The Guided Fate Paradox

So a couple of weeks ago I was browsing random websites online and I found a list of 100 forgotten games from the past year.  I don’t remember what the title of the list was, or the website, or for that matter what kind of random posts I had been clicking through to find it.  Anyway, while browsing through their list, I saw quite a few games that didn’t interest me at all, a couple that I took the time to read about, and one that had me very intrigued.GFP1

That game – which I’m sure you could have guessed from the title of this post – is called The Guided Fate Paradox.  And while it is the type of game that never had a chance to be a blockbuster mega-hit in todays video game culture, I think it’s the type of game that has an excellent chance of being a sleeper hit that a core group of fans will still be talking about and playing 10 years from now.

The premise of the game can be summed up very quickly, and this is what got me interested in the game in the first place.  A young man named Renya is given a lottery ticket at a local mall after buying food for dinner.  He spins the lottery machine at the mall and wins the grand prize – he gets to become God and guide the fates of the believers who pray to him every day.

Now that is a premise that is going to get me interested in a game, but while that’s an interesting start to a game, it’s going to take a quality game to be as interesting as the summary I gave promises, and this game delivers.

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Renya and Lilliel

Once Renya goes to heaven he meets a small cast of angels who are his companions for the rest of the game.  I love stories that turn your expectations on their heads and this game does that perfectly.  When you hear the word angel, you have a certain image that pops up in your head.  And while the angels that help you out fit the visual image, their personalities are very different from what you would expect.  In this world, angels and devils have been fighting a war that has been going on far longer than any of them could have ever imagined, and it shows in their personalities.  In many ways, this group of angels is tired of fighting the war, and very cynical about it.  Likewise, when you’re shown scenes involving the devils and their leader – named Satanael – you see that they’re in some ways just going through the motions.  Satanael especially is going through the motions, and in many of the scenes he appears in he is simply trying to find something to do to kill some time because he’s utterly bored with his existence.  While the game has you granting a series of wishes for people, there is a deep and interesting story going on that is constantly leading you in interesting new directions.  I can easily say that the overall story of this game is easily one of the best that I’ve seen in a video game in some years and one of the more interesting stories that I’ve seen in any medium for some time.

Several of the angels who assist you in the game.

Several of the angels who assist you in the game.

While the overall story is interesting, the smaller stories that unfold as you help the believers with their wishes are also some of the more interesting stories that I’ve seen in some time.  From the very first story where you meet a Cinderella who is tired of living out the same fairy tale all the time, you know you’re in for something different.  As the game continues you also meet and help a weakling zombie who wants to be able to eat brains, a mermaid who wants to stop her older sister from killing humans, and several other unique and interesting characters.  All of the characters have solid voice acting (although the voice of the weakling zombie did get annoying after a while) the character designs are all very well done.

The gameplay was really interesting to me, with your character going through a series of randomly generated dungeons with your angel assistant as you acquire new items and level up your character.  However, every time that you leave a dungeon, you reset to level one.  But the game keeps track of your total levels gained and uses this to increase your overall stats.  So you start out as a more powerful level one every time you go into the dungeon, and you also have more powerful equipment every time you go through.  The closest game I know of in terms of the actual gameplay is an old Playstation 1 game titled Azure Dreams.  If you’re a fan of that game I think you’ll love this game as much as I did.

One thing that helped this game greatly was the variety in the dungeons.  The first two just have you going from one room to the next along pathways in the dungeon.  The third one takes place underwater and you can roam anywhere on the map, but there are certain rooms that appear throughout each floor.  Other dungeons have 5×5 tiles that move around as you’re exploring each floor, meaning you can go from being 2 squares away from the item you wanted to pick up to it being halfway across the map.  The variety from one dungeon to the next helped the gameplay to feel fresh throughout the entire game, even though you’re essentially doing the same thing for the entirety of the game.

GFP3Graphically the game is decidedly old-school, with the characters being sprites rather than the fully rendered models that you see in so many games today.  While some people may not enjoy graphics like this, I think they’re in many ways better than other games.  Far too often I think game developers try to make a game look perfectly realistic as the expense of making it look good.  This game definitely has a unique visual style, and I thought it was fantastic throughout the course of the entire game.

This game is a perfect mixture of an interesting premise, an excellent story, solid gameplay, and incredible replayability.  If you’re a fan of old school Japanese RPG’s or good storytelling in general, I highly suggest this game.  As it is, I’m off to go through some of the bonus content and see if I can’t find more fun items to use.

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Radiant Historia

This is a little bit different for me, although I’ve done it once or twice before.  I’m here today to talk about a video game.  Radiant Historia is a game for the Nintendo DS that came out a couple of years ago, and I just finished plaything through it.  I had a couple of issues with the game, but it did some interesting things with the storytelling.  And being me, and this being my blog, I’m going to focus mostly on the story of the game, and it did some interesting things with the story.

Radiant HistoriaI’m going to warn you that some of the things I’m talking about might spoil some later parts of the story, so if you’re interested in playing the game and don’t want it spoiled, stop reading here, go play the game, and then come back to read the post.  I’ll try to avoid directly spoiling everything, but it’s going to be hard to talk about a couple of the things I want to mention without some spoilers.  If you don’t care about playing the game, keep reading because I might just type something clever, you never know.

So the first thing that I have to talk about with the game is how the basis of the story is one of my biggest pet peeves in storytelling, that’s right, it’s time travel.  In some ways I don’t know if it really ends up being time travel, it’s almost more of a split universe where the main character is going back and forth between the two universes as you go through each storyline.  Thinking about it after having finished the game, I think that having time travel as an element of the story was necessary for one of the major plot points.  The crux of the game is that your character monkeys around in time so that he can find something to care for, ultimately because he is due to be used as a sacrifice in a ritual that will save the planet (there’s the biggest spoiler, you were warned).  He is one of two people who are placed in that situation.  The way the game presents it towards the end is that he is looking forward through time through the use of his Chronicle (magic book), which the other character is looking backward using his Chronicle.

The world of the game is in a rough shape, an empire long ago nearly destroyed the world, and now the only thing that can stop everything from turning into sand is a sacred ritual that requires a human sacrifice.  The idea that looking through time would prepare you to sacrifice yourself is an interesting one, but the way that the game twists it is fun.  The character who looks forward in time sees hope for the future, and because of that he wants to save the world.  The character you oppose looks back and sees the generations of punishment that the world has gone through, and he decides that it would be better if the world were destroyed.  Ultimately this makes him a very effective villain because in a sense, he wants the punishment that the world is going through to stop, and he finds what he thinks is the best way to get it to stop.

The story also raises a very interesting question.  In a world where there is a huge amount of suffering, is that world really worth saving?  Lets look at The Lord of the Rings for a second.  Lets turn the story into a tragedy and say that Sauron came back and the ring wasn’t destroyed.  In the kind of world that would probably come from that ending, it would most likely be a pretty bad place to live.  If you didn’t know that you could fix the problem, it might be better just to end the world.  It’s essentially the same question that comes into play with euthanasia for pets or medically assisted suicide.  If the suffering is so great, maybe it’s better to end it rather than to try and fight for a future where it may not be any better.  It’s an interesting question and one that I don’t think I’ve seen addressed in video games very often.

The last thing about the story is another thing that doesn’t come up in games very often, religion, and more specifically the abuse of the power that religion can have.  One of the central figures in the story is the Prophet Noah, the man who basically founded the country of Alistel where your character is from.  It’s interesting that he is set up as the deity for a religion rather than simply as a king.  But what’s even more interesting is how the game shows the abuse of religious power.  Noah is never seen in the game, but instead speaks through General Hugo, or so we’re told.  Towards the end of the story they show that Hugo was using Noah’s name to promote his own agenda, while keeping the real Noah hidden.  The game doesn’t say exactly when, but the odds are that Noah probably died several years before the start of the game.

Religious zealotry and the abuse of religious power is a fairly common thing both in the real world as well as in fiction, but here is where I think this game does an excellent job of twisting the same old story on it’s head.  Very simply, the central religious figure is still alive, or so the characters think early on.  The central religious character is not a god or any other type of deity, just a simple man.  Think of the power that religions have in this world.  Now imagine if the person central to the religion was still alive.  Even if the person has died, if there were people still alive who had met the religious figure, talked to him, and known him as a friend.  The authority that that religion could have would probably dwarf all of the religious impact that we see in our world today.

So there are my thoughts on the storytelling of the game, now that I’m done playing it, I can start digging through my stack of books a little faster.

Minimalism in Art – Journey

So the basis for this post comes from two things, my occasional complaints about a book being too long, and the experience I had last Saturday night playing the PS3 game Journey.

I’ve heard about Journey for quite a while, and I finally decided to bite the bullet and buy it Saturday.  It was a relatively short game, but I had a wonderful time playing through it and it was the first time in quite a while that I’ve been transfixed by a game.

There is very little story to the game, but it’s not explained at all and during my play through I had at least 5 or 6 different stories running through my head as to what was happening with my character.  You start off in the middle of a desert, and the only noticeable landmark in the game is a mountain off in the distance.  After each level there is a very short interlude where another creature similar to your character shows you a mural which traces your progress through the game.  Your character is only able to jump and whistle, yet there is a wide area to explore and every area of the game is gorgeously animated.

Another interesting aspect of the game is that while you’re playing, you may occasionally cross paths with another player.  There is no way to communicate with the other person other than your whistle, and considering it’s just a random person that you’re paired up with for a while, it’s a very unique experience as you work with the other player.

I’ve said this before about books, and this is a perfect example of how it can work in any medium.  I would rather read a short book or play a short game that works as well as Journey does than sit through a much longer game that isn’t as enjoyable.  Journey took me about 3 hours to play through, but I was happier with Journey than I ever was while playing Final Fantasy 13, a game which had a budget that easily dwarfed that of Journey, yet I had a better time playing Journey, and I’m more likely to replay it as well as to suggest it to other people.

If you have a PS3 and haven’t played Journey, I’d highly suggest it.  And to any game designers or authors out there, learn from the game and realize that not everything has to be bigger and better than everything else.

Some Changes and a Warning

When going through the list of blogs I follow, I came upon this post by Morgan over at The First Gates.  He relates the story of a blogger who was sued for use of an image on her blog.  This leads to a very big question and gets into some questionable copyright lingo.  The biggest question as it relates to this blog is what qualifies as fair use when posting an image to a blog?  The answer is tricky.

The basic ideas behind the fair use exemption to copyright law can be found here at Wikipedia.  The problem with this is that it’s very fuzzy as to what qualifies as fair use.  But the most troubling problem from what I’ve read is that there is no set standard for any particular type of media, each case can be looked at individually.

Here’s where that becomes a problem, and how it relates to this blog.  I post pictures of the covers for every book I review.  I’ve obtained all of these images by doing a simple Google search.  When I first started the blog, it was a fairly minor issue.  I only had a couple of reviews up, and very few images.  The problem now comes from the fact that I’ve got somewhere around 160 different book reviews up – all of them with images of the book attached to the post.

My very vague understanding of the copyright and fair use laws means that this could end up being a problem.  If you figure there are 160 book reviews, that amounts to quite a few different authors, artists, publishing companies, graphic designers, etc. who could possibly raise a fuss about the images being on my blog.  Now, my blog has a fairly small audience, and the thought of it getting notice from a major publisher and then being pursued by them beyond a simple DMCA notice and being asked to remove the image is admittedly quite small.  However, the odds of it occurring increase with each review that I post and each image that I attach to those reviews.

So what does that mean?  Well, for starters it means I’m going to go through and remove every image that I have attached to my blog at the moment.  I’ve received no warning about this, but the last thing I need is some new lawyer who just passed the Bar trying to win an easy case by going after my blog.  All of the content of my blog other than the pictures will remain unchanged as I spend the next several days going through my history and editing out the pictures.

One thing that I learned fairly early on in the creation of my blog is that posts look better with an image included.  It’s gives you something to look at as opposed to just staring at a wall of text, and displaces some of the monotony of constantly looking through a series of posts.  I’ll continue to try and include images, but in the future I’ll make sure that they’re all either in the public domain or they have a Creative Commons license that allows them to be shared.

I understand that the actions that I’m taking are a little extreme (just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not after you), and I’m not suggesting that everyone follow the same course of action.  I am however suggesting that you read Morgan’s post as well as those he links to and take what they say into consideration.  I know that personally I do this because I enjoy talking about the books that I read (or whatever else crosses my mind) and I like the interaction that I get with people through this blog.  However, the potential (however unlikely) legal and financial ramifications of this is something that I can’t overlook.  I’ll still be blogging, but as regards to using images in my posts I’ll be a lot more careful about what I use.

Sociopaths in our Culture – Part 3 – In Fiction

This post is the third in my series of posts about Sociopaths in our Culture.  The first post, concerning the definition and description of sociopathy, can be found here.  The second post, where I look at the cultural adaptation of sociopaths, can be found here.

There are a great number of characters in fiction (including movies, books, and TV) that could easily be classified as having Antisocial Personality Disorder.  By my own way of looking at it, I see three different ways in which characters with APD are used in fiction.

For reference, let’s put the definition and indicators up again: A pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others, beginning in childhood or adolescence and continuing into adulthood, and indicated by three (or more) of the following:

  1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest.
  2. Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure.
  3. Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead.
  4. Irritability or aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults.
  5. Reckless disregard for safety of self or others.
  6. Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavoior or to honor financial obligations.
  7. Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another person.

The first is very obvious; a great number of the villains in books are obviously sociopaths, many of them wanting nothing more than to destroy all or part of the world.  One of the better examples is probably Raj Ahten who is the primary antagonist of the first four books in David Farland’s Runelords series.  Ultimately he has a noble goal – he is trying to unite the countries of the world in order to face a bigger threat – but the methods that he uses are brutal as he tries to subjugate society.  (Looking at the list, you could diagnose him with #’s 1, 2, 4, 5, 7.)

The second use of APD in fiction comes from a variety of book with a specific type of main character.  While not the most common, there is a history of books being written about antiheroes, characters that in most other stories would be the primary antagonist.  (For antiheroes I’m using the classical definition as described in the Writing Excuses podcast.)  Looking through my list of reviews, the only true antihero book that I have on there is Perfume by Patrick Suskind.  But I’m going to talk about a different book for this, Waiting Period by Hubert Selby Jr.

Selby is one of my favorite authors, and Waiting Period is one of my favorite books of his.  The basic premise of this book is simple; a man who is depressed decides to kill himself.  He decides that the best way to kill himself is to buy a gun and end it quickly.  Because of the laws he has to wait several days before he can get his gun.  During this time, he starts to think a little differently about his situation in life.  He starts to think that his life isn’t the problem; the problem comes from people in power keeping everyone else down.  This leads to him deciding that he needs to kill the people who have been causing the problems rather than himself.  He is in many ways the prototypical APD case, and is easily diagnosed with symptoms #1, 4, 5, & 7.

The third use of people with APD is not one that many people commonly think about.  In many cases, the primary protagonist in many novels could easily be diagnosed with having APD.  The main reason most people wouldn’t consider them to have this personality disorder is because they’re doing noble things.  But if you look at their patterns of behavior, several heroes of stories show consistent signs of APD behavior.  Two characters that easily fall into this category are Kelsier from Mistborn (#’s 1, 2, 4, 5, & 7) and Kvothe from The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear (#’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, & 7 – yes, he shows all of the common symptoms at times).

Not everyone with Antisocial Personality Disorder is a serial killer – in fact many people who could be diagnosed with APD are very successful people.  This series of posts started because of the ways that I saw H. H. Holmes being depicted in media.  I don’t think anyone can argue that what he did was horrible, but the worst thing you could do is simply dismiss someone because of his or her behavior.  Take the time to understand different personalities, and try and figure out why they exist.  Many times people with strange patterns of behavior are the most interesting to look at.  This is true in both fiction and real life.

Realize that any time you’re dealing with people with different personalities or conditions it’s never an issue of “us vs. them.”  We all have numerous aspects to personalities, and there are no clear dividing lines between groups of people, it really comes down to a matter of degree.  It’s also worth considering that there is no condition that is inherently good or bad.  We all have different tools for use, and from there it’s simply a matter of what we decide to do with them.

Hopefully you enjoyed this series of posts (and hopefully I didn’t ramble too much).

The definitions from this series of posts come from my psychology textbooks that I used in college.  My Abnormal Psychology textbook is the Hansell & Demour Abnormal Psychology (2nd edition).  Also of use was my textbook from my Personality class, which is the Larsen & Buss Personality Psychology (4th edition).  Obviously I also used my lecture notes from these classes, for which I thank my professors.  If you are interested in further reading into this topic I would highly suggest looking into both of those books.

The Future of Publishing?

I’m readily admit to being a nerd, and over the weekend while checking out Dan Wells’s website I came across a post originally written by David Farland talking about the future of publishing with his idea for enhanced books.  I’m going to copy the post here and then give my thoughts about it as well because I thought it was a really interesting topic.

David Farland, bestselling author of the Runelords series and others, is a good friend and a brilliant business-minded writer. He has a new book coming soon called Nightingale,and I’m happy to help promote it with a guest post today. Take it away, Dave! (This section was written by Dan Wells on his blog, the following part of the post in italics is Dave Farland’s original post.)

Right now, the publishing world is in turmoil. People are buying electronic books in huge numbers. In fact, it appears that as of today, more than fifty percent of all sales are electronic. This puts traditional paper book publishers in a bind. You see, most books earn only a modest profit. But if paper books are shipped to bookstores and then returned, they get destroyed, and thus don’t make any money at all. In fact, the publisher then goes into the hole on every book he publishes.

The losses right now are so large in the industry, that as one agent put it, “Nobody in New York wants to be in this business right now.” That’s why bookstore chains like Borders and major distributors like Anderson News have gone bankrupt.

So where do the publishers make up for those losses? By selling electronic books for the Kindle, Nook, iPad and similar devices. The problem is, so many electronic books will come out in the next year, according to Bowker’s Identifier Services (the guys who make the ISBNs that you see on the back of a book), that the market will be flooded with over three million new books.

Why? Because authors who couldn’t find agents or publishers last year are self-publishing their novels this year. I was talking to a bestseller last night who groused that in the past week, he’d run into three different “authors,” none of whom had sold more than fifty books, all of whom were self-published.

That creates a problem for readers. It means that we now have to try to figure out which of those novels are worth buying and reading and which should never have been published in the first place.

Some of those novels may look good on the outside. They might have cover quotes from the author’s friends. They might have gorgeous illustrations. But inside, maybe halfway through a book, you might find that the story falls apart.

In fact, a lot of criminals are out there right now trying to sell e-books which Tracy Hickman has labeled “Frankensteins.” These are novels stolen from bits of other novels and cobbled together in a way to look like a legitimate book. The “author” hopes to steal a couple of dollars from unwary readers. Sure, it’s not a lot of money, but in some countries, like Nigeria, a few dollars goes a long way. If there are no laws against it (and in some countries there aren’t), the thief doesn’t even have to worry about getting punished.

How are we going to combat crummy novels? How are we going to get past the Frankensteins? Ten years ago we had gatekeepers in the industry—literary agents and editors—who made sure that only the best novels got published. It’s true that the system was flawed, but at least there was a system.

So who are our new gatekeepers going to be?

The truth is that there will be new kinds of publishers. Right now, I’m starting a company with my partner Mile Romney, called East India Press. We’re going to published “enhanced novels.”

Enhanced books are text files, like regular books, but they also combine elements like film clips, music, video games, author interviews, audio files, illustrations, and animations. They’re part book, part movie, part game, perhaps. These books are then then sold electronically to be read on your iPad, phone, computer, and so on.

Are enhanced books the real future of publishing? There is good reason to think so. You see, making a beautiful book in this market will cost tens of thousands of dollars. That’s a bar to most wannabe authors. So money alone will limit the competition.

These new publishers will still have to establish their own credibility. They’ll have to select great books, create superior products, and develop a “brand” presence. In other words, you’ll want to read the books because of who the publisher is and what they represent.

A hundred years ago, that’s the way that books were bought in the first place. If you went to the bookstore, the books were ordered by publisher. You might pick through the piles and find that a certain editor liked the same kind of “science fictional stories” that you did, and that became the place that you visited over and over again.

There will be other ways to judge a book. It might come from an author with a long list of awards, or great cover quotes from independent review agencies, or maybe the fact that the book is a bestseller will give it a lot of credibility.

So I expect enhanced books to become the dominant art form for novels in the next two years, replacing and outselling simple e-books on the bestseller lists, and even outselling hardbacks and paperbacks within a couple of years. As my agent, Russell Galen put it, “Enhanced books are the entire future of publishing.”

Now, I’ve published some fifty books in science fiction and fantasy. I’ve won a number of awards and my books have been translated into thirty languages. I worked for years as the lead judge for one of the largest writing contest in the world. I’ve trained authors like Brandon Mull, Brandon Sanderson, and Stephenie Meyer who have gone on to become #1 international bestsellers.

So I know books. I know a good story when I see one, and I know how to fix a story when it needs fixing. Given this, and my own background as a novelist, videogame designer, and movie producer, it seemed like starting a new type of publishing company was a must.

In fact, I believe in this new medium so much, I’m even putting out my next novel through this publishing company. It’s called Nightingale, and tells the story of Bron Jones, a young man abandoned at birth and raised in foster care. He discovers that he’s not quite human, and suddenly finds himself at the center of international intrigue.

This is a model for the new publishing industry. I think it’s a great book, and I could have sold it through normal channels. But this is the best way to go. So we’re offering the book on our site at www.nightingalenovel.com. You can buy it on November 4 in hard cover, for your e-reader, or in enhanced mode for the more advanced e-readers, or we even have an emulator so that you can run it in enhanced mode on any computer. It also has a forty-five minute soundtrack, lots of art, optional notes from the author and other features. In the future we may add a game or trailers. I believe this is the way books–good books–will be done in the future. I invite you to check it out, and check out our new company, East India Press.

If you’re a writer, look into our short story writing contest while you’re there. You could win $1000. You can find out about more about the East India Press or the writing contest at www.EastIndiaPress.com.

Ok, still with me?  Good, here are my thoughts on the idea of the enhanced book as a response to me finding this post.

The enhanced novels are an interesting idea, but I don’t think that they will take over the majority of the marketplace within two years as Dave expects.  The problem right now is that we’re at a crossroad in terms of publishing.  I read a lot, and I still purchase and read exclusively paper books, I have an e-reader that my brother bought for me last Christmas and it’s currently collecting dust.  I don’t like the idea of trying to read a novel on a screen of any kind, I like having my books.

The ability of people to self-publish their own novels because of the abundance of e-readers in the market does create the problem of finding the few books worth reading through all the dross.  Because of this, the main publishing companies are still probably going to be viable methods of publishing because they have the reputation amongst reading as serving as the gatekeepers.  The idea of a ‘brand presence’ is really the basis for how we purchase nearly everything, especially if you don’t have any preference between different options, the brand is often what will sway your decision.

Many of the things that Dave mentions as being part of his Enhanced books are interesting, but not necessarily going to sway me to buy a book.  Is a film clip going to make me buy a book?  No, that is the reason that I don’t think book trailers are effective advertising methods, you’re mixing different mediums and trying to use a visual medium (film) to sell a non-visual method of storytelling (books).  The idea of illustrations and animations fall into the same area for me.  Mixing media doesn’t work for me.

Would a videogame based upon the game make me want to buy the game more?  If it was a good game it might be interesting to look at, but again you’re mixing mediums there.  Another part of the problem with a videogame for a book is that you’re crossing mediums.  While the number of people who both read books and play videogames may be increasing, I don’t know if it is all that high.  Personally I play mostly role-playing games that generally take anywhere from 30-80 hours to play.  Do I want to play a game that long for each book that I read?  No, I might as well just play games and not read the books at all.

Author interviews are interesting, but they’re not really a selling point to me.  There are a few authors that I will look up interviews for, but it’s because I really enjoy quite a few books that they’ve written, not just one book.

For music or other audio files, I don’t know.  I used to read while listening to music, but anymore I tend to find it distracting.  Other audio files that people might use for books would include what?  Pronunciation guides?  Samples of what the author hears as the character voices?  Again, neat ideas, but it’s not going to sell me a book.

With Enhanced Books there is also going to be a question of balance.  Is the book going to be the main focus?  Or is the videogame?  How much music is there going to be?  Is the music an original piece commissioned for the book or is it a previously existing work?  What happens when an author writes the book to be read in a certain time to the music (i.e. a performance by a character in the story) and I read faster or slower than the author intended?  Now I have to change my reading habits to fully experience the book the way the author intended because of how the music plays into the story.  What happens when a company decides that they want to put a lot of effort into every aspect of the enhanced book?  When will we see the monstrosity that is a fully developed video game for computer/PS3/Xbox along with a feature length movie (complete with a full score) and the book?  When this happens (and it will if these succeed) when is the hugely expensive enhanced book going to come out?  You’re not going to get a person who wants to read to spend $100 for the full package, and if they allow people to purchase the individual parts, people are only going to purchase the parts they want (the book people will buy the book, the moviegoers will buy the movie, and the gamers will buy the game).

So are enhanced books the future as Dave thinks?  I don’t know.  I think they will be a measurable portion of the market if not a very sizeable portion.  I don’t think traditional books will ever stop, what will probably happen with traditional books is that bookstores will continue to disappear.  I love Barnes & Noble and I purchase most of my books from them.  However, selling almost exclusively through Amazon eliminates one of the biggest expenses of a publisher for traditional books because the customer pays for the shipping expense.

I’m an avid reader and I will continue to watch all of my options for how to read.  As new options such as e-readers or enhanced books continue to become more popular the proportion of people reading hard copies of books will obviously decrease.  However, I don’t see physical books being completely phased out anytime soon.

Congratulations if you made it through all of that, I’d love to hear what you have to say on the issues of traditional publishing vs self-publishing electronic novels, enhanced books, or anything else this post made you think of.

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood

I haven’t been reading as much over the past couple of days, mostly because I started playing Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood.  Much like when I start reading a book, I tend to keep reading until I finish it, I tend to do the same thing when I start playing a videogame.

So here are my thoughts about Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, it’s an improvement over Assassin’s Creed 2, but still flawed.  This game obviously plays very similarly to Assassin’s Creed 2, but with some differences, the differences are all that I’m going to discuss here.

The first main difference is that about 1/2 through this game you can start training your own assassins.  Training them is a very hands off process, you send them on missions and after a few minutes they return having gained experience, as well as money and occasionally items for you.  They do make the game more fun at times because it’s easy to call your trainees to help during a fight or to assassinate several guards at once.

You also get a couple of new weapons in this game.  The one that you’ll use the most is your crossbow, which is almost unfair for certain sections of the game.  I don’t think I ever used Ezio’s gun (unless I was required to by a mission) once I had the crossbow.  I think my favorite new weapon (even though I didn’t use it as much) was the ability to shoot poison darts.  You got poison in the second game, but shooting poison darts is just fun.

Another new aspect is that you can get various items throughout the game.  This was kind of neat, but ultimately pointless.  You can sell them for a little bit of money, which I never really needed, or you can trade them for new equipment and other items from various shops.  The problem with trying to trade them is that it was impossible to actually look for certain items.  There was one item that I never found throughout the entire game despite doing many of the sidequests, and opening about 85% of the treasure boxes throughout the game.  So while it was kind of a nice addition to the game, it was ultimately pointless and irritating by the end of the game.

All said, the game had some nice new features, but ultimately had the same problems that the first two had.  While the combat is much improved, it’s still irritating when you have to fight 10+ guards at once.  It also irritated me when I was trying to run away from guards to hide and ended up having twice as many guards following me.  Trying to run away from the guards and hiding was more trouble than it was worth.  There were also several parts of the game that were incredibly frustrating.  Some of the platforming sections were very irritating to the point where I wanted to throw my controller through the wall (but as PS3 controllers cost about $60, I refrained).

In the end, I have to describe this game the same way I’ve described the other two, I’m glad that I played the game, but I’m never going to play it again.  Am I going to play the next game in the series?  Probably.  Am I going to be upset if I don’t, probably not.

Overall Grade

The Assassin’s Creed games are all good, but they have the potential to be brilliant.

6/10

Assassin’s Creed 2

Being unemployed at the moment after graduating from college in May, I have an awful lot of free time on my hands, meaning I bowl two nights a week, I work two nights a week, and pretty much the rest of my time is my own.  As such I’ve been tearing through a ton of books (I think I’m up to about 20 since the beginning of June) and for the past couple of days I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed 2 for the PS3.  I’m going to do a review for the game here, and to do it I’m going to modify my book review structure.

Characters

You play as Ezio Auditore de Firenze (spellcheck in wordpress doesn’t like his name very much) who is an assassin in renaissance Italy.  The game begins with him being fairly young and you follow as he grows up and seeks revenge on those who killed his family (yes its a spoiler, but it happens about 25-30 minutes into the game, so it’s not a bad spoiler).  He was an interesting if not terribly deep character, but you read books for character development, you play games to control the action.

Setting

The game begins in Florence, and you’ll spend some time in a couple of smaller towns and then the next large part of the game is in Venice and then finally you finish the game in Rome.  All of the cities are huge but at times it was frustrating going through some of the extra stuff having to backtrack over the huge cities over and over again.

Plot

The plot for this game is fairly simple, the revenge plot for Ezio.  However, the game also deals with Desmond from the first game (in modern times, experiencing his ancestor’s past through the animus machine) and it’s something that I’m not going to get into because it would spoil too much to discuss it.

Controls

The gameplay is very smooth, but at times it can be frustrating.  There were countless times when I was trying to run along a path and Ezio would jump slightly off the path that I wanted him to go on.  In some cases, this caused me to fall off the building that I was on, setting me back a bit.  There were also several times where I would be trying to jump a certain way and he would run up a wall, this was very irritating by the end of the game.

My biggest complaint about the controls and the game in general was the fighting.  While it was slightly improved from the first game, that’s really not saying much.  Yes this game is about assassinations, and many of your goals in the game are about staying hidden right until the moment when you kill your target.  There are also many times when you have to fight as many as 10 or 12 enemies at once and your only way of fighting them in to wait and counterattack them as they attack you.  This is irritating especially later in the game when you fight different types of enemies who require you to use different weapons (for example, many of the enemies using swords or maces you can kill easily with your sword, however, some of the enemies later in the game use lances or have heavy armor and for these enemies the easiest way to kill them is you use your fists and steal their weapon and then kill them with their own weapon).

Enjoyment

So many parts of this game were absolutely brilliant, sadly, there was just too much in the game.  Along with the assassinations for the main plot, there are also about 350 treasures throughout the game that each have a small amount of money in them.  This is helpful early on but completely pointless by the end of the game, where you have more money than you could possibly spend.  There are also dozens of other side missions in the game.  This game would have been better with about 1/3 of the number of these missions, because with all of them it just ended up being way too much for the game.  Another odd thing about the game is that I was able to acquire the ultimate armor before I could buy all of the pieces of armor in the set before it.  There were also a couple of times during the game where I was getting really pissed off at the game and it took a fair amount of willpower to not throw my controller through the TV.  Another part of the game deals with restoring your family household.  This requires a fair amount of money throughout the game but you are rewarded because your estate gives you money every 20 minutes of gameplay.  This is a nice change, but again once you’re about 1/2 through the game you’ll have everything fully restores and you just spend the rest of the game collecting money.  My last complaint is that too many characters just disappear throughout the story only to reappear at the end for a very contrived part of the story just before your last assassination.

Overall Grade

Brilliance at times, but there is too much in the game if you have any plans on trying to get everything in the game.  If they had cleaned up a couple of the mechanics more and cut the extracurricular parts of the game to 1/3 of what they were in the final version it would have been a much stronger game.  As it is, much like with the first Assassin’s Creed, I’m glad I played it, but I don’t see myself ever going back and playing it again.

7/10

Final Fantasy 4: The After Years

Just finished going through FF4:TAY a while ago and felt like posting my thoughts on it here.  It’s my blog, you can’t stop me, try it =P

Anyway, as I said in my post a couple weeks ago about distractions from reading, FF4 is my single favorite game of all time.  The Complete Collection for PSP has the original game as well as the episodic After Years collection.  The original game is amazing and I don’t think it really needed an after story, but I’m still glad that they made it and also glad that I played through it.

I think of all of the Final Fantasy games, 4 probably has the best overall battle system.  In the original you use about 12 different characters, and at the time that you have them each character has their own specialty and reason for being in the party.  As much as I enjoy some of the later FF games, there really isn’t any difference between the characters you choose from and your final party is just a matter of who you like.  The final 5 characters in this game all have their own specialties and the balance between them is fantastic.

The interlude part of this game, which is new to this version and hadn’t been released previously.  I think the only reason this was even in the game is just so they could say there was brand new content in the collection.  It really didn’t add anything to the story, and it was annoying to play through.

The After Years is another issue altogether.  There are a total of 10 different short stories and most of them can be completed in 2-3 hours, although the final one took me about 12 hours to complete.  The difficulty for all of the stories was fairly consistent and they were fun to play through as well as interesting stories for all of the characters.  Essentially every character who had a name in the original game has a part in at least 1 of the stories in TAY.  The first story is that of Ceodore, who is the son of Cecil and Rosa.  After that we have stories focusing on Rydia, Yang, Palom, Edge, Poron, Edward, Kain, the Lunarians, and The Crystals (which is the final one with a compilation of all the other characters).

There were obviously some stories that I liked more than others, and I’m sure that everyone has their own opinions for the best ones.  I think I enjoyed Palom’s story the most.  His was the story of training another mage in the use of black magic and while it might have been irritating at times using just two mages and no fighting characters, it was still fun and Palom is a wonderful character.  Porom’s story was irritating as it was really an extension of both Palom’s and Kain’s stories and less of her own.

I enjoyed The After Years, it was fun to go back through and play through another story with characters that I like.  Rydia is probably my favorite character from any game that I’ve ever played, and I enjoyed the other characters as well.

My only criticism of the game, is that it’s essentially fan-fiction for the characters and the series as a whole.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because the characters are fun.  Towards the end of the game, several of the bosses that you fight are notable bosses from other FF games.  While the game introduces several new characters, the main story arc was for Kain from the first game rather than for any new character.  This is again a major point of fan-fic as Kain was a cool character in the original who they decided to give his shining moment in this game.

As much as FF4 is brilliant an didn’t need TAY to make me buy yet another version of the game, it was still fun to see the characters again.  Good game, and now I can get back to focusing on my reading and trying to find a job.

I’m gonna call this a review so that I can put it in a category, so here are the final scores:

FF4 10/10

Brilliant game with wonderful characters that you can play through dozens of times (as I have)

Interlude 2/10

Short, irritating, and irrelevant to the overall story.  You can play it because it won’t take long to get through.  The only reason to go through this is because it apparently unlocks some of the bonus features for the game.

The After Years 7/10

Fan-fic that got released as a game, but it’s still fun and worth playing.

Distractions from reading…..

I think I’ve put in a couple of posts that I’ve had to delay finishing a book because I’ve had to leave for bowling for the night.  This is one of the things that has a tendency to distract me from reading, unfortunately I found one of the other things that can distract me earlier today as well.

Final Fantasy 4

Just like a book that you’ve reread dozens of times, or a movie that you watch constantly, this game is the one game that can drag me back into playing video games yet again for 3 to 4 hours a day.  I have played through this game more times than I can remember, and with a quick count I think I’ve purchased at least 4 different versions of this game (with the PSP version being the most recent purchase).

One of the best things that books can do is show you interesting characters in interesting situations.  This game does all of that just as well as many books that I’ve read and in some cases better than in some books that I’ve read.  No matter how many times I witness Cecil overcoming his Dark Knight past to become a Paladin it’s still a great scene, and this game has one of my favorite characters of all time in Rydia, the summoner who loses her family early on but finds her own strength later in the story.

The only game that I may have played more than this one is Final Fantasy Tactics, but even then I think I quit paying attention to the story some time ago as I started going through and doing random character challenges as opposed to playing through the game normally.

I love this game and it will continue to distract from my reading for a little bit in the upcoming weeks, but I’m almost done with all of my school stuff (I have one more test that matters, and one more paper to write and then I’m graduating) so I’ll be able to get back to tearing through my books pretty soon.  And in the meantime I get to enjoy my favorite story that is told through the video game medium one more time.