The Manly Guide to the Lady’s Choice

I’m going to be shameless today.  Well, more shameless than usual.  Yes, even more shameless than my standard practice of filling every reasonable opportunity with a treatise on how good I look.  Which is very, incredibly good, by the way.  Seriously, just check me out.

Okay, and now try your very best to put that out of your mind for the moment, because I have something else to talk about, and I don’t want you getting distracted.  A very close personal friend of mine is an independent game developer.  She recently came out with a new release.  The Lady’s Choice.  It’s a regency romance otome visual novel, which I never realized was a genre until she started work on this game.  Anyways, I played it, and you should too.  After all, if I enjoyed it, and my heart is already a stone-cold hunk of bitterness forged by way too many late-night Linkin Park sessions, someone with a more “healthy” personality will probably find it quite enthralling.  And it’s free, pay what you want or nothing at all.  Find it here.

Thing is, the game, as previously mentioned, an otome.  Literally translates into ‘games for girls’.  So I, being the manliest warbeast ever to bless this Earth, am obviously not in the target demographic.  You might not be either.  So I thought I’d do us all a favor, and take the opportunity while I’m shilling to present the man’s man’s man’s perspective on The Lady’s Choice.

So let’s run down our crew.

The Lady

Yeah, here’s our lead.  The game has a default name for her, but you’ve got no obligation to stick to that, and can name her whatever badass name you wish.  Anyways, she gets called back to her homeland from the country due to some happenings with her family, and finds herself immersed in the world of the society once more.  Has to deal with all the social gatherings of a bunch of people whose primary focuses in life are counting all their money, being posh, and finding a socio-politically advantageous mate.  She’s a strong, independent woman and don’t need none of that, but given that this is a romance game, winds up finding herself a little someone to call her own anyways.

Arabella

So, Arabella’s your main homegirl, and the Obi-Wan all over your quest to find love.  She’s been part of the society for quite some time, and has done it all already, so she knows the lay of the land.  Knows who’s the jerks, who’s the hunks, who’s the bad boys you just can’t be seen with, who’s the types to hold a grudge.  Whatever you do, whoever’s feathers you ruffle, she’s got your back.

Lord Stanton

So here’s Lord Stanton.  Lord Stanton’s the man.  Nobody else likes him, but they don’t know what they’re missing.  You see that cane there?  It’s not for walking. It’s not for looking cool.  No, that’s a drubbing cane.  See, Stanton’s walking on the dark side of town, and he needs that cane to deliver these drubbings to all the bad boys and girls.  Every time you’re walking around, running into some guy who just desperately needs a drubbing?  Bam, Stanton’s there.  He’s the classic shadowed hero on top of that, too.  Dude with a strong sense of what’s right and wrong, set up in a society that just assumes he’s always on the dark side.  And he bears that all.  Dude knows he’s righteous, he doesn’t need to worry about what everyone else thinks.

Guy Blake

So here’s the guy, Guy.  Guy Blake is a member of the military in an era where only the well-born get enlisted, in spite of coming from a pretty poor background.  He does this by being straight up harder than everyone else.  He works harder, fights harder, lives harder, that’s all how he do.  The only thing he doesn’t do harder than everyone else is put up with the stupid jerks at the Society.  Until they push him too far.  Then he’s putting them in their place in the most proper way possible.  Probably the realest character on cast.  Aside from you, of course.

Mr. Amesbury

Here’s Mr. Amesbury.  We don’t know much about Mr. Amesbury.  He shows up in the first party you go to, but doesn’t get his own route.  People might say that’s because this was a NanoReno game, and time was at a premium, but I think it’s more that he just got busy right after that party.  Very busy.  After all, you didn’t hear of England getting invaded by the horde that year, did you?

That’s the Lady’s Choice!  Find it here!

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Dark Souls was the first Let’s Play I finished, but not the first one I started.  No, even that ill-fated Recettear LP was not my first.  My first LP actually went on about five years ago, on the online forum I took part in at the time, covering good old Shin Megami Tensei.

There I was, trying baby’s first screenshot LP on a board that was already full of frankly excellent screenshot LPs by a lot of people far more eloquent, funny, and informed than I was.  That was one of the first online writing things I put so much effort into,, but reading over my stuff didn’t seem as good as what everyone else had, and frankly, I lost my confidence in the quality of my work.  I stopped the LP and quit the forum a few months down the road, which was really in large part because I was going through some big life changes and just didn’t have the time to keep up, but a not insignificant part of it was because I thought my work was poor and I just couldn’t hang.

Well blast from the past, on a lark, I just went back and read it yesterday.  And you know what?  It was great!  Five years gone, I’m divorced enough from the creation of it to actually enjoy it as I would something that anyone else did, and I really enjoyed it.  It’s like somebody who knew exactly what I like in a screenshot LP was putting it together!  Seriously, reading through it now, I am really proud of what I created.  And yet I was feeling nothing but uncertainty while I was creating.

It’s kind of a running joke among authors that everyone hates their own work.  There is no pride in a job well done, there’s no honest ego, there’s only all those flaws the artist can’t get their eyes away from.  There’s truth to that, though.  When you’re in the middle of creating something, you’re already committed to seeing it from a different perspective than the eventual reader will be, and that changes the way you look at it.  Necessitates a critical eye.  There’s still some things you can look for in the quality of your work, but once you’ve moved yourself that close to the source, you lose your perspective.  That’s why you get John Romero saying he’s going to make you his lady for the night when the game he proposed to do that with played like a migraine on wheels, because everyone involved in creating and marketing that game was just too close to the project to get proper perspective.  Although they realized Daikatana was falling down the tank towards the end of development, they still didn’t have the perspective required to take the steps necessary to either fix the game or at the least not make the marketing campaign a horrible embarrassment.

And that happens all the time.  Every creative work you’ve experienced.  Every game, every book, every movie, every work of art.  For someone to have created something worth experiencing, they would have needed to have improve their craft, and improving  requires the critical eye that leads one to doubt their own work.  All but the most arrogant of creators, everyone from my fellow bloggers to the highest paid content producers, go through this every time they make something.  And even the arrogant creators lose perspective on their work.  Hell, even now, calling my first LP something I can be proud of may stem from a complete lack of perspective.

This lack of perspective does go a long way to explain why studios spend so much on making bad things.  That’s why Disney un-cancelled the Lone Ranger film and spent $375 million in production and marketing only for it to fail so, so hardcore.  That’s why Marvel so often announces these big events, their authors putting so much spirit behind their works, only for them to actually come out and be infuriating.  That’s the reason for almost everything Silicon Knights has produced and failed to produce since Nintendo stopped overseeing them.

Creation is hard.  And it gets even harder just by the fact it’s next to impossible to get the consumer’s perspective on your work, after you’ve gotten so involved in building it.  Even the stuff I put up on this blog, although entertaining to me, I have no idea how good it is to anybody else.  But that’s the way it goes.  There are a set of skills you can develop to overcome this, to start getting a sense of what is going to translate well for the reviewers, but oddly enough, overcoming that gap in perception is not always necessary.  Sometimes, the greatest works come out of letting that risk be, out of ignoring the focus testers and going your own route.

That’s just something to keep in mind the next time you play something and start wondering what the developer was thinking.  And hey, the next time I write something that sucks, just keep in mind it’s all because you don’t have my obviously proper perspective.

Movies in my Games? The Power of Video Game Cinematography

I used to hate when people would treat the creation of video games the same way as the creation of movies.  It used to pop up all the time in the schlock gamingsphere, because, well, back when the veil was still first being pulled back, that was all people had to compare it to.  It’s the only other primarily visual-creative industry of similar size and undertaking, games have a lot more similarity to movies than, say, sculpture, early on in the industry it was a lot of ex-film types really driving things, etc.  Still, that just led to a lot of oversimplifications and false equivalences.  So every time someone on the internet was like “hey, could you imagine if movies were like 90% fight scenes the way gaaaaaames are?” I just died a little inside.

Nowadays, I’m starting to wonder if game developers aren’t learning enough from the film industry.

So let’s talk cutscenes.  Some people don’t like ‘em, some people don’t mind them, some people might rightfully claim they’re overused or used poorly, but frankly, they’re just going to be a fact of life as long as games try to have a structured narrative and deliver events outside what’s strictly interactable to the player.  But some games make them suck.  Some games put you through a lot of straight boring cutscenes.  And you know what, it’s probably not the content itself.  I’m starting to think it’s really just the way the scenes are presented.  The cinematography.

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I remember the first time I realized the impact cinematography could have on a game’s cutscenes.  It was Yakuza 2.  That game has a scene about 3/4s of the way through where they draw some of the major players together, sit them down around a table, and they just talk.  For a good 10-15 minutes.  No fighting, no action, not even any real twists or surprises given.  It’s just a bunch of dudes and dudettes making plans.  And it’s not boring.  It should be the most out of place thing in what’s otherwise a sandbox action game, it should be just a big delay in what’s otherwise a high-tension packed plot, but the developers keep it from being boring.

It’s all because of the cinematography.  The people sitting around talking may not be doing any real action, but the scene is still full of activity.  The camera’s always swooping, panning, and scrolling.  The characters fidget, nurse their cigarettes, and physically expressing themselves.  Even if that motion is not really leading anywhere, the scene is absolutely filled with it.  The scene incorporates a lot of elements you’d normally see in film, where the actors deliver a bit of nuance or, at the least, visual interest through simple actions while they talk, and the direction uses camera movements to instill a sense of action and energy where otherwise there is none.

Compare that to something like the Elder Scrolls, where plot developments are largely given to you by means of a single Bethesdaface yakking at you with a single expression on his face, filling your screen.  While you could deliver the same dialogue in exactly the same way, the amount of engagement, what you’d really need, is completely different.  Hell, just compare Metal Gear Solid to itself.  Kojima’s a former film dude, he knows the rules of cinematography, and that really shows in the cutscenes.  But then they decide that’s enough work for them, and go to the codec screens to talk to you about the Lolly who Lays Low, and then you just sit on one hand and down your drink with the other while the game Speak-and-Spells to you.  Not the best way to deliver that espionage action.

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I’ve been playing through Yakuza 5, and it’s clear that whoever handles cinematography for the series has not lost his touch.  Yakuza has a lot of plot just delivered through dialogue, you guys.  Even more so than already texty series like Mass Effect.  And if this game handled dialogue the way Mass Effect does, by just having a few static camera angles read to you, it would be interminable.  Would really drain the impact of the scene, if, when they’re dropping those plotbombs on you, nobody had any real reaction, and the camera wasn’t imparting any real import to them.  But with the cinematography they show, especially in these dialogue-heavy scenes, they’re able to capture your interest and keep your attention going right on the points they want to.  The Yakuza series has some of the best cinematography in gaming, and that is one thing I really wish more games would pick up.  It’s a thing of beauty, and this cinematography lets them pull of the type of stories that would be horribly suited to the medium otherwise.

Musings on the Nature of Power

Gonna have something rare on Lost to the Aether today.  I’m going to get real with you.  Going to talk about life stuff.  You know, reality?  That place where you keep all your video games and booze?

About half a year ago, I moved, in response to a new job.  You might remember that time.  That was when I stopped posting here but for once every few weeks and you spent like three months completely depressed for reasons not entirely unrelated.  Anyways, I’ve spewed up a few words about my old job, my past as a small business genius-for-loan, but not anything about my new position.  But I’m in the mood to muse, so let’s deal with that right now.

So, without getting into too much detail, I’m a case manager working within the welfare system to help people become more self-sustaining.  It has a lot of the hallmarks of the typical government job; having to pull out incredible amounts of work with very few resources, the constant uncertainty if funding or laws or just the people making decisions are going to shift somehow and end my job, and dealing with a clientele who varies drastically in capability, mood, and willingness to work with me, but who all need my help nonetheless.  It is both a very stressful and very fulfilling position.  And it gives me something that super villains and assholes spend all their lives trying to get.  Power.

In short, I work with people going through some of the worst parts of their lives, being driven down far enough that they need government help to keep going.  In order to get that help, they need to work with me in order to improve their lives, doing the activities that I, in my discretion, set for them.  If they don’t work with me on that, or if they don’t do what I’ve set out for them, their month is pretty well ruined because they don’t get their support.

It gives me a great deal of control over their lives.  I force people to get better, and although most everyone may agree with the end goals, not many enjoy that it’s imposed on them.  And all this was handed to me.  Me.  When I was still completely green to this type of work.

That used to terrify me.  I was not entirely expecting this degree of control when I was starting up the job.  Which might be one of the things that makes me a good choice for the position, as far as my supervisors were concerned.  Too many people appreciate the power.  Look for the power.  Hell, just take a look at the presidential race right now.  Or all those people going through the job search insisting on some sort of high level position without first building their experience up in the industry’s operations.  Or, well, so many people who go into specific types of government work.  That specific sort of social capital, that’s something that draws a whole lot of people.  But it’s so easily misused, especially when it’s the power itself that attracts someone rather than the purpose for which the power is granted.  The type of people who like that power over others too often become analogous with a good old comic book/video game villain.

And even when it is used properly, it can still be a fearsome thing.  The Spider-man adage is very true, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’.  In my case, if I’m not on point, it’s really my clients who pay for it.  If I don’t properly assess their situation, they may have a much harder time than they should as I didn’t properly match their activities to what they need and what they can do.  If I fall behind on the administrative side of things, my clients don’t get the resources that they need.  And even if I’m doing everything right, oftentimes, if I’m not pushing the rest of the team handling other aspects of their case, they’re still negatively impacted.  It puts a lot of pressure on the use of that power.

Even so, I’ve learned that the power does need to be used.  It needs to be used carefully, selectively, but there is a reason for it being there, and it does have to used for that purpose.  I try to be pretty flexible with my clients, but I’ve definitely found that with too much flexibility, getting too light on their requirements, and they tend not to graduate from the program.  It’s easier on them, for sure, but when that power is not exercised, they don’t see results.  They don’t get the overall life improvements the other clients get.  They may not like me setting the more involved activities, but if I don’t do that, I’m really failing to help them.

Of course, it’d be a little too easy for one to fall into the supervillain use of power.  In my case, if I just started using this power to do what’s easiest or most optimal for me, I’d still be well within the intentions of the program, but I really wouldn’t be serving my clients well.  But no.  What I’ve found power, at least the power I wield, really needs is just a focus on the overall goal.  The power is not for my purpose, it’s not to make my working day easier, it’s really to be used for the benefit of the people I have this power over, to make sure that they’re able to build these improvements into their own lives.  How that looks can change drastically depending on the person, but it’s really that goal, that focus on aligning the means with the desired end, that really keeps that power useful, towards my client’s overall best interests.  That the goal is held above all else is really what keeps that power working.

Power for its own sake always ends horribly.  History has taught us that again and again, and fiction’s been doing a good job of picking up the slack in the meantime.  That’s why you want to be very, very wary of anyone who wants that power.  But that same power wielded towards the higher goal is what can really make those great positive changes in our world.  So long as that goal is absolute.

Visual Novel Theatre: Ristorante Amore

Hey there, hey there.  So, recently, your main man Aether played yet another visual novel marketed primarily towards girls who like all that touchy-feely romance stuff.  You know what that means!  Time for yet another Visual Novel Theatre.

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So, our offering up today is the freeware novel Ristorante Amore from developer duo Cyanide Tea.  As you might guess from the title, it’s a love story.  I mean, really, pretty much everything is a love story at its core, right?  James Bond is almost always about him saving their girls as much as him saving England, Final Fantasy X wrapped up its world-saving plot in a big ol’ fantasy love story, Dark Souls was at its heart a tale all about how much I love hating myself.  This one’s just a little more up front about it than most.  It’s also really up front about screwing with my screencap capabilities.  We’re going to have to see just how far I can get by shamelessly ripping things off the internet.

Jumping right into it, the most notable thing about Ristorante Amore is the big twist at the end of the first act.  Which, in all honesty, the concept behind the twist is pretty neat.  You start the novel, and right away, you’re going through an utterly standard, blatantly clichéd romance story, the type that’s in like everyone’s first romance VN ever.  You progress through the story pretty quickly, then get to the end of the complete arc, and BAM!  Everything you thought you knew was wrong, time for the real story.   Kind of impossible to get into the real story without talking about that twist.  So, I’ll give you one chance.  If you’re going to be interested in Ristorante Amore at all, if there’s even the slightest chance you’re going to want to play it after reading this and you care about spoilers, go ahead and download it now and spend about 15 minutes getting through the prologue, and come back so you can have your precious little fresh experience.

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