Dear Esther

I had heard a bit about Dear Esther and was intrigued, but not enough to actually pay money for it until it came on sale for 2.50.  At that price I decided it was worth a shot.  It’s not exactly what you would call a “game”.  You do not play Dear Esther.  You experience it.  It’s marketed as a sort of interactive storytelling experience, but in reality not very much of it is interactive.  Literally the only thing you can do is walk and move the camera around.  You can zoom in on things to take a closer look, but really it doesn’t do anything or trigger anything.  The story comes in chunks as you walk from place to place and trigger them.

For a game that’s lauded for its writing, I was expecting to “play” a really good short story.  That’s all the game HAS so the writing must be pretty damn good, right??

Ehhh… to be honest, I found the writing to be the weakest part of the whole thing.  First of all, I get annoyed very easily with “fluffy” writing.  The game’s dialog chunks are bloated with unnecessary simile and metaphor that sound like they’re trying way too hard to be impressive.  If you’re trying too hard to impress me that means you’re not spending enough time on fleshing out your writing.

Secondly, it didn’t make a lot of sense.  I went and looked up some spoilers afterward to try to figure out what the fuck happened, and I discovered the game actually picks random story chunks, meaning each playthrough can result in a slightly different story.  Supposedly the ambiguity is supposed to let the player draw their own conclusions, which is something that worked reasonably well in the game “Home”, although most of the time I find that technique just means lazy writing that relies on the player/reader to fill in the gaps so you don’t have to actually plan to fill them yourself while writing it.  The human brain is SO good at making connections that it can make connections where absolutely none were originally intended, which means the author can come along later and be all “See, look how deep this story is!” when really they were just pulling it out of their ass and didn’t have any real initial plan. (See: “LOST”).  I’m not necessarily opposed to that sort of storytelling – christ, I really love the way House of Leaves comes together and that book explains absolutely fucking nothing to the reader, to the degree that the vast majority of the internet argue about all the most trivial parts of it (and annoy me by skipping all the parts that delve into deeper layers and actually fucking matter… of course you didn’t like it if you skipped those!  …anyway, that’s a different review, although a number of parallels can probably be drawn in the way things are constructed).  I’ve only played Dear Esther once, so it’s difficult to say, but I could have just gotten unlucky and gotten some random chunks that didn’t really mesh well together.  Suffice to say, my story made no goddamn sense and no amount of gap filling really helped.  I did pick up on a few of the themes I read about afterward, but there were so many ends flapping in the breeze that it felt like only a few of them actually connected.

What’s probably the most damning is that when I go and look for discussion about the writing, I find a lot of confusion and wild speculation, and no clear consensus as to what the fuck is going on.  (I actually found a wiki for the game, and all the “explain the story” sections were left blank. HMM.)  The vast majority of descriptions for anything other than island fixtures are preceeded by disclaimers like “seems to suggest that” and “there is a possibility that…”.  Nothing is clearly laid out, and everything is ambiguous to the degree of being explained in multiple ways. There are even arguments as to who the “protagonist” actually is in this game.  Are you the narrator?  Are you Esther?  Are you some random person wandering around on an island learning about them but personally have no connections to them?  No one fucking knows for sure.  What that says to me is that the writing does not have any clear direction… so you can make of the story what you will, but the ambiguity is literally all you’re going to get.  There is no plan here, no direction (or at least not one they managed to connect clearly for the player… which could be a symptom of moving from mod to expanded game), and therefore no real story except what you make of it.  For a “game” focused solely on storytelling, it’s incredibly disappointing.  I was looking forward to a creepy stroll through a beautiful but possibly sinister island, slowly uncovering the dark secrets of the past, eventually leading to the horrible truth that was simply too much to bear.  What I got was some random ramblings about events that didn’t really make much sense together, but maybe there were hints that the bigger story was about to unfold, and then it… uh… ended.  Without a sensible build-up the ending felt shallow and unsatisfying.  I sat there and said “…it’s over?  What the fuck just happened?” which led to some googling because I assumed I had missed some side paths and integral plot points somewhere.  Instead it led to writing this review(slash rant).

What the game excelled at was atmosphere.  The island is fucking gorgeous to walk around on.  If it weren’t for the amazing island, this game would not exist, because I don’t think the writing is what propped it up and moved it from “Source mod” to “for sale on Steam”.  I’m not even going to put screenshots in this review… you really need to walk around on the island to see how amazing it is.  There is no part of it that’s boring to look at.  Even in the dry grass fields at the start, you have wind whipping around you and dust blowing past and you feel like “holy shit I’m on an island and I’m looking at the ocean and I can practically smell the salt water.”  When you start getting into caves and can see the light reflecting off of damp surfaces and slightly luminescent fungi… it’s awesome.

And it’s made even more awesome by the soundtrack.  I was expecting the whole experience to be really creepy… and it is to some extent, with a few whispered words in your ear… but for the most part it’s a very melancholy atmosphere.  The soundtrack is fantastic and very fitting.  I’d go so far as to recommend dropping the extra buck on the soundtrack version, if you happen to like orchestral style scores.

The atmosphere makes this game.  Or “game”.  The unfortunate part of a storytelling game like this is that it only takes an hour to play through (80 minutes, in my case), and you could easily just fire up a Let’s Play video and literally see the entire game without missing out.  In the case of Dear Esther, the writing actually isn’t the draw… the experience of walking around on the island, listening to the score and examining creepy glowing diagrams is what you’re after.  For 2.50 on sale, it’s well worth the experience.  For 9.99?  … I don’t think I would go for it.  The writing just isn’t good enough to be worth the price of a good book.

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Harvest Moon: A New Beginning

Once upon a time, Harvest Moon came out for the SNES.  And I played the shit out of it.  In Harvest Moon, you were given a dilapidated plot of land and told “go forth and become profitable”, so you laboured to raise lucrative crops and upgrade your buildings to maximize your efficiency.  Players cried out that they disliked that the game force-ended after two years and they could not continue nurturing their successful farm, and so Harvest Moon 64 was created.

And I played the everloving shit out of Harvest Moon 64.  Same idea – you have a farm, you have to make the farm not suck… but now the town is full of people with far more fleshed out plot points, and the game doesn’t just end.  The festivals are interesting! You can marry people!  And your wife helps you on the farm!  And you have choices!  And social circles!  And you unlock more of people’s plots and find out their deep backstories if you get them to trust you! Holy shit!

Sadly, every Harvest Moon game past that has expanded more and more on that concept until the actual farm was a tiny distraction, and the bulk of the game was spent running around giving gifts to people and trying to ensure your spouse doesn’t divorce you in a fit of rage.  I’ve played almost every one of them and I got more and more disinterested with every successive one.  I don’t give a shit about this dating simulator… I want to grow some motherfucking turnips and upgrade my barn, bitches.

And maybe someone heard my profanity filled ranting… because along comes “A New Beginning“.

The first month of New Beginning is literally that.  You grow turnips and there is not a god damn other thing you can do.  Except collect bugs.  And cook turnips.  You don’t even start with a fucking axe or storage shed for wood!  On one hand, I’m a Harvest Moon veteran and the prolonged tutorial really annoyed me (I know how to walk from place to place and use a mini map.  I want to explore the town on my own terms, thanks… ugh).  On the other hand, the town literally consists of three people, so having the game start rolling gently downhill with turnip seeds and a social circle of three people is a breath of fresh air compared to the “Here’s your farm!  Soooooo… you can just use these automated things to water your crops so that you don’t have to worry about all that while you head into town and meet the 500 people you’re going to have to please this month!”

I like starting from nothing.  I like having the game build gradually.  My best memories of Harvest Moon 64 are of finally reaching milestones to upgrade the most advanced buildings and excitedly seeing how my farm had changed.  I can’t even describe how excited I am to unlock more blueprints, and I feel like that’s something that was really missing from some of the more recent sequels.  This feels like a throwback in all the right ways, while still maintaining some of the more interesting advancements (like: being able to choose a female protagonist!  Crop quality!), and holding a really visible progression track in that you literally build the town up from a couple of houses in an empty field to something more similar to recent Harvest Moon towns.

It really does move too slowly, though.  Even someone who is completely new to the series might find it slow.  The entire first month serves as a tutorial, and one of the events that happens is someone buys your first cow for you!  So I carry along, pampering my cow and making it like me, and I already had the milk up to 2 star quality when the game comes along and gives me a helpful tip saying “You can MILK your cow! And sell the milk!  And then you can buy MORE cows with that money!”  How fucking stupid does the game think I am?  He gave me the milking machine when he gave me the cow!  Okay, maybe they need to cover bases in case a 5 year old is playing or something, but how hard is it to add a little trigger into the code saying “Has_cow_been_milked: YES” and then skip the god damn tutorial about milking.

It really hurts replay value, too.  I’m annoyed with the tutorial month as a veteran of the series, when some of the tutorials at least highlight some of the changes in this version.  I can’t even imagine having to sit through this as a veteran of this exact game, knowing all the mechanics in detail already.  It really would have been smart to provide some way to opt out.  If people fuck up their farm because they skipped a tutorial, that’s what the internet is for!  Not to mention all of this shit is stored neatly on a bookshelf in your house, so you can refer to it at any time.  WHY do I have to sit through your banal explanations?  Fuck you.

Once you get past the insufferable tutorial month, you can actually do things, and not only that, but it might even be innovative for a Harvest Moon game.  Near the end of the month, an architect moves into town and you can purchase blueprints from her, which allow you to build items.  A lot of these items are cosmetic – benches and flowerpots and other sorts of decorative items that do nothing but make your farm and town look pretty.  Some of the items even work as coordinating “combos” which give your area a bonus, which means people will like it more, or the items you produce nearby will have more quality, or whatever.  That’s great for the Animal Crossing/Farmville crowd, but what about the rest of us?

In addition to the fluff stuff, you can build things to upgrade your farm.  The storage shed and chicken coop are some of the first things you unlock, so if you were getting pissed about carrying around branches and rocks, never fear.  As a side note: Here is a big tip for you – DO NOT SELL OR BREAK DOWN YOUR BRANCHES AND ROCKS.  The unbroken versions of them are also required for many buildings.  Collect them all and hold on to them until you absolutely need the broken down version.  Lumber is easy to get by chopping down trees; branches must be found by other means.  I erroneously assumed trees would break down into branches and merrily chopped all my branches into lumber.  Fortunately I figured it out quickly and held on to the rest of the branches I found during the month, but I might still have to scrounge a bit to get enough.  Similarly you may want to hold on to any “mine” type items because it takes a bit to unlock that.  Actually, just hold on to fucking everything unless you absolutely need to make some cash or whatever.  Extra hint: you won’t actually need cash until you unlock blueprints anyway.

Here’s the big thing though – you can also get blueprints to upgrade the town.  This is new and exciting… no longer are you focusing solely on your farm while a bustling town sits nearby and wonders why you are neglecting your socializing.  You need to actually build the town to get people to move in.  Socializing with people leads to unlocking more blueprints which leads to more people to socialize with and more items to craft and sell on your farm.

The game is lighter on ‘story’ than some of the predecessors, which honestly is fine by me.  The storylines of the games were never great, and I was interested in building my farm.  That’s what the story of this game is – build the farm and make the town successful.  It’s a bit open-ended in that way, which I think is a good move for Harvest Moon.  Don’t try to shoehorn story into the game when people clearly only care about building farms, raising quality crops, and chatting up townsfolk.  The customization works nicely to this end and I think it makes a stronger game overall to focus on the building and quality aspects.

There is also a pseudo “level” systems, wherein the more you do of an activity the better quality your products are.  Some examples are cooking and fishing… the things I make now have extra quality stars and the fish I catch are getting bigger and higher quality.  Although I got mega super bug catching titles because there was nothing else to fucking do during the first month, to the degree where I even got a letter saying the next town over knew me as a butterfly whisperer, and as far as I can tell it did fuck-all; the same bugs still spawn and they still sell for the same amount because bugs don’t actually have quality associated with them.  So I don’t really know what the point of that was…
I also kind of suspect I’m getting screwed, because I can whip up a batch of 20 turnip soups after my crops mature, but it wasn’t until a few days later I got the level up for cooking 10 items, so I think it counted the batch of 20 as one cook.  I haven’t bothered to experiment with cooking 20 turnip soups one by one though… it’s just not worth it.

So if you like Harvest Moon and have been disappointed with recent titles, or if you like building shit, or if you like decorating a farm with fences and benches and petting chickens once a day, or you like the feeling of progression of unlocking new things to build or craft, or you like talking to people and trying to fucking date one of them (if you’re a girl protagonist, most of the guys in the game seem to be douches – fair warning)… you might like this game!  It’s great because it’s a throwback to everything that made Harvest Moon great in the first place, but without trying to “fix” a winning formula.  If only it gave you a bit more freedom to experiment at the start it would be perfect.

Now if you will excuse me… I have to go milk my cow.

Canterbury

PWB-Canterbury-3551-157x300This is one that I bet not many have seen, which makes it a perfect candidate for an entry on my blog.

Canterbury is a beer produced by the local brewery, probably less than 10km from where I am sitting right now.  They proudly advertise how it is brewed with “fresh spring water”, but given the brewery’s location smack on the banks of the river, I often wonder…

Canterbury is apparently Canada’s first Dark Mild.  That’s what the can says, anyway.  What I can tell you is that it’s got a delicious malty flavour without any overpowering “ear wax” hops taste that I find a lot of “dark” beers try to go for.  I like malt and I dislike strong hops, which means I like this beer.

Additionally, since it’s locally produced, there are two major benefits:  It’s cheap, because there are no real shipping costs involved (and also rah rah support local business and whatnot), and it’s always fresh.  We’ve had the occasional “off” batch of imported beer and it’s always unfortunate.  Canterbury is always crisp and fresh and we haven’t run into a bad batch yet.

Don’t get me wrong… it’s a cheap beer, and there are better options out there if you’re looking for quality.  I’m not terribly crazy over the other brands produced by the local place either (although the honey lager is decent, and there are probably others I haven’t tried yet), but Canterbury is definitely my default “grab something quick” choice from the local shops.

The Grey

This is the worst fucking movie.  Not even Liam Neeson could save this movie.

When I saw the trailer for it I was mildly interested… who doesn’t love a good “oops plane crashed in the snow and now we’re fucked unless we can figure shit out!” story.  Then it was revealed the “enemy” was a wolf pack.  Uuggghhhh…

Okay, okay… I can suspend disbelief well enough if they come up with a good plot point for it.  Maybe they are diseased wolves.  Irradiated wolves from a nuclear test in the arctic!  Mutant wolves.  Or alien wolves!  Maybe they’ve been trained by humans to kill humans and then they broke free and formed a pack!  SOMETHING is making these wolves behave in a manner unlike any wolf behaviour we have recorded.  Something is making these wolves behave like the wolves from fairy tales that we wrote 200 years ago, before we understood a god damn thing about animal behaviour.  That’s what they’ll do with this plot to explain it, right?

Nope.  Wolves are just vindictive assholes and that’s all there is to it, in this movie.  The best explanation we get is some vague references to how he’s been hunting them for years, so naturally he’s familiar with their behaviour and they’re all just a bunch of dicks.
(Maybe they all died in the plane crash and the angry wolves are his punishment for killing all those wolves in life… which still doesn’t explain why non-rabid wolves were “threatening” an oil rig one by one, but at least it would make a bit of sense…)

Sigh.  Okay, well, at least it should be an interesting “aliens” style suspense/horror where they flee through a forest being stalked by a mythical giant wolf pack full of strangely intelligent wolves who are holding a grudge.

OR… the entire movie could be them sitting around a campfire whining about their lives and being picked off one by one!  Yeah, let’s do that instead.

My god, you couldn’t have fucked up this movie more if you tried.  They managed to make it fucking boring to watch a group of men be picked off by wolves.  I wanted them all to die and they took too damn long to do it.

Should I spoil the ending for you?  On one hand, you kind of have to see it to believe it.  On the other hand, you have to sit through the movie to see it… so… conundrum.

Are you ready for this?  Here’s the ending:

He ditches his gear, tapes a knife to one hand and little airline alcohol bottles to the other, smashes the bottles so there’s broken glass taped to his knuckles, then goes and wrestles the pack leader.  We don’t see who wins.
(apparently if you wait through the credits – I didn’t – you see the wolf die but it’s not clear if they’re both dead.)

I just don’t know.  I guess the whining is supposed to be the point of this movie but ugh.  It was too god damn annoying for me to take any sort of enlightenment away from.

Xenoblade: First Impressions

I say First Impressions because, despite putting 6 hours into it so far, I haven’t actually left the first town and have barely started the story.  But I can certainly comment on some of the mechanics!  And when I’m done, 200 hours from now, I’ll have forgotten everything I was going to say anyway, so I may as well start now.

I was in the mood for something RPGish and needed something engaging to do while using the recumbent bike, so a console RPG seemed like a perfect fit.  Our Wii library is pretty anemic, and Xenoblade has been coming up in a lot of conversations, so it seemed like a safe bet.  So far it was the correct choice – my hour on the bike disappears, and then I just keep going to finish up whatever I was doing.  If only my butt didn’t go numb, I’d be in amazing shape by the end of this game…

Despite putting only 6 hours into it, I seem to have a lot to say

The Book of Unwritten Tales

I grew up on “adventure games”, and they briefly disappeared from the market so I find myself oddly drawn to them when I come across them.  Telltale sparked a new interest in the genre, and suddenly my Steam account is filled with the damn things.  The problem is, you have to be in a certain mindset to really enjoy an adventure game.  It’s almost like reading an interactive book, except it moves at a much slower pace, and it has bizarrely illogical puzzles scattered about that you have to complete before you can turn the page.  If you’re not in the right mindset, you lose patience quickly and drop the game partway through, and then when you come back later you can’t remember what’s going on, but you remember enough that you don’t want to replay the first part again.  It’s a tough situation!  But Steam keeps putting them on sale for 2 bucks and I have to buy them even when I’m not in the mood.

The latest sale to sucker me in was for The Book of Unwritten Tales.  It’s nice to find a well regarded title that isn’t Telltale, and I happened to be in the mood for some storytelling, so I fired it up right away.

The first thing I do in every game is go to the options and adjust all the settings.  I also ensured that subtitles were on.  The game immediately launched into a movie to start the story off and… there were no subtitles!  It wasn’t a big deal for me because I’m not actually deaf, but I feel bad for anyone who legitimately can’t hear the voiceover as the character sat there and did nothing but write in his book for several minutes.  He was explaining the story, but without subtitles it would make for a pretty god damn boring intro.

The other thing that surprised me was how low res the movies seemed.  The game obviously isn’t bleeding edge graphics, but the graphics are clear and bright.  In comparison, the actual in game movies were spilling compression artifacts everywhere and made it feel like playing a game from the 90s (which works for the adventure game nostalgia angle, I guess).  I’m relatively certain there are no more settings I can flip to improve them, which is too bad.

I liked the animation style they were going for in game – it feels fluid and cartoony, as long as you don’t nitpick their movements too much. Some of the animations are a bit repetitive and it’s obvious they just copied frames to save time. Don’t look too closely at how ridiculous some of the facial animations can be, either.  Probably my biggest complaint is that the animations can leave the characters feeling “wooden”. The faces animate in a fairly robotic way that doesn’t really bring across emotion like a hand-drawn cartoon can (and in a pixel graphic, your mind fills in the blanks, which is why they’re so damn effective).  It can push into the “uncanny valley” sometimes, watching a character break into a delighted smile that really only makes their mouth open a bit too wide, and leaves their eyes dead and staring… oh god, the nightmares…
But hey for the sale price I paid, I’m paying for the writing and the graphics are just a bonus.  It does make me wonder which costs more, though – the 3D renders they have here, or hand drawn cartoony graphics like in the later Kings Quest games.  Hrmm.  I feel like this game would really benefit from hand drawn cartoon graphics that could express themselves.

I enjoyed the humour of the writing, although some of the jokes felt a bit forced.  One of the conversations gives you three different options, and all of them go for the same, obvious joke.  Granted, I didn’t actually go through reloading to try each of them to see if they actually did all lead to the same outcome, but it felt like they would.  Which leads me to another comment: the game also has one of my pet peeves in that the options it gives you to pick from often don’t actually resemble what the character ends up saying.  That is not what I thought I was trying to convey when I picked that dialog choice and it annoys me that I am being misrepresented here!  Damn you, game!

Another problem – the game is one of those “Oh you want to inspect that?  Okay, the character will waddle their slow ass over there to look at it for you” games, which results in a lot of wasted time that does not need to be wasted.  I’ve given up on games before because of this, but they do somewhat acknowledge it by giving you the ability to double click and transition immediately, rather than waiting for the character to waddle across the screen.  Unfortunately it doesn’t help much when inspecting things.  A lot of the old pixel games solve this problem by having the character interact with things no matter where they’re standing, unless a specific scripted animation required them to move to it.  In Unwritten Tales, every bit of flavour decoration requires the character to stand next to it.  Especially annoying is later on when you need to swap between characters.  Each and every swap requires them to waddle over and tag each other, and all it accomplishes is an artificial lengthening of the hours played.  So easily solved… and (I would think) so easy to pick up on in testing.  It’s really too bad they didn’t polish that a bit more.

The story starts out interestingly enough and it grabs you with a decent hook right off the start which makes you want to keep going to see what happens next.  So many stories make the mistake of starting out banal and “normal” and get you to go do normal and boring things before the excitement starts, which is just a barrier to becoming immersed and involved.  Unwritten Tales has you do the banal everyday things (washing pots and chasing a rat… seriously) AFTER the hook scene!  So it gets a thumbs up there, I guess.

When people talk about adventure games, they almost always talk about “adventure game logic”.  Unwritten Tales arguably has some adventure game logic, but as far as these games go it’s very, very good.  Most “adventure game logic” is along the lines of “I have this box with an unusually shaped hole in it, and I have this peg with the same unusual shape carved into the end of it.  How do I open this box?!??! Hmm I’m totally stumped!  The player wants to put the peg into the hole in the box?  What?  No, that’s stupid. Why would I want to try that??  I see no reason to try that.  Hey let’s ask this guy over here if he knows how to open this box!  Hmm he says there must be a key with the same shape as this hole on the box… we should try putting this peg into the box!”
None of the puzzles in Unwritten Tales are stupid, and they all make sense (well… so far, anyway).  They’re just very linear.  I keep getting stuck because the only way to open up the option to do something is to talk to someone I’ve already talked to, with no indication that they should have something new to say all of a sudden.  I dislike that sort of repetitive “checking” in adventure games because it means puzzle solving ends up boiling down to clicking on everything 20 times until something new happens.  In fact, Unwritten Tales offers a time-saving feature where holding a key will highlight everything you can interact with, and once you’re out of potential interactions, they stop highlighting anymore.  So the solution to every puzzle is to click on everything until it stops lighting up.  There’s not a whole lot of “puzzling” involved. There are also some dumb things that MUST happen in order, even if it may not necessarily make sense that they MUST happen in that order.  The very first puzzle in the game revolves around trying to cut a bit of rope.  I did the stuff and got the necessary thing to cut it, so I selected the thing and pointed at the rope, and my character goes “Wait, I better tell him that I’m going to cut it now.”  Yet another conversation must take place before the actual cutting.  Sigh.  Fortunately subtitles work for these bits, so I can read them quickly and not wait for the voice acting to finish before I can go cut the god damn rope already.  At least the game sort of lets you feel like it understands that you’ve figured out the puzzle, instead of acting dumb until all the bits have been walked through.

And then the cutscene after that involved a pretty obvious zoom-in on elf cleavage.  Ugh.  One of the bonuses of story driven games like adventure games is that USUALLY it offers the opportunity to create full-featured female characters.  Nope, it’s an elf, so we better have her wear a leather bikini and zoom in when we can.  It’s too bad because I like her character, but having the defining feature be “female elf” is unfortunate.

All in all, it’s a decent addition to the adventure game genre, and I’m glad to see more developers getting in on producing more modern tales.  TL;DR – The game wins a lot of points for decent writing and not-infurating “puzzles”, but it loses points for the clunky animations and a couple of bad design decisions that end up wasting time.

[edit] And after playing further, I want to add that the game REALLY comes into its own as it goes on.  I enjoyed it almost as much as the classic LucasArts/Sierra stuff, which is saying a lot.  The time wasting stays true throughout, though.  Why do the characters have to slowly plod back to a specific spot when you switch?  Even if they must stand in a spot, why can’t they do that WHILE you control the next one?  It’s just clunky design…

Brain on Fire

Brain on Fire: My Month of MadnessBrain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The problem with good books is that you stay up all night reading them and then they’re done. I’m predisposed to enjoy psychology/neurology mysteries, especially TRUE ones, but I certainly couldn’t put it down.

This is the true story of a medical mystery and the subsequent mishandling of the diagnosis by numerous professionals, until someone finally steps in and does the right things to uncover what’s really going on. It is fascinating from a medical standpoint, and potentially disturbing from a social standpoint. I may have a degree that focused on a lot of neuroscience theory, but I certainly didn’t do any training in diagnostic methods, and I was pretty horrified when – 48% of the way through the book and roughly 3 or 4 neurologists into the disorder – someone finally thinks to give her the clock test. Her first symptom was left side numbness and it took that long to use a standard test. Which, naturally, blew the case open… I seriously felt like I had to keep checking to make sure this hadn’t happened in the ’70s. Hrm.

If you’re interested in medicine, brains, mental disorders, or the workings (and not-workings…) of the medical and social systems today, you will probably enjoy this book.

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Selected Stories of Philip K Dick

Selected Stories of Philip K. DickSelected Stories of Philip K. Dick by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely amazing. I’ve always meant to read some of his stuff, so a book full of short stories seemed perfect. It contains most of the stories which have been adapted into movies I’ve seen, so it was great to see the source material.

I found it fascinating from a psychology perspective too. I had heard that Dick may have been schizophrenic, and I can absolutely see where that comes from, now. So many of the stories involve paranoia, warping of reality, or a complete disbelief in reality. That he is able to tackle those themes on such a deep level and still construct fascinating stories all around it shows how much skill he had.

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Legend of Fae

One of my intended purposes for this blog was to bring some attention to the quality of smaller, little known things that might otherwise get overlooked.  I feel like Legend of Fae deserves some attention.

It’s a typical match three game, but it’s got a lot of unique elements to it which really make it stand out.

For one, the graphics are decent.Legend of Fae 1

For two, it’s an RPG, and it actually has good writing.  The story is keeping me interested and I want to know what happens next.

The gist of it is that shit is happening and our protagonist sets out to locate her missing family member.  Along the way, she runs into some friendly elementals who help her out.

Gameplay has a lot of simple elemental matching: fire beats grass, water beats fire… etc. etc.  In the mix are some other elements though.  For one, there are “walk” tiles which make you… well… walk… and get to the next story element.  While in combat, those tiles also make you dodge.  There are also some other action tiles that do various things.

The game includes a combat element.  You match tiles to power up your elemental friends, then click up on the battle screen to direct them to attack things.  This is where your matching kicks in – send your fire guy to attack the grass dudes, water guy to attack fire dudes… you’ll figure it out.  So each game involves a lot of swapping between the two game boards, which I wasn’t too keen on at first but I got used to it.

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The battle board

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Properly matched elements result in huge bonuses

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monsters can drop items, which you can click on to collect.  I could really do without this.  Why do we have to CLICK on it to collect it?  Just pick that shit up automatically.  It’s busywork that can end up being a bit tedious.  The items they drop can result in fleshing out your story tome though which is nice.  I love collection elements in games.

The real RPG aspects come into play when clearing a stage can result in you collecting some upgrade items which you can use to make your elemental friends more powerful 2013-02-09_00004

Save up to make one super powerful, or upgrade all of them equally?  HMMM.

For the competitive streak in people, there are time attack options for getting through the stages.  Getting a good time requires efficient matching and proper elemental attacks in order to take things out in the fastest possible manner.  Fortunately, for people like me, it’s completely optional and you can just enjoy the game and story without worrying about the clock.

It’s a great little timewaster with much deeper elements than your typical match three, and I highly recommend checking it out.

Here Comes the Boom

I could probably end this review with one sentence: “Surprisingly not shitty!”

My husband wanted to watch something “stupid” so I said “Hey there’s a new Kevin James movie!”.  Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t all that stupid and we actually enjoyed it, but it really doesn’t do anything unique or unexpected.  If you read any blurb about the plot you probably know what’s going to happen well enough that you could just skip seeing it, unless this is like, the first movie you have ever seen.

The plot follows a teacher at what might be the worst high school ever (…or… is it average. Sigh.)  There are a lot of thrown away plot points here which I thought was kind of odd.  He’s lazy and slacking off at his job, coming in late, sleeping through class instead of teaching, whining about being penalized for it, constantly reminding people he was teacher of the year once… none of that really matters for the movie and it’s kind of annoying, really.  The movie plot actually begins when they have a staff meeting where it is announced there are a bunch of cutbacks and the music program is being shut down as a result.  After some protesting, they are told it’s going to cost 48,000 to keep the program so it’s not happening unless you pull money out of your ass.

So, naturally, they go pull some money out of their ass.  A series of side jobs leads Kevin James’ character to try MMA fighting, because a loss in the UFC is worth 10k a piece, and who can’t lose a fight, right??

It’s mostly generic, but there are some funny moments.  [Spoiler Alert] The movie goes full out Disney when his class (which he constantly abuses throughout the film, except for like, one class where he bothers to teach them some dubious information about cells in an amusing manner, so it’s somewhat of a mystery why they end up liking him so much all of a sudden) rallies around him and gives him the strength to carry on and all that kind of shit.  Shockingly enough (oh man you’ll never see this twist coming!), he gets a random offer to go fight in the UFC!  And you’ll never guess what happens next!!!
[Seriously – Spoiler Alert] In case you can’t guess, just before the fight he only needs 8k to save the music program, so the loss will do it for him.  Then he finds out that some asshole embezzled all the money he’s raised so far so he needs 48k to save the music program.  Winning gives him 50k.  OH MY GOODNESS WHAT WILL HAPPEN?  Will the power of love and friendship prevail over the years of hardened training and experience that this UFC champion opponent has accrued?!??!  [Spoiler alert – it does.  /hurk]

I’m pretty convinced there’s just a blank template somewhere that a writer can go fill in the blanks and submit as a screenplay.  “[Character] is a down on his/her luck [Profession]____ who needs to raise $____ in order to save his/her beloved ____, so they begin training for ____ and just when you think they’re going to fail and lose everything, _____ inspires them and AGAINST ALL THE ODDS….”

It wasn’t a waste of a couple of hours but don’t expect a whole lot from it.

Wizardry Online

This review might be a bit premature, but I have a feeling it’s only going to get worse, so maybe now is a good time.

Wizardry Online!  Where did this come from??  I had heard absolutely nothing about this game until it actually came out.  I used to play the shit out of the old Wizardry series, along with Might and Magic.  Of course, the last Wizardry game I remember clearly was Wizardry 8, and since then it has apparently become an anime series full of elves with big boobs.  Unfortunate.

My husband and I spent a lot of time in Dungeons and Dragons Online, going back several times and usually subscribing for several months each time.  In fact, if it weren’t free to play, we probably wouldn’t get sucked back in so easily. The model works, as long as you’re not a greedy shithead with your pricing schemes and restriction of free accounts!
Wizardry is also free to play, and it seemed to have the kind of gameplay we like.  Co-op dungeon diving (that can be done with 2 people, but allows for more), hacking and slashing monsters in sewers, solving “puzzles” to advance through the dungeon, traps, treasure… the promise of multiclassing and other forms of advanced character building… hell we played the shit out of a game called Dungeon Lords which was about as polished as a fresh lump of clay, and we enjoyed that immensely because we were muddling through together, so Wizardry intrigued us.

Read 3500 words worth of bitching!