Sunday, 8 December 2013

Rooksburg Reviews: Dungeon Keeper 2

To start with, a disclaimer; I did not play the original Dungeon Keeper aside from a quick playthrough of the first mission before playing this.  Unfortunately, if graphics don't have a timeless quality to them then I'm quickly put off so I skipped ahead to this game.  Therefore, I can't address any of the 'which is better' arguments.


Dungeon Keeper 2 (which I'm constantly reminding myself doesn't use 'II' instead of '2') is a strategy game developed by Bullfrog, and is quite unlike anything that came before it- apart from its predecessor, naturally.
Previous strategy titles were either Command and Conquer style, i.e build an army base and attack another army base, or they were Theme Park style, i.e micro-manage some sort of business venture peacefully.  This game could be considered a combination of the two.  In it, you play the role of an evil overlord who is trying to wrest control of the portal gems- magical items that when combined will allow passage to the overworld.  To do this a base of operations must be built, providing facilities to keep your creatures happy and train them up ready to take the fight to the lord of the land, all the while defending yourself from pesky heroic adventurers.  Where this differs from other real time strategy games is the fact you have no direct control over your minions; all you can do is guide them to what they should be doing.  The most control you have is picking up and dropping creatures near their task and hoping they do their jobs, or through the use of possession spells.

The UI shows everything you need to see without getting too cluttered.
The level design is extremely well done, unlocking something new with each land you conquer in the campaign.  In many games this would get rather repetitive, starting from scratch each time, but this game will always give you different challenges to face- one level will have you taking your time to build an overwhelming force to defeat a powerful foe, another will have you hurrying to intercept someone before they can escape, another will have you fighting against rival keepers and destroying their bases.  Along with the narration this makes the game constantly feel fresh, and with each level able to be completed in an hour then you won't get bored easily.

Each room you build will attract a new creature, and each time a new creature arrives it will be introduced by your mentor so you'll know exactly what to do with them.  It's well worth your while to attract as many different creatures as you can as they all perform different roles, and to add to the challenge there's no knowing if you'll get the creature you want even when you have the right room for it- a portal can only attract 15 creatures, so if you attract as many creatures as possible straight away to defend against invasion then you may not have room for new creatures to fill new rooms.  By the same token, you may decide a particular level won't need traps, so you won't build a workshop, meaning you won't attract trolls leaving room for other creatures.  And if you decide after all that then it's still not enough, you can capture enemy heroes after defeating them, converting them to your cause through use of the torture chamber.

No I'm not going to address feminism in this review.
Speaking of the torture chamber, it should be noted that this game has a 'Mature' rating.  In my opinion this is unfounded; in ESRB's opinion it's due to excessive gore and violence.  Here's my rundown of what this game contains, for anyone interested: On defeating a creature, they are knocked out.  If they are not transported to a prison, they will die and leave their corpse and a puddle of blood.  If they die in prison, they dissolve into the ground and become a skeleton.  When tortured, a creature will shout in pain though it's far from traumatising.  Mistresses will sometimes climb on torture equipment themselves, and moan in pleasure.  And of course there's the theme of the game which is having fun being evil.  I have not encountered any drug references, swearing, or nudity- if this game was released now I would rate it Teen, and based on the humourous cutscenes I'm guessing that's what the creators were hoping for.

On completing the game I would say there is a lot of replay value, again because of the variety of levels in campaign mode.  If you don't feel like going through the campaign though, there's 'My Pet Dungeon' which is like a sandbox- each dungeon has set conditions, like some will have less gold or spell limitations, but in all of them it's up to you when you unleash your enemies.  The true purpose of this mode is to help you remember the basics of the game, as each dungeon is a tutorial in itself, going into great detail about all the rooms and creatures if you haven't played a while; an excellent idea as there are so many games I've left for a couple of months and forgotten half the features for, requiring me to start all over again.  Then of course there is the (rather limited) skirmish mode, which is fun but does have a limited variety of maps available.  And the multiplayer mode which has the same limitations as skirmish, but does still have an active online community- and if you ever want more maps then there are packs available to download if you look for them.

So how well has this game aged?  It was released in 1999, and the game has quite clearly aged since then,
even compared to 2001's Startopia (a similar game created by some of the same production team).  However, it's easy to ignore the graphical limitations especially when there's such good gameplay.  It also has a lot of charm you don't often get in modern games with various quotes when you reach milestones ('an imp can do a good impression of you' on reaching 20 imps, 'neutral creatures regret they can't attend' if there are unmet neutral creatures somewhere, etc).  Incidentally for the best easter eggs, play this game between midnight and 3am.  Ultimately you should play this game now before the graphics become too unbearable, as HD patches can only do so much.

tl;dr review:
Graphics 7/10- a bit jarring at first but tolerable.  Make the most of it while it lasts.
Sound 9/10- very atmospheric, though you may have explaining to do when your gf or mum's in the room and you pass over the torture chamber.  Mistresses can be loud.
Gameplay 10/10- very addictive, and if you start to get bored it's generally a sign you're powerful enough to complete the current map.
Story 6/10- it's nice to have a story at all compared to some games in the genre, but there's no conclusion.  This game was clearly set-up for a sequel that never came.
Overall 8.5/10- As the tagline says, 'It's good to be bad'.  Rarely do building/RTS games keep me captivated to the end without feeling stale, but this one has- and with its style and sense of humour it's been enjoyable at every stage.  My only hope is that the graphics will stay bearable in years to come, or that a faithful sequel is made to conclude the story- it will be great to see Horny get some fresh air.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Spotlight: PTA Homebrew

As I stated previously, Pokémon Tabletop Adventures is a game that has a lot of potential, but a few flaws.  As such, I've been working on some homebrew rules for it to make things more streamlined whilst also giving a bit more depth to the world.

A whole new world:
Before we got too far into the FireRed game, I decided to restart in a new region now that we had gotten a grasp of the rules.  We would play in a region I had been working on called Aerouanta (I can provide an in-depth analysis if requested), and the plot would remain basic: each year a competition is held to discover the region's champion.  Trainers gather from all over the world (allowing a couple of our players to keep their previous characters), but they would only be allowed to start with a single low-level pokémon.  Participants would also be divided into teams of 4-5, so they can take part in various events held throughout the year; things like tobogganing, bug-catching contests, and general other things inspired by the animé.  Obviously it would take a long time to get through a whole year, so I would throw in various sub-plots involving legendary pokémon and evil teams getting in the way- before we stopped playing I had an elaborate plot involving a bottled water company named 'Érus' that was experimenting on one of our players, inadvertently creating a psychic link to Deoxys due to a certain chemical they used to augment water's healing properties (I had to come up with some explanation as to how water could heal you in the games).  Ultimately, if the players ranked highly in the end of year tournament then they would have the option of becoming gym leaders or hunting down legendaries, or maybe the whole plot would be halted in favour of a civil war between the Poison-type metropolis and the Psychic-type city.

Rule revisions:
The most significant rule change I made was completely revamping trainer classes.  I decided that trainer classes as they were took away emphasis from pokémon, and there were just far too many feats to keep track of when you had to look after a team of 6 pokémon as well.  Instead I created my own classes (which I shall go into detail about in a separate post, if requested), each with 'base' abilities and 'advanced' abilities that steadily rose in power with each gym badge obtained.  We found immediate improvement in terms of gameplay, though slight disappointment at losing abilities from the previous game.
Another change I made was with pokémon contests, which are a bit of a disjointed mess in the source material.  My changes were a hybrid of the video-games and the animé; there is an 'appeal' stage and a 'battle' stage.  The appeal stage consists of a two-move combo to amaze the judges- Mr Contesta who likes unpredictable moves, like cute pokémon using tough moves; Mr Sukizo who likes moves that accentuate a pokémon's strength, so smart pokémon using smart moves; and Nurse Joy, who likes a balance of power and affection- if a pokémon can only use the move it learns at level 70 then it's extremely impressive, if it's a tm then she doesn't appreciate the pain caused by applying a tm.  The results of this round give a handicap to the battles, which are a standard fight until knockout though you also gain points according to the judge's criteria.  This eans that even if you won the match you may still lose on points.  The players all found contests to be an interesting change form regular battles with an added level of skill and creativity, even inspiring one player to focus most of the efforts on ribbons rather than badges, meaning I had to think of much greater prizes to compensate for reduced levels.
Smaller changes I made included making trainer HP= Con x10, giving trainers a higher chance of survival and making calculations easier; trainer movement= 5+/- Wis modifier, reflecting a trainer's ability to 'know' the battlefield; and most significantly the amount of moves a pokémon could learn equal its Intelligence capability +3, applying to both natural and TM moves (so an Int 3 pokémon could learn 6 natural moves and 6 TMs).  This gives a lot higher unpredictability in battles, and means you won't run out of moves quickly because you picked all 'Battle' frequency moves.  These were all met with great approval.

Rule additions:
The biggest addition I made involved skills, which I used Skyrim as inspiration for; basically the more you do something the better you become at it.  This included higher knowledge checks for scanning many pokémon, better capture rolls for capturing more pokémon, shorter hatching times for hatching eggs, etc.  Ultimately I feel these skills failed as we started gathering more cluttered character sheets which was the exact thing I was trying to avoid with trainer classes, but I still feel there is some potential for this method.
Another addition yet to be tried, is giving each species of pokémon a unique characteristic, the theory being that traditionally unplayable pokémon will now be playable, and traditionally overpowered pokémon may prove more difficult to control keeping a balanced playing field.  Examples I have so far include Butterfree attaching Poisonpowder to moves using its wings, and Jigglypuff having increased accuracy on Sing whilst using its 'inflate' capability.

And that's it for my homebrew bits for Pokémon Tabletop Adventures.  Feel free to use any of the above ideas for your own games, and if requested I can provide more in-depth files for pokémon characteristics or I can put up a post going into more detail about trainer classes or my region, Aerouanta- descriptions of gym leaders, rules for events, etc.

Finally, if you're interested in what you've read and fancy playing the game yourself, and you live in the Weston-Super-Mare/Bristol area, then let me know and perhaps you can join us for the new game I'll be setting up early next year.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Spotlight: Pokémon Tabletop Adventures

So far, this blog has had little tabletop content- something that needs rectifying considering this is the reason why most of you are here.  Semi-regularly (i.e when I have games available and playtested) I shall do a 'spotlight' on a particular game, similar to a review, and follow up with some in-depth looks at particular aspects of the game such as expansion sourcebooks or my experience with races and classes.


Today's spotlight is on Pokémon Tabletop Adventures.  A few things will go through your head on hearing that title, and the people I tell about it generally have one of two reactions; either 'Pokémon is awesome, how have I not heard of this before?!?' or 'lol Pokémon's for kids, how would a tabletop game of it work?'.

So, What is it?
Pokémon Tabletop Adventures (PTA) is a fan-made game that looked at the various pokémon abilities and settings and thought 'this could make for a pretty decent tabletop roleplaying game'.  It addresses the fact that there will never be a console game directed to an older audience, nor will there ever be an official tabletop game.

What do Trainers do?
Trainers are the player's avatars in the game.  They share the same stats as D&D characters: Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis and Cha.  They also have classes such as Ace Trainer, Martial Artist and Breeder, as well as feats to help specialisation.  Feats include how effectively you can hatch eggs, special 'tricks' you can perform in battle like commanding a pokémon to close it's eyes, avoiding certain moves etc.  Levelling up is versatile, essentially being awarded for how often you perform certain actions.  You can level up from catching a certain amount of pokémon, winning badges from gym leaders, or by simply performing a great enough accomplishment that the GM feels you're worthy to level up.  Levelling up grants access to advanced features of your class, or you can choose to cross-class.

What do Pokémon do?
Pokémon are obviously the main focus of the game.  They serve as willing thralls to their trainers, provided they're treated fairly and with kindness- though it's up to GM's discretion if ruthless slavery is allowed.  Pokémon are used as tools for overcome skill challenges, such as using a vine whip as a ladder, and as weapons for defending against wild pokémon or battling other trainers.  Whilst pokémons' stats, moves and abilities are adapted from the video games, tabletop introduces capabilities- this covers how far a pokémon can move per turn in certain environments (overland, underwater etc) as well as how heavy an item they can lift, how intelligent they are (which can affect ability to follow commands or how much abuse they're willing to suffer), and any special abilities they may have, such as telekinesis or egg-warming.

What's the aim of the Game?
Many games are run similar to the video games, a simple quest to collect badges and become champion of the region.  However the greatest fun comes from thinking in terms closer to other role-playing games- looking at legendary pokémon's abilities and thinking how they may pose a threat to the world, either under the control of an evil trainer or through their own free-will.  For inspiration it is recommended GM's look at the various pokémon movies- Mewtwo has a vendetta against mankind, someone's attempting to harness the legendary birds' power, Deoxys has crash landed... Or there's the option of basing your game on the side-games like Pokémon Conquest, a feudal era setting where warlords vie for control over a region; or do away with trainers entirely and be based on Mystery Dungeon where players can control a single pokémon to represent themselves.  This game is hugely versatile in terms of what style of game you wish to play.

What do I need to Play?
All you need as a player is this website: http://pokemontabletop.wikidot.com/
This contains everything you need to play the game, and is updated when any changes come along (currently it looks like a couple of months before Gen VI is added though).  Alternatively there are pdfs available here: http://www.mediafire.com/?c5cpr5p5z3ybca3 You will also need these pdfs to be GM, as they have handy references for capture stats, experience drops, and information on legendary pokémon.
Everything is completely free, and there are tools available for random stat generation etc.  Most of these can be found on the PTA forums: http://forums.pokemontabletop.com/index/
Also bear in mind that this game is still in Beta, so there may be the occasional balance issues that need addressing.  If you do encounter any issues when playing, please bring them up on their forums so they can be discussed.

Playtest Findings:
When I discovered this game, I asked a few of my friends what they thought and ended up with a group of 4, plus me as GM.  The group consisted of my partner, a huge Pokémon fan and long-time roleplayer; a guy who enjoyed Gen I pokémon but has little roleplaying experience outside of video games; and a couple who had little to no experience of pokémon at all, but a lot of roleplay experience.
I decided to keep things simple at first, playing an adaptation of FireRed almost word for word and seeing what happens.  The classes chosen were Ace Trainer, Capture Specialist, Breeder, and Psychic.  Each trainer was given their starter- something that wouldn't be overpowered but not too weak either.  In game-terms, these were the default starters as well as any pokémon the players could justify owning as a family pet.  This resulted in Charmander, Squirtle, Psyduck, and Eevee.
We weren't keen on the character sheets supplied, and ended up making our own which was simple enough- the main problem was a lack of space for inventories and feats.  I don't know if the provided sheets have changed in the meantime, as I've used our own sheets ever since.
I had heard that early encounters could be extremely difficult, but we didn't have too much trouble- a lot of GM discretion is needed to judge what a party is capable of.  We did encounter our first major problem at this point though, which is how much info are trainers allowed to have?  My partner could list every type advantage and had a good idea of stat-lines just by looking at a pokémon, and had trouble segregating player knowledge from character knowledge.  I decided to give the others a chart of type advantages, but I didn't want them to know the types of pokémon they saw- it would be more fun to figure it out themselves.  This had mixed success, as the couple new to pokémon couldn't resist looking things up in bulbapedia on their phones at every opportunity.  Ultimately I decided it wouldn't matter too much about what they knew, as capabilities meant pokémon were capable of different things than they are in the videogames, but it was a pity they weren't willing to play blind.
Our next problem was with the amount of pokémon being captured.  One player in particular wanted to capture everything he encountered, which brought the game to a halt as we listed off relevant stats for everything, and between sessions I was using a lot of ink and paper to print out sheets for them all.  I had to insist that he make a choice as to whether a pokémon would be used or not, just to speed things up, which he was understandably disappointed by- it's nice to have the freedom to use anything you want.
Nevertheless, we were having fun and streamlining things as we went.  We soon came to our first gym battle vs Brock, the Rock type gym leader, and this is where we realised tabletop really excels.
In the video games, you pay barely any attention to a pokémon's nature, or the conditions of a gym battle.  So it would be perfectly acceptable for this player to use a Sickly Pidgey against a Rock type, if only to gauge how strong his opponent is or scout moves.  However, in tabletop; Brock is a soft gym leader, who appreciates the love that goes into raising pokémon and can't stand seeing them injured for no reason.  His gym floor is also littered with rocks, giving him a small advantage to compensate for his lack of type versatility.  Even moreso, he has several Trainer levels as a Type Specialist, which help compensate for his weaknesses.  So when this Sickly Pidgey is sent out against him, he is not impressed.  He gives the challenger a chance to reconsider, but the challenger refuses.  One hit and the match is over.  Brock berates the challenger for using a pokémon he knew would fail, and lectures him on how being a trainer means loving your pokémon and not using them simply as tools.  The player felt ashamed and went off to sulk for a bit as he lost his gym battle where the others had a hard-fought victory.
At this point, our opinion of the game was good, but there were a few things that could be changed...

Conclusion:
The game is extremely fun, but certainly has its flaws.  There is a lot of paperwork involved, and it can be difficult to keep track of all the different mechanics; personally, I believe there's too much emphasis on trainers and not enough on pokémon.  The trainers appear to develop into superhumans when you have enough levels, which I feel is wrong for a pokémon universe.  Playing a straight port of the video games doesn't work, but it helps you understand how the game works and makes good practise for when you're confident enough to make your own world.  Possibly the most surprising finding, is just how dark this game can be; The early game can involve many pokémon deaths when following standard rules, and when you actually think about some pokémons' abilities they are horrible- 1000 year curses, eternal burns, soul-stealing... and in tabletop, all of these can be plot hooks that will turn a cartoony kids game into a Call of Cthulu-esque setting.  And that is awesome.

In my next post, I shall describe some of the homebrew changes I've made, as well as show off my own region.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Monthly Update: 11/13

Greetings, all!

A couple of things of note this month, starting with the most important news: we are officially moving to Weston-Super-Mare on December 18th!  (Well, assuming we pass our referencing checks).  What this means for all of you is that we're a step closer to the shop, and all we need is the money to start.  It also means we'll be looking for players for a gaming group soon, playing either D&D or Pokemon Tabletop Adventures- if you're interested in joining then let me know.

In other news, Rooksburgs Realm now has a Twitter account, where you can be updated on new blog posts as well as other random gaming things I come across.  The Twitter handle, as you can probably guess, is @RooksburgsRealm.  I promise it won't be filled with irrelevant things like what sandwiches I'm eating, it will be entirely gaming related- the most mundane thing there will be what games I'm playing, and I'd be grateful if anyone wants to drop me a comment along the lines of 'you should totally have this for the shop' or something similar.  Likewise, if you come across something I might find interesting like a new game then don't hesitate to let me know.

Now then, I also promised I would elaborate a little more on my long-term plans this month.  Let's do this role-play style:

You are in the city of Bristol.  A city known across the country for being a busy cultural centre; a reputation well-deserved and a matter of pride to the Bristolian people.  As you explore, one shop in particular catches your eye: 'Rooksburg's Realm'.  There are a couple of posters up in the window- one reads 'Currently seeking party of five level 6 adventurers for slaying a dragon and looting ancient temples: D&D 3.5, Wednesday nights, apply within'.  The other reads 'Do you want to be the very best? Like no-one ever was?  Then take part in this Saturday's Pokémon League and take home the title of Champion!'.
Hesitantly, you enter- from previous experience with gaming shops, any newcomers are met with stares that say 'you're not local, are you?'.  You breathe a sigh of relief as that doesn't happen here.  On one side of the room are shelves of games and miniatures, some of which you are familiar with but many you've never seen outside of ebay.  On the other side is a small seating area, with a group of five people- 3 guys and 2 girls- chatting whilst eating their lunch of homemade sandwiches and milkshake.  There are two others, sat opposite ends of a small table with biscuits held above cups of tea, staring at each other intently.  On the wall there is a rather ornate sword hanging, with a small note next to it.
'Good day sir, can I be of assistance?' says a man in smart shirt and hat, presumably the owner of the shop.
'I'm fine, just browsing' you say.
'No problem.  If you find something you like the look of, we can try it out if you want.  You see we offer a 'try before you buy' service, just pick a game and we can have a practise before you buy.  If you decide you don't like it then all we ask is a small fee for the trial- much cheaper than buying the game and finding out later that you don't like it.'
'Sounds great', you say, 'but my group has to like the game too'.
'Well then bring them here and you can all try it out together.  Even if you do like it but not enough to buy then you can 'rent' the game for a few hours.'
'I shall bear that in mind!  Also... what's with the sword?'
Rooksburg smiles.
'You saw the sign in the window, the D&D request?  That sword is the +3 Keen Rapier used to defeat the Devil-King of Dinosaur Island.  The party fought hard for that.'
'But that's a real sword.'
'Yes.'
'From a fictional game.'
'Yes,' Rooksburg beams, 'and you can buy it for £250.'
'Wait... are you saying that you sell the items your gamers find in their games?'
'That's right.  And if you look at the note next to it you'll see a photo of the group that found it as well as their characters' names and classes.'
'...Where do I sign up?', you say.


Well I hope that's explained a little of what things will be like, and didn't sound too much like a text-based promotional video.  (Who am I kidding, I hope when it comes to tv advertising I have something exactly like this with the corniest actors it's possible to find!).  There are bigger plans, but they are much, much further down the line...

So until next month, assuming I have internet access after moving and I'm not too busy with Christmas, so long!

Rooksburg



...also sorry for the blatant Order of the Stick reference

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Rooksburg Reviews: Pokémon X (Part 2)

Having exposed myself to most of what's left of Pokémon X (barring wi-fi battles, as I'm still busy building my team), I can now conclude this review.

The Story:
The story is practically non-existent in Pokémon X and Y.  There are a couple of references to Team Flare but nothing significant, then they just sort-of show up in places you happen to be.  As you get closer to the 8th badge you're suddenly called to another town where all hell breaks loose, you're forced to capture the obligatory version-exclusive legendary pokémon, then you're literally told 'let's go back to Anistar town and carry on where we left off!'.  The only evidence anything happened at all is a geographical change to one of the towns, otherwise everything continues as normal.  The legendaries themselves don't make an awful lot of sense in context, and their existence isn't really explained, much like this generation's 'N'- here called 'AZ'.  He seems a very interesting character, but unfortunately isn't given time to develop his character aside from a couple of beautiful cutscenes.
My grade for the story is 6/10- what little there is is very good, but it's very much a case of 'blink and you'll miss it'.  Hopefully this gen's sequels/third version will expand on it.

The League:
The 'final boss' (here taken to mean the last challenging encounter before the credits roll) of any Pokémon title is the Pokémon League, where you must face the Elite 4- each specialising in a certain Type- and the Champion.  Often it is expected you will use tens of Full Restores and Revives and maybe even a few Ethers.  You can also expect to face 'that one guy' who poses a real threat, leaving you with one pokémon standing.  That being said, this generation was a pushover.  The biggest reason for this?  Pokémon-Amie.  Seriously, if you want any kind of challenge then don't use Pokémon-Amie as it will make you feel like you're cheating, when every hit given is a crit and every hit taken is endured leaving you on 1HP.  Add O-Powers into the mix and it gets even worse.  An easy solution to make it more challenging would have been for opponents to have the same Pokémon-Amie benefits, after all you'd expect a gym leader or Elite 4 member to have a strong bond with their pokémon.
I give X and Y's league a 4/10 if you're using Pokémon-Amie, and only a 6/10 if you're not using it.  This is partly due to the forgettable Elite 4.

The Characters:
In Black and White, and Black and White 2, the gym leaders and champion played an integral part of the game.  You would often bump into them, they would help in your adventure against Team Plasma, and generally you got a feel for them as something more than just people to defeat.  X and Y don't have that.  The only times you'll find a gym leader outside of their gym is very rarely in the Battle Chateau, and even then they're underlevelled.  The champion is lacklustre; although you've met them earlier in the game you don't know much about them and they don't seem to have the passion of former champions.  The Elite 4 have extremely interesting designs and personalities, but again there's no development outside of battle.  As for other characters, yes there's the sense of being on a simultaneous journey with your friends but do they really deserve the same amount of credit in the ending cutscene?

Character's get a 7/10, in the hopes they get some development in the sequel or in a piece of postgame I haven't reached yet.

So far it's coming across that I've disliked the game.  Yet I've racked up over 180 hours on it.  Why's that?  Let me explain...

Route Design:
I can't emphasize enough how good the route design is- and this goes for the 'dungeons' too.  Previous games had routes that all looked similar, a mostly linear path with patches of grass and possibly a Strength puzzle for an optional extra.  In that respect these games are exactly the same- only the routes feel more natural.  Each has a different 'theme'- an Autumnal area, a beach, flower gardens, etc.  There are tens of pokémon available on each route, some varying by which patch of grass you're exploring.  There are still Strength puzzles, but they're hidden away- you'll only find them if you go looking for them, usually with Surf or Waterfall.  The 'dungeons' are varied and unique too- from Glittering Cave's 3D view, to Reflection Cave's doors hidden in mirrors, to the Lost Hotel hideout for skaters.  It's almost certain you won't discover everything on your first visit either.
A solid 8/10, as there should always be room for improvement.  And Route 1 is very silly.

The Post-Game:
I feel this is a concept unique to Pokémon games- that of a 'post-game', i.e extra content available after the credits have rolled.  Regardless, there's no shortage of options available to you.
'Gotta Catch 'Em All!'.  In total there are now 718 pokémon.  Around 118 are not yet available, until Pokébank goes live in December.  (edit: LOL)  That means that between the two games there are approx. 600 pokémon you can catch which will keep collectors (like me) busy for hours.  To catch them all you'll also have to visit:
Friend Safaris.  Some pokemon are only available here, and they all have high odds of having their Hidden Abilities and perfect IVs (individual values).  The idea is that every 3DS Friend Code has a Type associated with it, and 3 pokémon allocated to it of that type.  When you add someone as a friend you can encounter their three pokémon, but you can't encounter your own.  There are now hundreds of places online where you can share friend codes for the purpose of finding your perfect 'poké-bro', which inevitably leads to further hours of:
Breeding.  Getting your perfect pokémon has never been easier thanks to friend safaris and a new use for the Destiny Knot.  Every pokémon has IVs that differentiate them from others of their species, and in previous games these values were practically invisible.  Now, however, there is a judge that can tell you what your highest IVs are and whether they can get any better- then it's a case of simple genetics and breeding chains to get pokémon with up to 5 perfect IVs (it is possible to get 6, but extremely impractical).  You'll spend hours reading up how to do this online, let alone the hours you spend in-game actually doing it!  The end result is:
Battling.  Personally, I'm still on the breeding stage so can't comment on what the battling community's like at present- but if you think you're ready for battling then take comfort in the fact that there are no hacked pokémon (at least until Pokébank comes out), and there is a ranked battle system so (theoretically) you'll always be fighting someone of around your ability.  You also have the option of Singles, Doubles, Triples, and Rotation battles.  Unfortunately no Sky or Inverse battles, but perhaps in future DLC?

But wait, there's more!

Post-Game Lumiose City:
On returning to Lumiose City, you will now be recognised as a celebrity due to your champion status.  This is a welcome change from previous games, where the public were completely oblivious to your actions.  Some battle cafés will also now be open to you if you fancy a small challenge and a hefty collection of mushrooms (and if you want to give an old man a heart attack- seriously, the dialogue in this game is a lot darker than previous games.  Incidentally, don't forget to pick up the pokémon you left with that lonely man...).  You should also now have enough money to increase your style leading to new haircuts and outfits to try, as well as some different dialogue with townspeople and even more recognition.  Not only that but Looker returns, setting up a detective agency in Lumiose City!  Cue a dramatic series of events, marking a story possibly longer than the one in-game, and with the potential for DLC.  Finally, a new train is available to take you to a brand new town- home of the friend safaris and the Battle Maison- this generation's Battle Tower/ Battle Subway, and just as cheaty as ever- but a much better challenge than the League was, and the only way to get certain items.
All-in-all the postgame gets a 9/10 for the sheer amount of things available to do- if they actually release some DLC then this will be a definite 10/10.

In conclusion, this game is exactly the same as its predecessors, only better.  After 180 hours I'm still not bored, as I keep switching between catching, breeding, and Looker's missions.  The gimmicks are fun but there's always the threat they'll be taken away in the next games- just as contests and following pokémon were.  The story leaves a little too much open to interpretation, and the characters have next to no development, but after Black and White 2 I hold out hope for some further story either in a sequel or DLC.  From what I've seen, all multiplayer elements are amazing, at least until hacked pokémon come back in December.  And whilst I'm not a fan of Pokémon-Amie's in-battle effects, the feature itself is very cute and will put a smile on anyone's face.






...Except Espurr's

Thursday, 7 November 2013

The Traveller's Guide to Faerun: Becoming a Bard

The future Zephran?
Becoming a bard was not something I had considered, though it occurred to me that if the Simbul couldn't help me then I may be trapped on the material plane for a while- and honestly I was alright with that.  Every day so far had brought new surprises, and the landscape changed so drastically after every mile of travel.  But if I was to explore this world then I would have to have a more reliable source of income than just doing odd jobs here and there.  Regardless, Sir Rayner wouldn't take no for an answer and so I found myself on the road again, this time in Sir Rayner's luxury carriage headed for Velprintalar and the Simbul's palace- I only hoped that John wouldn't worry about me too much.

'You know, I used to dabble a little in the bardic arts in my youth', said Sir Rayner, 'but then what youngster didn't?  We all want to take up instruments with the belief our music will inspire others and heal the world.  Then we grow up and realise we sound worse than a troll in a lighthouse.'
I looked at him blankly, and he frowned.  He seemed disappointed I hadn't got the reference.
'Of course, you wouldn't know about that... I'll have to tell you the story some time.  Dreadful business.  Anyway, the point is that those who have actual talent- like yourself- often don't realise it until someone discovers them.'
'There were noodles everywhere...'

Sir Rayner suddenly jumped forward on his seat, looking into my eyes with a penetrating gaze.
'Right!  Time for a test!  Hypothetically, if there was a peasant uprising n Furthinghome what would you do?'
I was taken aback by this sudden tangent, causing me to stutter.
'Oh, er... um... well honestly, I probably wouldn't get involved.  Who am I to say who's in the right or wrong?'
Only after I finished answering did I remember who I was talking to.  Luckily he didn't seem offended, and was instead beaming.
'Excellent answer!  First rule of Bards is to never get involved in politics.  After all, there would be no passion in your stories if it's propaganda.  Next question: I know you've only been in Furthinghome a couple of days, but what can you tell me of the area?'
'Well, I know there's a divide between humans and half-elves that goes back to when the elves of the Yuirwood took offense to human expansion, and there's constant threat from the wizards of Thay, and of course there's that estate with the escaped peacocks...'
I stopped talking as Sir Rayner held up his hand for me to stop.
'Alright, I get the idea- you've certainly got the bard's ability to pick up local knowledge quickly.  Last question.'
Sir Rayner removed his gauntlets, and slid a ring off his finger, giving it to me.
'This ring was given to me by my mother.  Tell me, how much is it worth?'
I looked at it closely, turning it in my fingers several times.  It was a pure gold, with a pristine ruby set in it.  I looked up at Sir Rayner, knowingly.
'It's worthless.'
Sir Rayner looked surprised.  'What makes you say that?'
'It's too perfect.  A ring like this would get scratched under your armour, and if it was worth as much as you say then you wouldn't give it to someone like me.  My guess is that it's magical, a simple cantrip.'
Sir Rayner shrugged as he took the ring back.
'A logical deduction, but you're wrong.  This was indeed my mothers, magically reinforced to avoid superficial damage.  As for why I trust you handling it, well you severely underestimate my abilities!'  Sir Rayner winked.  'Still, you show a keen mind and certainly have the confidence of a bard.  Only thing left to get you started is magical training, and finding a suitable instrument for you- both things we can sort out in Velprintalar.'
There was a clunk, and an urgent shout from the coach driver as the vehicle came to a stop.
'Sigh, when will these bandits learn,' said Sir Rayner, putting his gauntlets and helmet on, 'Zephran- under your seat is a box.  Inside is a longsword.  Time to see how well you can do in battle!  And don't forget to sing!'

The adrenaline pumped through me as I picked up the sword.  Sir Rayner had already leapt out the carriage, and I could hear panic outside- the noise sounded almost like dogs yapping.  As I leaned out the door I saw Sir Rayner engaged in battle with three tiny creatures that looked almost like the dragons I had heard so much about.  Surely these can't be the terrifying creatures feared by every being on the material plane?  They were barely as high as Sir Rayner's waist!  I cautiously stepped outside, sword at the ready, though it hardly seemed necessary as Sir Rayner struck one of the creatures down and another started running.  The third was attempting to run, but its tail was stuck under Sir Rayner's boot.  I stepped further into the open as Sir Rayner released the struggling creature, which ran yipping off into the distance.  Sir Rayner sheathed his sword, but as he turned he shouted at me- 'Zephran, watch out!'
I span round, ducking to the side as one of the creatures leapt from the top of the carriage towards me.  In the dark moonlight its eyes glowed red as it circled me, growling as it poked its spear up towards me threateningly.  I gulped as these creatures seem a lot more threatening up close, despite their size.  I remembered Sir Rayner's command- don't forget to sing.  With a shaky voice I started to softly sing the song of the half-elves to myself, and sure enough it gave me much better clarity.  Everything seemed to slow down, and I could now see my attacker more clearly- it was reptilian, scaly, and wearing ridiculously ill-fitting armour.  With this new-found courage I took a swipe at it, but it deftly dodged to the side and hit me across the back with his spear.  It didn't hurt much, but it made me more aware of the creature's skill.  It took a lunge at me, but I managed to swipe its spear to the side.  I tried to use the momentum of the swing to hit the creature but again it rolled away.  It was clear I would need more than my paltry combat skills for this battle.  I took a deep breath, focusing on my assailant, then released the air softly, channelling it around my body.  The creature looked momentarily confused, then lunged at me again; this time, with the help of the swirling air under my control, I could use my agility to spin around the creature and deliver a decisive blow to its back.

As the creature fell to the floor with a small gurgle, Sir Rayner casually approached and I let the wind dissipate.
'I'm impressed.'
'Heh... Thank you... My first time wielding a sword.'
'Oh no, not your swordplay- that was appalling!  Struggling that much against a pesky Kobold... What I mean is that thing you did with the wind.  I'm guessing that's an Air Gensai thing?'
I shrugged.
'I guess so... Why, can't you do that?'
'Hah!  Not without the use of magic, or a few years of training!  Come on, let's carry on the journey.'
'Hold on,' I said, stooping over the creature's body, 'What were those things?  Why were they attacking?'
'They're just Kobolds.  Filthy little buggers, but easily disposed of.  As for why they attack, the same reason as any bandits- for treasure.'
'Are they dragons?'
'Hah, I'd love to see the look on a dragon's face when you compare one to them!  No, they're no more dragons than we are monkeys.'
'I see...'
I didn't really understand, but I made a note to read up more on 'kobolds' when we reached a library.  Right then, all I really wanted was a rest.  Fighting bizarre creatures was exhausting, and these were meant to be little more than pests?  I hoped I would never have to face a real dragon in the future...

Friday, 1 November 2013

Monthly Update: 10/13 (with Survey Results!)

Good day!

I know, I know- it's technically 11/13.  I also know there's been little to no activity on here over the past month- it's been busy what with trying to find somewhere to move to and putting up with just about everything going wrong trying to slow us down.

I still plan to move before Christmas (if I can afford it then it will be around Dec 21st), but shortly after my previous post the car decided to die and set me back £300 on what I was expecting to be a £40 fix.  Shortly after that, my wisdom tooth decided to cause me extreme agony so I haven't been at all motivated for writing recently.  This is unlikely to be fixed for another 6 weeks yet, but the pain has subsided enough for me to continue blogging, if only because of friends participating in NaNoWriMo making me feel guilty.

Now for some actual news you may be interested in, rather than reading my sob story- I have results from my survey!  (It's still ongoing, so if you haven't completed it yet then do so now- it only takes 5 minutes! http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/WDHGNDS )
Now I can give some sort of definitive answer to what you want from Rooksburg's Realm; here are some of the more interesting results.

A significant majority of you are interested in role-playing games more than Wargames.  Practically no-one wants TCGs.  Over half of you are interested in third-party miniatures and out of print books.
Over three-quarters of you are interested in both types of membership I am currently considering.
You are mostly interested in weekly gaming, and are most likely to want to play on Saturdays.  You are least likely to want to play on Mondays.
Those of you that are interested in painting want non-GW paints more than anything else (specific demand for Vallejo).  There is also some interest in my partner's painting lessons (trust me, she's good!).
It seems that if you're interested in video games, you're interested in everything apart from MMOs.  There is an even divide between those of you interested in video games and those of you who aren't.
Regarding refreshments, there has been an overwhelming demand for sandwiches and significant demand for just about everything else.  Except juice.
Out of all respondents, only 3 people believe there is no demand for this shop/club.  Even better, some of you answered that you would go out of your way to come here from further afield!

Now I know that surveys like this are biased towards the sorts of people willing to complete an online survey, but still this all looks quite promising.  Now I'm confident to reveal my plans a little further... But you can wait till the next update for that ;)

Until then,

Rooksburg

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Rooksburg Reviews: Pokémon X (Part One)

Sorry for the long gap guys- this has mostly been due to various training courses, and making sure the previous post was fresh on here (incidentally if you haven't already, fill in this survey: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/WDHGNDS ), but for the last few days it's been more because of this:


That's right, I got Pokémon X (and my fiancée got Y) and we've been pretty much playing them all day every day since.  Over 4 days we're still only halfway, having just beaten the Lumiose City gym, hence why this is only a 'part one' review.

The 3D.
Its no coincidence these were launched
at the same time as Pokémon
This is what has been on everyone's minds since a 3DS game was announced- what will the 3D be like?  Honestly, it's not bad- but it's not great either.  Firstly the overworld is not in 3D; only selected areas, and battles.  When it is active, it's quite subtle and adds depth rather jumps out at you.  In my opinion, this is much more effective and easy on the eyes, though it can be difficult to keep the 'sweet spot' to avoid double-vision.  That being said, you could turn off the 3D and it won't feel like you're missing anything at all; there's a reason why the 2DS was launched to coincide with X and Y.


The new pokémon.
Every new generation introduces a ton of new species, and X and Y are no exception; however they have introduced a lot less than usual (the count is currently around 70 and unlikely to increase).  It is likely more will be introduced in this game's sequel, but I can let it slide for this release as there are so many new features introduced.  Most controversially, these games also introduce Mega Evolutions- evolutions that can only be activated mid-battle, if a certain pokémon is holding a certain item.  Allegedly only popular pokémon have mega evolutions, Charizard and Mewtwo getting two, though there have been interesting choices like Kanghaskhan and Pinsir that have also gained evolutions.  To me, mega evolutions are wholly unnecessary and don't add an awful lot to gameplay (other than taking up a large chunk of the plot), but may be interesting competitively.  As for designs, that's subjective but in my opinion they did better than Gen V- I'm spoilt for choice as to which new pokémon to add to my team.
Mega-Evolutions would be much more useful if more were available mid-game

The new gimmicks.
Along with the pokémon themselves, every new game tends to have its own gimmicks and this one's no exception.  Most prominent are Pokémon-amie, and Super Training.  Pokémon-amie lets you play minigames with your pokémon and feed them treats, raising their 'affection' value.  This causes flavour text to appear in battle ('Fennekin awaits Dan's orders', 'Charizard's in a bit of a pinch and looks like it might cry'), giving a more personal experience to games- and a lot more heartache in Nuzlocke runs.
The cutest feature GameFreak have ever added.
  However it also has benefits like increased crit chances, increased evasion chance, and even the possibility of a focus-sash like ability where the pokémon survives a hit with 1HP left.  Super Training is similar, in that you play minigames with your pokémon, but in this case the purpose is to raise your pokémon's 'effort values'- a previously invisible score that decided how many points your pokémon gains on level up in certain stats.  In all cases the games are easy enough, not as boring as Gen V's dream world, and give you something to do if you're fed up with constant battling.  Most likely you'll spend a lot of time in Pokémon-amie during the game, then switch to Super Training for post-game competitive team raising.  The other new gimmick is trainer videos, but you're unlikely to spend much longer than 10 minutes fiddling with them.


The story.
As with other titles, the story is pretty generic- you're a young trainer sent out to become champion and fill
the pokédex, and along the way legendary pokémon and an evil team will get involved.  The pleasant surprise in this game, is that the legendaries have only had a couple of passing references and there's only been one scenario involving Team Flare so far- this is a welcome change from the Team Rocket dominated Gen I and II, and the hundreds of legendaries in Gen IV, and just as I start missing those elements then it looks like it's all kicking off now I'm leaving Lumiose City.  NPC dialogue also seems to have improved, though the progression is still very linear.

The multiplayer.
Possibly the most welcome feature of these games.  You can now interact with anyone at any time.  The O-Powers feel a little cheaty, but they do come in handy and give friends a purpose other than someone to trade with or battle.  The GTS has been improved, as you can exclude 'special' pokémon from the requests so no more 'Zekrom lvl 9 and under'.  However in it's place, there's the Wonder Trade in which you offer a pokémon and get a random one in return; as is to be expected, this is littered with early-game rubbish and it'll require a lot of luck to find anything useful.

The randomness.
Part of the Pokémon series' charm is the randomness you encounter, and this gen has possibly raised the bar on that front.  So far I've encountered strange men down dark alleys, a gliding ghost in an office, many Espurr that appear to be mind-controlling people with their cold, dead eyes (including me...), and a slightly awkward firework display with a girl I only met a couple of days ago.  And not forgetting the NPC dialogue, claiming fedoras are fashionable, telling me my power levels are over-9000, and telling me that Gary Oak/ Blue visited recently (one step behind him again!).  Then there's the gym leaders...

Criticisms so far.
Despite having over 40 hours on this game in 4 days, I still have criticisms.  So far these are:
Framerate drops.  Not by much, but noticeable and makes me cringe a little when it happens.
Lacklustre 3D.  It's nice to have on at times, and in the areas of the overworld where it works, but more often than not I find I'm switching to 2D if only for battery's sake.
Uninteresting gym leaders.  I know in Gen V the leaders were involved far too much in the plot, but at least they had some input.  So far only one gym leader appears to have any significance, and even then it wasn't for long.
Mega-Evolutions.  I'm not against the concept, but if you're going to hype them up so much then let me use something other than Lucario or Ampharos.  I'm annoyed I have to wait for postgame for things like Absol, Mawile, or Bannette.
Gifts.  I don't want your stupid Kanto starter, Lucario, or Lapras- I want to catch my own.  And I don't want the EXP share that early in the game, and affecting my whole party- I know you can switch it off but I don't want to start struggling only to have a friend tell me to use 'easy' mode.

Also, not really a criticism, but there's so many pokémon in this game... It's really hard to pick a team.  I could raise them up after completing the game, but that wouldn't be the same.  I could have a huge rotation of my team, but that'll require a lot of pokémon-amie-ing.  If ever there was a need for a second save file, this is it.

That's all I have to say for now, but once I complete and play a bit of post-game I'll have more to say.  So see you in a couple of days then!

Friend Codes!
Mine: 2509-2099-1232
Tell me yours!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Monthly Update: 9/13

Greetings all!

Things have been a bit sparse on the blog over the last month, mostly due to Asylum (which was awesome, obviously, and involved an engagement which was nice).  Unfortunately the next month won't be much better due to various courses and viewings and such...  But in shop news I have a very important favour to ask!

Please please please complete this survey: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/WDHGNDS

It will give you some idea of what we want to do, and you can have your say on what features and stock we have.  After all, I want to make sure the shop is stocking games that people want to play!  Remember, every comment is valuable no matter how insignificant it may seem- you could well be pointing out something blindingly obvious that I might have missed!

Now, to flesh out this post a little more, here's a video to recap what went on at Asylum (I make an appearance near the middle... I'm the one kneeling down ;) )



Until next time,

Rooksburg.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Devil's Advocate: Steampunk



Next week is the biggest Steampunk convention in Europe, if not the world (despite what Guiness think): Asylum in Lincoln, UK.  Half of the city is taken over by men in top hats, women in corsets, and gadgets galore.  As the 'normals' are allowed to use the city as well, this inevitably leads to one question that everyone is guaranteed to be asked at least once- 'What exactly is Steampunk?'

Currently there is no truly accepted definition.  The most commonly accepted answer is 'Victorian Sci-Fi', though some disagree with that, thinking sci-fi doesn't necessarily have to be involved which leads to the argument of whether you're just a Victorian re-enactor.  Even taking sci-fi into account people argue over the rules- is it a simple alternate-history in which steam became the major power source instead of electricity, or is it following the rules of definitive Steampunk fiction like War of the Worlds in which we could logically assume we reverse engineered rayguns from aliens, or is it a world in which magic has been discovered in place of electricity leading to all sorts of aether devices... the list goes on.  And that's just the core principles of the genre, I haven't even touched on what could be the definitive piece of Steampunk music...

One of the problems with defining the genre, is the name- specifically the 'punk' part.  To most people's minds this conjures images of violent men with mohawks causing mayhem in the name of anarchy; something that couldn't be further from the Steampunk image.  The original explanation doesn't help matters much either- the name was coined by author K. W. Jeter who used it as a temporary term, a variation on Cyberpunk, which makes people think that Steampunk is a sub-genre of a sub-genre of goth.  Because of these, some people in their explanations of the genre say 'ignore the punk part', which does nothing but confuse.  Instead I propose this explanation:  The point of 'Punk' is to defy society's expectations; in the 70s people were expected to be smart, polite, generally nice people, and so Punks were instead rude, disrespectful, and anarchic.  Nowadays, with the rise of chavs, society expects us to be rude, disrespectful, and anarchic so instead we're smart, polite, and generally nice people.

Now for the 'Devil's Advocate' part of this blog... Here are some controversial topics, and reasons why I think they should at least be considered.  Please note, as with all my Devils Advocate blogs, I do not necessarily believe in the arguments I'm presenting- I just want people to be a little more open-minded to controversial topics.

Steampunk Music.
The music currently consists of Industrial, Darkwave, Folk Rock, Punk, Prog Rock, Goth, Hip-Hop and much much more, with very little connecting them.  As such, there is no defining sound for Steampunk.  This has led to countless arguments over whether Steampunk music should be classified by the lyrical content- i.e airships- or by the sound, using more Victorian sounding instruments like the violin or harpsichord.  Why not have both?  I see Steampunk as alternate-reality, and for the world to feel real then it would have just as many genres of music as it does now.  This is the defining feature of Steampunk- its diversity.

Ray Guns.
As far as I know, no-one believes Steampunk MUST involve rayguns, but there is a substantial part of the community that believes there is no place for them.  Their point is that we don't have rayguns now, so why would they exist in Steampunk?  It's a fair point, as raygun technology seems a distant dream even now, over 100 years on from the point where the Steampunk universe diverged from our own.  The simplest explanation comes from taking War of the Worlds as literal, as the author Robert Rankin does- the Martians invaded, they were defeated, we could reverse-engineer their technology.  An alternate explanation is that we simply don't know what advancements could have been made without electricity- all of our inventions are from an entirely electronic point of view, but if we were forced to look at options involving steam (or aether) then we could have completely different inventions, amongst which may lie rayguns.

Anachronistic Materials.
Creativity is a big part of Steampunk, and central to crafting is the debate on which materials to use.  Some want to restrict themselves by using only materials Victorians had access to- starting from scratch and requiring a greater investment of time and effort- whereas others use modern items and give them a slight mod and paint job.  Neither of these ways is the 'right' way- the modern view is correct in that 'Steampunk doesn't equal Victorian', therefore make use of what you've got; but equally the old-fashioned view is correct in that 'I put in all this time and effort to get something that looks perfect, and you're getting praise for simply painting something'.  Unfortunately this is true in every crafting circle- often the shorter job will be more popular than the longer one that required more effort, but the trade-off is that the one that started from scratch will be regarded as better quality, and people will appreciate the amount of effort that's gone into it.  The problem is that the longer job doesn't appreciate the fact the shorter one still required effort, and the shorter one doesn't understand why the longer would want to restrict themselves.  Again, the majority of people will value both methods, but these are the central points to the most vocal arguments.

Taxidermy.
Animal rights is a tricky subject.  The only universal agreement is that endangered animals should not be killed for any reason.  It is widely accepted that animals should not be killed specifically for fashion.  A lot of people will say any form of taxidermy is supporting the murder of animals in some way- often there's no guarantee you're buying from someone who's obeying the relevant laws.  Some believe animals shouldn't be killed even if they're pests.  The problem is that Victorians loved taxidermy, and many Steampunks appreciate the use of taxidermy as well.  This is an argument that can't be won- it doesn't matter if you assure people that the animals you have were killed as pests, humanely, or that they're vintage and the hunter is long-dead as well, some people just won't accept it.  It's entirely up to you what you do, but please be careful with who you're buying from- there are a lot of illegitimate sellers that will say they followed anti-pest laws but are still ultimately making a profit.
(Please note that my hat at Asylum will be decorated with bits of bird.  I am confident that the seller was following appropriate laws, and the birds used were killed as pests.)

'Steampunkers'
...Sorry, I've got no defense for the use of this term.  If you use it and have any respect for the English language, then stop it- you don't call chavs 'chavers' or goths 'gothers'.



If you're a Steampunk, then I hope to see you next week at Asylum!  If you're not, then I hope you've got some understanding of the culture, and although it sounds like constant arguing then don't be put off- this is mostly confined to internet forums, and in person you will see that we're all splendid people!

Monday, 2 September 2013

A Metaphor Too Far: X-Men First Class

You can find millions of reviews online for popular movies, so it would be futile of me to write a 'Rooksburg Reviews'- those will be saved for more obscure films and games, things you're not likely to have seen already.  Instead I will be looking at some films from the viewpoint of an English teacher that can find deep symbolism in every line of Shakespeare- regardless of whether the author intended it or not.

My first choice for this is an interesting one- X-Men: First Class.  It is interesting because of this:



So there we can see that there's not just one, but three themes that people have strong opinions about, in a decent-but-not-outstanding series that's ultimately about superheroes beating up supervillains.  The main theme picked up on is the gay theme, as shown above; for the civil rights symbolism you're better off looking at the comics.  I know the LGBT community praises the series for raising awareness, but is it really helping that much?  Anyone who notices the symbolism will be called out for reading too much into the movies, as the person above Mr. Stentz did- and the writer won't always be around to correct people.  Once you know the symbolism is intentional then yes, the series does a very good job of showing the various difficulties LGBT people face- but is it raising awareness if the only people that see the symbolism are those that are aware already?  Those audience members that need to be made aware won't see any symbolism because they think they're just watching a comic-book movie about blowing things up.  Just one small addition would have been enough to trigger in people's minds that this is all symbolic, and that's to have an actually gay character say something along the lines of 'wow, your mutant problems are exactly the same as what I'm going through'- and I wouldn't be surprised if the writers wanted to include something like that, but openly gay characters are still frowned upon by producers.


Now I've got the serious part over with, time for some fun that relies on one extremely cynical viewpoint: it's easy to say symbolism is intentional if someone's done the work for you.  It makes you look like you're open-minded and performing a greater service, just because people are seeing what they want to see- after all, the gay subtext could just as easily be seen as anti-gay based on the actions of Magneto and the Hellfire club, who coincidentally are the characters most open about their 'mutations'.
To prove my point on how easy it is to find symbolism for anything, here's an interpretation of X-Men: First Class as a tale about the War on Drugs, in the height of the swinging sixties.
Please note that if you enjoy the film as it is and don't want it ruined then you may want to look away now.
(I thought this would be quite a ridiculous interpretation, but the more I looked the more I wondered if this was the actual message the writers wanted to convey- I see a lot more symbolism for drugs than I do for homosexuality... make of that what you will)

The key to understanding this interpretation, is that the severity of the mutation reflects the severity of the addiction.
First we have Shaw- powerful drug lord, and the central character to the story.  He has the most powerful mutation/habit, and is in full control of it.  His plan is to trigger World War III, which he hopes will create a world of mutants- people that have found a vice to relax their fears.  Significant to his plans is establishing a foothold in Cuba.

His first victim is Erik/Magneto.  He discovered his mutation in a Nazi laboratory, run by Shaw.  Shaw offers him a piece of candy- he refuses.  Shaw tries to convince him to try 'just a little' manifestation of his powers- he refuses.  Eventually it takes the killing of his mother to push Erik over the edge- in his grief he becomes completely addicted to his powers, but can't bring himself to kill his supplier, who says 'we're going to have a lot of fun together'.  Erik embraces his mutation, becoming completely dependant on it, and spends his life hunting down Shaw- the man that turned him into a monster.  When Erik lost control of his power- nearly dying when trying to lift the sub- Xavier helped him, and took him to his rehab centre.  Erik was going to leave rehab, but acknowledges he needs the help.  When Erik finally confronts Shaw, he can't resist just one more tiny use of his powers- enough to send him spiralling out of control, and taking Shaw's place as drug lord much to Xavier's dismay- he becomes Xavier's failure.

Xavier still suffers migraines from his addiction
Xavier/ Professor X, as previously mentioned, set up a rehab centre.  He has first-hand experience of mutations, but now has it under control.  It is implied that he started due to a poor relationship with his mother.  Because he managed to control it, he wants to help others control their powers.  His experience also means he can identify when others have a problem.  He still suffers migraines from time to time, hence raising his hand to his head.

Raven/ Mystique has the greatest dependence on her powers.  In fact she needs them to get through daily life, and she is constantly trying to mask them.  She is introduced as having broken into a rich house, looking for food, and unable to conceal her power.  Xavier takes her in, his first attempt at healing someone.  She can't control herself, especially when tired or stressed.  Erik points out it takes all her strength to hide, so she should be open about it and it will make her more relaxed- she eventually succumbs and joins Erik when he becomes Magneto.  Hank hoped he could cure her dependence, but she refused.

Hank/Beast was very good at hiding his mutation- Xavier notices, to which Hank says 'you didn't ask so I didn't tell'.  He is highly intelligent, and is working on a cure that will keep the power whilst hiding the superficial evidence.  Unfortunately it doesn't work, and Hank becomes Beast- a creature with a short temper and entirely driven by his addiction.

Darwin's overdose
Xavier's 'recruits': Angel works as a stripper in a nightclub, her ability always on show but unnoticed.  She attempts rehab but it doesn't work for her, so she falls for Shaw's temptation.  Darwin is proud of his ability and thinks he will live forever- his ability lets him 'adapt to survive'- but when Shaw comes along, he OD's on his own power.  Havok was imprisoned due to his ability- he acknowledges that he's destructive when under the influence, and very self-conscious about it, but with Xavier's help he can focus himself more.  Banshee is found as a teenager hanging out in a dark aquarium, and although he enjoys his ability it often makes him scream- usually through fear.

The Hellfire club: Azazel is so reliant on his ability that he now looks completely inhuman, and couldn't hide it even if he wanted to.  Riptide is a quiet man in a suit, and when he uses his ability it's variable as to how potent it will be.  Emma Frost looks perfectly natural, but is quite happy to demonstrate her ability in public, much to the horror of anyone watching.


So there you have it.  The film is in fact about a drug lord in the 60s trying to make the whole world reliant on him, whilst those that know how much pain drugs can cause are working with the American government to try and stop him.  They succeed, but only for a new drug lord to take his place, mostly due to all drug-users being labelled as criminals.  Personally I see that interpretation as having much more evidence than the homosexual interpretation...

...but then again

Friday, 23 August 2013

Devil's Advocate: Batman


The internet is once again abuzz with a controversial casting decision:  Ben Affleck will be the next Batman, making his début in the next Superman film.  The majority of responses have been 'Noooooo!' or 'I must be dreaming!  This can't be happening!', but is all this just an overreaction?  After all, this isn't the first time Batman has had controversial casting decisions, and in some cases the actors have pulled off performances that many consider couldn't have been done better by anyone else.  So let's have a brief retrospective of other casting controversies in the Batman series (only going by the films).

"Warner Bros. received thousands of letters of complaint by fans commenting that he was the wrong choice to portray Batman, given his prior work in comedies and the fact that he lacked the suave, handsome features and tall, muscular physicality often attributed to the character in the comic books."  This is not a future biography of Affleck, but it is in fact a quote from Wikipedia regarding Michael Keaton- the man who reignited the public's interest in Batman after the campy Adam West series of the 60s.  Keaton's portrayal received wide-spread praise, and Batman would become one of the highest grossing movies of 1989.  Also of note from this Batman reboot is Jack Nicholson as the Joker- a multiple Oscar-winner, his portrayal of the chaotic evil Joker is considered one of the best performances of his career.

Val Kilmer was the next Batman, and he seemed like he could portray the role better than Keaton due to his more muscular figure.  And sure enough he was a good Batman, able to keep up with all the fight scenes etc- but his Bruce Wayne performance was lacklustre, and so he received mixed reviews.  Proof, therefore, that perhaps Bruce Wayne is more important than Batman?  After all, most of Batman's screen time can be filled by a stunt double, especially with digital enhancement.

Next came Batman and Robin, featuring George Clooney as Batman- this may have been a controversial choice, but his performance is vastly overshadowed by the poor writing and direction of the film, and the performances of his co-stars.  Of course this was the film so bad that it killed the franchise for almost 10 years.

Then came Batman Begins, with Christian Bale- perfectly suited for the role, the only criticism people tend to have of him is his at-times ridiculous gravelly voice.  There was little controversy about his casting, but then came The Dark Knight, featuring the character that inspired me to be 'Devil's Advocate' for Ben Affleck:

Heath Ledger as the Joker.  This was the biggest controversial casting decision that I can remember from any movie, let alone Batman.  Ledger had previously been known for playing handsome leading men- specifically a gay cowboy- and now they wanted him to be a psychopathic villain in clown makeup, that had to top Jack Nicholson's performance.  And it worked better than anyone would have believed.  Sure, there's a lot of cynics that say he was only good because of some sense of guilt over him dying, but it's indisputable that he did a solid performance and showed he could pull off a role that no-one would expect from him.

This is where Ben Affleck comes in.  Affleck is known for being an actor that stars in films that receive bad reviews, yet inexplicably do well in the box office (shades of Val Kilmer?).  He is known for playing... well, himself.  He has said himself that people don't see him as a fictional character- they only see him as Ben Affleck, and being Batman may be a way to overcome that (reminiscent of Heath Ledger?  Before the Joker, Ledger was always instantly recognisable as 'that guy').  He also doesn't have the muscles to be Batman, but then the story is that Batman's coming out of retirement so he's bound to be a bit out of shape (and again, where were Michael Keaton's muscles?).

Ultimately, I think Affleck could portray an excellent Bruce Wayne- so long as people try and see him as the character and not the actor.  In my mind, the man is always more important than the suit as that's where the character is developed (and from a technical view, you can always hire a stunt man).

That being said- this film is guaranteed to have high box office ratings due to the subject, so does he need to redeem himself?  Why not stay typecast as the man who stars in inexplicably successful bad movies?  Then when this movie kills the franchise for another ten years, Affleck could work on becoming the next George Clooney...

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Monthly Update: 8/13

Greetings Readers!

As you may have noticed, a logo has been developed and the blog has been revamped to accommodate it.  Aside from that, shop developments are all about potential this month- potential supplier, potential backer, potential new job, potential house to move to... End of the month is when I should have some news about moving, and once we've moved then I'll get to know some of my future customers and hopefully set up a gaming group!  We're looking to move within commuting distance of Bristol and as such the group will probably be based in the city centre, though depending on where we live then it could be based in Weston-Super-Mare, Midsomer Norton, or even Newport.

As for the blog- I've got a few series' of posts on here now, which gives me an idea for what people want to read.  As such I'll endeavour to write more of my more popular posts (Traveller's Guide to Faerun, and Devils Advocate), and I'm going to drop the Doctor Who reviews in favour of more general reviews; I'll be reviewing both films and video games, and I will be tending towards Steampunk and Fantasy themes, though there may well be some completely unrelated things involved as well (one series I'm considering is overanalysis of Disney films, as I love over-extending metaphors).  Once I've established a gaming group I will be looking to review some of the games we play as well, and if we're playing a long-term campaign it's probable I'll be writing an accompaniment on the blog, essentially a novelised version of the game.

So... a fair bit to look forward to; next month will have Asylum coverage and hopefully news on the move as well!

Until next time,

Rooksburg

Saturday, 17 August 2013

The Traveller's Guide to Faerun: Furthinghome (Elven Quarter)

I told the innkeeper of my predicament, and he seemed evasive.  'I wouldn't know nothing about that sir,' he said, 'but a word to the wise- wear your hood up round these parts.  Not much love for elves here.'
'But I'm not an elf...  I've never even seen an elf.'
The innkeeper shook his head.  'Doesn't matter to the people of Furthingharrow; to them, pointy ears equals elf and elf equals self-entitled foreign pansy that gets everything handed to them on a plate whilst us humans are forced into the gutter.'
'What happened for things to get like this?'
I would soon regret asking that question.  For the next hour or so I received a lecture on the history of
The Elves' feared for the future of Yuirwood
Algarond- fascinating, but I'd prefer to hear it from a scholar than a bartender.  Basically, half-elves pre-emptively invaded the human towns on the north coast to prevent the Yuirwood from being destroyed to further human expansion.  The humans saw this as typical elven obnoxiousness, believing they wouldn't have had an impact on the huge Yuirwood, and so the majority moved further up the coast to found Altumbel.  The ones that remained have been stewing hatred ever since, and now that Algarond is ruled by a human- the Simbul- these remaining humans think they have a chance to overthrow their elven oppressors.  The only problems are that the Simbul was a half-elf's apprentice, has her hands full dealing with Thay, and is quite possibly insane.

After this lesson I thanked the innkeeper and enquired about work to reclaim my stolen money.  He asked if I had adventuring experience which I found a little odd.  I said I hadn't, so he suggested going to the rich side of town and helping in the elven greenhouses, as at least there I wouldn't have to disguise myself.  

I found the transition quite remarkable.  As I walked through the streets the buildings became less weathered-wood and more solid stone, and the city seemed to visibly brighten as I headed into the wealthier area.  Here I got my first good look at elves, or half-elves at least, and was shocked to find they looked almost exactly the same as humans.  From the way the innkeeper spoke I thought their ears would be like
Elf ears do not look like this.
scythes attached to their heads, but these half-elves ears were shorter than mine!  If I hadn't known to look at their ears I wouldn't have noticed any difference, aside from their much more refined dress.  Of course, I wasn't here to study them as if they were some alien species (though I suppose they technically were, to me)- I was here to work.  It seemed taverns were the best place to find prospective employers, so I headed to the closest one- The Aglarond Arms.  What a change from the Beached Mermaid!  This place was huge, with lovely wooden flooring, a grand fireplace, several fine dining tables, the smell of woodsmoke, and even at this time of day it was busy with patrons- who I became disconcertingly aware were all staring at me and had suddenly gone very quiet.  I realised I must look very out of place in my tattered rags, and thankfully as I lowered my cowl revealing my glorious ears there was an audible sigh of relief.  I approached the bar, which was decorated with all sorts of paraphernalia, and caught the attention of the admittedly somewhat attractive barmaid; clearly a full wood elf judging by the lovely copper shade of her skin.  I avoided flirting with her as I know how much annoyance it must cause from other patrons, and simply asked about work in the area.
'Oh another adventurer...'
'People keep calling me that...  Why?'
'You mean you're not?  I'm sorry, it's just we don't get many non-elves here, and what with the robes...  Can I get you a drink?  My name's Melindraea.'
'Thank you Melindraea, my name is Zephran, but regrettably I am short of coin.  Hence why I'm looking for work?'
'Oh, I see.  Um... actually yes, there was someone looking for help with his dahlias- Sir Rayner, he lives at the large house on Queen's Street, you can't miss it.'
'Thank you, I look forward to seeing you again, Melindraea.'

'Yes?'  The man who opened the door certainly wasn't what I was expecting.  I expected a frail old man that couldn't look after his flowers, and instead I'm greeted by a man in full ceremonial golden armour.
'Sir Rayner?  I was told you needed some gardening help...?'
He gave a snort of derision.  'Gardening?  Please, that's when it's done out of necessity.  This, my boy, is horticulture.  Say, you're an Outsider aren't you?  Not taking revenge for that little misunderstanding in Sigil are you?  No, you'd have to be better armed than that... Oh well, come in and let's see what you can do.  Judging by your stubble I don't hold out much hope though.'
A painting of Sir Rayner
I followed Sir Rayner into a veritable mansion in pristine condition.  The walls were decorated with trophies from all manner of beasts; clearly this man had seen his share of adventure.  I was led out to a small glass house in which were kept various plants.
'Right, let's see what you can do.  Clear the weeds from these roses, and perhaps I'll let you have a go at the dahlias.'
He handed me a pair of gloves and what looked like scissors.  I was momentarily taken aback- how do you make things grow by cutting them?  Nonetheless I made a few careful cuts on the plant, not entirely sure what I was doing but desperate for the money.
'Hmm!  Not bad, you seem to be very careful, you must take a lot of pride in your work!  Very well, I shall leave you to it.  I'll be in the conservatory writing this blasted report if you need me, you can leave at dusk as I've got to be at the palace.  I've fought hordes of orcs, demons, even dragons, but nothing terrifies me more than meeting with the Simbul!'

As I worked I found the experience quite relaxing, and soon my mind began to wander.  I reflected on the past couple of days, and how strange things were in this world.  The humans resent the half-elves, and the half-elves seem fearful despite being the ones in charge.  But if Sir Rayner was a half-elf, then it certainly seems they have the capability to be ruthless...  And what of full elves?  There must be some remaining in the forests, yet the half-elves do all the fighting for them?  Perhaps I should ask Melindraea about her people?

'Elves hide in their forest, whilst men chop it down,
Elves' ultimatum: stop or we'll frown.
Men's response: we can't or we'll drown!
You have your forest, we have our town,
Logging won't make a dent- your forest won't brown!

Humans claim they mean Elves no harm.
Elves are not swayed by the humans' charm.
Elves take too long to make their decision,
Half-Elves step in to make a swift incision.

Half-Elves now rule Aglarond,
Gone is the Human/Elf bond.

Half-Elves are neither Elven nor Human,
Now they are treated as some mutant fusion.
Better than Humans, lesser than Elves,
What sort of future will they carve for themselves...?'

'What was that?' said Sir Rayner.  He had apparently been stood behind me some time.
'Oh, I was just singing to myself.  Sorry, I won't let my mind wander again.'
'Don't be a fool man!  That was marvellous!  Not many understand the decision we had to make; if we waited for our elven fathers then the forest would be destroyed!  Taking control of the humans was the only way to stop them from getting out of hand.'
'I'm glad you liked it...'
'Hah!  You've inspired me, boy, we need to get you to the Simbul!  Tell me, have you ever considered becoming a bard?'