Archive for the ‘Not-So-Casual Commentary’ Category

Thoughts on Thrawn …

February 19, 2018

So, after watching and not being very impressed by “The Force Awakens” I was pretty much ignoring the new Star Wars canon, and haven’t even watched “Rogue One” or “The Last Jedi” yet. However, I was browsing in the local Chapters — picking up a slew of Pierre Berton books — and I went to look to see what they had for Star Wars books. I came across one written by Timothy Zahn, simply entitled “Thrawn”. Since I knew that Thrawn had been added to the new canon, and since I had already written that using him would have solved many of the problems with “The Force Awakens”, and since it was written by the person who created the character and who, you know, could actually write, I thought I’d give it a try.

And, overall, it’s a pretty good book, with one glaring error that drags it down. Since I’ll be going through that error — an entire character arc — in detail, I’ll continue below the fold:

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First Thoughts on “Wings”

February 12, 2018

So, I should be just about finishing Season 4 of Wings, and so am about half-way through. When I talked about Frasier, I noted that Frasier wasn’t a typical sitcom, having a bit of a different structure and thus being able to do different things than a normal sitcom would. Wings … is pretty much a typical sitcom.

This isn’t a bad thing. Wings is, in fact, a pretty well-executed and entertaining typical sitcom. It has the typical mix of odd and zany characters and uses the airport and small town situation to generate standard comedy storylines when appropriate and different ones as per the situation. It’s usually at least mildly humourous and is entertaining in general.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its issues. One of the bigger problems with it is that to contrast the steady and reliable Joe they have the roguish and spontaneous Brian, and their clashes drive a lot of the humour. This is good. The problem is that Brian isn’t the standard “willing to lie and cheat to get what he wants” character, but instead seems to be someone who revels in lying and taking advantage of people. He does so even when it would be easier for him to just be honest and get things the honest way, and his first inclination is always to scam people. He has more in common with Harry the con man from Cheers than he does with the typical rogue characters like Sam from Cheers, and he’s only slightly more moral than Roy is, who is established as a terrible person who scams and takes advantage of them with no remorse. Brian gets a few instances where he can be said to have a “heart of gold”, as he definitely cares a lot for Helen and even Joe, but overall he seems to be someone who is totally in it for himself and willing to scam anyone to get what he wants. This makes him an unsympathetic character.

This also bleeds over into their overly aggressive female characters, like Helen and Alex. Now, I really do like Helen. But she is presented as having a really bad temper, and acts out on it often with little consequences. After she and Joe break up, she gets upset and drives her Jeep into his office, destroying it. She then acts like his asking her to pay for the deductible is unreasonable, despite the fact that she had left him for over ten months, and he didn’t tell her that he was seeing someone else because her life in New York was miserable but she wouldn’t have come back if she had known that he was seeing someone else, which everyone acknowledges. Yes, she was hurt, but this was one instance where Joe was lying to her that wasn’t for his own self-interest or convenience, and Helen doesn’t really acknowledge that there. Overall, her personality is abrasive but we’re supposed to like her anyway. The same thing applies — but even more so — to Alex. Yes, Brian and Joe act very immature towards her — and overly so, because she’s not that much better looking than the other women they’ve dated — but she’s pretty abrasive from the start and Brian even gets derailed into being more sexist than he might be expected to be to give her a chance to react badly to it (we expect it from Roy, but no one needs a reason to dislike Roy). There are some instances where Alex softens a bit, but she’s still pretty annoying.

And it’s a good thing that Wings isn’t more than a typical sitcom, because it tends to screw it up royally when it does. Between seasons 3 and 4, they try for a multi-episode arc, where Helen finds out that she was accepted as part of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the gang decides to fly her out to watch it, the plane crashes, they get rescued, and Joe has to resurrect the business and get himself a plane. The problem is that everything is so contrived that it’s unbelievable: Helen happens to run into the guy after ruining his jacket, berates him for not responding to her audition tape, he says that it was good but that they had lost the label, then their second cello can’t perform and Helen is offered the spot, and they are playing the precise piece that is her warm-up piece, no one can make it but then there’s a string of events so that everyone can make it, there’s a string of improbable failures that cause the crash and then more things that make their situation extremely dire … for less than a minute as they are conveniently rescued by the Coast Guard, and then Joe has to wade through problems getting a plane, but then his is salvaged, and then somehow they repair it and get back into business. To be honest, I kept waiting for them to reveal it as a dream because it was so contrived, and every minute that they didn’t just made it less and less entertaining.

Beyond that, though, the characters and interactions work. The sibling rivalry between Brian and Joe works based on their personalities and histories, and it is established early that they can be remarkably immature about it. Lowell is a generally lovable idiot, Antonio works as a semi-competent and somewhat lovable loser, Roy works as a foil, and Fay works as a pleasant and eccentric person who can play dumb when necessary but also smart to buttress jokes at Lowell’s expense. The mix allows for various jokes to be made in various situations, with characters often trading off roles in a way that could be seen as out of character but end up fitting in with the characters. So far, it’s entertaining enough, although I can generally read through it.

The Cost of Games …

January 31, 2018

So, Extra Credits recently did a new video talking about how video games really shouldn’t cost $60 anymore. I’d have used that as the title, but I don’t really think it reasonable to use a title that assumes the conclusion, and obviously their conclusion is that the retail cost of games should be higher than it is, and while for various reasons the gaming industry doesn’t want to do that, this is what is driving the move towards DLC, microtransactions, and loot boxes, and ultimately at the end they conclude that the only options are to have higher retail prices for games, or accept some sort of “good” monetization scheme. Directly quoting from videos is a pain, so again I encourage everyone to watch the video for themselves to see if I’m summarizing them properly.

The first thing I want to talk about are their reasons for saying that the retail price of games is too low. The first reason given is inflation, which has gone up by, on average, 2% a year since 2005, when games started costing $60. Doing the math, they conclude that that would indicate a 25% increase in the price of games, for a retail price of around $75. The problem with this reasoning is that inflation doesn’t actually work that way. That 2% is an average across the entire market and economy of how prices have increased. Because it’s an average, there will be some things that have increased in price by far more than 2%, some things that haven’t really changed price at all, and even some things whose prices have gone down. For example, I’d wager that the cost of gasoline has increased by far more than 2% since 2005, while the price of at least some electronics has likely decreased (I don’t think I could have walked into a Canadian Tire in 2005 and picked up a perfectly functional Blu-Ray DVD player in 2005, like I did a few years later). So what we really need to know here is what costs have increased for the gaming industry and balance that with what cost savings they’ve been able to achieve to determine how much the price of games ought to have changed. Applying a simple inflation argument doesn’t really work here.

Their second reason is the increase in things like, say, graphics that are seemingly necessary for modern AAA gaming development but greatly increase costs. While there are some balancing factors, they end up concluding that prices should be in the $90 range, which they base on their experience in the industry, much of which they can’t talk about because of NDAs. At any rate, a question here is if all of that work is really required to make money as a AAA game. Does the gaming audience — which they admit has grown enormously in that same time period — really care that much about the new graphics that it will greatly hurt sales if they don’t achieve those heights? As a personal example, the graphics in Persona 5 were much improved, but also annoyed me in some ways. The same thing holds true for Skyrim, where the leveling up process was pretty, but also quite confusing. When we add in the mobile games and Steam games that they talk about as driving customer expectations and throw in GOG games, it looks like there are a number of cases where inferior graphics can still sell a significant amount of units. Sure, they don’t sell as much as AAA games do, but then they don’t have the marketing and distribution channels of AAA games either, and many of them are so cheap because even their gameplay is somewhat primitive. A AAA studio should be able to create far more engaging games and still be able to do good enough graphics, and use their existing channels to still make a significant number of sales. Or, at least, they should be able to do that if gaming magazines and hardcore gamers don’t bash the game simply for not having those super-special-awesome graphics, as long as they are serviceable and pretty enough.

They then go on to talk about how the industry is or should respond to this situation, where the price of games is lower than it should be. A big problem here, though, is that despite being gaming insiders — or perhaps because of that — they don’t seem to really understand gaming from the perspective of the customers very well. They talk about the $70 mark being a psychological barrier, which amused me because in Canada games have cost that since the last increase, and as even they point out they are even more expensive in Australia. It’s less that gamers, then, have a reaction to that number than that it makes them wonder if gaming is worth the money they’d have to spend on it. This ranges from people who simply can’t afford to spend that much on entertainment in general to people who have a number of different things that they can spend their entertainment dollars on and are looking for the most value. As any product increases price — as long as disposable income doesn’t rise the same amount or more — there will be people who either can’t afford the product anymore or decide that it isn’t worth the percentage of their disposable income that it is taking up anymore. That’s the risk with increasing prices, and it seems to me that a lot of the issue around the $60 increase was precisely that. Games were seen as a simple and relatively cheap form of entertainment, especially since for PC games you already had the system, and gaming consoles were relatively cheap to buy. As the price increases, they are seen as a more and more expensive form of entertainment, which also drives up demands. If I’m paying $20 for a game, I’m not going to demand the highest standards of graphics, but if I’m paying $70, I want it to be a more “professional” quality game. Additionally, that might be one of the few if only games that I might be able to buy, so they had better both be good and be something that I can play for a long time. And, of course, those higher prices mean fewer purchases, which only exacerbates the risk of having a game flop that they talk about in the video.

So, increasing demands have caused AAA gaming companies to focus on producing higher quality but more expensive games, which loses them customers and alienates part of the market, while increasing the demands from those gamers who are left. This causes the gaming companies to risk more — as they have to appeal to a potentially shrinking market — but also to increase their overall quality level, which is more expensive, which drives up costs, rinse and repeat. If this continues, AAA gaming will eventually collapse under the weight of expectations that cannot be supported by the shrunken player base where most have been priced out of the market by the increasing prices of AAA games.

Thus, the mechanisms to get around that. They discuss DLC, and say that Day-One DLC is unpopular, but later DLC doesn’t get purchased, but this doesn’t ring true for me. After all, other than it being downloadable, DLC is a lot like expansions, and people definitely bought those after day one, as the often came out months later. Also, Bioware games tend to do this — the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series games in particular — and clearly it was successful enough for them to keep doing it. Additionally, games like Persona Dancing All Night had a number of DLC items that presumably did all right and I think were Day One (Adachi, for example), and in general DLC is still a pretty popular option. So I don’t agree with their thoughts on DLC. It turns out, it seems to me, that the issues with DLC and even with Day One DLC is when it becomes clear that this is being added only to increase the price of a game. For DLC to be successful, it has to be seen as something interesting enough for people to buy it, but not so critical that you have to buy it to get what can be considered the full experience of the game. If we look at the various “Adachi” type DLC from the Persona 4 add-on games (Dancing All Night and Arena), because of the link with the game they certainly sound cool and things that people might want, but you can play through the entire game and get the story without buying it. The extra costumes representing the school uniforms were the same thing: cool so they’d garner some interest, but not something that you needed if you want to enjoy the game. On the other end of the spectrum, expansions tended to add completely new storylines and adventures, and so were certainly worth the price, but again added on to the end of game and weren’t required to enjoy it.

I’m not going to say that these approaches to DLC worked and made significant money. I am going to say that customers are, in general, not idiots. They are going to see that these things — which includes other forms of monetization like loot boxes — as ways for the company to make more money off the game. And as they realize that, they’re going to demand more and more value from these things, to make up for the extra money they are putting into these things and the game as a whole. This is going to force gaming companies to provide more and more content in these things, which will cost them more to make and so reduce the amount of money they make from them, which will encourage them to either charge more or make more of them or both, which will create more demand for them to provide value, and so on. The alternative is that they will find more and more ways to force the players to buy them, by making them more and more important to the game and game experience, which gamers will rebel over as they already have.

In the video, they insist that we have two choices: either accept a price increase, or except “good” monetization. The problem is that both of these options will inevitably lead to the same problems that AAA games have been having for the past few years, with either gamers feeling ripped off by the price they have to pay for games versus what they’re getting out of them, or game companies having to continually add more and more value to their games to justify every thing that increases the overall cost of a game for a player. If these are the only two choices, then it doesn’t seem like gaming is going to survive.

But are these the only two choices? As mentioned above, maybe chasing the highest quality graphics or at least the appearance of having the highest quality or most modern experience isn’t really necessary. Maybe a company can skimp a little in those areas and still produce fun games that gamers simply want to play. Additionally, Shamus Young has wondered why video games don’t go down in price as they get older, like a lot of other products do. As games move down the price points, they’ll pick up more and more sales from people who either couldn’t afford it at the higher price point or decided that it wasn’t worth it for them at that price point. You’ll even get some people thinking — if the price is low enough — that they might just give a mildly interesting game a try because it’s not going to cost them that much. The lower the price, the lower the expectations the game has to life up to before the player feels that it was worth what they spent on it. Since the cost for game development is mostly upfront, this can extend the life of the game, allow for later DLC and expansions to make money (since there will be more players picking it up for a longer period after the game’s release) and allow for a return on investment that the company wouldn’t make otherwise from those gamers who couldn’t afford it at the higher price point. About the only reason to not reduce the price — and produce “bargain” games — as time goes on is if you’re afraid that if gamers know that you’ll reduce the price six months or a year later they won’t buy it at release. However, if that’s the case then either the release price point is too high for most of your customers, or else they don’t really want to play your game and so are willing to wait that long to play it, either because they have too many other options or because your game doesn’t interest them that much. Both of these are more serious problems that simply trying to cover the costs of producing a game with the price of the game or with extra monetization.

This is not to say that these solutions will definitely work, but maybe gaming companies need to come up with new ideas and solutions instead of trying increasingly annoying variants on the ideas that weren’t really working in the first place. Because at the end of the day, gamers are going to demand value for the money they pay for a game, and will do so even more the more money they end up paying. And since providing that value is arguably the biggest reason Extra Credits says that the price is too low, there’s no way to escape this cycle the traditional way.

Final Thoughts on Frasier …

January 24, 2018

So, I finished in the last three seasons of Frasier and thus have finished the entire series. And my final opinion on it is … I liked it, but liked it the least when it fell into doing standard sitcom tropes instead of going beyond that as it commonly did, but one of the things that most annoyed me about it was when it tried to go beyond the standard sitcom tropes and failed.

Well, then, you might ask, what was it that annoyed me so much? The big example of this is that at the end of Season 8 and leading into the beginning of Season 9, Frasier was dating a woman, Claire, and yet was letting fantasies about another woman that had been a high school semi-crush for him intrude on that, despite the fact that she was absolutely wrong for him and Claire was clearly much better for him. He ends up breaking it off with Claire, to her great disappointment — and the disappointment of Frasier’s family — and then ends up driving off to a cabin where he is confronted by mental images of Lilith, Diane, Nanette and finally his late mother. As they all lead him to discover what it is that is sabotaging relationships, at the end he decides that he needs to put them all behind him and, when he decides this, turns around to find them gone.

It isn’t this episode that annoys me. This episode was incredibly well done, mixing serious self-appraisal and the potential for growth with humour, and all involved give quite good performances to make this all work. It’s a great and watershed episode … that the show then decides to completely ignore. There is no change in Frasier. There is no indication that he has put them behind him and is ready to move on. He doesn’t call Claire back. He doesn’t date anyone else. The next time we even mention his dating he seems to be happy not dating anyone, which doesn’t follow from that episode where he seemingly decided that he needed a new approach to be finally ready to properly date again. This episode — that was a two-parter, no less — that seemed to have huge implications for Frasier’s psyche and personal life … isn’t referenced at all. Even the issue doesn’t get referenced until Niles makes a comment a few seasons later about Frasier needing everything to be perfect and being unwilling to overlook flaws, which then causes Frasier to — hilariously, I admit — overlook the very serious flaws in his latest date (although I didn’t care for that character and thought that the burgeoning relationship made no sense whatsoever, and the character annoyed me enough that I really just wanted her gone).

Look, if a show makes a big deal out of something, then it has to treat it like a big deal. If Frasier has this kind of incredible revelation, I expect something to change because of it. If nothing changes, then why make a big deal out of this? I was already annoyed by Frasier not learning from his mistakes, especially with regards to dating, but when the show sets up this kind of thing that has no other purpose than for him to learn something about himself, that kinda takes the cake.

And in hindsight it would have worked better with the rest of that season and the rest of the series if the lesson he’d taken from that had been that because of his failures with women and the losses he had experienced his big problem was that he placed too much importance on finding love. His life couldn’t be good until he found love, so he spent way too much time and effort on finding love and not enough on building up the rest of his life and appreciating it. This would explain why he tended to pull out all the stops in finding love, and often jumped at the slightest romantic scenarios (dating the ex of a caller whom he told to dump her, running off to a chance encounter at the airport with a wrong number in the hopes that it would find him love, etc), which ironically tended to sabotage those relationships for him a lot of the time. This then would feed into why he wasn’t dating anyone at all and was happy to not be dating in the episode where all of the family and friends try to set him up, as his big revelation would be not that he needed to put his exes behind him, but that he needed to build a life that he was happy with first, and only then would he be truly ready for a relationship, because he wouldn’t be desperately trying to find one — and thus overlooking flaws — but instead would be looking to find someone that fit him, knowing that if it didn’t work out he had a pretty good life to go back to anyway. This would even tie in with the series finale where he is willing to run off to Chicago with Charlotte because he is happy with his life; his time in Seattle allowed him to build a life that he was happy with, and the job offer in San Francisco showed that his career was a success, and he had made a relatively successful return to private practice. His life, without a relationship, was good, and so he was able to see and potentially keep a relationship with a woman who was right and good for him.

But, of course, that isn’t what happened, and so the series, in my opinion, wastes what that excellent episode set up for them.

Another note is that I really, really regret that they couldn’t have made Lilith a larger part of the series, for whatever reason. When she shows up, she fills the role of strong female character that nevertheless can be made fun of that really works well with Frasier, and Bebe Neuwirth and Kelsey Grammar have great chemistry together, all the way back to their Cheers days. In the last episode she appears in (directly, at least), the two of them working together to help the couple in the next room works so well and really shows how the characters can work together and play off of each other. I loved every episode she was in, as both how her and Frasier dealt with each other and how the others reacted to her were incredibly entertaining.

As I said at the top, the worst episodes were the ones where they delved into more standard sitcom tropes, mostly because when they did so most of the time it was Frasier acting arrogant and pretentious and things going badly for him because of that. While that could be funny at times, the problem I had with it was that as the main character we generally were supposed to be — and generally were — sympathetic to him, and in those instances we simply couldn’t be, because he was acting like a complete jerk. And never learned from it either. It worked a lot better, in my opinion, when that sort of humour was fueled by Frasier trying to be nice or to help people, or when he was competing with Niles. The latter worked because it turned it from “Frasier is a jerk” to “sibling rivalry”, and the former worked because we could be sympathetic to him while still laughing at the ridiculous misfortune that befell him. Yes, his acting arrogant and pretentious and that getting him into trouble was consistent with the character, but it was puzzling that he wouldn’t learn anything from that, whereas with the other cases he was not going to stop competing with his sibling, nor was he going to stop trying to help people, no matter how badly things backfired on him when he did so. But attempting to mislead his dates, for example, was something that he really should have learned not to do, given how it always backfired on him, and while he has shockingly little self-awareness at times for a psychiatrist, he really shouldn’t have been that stupid.

I really liked some of the main/supporting characters as well. Roz really worked out well and I really liked it when Bebe showed up. I think the Niles/Daphne romance went on too long, but it worked out in the end. I disliked Daphne’s brothers and hated her mother, and didn’t find anything of interest in their arcs.

Overall, Frasier isn’t a typical sitcom, which allowed them to attempt different things to try to get the humour in different ways without feeling like this wasn’t the show we were used to watching. Thus, it could use slapstick humour, typical sitcom tropes, deeper and more experimental scenarios, and everything in between to try to make the audience laugh, which it typically succeeded at. I wasn’t able to read while watching this series, and I will definitely watch it again.

Zero Time Dilemma Was Ruined For Me …

January 17, 2018

… although you could say that it was my own fault.

Since this is a newer game, I’ll continue below the fold.

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Final Thoughts on The Nonary Games: Virtue’s Last Reward

January 10, 2018

So, I finished all of the endings — but not all of the Game Overs — for “Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward”. This game had a worse reception, from what I’ve read, than 999 did, and I can see why. Since this relaunch is relatively recent, I’ll continue below the fold, as I’ll likely talk a bit about the characters and various endings:

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Further Thoughts on Fraiser (mid Season 8)

January 8, 2018

So, I’m almost through Season 8 of Frasier, leaving only the final three seasons to go, so here are my further thoughts on it.

The show continues to often take more serious lines and deeper problems on in order to generate its humour. A lot of these are, in fact, issues that if you’re in the right age range you will very much relate to (Frasier is about my age or slightly older in the series). And, again, while this can be funny it can also still hurt the simple enjoyment of it, because it reminds you of those problems and issues and that you, yourself, might have to deal with. That I can relate quite a bit more to Frasier than I could to other sitcom stars doesn’t actually help that. The scenes are done well and work without being preachy — the show itself lampshades the desire for a lesson or moral at some point — but Frasier isn’t a light sitcom, at least for me, in the same way that Cheers or Sabrina the Teenage Witch was. Which isn’t a bad thing.

They also seem to be willing to try different things at times, playing around with a Rashomon-style perspective switch and, most interestingly, creating an entire episode around the idea that one small decision could have a huge impact on someone’s life, playing through what might result depending on whether Frasier decided to wear a sweater or a suit to a speed dating event. And yet, it also plays on the idea of destiny, as one couple gets together at the end on both paths, and the paths re-merge at the end with Frasier making a specific decision, with that decision following naturally from what happened on each path.

One of the issues, though, is that Frasier himself never gets any kind of arc. He doesn’t get a girlfriend who lasts longer than a couple of episodes, and he is constantly complaining about not being able to get dates for pretty much the entire series so far. Not only does this make him seem more pathetic than he really should be — or is — it also takes away what I feel often makes for the more interesting episodes: the times when Frasier has to play off against a woman who is as smart as he is. It not only lets him show a more gallant side of himself — there’s a good scene in an episode where he is trying to hire a stripper for a bachelor party — but it can generate a lot of humour that allows Frasier to be wrong but not pathetic, especially if his date is more down-to-earth than he is. This is what makes me regret the decision — probably due to necessity — to cut Lilith out of the show, because some of the absolutely best episodes of the show are when Lilith comes to visit, partly because of how well she and Frasier play off of each other but also because it gives both Niles and Martin the opportunity to snark at her, with her deadpan snark playing off of it. And I also really liked the one girlfriend he had who had the interfering mother and who made him pretend to be Jewish because she thought her mother wouldn’t approve. I would have loved to have seen longer arcs with him dating someone, although that would have limited the “dating disaster” episodes that they so love, but that I really wish they had done less of. Especially when the disaster happens due to Frasier’s own fault, and for things that he really should have learned not to do a long time ago. I like the humility lessons, but he rarely ever learns from it or gets any real gain from that show of humility, which them makes it kind of pointless.

The one arc that the show does have is the Niles and Daphne crush, which starts in the first episode and continues through his separation and divorce and her engagement. They finally get together at the end of Season 7, with the final resolution and fallout from that — Daphne was getting engaged and Niles had had a whirlwind marriage — carrying on into Season 8, so about where I am now. The good thing about this arc is that it involves two more minor characters, so it is easier to weave into the story when it makes sense or when it allows for a good joke, while allowing it to be completely ignored when it wouldn’t work. The bad thing about it is that it drags on for way too long. Niles and Maris get separated in something like the second season, and that drags on for a couple more, and all the while Niles never asks Daphne out either. So the whole plot keeps simmering for, well, most of the series. Now, since I knew that they would get together eventually, that might have an impact that you wouldn’t see at the time, but I really felt that it dragged on too long.

Also, there are a number of incredibly stupid episodes, usually ones where Frasier and Nile’s arrogance and pretension is racheted up to 11 and it has to get them in massive trouble that is supposed to be hilarious but usually isn’t, which usually ends up being just another excuse to make Frasier miserable. In fact, my biggest criticism of the series — in line with what I said above — is that it makes Frasier too miserable and too much of a loser. It’s so overblown at times that it can’t be taken seriously, and makes Frasier less sympathetic as a character. And since he is the main character, that can make the series less interesting to watch, especially when Frasier’s problems aren’t that bad or, worse, have simple fixes that no one acknowledges (it works better when the fact that Frasier overcomplicates things is lampshaded).

Still, the series is pretty enjoyable so far. I’ve been reading a book on the Spitfire vs the 109 in WWII, and I’ve stopped opening it while watching Frasier, because it felt more like a security blanket than something I was reading. So it was definitely worth getting.

First Thoughts on “Dark Rose Valkyrie”

January 3, 2018

So, I recently went on a game buying spree, and one of the games I purchased was Dark Rose Valkyrie. This game is, well, the typical sort of game I’d like, where it mixes a dating-type simulator with a tactical RPG and adds in a traitor mechanism. So obviously this would be a game that I’d be very interested in. However, after playing it for the first time it turns out that the game has a number of annoyances that make me less interested in playing it.

The first annoyance is that I can’t figure out how to save in the base itself. This means that if I want to save to make sure that my choices are captured before heading out for a mission, or just to quit for the night, I have to find one of the more dangerous save points, either in a dungeon or out in the field, and save there. Remember the lack of easy-to-find save points was one of the main reasons I quit playing Nocturne, and if I can’t get to an obvious ending point in a game when I want to stop for the night that really, really does discourage me from playing the game. So that’s a pretty big strike against it right there.

The second annoyance is that they aren’t very good at indicating where you need to go for your quest. Maybe there’s some setting that I’m supposed to change, but it isn’t obvious on the map where I’m supposed to go most of the time. I spent a long time running through a dungeon because I thought that the “bridge” I was supposed to patrol was in there, and only later figured out that it was elsewhere in the city. And still got lost on my way to it. And the entire quest was just showing up there, which since that was the required quest seemed anti-climactic.

The third annoyance is that events in your room seem to, at least much of the time, trigger a progression in the story, despite the game not making that clear. I missed all of the interactions in one part because I went to my room first and the commanding officer demanded that I rush down to the command room. This was incredibly annoying, and just highlights how bad this game is at telling you what’s going on.

So, not a good start. However, the characters are generally interesting, and the combat system is an interesting way to implement a turn-based-with-delay system. Essentially, there’s a gauge that each combatant appears on, and they move at various speeds up it until they hit the decision point, where you can decide what action you want them to take. Each action takes some time to trigger, so you can select level 1, 2, or 3 actions. Then they keep progressing until they hit that level, and the action activates, and then they start climbing up the gauge again. This allows for some interesting decisions because you might, say, want to trigger an action first to get in on combo action or to kill an enemy before they can attack, even if the longer option might have other benefits. And if you aren’t really thinking about that, you aren’t rushed to decide what your best option is either, which is nice.

Since I have so very many games on the go right now, it’s hard to see when I might get back to that game, especially since it’s starting off so “Meh”. But I do think I’d like to give it another shot at some point in the future, if for no other reason than to see what the interview mechanic is like, where you try to determine who is the traitor.

The Nonary Games: Final Thoughts on 999

December 27, 2017

So, I managed to get all of the endings in “Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors”, which effectively completes the game. Since this re-release is recent and I’ll be talking about the story — and what it might mean for the sequel — I’ll start talking about it below the fold:

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First Thoughts on The Nonary Games

December 20, 2017

So, while browsing about a week or so ago, I came across “The Nonary Games”, a combination of the first two Zero Escape games. I talked about the philosophical point raised by the second one last week. Here, I want to talk about the game itself and not so much about the deeper issues.

The game combines what is essentially a visual novel with a gameplay system where, essentially, you are doing a series of Escape Rooms, which puts it firmly in the video game genre of Escape the Room. Supposedly, the physical escape rooms were inspired by the video games, but I came to the genre the other way around, which is why when I saw this game I wanted to give it a try as a more accessible version of the physical escape room. At any rate, in both games you wake up trapped in a room by a mysterious, gas-masked character, and you have to both puzzle your way out of the room and puzzle out what is the motive behind your abduction. There are a number of endings — most of the bad — and for the first game, at least, if you get the right endings and make the right choices you might, eventually, get to the true ending where at least most of the secrets are revealed.

I tend to play all games on Easy, and this game is no exception. The first game is much better on Easy, as you seem to get hints pretty much when you need them, while the second game often gives you hints way too early. It also forces you to select it on each room, which is annoying. In both cases, on Easy there is still some challenge to the puzzles while making sure that you don’t get completely stuck on a puzzle for too long. This fits in better with the physical escape rooms that I’ve done, since there you can talk to everyone and everyone can get ideas, so it seems more co-operative. Still, even on Easy, there are times when it is all about you, and times where your companions don’t chime it at all. However, the better rooms in the first one do seem like a collaboration, especially one where one person gets locked in another room and you have to ask her to look for or do things as you try to get her out.

I’m not that fond of the convoluted ways you need to trigger certain events and give certain dialogue options to get different endings. I’d rather it just be path-based instead, and if a dialogue choice drives a difference in the path it happens right where the paths split. The first game, at least, lets you examine the “Flow” of the game (the flowchart of the various rooms and endings) and skip to the right area, thus relieving you of the necessity of clearing rooms you’ve already solved again, which helps.

I liked these two games so much that I went out and bought the third one from Amazon, and I hope to soon get the True Ending in the first and an ending that isn’t “To Be Continued” in the second. They give a good facsimile of the escape room experience while allowing for a stronger story — and one that plays out longer — behind it.