(For those who missed it, you can read Part I here)

There is nothing in this world quite so precious as good feedback.  To anyone, in any creative field, feedback is a brief moment of calm in an endless storm.  This isn’t the pointless, vitriolic lashing of the average internet troll.  This is the proper, helpful feedback of someone who truly wants your work to get better and isn’t afraid to tell you when you’ve made a terrible mistake.  It’s why any creative individual, I think, needs to avoid ego-boosting ‘yes men’ at any cost.  The risks are many (hyper-inflated ego, destruction of artistic integrity), the rewards are illusory.

It’s why I’m thankful to still be in college and in a position to get the kind of super constructive feedback some people only dream about.  I feel the sweet spot for criticism falls around 10 people, though more always helps.  Fort this piece I received 20 pieces of feedback, and I’ve taken the liberty of deconstructing each of them and boiling them down to their key elements.  My goal here is to spot trends in what works for people and what doesn’t.  If 9 out of  20 people pick up on the same thing, that’s a problem that needs to be addressed.

So, hit the jump and let’s get to it.

Read the rest of this entry »

So, this post is going to be a little different.  I was recently tasked with writing a piece for a creative non-fiction class.  We were allowed to write about anything we wanted, so long as it was good and we actually knew what we were talking about.

I decided to write about handwriting instruments, specifically pens.  The piece ended up being about 2300 words, nothing to sneeze at, a little shy of the length of a Susan Orleans piece for the New Yorker.  I turned in my piece and it went over relatively well.  There were definitely some flaws, with most comments revolving around two or three paragraphs that really threw off the pacing.  I’ll point those out in a later post.  Anyway, this series will run through the complete revision process, from beginning to end, from the first draft all the way to final submission to a literary magazine or contest.

So, without further ado, hit the jump to read my piece.

Read the rest of this entry »

Image

Developer: Arc System Works in coordination with Atlus

Publisher: Atlus US

It’s been a middling year for fighting games.  Some have taken this as a sign that the fighting game renaissance has already peaked, that publishers are doomed to repeat the same mistakes they made 10 years ago when fighting games were last at their height of popularity.  Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 burning fans by being released mere months after the original, revisions of Super Street Fighter 4 that cater only to the most hardcore player, and the horribly mismanaged stumble that was Street Fighter X Tekken are all signs that fighting games are on the downturn.

But then, from the darkness, comes a new game, a game that understands that fighting games need to be more than what they are now, a game that may have finally cracked the mystic balance between “accessible” and “challenging”.  That game is Persona 4 Arena, and it is quite possibly the best fighting game released this generation.

Technically a sequel to the critically acclaimed PS2 RPG Persona 4, P4A oozes the same stark, clean style as its predecessor.  All the characters from Persona 4 are in attendance, including some guest characters from Persona 3 who lend some nice variety to the cast.  I’m happy to say that the distinct Persona mood has remained intact in the transition from RPG to fighter.  Every character is voiced by their original voice actor and Atlus’s localization crew has once again done a superb job of translating the game’s story.  This is a true successor, not a spin off.

Graphically, the game is a hand drawn wonder.  Every character moves with perfect fluidity and style, wonderfully at ease in the 2D style.  I would actually say the characters translate better to P4A than they do P4.  There’s just something about Persona’s art style that gets lost when committed to 3D models.  Hand drawn sprites, on the other hand, feel like concept art that was magically ported from the artist’s table directly into the game.  I’m not lying when I say this is a beautiful game to watch and a testament to the craft of Arc System Works’s art team.

Describing the gameplay system as whole is an endeavor that could fill several tomes.  The game is the culmination of Arc Systems Works’s design philosophy.  On the surface, the game looks the quintessential japanese style, anime-inspired fighter.  There are lots of gauges, constant chatter as characters perform special moves, and long, flashy, difficult looking combos.  But once you get under the hood, start poking around the engine, it quickly becomes apparent that the game is so much more than its shiny coat of paint lets on.

For one, the game’s tutorial is one of the most intuitive of any fighting game, ever.  Not only is every system described, but their purposes and uses are detailed as well.  This is a godsend to players who’ve never played fighting games before, alleviating a large part of the frustration that went along with initially learning a fighting game in the past.

And trust me, you will need all the help you can get when playing this game.  When a roster only has 15 characters, you need to compensate by making each individual matchup as different as possible.  Kanji, the grappler of the group, needs to be played entirely different when fighting Chie, the Bruce Lee idolizer, versus, say, Aegis, a robot with machine guns and rocket launchers.  This is a game that definitely rewards research and experience over reflexes and combo memorization.

And speaking of combos, special attention must be given to the quick combo system implemented by Arc Sys.  If there is ever a moment where the player becomes flustered or forgets a combo, they can simply mash on one of the buttons and their character will automatically enter a simple, but effective, combo.  Some of these basic combos do a fair bit of damage and are the perfect stepping stone for new players.

It’s a brilliant system because, unlike nearly every other system in a fighting game designed to help new players, it actively helps ease players into understanding the real core of the game.  Combos may be an integral part of fighting games, but they are also stuck in an odd design position.  They require large amounts of time to commit to muscle memory, but any pro player will tell you that knowing your combos is secondary to understanding concepts like spacing, poking, and baiting.  The quick combo system partially alleviates this problem by immediately giving players the tools to jump into online and feel like they can hold their own.  Just getting them to play online and letting them feel the rush of puling off a combo, of punishing a whiffed uppercut, of really feeling what makes fighting games so special to play is usually all it takes to send them online looking for the real combos and to turn them into dedicated fans of the game.

And once you really get into the game, you will have no trouble finding a game online.  The net code implemented for P4A is amazing.  Arc Sys uses its own proprietary net code (unlike the industry standard GGPO code) and the results are incredible.  Even cross continental matches run smoothly and seamlessly, with no perceptible lag except for the opening round banner.  This, however, doesn’t really come as a surprise.  Arc Sys has consistently had the best net code in fighting games, starting with the incredibly smooth BlazBlue back in 2009.

Also remarkable about the game is that it possesses that fabled rarity amongst fighting games: a brilliant, well written story.  P4A was written and planned by the same team that made the original Persona 4.  The game’s story, told from the perspective of each of the 15 characters, easily takes up to 30 hours to complete, 40 if taken at a leisurely pace with a few practice room breaks.

Of course, no matter how good a fighting game is, a scene still lives or dies based on company support.  In this Atlus has delivered in spades, promising funding for tournaments, prizes and dedicated community support for the foreseeable future.  P4A is Atlus’s big game for 2012, and they will not let it fail.

Honestly, if you have even a passing interest in fighting games, you owe it to yourself to pick up Persona 4 Arena.  The game is beautiful, plays even better, and offers enough story and substance to warrant a purchase from single-player gamers.

Gods in all the hells, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?  School and other things kicked my ass over the past few weeks, but I think things asre stabilizing to the point where I can start posting regularly.  My Persona 4 Arena review should be going up soon, so check back for that.  It’s a short 1000 word review that covers the basics of the game.  I’m trying to get it published in a local paper, otherwise I’d be content to ramble on for about 4 or 5 thousand words.

But anyway, it feels good to be back.

Image

Just a quick update post.

I’d hoped to get my review of Crusader Kings II up today.  Unfortunately, my macbook isn’t exactly playing nice with CKII, nor has it really ever.  So it’s with a heavy heart that I delay my review until the beginning of September when my gaming PC gets taken out of storage and I can really write the review I want to write.

The main reason I’m doing this is because I want to show off Crusader Kings II with a multi-part play-through. I feel the best way to review this game is to try and express the kind of drama that unfolds in CKII, as well as the kind of mindset that you enter when you really start to play it.

I feel like there’s a large number of people out there who’d love to play the game, it’s just that it’s hard to get them excited over a game that’s mostly played via choices from dropdown menus and popups. So what better way to do this than by showing them one of the awesome stories that they could be playing?

Hit the jump for a short preview of my upcoming CKII review (and play-through?  play-review?  play-view?)

Read the rest of this entry »

Another Flash Fiction challenge.  Once more, credit goes to Chuck Wendig’s blog for this one.  The challenge was to write a flash fiction story involving time travel.  My entry was a little odd, sort of a weird mix of Italo Calvino and the kind of hard-boiled show about time-travelling cops that might have aired in the 1980s.

Hit the jump to read my entry.

Read the rest of this entry »

Look at Banjo, the obsessed twinkle in his eye, the jinjo slung under his arm.  Pity him, for he is a slave to his own hunger.  The hunger...to collect.

I love Banjo-Kazooie.  It is, in my opinion, one of Rare’s finest games, a combination of clever writing and inspired world design.  It was a colorful world, one that I willingly explored, poring over ever nook and cranny in search of jiggies, jinjos, and magic eggs.  It was the perfect encapsulation of that dominant genre in the 90s gaming sphere: the collect-athon.

Which is why today you couldn’t pay me to play Banjo-Kazooie, or Mario64 for that matter, or any other of the countless world exploration games with the goal of collecting some arbitrary number of Macguffin-like objects, be they jiggies, stars, or glowing orbs.  What has led me to utter such an inciting statement, an attack on some of gaming’s most beloved?

Hit the jump to scoop my reasoning.

Read the rest of this entry »

Flash fiction challenges can be pretty useful to get over a hump in writing.  They can provide a nice break from  tough project while not demanding the same amount of time and resources as, say, a full fledged short story or short script.  This one goes out to Chuck Wendig, who posted the theme for this story: “The noticed android walks past a wondering chamber”.  The challenge was to craft a story around this sentence.

Hit the jump to read my entry

Read the rest of this entry »

Yachts for everyone

Where to begin with a game like Anno 2070?  The venerable city building/lite economic simulator series started a few years ago with Anno 1404, a game where you were tasked with building up your small renaissance settlement into a thriving metropolis of commerce.  Anno 2070 doesn’t stray too far from this premise, though the game opts to abandon the historical setting in favor of a speculative future where global warming has left much of the world under water.  Transport and coordination are more important than ever before, but does a clever new environment bring enough to the Anno formula to justify a purchase?

Hit the jump to find out.

Read the rest of this entry »

(First, a short preface.  This is not meant to be some sort of self-aggrandizing, self-reassuring text to allow me to get out of having to write.  The one thing I cannot stand is writing about writing, but not actually writing.  This is as much for me, to help organize my own thoughts, as it is for anyone who cares to read it.  I’m not condemning or overly praising any of the authors I mention.  It’s just me sounding off on things I’ve read and seen.  You might agree, you might disagree, either way, I hope it’s entertaining.)

Every story needs a hero.  Or a protagonist if you think the term ‘hero’ carries too many connotations with bravery and the slaying of monsters.  Either way, it’s storytelling 101 to have a strong, active main character with a compelling desire influencing their actions.  Frodo wants to dump that ring into Mt. Doom, Luke wants to become a Jedi, etc.

I’d like to talk about two books, and their respective protagonists.  As far as books go, they couldn’t be more different, one being a work of weird fiction, the other being a more conventional fantasy novel in a faux-medieval european setting.  Their respective protagonists are opposites in just about every way, and I feel they both illustrate important points in creating a memorable protagonist.

(Cautions: Spoilers ahead for The Scar and The Name of the Wind/The Wise Man’s Fear)

Read the rest of this entry »