Friday, 12 December 2014

999 "Trepidation" theme and Baba Yaga

Today, thanks to thinking about games in the "Elite" series, I find myself listening to some classical music I haven't heard in a long time. Baba Yaga, part of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. It's a wonderfully crazy, chaotic piece, I like it a lot.

Here's someone playing it (well) on piano:

And here's a full orchestra:

I like it best on piano, played like the piano's giving off electric shocks. :)

I found myself wondering for the first time ever... the incredibly atmospheric, freaky "oh no something terrible's happened" music in the Nintendo DS game "9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors" (or 999).. I wonder if it was at all inspired by the hits at the start of Baba Yaga. According to this YouTube video, it's called "Trepidation". There's definitely call for trepidation in the scenes where it's used!

I'm just tying together some unrelated pieces of music I find impactful and evocative (but in completely different ways). :)

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Elite Dangerous : First Impressions

Have I ever mentioned how much I like the Elite games? I started with the first one from 1984 on C64 - though I played it many years after it was first released. Then I played the sequels in the 1990s. They are great games, both in scope and freedom of play. They are also fun. :)

You can fly about the universe in your spaceship, and are free to play however you like - as a trader, hauling goods across the galaxy, as a pirate, ambushing the traders and stealing their goods and evading the police, as a bounty hunter, hunting down criminals, or following a military route, taking missions to gain military ranks.

Well, I was in the original Kickstarter for Elite Dangerous, but never paid for beta access, so I had to wait for gamma access, which is... now!

So I bought myself a ridiculously expensive controller - a Saitek X-55 Rhino HOTAS - which is actually far more sensible of a thing than its name implies... mostly because I heard this game has lots of buttons and so I wanted a controller with loads of buttons, I love the idea of having a cockpit with buttons and switches for everything.

Then I spent a day sorting out upgrading the PC's main SSD because it'd started developing bad sectors... then I moved my PC into the living room so I could use my big TV, then set things up so I have somewhere comfy to put the HOTAS (I am using a warm blanket and an ironing board, yay I'm a high-tech space traveller!)

£1000 TV + £170 controller + £2000 (maybe) PC ... and an ironing board...

I tell you, PC gaming is HARD WORK. Hahaha!

Then I started the game.

The first thing I tried to do was set my X55 as controller, and start a tutorial.

The second thing I did was exit and look up "what are all the buttons, actually?", because the tutorial will tell you something like "lower your landing gear" and you need to work out which button does that. I found a really useful website for that.

..then I went back in and tried following the tutorial. I crashed into things all the way through, and eventually landed. It congratulated me, and said I was now qualified to dock in any space station, which made me laugh out loud, because if my docking was good enough, the place must be chaos! I don't know whether I dare fly with pilots as bad as me being fully licensed!

Then there was a shooting tutorial - same process, start it up, then get myself a browser and look up the controls... then blunder my way through.

By the time I'd got to the tutorial for travelling between stars... I was lost enough I needed to watch a video on YouTube to tell me what I'm supposed to be doing.

During the "advanced" tutorial on dogfighting, I started playing with switching off flight assist during battles. This stops your craft from following Newtonian physics, and starts it using more realistic space physics. What this actually means is that you can use it to move in weird ways - deliberately fling your craft spinning off somewhere and realign yourself to aim at the enemy, then enable flight assist again to stabilise yourself enough to fire.

And then you *totally* feel like a 14 year old who just stole a mecha and is piloting it like someone who should never ever ever be allowed to pilot anything. And that's just mega-awesome!

At the end of the five basic tutorials, I had been congratulated five times, and felt like an utter noob.

So then I tried the first one - docking - again. And nailed it, smooth take off, smooth, exiting, smooth re-entering, and smooth landing. Like a pro. :D

Then I thought "huh, maybe these tutorials work after all".

So I started up the main game, and the first thing it does is a "pre-flight check" where you push each of the controls to make sure you know the mapping. And I was like... "why wasn't this the first thing in the tutorial??!"

So far I've travelled to two systems, I got inter-somethinged one time, and another ship blew me up, but luckily I had taken out insurance, so it popped me back in my ship with my 1000 credits ready to start again.

I'm now in a place called "Bean City" in a galaxy I can't remember the name of, a ship full of holes, a cargo hold of computer parts that sell for a little less than I paid for them, and 800-odd credits in my bank.

Fun! ^_^

One more thing - although I cannot normally play first-person games due to terrible simulator sickness, I have had no problems with Elite Dangerous, despite playing it all day and flinging myself into space and bouncing off space stations.

I think it's because the pilot is in a fixed position, and the gameplay movement is so unlike any that I would normally encounter in life, that my brain does not know how to go "hang on, this isn't what I expect" - because it has no experience of actual space flight to apply it to.

But it could also be that I started playing these games long before I ever started suffering simulator sickness, and somehow it's familiar enough to my brain to allow it to pass.

Either way, I'm very glad of it. It would have been terrible to not be able to play this game. Especially after buying such a nice but incredibly expensive controller for it. Oh, and because Elite is one of my all time favourite game franchises. :)

Sting's album "The Last Ship"

I've been doing something very uncharacteristic of me recently, and have been listening to Sting's album "The Last Ship", repeatedly. I happened to watch Dune on TV the other week (he's an awesome loony in that film), and heard on the news that the musical version of this wasn't doing too well on Broadway, so I decided to give it a go listening on Spotify 'cos it's free.

It's all in Geordie! And that's fantastic. :) More people should be singing in regional accents and dialects. I also like that it's telling little stories. It's all about people's lives, working on shipyards in Newcastle. Apparently the overall story of the musical is about a prodigal son leaving, then coming back later in his life to seek out a girl he knew, and find love.

I guess it's the curse of the expat - you leave an area for whatever reason, but once you're gone... after time, without realising you miss the place, you begin to cling to little things that link you to the place, and eventually, you end up cherishing the place.

But by the time that's happened, you've been gone so long that the place has completely changed. So even if you try going back, that place you remember doesn't exist anymore, and you spend your time spreading your memories all over the rest of the world. A tiny pocket of a lost culture that lives in your brain, preserved, stored in stasis. Perhaps exaggerated.

I've noticed my mother telling me "this is the way Chinese do this" many times, when I know - they don't do anything like that anymore at all. She retains the ideas that were given to her by her elders - family who fled China a long time ago; before Mao, before cultural reformations, long before the newfound wealth it has nowadays. It's a little pocket of China that no longer exists. This is how it's been preserved.

This album has that quality too - wow, the North-East and its people have gone through some hard times in the past, and there was so much more hard physical labour work. The accents were stronger. The people were stronger. The money was scarcer. The prospects were unthinkable. He's done well to document it, and the spirit of the people in this work, in an entertaining and catchy way.

I bet the folks going to see it on Broadway can't understand a word of it, though. Poor things. Theatre productions don't come with subtitles, haha!

Console of the year? PS Vita!

Ah, we're very definitely in the era of the PS4 and Xbox One, now. They've both been out a full year. The Wii U has been out 2 years now. The PS Vita nearly 3 years. The Nintendo 3DS over 3 and a half.

I think it's taking longer and longer for consoles to "find their feet" - it used to be that consoles would be launched with some decent titles, but usually not enough - so players would continue playing the games from the last generation on their new consoles while the new consoles established a good, solid library. 

The PS3 was the first of the consoles to really end this. It's a great machine in its own right now, but when it was launched, there was limited backwards compatibility and you'd often see people on the internet saying "PS3 has no games!".

The 3DS did not suffer from this too much, but there was definitely a time of "Vita is dead!" and "Wii U is dead!" at the start of this year. But this year, Sony have turned the Vita into a nice little niche weird Japanese games console, and Nintendo have kept on plugging away at launching new versions of old games on the Wii U.

I got a Vita for Christmas last year, and it's been my main console this year. Here's a list of the games I've most enjoyed on it:

  • TxK
  • Danganronpa
  • Akiba's Trip
  • Luftrausers
  • Disgaea 3 : Absence of Detention
  • Spelunky
  • Rogue Legacy
  • No Heroes Allowed: No Puzzles Either!
  • Hatsune Mike Project Diva f
  • Sorcery Saga: Curse of the Great Curry God
  • Steamworld Dig
  • Muramasa Rebirth
  • Hyperdimension Neptunia : Producing Perfection
  • Dynasty Warriors Next
I have also played many other games on it, and have more lined up to play. It's just very convenient and portable, has capacity for lots of games, and has a better screen and more processing power and a better accounts system than a 3DS.

I have also been playing much 3DS, but that got put on hold for a while as it managed to break itself and I had to send it in for repair, which was costly and wiped all my streetpass data. I do wish that Nintendo had as convenient an accounts system as either Sony, Microsoft or mobile platforms - so that in the case a device breaks, you can just log in and download your data and games to another device.

The PS3 is also fairly strong for me, and the Wii U ... I don't use that often, but when I do, I have fun enough with it. The PC ... I buy a lot more games for it than I actually play. I think it's because I work on a PC all day, so I am reluctant to finish work and continue using it.

The Xbox 360, which was about my main console of the previous generation - I've hardly switched on.

Perhaps I will get either an Xbox One or a PS4 in the future. I am far more inclined to get a PS4, because they keep giving me games for it on my PS+ subscription, and there is one game coming out for it that I am looking forward to: "No Man's Sky", a game about flying about in a procedurally-generated universe, exploring beautiful alien worlds.

Perhaps, in about a year or so, I will consider them worth getting.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Terra Battle - new Mistwalker RPG game

New game from the creator of Final Fantasy, out last week. I just discovered this exists - forgive me if it turns out to be rubbish. It's a mobile game; but if they get 2 million downloads, they'll start on a console version. It's free and it's in English. :)
Official site
Android download
iOS download

EDIT: the music in this game is fantastic! As a bonus for getting so many downloads, Mistwalker have released two tracks from the OST to people who would like to download them. They are on Soundcloud, and can be streamed or downloaded - but, just to forewarn you, they're .wav files!

Friday, 16 May 2014

Sword Art Online games coming to Europe

Bandai Namco are releasing the Sword Art Online games in English:

It's going to be a digital-download bundle containing an HD version of the PSP game "Infinity Moment" and the new Vita game "Hollow Fragment".

I really like the Sword Art Online anime. I've had SAO calendars on my wall this year and last year, and I happened to just start reading the first SAO novel (released by Yen Press), also looking forward to the 2nd series this summer. ^_^

Cardcaptor Sakura on blu-ray

I just preordered what I think might be the most expensive anime box set I've ever bought.

It's the whole of Cardcaptor Sakura, on blu-ray. Discounted on Rightstuf, but still the equivalent of over £100. (It will probably be more like £150 when shipping and customs charges are added. I should probably think about getting a dedicated region-free blu-ray player as well...)

I really like that series. It's a super-cute magical girl series, where everyone is friendly - even the monsters.

It shows many, many kinds of love, and not as a weird taboo thing, which I think is good to have in a show for kids.

It also made me love takoyaki before I had even seen or tasted it.

I hope NIS America do a great job on this box set. It comes out in August.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Shin Megami Tensei (the 1st one) out on iOS

At the moment, I'm playing the first Shin Megami Tensei game. It's out in English on iOS now, available on iTunes.

First there was "Megami Tensei"; it was a 1980s game based on a novel, and I've got (and seen) an OVA related to it - demons come out of computers... btw that OVA wasn't very good.

But based on that idea, some other folks created "Shin Megami Tensei" on the SNES, and it eventually SMT started spawning spin-off series (e.g. Persona) and the franchise became massive.

The key features of the overall series are:

  • Someone will manage to connect to the demon realm by writing computer software
  • There's an epic battle between demons and god, and you represent the humans caught between, and can join one side or the other; or do your own thing.
  • It does branching storyline right. The choices are fairly clear, and the outcome really affects the story in a meaningful way, with really different endings possible.
  • It's set in contemporary Japan turned to chaos, rather than some fantasy world.
  • You can recruit your enemies and have them fight alongside you (they were doing this before Pokemon!)
  • The world will probably end, but shopping mall buildings and underground rail stations will probably remain intact (how depressing, humankind's legacy!)

This iOS version is actually based on the later enhanced Gameboy Advance release of SMT, so it's got little extra features above what's in the SNES English fan-translation. So I get to watch bonus cutscenes... actually, in this first clip, you get to see how a loved one died; is that really such a reward?

Considering how many games there are in the extended series with spin-offs and such, I haven't really played that many of them. I've played quite a long way into SMT III on PS2 (that was a long time ago!), a spin-off called "Demikids" on GBC (that was even longer ago!), I started Persona 3 but never got along with it enough to continue... started an MMORPG called SMT: Imagine (but not for long), and recently played through Devil Survivor Overclocked on 3DS, which seemed to take me about a year - mainly because I took myself down a route that made it a really really tough game. However, Devil Survivor Overclocked is my favourite RPG on 3DS (sorry Pokemon). It's really good!

I'm really enjoying SMT. Every time I play one, it seems so fresh and atmospheric. I love the fact you can have little conversations with the demons to try and recruit them; the way you get a feeling for their personalities, and the way they are so inhuman in their responses and behaviour. Demons are psychologically interesting! I like the way that it's set in Tokyo so the recognisable world is warped - somehow the world of 1990s Japan overrun with demons and full of cults, bars, and fierce weaponry... is more believable than a fantasy world of "normal people".

I also really like the way the hero characters have swords and guns and magic, where swords and guns are different weapon slots with different use, rather than just having "attack" and magic.

I really wish this wasn't on iOS though. For one thing, I'm borrowing an iPad again, then on-screen controls emulating a joypad make my hands feel weird after a while. I wish this had been ported to 3DS (with in-game maps on the lower screen) or on Vita (because the storage capacity on the device is better and there's a better user accounts system on PSN).

Still, I hope this does well enough that they decide to localise the iOS version of SMT II into English.

I just bought myself an American 3DS XL on import (it's a gold Legend of Zelda special edition I found 2nd hand on so I can eventually play SMT IV - because it seems like it's never coming out in Europe. I already have the special edition of the game which comes in a nice box with strategy guide and CD. It's not set in a contemporary period, but I expect it to be great.

One thing I do worry about a little; as well as playing SMT, I've been playing Disgaea 3, watching Highschool DxD, watched another OVA based on SMT (called Tokyo Revelations) and just got a copy of Tecmo's Deception IV for Vita in the post... perhaps I am spending too much time with demons, I'm tending slightly towards the chaotic...

Thursday, 20 February 2014

TxK is super awesome great

It's just over a week since TxK got released on PS Vita, and I've been playing it at every convenient moment since, finally finishing the game in "classic" mode this evening.
I beat the game and won a lovely cup of tea.
Oops, I missed the edges off my photo. But, I beat it! Yay me!

I really, really got into this game. It's beautiful, mathematics in colour.

It's the latest iteration of Jeff "Yak" Minter's take on Tempest, with nice shiny extras of powerups like the ability to jump, a nice AI Droid to help you out, and mind-bending levels and special effects featuring far more colours than the average rainbow.

The soundtrack adds 1990s rave onto the 1980s arcade visual style, and the Vita is a time-travel device.

I'm 15th best player in the world!
It's nice being so near to the top of the leaderboards for this game, but.... more people should be doing better than me! Is it that not enough people have this game? Are they just not getting so far in it? I suppose there is the possibility... I've been playing this guy's games for so long, rather than these games being perfect for me, it was me that was built to play these games.

Now, Jeff Minter posted some basic gameplay tips on the Playstation EU blog, but they are really basic, so I thought I'd post some tips of my own.

a) Basic Ship Controls

Don't think of moving your ship as going "left" and "right", because you will be running along the rim of objects that go upside-down. Think of it as "clockwise" and "anti-clockwise". And then later, when the game even manages to make that confusing, think of it as "the way I was going" and "the other way". Actually, maybe if you thought the last thing, it works for all cases. :)

b) Accellerometer controls

If you tilt the Vita during a level, you get to slightly tilt your viewpoint. If it comes to you naturally and you need a better viewpoint, use it. I didn't use it much. Noticed it more on the pause screen than during gameplay. But it's cool.

Between levels, as long as you aren't starting a bonus stage, your ship will fly through a series of rings; flying as close as you can to the centre will give you a points bonus. This bonus can become very sizable! I found that playing the game with the Vita near horizontal made the between-stage controls much better. Be gentle.

c) Shooting

I barely ever stopped shooting. On some levels (e.g. #30), I changed from holding down the fire button to a slower pulse with my thumb, as I spun through the level. Mostly I held down the fire button.

d) Smart Bomb (Supertapper)

I usually kept this in reserve for emergencies, but if you are feeling confident, all enemies you kill with the smart bomb give you double points.

The very basic enemies, if they get to the rim where you're standing, can start to drag you off the side. If that starts and you still can, touch the screen to set off the supertapper and rescue yourself. If you have the power-up, the AI Droid can also rescue you, but eh, sometimes it seems like it can't be bothered to. Lazy thing.

e) Power-ups

They come in roughly the same order each level - some yield points, there's a particle laser, but most importantly, there is the jump ability and then AI Droid. There is also a warp triangle, and eventually the dual wield ability - which I don't think is that useful (I only ever seem to get it so late in a level there's nothing left to shoot). Get every power up you can. The later point power-ups are 8000 points each - vital if you are working on your high score.

Jumping is the most important defensive power-up, because it lets you avoid things. But you will get more points the less you jump.

f) 1up power-ups

They look like normal power-ups, except they're pink. When they appear, a sound effect says "extra" then when you collect it, it says "life". Listen out for these! You can have up to 11 extra lives.

g) Strategy : playing to survive vs playing to score points

If you want to play to survive, start out sweeping a level with bullets to get as many enemies as possible, then stick to a small patch (hopefully that doesn't rotate too confusingly). Power-ups only appear from enemies you've killed, so sticking to one patch limits them to appearing only in your little spot, and hopefully you'll get the "jump" ability soon enough you won't be in trouble.

After that, try and get the AI Droid power-up if you can, then jump a lot and keep away from bullets, killing easy enemies and letting your AI Droid kill off the things that are more likely to put up more of a fight.

I think you get fewer points killing enemies when jumping than you do when you kill them on the rim, but I haven't actually checked to make sure.

h) Classic mode

In this mode, when you get Game Over, you can restart the level of your choice with whatever was your best score / number of lives you managed to achieve in the past. Most lives seems to be dominant over most score. As such, when you restart, rather than going to the last level I was on, I tended to go to the level where I last had most lives, and played to survive. Then return to them later and retry for more points.

i) Special enemies

Watch out for flowers. Shoot flower heads when they are either still, or spin slowly. If they are spinning quickly, they have broken free from the stem and are unstoppable, and will kill you if they touch you.

Watch out for the buzzy electric things that light up a whole column. Pay close attention to the light between their prongs; they light up in a certain way just before electrifying a column. If you see it, move or jump! (Electric attacks can't get you when you're in the air!)

The bulls that appear on level 33 are more deadly when they are killed than when they were alive, because their horns spin upwards to get you, and move quite slowly so you might accidentally jump into them. I found that letting bulls come to the top, and bounce down a little way before killing them made them easier.

The little whirlpools that spin the entire stage are more disorientating than they are dangerous. Don't be intimidated by them!

The missile rock things - sometimes it's better to avoid them than try to defeat them, because they can break into pieces. But, points! Score!

The round things that turn into rainbow tubes when you shoot them - I don't think they can be destroyed after they turn into tubes. If I'm wrong, let me know!

The static flowers that give a long "moooooo" sound, that come near the end of the game - the ones that are really tall and sweep across the rim - pay attention to the colour of the stalk. Before you have jump ability, you won't be able to destroy them. It's safe to pass below the flower head as long as the stalk isn't electrified, and they give a visible tell to let you know when they will light up.

The annoying star things that shoot at you from the bottom rim of a stage - they get bigger when they are about to shoot stuff at you, at which point they are vulnerable. But, if you stick around to shoot at them, you are going to die. You really have to take advantage of the length of the stage, so your bullets reach it when you're safely out of the way, but overall, I'd recommend you keep out of the way if you can.

j) Bonus stages

You automatically go to these when you collect 4 warp triangles and end a level. The bonus stage where you fly through rings - the controls are really really sensitive, don't touch anything for the majority of the time. Be ultra gentle. If you're doing ok with these bonus stages, don't read what I'm about to say - but to me, it was like up and down were reversed.

The path bonus stage is far easier, in my opinion. You just go left and right as normal.

Accellerometer controls are disabled for the duration of bonus stages, and you get a 50000 point bonus for finishing each one.

k) Feel your way through the game

This is a game you feel. I've written up what I can, but I'm sure there's more that's just not conscious or I am able to express. Play this game with your eyes and ears and your hands. It's the most tactile geometric shooting game there is. Be glad you aren't playing it with your nose unless you like the scent of ungulates. Have fun. Discover things. :)


That's about it, I think that's all I have. Good luck! This is a super awesome great game. But still not as great as Space Giraffe, which is an utter masterpiece. A mad, mad masterpiece. But super awesome great is still super awesome great! I think it's the best game on Vita so far!