Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Minecraft Posts: Part One

So a while back I was pretty into that whole mining and building game, also known as Minecraft. However, I reached a point where I began to get a little bored. My fortifications were awesome, I had a decent stockpile of minerals and ore, and my mine was so vast and expansive that I would frequently have to just dig a brand new tunnel so that I wouldn't get lost.

I vowed I would give it a break until another substantial update to the game. And lo and behold, that time has come. The Adventure Update meant that it was time to once again dig into (ha ha ha) that blocky world and survive.

Piggy photobombed my sunset shot >_> 
It also meant I had to start again from scratch, but there was something cleansing about all that. It had been long enough since the last time I played that it was a welcome return. The first day in Minecraft is quite frankly, the most stressful. If you don't find a seam of coal you're going to spend the first night in darkness and terror.

Unless you play on peaceful, but that's for old people with weak hearts and fraidy cats.

An Enderman, one of the new mobs. This was pretty scary.
There were a couple of things I was hoping to find this time around. The update added random villages, abandoned mineshafts and ruins known as strongholds to the game. The villages interest me the most. What I liked about Minecraft the first time around was that sense of loneliness you get, and I wondered if adding Villages (and later NPCs) would change any of that.

As luck would have it, upon spawning in a brand new shiny world, it wasn't long before I found a natural ravine near a lake. Cutting straight into a mountain, it was pretty fucking foreboding. But I had some coal, and I had a flimsy wooden sword, and I thought hey, half the work of digging down is done for me, I may as well start here.

That was when I found the mineshafts. A maze of networks that ran like holes through swiss cheese. There were rail tracks (which I immediately stripped for later use) down there, and cobwebs and sweet, sweet ore.

I've explored an entire map worth of overland, with nary a village to be seen though. And the ruined Strongholds still elude my loot happy backpack. Perhaps it is time to venture into the Nether, and see where else I will pop up.

The current layout of my home base. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Anatomy of a D&D Session

Last Sunday, someone mentioned they wanted to play D&D.

Oh boy, I thought, I'm going to be asked to DM again. Sure enough, my skills were once again called upon to get an adventure together. Since the last time we played (which was a few months ago)  I have gathered more materials than before. I now have not just one, but three D20s.

Hold up though, I hear you asking, what exactly is this Dungeons and Dragons you are going on about?

Dungeons and Dragons is a roleplaying game played with imagination, dice, friends and some pencils and paper. One person is assigned the role of Dungeon Master, who is responsible for creating the adventure and playing the monsters and characters you meet on said adventure. Everyone else is a player (or PC) who creates a character that will face the various challenges set upon by the Dungeon Master (or DM).

Wow, that sounds like a rip roaring good time! How do I go about playing this Dragons and Dungeons?

Whoa there sparky, you're going to need a few things first.

- to play.
- A whole bunch of dice.
- To read the books.

There are a lot of D&D books out there, but what you'll basically need are the Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters guide and the Monster Manual. They will give you a pretty thorough rundown of the rules, races, classes and ideas on how to roleplay. There's also a crapload of stuff that is a simple Google search away, you lazy bum.

Anyway, I'm here to tell you about how our D&D session went.

This was to be the fourth time that I have ever DM'ed ever, and I really wanted to try and write an adventure instead of using an existing one. First of all, I had to come up with a name. This is probably not how real writers write an adventure, but I needed somewhere to start off. As I was looking around my room, I saw a lego set that my sister and I bought in Australia. It came with little lego spiders.

And thus, the Web of the Spidermancer was born in my brainmeat.

I wrote the campaign outline, designed some encounters and wrote a whole lot of fluff for the players to go through. Then I tried to find some maps online for the adventure. No dice there, I could have pieced together some tiles or something, but then I thought what the hell, I'm a dab hand at photoshop, I'll just make some maps.

Not pictured: Hours spent agonizing over whether or not more skulls were needed.

The adventure was intentionally written as a small as possible. The PCs arrive in a village in the arse-end of the world, the problem is obvious and there are way too many rewards. I also tried to keep it as fun as possible, with little mini-games like a drinking contest and a sidequest to collect spider eyes.

I also prepared way more than I needed to. In total I wrote about seven encounters, and the players managed to finish in three encounters. I'm pretty sure they had fun though, and there was some groaning when I showed them an encounter that they could have done, had they gone a different way.

Yes, there were actual girls

Things that I learned? I need to prepare more. Sure, there are some things you can't prepare for, like a PC who goes on a totally different tangent from what you have written, or horrible rolls which mean that your miniboss misses every single attack it makes, but these lessons will hopefully make me a better DM.

And next time, I am totally going to cheat if Gargantua the Spider misses three times in a row.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Why Final Fantasy Tactics is Awesome

Pixelated men riding pixelated chickens? I'm so there.

The first time I saw Final Fantasy Tactics, I was visiting my stepmothers family. Her brother had just bought a couple of new games and asked me if I wanted to check them out.

He popped in the disk for Final Fantasy Tactics and started up a new game. After the game went on about how history is written by the victors of war, it asked him for his name and birthday.

Then, it started. Little sprites marched in time, waiting for their turn so that they could go and beat up other little sprites. I still remember the first thing he said, "Man, they look like little children." Then he turned it off and put in Resident Evil 2.

Yes, I gave myself the right birthday. 
He also let me take the disk home that afternoon.

Final Fantasy Tactics is one of those games I come back to every once in a while, like several of the games in the series, but it's definitely one that is different every single time. This is mostly due to the intricate battle system, that is simple enough to work with, but rewarding for those who dive in and fiddle around with it. (Just like your first time -Ed) 
The first few rounds are important for buffing, I like to let the enemy come to me. 

Battles are played out on a 3D isometric field, where units are placed and wait for their orders according to a Charge Time meter, which fills up depending on their speed. You can affect the flow of turns by using different techniques, so it's not entirely turn-based, and placement of units is important to avoid being pummeled to death by enemies, since they do more damage if they attack you from the side or behind. (Just like...never mind - Ed) 

Thats only half of the game though, the other half is in the setup of your units. Like a lot of Tactics games, FFT has a class based system, where each class specializes in different areas. Wizards are long range magic users, Priests heal and buff units and Knights are close range fighters who can destroy enemy equipment. Each character though, can change jobs between battle depending on what they have unlocked.

Mike never was able to unlock the Ninja class.
Heres where it gets interesting though, skills that a unit learns can be still be used provided that you assign them beforehand. What this means basically, is that you can turn a Knight into a Wizard, and still have access to the skills he had as a Knight. You wouldn't actually want to do that, but it's in trying out different combinations that you make the best units. 

Look at all these classes. LOOK AT THEM!
One particular example that springs to mind is my hero unit for my last playthrough. He was a squire for his base class, with battle skill as his secondary. But! He also had Two Swords from the Ninja class as his support ability, which meant that when he countered (A reaction ability from the Monk class) he would hit TWO TIMES. (I can see the eyes of your readers glaze over, talk about something else - Ed) 

But what about the narrative, I hear you ask. FFT is set in Ivalice, the setting for quite a few Final Fantasies, in a time known as the Lion War. The main story takes place seemingly in the background of this huge medieval war, with various plots, backstabs and demonic influences. I will admit, a lot of it went over my head the first time I played through, but now that I'm older it kinda reminds me of Game of Thrones, in terms of political complexity. 

You play as Ramza, who grows through the story from a young idealistic cadet to a hero of the war, but is remembered in history as a heretic and traitor. Through the game you learn how this happens, and of course, that history is written by those who win. Or at least, backstab enough people so that no one is alive who knows you're a bad guy. 

Tonight, we dine in Hell! 
There are a lot of characters in FFT, but enough memorable ones to keep you interested. Ramza of course, is a solid piece of character development, but there is also his best friend Delita, who kind of takes the "ends justifies the means" route. Even during my third playthrough though, there were a couple of times when I had to look up who someone was.

It's raining shards of Ice, Hallelujah...

Graphically, the game does look somewhat dated. Okay, it looks really dated. But the majority of the game is made up of sprites, with a lot of pretty painstaking animation for some of the cutscenes. In that sense, it still holds out. The spell effects are also pretty, with lots of glow and sparks. The sound is also top notch, with appropriate music for battles, and sound effects (particularly the death cry units make when they die) that have lodged themselves in my brain.

Warpin' time back to 1998. 

I'm going to be honest, I partly look at this game through rose colored glasses. It was the first videogame I actually started copying art from. I can do the first four battles blindfolded because for one entire long weekend it was all my friend Ryan and I would play, because we didn't have a memory card and the fourth battle is a fucking bitch to finish.

But it's also so very, very solid. I seem to learn something new about it every time I play through (Like that lightning spells become more powerful in the rain, or that when choosing a healer, make sure their zodiac sign is compatible with your attacking units).

There's a reason that it has attained cult classic status, and also why when they remade it for PSP they didn't just port it over, but added beautiful cel-shaded cutscenes with voiceovers.

It might not be everyones cup of tea, but FFT definitely deserves it's place in the series, and it's earned in the blood of a hundred slain enemies and spells rained down from the heavens.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Where have YOU been?

Visual aid. You know, in case you needed reminding. 

My mummy was adamant.

"You are coming with us, everything has been arranged. All you have to do is arrange for a week off of work and that's it."

She travels a lot, my mum does, but this time she wanted to take both my sister and I with her for a holiday. In Australia.

I will admit, I had to have a bit of a think first, but due to the fact that everything was pretty much organized, and my mother would disown me if I turned her down, I went to Melbourne for a week.

Now, technically, only I was on holiday. My mum was there on business and my sister also had work to do. It's not easy being a feminist, don'tcha know. However, because she is my mother, she managed to pack a whole lot of shopping into the schedule.

Also, I don't particularly mind shopping, it is an artform in itself. But man, when you're stuck in Suva and have been pretty much everywhere, nothing prepares you for a proper first world country CBD. The people, the cars, the variety of stores. It got a little overwhelming, but luckily I had prepared beforehand. With my trusty Google Map of Melbourne and a list of stores I had to check out, nothing was going to stand in my way.

And this place was like a treasure trove. I felt like a fucking adventurer discovering a lost civilization.

Apart from the shopping, it was also a good bonding experience. Family time and all that. I learned that the work that mum does means that she has an amazing network of people who both respect and want to work with her.
Forum panel that my mum was on. She was very, very good. 

I learned that my sister is really good at giving speeches, and that she can make a grown woman cry. Granted, this particular lady has been known to cry at the drop of a hat, but that doesn't diminish the impact of my sisters story telling.

Finally, I have no idea why, but this trip I was struck with chapped lips, horrid sinus troubles and an inability to sleep properly. I have my own theories on this but it may have been that fact that Melbourne is FUCKING COLD. And also, that our room was on the 15th floor. We had an amazing view of the backside of an even larger building.

And so, with a bag full of goodies and Aussie loot, I returned home. And that's the thing about holidays, at the end of the day you come home, with stories and memories and youtube videos of your mum representing Fiji.

Loot List (A list of the things I picked up, so you can be jelly)
- Blade Runner: Final Cut Blu Ray (for this feller
- Dead Space: Martyr (for this feller
- Penny Arcade: book 7 
- Cyanide and Happiness book (For the sister to put on her shelf) 
- Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals and I Shall Wear Midnight