Phantasy Star

The other day my girlfriend sees me sitting on the couch, sketching on graph paper in a notebook, with several pages torn out and laying about covered in similar sketches. “What are you doing?” “Mapping,” I reply, lifting up half a dozen pages. “This is all one dungeon, so I needed to map it.”

Now, Phantasy Star II isn’t the first RPG that I’ve resorted to mapping for; that honor would go to Sword of Vermilion (which is probably one of the most awesome RPGs I’ve ever played), but it’s the first that I’ve felt that it was utterly necessary to keep one’s bearings. These dungeons are some of the most difficult of any game I’ve played, because of the combination of multiple up/down tiles in all of the dungeons, the lack of detail to quickly distinguish between dungeon levels and areas within those levels, and the overall frequency of encounters that break one’s ability to keep one’s bearings from memory.

I’d mucked about with Phantasy Star II a few times in the past, because my first impression was positive: I liked the idea of a Sword & Planet RPG and found the character art charming. But I couldn’t get past the brutal grind necessary to survive a few steps into the first dungeon, much less figure out what the hell was going on with all of the transporters, and I ultimately set it aside for other things after a handful of false starts.

I got a retro RPG bug the other day, though, and decided to play Phantasy Star IV, since it was on the same Sega collection disc and I figured that it would follow the general rule of old RPGs where Newer = Less clunky. And for the most part, I was right. PS IV was a delight, with plenty of endearing characters, heart-wrenching moments, and a delightful tear-jerker ending. I didn’t even have to grind at all to beat it!

What I don’t get is why in the localization of Phantasy Star they would change the names of various characters but leave the unintelligible and utterly mystifying spell names. I mean, sure, by the end of the game I’d figured out what worked and what didn’t through trial and error, but at what point did someone say something along the lines of “Bindwa & Tandle are perfectly fine names for abilities, but folks will be really confused by characters named Rudy and Pike, so let’s call them Chaz and Gryz instead. That’ll go over better in the west”? Seriously, localize mechanics, not character names.

But anyway, I decided to go back and give PS II a chance again. Man, is it a slog, but I’m invested enough in the setting that I’m going to see it through to the end. And if you’re the sort of person who enjoys mapping, that’s where you’re going to find the fun in it. Because you are going to need a map!

But, since I found my old world map of Sword of Vermilion, I think I’ll give that another go, too!

Shadow Over Alfheim Pt 14 – Mirror Image is a Pretty Brutal Spell

I think I may have underestimated this spell a bit in the past, but when given to an evil NPC, things turn into the last big fight from the end of the old TMNT Arcade game. Which was pretty sweet.

We had everyone all back together for the first time this year. The party started the session on the bluff looking down over the ruins of Law’s End. The ghostly procession that descends into the valley and beyond toward the mountains each night from the crossroads at dusk had passed. The goblin with low-light vision was able to see that 8 skeletons were milling about the ruins of the elven city rather purposelessly. I had the skeletons, who were specifically noted as being unarmed, there just for funzies to see what the players would do and my group did not disappoint.

Despite having two cleric types in the party who could’ve easily blasted the skeletons into oblivion, the party discussed and attempted to engage in all sorts of weird strategies, essentially making fools of themselves, using both magic and mundane lighting sources for illumination, and the fighter clumsily searching the grounds thinking that the skeletons had been looking for something, all while the skeletons formed two lines of 4 on either side of the path to the entrance of the Maze. Just waiting.

The party assumed that either something was coming out of the maze to meet them or something was going to arrive that the skeletons were welcoming. It took awhile for the party to figure out it was them the skeletons were welcoming. Finally, the cleric of St. Cuthbert tried to turn them. They immediately fell to pieces (they were 1hp monsters) in 8 nice little piles forming two lines of 4 on either side of the path to the entrance of the Maze. The thief smashed all of the skulls systematically.

Meanwhile, the Cleric was getting ready to tie some ropes to go back down into the base of the tower when he discovered that there was already a rope ladder in place. Cue the collective “uh oh”.

The party managed to get down the tower, go across the underground river, down the stairs, and to the great chamber.

A party always knows trouble is ahead when you ask for marching order. And trouble they got. The brazier in the center of the room bursts into flames, and the party is approached by an unrecognizably charred black version of their former companion. Questions were asked and answered, though the party didn’t ask anything that revealed relevant story information. On the plus side, they’re beginning to doubt that Lord Richmond’s on the level.

The encounter consisted of 8 undead giant insects, 2 “elves” (ghouls) and a quasi-undead 4th level version of their old elf companion. I knew that the insects would be turned right away, and they were there to be turned, but it also was a tie in to when the elf learned the animate vermin spell from the Necromancers of Stull module.

Really, other than making him a weird and gross looking burned up bend’em man with rubies for eyes, this baddie was just a 4th level elf. His spells for the day were Animate Vermin, Mage Armor, and 2 Mirror Images.

I don’t think the party figured out that he’d cast Mage Armor, because they thought he was nightmarishly powerful: rather than simple “misses” for their ranged attacks, he’d swat them out of the air. That bit alone made him somewhat terrifying. That and the fact that there were 4 of him. Because the players weren’t familiar with the exact text of the Mirror Image spell, they assumed incorrectly that there was a “true” version of the elf. Once they got they got him down to 1, he managed to split off again, so they ended up fighting 7 of him in total.

Before he could split the first time, the elf was hit with a spear, and he didn’t have a lot of HP to begin with, but he was still a hard to kill badass and I’m going to have to come up with a penalty for the fighter who was KOed and then healed back up by the abbey monk.

It was great when the goblin-ranger finally killed him:

“Can I have your eyes?”
“If you take the Crown from this place, make sure it does not fall into His hands…”
“That’s cool, dude, gimme your eyes.”

If You Want to Avoid Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for a Year…

…and I’m the child of a Cuban refugee who wrote a Choose Your Own Adventure.

Otherwhere Gazette

Straight from Stephanie Souders at

Right Fans: Sci Fi from the Other Side

… have I got a list for you!Sarah A. Hoyt, for example, is a first generation Portuguese immigrant who grew up in an impoverished village (at least by our standards). She is also a winner of the Libertarian Futurist Society’s Prometheus Award, which honors outstanding fiction with pro-liberty themes.

Larry Correia is also a “writer of color” who grew up in disadvantaged circumstances. As he relates in a recent post, “I grew up with all that fancy Portuguese Dairy Farmer Privilege, where I got to have an alcoholic mother and a functionally illiterate father… where I got to spend my formative years knee deep in cow shit at 3:00 AM, so that I could later work my way through Utah State.” Despite starting life on the bottom rung, however, Larry persevered and is now…

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Advice for People Looking to Get Into Game Design

Wundergeek has put together a pretty good 3 part series of posts for people looking into getting into game design. While nominally she is giving advice to women looking to get into game design, the information is really useful for anyone who is thinking about putting out creative projects.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

I’ve always said that the obvious solution for people who want diversity in whatever field is for people to get involved and creating their diverse works, and the barriers for entering any creative field are lower than they’ve ever been. Mostly what you need is a little perseverance.


The Escapist, Vox Day, & Some Other Things

Damn big shakeup at Escapist over the last few weeks, culminating in Liz F becoming a contributor and Oliver Campbell being invited to submit a pitch.

These are gold:

Oliver Cam
I’ve added to my adblock white list and will maybe peek in once in awhile.

Anyway, I said months ago that this all could’ve been over quickly if more media outlets had taken a more reasonable approach to the situation as the Escapist did.

In Hugo news (kind of), I realized that I had a book by Vox Day sitting around waiting to be read and didn’t even know it. Several months back, someone on some blog (I forget which one, or I’d link it) was writing about elves in D&D, the question of if they had souls & OSR resurrection mechanics (which exclude elves). One of the commenters was all “I wrote a book about that once”. It sounded cool, so I added it to my Amazon wish-list and got Summa Elvetica: A Casuistry of the Elvish Controversy for Christmas. Flash forward to a few weeks ago: I brag to my B/X group about how Jeffro, one of the guys who beta-read City at the Top of the World, was in the running for a Hugo Nomination, and Castalia House & Vox Day came up. One of my players proceeded to go on a rant about how Vox Day was the Devil. A few days later, I see the book on my shelf, all “Theodore Beale… Hey, wait a minute! This is a book by that guy!” Summa Elvetica shot straight to the top of my reading list. I’ll probably have something to say here about it once I finish Foucault’s Pendulum. I might also pick up a copy of the novelization of Rebel Moon too, just for the heck of it, since the Dollar Trees in my town have had literally hundreds of copies for months, though they’ve dwindled down to the half-dozens recently.

Anyway, for whatever reason, I haven’t been able to get anything productive done at home, and that includes the stuff I said I’d work on for MYFAROG, which I should’ve done a month ago. I might just have to bring the book to work with me and write up those cards during my lunch breaks. Between being stuck in a depressive fugue and playing Daggerfall and Phantasy Star IV, I’ve done nothing productive except for in my ditherings at work.

On a parting note, here is some insightful thoughtfulness from KiteTales on identity:

Shadow Over Alfheim update will be up later this week.

The Social Justice Warrior Racist Reading Challenge, A Fisking.

It’s amazing how cartoonishly racist so-called progressives are. I’m reminded of when I realized that if you switched out gender with race with what interweb feminists were saying that you got some really gross stuff.

I am not a cis het white male, but I don’t think I’ve ever been reading a book and thought to myself “This would be such a better read if it hadn’t been written by a white man.” As I make my way through Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, I have not once thought, “This is good, but what would really improve it would be some more diversity.”

The whole “Sci-fi and fantasy is the realm of white men!!?” tripe is a meme that is as wrong as it is bizarre. Some of the most successful, beloved and prolific writers in Fantasy & Sci-fi have been women. Jane Yolen? Ursula K. Leguin? Andre Norton? Anne McCaffrey? J.K. Rowling? Suzanne Collins? Hell, even Stephanie Meyers?* And those are just the obvious off-the-top-of-the-head ones. The genres are full of diversity; you can easily find something you’ll enjoy and maybe, if it’s really that freaking important to you, it’ll be written by someone who looks like you. But to go and say “Fuck everybody who’s ________, I don’t need to read their shit and you don’t either; broaden you damn horizons!” hardly seems necessary or even sane, in some cases.

*:Hell, I forgot Margaret Weiss.  I read a ton of her stuff when I was a little kiddo.

Yeah, so about Twine

Just for the hell of it, since it seems like what the cool and hip people are doing, I downloaded Twine.  And I have created a Twine “port” of City at the Top of the World.  No, you can’t play it yet, because I don’t have anywhere to put it right now and free wordpress doesn’t let you upload html files.  You can play it here, but because of the upload type they use, you don’t get the full Twine experience of white text/black background/title frame on the left.

It took me a little under an hour, and I kinda half-assed some stuff (I didn’t fix hyphenations, for instance), and I’ve gotta say: I don’t think this qualifies as “Game Development”.

I feel like I did more coding when I manually built City in MS Word.  I sure don’t feel like I “developed” anything.  I mean, I didn’t even HTML.  So yeah, I can totally see why people who do actual coding type stuff look down on Twine and don’t consider people who make stuff in it real developers.

That said, aside from the fact that it doesn’t export in a format that can be published on dead tree pulp, it’s a pretty nice and fun little program decent for making a choose your own adventure story.

I can also see why there is a schism over Twine in Interactive Fiction communities.  I guess it depends on how you define interactive; if you define interactive as interacting with the text itself, sure, CYOA is interactive fiction.  But by that logic, so is reading a regular book, assuming the invisible cue to turn the page when you’ve finished the page you’re on.  If you define interactive as interacting with the environment and the fictional world in the piece, then most Twine games are pretty iffy.  Heck, the “game” aspect is kind of iffy, too, since it’s more of a click to the end type thing in a lot of cases.  I’m sure that there are ways that you could make something that’s far more “game”-like in Twine than a typical nodular fiction.  But why not let it be what it is?  A tool for writing branching fiction.  Branching Fiction isn’t a game in itself, but it certainly has its own merits, so there’s no reason to bother fighting to get it recognized as such.

Whatever.  I’m a double dev.  Cuz I developed my game in MS Word and then I coded a port in Twine.  Now I just gotta get Greenlit on Steam!

Or you could just buy the paperback from Lulu.

Thoughts on Game Book Art

I’m not going to spend a lot of time weighing in on the latest hubbub stirred up in a pot of Gnome Stew, but did want to note a few things.

Art does set some expectations of implied settings, and not all gamers are going to be comfortable with those implied settings.

Sure, you know what you’re getting into with a lot of games, but by picking up games with art ranging from risque to erotic to pornographic, you’re definitely limiting your gaming group to people who are also okay with that sort of thing being in their system.

I can definitely see the problem with that notorious Exalted cover; Exalted is a great, fun game with lots of good art that hits both the “good anime-esque fantasy art” and the “lots of diversity for diversity mongers” marks. Then when out of nowhere there’s a book with giant cameltoe and huge boobs drawn from a perspective of a prospective cunnilingist, I can see why Exalted fans would collectively face-palm at the realization that THIS IS NOW AND FOREVER WHAT PEOPLE WILL THINK OF WHEN THEY THINK OF THEIR FAVORITE GAME.

So, yeah, I can totally get why people might be all “mrrrr” about that sort of thing, because it’s really not one of those cases of “This game isn’t for you, so don’t buy it”. D20 opened the door to a lot of things with their open license, but it wasn’t Wizards of the Coast putting out core books.

I don’t have a problem with those products existing, but I also don’t tend to play games whose books are going to be full of erotic art or even cheesecake (though I’ll admit that the cover of Tim Brannan’s Eldritch Witchery is pretty hot). And I also understand that unless you know all the players in your group are okay with that sort of thing, you’re not going to find players for your game. It’s one of the reasons why I know that one of my players will never get to run Tekumel even though it’s his favorite thing ever; it’s not that people don’t have an appreciation for deep and highly developed settings and world buildings, but more than likely not everyone wants to play an obscure game with a book full of tits.