Let us cleanse these foul streets. Fear the blood.

I'm not a big cosplayer (yet), but I'm also no stranger to cosplay. Many years ago, a friend of mine helped me put together a Pyramid Head cosplay for an anime convention. I was pretty pleased with the result. I tried to be as accurate to the Silent Hill 2 video game as possible, but at the time, it was difficult to find decent reference images at the fidelity necessary to get a good idea of what materials to use and so forth. Nowadays, however, Konami has granted licenses to toy companies that have gone on to make numerous statues and figures. So any would-be Pyramid Head cosplayer now has plenty of reference material. Lucky them...

Years ago, I made a Pyramid Head costume [LEFT] without all the figures and references [RIGHT] that I have now.

For the most part, however, I didn't do much cosplay (and wasn't much into costumes in general). Over the past few years, however, I've been getting more into costumes. Part of this is because I started buying swords from ren faire, and wanted excuses to wield them. Another reason is that my girlfriend has a friend who hosts a pirate-themed Memorial Day party every year at his lake house in California, and we make the drive out there to attend -- costume required!

We attend an annual Memorial Day pirate party -- costumes required!

Another factor is that we have a six year old girl running around the house who just completed kindergarten, and she's getting into arts and crafts. Which means that my girlfriend and I have to get into arts and crafts as well, and we need projects for her (and us) to do.

Currently, we lack the time, energy, and skill to make full cosplay from scratch, so we're still stuck making small modifications to costumes that we buy. Though I'm looking forward to getting my hands on some warbla and seeing what I can do with it! We've also moved on to crafting accessories for the costumes.

This year, we bought tickets to a local comic book convention, and my proxy daughter wanted to attend in costume. So my girlfriend created a homemade Harley Quinn costume for her. As for us adults, we decided to go with Bloodborne costumes.

Hunter and Doll costumes

I started out by buying a (rather expensive) Bloodborne hunter costume off of eBay. I had just received a large bonus check from my former job and had some extra discretionary money to treat myself. I had been laid off in November (along with everybody else I worked with in the local office), and had forgotten about the annual bonus payments. So the money came as a pleasant surprise, and I decided to splurge by purchasing this costume. This costume can also be purchased from other sources, such as Amazon, but I chose eBay because sellers were selling it for much cheaper...

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Final Fantasy XV - title

I really don't know what to make of Final Fantasy XV. On the one hand, the game is trying to do something new and kind of interesting with the long-stale open world formula. I desperately want to be able to celebrate the game for these new ideas. That being said, the game just completely blunders so much of its fundamental design, and it tramples on many of these promising new ideas by falling back on too many of the very same tropes that have killed so many other open world games.

The obvious common criticism of the game is that it's got too much of the player just sitting in the car waiting. You don't even have to drive the damned thing, as you can set one of the NPCs in your entourage to do all the driving for you. And even if you do decide to take the wheel, the car drives itself. You just press the gas, and the car automatically steers itself to stay on the road. You can't even turn off of the road even if you want to.

You know what? I'm actually OK with that.

Final Fantasy XV - reading in the car
I actually don't mind the long drives, as I can catch up on some reading along with Gladiolus

A nostalgic road trip adventure

You see, having such restrictive travel mechanics actually forces the player to think more about how you're going to navigate the world. While in the car, you are confined to the game's roads and highways. You can't just point the car directly at your objective marker and drive off-road in a straight line to get there. You're also limited to traveling during the daylight hours, and you have to make sure that you budget the time and money to stop for gas and lodgings. There's a genuine amount of logistical planning required for accomplishing virtually any task in this game. You have to think about traversing this world in the same manner that the characters would have to think about it! This is a role-playing game, after all, isn't it? So these travel mechanics are actually pretty clever ways of putting the player in a role-playing mindset and giving you a game to play when you're outside of combat.

I get the feeling that Square-Enix wanted Final Fantasy XV to emulate being on a road trip. You spend large chunks of time sitting in the car driving across the countryside, passing rest stops, scenic overlooks, and roadside diners. You stop every so often to admire the view, take a walk through nature, or chat with the locals. When the sun sets, you are pressured to find a motel to bunk in, or to set up a camp site if you happen to be on foot.

For brief periods of time, this game hits a very serene high in which you start to feel like you're really in this world and with these people, as they sit bored in the car, or eat dinner over a campfire while going over the photos that they took of the day's adventure. It's the same sort of feeling that No Man's Sky hits in its early hours, when you're still awestruck by the sheer size and scope of the new planets you set foot on. Having been someone who used to take annual road trips with my family to visit national parks around the country, seeing a video game try to simulate and systemize that activity (and the human bonding that it engenders) is genuinely endearing and makes me more than a little bit nostalgic.

Final Fantasy XV - camping
This game makes me nostalgic for the summer camping trips of my youth.

Mundane video game adventure

But then, much like No Man's Sky, Final Fantasy XV shatters that experience by forcing you back into "video game land". It isn't the long stretches of non-interactive driving through a video game vacation that bothers me. Instead, I'm bothered by the sheer tediousness of the mundane fetch quests and busy-work that the game throws at you. You see, a road trip -- and an adventure in general -- only really works if you're always traveling towards a destination. This is a feeling that Final Fantasy X completely nailed!...

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017 01:22 PM

Guest-hosting Polycast episode 283

in Video Gaming by MegaBearsFan

PolyCast logo

This past weekend, I was once again honored to be invited onto the Polycast podcast about the Civilization games. This was my third time on the show since the release of Civilization VI (back in November). Those two episodes were focused more about initial impressions of the game. This time, we got to have some more substantive discussions.

The 1-hour archive of the episode can be streamed from civcomm.civfanatics.com/polycast/polycast/season9/episode223.mp3:

This archived episode is edited down to 1 hour (from a 2-hour recording), so not all the following topics may be included in this particular episode. The remaining topics may be included in later episodes, so be sure to check back at Polycast.net if you want to hear it all!

The bulk of our discussions were focused around a handful of Civfanatics forum topics regarding criticisms and suggestions for enhancing the district mechanics. The first thread was about users' ideas for possible districts in any inevitable expansion for the game. This gave me an opportunity to link back to a previous blog that I had written about my own ideas for new districts (and other ways to make better use of the game's map). Ideas from other users ranged from new districts focused around diplomacy and envoy-generation, to railroad hub districts, a fortress / castle district, espionage district, and (of course) a canal district. Other users pitched the idea of stacking multiple districts into a single tile. This idea seemed unfavorable to the Polycast hosts (as well as myself), as it generally undercuts the fact that "unstacking" cities was a core design philosophy of Civ VI. However, it is worth pointing out that "unstacking" units was the core design philosophy of Civ V, but Civ VI added limited stacking back into the series. So back-pedaling on a philosophy of unstacking is not without precedent.

Civilization VI - Russian A.I. district placement
Russia is pretty much the only A.I. that places its districts well, due to its free extra border expansion.

The next topic was a thread about removing districts. The general consensus seemed to be that we were all in favor of having a city project to remove or relocate districts, if -- for nothing else -- but to relocate poorly-placed districts in captured A.I. cities. The last forum topic discussion was about user dunkleosteus' ideas about rethinking districts. I think we all agreed that the poster's ideas seemed to be far too complicated, but there are some ideas of merit in there. Having more options for further specializing districts and cities would be fine, and we'd all like to see more bonuses based on nearby districts and the map so that district placement doesn't feel quite so ... mechanical...

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Wonder Woman movie poster

In their single-midned insistence on making all of their movies about epic showdowns between the superheroes and some big bad guy, the DC movies have consistently failed at depicting their heroes as having any particular desire or inclination to actually help people. This is perhaps the greatest failing of the Zack Snyder / Henry Cavill Superman movies and the greatest strength of the classic Richard Donner / Christopher Reeve Superman films: Snyder's / Cavill's Superman seems to treat saving people as a begrudging chore that he's obligated to do; whereas the classic Donner / Reeve Superman put on a charming smile and went out there to do good for the sake of doing good, simply because he is capable of doing good.

Well now, DC seems to have finally realized that the primary role of its superheroes is to be idealistic saviors and protectors. For the first time in the DCEU movies, our hero shows the idealistic optimism and desire to help people and do good that has been the trademark of the classic Superman films and the Spider-Man films (heck, even Amazing Spider-Man 2 got that right). But in this case, our hero isn't Superman or Spider-Man; our hero is Wonder Woman.

I actually don't mind the darker aesthetic and tone that DC has adopted for its movies. The problem so far has been that those movies have been dark and poorly-written and thought-out. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, is a much brighter movie (both in terms of visuals and thematic tone), and benefits from much tighter writing. The script is solid and tightly-themed, Wonder Woman has a full and nuanced character arc, the performances are good, the action looks slick, and (most importantly) it's easy to follow along with what's happening.

The biggest failing of the Zack Snyder / Henry Cavill Superman is that he seems to be begrudgingly helping people,
instead of happily doing good for the sake of doing good (as in the Richard Donner / Christopher Reeves Superman).

Gal Gadot provides a great performance that proves that her stealing the show in Batman v Superman wasn't just a fluke or a simple sign of how bad the rest of that movie was. She actually works well in this role and is almost as charming a Wonder Woman as Christopher Reeve was at being Superman. The supporting cast mostly works, and this is probably the best role that I've seen for Chris Pine to date. Some of the secondary characters are a bit under-written and lack screen time, but everyone (no matter how minimal their screen-time) has a role to play that helps shape Diana as a character. There's no superfluous characters like Louis Lane in either of Snyder's Superman movies. The only exception being, maybe, Steve Trevor's secretary, who actually deserved a lot more screen-time that she received.

Even Doctor Poison seemed to have a little bit of complexity and nuance to her character. She does suffer from some poor, underwritten motivation, as the movie never really seemed to go too deep into why she's doing what she's doing. But it's definitely apparent that there's something going on under the surface, beyond simply being manipulated by higher forces. The closest that I could figure is that she has some kind of relationship with General Ludendorff and is blindly loyal to him, but she at least wasn't a bad guy for the sake of being a bad guy.

Hits and misses

The only major weakness of Wonder Woman, as a movie, is that it's a bit of an uneven work. It's broken down into a readily discernible three-act structure. The first act is great, the second act is okay, and the third act sinks towards the DC stamp of terribleness. The unfortunate thing about this is that I walked out of the theater with a bad taste in my mouth, even though the movie was still mostly pretty good. So far, DC's movies have all started out mediocre and progressed towards terrible by the end. Wonder Woman, however, starts out good and starts to sink in the direction of bad at the very end. Which, I guess is a big improvement.

Wonder Woman - emerging from the trenches
Act II concludes with Wonder Woman getting her first real "hero shot" in the movie.

The first act, set on the island of the Amazons, is colorful and vibrant. It's beautifully shot, with interesting and well-choreographed action sequences, and sprinkles of humor. If you didn't know better, you might be justified in mistaking it for a Marvel movie...

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Sid Meier's Civilization

In my last post, I ranted a little bit about some of the major frustrations that I have with the way that Civilization games have historically dealt with difficulty levels. In summary, I identified three problems that I feel make it less enjoyable to play the game on higher difficulties, even if the lower difficulties still feel too easy. The three problems are:

In this post, I'd like to provide some more constructive criticism by discussing some of the thoughts and ideas that I've had for possibly resolving these three problems. These ideas include providing a wider range of options for customizing the difficulty level and game experience to suit the individual player's tastes and style, and to provide a wider (and more open-ended) set of game-long challenges.

Alternative solutions to game difficulty

So what could the developers do about these problems?

Well, the problem of game pacing could possibly be solved by inverting the handicap such that instead of speeding up the A.I.s' progress through the game, the player is slowed down. This could be accomplished by slowing down the human player's tech and civic progress, and by negatively handicapping some of the human player's yields. This would allow the A.I.s to progress at a more historically-appropriate rate, and overall game length would remain similar across all difficulties.

Civilization VI - Ship Building to Cartography
Padding out sparse areas of the tech and civics trees could mitigate the ability to beeline to later eras.

Rapid era progression could also be somewhat mitigated by padding out the tech and civics trees a little bit more. Beelining to the Renaissance via the "Cartography" technology is common for civs like England and Norway. There's a few ways to limit this. One simple way would be to simply make "Cartography" require either "Education" or "Military Tactics". Another way would be to have a technology between "Ship Building" and "Cartography" -- such as an "Optics" technology that unlocks an upgrade to the Scout, or a "Lateen Sail" technology that unlocks a medieval naval unit like the Cog, Hulk, Junk, or Galleass (or move the Caravel up to "Lateen Sails" but don't give it ocean-crossing abilities until "Cartography").

Customization, options, and difficulty settings

As for resolving the other issues presented by high difficulty levels, my preference would be for the developers to add more customization and tuning options for players so that we can tailor the gameplay experience and challenges more to our liking.

Civilization VI - advanced settings
Civ VI has limited customization options.

Having independent sliders or settings for things like Player Handicaps, A.I. Handicaps, AI Temperament, Barbarian Spawn Rate, Barbarian Aggressiveness, Barbarian Tech Level, City State Aggressiveness, and so on would all go a long way towards allowing the player to customize the game's challenge according to their own strengths and weaknesses. Handicap settings for players and A.I. can even be further divided into different sub-categories along the lines of: Tech Handicap, Culture Handicap, Production Handicap, Gold Handicap, Growth Handicap, Happiness / Amenity Handicap, etc.. So if you find that you are consistently out-teching your A.I. opponents, but you feel you have parity with the A.I. in other areas of the game, then you could specifically buff the A.I.'s tech handicap, weaken yours, or both.

This would certainly make some of the game's code more complicated, but I don't think that it would be prohibitively difficult. The difficulty settings already make adjustments to these very same parameters, and I believe the game's own .ini files allow modders to customize many (if not all) of these attributes. I don't see any reason why such settings can't just be in the game's settings menu, and the difficulty settings (deity, emperor, king, settler, etc.) could just use some pre-configured arrangements of those values.

Other genres use similar paradigms for their difficulty settings. Sports games are a prime example...

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A gamer's life...

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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My frustrations with difficulty levels in CivilizationMy frustrations with difficulty levels in Civilization06/03/2017 Obviously, I love the Sid Meier's Civilization game franchise. I've been playing it since Civ III, and even own the Fantasy Flight board game (which I also really like). This game series has kept me up, one-more-turning, into the wee hours of the morning on many occasions. Despite my love for the games, this series can also...

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Civilization V retrospective: top 10 good ideasCivilization V retrospective: top 10 good ideas06/03/2015 With Starships released, an expansion for Beyond Earth announced, and support for Civ V apparently done, I thought it would be a good time to take a look back at the game. I'm going to spend a few posts to discuss what Civ V did right, and what it did wrong, so that future games can learn lessons from this iteration's successes...