Monday, November 22, 2010

The Aldowyn's Musings Podcast: The Lost Episode

From Deep in the Aldowyn's Musings archives... A Lost podcast episode was found...

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Assassin's Creed II: Assassination Complete!

I finished! It was totally awesome! Post done! Back to Minecraft! Just kidding, I'm not done, though I do admit I probably would be if the server was up... ANYWAYS...

I'll be trying a more structured system for this one, like I did with Dragon Age way back in the day, because I said most of what I wanted to say in the last post.

For those of you who don't know, Assassin's Creed II is an action-adventure game (what would you call it?) imbued with platforming. It's developed and published by Ubisoft. They're not one of the huge publishers, but they're one of the bigger ones and they've got quite a few game development studios. This one was made by the Ubisoft Montreal team, and they've got others all over the place. (Check out the Wikipedia page. So many!) The first game was pretty good, receiving solid reviews (81 aggregate on Metacritic.), but was critiqued mainly for its annoying and unrealistic stealth system and incredible repetition.

Does Assassin's Creed II get past these issues and become a much greater game? What do you think? Read on and find out!


I climb up the rear of a building, finding and reaching for handholds in the facade. I reach the top in mere seconds, and begin to slowly make my way towards the other side. A guard on patrol begins to turn around, but falls to the ground as I fling a knife to his gut. I continue on, reach the edge, and look down towards my planned targets. There they are, four knights guarding the entrance to a codex page bearing untold secrets. I leap towards the edge, and fly down like an eagle swooping to the ground to catch its prey, and smoothly kill two of my adversaries with my dual hidden blades. The other two look up and begin to shout in alarm, but their voices gurgle and fail as my blades reach their throats. I enter the building and retrieve the treasure, now mine for the taking!

Yes, you can really do that. No, it's not a setpiece. In fact, you can do that literally dozens of times in the game! The combat in the first game was pretty neat, aided by the innovation of the free-running that is the series' signature. It's even better in this game, with many more choices for weapons, ranging from many simple swords, to short, brutal knives (you can use a cleaver), and massive hammers. There's even a metal cestus you can use. (A cestus is basically a really heavy metal glove you use to hit people with. Not as lame as it sounds...) You can also buy armor, with four different suits for sale and a fifth available to earn. The combat system is also much deeper than the first game, with most of the abilities you gained in the first game available from the start, and more learned as you go through the game. (Ironic, considering how most games have to take away the stuff you learned in the previous games, and in this one you're playing as an entirely different character!)

The biggest difference though, is in the platforming. It's enough better that there is an entire section of the game (6 dungeons, basically.) devoted to platforming. Let me tell you, those were my favorite parts of the game, bar none. It's just so fun, swinging and jumping from beam to beam, rising higher and higher towards your goal. It actually feels like you're doing something other than just holding the stick down, like it does when you're climbing. The interesting thing about this is that it's mostly just polish and level design. I can only think of two new abilities off the top of my head.. wait there's a third... anyways, the first is a high jump when you're wall-climbing, allowing you to climb walls with longer gaps between hand holds. The others are variations of wall jumps, one where you jump straight out from where you're hanging on to a wall, and the other that's more like classic wall-running: run towards the wall and kick off it to the side when you get up there. That last one in particular looks really cool!

Those make a relatively small difference, though. The real kicker is the incredible level design. It appears that Ubisoft Montreal learned a lot from the first game! The roofs are no longer flat, but it doesn't really matter as the simple free-running and climbing is much smoother now. They seem to have done a lot of polishing with those mechanics in this game, as you're more likely to go where you want to go. It's also much easier and faster to get up onto a building without just climbing up the side because of all the crates on the street and beams and lamps and balconies on the sides of the buildings, often forming a path that you can jump up almost as fast as you could run on the street below. The only issue with this that it seems contrived sometimes, but it's not that bad and helps so much it doesn't really matter.

The last addition is an upgrade system. You get a villa early on in the game, and you earn money and discounts at stores by upgrading the town you protect. These improvements range from a brothel and barracks to upgrades to the four kinds of stores in the game: Blacksmith, tailor, doctor, and artist. These improvements, along with items of all kinds, including the tons of collectibles, increase the value of the town, increasing tourism and in turn your income.

Speaking of collectibles, there are a lot. Way more than the first game, with its hundreds of flags. (Those were so annoying...) There's one set that come with puzzles and unlocks this really, really freaky video (glyphs), one set that you get by going through those platforming sections I mentioned that unlocks that armor set I also mentioned (Assassin's seals), one that unlocks a couple of items (including the last weapon you were looking for. Oh and it's the feathers), one that just gives you money (statues), and more that just give you more money.. but they're chests, so they're supposed to. The chests are also the only ones that don't net you achievements.

So, in short, they incredibly polished the game, added some new features, and upped the ante for the collectibles. These all help make the game the much better game that it is. On to the next section!

Visuals and Sound

The first game was praised for its visuals. It had sweeping cityscapes, and probably the best building design of any game I had seen. (Kind of important, since you were climbing up the sides of them so much!) Everything but the facial animations, plus some bad clipping issues, was incredible. (Clipping is when two objects go through each other when they're not supposed to. For example, when a cape goes through a leg.) The sound wasn't spectacular - it had a pretty good soundtrack, but the ambient sounds weren't the best in the world.

Assassin's Creed II doesn't improve greatly on these. The soundtrack is phenomenal, I admit, and the water is pretty neat -- important in Venice, I would say! Also nice that it doesn't act like quicksand or pools of acid when you even touch it, like it did in the first game. Also there's a ridiculous amount of customization for Ezio, and the character models are much, much more diverse. Actually, pretty much everything everywhere is much more diverse.

The biggest difference in this category, though, is the architecture. The cities are modeled after their real-life counterparts, and since Florence, Venice, and Rome are marvels of Renaissance and Gothic architecture, this is reflected in the game. Some of the buildings are just breath-taking. There isn't one tower that's just massively taller than the rest of the entire city, like there
tended to be in the first, but there are plenty tall enough to see large swathes of the much larger cities, and man does that look cool!


Now we get to the tricky bit. The story was fairly simple in AC1: you're Altair, an assassin in the Third Crusade who breaks the assassin's code, is demoted to an apprentice, and you have to work your way back up to master assassin by doing the tasks assigned you by your master. You do, and gradually an evil templar plot to take over the holy land (Jerusalem and surroundings, basically), with both Christians and Muslims in on it, and eventually you discover the leader of the plot and kill him. It's obviously much more complicated than that, but that was the basics.

Simple, right? Wait, there's something else: you aren't actually Altair, you're Desmond Miles, his descendant by blood who is being kept prisoner by the Abstergo Corporation, the current face of the Templars, who are trying to find an ancient treasure by going through Altair's memory, hidden in Desmond's DNA, by using a machine called an Animus.

At the end, you find the artifact, Abstergo finds out where all of them are, and something very strange happens to Desmond. He gains Eagle Vision, one of Altair's abilities, and ends up seeing some very, very strange stuff.

Yes, I made that in Minecraft!

This stuff is explained... mostly... sort of... in the second game. Which is just as strange. Of course, Desmond end up joining up with the modern assassins and becomes quite awesome himself, but the story line while you're in the Animus 2.0 (assassin version.. looks so much more comfortable!) ends up being very, very strange.

At first, Ezio is just some kid whose male family is wrongfully executed and vows for revenge, learning the assassin arts in order to kill the ones responsible. He does so, killing some very lame, one-dimensional not even interesting characters in the progress (worst backstep from AC1), but one of the side-quests yields an extremely freaky video, and the very final part of Ezio's story is one of the freakiest things I've ever seen... not to mention putting a very interesting light on a lot of things. The problem is, it's so hard to make sense of it I still don't know what happened, and I finished it several days ago.

Basically, the in-Animus storyline is more about Ezio than the bad guys (I am Ezio Auditore da Firenze, and I am an Assassin. On the back cover, and so, so epic.), but the main, overarching storyline is interesting, but confusing and weird as anything you'll ever see. We'll have to wait until ACIII, or maybe the upcoming Brotherhood, to find out what everything meant.


Assassin's Creed II is one of the best action-adventure games I've ever played, miles ahead of its predecessor, and I'd say the second best implementation of platforming out of any modern game, behind Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. That's just a guess, and ACII may even be ahead. Mirror's Edge would be second, or maybe even first, but it didn't quite work as well as advertised... and it was the main focus of the game, which is actually a bad thing in my opinion. Anyways, you really should play this game if you can. It may not be a buy, as the main reason I would play it again is to get a second crack at deciphering the incomprehensible story.

So, have fun! Also, I'm going to make a snazzy new Review pic, so look for that soon.

And my PS Move post will be coming early next week.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


So, the reason I haven't done the ACII review, or, well, pretty much anything lately, is because I've been playing Minecraft. If you haven't heard of it, it's an indie game being made by one, count 'em ONE guy. The main game is in Alpha phase (before Beta.. kind of...), but there's another version, free, that has the main idea of the game and nothing else, called Minecraft Classic.

My very first creation, at the very bottom of the map. It's gold, now, to fit with the gold city that I and a few others made down there.

That main idea is building. With blocks. Like, 16-bit blocks. It's like playing with Legos, but with less parts, less room, less stimulus (depending), and a lot. more. BLOCKS! You start out with a pretty bit randomly-generated map with trees, caves, hills, and rivers, are given an inventory of blocks to use, and set loose. You can make anything you want with the fairly diverse library of blocks.

But that's the single-player, and it can get awfully lonely out there in the black. (Kudos for those who get the reference that I suddenly had the urge to use.) There are multiplayer servers, quite a few actually, ranging from a dozen or so to 10 times that. I picked the biggest one I could find, on purpose, and it turns out for a very good reason.

It's amazing. Like, seriously awesome. Like, this next picture is only one of more than half a dozen worlds (albeit one of the better ones.)

The Zone2 world, with opposing Red and Blue castles. These are huge, BTW. Those little green dots, prevalent on the right side? Those are trees. Like, 5x5x10 (WxLxH), trees.

The way they manage to keep these worlds so nice and tidy is through a rank system that only allows certain ranks to build on certain worlds. There are only one or two that guests can build on, and these become crowded, busy, and annoying awfully fast. Not to mention full of griefers messing up your awesome creations.

There's a Museum, full of the most awesome sprites you'll ever see, the Zone2 I showed above, with opposing red and blue castles, an entire world for building the above sprites, and an Enterprise world with most of an USS Enterprise that actually fills the entire world.

One of my better creations, fail-modeled after the Spiral Minaret. Except for the cross.

The community is really awesome, too. The veterans (or relative veterans, anyway), are glad to help out a confused newbie, of which there are many, and it's not hard to find people willing to help you with a particularly large and time-consuming project - sometimes too willing. You work on your creations, submit them for review by the admins, and if it's up to snuff and you've played enough time, you get promoted, allowing you access to new worlds and sometimes new abilities (The most important one I know of is making water. You can swim up water, and it doesn't flow, so you can make "elevators" out of water) and admin rights, like kicking people.

Speaking of kicking people, this server does have an issue with griefers, which are people who go around messing other people's stuff up - usually with swastikas. You know, the Nazi symbol? (Well, mostly. The Nazis modified it a bit.) The higher-ranked people are pretty strict about this (Their stuff gets messed up too!), and you seldom see ten minutes go by without someone being kicked. Repeatedly, usually. The admins aren't afraid to ban people, either.

The Enterprise I mentioned. Not 1:1, but still HUGE!

That's just Classic, and absolutely free, too! That's not even talking about Alpha, where it starts getting even crazier! Imagine the capability to build all of these, but with limited resources you must mine for and determine how to create from basic materials, when at night you're under attack by monsters! I haven't actually played it yet, or even purchased it ($13 U.S, I believe), but from what I've heard it's hugely addictive. One article I read compared it in units of addictiveness (Pongs) to being like 100 times as addictive as WoW. (Shamus Young on 20-sided, if you want to know. Specifically, here)

So, yeah, it's awesome, and if you want to play go to , and the site for the server I play on is (BTW, the server is down right now, which is why I'm not playing. Will edit when it goes back up. Probably.) Oh, and I'll also tell you all about them, since I just love bragging about my own stuff!

At first I was completely lost, and I went down to the bottom of the map and made that Welcome sign, and came up with the idea to make an underground city. Well, I told someone else about the idea, and the following was the result.

Neat, huh? BTW, the one on the left is full of non harmful lava, and that blue pillar next to it is one of those water elevators I mentioned.

That was just the beginning. We made 4 or 5 rooms behind that gold there, none of them small, and all of them completely coated with gold, except for the white signifying the connecting tunnels and stairs. The last one was a fairly neat church with pews and flower beds (There's flower blocks) and a couple of crosses. Behind one of the crosses ended up what looked like a Nazi shrine, the best grief I've ever seen. Wouldn't even have been able to tell if it hadn't been for the upside-down cross he left behind. Someone else removed the swastika. I made a massive sign pointing to the entrance, and a gold road with metal (I suppose it's silver) lining it.

Then I started messing around in the same map, with the result of this triforce, complete with signature (I put it on the tag wall at the spawn point, too. I think it got griefed, though. Should still have a picture) For those of you that are curious, each of those triangles has a base of 15 blocks.

Bit egotistical, you think?

Then I made the tower that's pictured up in the main post. During the middle of construction, they refreshed the guest world (They make new guest worlds periodically when they get full, but they leave the old ones so they can move anything particularly spectacular. You can still edit the most recently archived world, so I just finished it and moved on.), so I didn't have much company here.

After that I just got bored for a while, I'd thought of some stuff to build but it was going to take a while so I decided to wait until I got promoted (which should be happening fairly soon now. First one doesn't take much, I've heard.) to build it. Eventually I thought of something relatively easy to build that I already had some experience doing, and this last one was the result.

My latest creation, and my favorite, just above the tower.

It's a 4 sided pyramid with Triforces for sides and a huge Master Sword in the middle. (Seriously, it's like 7 or 8 blocks high and your dude is only 2 blocks high. Really hard to make something small detailed here, with pixels half the size of your character!

That's all for today, I hope you enjoyed it! I'll do my best to do that ACII review tomorrow, and I've got a PS Move impressions post in the works for sometime... maybe tomorrow, if you're lucky! (I got personal experience at Sam's Club a week or so back.)

*edit* I was promoted pretty much as soon as I logged back on! :) Now I can build on the cool worlds (Literally, cool. Means that cool rank and above can build there.)

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Aldowyn's Musings Podcast Ep. 2: Halo: Reach, SMB's 25th, and more!

In Episode 2 of the aldowyn's musings podcast, Aldowyn, Abujaffer and DarkPC talk about Super Mario Bros. 25th anniversary, Civilization V and the possible return of PC Gaming, Playstation Move, and Halo Reach

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Assassin's Creed II: First Impressions

Today I'm talking about Assassin's Creed II. The first one is one of the two (yes, that few) titles that I have for my 360 that I got sometime last year, because it looked really cool. (Honestly, the AC1 cover is really awesome. I should post a pic of the drawing I did of the creed on the back, with the Assassin's symbol.)

Anyway, it was a good game, but nothing special. Among it's myriad drawbacks were incredible amounts of repetition, unrealistic level design (seriously, those rooftops are literally meant for running around on!), annoying sequences back at Abstergo, and really, really bad AI. Of course, the idea was absolutely awesome, it's the best usage of platforming in a game I've ever played, and possibly seen. Uncharted 2 probably outdoes it, but not by much.

They fixed almost everything. It's just... awesome. ACII has more depth than any action game in recent history: collectibles everywhere, and I do mean everywhere, these really awesome platforming sequences (my favorite part), much, much better pacing and overall story, a whole bunch of new abilities, weapons, and things to customize, and characters that are actually interesting and likable.

First: collectibles. The flags from the first game have been replaced with feathers, of which there are only 100 in the entire (huge!) game, but that's only the beginning! Another minor one is treasure chests. There's 330 of them, and they can have significant amounts of money, but you get more for completing the main storyline and there's no achievement for them. There are also two main side-quests involving collectibles (main meaning hey, they actually have story! Interesting story, too...), the first of which is finding these glyphs left by Abstergo's previous prisoner, known as Subject 16. There's several different kinds of puzzles you have to solve. I haven't finished this one yet, and I have no clue how it's going to turn out. The next one, and my favorite, is the Assassin's Tombs. These are platforming masterpieces unlike anything I've seen. They get steadily more and more complex, from crossing the rafters of a church (harder than it sounds) to a 4-part discovery that.... I haven't finished yet. Still awesome, though. The final one (I may have missed some) are codex pages written by the first game's protagonist's, Altair, that, when decoded, allow you to increase your health or gain new weapons. (One of the first: Double hidden blades. AWESOME!) Oh, and the guy that decodes these codex pages and makes the equipment is none other than Leonardo da Vinci. Who is also awesome. More on that later.

Slightly related is the upgrade system. You use Florins (money) to buy all sorts of things, from weapons and armor, to new shops at your villa (technically it's your uncle Mario's.), and paintings. This system is surprisingly deep, with the ability to upgrade all your different shops, increasing the town's value as well as giving you discounts, and renovating the town with everything from brothels to barracks to churches, which also increase the value of the town. The town's value determines how much tourism you get, and thus how much money you earn. The money is put into a chest every 20 minutes, but you have to come get the money every hour and 20 minutes or it's lost. The only reason I can think of for this decision is to remind people that they really do need to come upgrade the villa and buy armor and stuff, which is actually kind of brilliant--if they did it on purpose.

Oh, and I want to talk about the weapons, and then the combat. There's so many weapons this time around! There's two kinds, swords and small weapons, analogous to the sword and knife from the first game, and there must be well over a dozen of each, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. You can also disarm enemies and use their weapons, which is awesome to the point that you can easily win an entire fight just be disarming enemies and killing them with their own weapons ad nauseum.

The entire combat system is also considerably deeper. Along with the disarm move, there's also a strafe move that can be really cool if used right. One time I was fighting one of my main assassination targets and his guards, and, after I killed his guards, I just sidestepped around his attack, ended up behind him and stabbed him in the back. That move is pretty hard to accomplish, but it looks absolutely awesome when you pull it off.

The pacing is much steadier this time around. The main storyline isn't so sharply split into investigations and assassinations, but there are pros and cons. The build-up is much more enjoyable, with a lot more story, but the actual assassination tends to fail to distinguish itself from what happened before. I kind of miss the main assassination missions from the beginning, where you use all the information you gathered to find the best place to strike, and then go and carry out your plan. The enemies don't seem to get enough time in the lime-light either-- the story tends to focus on the people helping you accomplish your goal, instead of why your target is so evil. There are exceptions, and these exceptions are marvelous, but sometimes it's just a little anticlimactic-- probably my least favorite change from the first one. What I would have done is just made the build-up sequences more interesting forms of the ones from the first game, instead of random-seeming thefts and interrogations like the first game.

My last topic tonight is the characters. The total of likable characters went up from 0 (ok, Malik was pretty cool sometimes. Probably the most fleshed-out of the characters.) to 3. There are two new characters back in the real world, along with Lucy (who gained several levels in awesome) helping with the project, and both of them are pretty cool. Shawn is this British guy who investigated his way into finding out about Abstergo, and the assassin's picked him up before they could off him. At first, he seemed like just a jerk, but after a while he turned into that awesome British jerk kind of guy. The other one, Rebecca the Animus 2.0 tech, is less awesome, but still cool.

Finally, there's da Vinci. So cool. He's just so eager and nonchalant, going about building all these awesome inventions. He comes off as fairly innocent sometimes, but is occasionally surprising. I'm not quite sure why I like him so much, but I do. And I'm sure I will more once I get to test out his greatest invention...

Anyway, Assassin's Creed II is awesome. They've fixed almost everything about the first one, come up with a bunch of new awesome things, and put it all together seamlessly to make a really, really awesome game. Sign me up for Assassin's Creed III!

I should finish it sometime this week, and look for a more traditional review a little bit after that. Early next week, perhaps. Oh, and don't forget to listen to the Halo: Reach podcast that should be up fairly soon! (It's supposed to be up, I'm not quite sure what happened.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Origin of Aldowyn the Wanderer

So, here's the origin of my D&D character, Aldowyn. He's a 25 year old half-elf sorcerer, with good INT and CHA ability scores and a really, really bad wisdom score. (4, if you really want to know.) I'm going to try to do a series of posts on his adventures, and this is the first. We haven't played any of this, it's just an intro so the DM can learn about my character and figure out how the PCs end up together. That's why the end is a little shaky, there's no story to put there yet!


The Origin of Aldowyn the Wanderer

I was 13 when it happened, when I was abandoned to my fate – maybe 9 or 10 in human years. My mother was an elf, the widow of one of the village champions who had died in an orc attack, decades before I was born. She had never remarried, and left the village for some reason I never discovered – to find her purpose in life, maybe, I don’t know. When she returned, she had a human husband and carried a baby beneath her heart, ready to give birth any minute. My father, that human, left as soon as I was born, leaving me nothing but my name as his legacy.

My mother tried to pretend nothing had changed, that I had just appeared in the woods one night, and tried to protect me from the discrimination of the rest of the village. In truth, the rest of the village treated her differently, to say nothing of me.

I was a bastard -- a half-elf, with a human father, and elven mother, and most of the adults treated me as one. The children, however, remained innocent, ignorant of the bigotry and racism of their elders. They saw me for who I was. With my natural affinity for people and my problem-solving skills, I quickly became their informal leader. We often adventured into the calm woods surrounding our village, foraging for nuts and berries, sometimes just to explore. All in all, it was a good life.

Or it was, until disaster struck me for the first of many times. I was only in my eleventh year, and I do not care to elaborate on the events of that day, even those that I haven’t blocked from my mind. All that needs to be said is that, after all that transpired, a child lay dead, and I was to blame.

I was very nearly stoned out of the village, but my mother and the chief, who had never really paid attention to me, intervened on my behalf, and in so doing saved my life. I know not why he did this – he had locked himself in his hut with an article he had possessed as long as I can remember, and when he came out, he knew exactly what was happening and proclaimed that I must live.

So live I did, though nothing was the same after that. The adults treated me worse than ever, and the children were almost afraid of me after the events in the forest. My mother tried to take me in, but I became almost wild, venturing into the woods alone for days at a time, contemplating my situation and praying for guidance to our god, Corellon Larethian, the Protector. Life passed.

The day it happened, I was out in the woods. The usually bright and cheery woods were dark and quiet, as if the forest itself was afraid of something. I had retreated into the woods because one of the older children had insulted my father and I. After dark, as I was preparing to sleep for the night, I heard a crackling noise. I looked towards the source of the noise, the village.

It was burning. The red glow stained the sky; the smoke obscured the sun. I rushed back, not knowing what I could do, but knowing I must do something to save the village that had succored me in my infancy. I slowed down as I neared the village, using my meager skills to hide in the forest, and saw for the first time those who were destroying my life.

They were drow, dark elves of the Underdark. I had never seen them, but they were unmistakable with dark gray, almost black skin, white hair, and malevolent red eyes. There were over two dozen of them, warriors, rangers, and mages with great evil beasts at their side. My eyes were drawn to one in particular, leaving the hut of the chief. He had the look of confident arrogance, and almost radiated the feel of magic. At his hip hung a cruel-looking scimitar, visibly crackling with electricity. A huge cat prowled at his side as he strode through the village, casting down any of our warriors who dared oppose such a powerful adversary. The last thing I noticed, just as he put it away in his pack, was the chief’s artifact. The drow leader, for such he was, glanced through the woods, and I jerked down, making so much noise I thought a deaf man could have heard me, but his eyes just passed over my hiding place.

I ran. I ran like a coward, no longer thinking of saving the village, just fleeing from that terrible mage with his piercing eyes and otherworldly magic. Before long, I tripped on a tree root and fell on my face. I quickly rolled over, only to see one of the drow warriors standing over me, looking almost as surprised as I felt. I yelled, feeling something stir deep within me, saw a flash of light, and the dark elf fell back, dazed. Not understanding what had happened and barely believing my good fortune, I leaped up and continued my flight. Nothing else of note happened, and I escaped the forest unscathed except for a few scrapes and bruises. I followed the moonlight and starlight to a nearby human town, where I found a corner in a stable and stayed out the night.

The following morning when I woke up, I thought it had all been a terrible nightmare, until the stench of the human’s mounts reached me. It all came rushing back, and with it came a cold, terrible feeling. Right there, in the muck of the stable, I vowed that I would discover who it was that attacked my town and killed my mother. I thought of my father, and reasoned that he would share my thirst for vengeance—as well as satisfy my own curiosity concerning who I was.

Thus my journeys began. I wandered from town to town, seeking information on the dark elves and my father. I learned little, although I did acquire some knowledge of my newfound powers of sorcery. I also acquired a familiar, a raven I named Nighthawk, who became my companion through out my travels.

Years later, as I was becoming disheartened, I fell in with a group of adventurers, on a great quest. Little would I know how this quest tied into my own, and how both would come to shape my life -- and indeed, that of the world.

September Update

Hey everyone, I'm sorry it's been so slow this month. School is nuts, and I've been trying to start up a few things. There's the podcast we've started (DarkPC posted the link to the intro in the last post), and I've been trying to start up a D&D group with a few friends. I've also been actually playing some more video games lately. I was working on Ocarina of Time and Link's Awakening, and I finished Assassin's Creed for the second time, getting all my achievements back. I've borrowed Shadow of the Colossus (awesome game, btw) and FF Tactics Advanced 2, so I've been playing those, and I'm going to borrow Assassin's Creed 2 from a friend.

I'm going to try and get a job at Gamestop, at least for the holiday season. It just fits so perfectly with me... if I can get it in between homework, this, and my actual gaming.

That last bit isn't just video games, either. We're pretty serious about that D&D group. I even wrote up a pretty awesome origin story for my character, which will be the post immediately after this. It'll hopefully be the first of a series about the exploits of my character. I'm hoping to get in a session every week or so, and it should be pretty awesome!

Oh, one last thing. I'm going to try to get published (and paid by!) on the Escapist Magazine. They take articles from the community, and there's some issues coming up that I could come up with a pretty good article for, so hope I manage that!

So, you have the podcast, that new series on D&D, a bunch of random stuff like I've been doing, and maybe some other stuff to look forward to! It's been a crazy month, but it looks like I'll have some more time to work on the blog, so, I'll see you soon!

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Aldowyn's Musings Podcast!!! Ep 1: The Intro

The First episode of the Aldowyn's Musings Podcast is Up!
A Very Quick Intro with DarkPC and Aldowyn!

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9/23 Update: We are now on iTunes!!!!!! Click The Link! >> Aldowyn's Musings Podcast on iTunes!

Directions to download on the Website: Right Click then Click IE: Save Target as, Chrome, Firefox: Save Link As, Safari: Download Linked File

Click on the post title to head to the page with the podcast, and it will be available on iTunes as soon as its approved by Apple!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

September Poll: Favorite Post

You may not have noticed, but there's this little thing in the top right corner, right next to the top of the latest post. It's a poll. For the last month or so, it's been asking what kind of articles you like best.

This month, it's going to be "Your Favorite Post So Far." The problem is I don't know which one's to add from my history of posts, so I'm asking you, my loyal (maybe!) readers.

Post a comment with your favorites, and I'll put them in the poll that I'll be starting on the 1st. (Probably any that are nominated, but if there's a lot I'll look for seconds. So second anything you like.)

So, don't forget to nominate your favorite, and come back and vote in September! (Which starts like next Wednesday.)

P.S. I have another post I'm working on, been busy past couple weeks.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Arcades and Casual Gaming

Sorry it's been so quiet lately, I went on vacation with the family , where a few things happened that I'm going to be talking about the next couple days, and I just started school (Something from there I'm talking about too). Anyway I have an insane schedule. (4 AP, which means for college credit, classes.) I'm not quite sure yet how much spare time I'll have, but I'm going to do my best to keep up my gaming and blogging. (Plus I need a job. And to do all 3 of those I need to be practically superhuman >.>)

Okay, now for today's post. The first thing I'm going to talk about is the arcade I went to. It was small, only half a dozen machines or so, a pool table (with really crummy cues), and a ping pong table. Among the games were Pacman, Mrs. Pacman, Centipede, Mortal Kombat (I think that was the broken one, sadly), Time Crisis, X-men something or other, and one of the Street Fighter games.

Anyways, I played Pacman a little bit, did quite a bit better than I've done on web or console based games (really liked the stick). The experience was completely different. The music just seemed so much better, the art on the cabinet was just cool, and standing there using the stick was just an incredible experience.

I played a bit of Centipede. Interesting game, that. I even got on the high score list, albeit with a score of like 14,000. (You get a life every 12,000, I think, and it only took me a couple minutes) It wasn't Pacman, but it was still pretty cool.

Played Time Crisis, but the machine sucked and I've done that before, so moving on. I also tried out the Street Fighter game, but I was really, really bad at it because I don't have a clue what the combos are.

Finally, I played the X-men game. That was better! It was a button-masher, fortunately, as I wouldn't have a chance at anything else. Even came up with a few really cool looking moves as Iceman, and almost managed to beat the CPU after beating my sister. Personally I had a lot more fun with that than the move-oriented Street Fighter.

All in all, I had just enough of an experience to be able to imagine what an arcade might have been like in its heyday. Crowded, loud, full of people clamoring to be next on their favorite machine, a cluster around the Street Fighter game where the resident champion was beating up on a challenger, or around the Pacman or Centipede machines as someone tried to break the high score.

It was just enough for me to able to regret the loss of something I had never truly experienced. Amazing. Now I wish I could find a popular one in the area!

Make sure to check in a couple days from now, and I'll have something else up. Oh, and would you please nominate something for the vote? You don't have to think about it that much, just pick one (or more!) of the ones you actually remember, and the poll will be up all next month, so you'll have plenty of time to choose!

P.S. I can make a Java program that says "The cake is a lie!" or "The princess is in another castle.", or "Do a Barrel Roll!" now! Is that not awesome?!? That's all I can do so far, though.
Next year I think I'll be taking the graphics programming class, including making games like Tetris, so maybe I'll be able to make something cool!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Super Mario Galaxy 2 Review

Sup, @abujafer here for a review for Super Mario Galaxy 2 (I'm going to refer to it as SMG 2). Haven't been online in a while due to two reasons. First, I had to finish this game, and second, I had a new little sister. Plus, this game is HUGE. Now, for the review.


This is obviously the most important aspect of the game, and it is great and well designed. From simply running around to navigating gravity-defying jumps, this game has tight controls for every situation. Mario is extremely athletic, from acrobatic ice skating routines, to impressive triple jumps; Mario has never been better. And as if his own arsenal of jumps, spins, and stomps wasn't enough, he can use 'shrooms/flowers to power up into weird forms. There is a new Cloud Flower, and also a Boulder Mushroom (personally my favorite), while you can also use a drill, which isn't technically a power up, it's still one heck of an item. Now, all of these items would be useless without good level design, and boy has Nintendo outdone itself this time (literally, its way better than the original SMG that I borrowed from Aldowyn). The level design is the BEST I've ever seen, from the enemy and planet placement, to the creative locations Mario will find himself in. Also, gone is the central hub from the original SMG. Instead you have a Starship that is made for Mario, but, as a Toad on board puts it, looks much more like Luigi. From here you have an overworld map that shows the galaxies and helps go through them a lot faster. The starship gets a lot of visitors, and they help tell you about gameplay mechanics as you unlock them. And the camera is great too. When you're sliding down a giant tree, you have the camera right behind you to show you all the upcoming dangers, while when you're fighting against a boss that flies around, the camera dramatically shows the boss zooming in as he closes in on Mario. However, there were moments the camera didn't do what it had to; in one level, I had used a triple jump to get on the roof (not supposed to), and when I reached the fall at the middle (it was a maze-like place), the camera was stuck at what it thought was a wall, while I had to run around blindly waiting for the launch star sound effect to start so I could shake, after which the camera snapped back. These are petty annoyances, and don't even come close to ruining the experience. There are plenty of bosses, and they're all very well thought out and challenging. They also use whatever power up you have been getting acquainted with lately, and really test your skills.

This Is So Crazy, It Might Just Work!

Co-op is greatly improved, and it helps make the game A LOT easier. The second player has much to do, as he/she can kill certain enemies, stun others, bring star bits, coins, 1-ups, life mushrooms, and hold big enemies like chomps. In fact, it's a great way to integrate little ones into SMG 2, and it's how I had my little sisters get used to the game before they jumped in. Plus, Luigi comes in after 30 possible stars (I know because I'm sort of a perfectionist; I got all the stars I could before moving on, and so when I got Luigi I had gotten everything before that). This is way better from SMG, where you got him after finished the game and all of its 120 stars (That's when I gave my borrowed game back to Aldowyn..... right when I got my favorite bro. *sniff*). However, he only comes once a galaxy (for the most part) and its either your first time or your second time, after which a ghost takes his place that is essentially a time run, where you have to beat him (if you lose the level continues; he just lies down when he wins). However, when you finish the game with all 120 stars I think, you get the option to play as Luigi permanently; which I wholeheartedly did, and haven't played a single level with Mario since. Luigi jumps higher, however he slides a bit after running. This takes a bit getting used to, but it's worth it. This game plays great, and is one of the best-playing games on any console to date.


This game looks fantastic. It uses up the Wii's hardware like no one but Nintendo can. The colorful, vibrant visuals beautifully compliment the great lighting and shadow effects, and the galaxies all have distinct visuals/enemies, be it a dessert themed galaxy, desert themed galaxy, a galaxy with planets made of lava, planets covered mostly in water, and lush, colorful flower planets.

Mario Doesn't Want To Step On Any Flowers.... Good Luck With That.

Also, everything is crisp and sharp, and my little sisters who played co-op with me were all like, "Is that really not HD? I can't see how it can get any better?" Each galaxy is a treat for the eyes, while the sound effects compliment the environment perfectly. A challenging event has an upbeat music that speeds up as the time is used up, while a spooky mansion has slow, creepy music, accompanied with the growls, howls, and moans of a typical haunted mansion. You can often tell what enemy you're up against by the sounds it makes. A goomba scurries along as it attacks, meanwhile a chomp barks, and a Boo..... boos. Plus, in some levels the speed of the music is affected by how fast you are going. My favorite music is the Bowser/Bowser Jr. Orchestra pieces. Those were works of art, and sound delightful. I especially admired how the stars sound. It's a distinct tinkling, and especially when trying to get the green stars, you NEED to listen. I don't know how you can win without listening. Green stars are usually hidden in cleverly designed caves, ledges, and right by a black hole. Sometimes the only indication you have that this deadly fall will get you a Green Star is the sound it makes. The ONLY hiccup in frame rates was when I had a green shell and was swimming underwater. Now, this problem was in the first game, but it's much, much less noticeable now. If you have the camera right behind you, the bubbles from the green shell go right into the camera, and there is a slight but noticeable hiccup in the frame rate. Keep in mind, this only happens when there's a lot onscreen. In my case, I had a planet in the sky, the planet I was on, penguins running about complete with their own bubbles, enemies on both planets, light effects with water, and a whole contingent of star bits and coins. I don't think any of you will find this problem, even if you tried. But I did notice it, and it was my only frame rate hiccup in the entire game. This game's presentation is practically perfect, and it rivals that of X-Box/PS3 first-party game presentations.


Here I will state things that didn't really fit above, but must be noted. First off, I have to talk about Green Stars.

A Green Star A Day Keeps The Yoshi Away.

These are for the hardcore gamer. After getting 120 Stars, every normal star you unlocked will get a Green Comet, and as such will get a green star hidden somewhere in the level. These are sometimes put in plain view (yet still hard to get), while sometimes you have to listen for a tingling simply to get a general idea where it is to start combing the level. These Stars unlock a special surprise at the end of the game, and that surprise is only for the most hardcore players out there, and it is HARD. After that, you'll get a message in the Message Board with a picture showing all the stars you unlocked (boy they look a lot more when they're stacked up like that) and a message from the SMG 2 staff congratulating you. Plus your save file tingles a bit and looks cool, just like a star, and you get a special surprise on starship Luigi (not going to call it starship you-know-who). Also, Yo*** makes a horrible appearance. As a Yoshi Hunter, I personally throw him/her/it off the edge as many times as possible before getting stars, and if I accidentally do get a star with him/her/it/whatever, I simply play the level again and get the star without him/her/it. He/she/it appears in the second level, and is trapped in a bubble in his egg by Kamek. After reluctantly freeing him/her/it, He/She/It lies and says that he/she/it went off to help his/her/its lack of friends. Now, a trustworthy Luma on the side of the screen tells us that Yoshi ran around in circles and trapped himself/herself/itself in an egg, and that Mario should help *concentrate his abilities*. Proof of this is that after leaving him/her/it on the ground for 10 seconds he/she/it TRAPS himself/herself/itself INTO AN EGG. Exactly why I hunt him/her/it.

Anyway, besides that mutant dodo with a -2 IQ, this game is as close to perfect as a game can get. For now. Nintendo will just wow us again with some other jewel of a game, be it Skyward Sword, Kid Icarus: Uprising, Kirby's Epic Yarn, Metroid Other M, or some other masterpiece. For now, this game is the best platformer in existence.

BTW, for those of you who go by numbers, I'm giving it a Te... Wait, there's Yoshi. Nin... Oh wait, he keeps coming back, so I have the pleasure of killing him/her/it OVER AND OVER AGAIN *runs to turn on Wii*. So it's still a TEN (10). PERFECT!

More Reviews! Indie Games, Blacklight: Tango Down, and as asked Limbo

Hi Everyone!

8/4/10 Update: reports that the MW2 demo is now out on PS3 and Xbox 360, 6 months after MW2's release... now we wait for the Black-Ops Demo...

As Aldowyn is out of town, Me and Abujaffer have control for the next week until Sunday...
Now in the meantime Its time for more reviews!

We will start with a select group of Indie Games. (Note: I download the trial versions of games unless I like them)

The First Game Series is Avatar Run, Hurdle and Jump made by UFO Games. Each game Costs 80 MSP

Game 1: Avatar Run

Gameplay: Olympic Running. Short, sweet, to the point!
Controls: A , B in sequence to run
Plot: NO Plot
Final Verdict: Fun game, up to 4 Local MP, NO XBL MP but there is XBL leaderboards. 2 Stars out of 5 for the game it self.

Game 2: Avatar Hurdle
GamePlay: Hurdles Again short sweet to the point
Controls:A and B to run and Y to Jump
Plot: Once Again No Plot.
Final Verdict: Same as Avatar Run... Score Bumped up by half a star to 2.5 out of 5
Game 3: Avatar  Jump
GamePlay Jumping game E.G. Pole Vault
Controls ...
Plot: and again No Plot
Final verdict: Not much to see here but its worth 1.5 out of 5

So The avatar sports series gets an avg rating of  2 out of 5 

The next game is BlackLight: Tango Down

GamePlay: Futuristic Modern Warfare
Controls: Typical FPS Controls...
Plot: ??? i havent been able to figure out the plot...
Final Verdict: Get the trial first! you get 1hr of free gameplay and the Counter only counts when your actually playing it doesnt countdown during respawn time. But! for 1200 MSP it isnt worth it in my point of view get it at around 800 MSP or Less. 3.5 out of 5                                                                                

And last BUT certainly not least Limbo!

GamePlay: Side Scroller (Platformer?)
Controls: LS Right , Left Movement A Jump, B Actions
Plot: A Boy doesn't know where his sister went so he enters limbo...
Final Verdict: One of the Best games of the YEAR The only thing that holds me back from giving Limbo a 5 out of 5 is the price. 1200 MSP? 800 MSP is perfect! 4.5 out of 5!

That is all for this post but GOTY nominees will be released on my Live stream on 9/19 at!
I will write later... Bye!
8/22 Update: Forgot to put these in earlier... but Picture Credits

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Starcraft II: The Final Hurrah?

In a continuation of yesterday's post, "Starcraft II: Savior of a Genre?" I'm going to consider whether there are going to be any more Starcraft games after the current stint is over. Remember, they are already dedicated to making two more, full-length games, Heart of the Swarm with the Zerg campaign, and Legacy of the Void with the Protoss campaign.

(Plus, this is going to be a ridiculously comprehensive overview of both the original Starcraft and Brood War, and Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, and its expansion, The Frozen Throne.)

You may ask why Blizzard would even consider ending such a widely-respected franchise with so many fans and so much of a tradition. You might think that they would turn it into an MMO, like they did with Warcraft. Okay, I admit that is a possibility, but I doubt it. Starcraft is the RTS, and fans everywhere would cry out in outrage if the series turned from its RTS roots. (Note: Starcraft: Ghost, the abandoned Gamecube project, doesn't count because it wasn't a direct continuation of the series, like Halo Wars in reverse.)

Two games isn't that much, you say? I say that you must consider how much time the franchise will eventually take up (at least 15 or 16 years, I'd say), and how big these games are. Starcraft, and the expansion Brood War, both came out in 1998, eight months apart. Both games had campaigns for all three races, with 8-10 missions each, coming out to a total of 56 missions.

I don't have any actual numbers, but Wings of Liberty has at least enough for one of these campaigns, and probably quite a few more. That's not even counting all the additions to the game, like the new, the Hyperion home base, the new challenge modes, and the new branching campaign style, and probably many others that I missed.

That is only one of three. When this arc is done, I would fully expect Starcraft to have as much as more content as the Warcraft RTSes. (I'm not stupid enough to include WoW in any comparison of the sort!)

Also to be considered is the possible parallel to the Warcraft story. Ignoring the first two Warcraft games, which I don't have much experience with and aren't comparable to Starcraft anyway. (Two sides, with only slight differences, portrayed as good and evil.)

Essentially, Starcraft parallels with Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, Brood War with The Frozen Throne, and the Starcraft II games will compare with World of Warcraft. You may not see the differences at first, but see as I go campaign-by-campaign with the first two.

Starcraft starts out with the Terran campaign, with the hero, Jim Raynor, helping your character (technically, you're a magistrate over Mar Sara that end up going on the run with Raynor) to protect the citizens of Mar Sara from the Zerg and, well, figure out what the heck the Zerg even are. Raynor runs into Arcturus Mengsk, leader of the Sons of Korhal resistance group, and his lieutenant, Sarah Kerrigan. Arcturus Mengsk sends them on a bunch of errands, supposedly discovering that the Confederacy created, or was at least using, the Zerg to destroy the Sons of Korhal. They end up luring the Zerg to the capital planet of Tarsonis, but Mengsk abandons Kerrigan on the surface, and she is captured. Mengsk becomes emperor of the new Terran Dominion (really cool coronation speech, btw.), and Raynor ends up forming the Raynor's Raiders resistance group. (I skipped a bunch of stuff, including an entire character, but he doesn't have a parallel in WCIII and it doesn't really matter)

Compare this to Warcraft III. Prince Arthas is trying to figure out the cause of the plague, and protect the citizens of Lordaeron, along with some help from a friend, Jaina Proudmoore. Jaina leaves, and Arthas goes on a vengeance trek to go kill the guy that was supposedly the instigator of the plague, Mal'ganis. Jaina abandons him after he kills a bunch of villagers to stop them from becoming Undead, and Arthas follows Mal'ganis to the icy continent of Northrend. He finds an old friend of his, Muradin Bronzebeard, who tells him a story of a enchanted sword, Frostmourne. (Honestly? Coolest weapon in ANY video game, possibly barring the Master Sword) He burns his ships and blames it on the mercenaries he had to use to do so, finds Frostmourne. The sword bears an inscription, warning Arthas and Muradin of a curse. Arthas says that he would "gladly bear any curse to save his homeland", and takes the sword, shattering the ice it is embedded in, a shard of which kills Muradin. Arthas then goes on a rampage and owns the undead protection Mal'ganis. Ner'zhul, the present Lich King, tells him through the sword to kill Mal'ganis, and Arthas does so. Then he goes back to Lordaeron, kills his father, the king (wow, that phrase sounds really cliche), assumes the throne, and the now his undead hordes annihilate the kingdom.

In both the Starcraft Zerg campaign and the Reign of Chaos Undead campaign, the bad guys (you) consolidate their forces while Arthas/Kerrigan grow in power (Technically Kerrigan has to hatch first. There's like 4 missions of protecting her at the beginnning.). The biggest difference is that the Protoss managed to slow the Zerg down by slaying one of the cerebrates using the energy of the Dark Templar, Zeratul. (Cerebrate: one of the commanders of the horde, resurrected when slain in battle by the Overmind which is.. well... the Overmind. The Gravemind from Halo reminds me of the Overmind, actually. Technically you are a cerebrate in the Zerg campaign. Oh, and Zeratul is awesome.) Somehow, the Overmind gets the location of the Protoss homeworld, Aiur ("My Life for Aiur!"), and the Zerg completely own it. Meanwhile in Azeroth (Back to WCIII), Arthas and company kill everyone on their part of the continent (I'm not kidding. You wipe out 2 kingdoms and one killer mage city in one campaign)

Now we go back to playing as the good guys. In the final campaign of the original Starcraft, you play as the Executor of the Protoss. You fight a defensive battle against the Zerg with your buddy, Praetor Fenix (another awesome dude. BTW, he starts out as just an infantry guy, but then he dies and comes back in this awesome mech thing. "I have returned!") You end up going to Char, the Zerg homeworld, to arrest Tassadar, the former executor who was basically fired for trying to save the Terrans from the Zerg instead of just bombarding the planets into glass. When you get back, the civil war is going badly because the Conclave (read: Parliament) sucks at fighting and you had much of the fleet. Tassadar tries to replace the conclave, but fails and surrenders. You bust him out, and then you attack the Overmind. The assault begins to falter (no matter how well YOU are doing on the mission...) and Tassadar kamikazes the Overmind with the flagship Gantrithor using both the Dark Templar energies and the energies of the Khalai (Protoss psionic powers) Zerg die spectacularly. Game over.

Back in the next Reign of Chaos campaign, the Orcs have left Azeroth and arrived on Kalimdor. Grom, one of the orc leaders, falls under the spell of one of the Pit Lords of the Burning Legion, Mannoroth, and Thrall, the chieftain, is forced to kill him, with the aid of the human mage Jaina Proudmoore. (Jaina ended up in Kalimdor when a prophet tells her Lordaeron is doomed) The orcs get kind of short thrift, mostly because they're just minding their own business building a new home. They don't even get a TFT campaign.

Now it's the Night Elves turn. They fight a desperate battle against the Burning Legion summoned by Archimonde. Tyrande Whisperwind, the High Priestess, has to awaken Malfurion Stormrage, essentially the high druid, and free Illidan Stormrage (yes, they're brothers. Nasty love triangle story way back in the beginning of the lore), a demon hunter who uses their own powers to slay them, but who was imprisoned because he couldn't give up magic. (It's really hard to talk about the Night Elves without bringing up thousands-year-old lore...) With the aid of Thrall and Jaina, they delay Archimonde from destroying the world tree until he can be destroyed. (It's complicated. Really neat mission, though.)

So, in short, good-guy (Kerrigan, Arthas) turns bad guy and all good guys (Raynor, Tassadar, Zeratul and Night Elves, Thrall, and Jaina) band together to kill big bad guy (Overmind, Archimonde), who was pretty much wiping the floor with good guys up until then.

Brood War and The Frozen Throne don't mesh quite so well, though. The stories are both REALLY messed up, with pretty much everyone (except the orcs, and they already did that, plus they don't have a true campaign in TFT) splitting into factions, people working with people they really have no business (well, they do. But Infested Kerrigan helping Raynor and the Protoss?), and Kerrigan and Arthas ending up supreme baddies over everyone.

In Brood War, the Protoss flee Aiur, going to the Dark Templar world of Shakuras. A bunch of Zerg inevitably followed. (Pesky things, they get everywhere!) Infested Kerrigan comes and requests help killing the new Overmind, explaining that it wasn't powerful enough to control her- yet. In return, she would help them recover two crystals, one of dark energy and one of light (Dark/High templar) that could be used to destroy the Zerg infesting Shakuras. They fail to destroy the Overmind to the intervention of a new human force, the UED (United Earth Directorate), but they still recover the crystals. Executor Aldaris tries to stop to stop the Dark Templar and Artanis, realizing that Kerrigan is manipulating them (Plus he still doesn't like the Dark Templar). Zeratul and Artanis (who effectively replaced Tassadar as resident High Templar) use the crystals, resulting in another spectacular planet Zerg-wiping explosion. (Actually, this was even bigger than the one that killed the Overmind, that's all the other one did. Poor Tassadar!)

(skip to 4:40 for cinematic)

In The Frozen Throne, a Night Elf warden, Maiev Shadowsong, chases Illidan around, trying to put him back in eternal jail. She ends up telling Malfurion Tyrande was dead, when she was only lost. Malfurion and Maiev, along with a Blood Elf (what's left of the elves of Lordaeron), Kael'thas Sunstrider, stop Illidan from using the Eye of Sargeras, which he was using to destroy Ice Crown and the Lich King (Still Ner'zhul, at this point. Plus there was the possible side effect of destroying the entire world.), but Maiev's lie is revealed, and Malfurion and Illidan go save Tyrande. Malfurion pardons Illidan, though he's still banished. Illidan leaves

Back in Starcraft land, the UED is trying to take over the Dominion. They work with the Confederacy remnants and make some progress, but they manage to anger both the Zerg and Protoss in the area. Mengsk's Dominion falls, though Kerrigan manages to convince Raynor to save him (what power she has over him...), and the UED fleet manages to capture and subdue the Overmind, despite a backstab by a Zerg-infested Samir Duran, thus gaining control of the Zerg.

We go back to Azeroth, where Kael'thas and his Blood Elves are being good Alliance citizens--until things go wrong and a racist Alliance knight imprisons them. They are saved by Lady Vashj and her Naga, and the two races go to save Illidan, who has managed to get into a royal mess in Outland, an alternate dimension originally known as Draenor, the former home of the orcs and still home of the Draenei. Illidan and Kael'thas enlist the Draenei and overturn the current lord of Outland, and Illidan thinks he is safe. Not so. The Burning Legion lord Kil'jaeden finds him, and sends him back to Azeroth to renew his attempt to wipe out the Lich King.

In the final Brood War campaign, Kerrigan is severely threatened by the now extremely poweful UED fleet and their Zerg horde. She manages to convince pretty much everyone else (Raynor and the Protoss) that the UED is the major threat. The alliance manages to slowly defeat the UED, but Kerrigan betrays the others with the aid of her agent, Samir Duran, and the Overmind is killed, thus making Kerrigan the leader of the entire swarm-- the self-stylized "Queen of Blades".

In the final TFT campaign (not counting the bonus one for the orcs), we go back to Lordaeron and the undead. The undead splinter into 3 factions: Arthas and Kel'thuzad, who were betrayed by the Dreadlords led by Nathrezim (who think that Archimonde is destroying Kalimdor), and the Forsaken led by Sylvanas Windrunner, a former elf that Arthas killed and resurrected as an undead in his campaign against the elves of Silvermoon. (These last are the ones you play as in WoW) Arthas flees to Northrend, slowly weakening (really annoying, btw. He levels backwards.) and summoned by the Lich King, and Sylvanas manages to gain the upper hand against the dreadlords, essentially gaining control of the Plaguelands. (What's left of Lordaeron)
Arthas meets the spider-race of Nerubians, and ends up fighting Illidan over the Lich King. Arthas wins, then goes up to the Frozen Throne and puts on the helmet of Ner'zhul-- thus becoming the Lich King himself. Oh, and Illidan isn't dead-- he goes back to Outland.

Definite parallels in this one as well, but not nearly as obvious as in the originals. The important part is that the final result is much alike: Good guys mostly victorious but battered, and the bad guys ready to start killing pretty much everyone.

The Warcraft saga is solved in WoW, with Illidan and Arthas being destroyed by your player character, although the undead survive. Logic says that we get a good ending with the SCII games, with Raynor and the Protoss playing the role of the PCs.

So, we have a definite parallel between the two franchises, and we can all agree that World of Warcraft is the end of the Warcraft story, right? So that means that this arc of Starcraft is the end.

Don't be sad, though. That's still a ton of content and story rolling our way in the next three, four years! A last little thing is parallels between the races and characters.

Character parallels:
Raynor=Arthas in the RoC human campaign, and PC in WoW. (protagonist)
Kerrigan=Arthas. (Kerrigan becomes Queen of Blades, Arthas becomes the Lich King)
Mengsk=Arthas (betray kingdom and become ruler)
Overmind: Ner'zhul, the original Lich King. (Original big bads, replaced by Kerrigan/Arthas) and Archimonde (big bads defeated by coalition of good guys--complete with awesome cinematic!)

Race parallels:
Terrans=Humans (giant DUH here)
Undead=Zerg (also easy)
Protoss=Night Elves, with a bit of Orc thrown in. (pushing it a bit)

The Protoss and the Night Elves don't quite fit together. The orcs take some of the Protoss roles, and the characters themselves don't translate well. If I had to, though, Tassadar would be Tyrandis, Zeratul would be Illidan, and Judicator Aldaris would be Furion.

One thing to note: There is no Burning Legion faction parallel in Starcraft. The Zerg are THE big bads, and thus end up playing the roles of the Burning Legion as well as the undead.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Questions From the Crowd Contest!

Welcome to the Questions From the Crowd contest! I'm planning on doing this weekly, if I can, and usually I hope to have a topic for you guys, kick start your brains.

Today, though, I'm leaving it wide-open! Ask me anything, be it personal, like how I came to make the blog, technical, like how I do the videos or writing, or professional, like what I think of a particular game or genre.

As far as I'm concerned, you can ask DarkPC or Abujaffer something, too. It's up to them whether they answer, though, I don't really tell them what to do. (I gave myself the title of Editor-In-Chief-- and actually act as an editor. I go through their posts, checking facts, spelling, and grammar, then give the thumbs-up and post it. I have very little to no influence on what they actually choose to write about.)

Anyway, ask me anything you want, as long as it has to do with video games (or similar nerdy past times-books, movies, desktop RPGs, computers.) or my blog. Feel free to go as specific or as broad as you want, but be warned I don't know everything about everything. Don't be afraid to ask several questions. I'll go over the entries, pick a few of them, the number depending on the number and quality of submissions (I'd like to do maybe 5 or so), and answer them after one of my posts early next week (I decided tomorrow was too soon, and I'm gone this week.)

Hope to see some good questions in the comments!

Starcraft II: Savior of a Genre?

Before I get started on today's post, including a sort-of scientific experiment, a couple of anecdotes, plenty of exaggerations, and one far-flung prediction, I want to announce a contest of sorts. That's all I'm telling you now, though. The details will be provided in a post to be done immediately after this one, so don't leave after you finish reading. (It'll be done well before you are with this, trust me.)

In case you've been living under a rock this week, Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty, came out. You may be asking me why anyone cares about a sequel to a game in a niche genre that came out 12 years ago, especially when it's being made by the same company that developed World of Warcraft, the world's premier MMO, and Diablo, the definitive dungeon crawler.

In which case I would respond: "Have you ever been to South Korea? Starcraft, all by itself, is just as big there as, say, pro Football here in the states." There is at least one TV channel devoted solely to Starcraft.

Of course, that's far from the only reason. It was a hit here too, and has been accorded classic status like nothing else in the genre. That last little point, "in the genre", and the phrase "niche genre" up above, demonstrate the basis of this article.

Starcraft is an RTS, which stands for Real-Time Strategy. Other notables include the Command & Conquer, Age of Empires, and the more recent Supreme Commander franchises. I would say that none of these, except for the original Starcraft, and maybe not it, have ever achieved the notoriety of something like Halo or God of War.

Starcraft cover

Consider the possible reasons for this. First, the RTS is an extremely cerebral sport. It's all about the strategy, the counters, and the build orders. Even the basic resource-collecting, base-building system is much, much more complicated than most genres. In a shooter like Halo, the basics are move, point, shoot, jump, and reload. In an RTS like Starcraft, the basics are hub builds workers, which harvest resources (usually of 2 or more kinds), to build training buildings, which build units, which take up supplies, which need more buildings. That's just the base-building aspect, and you are expected to learn all of this in the very first mission. I'm not kidding. "Build 10 marines" doesn't sound very hard, but if you've never played an RTS before, it could take some figuring out. You don't just jump into an RTS and excel, like you can with most other types of game. Luckily, the combat itself isn't nearly as complicated, and much closer to other types of games.

The second reason is that RTSes are generally PC games. This is because of the controls. RTSes have so many different commands and require such precise movements that it is very difficult to work well on a console. In a normal RTS, it's not unusual to use most or all of the number keys, ctrl, shift, alt, both mouse buttons, the mouse wheel, and half the letters on the keyboard regularly. This isn't an exaggeration, either. At least not much of one. RTSes thrive on hotkeys. (Hotkeys, for those of you who don't know, are keyboard shortcuts to accomplish actions. B to build, for example) Hotkeys are kind of impossible on a console controller, with the result that we have a greatly dumbed-down control scheme, which results in annoyed veterans and unsatisfied newcomers.

Therefore RTSes generally end up as PC-exclusives. Many console gamers consider PC gaming to be "dead", so they think that since RTSes (which most gamers at least recognize) are on the PC, it must be a dead genre, or at least not important or viable. This is based on a misconception. PC gaming is not dead. Steam, Valve's content delivery and update service, is thriving, and it's a relatively recent addition, becoming common with the release of Half-Life 2 in 2004. Just because you don't know any PC gamers does not mean they don't exist. (BTW, it's impossible for you not to know any PC gamers. I am a PC gamer!) Okay? Good. Let's continue.

Although these are possible reasons, are they enough for us to consider them "dead", or "niche"? First, let's give a statistical definition for these terms: No game in this genre is main-stream enough to acquire a end-of-year award nomination in any category without limitations. This means no system or genre awards. Now, let's check this. (If you want to know, I'm using Gamespot, and IGN. as they have the most comprehensive and easy-to-use awards. Citations at the end.)

***WARNING: Lots of statistics here, results of the Best of 2009 awards. If you don't care about the specifics, skip to the next group of asterisks and capital letters.

... Ok, one site down. Grand total of one nomination from Gamespot, and that one is in Strategy. RTS didn't even have its own category. The game was Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War II. (Made by Relic Entertainment, who also developed the spectacular Homeworld space RTS... in 1999.) To its credit, it's a fairly well known name and got an 8.5 at that particular publication. Interestingly enough, the franchise also has an MMO to its credit: Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. For the purposes of this experiment, however, this nomination is disqualified for being specifically for the "strategy" genre.

Next, G4. As far as I can tell, there isn't a single one anywhere on the list. Of course, there wasn't a strategy or even PC category in this one either, at least that I could find. (If anyone find the official list on the G4 site and it has a PC category, I apologize for my inability to find it.)

Last stop: IGN. The aforementioned Halo Wars won the strategy genre award for the Xbox 360. Of note is the fact that the PS3 section didn't even have a strategy category. Might as well skip the Wii, but I didn't, and nothing there. Obviously the PC genre has a strategy category, and Empire: Total War wins it. The Total War series is one of the biggest modern RTS franchises, but it doesn't have base-building, instead focusing on the tactics and strategy of the combat itself, while also focusing more on realism. Also in this category is a repeat of Dawn of War II.
Empire: Total War also got nominations in Visual Excellence and, surprisingly, GotY, but, this being the PC category, none of these count. Worth mentioning, though. I give the DS and PSP categories a once-over, but nothing there. The only portable game I know of that could possible be called a RTS is Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, and that's being charitable. (I like the game, it's just pushing to call it an RTS)

Finally to the overall awards. Skipping most of the genre awards, I do stop by the strategy category to see no less than three, including the winning Halo Wars. The other two were also mentioned earlier, of course, those two being Empire: Total War and Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War II. Nothing else in any of the other categories.

(Disclaimer: No, there's not more stuff about IGN's because I like them better. It's because there were more categories, and thus more nominations.)


So, in short, with the disqualifying of the console and genre awards, there are a grand total of zero nominations for an RTS game, so it qualifies for our definition of "dead". Note that if you took out either of these qualifications, it would have quite a few nominations. Only one victory in any category at all, though.

So, having covered the possible reasons the genre could be dead, and having come to the result that the genre is indeed dead, we bring ourselves to the obvious question: Will it stay that way? Or will Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty bring this tradition-heavy genre back to its glory days?

My first impulse is "Yes". Wings of Liberty will no doubt garner many nominations, if not awards. Personally, I think it's a shoe-in for best multiplayer and best PC game, and also for at least a nomination in sound and story. I also think it's in the running for overall GOTY--so far, anyway. (BTW, my top 5 so far: Mass Effect 2, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty, Red Dead Redemption, and God of War III) We can also be reasonably sure that the Zerg and Protoss follow ups, Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void, respectively, will be similar in quality and critical acclaim.

We must ask ourselves, however, whether this will truly resurrect the genre as a whole, or just spawn bad copies that will fail to succeed and superficially impose the genre on the minds of gamers as a whole. At this point, there's no possible way to know. We can guess and predict, though, and that is the most important part of today's post.

Personally, I think it will. There are enough quality games of this genre lurking on the shelves and in the minds of today's gamers, and there is enough of a tradition and history to the genre that developers won't have to look far for inspiration. Many will try, but few will succeed. That's not rare, though. How often have you heard the term "clone" recently? (I'm looking at you, Darksiders, and you, Dante's Inferno. To be fair, though, the latter was actually a good game and brought a decent game of the style to the 360). I think in upcoming years, the term "Starcraft clone" may become nearly as prevalent as "Halo clone" or "Call of Duty clone". Enough of them will be original and polished enough to truly succeed, though, and someone will finally figure out how to do a truly amazing RTS on consoles. Though that last may be wishful thinking!

I may be wrong, though. I hope I'm not, but I may be. Perhaps one of you has the right idea. Think you do? Post it in the comments to preserve it, so you can point to it and say "Hey, I called it way back in 2010, and I can prove it! Look here!" Just keep in mind that I will do the same if I do turn out to be right, after all!