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Introduction (aka about this journal)
Hello and welcome. This is, fairly obviously, my online journal / blog / whathaveyou. I write about all sorts of things, including games, movies, and my cute nephew and niece. Come, put up your metaphorical webtravelling shoes; won't you have a read for a while?

I am also on Facebook. I have yet to work out a good and proper Facebook / Livejournal balance.
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Current Month
Feb. 7th, 2013 @ 06:51 pm Assassin's Creed 2
So there I was, writing reviews and review-type things in Livejournal every day! For a few days, then suddenly I stopped.

"Sigh," I imagine the audience saying, "this is Steve dropping off the face of the planet again."

Actually, it was just me finally playing Assassin's Creed 2, a few years late. More detailed thoughts on AC2 may come later. For now, I still have to finish the game! I'm close to the end (about ready to go to Rome), have all the codex pages, have the armor of Altair, have almost all the weapons, have all the paintings, etc. I'm going to finish the Truth glyphs first, then finally move on to Rome.

It's been even longer since I played the first AC, so it's difficult to compare accurately. In the first game, I don't remember Altair having much personality or character (apart from starting as an arrogant kung-fu guy), it was certainly extremely formulaic, and the end of the game had me scratching my head.

In comparison, Ezio's a definite character, the game mixes things up a lot rather than stick to a formula for each target, and the game is being very helpful in filling in the confusing background.

But then this will be old news to almost everyone.
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Jan. 28th, 2013 @ 08:11 am It is the coming of the rain, once again
For a moment there after waking up it sounded like the impossible had happened and the rain had stopped! Then came the sound of the wind and the rain again. Ah, but it is good to dream...

Not looking forward to the oncoming flood. It doesn't matter if it's not going to be "nearly as bad as it was two years ago", my electric power substation is *right* next to a creek and will likely go poof. When this happened two years ago I was without power for 5 days.

My work building is right next to the Brisbane River *and* a creek *and* the area is expecting some flooding. Can't help but wonder what's going to happen there, too.
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Jan. 25th, 2013 @ 05:27 pm The lifecycle of a genre
A long time ago - 10 years or more - I saw something on a message board or webpage somewhere about the lifecycle of a genre. It went roughly as follows:

1) A new game comes along that defines or defines a genre. With fighting games this was Street Fighter 2. For modern graphical MMORPGs this was probably Everquest. For MMOFPSes this was Doom. For adventure games this was Adventure. And so on.

2) and 3) Lots of copying and innovation goes on and the genre matures. People remember the first game with rose-tinted glasses, but realise that they’re a bit clunky to the Really Cool Things that are happening in the genre right now.

4) Saturation – There are far too many games in the genre. There’s little innovation left, and the new bells and whistles being added to new games in the genre just add increasing amounts of complexity that drive away newcomers.

(For example! Capcom vs SNK 2. I loved this game but it was a clear example of Saturation. This was a crossover fighting game between the two big heavyweight companies of its day, with oodles and oodles of complex systems and a bunch of characters with complicated histories. When choosing characters, you had to choose how many characters you wanted on your team and how powerful each one was. Then you had *six* different game modes, which you had to carefully choose based on which characters were in your team. Then once in the game proper you had a bunch of meters to watch, and one of the more complicated and newbie-unfriendly combo systems of the time to deal with.)

5) Decline – After a while, lots of the old guard are leaving, the genre has lots of little quirks and oddities and conventions that make it impenetrable for newcomers to join in, and the whole thing thing stutters to a stop, or goes into a very low output ‘maintenance mode’.

(You might call the above common sense, but as we all know common sense is not very common these days. It was predecased by its cousin common courtesy long ago and is survived by its annoying sibling the common cold.)

At the time I saw this, it was in the context of fighting games, which were clearly going down the gurgler at the time. I've just been reminded of this because of an article I saw on the decline of MMOPRGs. (http://unsubject.wordpress.com/2012/12/20/the-single-biggest-problem-facing-mmos-today/)

I'm posting this here so I can have it on LJ and link back to it later. It would have really helped if I'd posted this on LJ years earlier, when I might have been able to remember who to thank for the above lifecycle.
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Jan. 24th, 2013 @ 08:26 pm Wrecking it, old-school style
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Australia has this Boxing Day thing that happens with movies. If a big name movie is coming out around the end of the year, then there's a very good chance that we'll get it on Boxing Day. This is to catch all the people who've stuffed themselves silly on food and alcohol on Christmas Day and can barely do anything more than drag themselves to the cinema on the next day.

I had three Boxing Day movies last year, Wreck-It Ralph, The Hobbit: An unexpected journey, and Les Miserables. It took me a while, but I eventually saw all of them. My favourite was Wreck-It Ralph.

Warning: Probable spoilers for Wreck-It RalphCollapse )

Next up: The end of Amazing Spider-Man, which went for 700 comics, and the beginning of Superior Spider-Man. Or possibly some thoughts on the Wii U. I might even write about the recent Les Miserables movie, which as I understand is only recently released in the US. I haven't decided yet. Or maybe all at the same time, because I don't know if I'll post anything tomorrow night.
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Jan. 23rd, 2013 @ 12:52 pm Operation Post More: v2.0: #3: The Hobbit: An unexpected trilogy
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Yes, I'm reviewing the first The Hobbit movie. Because I can. I might be mentioning stuff that happens later on in the book and will likely happen later in the movies, and so theoretically I should say that there are spoilers ahead. But really, the book is 80 years old. Do I really need to put in spoilers for a book that's 80 years old?

Reviews of The Hobbit: An unexpected Journey seem to comment a lot on the fact that a 300-ish page book is being stretched out to cover 3 movies. "Far too padded out" and "far too stretched" and "oh my god the beginning bit in the Shire takes FOREVER" are mentioned. "How on earth is this possible!" and "This offends my sensibilities" and "This offends my wallet" and "They're doing this for the money the dirty moneygrubbing bastards!" seem to be implied.

If you ask me, that's not the real problem. The main issue is that originally, The Hobbit is very much a kid's book. Tolkien did some edits to The Hobbit later on, to tie it in better with Lord of the Rings, but it is still at heart a kid's story.

  • Rather than an epic quest to save the world from a terrible foe, the quest is to help some dwarves get their gold back.
  • A tense showoff between Bilbo and a vicious nasty little creature who wants to eat him is solved by a game of riddles (and then some running away).
  • The One Ring at first comes across as a Deus Ex Machina - it lets Bilbo turn invisible right when he needs to be invisible.
  • The eagles come across as another deus ex machina, rescuing everyone right in the nick of time.
  • There's a major battle at the end of it all along with a very angry dragon, and Bilbo's asleep for a lot of it and the dragon is felled by a guy who's a crack shot with an arrow.
  • There's not that much distinction between the dwarves, because it's only really Thorin that's important.
  • Bombur is the designated buttmonkey and keeps on being made a fool of.
  • The plot comes seems very "this happened and they got through it (because Gandalf saved the day) then this next thing happened and they got past it (because Bilbo was clever) then this next thing happened and they got past it (because the Eagles saved everyone) then they got to the end of the quest and the day was saved, yay Bilbo (and dwarves)!" It's really suited to reading one chapter a night to your kids right before bedtime.

No, I'm not trying to say The Hobbit is bad. I'm just saying it's very obviously a kid's book.

The movie tries its best to be Darker and Edgier, but at heart it's still the same kid's story. All those things I mentioned in that list? They have to be there, otherwise it's not The Hobbit, but in being there the movie comes across as still a bit kiddie and twee. It's a bit like a kid trying oh so very hard to be a grown-up.

I should mention the violence and fighting. It gets pretty nasty. Heads and limbs go flying, dwarves are burnt alive by a dragon, an attempt at killing an orc swiftly and silently goes awry and is messy and noisy, the Great Goblin is eviscerated onscreen, Gollum beats and kills a goblin (and eats it?) offscreen, the dwarves are almost cooked by the trolls (but fortunately get better)... it's all pretty scary, and would give the kiddies nightmares for weeks! So a movie that feels like a kid's movie trying to be grown-up (and not quite succeeding) can't be shown to kids. There's something deeply ironic there.

The dwarves
The dwarves are far more than just "Thorin and the other 12 dwarves" this time. Being a movie helps a *lot* in this regard. They all have distinctive looks, and there are little throwaway lines that help establish, if not personality, at least character quirks. They have cool beards.

I really like Balin, the old white-haired one with the long forked beard. Possibly because he's one of the dwarves that speaks and does more than the others.

Bombur, sadly, doesn't have any speaking lines (that I can remember, anyway) and the movie still makes fun of him and how fat he is.

I'm hoping that in the next two movies, the dwarves will become more distinctive.

Epic riddle battles of history
So yeah, Bilbo gets lost under the Misty Mountains, picks up this strange ring, meets this curious vicious little creature that wants to eat him, and has a game of riddles with it. Which he cheats on to win.

I can't remember how much "running for his life from Gollum" was in the book, but I rather like how in the movie, they start with the riddle game, but then it escalates at the end anyway. Because seriously, if there's a nasty vicious little creature that wants to eat you, asking it a riddle it can't solve isn't really going to save you. Especially if you cheat and the riddle is, "what do I have in my pocket?"

If by some chance you don't know what the One Ring is, then I suppose the "it makes you invisible!" revelation almost comes across as a Deus Ex Machina, until you remember Gollum reaching for it (and not finding it).

On reflection, I quite like how the movie handles "Riddles in the Dark". I have only one annoyance. In the movie, Bilbo actually *does* work out the "time" answer by himself, instead of getting it by accident. Is this because he's the Designated Hero?

Added stuff
We get to see Radagast the Brown and the White Council and the Witch King of Angmar and The Necromancer. We learn that Gandalf is in on all this because he wants to remove Smaug from the reckoning of things, and why he's helping out the regular people of Middle-Earth.

We get to see a segment about the dwarves and their history and the coming of Smaug.

It all helps give a bit of context to the story, rather than have it be just a quest to get the dwarves' gold back from a dragon.

The Battle of the Five Armies at the end of the story should be exciting, given that the team behind the movies has had lots of practice at bringing big battles to the big screen. I can't help but wonder if Bilbo will be asleep for it in the movie version?

...I still liked it. It's The Hobbit, which I read a lot when I was a kid, and it's Middle-Earth, and I have *got* to see the battle of the Five Armies and Bard taking on Smaug, so I'll be watching the next two movies.

Next up is Wreck-It Ralph.
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Jan. 22nd, 2013 @ 07:03 pm Operation Post More v2.0 #2 - Champions Online thoughts
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As I said yesterday I've been trying out Champions Online for almost two months now. It's a superhero-based MMORPG from the company that first developed City of Heroes. No, I can't remember the full story of what happened. It might have something to do with the time that Cryptic was sued by Marvel Comics because players could create the likes of Wolverine and Spider-Man in CoH's costume creator, but I could be wrong.

Anyway! Cryptic is behind Champions Online too, so I figured that it must do a lot of the things that I liked in CoH. And, well, even though there are bits I don't like I've still been playing it solidly for almost two months now, so they must have done something right...

Champions Online
Superhero-themed MMORPG
Developed by: Cryptic, Published by: Perfect World Entertainment
Running since: September 2009
I've been playing since: December 2012 (lots)

...but I'm going to have to do another review later, because on reflection there's a lot of Champions Online I haven't tried yet. I have yet to get a character up to maximum level, I've hardly grouped at all, and there are these fast missions that you can queue for called Smash Alerts which I've avoided because people get irritated by clueless under-levelled newbies showing up in Smash Alerts.

If there's so much I haven't yet seen, then what have I seen to make me stick with the game solidly for two months so far? Let's start at the beginning.

1. Free to Play, or blending a steak and drinking it through a straw
Champions Online is, in theory, free-to-play, like most MMORPGs on the market today. In theory, you can also blend a steak and drink it through a straw.

Champions Online's free-to-play model gives you a very watered-down experience of the full game. You only get two character slots, you only get 10 (out of 20+) Archetypes, you don't get access to the freeform option at all (which is the game's biggest strength), and until you get one of your two characters to level 10, you don't even get the full version of the character creator! You only get a very limited set of options that are applicable to your archetype.

The idea, of course, is to get you to part with your cash to buy features of the game that you want. I started doing this, buying individual parts of the game I wanted to try. Then I realised I was being a sucker. A free-form character slot, which I was really wanting to try, costs US$50. A 3-month subscription costs less than $50 and unlocks a huge number of things, including all the other Archetypes, a lot more costume options, a lot of character slots, and all of them can be freeform.

2. Free-form characters and the costume creator
The free-form character system, if you ask me, is one of the best character-creation systems I've seen in an MMORPG. (Though my sample space iss a bit low, being limited to CoH, WOW, and CO.) With only a few limitations, you can mix powers from any powerset. Do you want to be a superhero who can fly, manipulate the wind around him, and can bash enemies around with an oversized wand? You can do that. Do you want to be telepathic telekinetic cryokinetic? You can do that too. How about a half-man half-bear who shoots people with a gun stolen from aliens? You can do that. You can even do a mini-Gundam who fights with laser swords and laser guns for great justice and the search for what it means to be a hero.

You can even create the fabled flying tankmage who can do absolutely everything.

The costume creator is not quite as hugely versatile as City of Heroes's character creator, but it is still very good. As well as half-man half-bears, you've got golden age options, silver-age options, 90s anime design options, wizardy and witchy options, halloween-y options and more besides. Though there are a lot of costume packs that you have to buy, even if you're a subscriber. Le sigh.

Best thing about the costume creator - your costume is completely independent of your gear. You can look however you like. Very important in a superhero game.

3. Enough of that, how does it play?

It's very actiony. You have a block button, which you use to block powers, and if you don't use it you will fail. A lot. You often need to pay attention to positioning. You have an Energy meter which you use powers to charge up, then spend to use on other, harder-hitting powers. Enemies, rather than dropping potions that you can use later, drop items that you pick up for an immediate boost to health or damage or whatever.

Originally Champions Online was going to be available on consoles as well and its actiony feel reflects that.

One of the biggest complaints I hear about the game is "I don't like the combat". Because it really is a whole lot more actiony and console-ish than people might be used to from other MMORPGs.

You have fewer powers / skills than you might be used to - at level 40 you'll have gotten only 14 powers. The game gets around this a bit by having chargeable powers. Tap the Fireball button and you get small fireball. Hold the button down and fully charge it, and the fireball is HUGE and hits a lot more opponents. You get multiple powers for the price of one.

The game also does with two defensive powers what City of Heroes might have done with six. In the end, you won't find the "only 14 powers" all that restrictive.

You can *also*, in a superheroy way, pick up things you find lying around to throw at your enemies. Such as cars and, if you're strong enough, tanks. My character isn't strong enough for tanks, but just the other day she picked up the bad guys' truck and threw it at them. This option was very buggy until recently, because you couldn't see what you'd just picked up, but it's been fixed. You can now clearly see that your character has just ripped that lamp-post out of the ground and is holding it up in the air.

I quite like this option now that it's been fixed. :)

I said yesterday that one of my favourite things about CoH is that it let you play the game how you wanted to. Champions Online is certainly a lot like this.

One thing that's bugged me a lot is that there is a gear treadmill and you can't ignore it. I didn't realise how much I hated the gear treadmill until I was able to get off it in CoH. I extremely dislike having a +20 Dex helmet of awesomeness and a +18 dex +18 recovery eyepiece of Freem and having to decide which is better, especially in light of the +23 Strength earpiece of Green that I just picked up.

More to come later!

As I said, I need to play the game a bit more, and group up a lot more, to get a better idea of what the game's like. Until then, I'll leave things here.

Next time, I review The Hobbit: An unexpected Journey.
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Jan. 21st, 2013 @ 07:45 pm Operation Post More version 2.0 #1 - City of Heroes Retrospective
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In an attempt to post more I figure I'll try posting a bunch of reviews of things I've seen or read or played recently.

Near the top of the list is Champions Online, which I've been trying for the past two months, but before I can talk about CO I need to talk about City of Heroes.

City of Heroes
Superhero-themed MMORPG
Developed first by Cryptic, then by Paragon Studios
Ran from 2004 - 2012
I played: 2006 - 2008 (lots), 2008 - 2010 (very little), April 2012 - November 30 2012

City of Heroes sadly is no longer with us. August 30th 2012 was the day of "The Announcment" - NCSoft announced that the game would be closing soon. More information rapidly followed - the dev team were all rounded up in the carpark in the morning and told they had no longer had jobs. Some of the dev team was still around, to put the game in caretaker mode. NCSoft had tried selling the game to other companies. NCSoft hadn't tried very hard to sell the game to other companies. This had happened because the engine was licensed from Cryptic and the license had run out. That the license for the engine had been in perpetuity. Valve was looking at the game. A rescue of the game had been pitched to Disney. And so on.

One thing that was not in the info we were hearing in all this was *why* the game was being closed, apart from a cryptic "re-alignment of company focus" explanation. Lots of fans are very upset that we've never heard a good reason for the shutdown. Sadly, we are unlikely to ever get any other official response.

To me, the re-alignment of focus reason sounds like the Korean company NCSoft just didn't get superheroes (and, in fact, the game did horribly in Korea - it didn't even make it out of beta due to the lack of interest) and when you combine Western sales figures and Korean sales figures, the game was their least-well performing game.

One thing that amazes me is that even though the game is long gone, the passions the fans had for the game are far from gone. There are two fan projects that have risen out of the ashes of City of Heroes. The "Mild Mannered Reporter" over on Massively, that was exclusively about City of Heroes, is still going. Fans liked the game so much that they really did pitch a rescue of the IP to Disney.

Why did we like the game so much? (This is where we get to the review-like part of the game.)

It's curious that the fans liked the game so much because it was faaaar from perfect. The graphics were, at heart, old and clunky. Player models did not have animated faces, and hands were very simplistically rendered, with fingers stuck together. The game engine was old and clunky, and the developers infamously had lots of trouble updating the game to do new and spiffy things. (If you're of a technical bent, then apparently animation and effect were *not* independent, the original coders had left, and the current dev team had to spend a *lot* of time and effort on separating animation and effect.) The power / power slot / enhancement progression system was weird and not always logical.

But the devs persevered and so did the fans. Because what the game did right was absolutely genius : it let players play the way they wanted to.

  • The costume creator was amazingly varied, and once you got your costume just right, it was completely independent from your gear. You could look exactly how you wanted and not have this change your performance or effectiveness.
  • If you wanted to play solo, you could. You didn't have to play in groups; there were very few missions / trials that actually required a big group.
  • On the other hand, if you wanted to play in groups, you could. Players would have their effective level reduced, or increased, so that the levels of all players in the group matched, and it was easy to swap missions to complete everybody's missions.
  • If you wanted to raid, you could. It was hardly required though.
  • If you wanted to ignore gear, this was *also* possible. Sort of. You *did* need enhancements, but you didn't need to rely on them randomly dropping from enemies and bosses. There were vendors that would sell all the standard enhancements and the game was tuned for standard enhancements.
  • The consignment house let you place buy orders and sell orders. This was great. I would go to the consignment house, and list the stuff I wanted to sell for 1 Influence, instead of trying to work out the best price to sell at. This was then matched to buy orders. If someone really really wanted that item, I might even end up with 1000000 Influence! On the other hand, those who cared about having lots of in-game currency could also be serious auctioneers.
  • The after-level 50 progression was *also* optional and hardly required. (Though it was very fun to become a an almost-cosmically powered superhero.)
  • PVP was sadly broken though... COH was a good example of how trying to add PVP afterwards to an exclusively-PVE game doesn't work. I never PVPed so I'll leave that there.
  • There was more but I'll leave it though, I've been writing long enough as it is.

The effect was incredible, because it basically meant that it matched players with similar interests. Groups were fun because everyone there wanted to group, and you didn't have to worry about outlevelling your friends, because you could Mentor down to their level, or Sidekick them up to your level. This was much better than having the super-geared and super-levelled members of the group getting irritated by the less-geared and less-levelled, but grouping up with them anyway for a miniscule chance at the one bit of gear they need so they can go on to the next dungeon.

To sum things up - technically not very perfect, but design-wise it let you play how you wanted, instead of shoving its vision of how you should play in your face. (Which is funny to type because early on, its lead Jack Emmert was doing exactly that.)
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Dec. 14th, 2012 @ 10:15 pm I have you now, you eight skilled gentlemen!
Ages ago I found the book "The Story of the Stone", by Barry Hughart, at a secondhand book stall. "This looks interesting," I thought, and so I picked it up. It told the story of a Master Li (with a slight flaw in his character) and his sevant Number Ten Ox (as strong as an ox and just as smart), in a "China that never was". Then I read it again, and then a few more times, just to make sure. Yes, it was good.

I found that it was only one book of a series, and that the book before it was called "Bridge of Birds", which won a big award in 1984. When I told my parents I was looking for it, it turns out that they already had it! O_O This turned out to be even better.

Many years later, around 1998, I heard that there was one final book in this series, "Eight skilled gentlemen". Only, I couldn't find it *anywhere*, and when I tried to order it it was out of print. I had to put it out of my mind.

And then, some 14 years later, I finally found it tonight, at Berkelouw's secondhand bookstore in Eumundi. This. Is. AWESOME!
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Nov. 6th, 2012 @ 07:36 am Operation Post More... failing
I had a plan. It was called Operation Post More. (Or maybe I just made that bit up.) Every time I posted a Facebook update I would come over here to Livejournal and make a more detailed post. Except that hasn't happened, and this LJ has once again slid into even more obscurity than it did before.

To everyone affected by Superstorm Sandy - I hope you're all OK and that you're not without power too long. (Being without power sucks.)

When last I posted about my new niece, she didn't even have a name yet and we were all still calling her Coco. She now has a name - Elodie Violet. She is now four months old and very cute, especially when she smiles and laughs. She likes her brother Finn and he really likes her. Aw, so touching! Especially when he touches her face and she tries to emulate it and touch him in the face too.
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Nov. 6th, 2012 @ 07:17 am Funny stuff my nephew says, from his Point Of View
Current Mood: amusedamused
So Finn was out with his family and his two uncles Steven and Richard at the beach, when they walked past this park with lots and lots and LOTS of bicycles in it. There was someone talking really loud and playing music. Some weird sort of electronic music started playing, and Mummy and Daddy and Uncles Richard and Steven started repeating the song's words. Elodie would have too, except she can't talk because she's just a baby. Finnie just had to join in. How did it go? Oh yeah, something like this!

"Wokka wokka Gangnam Star!"
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