New Eden Page 7: I Love Fight Scenes

Someday, my art will be good enough that it’s worth investing in, and I will own a scanner.  Until then, I’m afraid these low-quality images are the only way I have to document my work.

Anyways, the page!  So, here we have Lorelei’s thoughts as our narration.  I was trying to keep them short and clipped, like a stream of consciousness probably would be in the middle of a fight.  Not sure if that quite comes across, but I like the idea.  Think I’ll keep it going.  Only way to get better at this sort of thing is practice, after all.

DSCN0131

Transcript

Panel 1: Hey!
Panel 2: What is this?
Panel 3: Movement.  Just like in real life.
Panel 4: I have weapons.
Panel 5: Think I’m starting to figure this out.
Advertisements

Doom, Despair, and Dark Souls

Last time, on Aether’s Grand Struggles in Dark Souls, I managed to both lose and win at the same time. I’m so awesome that even death can’t bring me down! Seriously, I’ve been rampaging across this game for close to forty hours, and I’ve yet to show any signs of stopping! I’m starting to think the heavy reputation this game has is just people blowing wind. Well, at least I was. Something happened, though. Something turned my opinion around. Like, all the way around. I had an experience that once again filled me with fear for what’s ahead in this game, an experience that nearly ended this entire playthrough, an experience that once again had me prepared to die. Anor Londo, much like most areas, has a boss battle. Among veterans of the game, this boss battle is particularly infamous.

2014-07-27_00207

And it’s the only thing I have left to complete.

2014-07-27_00209

Stepping through the fog, I’m greeted with a brief pan over the area I’ll be fighting in. It seems to be a large chapel or great hall of some sort. At least I won’t be running out of room here.

2014-07-27_00211

At the other end is… this. Executioner Smough. You may remember Smough from one of the statues at the start of Anor Londo. I… think he’s supposed to be male? It’s a little unclear. He looks to be wearing a corset, but obviously that’s doing him absolutely no good. He wanted to be part of the Four Knights of Gwyn, a group of the strongest and most trusted warriors serving Geezer Zeus. His skills we up there, but he was barred from entering due to his brutality and cannibalism. Still, he remains, guarding Geezer Zeus’s old home, Anor Londo. Swift, strong, and massive, I’ve got myself a very tough challenger in him. I can already tell, this fight will take me to my limits.

But wait! There’s more! As I ready my blade, motion in the balcony above catches my eye.

2014-07-27_00212

Again, this is someone we’ve seen as a statue at the start of Anor Londo. Dragon Slayer Ornstein. Captain of the Four Knights of Gwyn. Possibly the most powerful warrior at Gwyn’s command.

He leaps down.

2014-07-27_00214

Two warriors, both at the height of human potential, both among the most dangerous fighters in Lordran, individually. And I’ve got to take them both on at once.

Continue reading

Debriefing the Film Fest

Dubai-Filmfestival-2010

So, last post, I mentioned that my week was not being kind to me.  It was shaking me down for time like a mobster to a dry cleaning store.  There was a reason for that.  For the past while, I’ve been working on a pretty large project.  Getting together a film festival.  Last week, and over the weekend, it happened.  It took a lot of time, a lot of labor, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, but it happen.  Although, in retrospect, the blood, sweat, and tears swimming pool was probably less of an attraction than I’d initially expected.  We could have done without that.  Still, I devoted a large portion of my life to pulling off this film festival, and now it’s done with.  That’s good!  But since it put so much of myself into it, even now, the festival’s still riding on my mind, so I wanted to take the opportunity to mentally put this stuff to rest by writing bits of my experience out.  Care to join me?

Unfortunately, our film festival was nowhere near as sexy as the picture above.  We’re still a very young festival, only in our second year, hosted in a small, rural location in a quiet mountain community.  We had booked one of the largest auditoriums in the area, and we could still only seat a few hundred people per showing without getting the fire department saying some very nasty things about us.  We’re a small event, is what I’m saying.  Still, that’s not entirely a bad thing.  We get enough people in that it’s worth us to show the films, worth the filmmakers screening the films, and worth the community to learn a bit of culture.  Trust me, that last one?  We need it here.

Anyways as a small operation, we have a pretty small team.  Last year we had about sizeable group managing the project, each taking up a different part of the duties and making sure the thing went off without a hitch.  This year?  Less than half of that.  We had the same amount of work to do, but with far less people to do so.  We did have a team of volunteers to help review films and work at the festival itself, but all the prep, organization, and heavy lifting?  Done by a fairly small committee.  That did have its benefits.  Last year we had the problem in that we just weren’t organized.  People were just taking whatever tasks they wanted, which left some areas with way more people than they needed, and some weren’t covered at all.  We ran a far smoother ship this year.  On the other hand… yeah.  Everyone was doing at least 2-3 different jobs.  FWhich, considering I was supposed to be doing this on a volunteer basis was a bit much.  I am really, really glad my employer was one of the sponsors of the event, because if they didn’t bend the rules and let me take care of this stuff on work time, I never would have been able to get through it.  We desperately needed another 2-3 people joining us on this project, just to take the load off of us.  I burnt out on it a couple of weeks before it actually started, and I can’t imagine I was the only one.

I’ve handled finances before for a wide variety of projects.  This was the first time that I’ve done so with a committee that wasn’t run by people with a lot of business/project management experience, however.  And that flipped things way the hell on its head.  One of the first things I learned this year is that I had to play the finances really close to the chest.  Money’s a powerful thing.  Money can change people.  Last year’s festival, we built it up from scratch.  This year’s festival, we had resources.  And that stuck in people’s heads.  I don’t normally like to keep people in the dark about what we’re able to do, but I had to this year.  Basically myself and the board of the festival’s parent organization were the only ones with a complete idea of the budget, everyone else had to be kept mostly in the dark.  Which, honestly ended up working out rather well.  The board was relatively flexible to what people wanted, but it did mean that they had to work out reasonable costs, what they think they could get approved rather than spending all of the money forever.  Things actually worked a bit more smoothly the less people knew of the total budget, which was quite the opposite of what I thought would actually happen.

Marketing was probably the biggest responsibility leading up to the festival, at least on my plate.  I was getting word out there pretty much every way I could think of.  The most effective marketing ended up coming from a pretty surprising source, however.  We got our program guides printed a week earlier than I expected, so I decided to use the extra time and get those out there with all the rest of the material.  And that probably got more people there than anyone else.  Everywhere I dropped them off with ran out.  Everyone I talked to about the festival left with a program.  I barely had enough for the festival itself.  It makes sense, telling people they can watch some cool films is one thing, but telling them they can watch these cool films is another.  Still, printing the programs was one of our biggest expenses, and I had thought that dollar for dollar, we’d be getting more worth elsewhere.  Nope, the festival programs probably brought in more people than any 3-4 marketing techniques combined.    Newspaper, radio, online ads, none of that worked so well as talking to people and handing them little pieces of paper stapled together.  Who knew.

One big revelation that I had already kind of suspected: the place I live is full of uncultured boors!  One thing that really seemed odd to me is that a lot of people wanted to live in the type of place that has a film festival more than they actually wanted to go to a film festival.  We’re still not big enough to be able to run the whole event off of our profits, so we have a lot of community groups and organizations providing grants and sponsorships, simply because they want the festival.  I sent all of them free festival passes as a thank you.  Not one of them got used.  And I should have expected it, but most of the locals were really only interested in films that affected them.  The two screenings I considered to be the best, most powerful ones were also the least attended.  The ones with the highest attendance were generally lighter, more surface-level stuff that were either made by local filmmakers with lots of connections or were made about local matters.

New Eden Page 6: Lost Time Edition

This week is shaping up to be a rough one for me, so until I find the time to give you something more substantial, what say we take advantage of work I’ve already done for content?  And our first real look at the game at the center of our story, New Life!  So exciting!

New Eden Page 6

Transcript:

Panel 1: This is interesting.

Panel 2: With a typical MMORPG, I’d start with character creation.

Panel 3: This one shouldn’t be any different, right?

Panel 4: No?  Do they give you a premade at first?

Panel 5: Hmm?

Panel 6: I’m not alone.

Previous Page

First Page

Next Page

Taking Vengeance in Dark Souls

Last time, on Aether Crushes Dark Souls Beneath His Heel, we took on Anor Londo, one of the more famous locations in the game, which is quite a testament to its design, considering this is like thirty hour in. Usually, the more well-known places tend to be early on in the game. Anyways, we took on hordes of the Dark Knights’ slightly lamer cousins, wrestled with giants, fought through demons, and none of them could stop us. We made our way through this castle-church thing, with the tons of enemies arrayed against us, barely able to slow us down. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling pretty good about our progress. We’ve been going through the game slowly, but we’ve been absolutely indomitable. We’ve always been making progress. We haven’t faced a challenge that took more than a few tries to overcome since way, way back with the Capra Demon. In the time since, we have become truly mighty. Is there anything left in Lordran that can stop us?! Is there anything more in this game that can meet my challenge?! Or have we left all the difficulty that Dark Souls is famous for behind?

Those who have played the game before are probably laughing at me now. They know what’s coming next. For the rest of us… well, let’s just keep our innocence for now.

So, last time, we had capped off by slaying the fearsome titanite demon and heading up into a staircase into the unknown. Well, the unknown is actually a massive room. An entry hall of some sort, sized so that even the giants that apparently once called this place home could stand tenfold on each other’s shoulders and still not reach the top. You could hold air shows in this place. It’s huge, and there’s no way to really do it justice via screencaps. You’ll just have to trust me on this one.

2014-07-27_00155

I take stock of the place. For all its size, it’s still mostly empty. There’s another one of the Silver Knights across the way, and two ornately-dressed, giant sentinels on the floor. None of them seem to have noticed me. There’s a staircase leading down and another leading up from my current position. The one leading up seems to take me to a walkway around all the enemies, so I take that first. The walkway leads me by a broken window that gives me access to a section of roof. It has some dropoffs and seems to be a one-way trip, so I ignore it for now. I follow the walkway along to the other side. I hear a sound, a somewhat familiar sound of metal on metal. I’m not sure what exactly it is, but it keeps coming rhythmically, growing louder as I approach a opening in the wall.

2014-07-27_00161

The opening leads to a staircase down, which I take, as that noise grows ever louder. I spy this giant figure below. It’s him who makes that noise, metal impacting against metal, over and over and over again. Whatever he’s doing, his attention is solely focused on his work. Slowly, I continue descending. On top of that sound, there’s blood! So much blood! Smeared on the floors, the walls, streaks of it everywhere! What exactly…

Continue reading

New Eden-Page 5: SPLASH PAGE!

New Eden Page 5

This one was harder to take a picture of than draw, apparently.  That says ‘New Life’ there.  That’s the name of that VR game.  Considered calling it New Eden, after the title of work, but New Life was more what the character who created it would have called it, for reasons that will someday be apparent if I ever get off my butt and start posting more of these, so there you go.

Next Page

Previous Page

First Page

Can It Carry That Weight? A spoiler-lite review of The Walking Dead, Season 2

The-Walking-Dead-Season-2-Episode-3-In-Harm-s-Way-Gets-Release-Dates-Video-441492-2

Man, Season 1 of the Walking Dead came out of nowhere. Telltale Games had been cranking out licensed adventure games for nearly a decade by that point, and had yet to produce anything that wasn’t completely missable if you weren’t already a fan of the source material. But still, they kept trucking along, spending their days being as inconsequential as possible, then all of a sudden, BAM! Game of the Year. Telltale had a certain reputation, one that didn’t exactly speak to great quality, when all of a sudden they’re leading the pack? That wasn’t the only thing odd about the situation, though. Most of those Game of the Year awards go to whichever games have the most polished shootbanging, the smoothest swordhitting, or the most detailed gutsmashing. The Walking Dead, however, while it did have you shoot some bangs, was notable mostly because of the quality of its storytelling. This was a game that, rather than wow you with detailed mechanics or shiny graphics or complex systems, simply made you sad, but so glad that it did. The Walking Dead delivered the kind of videogame storytelling those plot-first players like me have been clamoring for for years, and executed it so powerfully that it was placed on a pedestal even higher than a lot of the more high-profile polished-to-a-gleaming-shine traditional games that were released that year. The game was definitely flawed, but it delivered such an emotional experience that so many people looked right past those mars and hailed the Walking Dead as one of the best storytelling experiences in all of vidgames.

It sold a lot. So of course there was going to be a sequel. As the game is released episodically, it was a Season 2 to the first game’s Season 1. Nobody was surprised at its announcement. Nobody had expected it not to come. The only question was if it was going to be a worthy follow up to the deep, powerful experience that was The Walking Dead, Season 1. Well, the final episode of Season 2 dropped last week. I finished it all up yesterday. The answer to that question ended up being a bit more complicated than I had expected. What do you say we go through it here?

The biggest question we probably have to address first would be “Is Season 2 as good as Season 1?” No. It’s just not. Which isn’t surprising. Season 1 left some mighty big shoes to fill, and it would take a lot to reach or surpass it. “Is Season 2 good?” would probably be a better question, and one I’ll try to answer here. My feelings on it are complicated. The game’s certainly a lot worse than it had to be. It seems to take the foundation Season 1 laid out, and build on it in all the wrong directions. So we end up with a house that has all of its walls sideways and looks like a design student just vomited all over the blueprints. But you know what? It had some good parts going for it too. The house is still liveable, and has a few bits here and there that make it worth keeping around.

So, if someone were to ask me to sum up the biggest difference between Season 1 and Season 2, I’d point to the writing staff. Season 1 had three writers contributing towards various episodes, two of whom had been writing for Telltale for years, and one of whom is an accomplished screenwriter. Season 2 has five writers, but only one of them has any sort of significant writing credits earlier than 2013. All the other writers, including the lead, seem to have been broken in either with the Walking Dead Season 1’s lackluster DLC, or with their previous game, the Wolf Among Us. The Walking Dead should be Telltale’s showcase series, yet they handed the writing duties, that which the game is most known for, to a bunch of newbies, and it shows so much in the final product.

To sum things up nicely, the writing in Episodes 1-3 is sloppy, Episode 4 brings in a much more experienced storyteller and ends up being the strongest one and the only episode that reaches the quality of Season 1, and Episode 5 really feels like a first draft but has a powerful (yet likely very divisive) ending that, to me, made it all worth it.

The_Walking_Dead_Season_2_62041

In Season 2, you play as Clementine, the Player Character of Season 1’s surrogate daughter, grown up a couple years to a hale and hardcore 11-year old trying to stay alive in the zombie apocalypse. The zombies in all mediums of the Walking Dead are fairly generic, operating by only one or two non-typical rules, but the big thing that makes The Walking Dead what it is are how the people act. In this world, zombies are pretty much just an environmental hazard, it’s the humans that are most dangerous. The breakdown of society and the difficulty of getting resources makes humans infinitely more unpredictable and dangerous than the zombies are, and the big reason that no form of society can be reestablished is that people just can’t trust each other anymore. That’s the setting you have to deal with, that’s what you have to guide Clementine to survival through.

Just because the writers are new, doesn’t mean they don’t have guts, and they make a fair number of bold changes to the Season 1 formula. Most of them don’t really work out, though. One of them that does, though, is the switch in focus on what feelings the game invokes. Season 1 made me feel so sad. It’s a hard world, with a lot of hard choices, and each one I make leaves me worse of than before. Season 2, on the other hand, made me feel like a dirtbag. You join Clementine in a world much devolved, if possible, from the situation in Season 1 two years before, where it’s almost impossible to make do without harming others. You’re posed with choices in the game, but there’s nothing good to come out of them, and the most you can affect is who the bad comes down on or whether the bad is your fault or not. I tend to try and immerse myself in the narrative, and that made me really uncomfortable this time, but it definitely added to the experience as a whole and with some of those wicked choices, I really did deserve to feel like a dirtbag.

TWDS2-2-5

I don’t know whether it’s because the writers are inexperienced, or there was a deliberate decision towards this effect, but the way the player’s choices are handled in Season 2 works a lot differently than in Season 1. Choices were a big thing in the Walking Dead. One may say that they’re one of the major factors making the game’s story as powerful as it was. One of the biggest criticisms of Season 1, however, was that a lot of the choices were simply illusory, that they didn’t really have much of an impact on the story. Season 2 seems to have corrected that by removing the illusion of choice. Oh, you’ll still be making the hard choices. It’s just that only a few of them actually make a difference beyond the next scene. Season 2 invalidates your choices all over the place, often right after you make them. Do you remember that scene at the end of Episode 1 of the Walking Dead’s Season 1, where you had two characters who were both in trouble, and only enough time to save one? That was a huge wake up call. It set the tone for the rest of the season, and let you know exactly the gravity your choices would have. Moreover, it had real impact. One character would die, and the one you saved played a significant part in the next couple of episodes. Season 2 does the same thing, except it turns out a bit differently. You have Character X and Character Y both in danger, and you can only save one of them. If you save Character X, he lives and Character Y dies immediately. If you save Character Y, Character X lives and Character Y dies anyways in the first act of Episode 2. And that’s one of the lucky few that actually matters at all. There are far more that are just invalidated as soon as they’re made. For example, there’s one choice regarding whether or not to have Clementine admit to something she did. No matter what you choose, one of your group will just interrupt you before you can speak and take the blame for you. There’s one part where a member of your group is downed in a firefight, and Luke is providing covering fire while you attempt to get behind a wall. You can choose to take that member with you. If you do, both of you make it behind cover and Luke gets shot in the leg. If you don’t, Luke goes out to get that member, and gets shot in the leg. Either way, it never gets called back to again. There’s a couple of times where you can keep a character from getting killed. If you do, they’ll never talk in cutscenes afterwards, and they’ll barely have any speaking lines outside of them. Even the most seemingly meaningless choices in Season 1 had at least some play with how the other characters viewed you, but there’s none of that here in Season 2. I know it’s really, really complicated to actually create a branching narrative, but you could have at least tried, right? There doesn’t seem to be any effort towards that end here.

Another difference is that the game is a lot more linear, here. Season 1 was very well on its tracks, but it still had moments where you could stop, figure out puzzles, chat with your group members, and get more background on everything. This had huge impacts on the game. For one, having the opportunity to be challenged, to have to figure out how to get through situations, to get a chance to explore a small part of the world you found yourself in; it brought you more into the world, made it feel more real, and helped with that all-important immersion. For another, this is how you got most of your characterization out of the game. For such a character-driven experience, that’s absolutely vital. You were given a list of subjects you could go through, leading to a fairly broad conversation with most characters several times per episode. Season 2 doesn’t have much of that. It’s all just playing from one cutscene to another. Occasionally, you might be called upon to actually do something, but whatever it is will be incredibly straightforward and won’t give you much opportunity for conversation or deviation. The few times you do get to talk with people, they’ll have a single things to say, and you don’t get to go through the conversation trees that were so good last time. The game definitely loses something for that. I was never as close with most of the characters as I was last time around, nor did I ever feel like I was as much a part of this narrative.

The episodic nature is definitely not helping this game. It’s not an episodic game, even though it’s sold as if it is. Season 1 was episodic. Each episode had a well-defined arc, a story that began, built up, and resolved, all while creating an arc over the season as a whole. Season 2 on the other hand has two well-defined arcs, one lasting from ep. 1 to ep. 3, and the other building from ep. 2 to the final episode. Breaking things up into episodes just had the effect of making those arcs feel a bit more disjointed, and the blind insistence on always ending arcs on massive cliffhangers is simply sloppy and offensive.

ss-007

Honestly, that’s not to say it’s a bad game. I didn’t hate my time with the first three episodes, and the package is worth it for the last two alone. I just feel that the experience as a whole is sloppy, and made a lot worse than it needs to be by some really odd design decisions. The writing and story is still a cut above that in most games, and starts approaching the quality of Season 1 in the penultimate episode, although it never really reaches the previously established heights. They do do some interesting things with the plot and characters. They did a really good job of making me hate people then turn around and actually like them after a simple, honest apology. They’ve got something going here, and Season 2 is definitely worth your time. Just be aware it’s starting to look like we’re slipping back into old Telltale, not the storytelling renaissance we expected after Season 1 came out.