Monday, 22 September 2008

Creepy Weirdos

Have you ever had a creepy weirdo following you around? The kind who on the surface looks just like a sweet kid with a crush, but in reality has you constantly looking over your shoulder, who keeps giving you small trinkets, who, despite many attempts to get them to back off, keeps trying to hold your hand or trying to kiss you, turns up everywhere you do online or even in real life, or even turns up at your house?

Needless to say, I've had more than my fair share of these.

They are the ones who are happy in their own head, who might entertain fantasies and believe they are real. They are the ones who might not realise that things like that are frightening, who might not realise that the person of their affections is not playing hard to get. They are almost always the quiet ones.

I still have a stuffed rottweiler in my room, with a heart with 'I love you' in it's mouth. It came on Valentine's Day three or four years ago, with a card professing undying love. It was anonymous, but I knew who it was from. How could I not? It was from the same boy who'd followed me around for years. Long after we'd left school, he even sent a letter, trying to get back in my life. I still remember the excitement I had in getting a handwritten letter turning to icy fear when I realised who it was from.

Thankfully, my boyfriend, A.D., was more than happy to have a 'chat' with him. I've not heard from him since.

Which brings me to the way to get rid of them. If you have suffered one, or are suffering one right now, you more than likely know that the softly, softly approach does not work. They just believe you're mistaken or that you do want them but are playing hard to get. They are so entrenched in denial that only being straight and tough will get through to them. There are a couple of ways to go about this.

One is to get your biggest/toughest/scariest friend or aquaintence and tell them what is going on and how it makes you feel. Get them to accompany you to the next place where your stalker is likely to turn up. And have your friend have a few choice words with them when they turn up. This brings a lot of satisfaction, but has a chance of going a bit wrong.

The other is more responsible and takes a bit longer. Tell them straight out that if they do not leave you alone, then you will get a restraining order put on them. It is important that you do not bluff, that you are certain that you will do it if they continue. From then on, keep a notebook and pen with you. Every time they continue to bother you, write down the date, time, and what it was they were doing to make you feel uncomfortable. If this does not scare them off, then you will have the evidence needed to have said restraining order put upon them.


It's not your fault and you don't have to put up with it.

Pokémon, and How It's Over-Taking My Life (again)

Every time I crawl free from its grasp, it draws me right back in. You may be forgiven for thinking that I'm talking about drugs, but I'm not. It's that world-overtaking, super-addicting, mega-cutesy game called Pokémon.

My name is Sprite, and I am a Pokémon addict.

For a long time I was free from its web, but then, my boyfriend bought My Pokémon Ranch with the last of his Wii Points. It was absolutely fucking adorable, and it wasn't long before I had restarted my Diamond game and was catching Pokémon wildly to fill up the Ranch.

Then, I decided that was a bad way to go about it, and instead I was going to get a male and female of every species in it. This was a very very bad idea on my part. There are 493 Pokémon, of which probably about 450 have male and females. It's a massive task, a huge task and not one that I'm likely to finish. But it's got me playing my game obsessively and not only for that task. I'm doing things that I never got round to on my last playthrough. Things which in any other game would be tedious as hell. (Mass breeding; EV training; training past level 50 or so.)

I'm also compulsively using the Global Trade Center.

In the past two weeks I've clocked up more than 70 hours. (Quick check: 73:38 - an average of more than 5 a day!)

Why the hell is this game so damn addictive?

Answers on a postcard please.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

On sidequests

I am a big fan of sidequests. Give me a lot of them, I say. The more the merrier! Well, up until a point. When it gets to the point at which the sidequests become the main quest because of the sheer amount of them (that is, when significantly more time is spent doing sidequests than the main one), or it gets to the point where you have difficulty following the main quest without first doing sidequests or even a specific one, you have a problem.

This is mainly an RPG thing. Other genres don't have nearly the amount of scope for sidequests that RPGs do. An RPG gives you an entire world to mess around in, pretty much all others don't. The developers are allowed to run wild with possibilities.

Take Final Fantasy XII, one of my latest plays, for example. The game is set in the continent of Ivalice. Continents are massive, especially when they have time and effort put into them. FF12 has approximately 50 hours of story without sidequests. According to my guidebook, there are 21 sidequests. Of these, 10 are of little consequence and don't add much time to the clock. That leaves 11 which are pretty damn big. The Rare Game hunt, hidden Espers, and the Marks Hunt especially take up at least as much as the main quest, but more likely, more. There are 45 Marks, many of which are difficult to get to and even more difficult to kill. There are 8 hidden Espers, all of which are pains to get to and take an age to defeat. And there are 89 Rare Game, of which most only appear in one area and only have a chance to show up once you fulfil certain conditions.

If you want to do the sidequests, then it'll almost definitely take you more than triple the storyline play to finish. Which falls into the first category of problematic sidequests. What about the second? Well, hardcore RPGers would tell you that if you find it hard then you're doing it wrong. But those are the people who in FF10 think that a No-Sphere Grid challenge isn't worth doing unless you add No Summons or No Blitzball or No Mix or something to it. Or something like that. But Final Fantasy 12 is hard. If you don't go on several hunts then you won't have the levels to beat stuff or the cash to buy equipment to beat stuff. Which leads to the Game Over screen. So it fulfils the second category too.

I could go on and on about sidequests in other games, but lets just say that for a genre of games that aren't known for their gameplay, it certainly puts a lot of effort into prolonging said gameplay. Which makes me think, 'What's the point?'.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

RPG Level Systems

I've been playing a lot of RPGs as of late, of several different formats and of several series'. And it occurred to me that whilst they have a lot in common, they tend to have a levelling system that's just a bit different just to set themselves apart.

Take Final Fantasy for example. Square-Enix (or even just Squaresoft) aren't content with keeping the same levelling system between games. 1 had your basic 'gain-exp and level-up' system, with added 'buy spells for each character separately'. 2 had 'beat your own characters up so they get stronger'. 5 had 'level up your characters AND level up your jobs on each character'. 6 had 'equip Espers to get more stats'. 7 had 'equip Materia before your characters can do anything'. 8 had 'equip GFs and level them up to do anything'. 9 had 'equip this weapon to learn a skill'. 10 had the 'where do I go next Sphere Grid'. 10-2 had 'ooh pretty Dress-spheres' and 12 had the intimidating Licence Grid.

So much difference in one series. And that's not the end of it, either. Mordor makes you choose a guild (or five) and every time you get enough exp, you have to go back and level manually. Suikoden tells you to go get 1000 exp to level up, and reduces the amount of exp you get per monster as you do so, and also equip some runes. Summon Night: Swordcraft story puts less emphasis on how well levelled you are and more on how good your weapon is. And the list goes on and on and on.

What I wonder is, why the need for such diversity? Why does each game find the need to make the system a little different? There are very few people who play RPGs for the levelling system. Most play it for the story, the characters, the world. They could probably care less about how their dudes level up and more that they just do. Sure, some may make it easier to do challenges, such as FF10's Sphere Grid where they go nowhere unless you say so, but is that really why they make them?

You're going to tell me, "But Spritey, if they don't make their system different then no-one will buy it!". But I call bullshit. Would any less people buy Final Fantasy if they had a bog-standard system? No, because people buy Final Fantasy for the plot. Would any less people buy Suikoden if it had a bog-standard system? No, because people buy Suikoden for the plot. People look at the box, or they look at a few internet sites, and if the story looks interesting, and if the characters look likeable (or hot), or if it promises hundreds of hours play or it says you can collect lots of things they will buy it, regardless of how samey or different the levelling system is.

I'm sick of having to learn yet another levelling system. Sometimes I just want to sit down and play without having to worry about what skills I need to give my dudes, or having to go to the menu to level them up, or what/who I need to equip/apprentice to/whatever to who to get the best stats. Sometimes I just wanna play for the plot.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Challenge or fun?

I have Sega Rally for both the 360 and the PSP. Now, Sega Rally is a brilliant game, however having both brings something to my attention (as, by now you've probably guessed, a lot of things do).

The 360 version's main aim is to challenge you. The tracks are tough, the AI is brutal, and if you're not careful, a slip on a corner can cost you an entire race. And that one slip can cost you a perfect championship, because you can't restart on a race. You need a lot of points to open the next championship up. I have loads of points in each of the Premier Championships but still need more because I still haven't unlocked the Final. It means I'll need nigh-on perfect races to unlock it.

However, the PSP version doesn't bother so much with challenging you. It adds a restart. The AI is a bit less hard, and a bit more forgiving, too. In one night I got every Championship in the Premier Class, including the final, because the point requirements are a lot less stringent. As a result the game is a lot more fun, a lot more pick-up-and-play, because one mistake doesn't mean you have to start again from the beginning.

Does this mean challenge isn't fun? Of course not. People thrive on challenge. If a game was too easy it wouldn't be any fun. But there is a line. Once crossed, challenge starts to become frustrating.

But then there are still people who enjoy those games. Devil May Cry, Geometry Wars, Ninja Gaiden, Ghouls n' Ghosts, MegaMan, and Contra. All of these have huge followings simply because they're hard-as-nails tough. Frustrating tough. They give a great sense of satisfaction if you manage to get to the end because you are the ultimate gamer. And why shouldn't it?

Still, all of these games are shunned by the rest of gaming society because they just want to play games that are fun. They don't like spending several hours trying to get past one level. Indeed, I've spent many hours trying to get past level one on Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts, and I still can't do it. So I don't try any more. Neither does everyone else. And then we get told we're no good at games because we don't have the time nor the patience to memorize patterns, and button combinations, and level designs.

Why can't companies do what SEGA did, and release two versions of the game, even on different consoles, one, to satisfy the crowd which thrives on challenge, and another to satisfy those of us which just want some fun?

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

What is it about writing that you love?

I was trying to explain to my friend, the Git, today about how, if you have a story planned out from beginning to end, that most of the joy of writing is lost. The enjoyment of watching something blossom from something that you started is what writing is about. Or, at least, that's what I believe.

The Git has a story in his head which he's been planning for years now. He knows the characters inside out, he knows the big events, he knows the small events and he even knows the mundane. He knows exactly where his story starts, where it will travel and where it will finish.

I fail to see how writing that story would be anything but a chore.

The joy of writing is the same that I suppose you would get from watching your child grow up. You can start with an idea so small, a character so insignificant, and whilst you're writing it can take on a mind of it's own. The story can travel in directions that you had no idea that it would take. The main character can evolve in a way completely different than what you had anticipated. You might even not have the same main character all of the way through. And this is wonderful. You start to get excited about where your story is going next, start to try and predict how your characters will react to different events. It's like reading a good book, only it's a creation of yours, a heady feeling even for the most stoic.

This is nowhere more apparent than on NaNoWriMo. The forums heave with people who, given their task of writing a 50,000 word novel in a month are continually shocked by what their stories and characters do. I remember one, who was writing a romance novel. Her female lead had decided that instead of being with the male lead, she instead wanted to bed her female best friend. You don't get that in a pre-planned idea.

Unfortunately, I didn't reach 50,000 words. I couldn't keep the pace up for more than a week. But even in that short amount of time my story was surprising me. My lead was far more bolshy than I originally dreamed her up to be. She met who I intended to be her rival far earlier than I had expected or planned for. They had far more sexual tension than I had intended and he was far more sly than I had thought up.

It made for a wonderful beginning to a story, which otherwise would have probably been tedious and dull writing (and reading) if I had planned it out beginning to end.

What do you write for if not enjoyment?

And do tell me what it is about writing that you love.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Achievements: Good or Bad?

We got an XBOX 360 for Christmas, and I've been playing it a fair bit over the past couple of days. And something has attracted my ranting hat.


On one side, they're absolutely fucking genius on Microsoft's part. They keep people playing longer than they otherwise would do, trying to get those last few achievements. This can only be a good thing as far as Microsoft is concerned.

But then there's the other side, the seedy underbelly of it. The gamerscore whores. The main reason these people play the games is to gain the score that the achievements give. No longer do they play simply for enjoyment's sake, but instead to prove that they are better than others.

And achievements turn everybody into gamerscore whores to some degree. Gone are the days where you'd just play to play, to get a couple of unlockables maybe, to maybe get another couple of percent on that all-important game completion percentage. Now, you have specific goals. And you'll look at the achievements and think, 'That's what I'm going to aim for next'.

You no longer play for the sake of it. You play with a goal in mind, to get one of those elusive achievements and get the pop-up on your screen that tells you you've unlocked it, to get that sense of achievement you used to only be able to get when you achieved your own goals for the game.

On one side, I love them. I have always been a goal-orientated person. But part of me wants to play until I have completed every single achievement for every game I own. 'They look untidy if I don't do them all,' my brain rationalizes. And I don't like that one bit.