't recommend the game. There are better RPGs for the 360 and this one doesn't really bring anything special to the table.

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2009 Dec 02 aeris

Guy Blade Guy Blade---10:22:00

Ratings 2
I did some comparison shopping and I decided to switch to Geico for my auto insurance. They were about $50 cheaper than the revised Progressive rate, but still more expensive than the previous rate. The comparison shopping proved to be a bizarre experience. Esurance was about the same as Progressive. Allstate was about $100 more than Progressive/Esurance. Nationwide was about $200 more than Progressive. State farm's website gave me the middle finger in the form of the message We are unable to furnish an online quote with the information provided. Please forward your information to a State Farm agent who can help determine your insurance needs.

State Farm was also a bizarre one. About an hour after completing my Geico purchase, they called my telephone and wanted to talk about me getting a policy through them. I informed them that I had already bought through Geico and they asked if they could contact me in 6 months when it comes up for renewal. I made known my doubt that they would be competitive (when I was looking at insurance after moving out here, they were about double the lowest quote), but said that would be fine in order to get them off the phone faster.

State Farm agents must be really hurting if they are calling people who are getting quotes within mere hours of the quotes being issued. Doubly so if they are actually so desperate as to try to plan out future poaching.

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Guy Blade Guy Blade---04:33:00

So, a few days ago Progressive sent me the information for my bi-yearly renewal. I didn't really look at it any until today when I noticed that the renewal cost seemed a bit high. I looked back at my previous renewal in June and saw that the cost had gone up by $143 or almost precisely 27%. I called up Progressive to see what the deal was and they told me that it was a statewide rate adjustment. When I informed them that I would be comparison shopping the rate, they put me on with a "rate specialist" who was able to get my rate down by $52 dollars which still equates to a 17% rate increase.

Needless to say, this is not the sort of rate change that I was expecting when I hit 25.

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