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  Annual Verses 10:49 AM -- Sat July 29, 2006  

First of all, I just got a new PS2! It's the new slim model, which is hardly bigger than a DVD case. It's adorable. I got it because my old one is 5 years old, and I'm really really tired of cracking the case open every week or so and adjusting the laser by hand to get it to play. Sure, I could hold out for a PS3, but you know what? $500? I'm not buying into that generation. Sony royally blew this console generation. I doubt there will be a PS4. I got my PS2 as an engagement gift. My wife got a platinum emerald ring, and I got a PS2. I think I got the better deal!

And thus, this is our 4th anniversary! So we were talking about knowing each other, and I knew her favorite movie was The Princess Bride, so I asked her what mine was. She didn't know. But that was okay, because I don't either. I have since been contemplating in the shower, and while I do not know what my favorite movie is, I would like to tell you what movies I like. They fall into 3 categories, and a single movie that does not fit those categories:

1 - Ridiculously stupid comedies. Zoolander, Mystery Men (notice the Ben Stiller trend), Anchorman, Elf (a Will Ferrell trend!), The Hebrew Hammer. Yes, I do really like Mystery Men. I know it's too long, but it's really funny.

2 - Movies that are action, comedy, or something else that pulls you in (i.e. not preachy boring blabber betwixt victorian gents and ladies), but beneath that is hiding a really complex and interesting message or discussion. Something to really talk about after and decipher the meaning of. The Matrix, Fight Club, Dogma. Really big messages, but not preachy, and no melodramatic swells of music as someone sobs in a cornfield.

3 - There's an inappropriate term for these movies that I can't say here. Let's say they're "Mind-mess-up" movies. Twists and turns, shock endings. They don't make you think about some deep topic, they just make you think about the movie itself. Sixth Sense of course, Signs, Identity. Probably this is my favorite 'genre' if it is one. I like to be surprised. It's a hard one to do right.

And lastly, the one movie that I really loved that doesn't fit any of those categories. I love it for reasons I thought I left behind when I was 17 or 18, but apparently, it's still a valid reason. I'm just harder to impress than I was. I love this movie not for deep thought or hilarious comedy, but simply for the "wow, that was cool" of incredibly amazing violence. That's a horrible reason, but if you see this movie, you'll know why, and you'll know that there has never been another movie like it. Equilibrium! It's just a spectacle (with a good plot, messages, all that stuff). On a similar note, I enjoyed (but definitely don't consider a favorite) the movie One (Jet Li) for the same reasons. It wasn't nearly as amazing, but it had some effects that were just really enjoyable to see.

So I still don't know my favorite, but I like those ones, and others like them. Oh, and not really befitting any of those categories, I like Quentin Tarantino movies (Jackie Brown the most, and not Kill Bill much at all, blah). Of course I also like Jackie Chan, Bruce Campbell, MST3K, and bad horror movies. But those things don't go on the top. Oh, speaking of kung fu, Shaolin Soccer... that goes right on top. It's definitely one of my absolute favorites, but not for any of the 3 category reasons. Dang, those categories are just falling apart. Oh well, I like movies.
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  Sneak Peek Someday 09:09 PM -- Tue July 25, 2006  

Yeah yeah, you'll get one someday.

In the meantime, I had some thoughts today that I thought were quite unique and cool. Skills in an RPG - MMO or not MMO, though the second idea could only really apply to an MMO. Both of these kind of work together to create a game system where skills are very important and widely varied and an integral part of the game's lore instead of just a bunch of ways to shoot things.

#1 - Local Learning. When the game begins, you're in NewbieTown and you can learn one of a couple really basic sets of skills. By the way, all skills in the game are broken into small related sets of maybe 5 skills. So in NewbieTown, you could learn maybe Basic Brawling, Low Magic, Slinging (considering that the bottom end of archery-type stuff), something like that. Once you've progressed through Newbietown a bit, you get the option to proceed outward in maybe 3 or 4 directions. From those new places, you fight along and can go to a few more. So the world would have a bunch of variety (I'm thinking of the wonderful world of WoW, where depending on your race, you have a whole new beginning to the game, which is something I really like), letting you proceed along the path you choose. But it's more than a path! Where you go also determines what you can learn, like in reality. If you head into the Northlands, where of course every game has Viking-style barbarian types, you can learn Berserker skills or Shaman skills (winter type magic, I suppose). Head into the coast and you can learn Pirate skills, Voodoo, that kind of thing. In the end, your character is limited to 5 or so skill sets total, so once you've gone through a bunch of these, you've defined your character based on your travels (though you could be a magical type, or a warrior, or thief, or whatever mix, but the flavor of skills would depend on your travels). I really like this idea, though it obviously takes a very large world to be functional. You'd have to have huge portions of the game that the player would never see on an individual run-through. Very appropriate for an MMO!

#2 - High Arts. This only works for an online game, I would say. Imagine if there were very advanced skills in the game, which we will call High Arts. Like in Kung Fu movies, there are super deadly techniques that nobody knows except the great master, or in RPGs, there's one wizard who can create the Great Portal. Stuff like that. To learn these skills, you go through an epic series of quests into very deadly territory, all of which is very well hidden so most people won't find it. Now, for game balance reasons, lethal kung fu strikes might be a problem. But the ancient art of opening portals to shortcut between certain places, that wouldn't be unbalancing. It'd just be really nice to have! Anyway, if you learn a High Art, you are warned about it - if you ever tell anyone the secret, then the art will be taken away from you! And that's exactly how it works: if the developers ever discover that you have leaked info on how to get the art or how to use it, they disable those skills on your character. A fun little mesh of reality and fiction, where you can pay the in-game price for out-of-game tomfoolery. And a way to actually implement some real secrets in the game. Sure, they'd still end up leaking out, and probably quickly, but maybe they'd change how you obtain them every so often (simple changes like moving the hidden guy who starts the whole quest series), so the leaks wouldn't be as bad. People wouldn't want to share if they knew it'd mean they'd have to start a new character to get the skills again, and maybe wouldn't even be able to, since it might change. A lot of the arts could become almost legends ("I saw a guy turn into a giant dragon!") since unlike other skills, they wouldn't be plastered all over FAQ pages. Okay, they probably would. Sigh. Weird idea, rather tough to actually implement, and probably one that would make players mad. My kind of thinking.

RPG stuff, that's what I think about these days. I just got Champions Of Norrath for the PS2. It's so much like Loonyland 2, it's weird. I keep noticing similarities. They even have the same ring of spells (although they implemented it the way I originally did in LL2, where you hold a direction to highlight one of 8 spells, instead of how it is now, where you rotate it). So don't think I ripped them off. I had all this stuff first! Now I don't recall what other similarities I noticed, but I swear there were many. It feels kind of similar, which is very odd to say if you look at it.
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  Water, Earth, Lightning, and Fire 01:04 PM -- Thu July 20, 2006  

So it's been a long time since journaling has occurred. What can I say?

* I just got a call from my wife who got a call from her friend telling her the story of the cruise they just went on (not my wife- her friend and her friend's husband). Apparently the steering computer turned it too sharply and it tipped right over! Yikes. Never trust a computer. They got their entire trip reimbursed, and didn't get injured, and the tipping was just 10 miles from their final destination, so it's all good for them (not so good for the people who were apparently thrown through windows in the process). Quite a story.

* Our garden is doing nicely. We have some reasonably tall corn all covered with tassels and things. It probably won't be too great, since it tasselled out when it was about thigh-high, but we'll see! There's definitely corn on it. Our garden fence, which extends slightly into the ground as a shield against digging, is working well at confounding the rabbits. But gophers are not impeded at all. The bean plants have been disappearing day by day. Some are gnawed down to tiny nubs, while others have been sucked under and vanished, just like in a cartoon. They were huge plants too, it's pretty sad, and they were making lots of beans. The zucchinis have been growing amazingly (after picking the first huge pile of them, it was pointed out that nobody at our house likes zucchini, which makes me wonder on Sol's reason for getting them!). The cantaloupes and watermelons are all shaping up great, but I'm really not sure when a watermelon is ready. They look perfect, but small. Either they'll grow bigger, or they'll crack and be ruined like the ones we grew at our old house. Tomatoes are doing great - they seem to be the easiest thing in the world to grow. In fact, we have about 10 of them that we didn't even plant. They just came up from seeds in our compost (several cantaloupes too, which are making fruit!). The strawberries all died but one, which almost died, but has come back and now has several berries on it. The raspberries are slowly growing as well, not doing anything too exciting. Oh, and the jalapenos are doing nicely, and the bell peppers are growing, but seem to be too overshadowed by the tomatoes to do well. That's garden news.

* We have finished installing an electric fence around our property, and so at last the dogs can run free(ish). They actually jumped over the fence the very first day. Oh, they got shocked. They just didn't care. They were closer to the top than the bottom when they got shocked, so they continued over. One challenge with it is that it cycles on and off in 1 second intervals, so that gave them, depending on timing, as much as a whole second to touch the wire with no effect. So we've moved the wire down in the corner they like to jump, hoping they'll touch it sooner and give up. We've also strung some non-electric wire across that corner just to make a physical barrier. They really seem to like that corner. Since then, they have not tried to escape again, and have been extremely happy to run free(ish) like in the good old days.

* There was a fire! It was about 1/4-1/2 mile from our house (always hard to tell). Scary. We got the stuff that was important all ready to go just in case it turned and came at us. It was a really small fire in the end, about 20 acres I think. But seeing those big plumes of smoke, and then seeing actual flames - that looked taller than the houses around them - was cause for concern. We've since gone by the site. It looks like a wasteland, all dead sticks poking out of black ground. No houses were even touched, but it burned into some peoples' yards. That was a nice thing to see - that this fire went right between a bunch of houses, and none of them were so much as scorched. The fire dept has good priorities, and they did a good job. We live in a lovely land of earthquakes and wildfires. Hey, no tornadoes or hurricanes!

* Yes, I AM working on Loonyland 2. It's movin'. This is probably the most complex game I've ever made. There's just so much stuff! Supreme is much bigger, but that's just because it has all those levels and monsters. This game has many more things that actually are a part of the code, interacting and needing to be dealt with. Once the framework of Supreme was down, you could just crank out levels with the editor and enjoy. This game, everything's got to be tied into all the quests and skills and all. It's a lot to juggle. I thought it would be quick and easy, but it's possible I was mistaken. It's far past the halfway point, at least.
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  Sneak Peek: Loonyland II: Winter Woods 01:56 PM -- Fri July 7, 2006  

It's been a while! There's a ton of new stuff in the game now. This shot here is, as the corner suggests, The Toy Factory. You had to know you'd end up in one of those eventually, right? This is kind of the finale of the first third of the game in a way. Once you finish the Toy Factory, you get a choice of how to proceed next, so the middle third of the game actually has two different paths to it, which come together for the final third. Guess you'll just have to play the game twice!

One thing that's happened a few times and made a big difference is that Sol has played the game from the beginning, a couple times, while I took notes. This has led to a lot of changes and improvements in the subtle things that make it more understandable and playable.

On the more major side, there's been a bunch of new additions to expand the gameplay options. I've doubled the number of magical powers that items might have, and now instead of them all being fairly weak, there's another tier of powers that are much rarer, which are of course more powerful. Then there are 'cursed' items (doesn't call them that in the game, but I do), which aren't necessarily bad at all. They just have both a plus and a minus. The plus is always bigger than the minus, but they are something for specific character types. For instance, a wizardly type player would be happy to get an axe that does less damage, but gives them more spell power, while a warrior type would find it useless. Things like that.

There are also more options to the equipment even when it's not magical. Parkas no longer just offer Armor, they also affect your maximum Stamina. Amulets now both raise your maximum Magic and increase the damage of your spells. So you have more to consider with equipment. The nightmare there was the fact that it increased the number of names for non-magical gear from 5 parkas and 5 amulets to 25 of each (which is how many there are for axes). It took a while to come up with all those names, and they're not all that explanatory. Like how powerful is a Jade Amulet? Well, it gives +5 or 6 to your magic, and 15 or 20% to your spell damage. Almost as good as a Ruby one! Nobody will ever remember that (I had to look it up myself), but at least having all those names gives it variety.

I also added a whole new category of equipment - magic lenses for your glasses. You combine them in pairs to get different magical effects. Lenses vary in rarity, and thus of course power, so the combo you make can be as weak as +1 Stamina all the way up to ... good things you'll have to discover.

Another major change just yesterday was to Stamina and Life. I moved it to gaining 2 Life per level instead of 1, so I beefed up the enemies accordingly. That will make it much harder to reduce all enemies to just doing 1 damage per hit, without making you die too much more easily, and it will also mean the beginning of the game is easier, which has been a problem. Lots of dying in the beginning. For Stamina, it's no longer limited by your current life. As clever as that was, it made it too punishing - when you got injured and were close to death, you also couldn't attack very much. So your Stamina has its own maximum now, and you lose Stamina when you get hit (not max Stamina, just current). It's kind of like a non-magical Magic meter, fueling your attacks. It reloads much more quickly than Magic does, but you go through it a lot faster too, since you attack so often. It's also easier to upgrade its rate of recharge. Oh, and the other big thing to Stamina now, that makes it a lot more interesting than it was (I'm kind of a statistics geek) - the Stamina cost of attacking is now equal to the damage of your attack (plus whatever extra costs your skills require). So what happens is, you may not want to use the most powerful weapon available, because you just won't be able to swing it enough. But later, as you upgrade your stamina amount, stamina recharge, and your Axe Mastery (or Throwing... the skills that decrease the cost of attacking in your chosen way), the bigger weapons become a more reasonable choice. I'm pretty happy with that system.

Okay, so anyway, back to the screenshot, there's new interface trickery! Note that the level name has moved over to the right side, and now all 3 meters are on the left side. And small! What's that about? Well, for one, Sol insisted, endlessly, that the Magic meter had to be over with the other meters. So there's that. But also, see how the life meter is much taller than the other two? That's a weird new thing I invented. The lower a meter gets, the taller it gets. When your life is full, it's as skinny as those other two. As you get injured, it gets bigger, making it stand out to your eye more (it also flashes when very low, because it's important). The idea is simple: you don't need to see your meter if it's full, but if you're almost out, it's important information. I think it works pretty well, but it's only been in since yesterday. We'll see. I've never heard of this idea before, so I better patent it or something, and start collecting royalties. I think it's pretty clever.

So there you go, with a highly technical and really long Sneak Peek. More to come someday.
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  The Toastmaster General 09:54 PM -- Thu July 6, 2006  

Okay, so I got City Of Heroes downloaded, and I played! I say these things to you now:

1. Best character creator EVER. There's just no words for it. Every player looks completely different, and each has their own unique style. It's even fun to just wander around in the city, clicking on other players to read their bios (there's space to write a bio for your character) and see what they did with it. The only righteously bad downfall to it is that you pick your powers, spend a half hour or so designing your looks (it's pure addiction!), then you pick your name... and only once you say you're ready to begin do you find out whether or not your name is already taken. So you spend forever designing a great character, like say Kitty Chaos, only to find it's taken, and you have to tweak to go with a new name. The whole point of the costume is to go along with your name, so it's truly ridiculous that you can't check to see if your name is available before committing the whole thing. My favorite character I made is The Toastmaster General, a fire blaster of course, name thunk up by Sol Hunt, and best name ever at that. He looks like a general, only fiery. I can't believe that name wasn't already taken! We tried to make our plant-looking character be called The Wallflower, but that was taken. Similarly, Agent Red had to become Agent Rojo, and the aforementioned Kitty Chaos became Master Kitty. Disappointing. The Tornado Kid had to become "The Tornado Kid.", because I wasn't about to give up that name! I also had to turn The Doormat (a guy who spent so long getting walked all over by everyone that he just got used to it, and is now invincible - he has a big bullseye on his chest) into The Doormatt, making his real name have to change to Matthew to suit it. Can you believe someone else came up with The Doormat first?

2. It does not feel superheroic to play this game. In fact, it's like they went out of their way to make you feel like a low-ranking beat cop instead. First of all, you get very much led around and sent on missions, so it's like you're a lackie for a larger organization - not heroic. Secondly, the missions they give you initially at least are nicely suited to your level - you smash up a bunch of level 1 and 2 badguys. Problem is, the mission entrances are located in the middle of dangerous zones of level 5 and 6 badguys (one level is a big difference in this game). So this mighty superhero ends up sneaking and running around and away from purse snatchers to get to his mission. That's the biggest kicker to it, really. On the one hand, it's really cool that instead of thugs randomly sitting around like monsters do in other games, the thugs here are actually stealing women's purses. It really makes you want to go after them, even if they are too low level to be worth any experience. On the other hand, what kind of superhero can't take on a purse snatcher?? There's lots of other little things to the game that just pull you out of superheroism. Later in the game it appears to get better, as you become able to fly or super-speed run, but initially, it's more like being a mage in a regular game. You just shoot fireballs at enemies that are just as strong as you. I think that was a design flaw (although maybe necessary for network code reasons) - if you want to make little thugs harmful to a superhero, make him plow through 50 at a time! Then at high levels, supervillains and giant robots.

3. I like it. I'm addicted. But it's really a minimal game. Unlike every other game in the world (possibly excluding Frogger), there's no equipment to collect. You just level up and improve your powers. Well, there are 'enhancements', but there's no surprises to them. It's like if an RPG had only one kind of armor, Chain Mail, and the only difference between different suits was their armor value. And further, you could only use armor values of -3 to +3 your level. So rather than wondering what exciting new stuff you were going to find, you just cross your fingers and hope to stumble across Chain Mail of (mylevel)+3. Totally uninteresting. And yet the game isn't uninteresting. For some reason, I kept wanting to light badguys on fire. I think it will get old quick, though. Already at level 8, the leveling has become painfully slow. Hopefully it will get old quicker than my very little bit of remaining trial time.

4. I'm going on a trip! Augh! I'm going to miss 4 of the last 5 days of my free trial!! Good thing I have an extra trial code. I'll save that for later. After Loonyland 2 is done.

And that's the news from Paragon City. I have actually been working on Loonyland too, don't be fooled by my apparent urban heroism. It's looking good. I should probably put up a sneak peek tomorrow for your viewing pleasure.
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