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Rhythm and Greens

October 19, 2014

Hatsune_Miku_Project_DIVA_Extend_coverIt’s barely a month into Fall here and we’re already well on our way to the six solid months of rain we normally get in Oregon.

This means two things, of course: First, that I can get pumpkin-spice-flavored ANYTHING I WANT, and second that I stop going for walks on my lunch breaks and instead huddle at my desk with a portable game system or two.

So, I’ve been playing Project Diva Extend, the third and final Hatsune Miku game released for the PSP, and it really has almost everything I want in a sequel: Some new songs, some older songs, some refinements to the basic systems (you can switch active characters to the default characters for a song WITHOUT GOING INTO A SUB-MENU OMG), and generally more of Miku & friends.

I started as I normally do, which is to say that I loaded up the game, imported my old save data to carry over all the costumes and such I’d unlocked, and played through the first song on easy.

Then I got to thinking about that, and came to the conclusion that my normal tactic of playing through the entire song list on easy, THEN on normal, THEN on hard was, well, a bit dumb considering this wasn’t exactly my first rodeo with everyone’s favorite twin-tailed virtual idol, and started again and played through the entire song list on normal difficulty.

This was legitimately challenging in bits, but I only actually failed one song so I think it was the right course of action.  Next is, of course, to see how I do on Hard and then maybe even try a few Extreme tracks if I’m feeling bonkers.

It’s going to be a little weird playing the Vita version after this – the PSP games I have are all UMDs, so I’ve been playing them on PSP hardware, so even if the Vita game does allow importing progress from earlier games I won’t have any progress to import.

I’ve also heard rumors of terrible terrible things you have to do with the Vita’s rear touch pad.  Not sure that I’m looking forward to that, but, well… that’s for the future, right?  For now I have my manly lavender PSP and many hours of rhythm gaming to play on it.

 

 

So much plot

October 14, 2014

sw_logo

So moe-no-hi (10/10) was last week, and I celebrated by watching Strike Witches.  It’s one of those shows that is infamous for having absolutely shameless amounts of fanservice, and I can report that it pretty much lives up to the reputation.

Where to begin?

Well, on an alternate earth, aliens attacked the earth in 1939, uniting the nations of the world against a common foe and averting the onset of World War II.  Because this is a Japanese show, they kind of gloss over the whole thing where Japan had been at war for a couple years before that, but that’s the sort of minor historical detail that would detract from the point of the show, which is cute girls doing cute things, in this case flying around in magical leg armor and shooting aliens cutely.

Also they’re witches.

And when they put on their leg armor, they grow ears and a tail.

And because the leg armor requires direct skin contact, they can’t wear pants.  This explanation is completely ignored when it comes to characters that AREN’T fighter pilots, because they also aren’t wearing pants.  It’s not that pants don’t exist – some male characters do eventually appear, and are wearing pants – but they’re just glossed over as a thing that doesn’t necessarily exist.  The characters actually use the word for pants – ズボン , rather than パンツ – when talking about underwear.

Seriously, if you’re not facepalming at least half a dozen times per episode, there’s something wrong with you.

OK, so let’s just admit that it’s an excuse to produce a show full of panty shots and move on.  It worked for Agent Aika, after all.

What I watched was the first season, which was 12 episodes for a show with nearly that many characters, so it didn’t have much time to really develop any of them.  It also spent the first 8 episodes being seriously goofy before switching tone drastically to throw in the REAL enemies, who are of course the military and who all wear pants.

EVIL pants.

Even with that tone change, it was about 5 hours worth of bright, cheerful anime with Much Heart and Barely Concealed Yuri Overtones and some aerial combat scenes that were, in all honesty, really spectacular.  The sound design also gets high marks; the dogfight scenes sounded like dogfight scenes should, with all kinds of roaring engine sounds and machine gun noises.

Would I recommend it?

Well, yes.  If you want to pour a big serving of moe anime into a bowl and cover it with sugar, this is part of your complete breakfast.  It’s also super cheap – both seasons are available on Amazon for about 17 bucks each.  That’s not a lot of money for something that managed to put a smile on my face nearly as often as my eyes were trying to roll back into my head and, the second season apparently wraps up the story rather than ending on a cliffhanger, which is a rare wonder.

And of course, technically, it DOES pass the Bechdel test with flying colors, so even the most enlightened post-feminist male should feel no shame in watching it.

Not recommended if you’re allergic to shows like Strawberry Marshmallow or Battle Athletes, and decidedly not recommended if you let things like physics get in the way of your enjoyment.

Cats Are Jerks

October 8, 2014

ned

My wife and I have between two and four cats.

Well, technically, we own two cats.  We didn’t get extra cats until we moved from an apartment into a house and I kept seeing hungry strays in our backyard and I started giving them the leftovers that our two picky eaters wouldn’t eat.

This lead to having quite a few extra cats in the backyard and then there were some territorial disputes and now we only see two.

One of them is a big friendly long-haired cat with fangs who we call Ned, because for a while we mistook him for a neighbor’s cat named Ed, and eventually we realized that he was a different cat, so we started calling him Not Ed, and that got abbreviated.  Ned seems to have decided that he is an official resident, to the point where HE now turns up his nose at leftovers and insists on fresh food.

But this is not about that, though I occasionally wonder at exactly what point I started spending actual money on charity cats.

This is about a mouse.

Specifically, I went out into our backyard this morning, filled the empty food bowls, and noticed that this particular cat had not come running.  He was, instead, standing in the middle of the backyard, staring at a mouse that was doing its best to stand very still.

Occasionally, the mouse would made an effort to run away, get a few inches, and Ned would, without apparent malice, whack him with a paw, at which point the mouse would freeze up again.

Now, I’m quite fond of the idea of cats keeping mice from coming indoors, but Ned didn’t appear to have any intention to EAT his new toy, just play with it, and that seemed a bit cruel, so I went over to separate mouse from cat.

This didn’t go GREAT, because I could spook the mouse, and he would run a foot or two, and then Ned would whack him with a paw again.  So really all I was accomplishing was making the mouse into a more entertaining toy.

I thought my job was done at the point where I managed to spook the mouse enough that he ran under a holly bush, but then Ned dove into the holly bush after the mouse and emerged with it in his mouth, which is when I decided that he was going to eat the thing after all and at least that was more merciful than playing with it until it died from sheer terror.

At this point my wife came into the backyard, asked what Ned was doing, and I told her that he’d been playing with a mouse but had apparently decided to eat it, and then we both looked at Ned.

Ned had dropped the mouse on the ground and was staring at it.

Eventually he poked it with a paw, and it jumped up and tried to run, at which point he whacked it with a paw.

This is when my wife got involved, and did a much better job of separating mouse from cat, and eventually got the mouse to run under the fence where Ned wouldn’t follow.

There were some modest hijinks in this, such as when the mouse decided that climbing her leg was a MUCH better escape plan than running across the backyard, but the end result was a safe (for the moment) mouse and a cat who was terribly upset about losing his new favorite toy and quite vocal in his assertion of that fact.

But the real take-away from this is, well, cats are jerks.

 

Puzzled

October 7, 2014

OK, so to start: I finished the three main characters’ challenges in Tottemo E Mahjong, played through the 2 DLC characters’ challenges and even downloaded the 3rd and final DLC character though I haven’t actually played any of that yet.  She has a vague Taiga-from-Toradora look about her, so I’m expecting some abuse.

I still think that it’s balanced a little too heavily around the item shop, but meh, it’s still a fun game of mahjong.

I did have a fantastically frustrating hand which I neglected to screenshot, as follows:

I drew two kan of dragons.  Yes, with a cheat item from the shop, of course.  I then made two concealed pons of simple tiles.  I’m not sure exactly how many points this represents because I let the program score for me, but it is a LOT.

I was left with a single tile and only needed to pair it, either from a draw or discard.

When the hand finished, I was still staring at that one unpaired tile.

So much rage.

But that ASIDE, I reached a tremendous milestone last week, after far too much “well, I’ll just swing through the McDonald’s drive thru, and didn’t I need something from Home Depot, and…”

3ds_puzzles

Now, I know that Nintendo is bound to put out a Smash puzzle sometime in the next couple of weeks, a month at the outside, and after that point I will be right back in the position of needing 40 or so puzzle pieces… but, for now, I am done carrying my 3DS around in the hopes of getting Streetpasses, and I can actually sleep the dang thing with a DS cartridge in without feeling like I’d be missing out on the potential of seeing that green light come on.

I can’t really explain WHY collecting all the puzzles became a THING for me.  I’m not a big Nintendo fan, so the majority of the puzzles, while well done, didn’t elicit any particular emotional responses.  If I had to hazard a guess, it’s because I very rarely play games where I can share the experience with others, or I play them years after the fact, but this is an accomplishment that I can actually talk to another 3DS owner about and probably have some common ground.

Oh and I have so many hats now.

 

“E” for “Effort”

September 26, 2014

tme_mahjong_title

I haven’t played a mahjong game in a while, because proper mahjong games don’t get localized, I’ve played all the ones I already owned, and I hadn’t been to Japan to restock for a few years.

So, I made sure to buy some PSN point cards while I was visiting.  This hasn’t translated into many actual GAME purchases, because I have a monster backlog as is and frankly Japanese game prices are kuh-RAAAAAZY when you’re not buying used.  Since I tend to only buy used, looking at full-priced games has been a serious case of sticker shock.

Fortunately, mahjong titles also tend towards the budget end of the spectrum, and that brings us to Tottemo E Mahjong, which set me back all of Y1543 including two extra DLC characters.

Since the glory days of the Sega Saturn, with its infamous red-label games, are long since behind us, this is not a strip mahjong game.  You do play against an all-woman cast of opponents, and your rewards for victory are unlocked pages in an image gallery, but there’s no nudity involved.

You do get your pick of all the popular stereotypical opponents.  There’s five in total, including a couple of imouto types, a genki athletic type, and an ojousama who’s so far over the top that I half expect her to break out into B-ko-style laughter every time she wins.  I haven’t started the fifth character’s challenges yet so I don’t know her personality yet.

The writing is really fun – your opponents are really melodramatic when they lose and gloat unabashedly when they win, and even a crushing defeat is met with a threat that NEXT time they’re not going to let you off so easily.

tme_mahjong_imouto tme_mahjong_genki tme_mahjong_ojou

So, that aside, presumably the next question is “but how does it play?”

Well, it’s four-player mahjong (you, your chosen opponent, and two nameless NPCs), it’s well-drawn, the sound effects are very mahjongy, it does a good job of pointing out when you can pon or kan or chi or richi, it handles all the scoring for you, it is in general a very competent mahjong game.  It gets extra points in my book for not having “meld” be the default action when it shows you a potential meld, because I almost never want to meld unless I’m doing it for a pon of dragons or the seat / prevailing wind.  I’m lousy at setting up high point value hands and I go for the guaranteed 1-yaku win of having a closed hand.

This originally meant that I lost a LOT.  See, most mahjong games go off straight wins – you come in first and that’s all that matters.  It’s actually theoretically possible to “win” a game of mahjong without winning a single one of the eight hands you play, as long as you pick up enough points from draws and your opponents beat each other up in a more-or-less balanced faction.

Tottemo E Mahjong has more of a mission structure, with (usually) multiple objectives per mission.  Your first game against any character will have a simple objective of “come in first”, then maybe “come in first AND be more than 30,000 points ahead of your opponent”, or “come in first AND only win by tsumo” or, well, something like this:

tme_mahjong_objectives

Which is “come in first AND have 30,000 points more than your opponent AND your opponent must go bust AND you must have a total score of 60,000 or more AND the dealer must win at least two games in a row, or at least draw”

It gets quite frustrating when you have a results screen like this:

tme_mahjong_fail

It’s very difficult to meet these sorts of win conditions through straight mahjong, which leads to the part of the game that I’ve become less and less fond of – the item shop, where various cheat items are sold to help you complete your missions.

Fortunately, this is not a real money item shop.  You buy your nefarious tools using currency earned in-game, and you rack up this currency even when you’re failing missions, which is something of a comfort when you’re beating your head against one of the trickier challenges.

Unfortunately, it’s really imbalanced.  It’s very cheap to buy, say, the following combination:

1) An item that gives you a guaranteed pon of dragons and generally gives you an extra KAN of dragons.

2) Another item that allows you to review your hand before you start, and throw back any pieces you don’t like.

3) An item that lets you interrupt an opponent’s ron or tsumo, which is even nastier if you interrupt their tsumo because it forces them to discard their winning tile and go furiten.

Oh, and just for kicks,

4) An item that guarantees that your needed wait WILL appear when you call richi, as long as the tile isn’t already in an opponent’s hand or in a discard pile.

Or, if you are absolutely stuck on a particular challenge, there IS an item which you can buy which will simply auto-complete the mission for you.  This isn’t a cheap option by any means, but it’s there.

I’ve had a lot of fun with mahjong games that have occasional cheat items in the past.  I love the Suchi-pai series, for example, and that’s a mahjong game where you frequently win by playing a panel match game instead of actually defeating your opponent with your leet mahjong skills.  Still, something about the particular way this one is implemented is, well, it doesn’t feel very sporting.

I’m abusing the heck out of it, don’t get me wrong, because I went through at least one stretch of fifteen straight mission failures BEFORE I broke down and started hitting the item shop, and that sort of thing could break a man.

So I’m a little negative on the game, in the final analysis.  I’ll probably stick with it at least until I finish all of the character paths, because it’s been fun having a mahjong game to play after a long drought, but I wish that the developers had done a better job of setting the difficulty from the beginning, rather than leaving it in the hands of the player via the shop.

About the most positive thing I can say is that the mission structure has made me think a lot more about HOW to win as opposed to just trying for the fastest win possible, and I’m starting to recognize situations where letting  another player win is beneficial to me, which is a completely new skill.

 

Jumping Bayle

September 17, 2014

cotf

With the end of summer, the Everquest progression guild I’m a member of has revved back up and we’re currently beating our heads against the brick wall that is the “Underfoot” expansion, originally released back in December of 2009 and somewhat notorious for being a monstrous guild-killer of an expansion.

We’re not doing too badly, but it’s definitely a step up from anything we’ve done before.

Underfoot, however, isn’t where I’m spending most of my time.  Level-locked progression raids represent three evenings a week, leaving plenty of time to run around Norrath at level 100, and I have been dividing my time before I inevitably burn out again between stomping old content and exploring the very latest stuff, with an eye towards actually seeing most of it BEFORE the next expansion comes out, which will be something of a first.

One particular bit of this had me up until 2 AM (on a work night, no less), which is not normally the sort of thing you want to be doing after you leave your 20s, much less your 30s, but which was so thoroughly satisfying that I feel very little guilt about the whole thing.

This most recent expansion has revolved around the Everquest and Everquest 2 universes, which exist generally as parallel universes, merging due to some sort of giant cosmic rift thing, with the role of the players being to collect four artifacts necessary to close the rift.  Naturally, the current owners of these artifacts generally don’t want to relinquish their toys, so a certain amount of hitting them over the head is required.

This leads to Lord Kyle Bayle, a chap with one of these four artifacts, and who REALLY doesn’t want to give it up.  It’s a long and seriously unforgiving fight, and I’ve been beating my head against it – along with five other complete strangers, of course – for a good three days now.

To give a short description of the event:  You fight four bosses, each of which has some pretty nasty abilities.  During these fights, they summon minions both as they lose health AND at predetermined time intervals – so, if you burn them down fast you get overwhelmed by the health-based adds, while taking too long to kill them results in getting stomped by the time-based adds piling up.

Fun!

Even this wouldn’t be too bad, except for one particular boss who summons adds of two different types, with one type having the ability to stun up to four random characters for a solid 18 seconds, taking a six-person EQ group down to two people.

This is rough, but survivable.  It means that anyone who is NOT stunned suddenly needs to learn how to use all of those abilities that you get but don’t need to worry about because, honestly, how often is a DPS class going to really NEED to keep a tank alive using your pathetic heals, or tank themselves?

Even this is big fun and really rewards knowing the ins-and-outs of your character class.

What gets a little trickier is when you get a health-based add AND a time-based add at the same time, both of which have this ability, and suddenly most of the group is unable to move, heal, fight, defend themselves, and so on and so forth.  NPCs won’t attack a PC in this state, which isn’t much comfort because anyone who managed not to get stunned is suddenly the sole focus of the boss AND both adds and, well, things go poorly all around.

Most of the first several times we tried this fight, this is as far as we got.

The first time we got past it, we weren’t ready for the NEXT boss and he ripped us apart while we were still in a state of shock from having actually gotten past the nasty bit.

The next couple of times, we got past the nasty bit and just kept getting further and further before something went just a little bit wrong with predictable results.

The next-to-last time, and this was the attempt that STARTED after I should have been in bed for a half hour, resulted in us getting so close to the end as to be able to taste victory.

And then we died.

And nobody wanted to give up.

So we tried again, and absolutely stomped it, without a single player death.

And THEN I crashed, and still somehow managed to get up at six in the morning to get ready for work, and I really should be ashamed of myself, as a grown man, letting myself get this sucked into a videogame…

…and I probably will be, once I’ve had some time to properly put it in perspective.

But, today at least, I feel awfully good about myself.

For sale: Crowbar, used only once.

September 16, 2014

nightmares

hhotelWhile my wife and I are both pretty avid gamers, we don’t have a lot of similar tastes.  We can both get thoroughly hooked on MMOs for months at a time, but rarely the same ones – I go back and forth between Everquest and TERA, with occasional side jaunts into questionable free-to-play Korean PvP-focused grindfests, while she has a long-standing LoTRO habit and the occasional fling with Ragnarok Online 2.

We agreed on EQ2 and Rift, to be fair, and we both quite liked DAoC.  So, come to think of it, we’ve probably agreed on MMOs more than we’ve disagreed.

But setting that aside, she doesn’t play a lot of the manshooty games, or many rhythm games, or mahjong or 3rd-person adventure types, and I don’t play many match-3s or adventure games.

But, we have recently found common ground – and a new tradition for Saturday afternoons together on the couch – in the HOPA (“Hidden Object Puzzle Adventure”) genre, which are basically digital popcorn.  They combine your traditional adventure gamey traits, like picking up random objects off the ground and touching them to everything else you find in hopes that they will interact, with logic puzzles and hidden object scenes, where you stare at piles of random junk and try to find the SPECIFIC random junk that the game is asking you to find.

Oh, and to explain the title, you tend to use each inventory object exactly once and then throw it away, which is particularly funny if you pick up, say, three separate crowbars or crowbar-equivalent tools over the course of a single game with each only being useful in one very specific location for one very specific purpose.

While Steam (praise the GabeN!) has recently started dabbling in offering more of these for sale, the Big Name in the HOPA business is Big Fish Games, a company that makes hundreds of millions of dollars every year pumping out games that fly under the radar – or beneath the notice, if I’m being more judgmental – of the “gaming industry” as represented by Ye Auld AAA publishers and the press which republishes their press releases as news articles.

There may have been a little editorial content in that last sentence.  I am allowed to be snarky.

Anyway, when I say “digital popcorn”, I mean that these things are generally inexpensive, can be consumed in a single sitting (7 hours is a very long HOPA), and make you want another one not long after finishing.  They also tend to keep their content at a G or PG level, though that doesn’t mean that they don’t have some seriously creepy stories from time to time.

It’s also fun to play these things because, let’s be honest, they make you feel smarter.  Solving puzzles is fun, and staring at a shelf covered with macabre knickknacks trying to figure out whether the “bow” the game is asking you to find is a hair bow, an archery bow, or a violin bow, or whether it’s a completely different type of bow you’ve never heard of makes for a great feeling of accomplishment when you realize that it’s the violin bow and it’s peeking out from behind the glass jar of eyeballs.

It should also be noted that these things get a little weird from time to time.  Just putting that right out there.

They also tend to be really pretty, even when they trend towards the dark. Some of these have a lot of lovingly-hand-drawn rotting corpses.

Anyway, these are great games to play as a couple because there are certain kinds of puzzles that I’m pretty good at, and certain kinds of puzzles that my wife is crazy good at, and we both enjoy trying to figure out where stuff is in the hidden object bits, and it’s a great way to spend an afternoon…

…especially when, as in the case of “Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart”, they’re on Steam and I can use them to pump up my cheevo count.

There’s two more in that series, but we elected to play through the Lovecraft-themed “Haunted Hotel: Charles Dexter Ward” after the first one and we have something about a haunted carnival on the plate for this Saturday.

The only exception to the general enjoyability of the genre so far has been the Wii version of Mystery Case Files: Musgrave Manor, which was honestly kind of a pain due to the Wii’s low resolution.  Hidden object scenes in 480P are not great, to put it gently, and we had to resort to in-game hints far more often than either of us liked.

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