Why can’t all stores have mascots as adorable as Steam’s?

I didn’t buy anything during the soon-to-be-over Steam sale (24-29 November), but that was no fault of the adorable mascots used to promote the sale. Here they are:

Onto the holidays!

A time to share with friends

I want that one!

Mascots seated at computers

Unfortunately, if we assume that there was a new picture every day, then that means there would have been six pictures overall – and I only have four. Does anyone know where the remaining pictures, if any, might be found?

 

ETA: Courtesy of Talorc at Quarter to Three, here are the remaining two:

 

Wishlist

 

For me, every Friday is black

Another GoT teaser

Right on the heels of my last post, here comes another teaser for Game of Thrones. This one is a full minute and again, looks pretty cool. Again, it focuses on the Starks, but there are cameos by others: Cersei, Dany, Littlefinger and Jaime (?), Tyrion, and the brothers Clegane. Enjoy!

A Game of Thrones: the publicity rolls on and on

More appetisers for those of us looking forward to HBO’s Game of Thrones! On the Making Game of Thrones site, HBO has recently uploaded twelve large stills that were originally featured in Entertainment Weekly, plus another short (15-second) teaser. On Sunday 5 December, US time, there will also be a fifteen-minute “Making Of” video!

 

I have not analysed the images or the trailer in any detail, but they look great to me upon first glance. Ned and Catelyn look older and fleshier than I’d imagined them, but of course differences between my mental images, and those of the creators of the series, are inevitable. Jaime looks fine in the still image; however, I don’t think a still can really do the character justice. The key to depicting Jaime on screen is his combination of magnetism and arrogance, and this requires that we can see him in motion. So I look forward to future trailers/promotional videos that feature the Kingslayer.

 

(In other news, I’m back from holiday! I hope to post a review of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Cryoburn soon.)

Only a few months left to wait for Tactics Ogre PSP (in the US)

Square Enix has scheduled the US release of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together (PSP) for 15 February! A quick Google search couldn’t turn up any information on a European or PAL release date, but hopefully it will follow shortly thereafter. I look forward to the release!

Anime review from my archives: Fate/stay night

FATE/STAY NIGHT


Long ago, three sorcerers created a plot coupon, which they dubbed the Holy Grail. It is powerful enough to grant any wish — but to claim it, one must compete against six other sorcerers, each contestant, or “Master”, summoning a mythological hero (“Servant”) to be his or her champion.  Now, in one Japanese city, the fifth such bout is about to begin, and a young man, Emiya Shirou is about to be caught up…

 

Frustration is not seeing an unredeemably bad book, or anime, or game. No, to be truly maddening, it must display some kind of potential, or promise that it could have been something great, and then throw it away. Fate/stay night exemplifies this. It has an extremely cool premise. It has a handful of excellent characters, most notably the prickly, haughty, and brilliant sorceress Rin Tohsaka and her Servant, the sarcastic Archer. It has decent music, and the most striking visual effect I have ever seen in anime (a wasteland littered with thousands of swords, gigantic gears turning in the background).

 

Unfortunately, the good characters, including all those with any depth, are soon either marginalised or outright killed off. Instead, the focus is on an infuriating main character, who goes beyond “generic milquetoast young male hero” to “idiot who prattles about being the ‘protector of justice’, and insists on rushing into every fight, even though this puts his friends in even greater danger, as they now have to work around him.” Even though he becomes slightly less annoying in the second half of the series, he would still have been enough to sink the whole show by himself. Unfortunately, he’s not the only thing wrong. His two starting female companions are just as bad: one is a servile doormat who waits on him hand and foot, the other is an annoying, shrill shrew. They, too, are eventually marginalised, but this is too little, too late.

 

It’s not just the characters that are deficient. The plotting is similarly atrocious. After the show introduces the premise to us, it settles into a routine that others have compared to Dragonball: “villain-of-the-month appears; seemingly invincible VOTM calls out the name of a visually spectacular special attack, and beats back protagonists; as all hope seems lost, protagonists counter with an even flashier deus ex machina, and defeat VOTM; protagaonists ‘relax’ in a bad romantic comedy episode, at the end of which the next VOTM appears; repeat.” Minor characters walk in and out with little rhyme or reason, beyond giving effect to the VOTM plotting, and aren’t really developed even where they are interesting enough to merit it; one turns out, with no foreshadowing, to be the ultimate villain, out to destroy the world for the sheer hell of it!

 

Even the action scenes stop becoming “cheesily entertaining” and just become stupid after a while, courtesy of the show’s reliance on deus ex machinae, shouted attack names, and overused stock footage of characters shouting and swinging their swords, followed by bright lights. You know it’s bad when you cheer and laugh every time the villain lands a blow on the hero! Finally, the Protagonist Powers manage to sabotage one of the series’ redeeming moments, by cheapening to worthlessness the sacrifice that one character makes.

 

All in all, Fate/stay night stands as an ignominious example of how not to treat a good premise: had, say, Roger Zelazny done it, this could have been a masterpiece. Instead, it is the worst series I have ever watched to completion, a poor-to-mediocre show made watchable only by the occasional brilliant moment, idea, or glimpse of a good character — and one can get those by simply reading spoilers on Wikipedia or fansites.

 

You can buy Fate/stay night on Amazon here (though I’m not sure why you’d want to).

 

I hope you enjoyed this post! To quickly find this post, and my other reviews, click the “reviews” tab at the top of this page.

Fallout 3, Star Paladin Cross, and the power of the player’s imagination

Any story — whether prose, a tall tale, a movie, or a game — is a two-way experience. There is the story that the creator is trying to tell, and there is the story that the reader/listener/viewer/player experiences, shaped by his or her own beliefs, life experience, values, tastes… and, crucially, imagination.

As my case in point, I present Fallout 3. As do many other RPGs, Fallout 3 offers a selection of NPC allies who can accompany you on your journeys. And one such companion is  Star Paladin Cross, a power-armoured soldier with an unyielding devotion to her cause. Now, normally, I love the Lawful Good Lady of War archetype — see Agrias Oaks, Balsa, or even Brienne of Tarth. By this logic, Cross should have been one of my favourite NPCs in the game. But unfortunately, as written by Bethesda, Cross has all the personality of a broken answering machine. She has neither motivation (beyond duty) nor backstory nor nuance, just canned saying after canned saying after canned saying. After the fifth time I heard, “There is a foul stench on the wind — let us not tarry for long,” I clicked through Cross’ dialogue as quickly as I could — but that did not save me from her “In the words of Brother Theus, a brother well-equipped is a brother keeping to his duty,” every time I brought up her inventory.

So far, so bad. But the key phrase in the above paragraph is, “as written by Bethesda.” For the magic ingredient was my imagination. In my imagination, Cross transformed into a stern but benevolent auntie: ready to defend her ward with minigun and laser from those who would do him harm; ready to give advice, passed down from her own elders, on equipment and tactics; ready to proffer praise for doing the right thing. During what must have been a particularly despondent time for my player character (those of you who’ve finished the game can probably guess what I’m talking about), I even imagined Cross keeping vigil by my PC’s side while he slept. Cross, in short, turned from a walking bundle of stats and hit points with a few repeated-to-death lines into a character I cared about, and who felt as though she had a human connection with my PC, through the power of imagination.

What are your own tales of how your imagination shaped a story for the better?

(As I write this post, I’m still on holiday…… albeit sick and miserable. Well, the silver lining to my current situation is that it gives me the time to update the blog…)

 

(edited to add the sentence beginning, “She has neither…” now that I’m feeling more lucid.)

Freebie highlight from my archives: “The Only Thing We Learn”, by Cyril Kornbluth

Do you like space opera, high fantasy, and other tales about bold heroes single-handedly bringing down mighty tyrants? And do you like story worlds that have been shaped by the ebb and flow of history?

 

If yes, then check out this short story by Cyril Kornbluth, “The Only Thing We Learn”.

More gaming humour: The heaven and hell of game developers

There is a joke about European national stereotypes (visible at the top of this page, but you can find variants all over the Internet): which nationality would fulfil which occupation in heaven and hell?

 

This Stolen Pixels webcomic is the gaming version.

Book review from my archives: A Fire Upon the Deep

A Fire Upon the Deep


Vernor Vinge
The galaxy is divided into Zones, different laws of nature applying in each. The long-forgotten Earth is in one where intelligences are tightly constrained, nanotechnology breaks down rapidly, and nothing can travel faster than light. Further out, FTL travel becomes possible, and ultimately, in the Transcend, godlike Powers live, post-singularity beings as comprehensible to us as we are to goldfish. One day, a foolhardy expedition into the Transcend awakens the Blight: a long-dormant Power, actively evil and mighty enough to drive all before it. Yet all hope is not lost: the expedition’s last survivors crashland a ship with the countermeasure far away, upon a world populated by doglike creatures with pack minds and medieval technology. Now not one, but two races are on. Two factions on that planet, each the beneficiary of technology from the wrecked starship, each asisted by a child survivor of the crash, engage in a war that will determine the destiny of their world; meanwhile, a rescue team speeds to the planet, one step ahead of the Blight’s agents.

 

Continue reading “Book review from my archives: A Fire Upon the Deep”

Off on holidays – see you all in a few weeks’ time!

Okay folks, I’m flying out tomorrow for a holiday! Thus, I will not post daily for the next three weeks or so.

That said, I have a few reviews from my archives which will go up on coming weekends. Also, I plan to write a few feature articles and post them when I do have access. If you read my “Storytelling in Dominions 3” post at Flash of Steel, hopefully you’ll enjoy my upcoming articles just as much. So keep checking back every so often, and I’ll see you all at the end of November!

Another Ambitious Space Game: Shores of Hazeron

Last week, I mentioned Artemis, the starship bridge simulator. This week, I present another ambitious space game, spotted by DocLazy at the Quarter to Three forums. Shores of Hazeron seems to be a first-person cross between SimCity, Master of Orion, Wing Commander and Dwarf Fortress. You design, build, and skipper spaceships, land on planets and explore them in first person, and build the cities that fuel your interstellar jaunts. The game’s ambition impresses and intimidates me at the same time.

For example, consider the amount of work needed just to get into space if you opt to start your own empire.  First you need to hunt animals or gather plant fibres to craft your imperial flag. Then you need to build a city, mine stone, lay roads, set up farms, wait for citizens to move in… Eventually you bootstrap your way to an aircraft factory where you can build a space rocket. Mission accomplished! Or… not. Because if you want to build a proper starship, you have to gather two types of handwavium. And to do that, you need to jump into your primitive rocket ship, explore your home star system, and build a moon base to harvest the handwavium. After that, you will finally have the resources you need for spacecraft. Spaceward, ho!

You can see why I don’t have the time to jump in right now. That said, I still look forward to giving Shores of Hazeron a try after my holiday. Anything that sounds this cool on paper is worth a try!

(By the way, speaking of Artemis, the full game costs $60 but you can get a copy free if you send the designer a video recording of yourself and your buddies playing the demo. The media page is regularly updated with the latest videos, too. So if you have a buddy or five who’d like fifteen minutes of fame…)

Storytelling in Dominions 3 – now up at Flash of Steel!

My Storytelling in Dominions 3 post, part of my Storytelling in Games feature series, is now up at Flash of Steel! Check out my guest post to see how Dominions 3, from Illwinter and Shrapnel Games, illustrates the techniques a strategy game can use to tell an effective story and bring across the feel of an epic, high-magic fantasy novel, all without dialogue or cut-scenes.

 

Meanwhile, if you came here via Flash of Steel: welcome, and I hope you liked my guest post! You can navigate this site in chronological order, but if you’d like to see what I have to say on a specific topic, you can click the relevant category on the right-hand side of the page. You can also click the “reviews” and “features” tabs at the top of this page to see. I plan to keep writing “Storytelling in Games” features over time, so check back at this blog from time to time, or subscribe to email updates at the right-hand side of this page.

 

Whichever category you’re in, I hope you have fun!

Don’t judge these books by their covers: Lois Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga; Glen Cook’s Black Company

As promised, I bought Lois McMaster Bujold’s Cryoburn today. And one thing struck me immediately: the cover is, for a change, not horrendous.  J M W Turner it’s not, but I have seen a lot worse.

 

I know, I know, ragging on science fiction and fantasy novels for their covers is like shooting fish in a barrel (link courtesy of Rocketpunk Manifesto). So I will focus on just two series that I absolutely love, but whose covers (in the editions I have) make me want to whip out the brown paper for fear of being seen with them in public.

 

One is Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga itself. This cover says it all. (Thankfully, I don’t actually have that edition; I have this marginally less bad omnibus.) Split Infinities has plenty more examples, and makes the point that the covers repel readers who might otherwise pick up the intelligent, character-driven stories within.

 

The other is the Black Company series, by Glen Cook. Again, I’ll let one cover do the speaking for me. To add insult to injury, the Black Company novels were recently re-released in omnibus form – with much better covers.

 

So what would I consider “good” cover art? I’ve previously held up Discworld as one good example. Others include the clean, elegant look that Bloomsbury took with the “grown-up” Harry Potter covers, and the simple design on the more recent UK edition of A Game of Thrones. I just wish there were more of it around…