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Strip 740, Volume 4, Page 192

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< Piro >

just one of the sketches from Circuity dev...

"emotive pull-string security"

Tuesday - July 26, 2005

[Piro] - 14:45:00 - [link here]

A few quick notes, before i prattle on about "Circuity" - I will be giving a talk at the Ann Arbor Public Library wednesady night at 7:00pm . It's a fairly informal affair, and i plan to talk about my somewhat fractured creative process and other pointless and useless stuff. :) It's a free event, but seating is limited so i know they are giving out tickets for admission.

Another thing that is coming up VERY fast is Otakon 2005. This will be our biggest show this year, and we are already gearing up to get ready for it. The show this year will feature live music by a talented (and very capable) friend so you can rest assured that at least SOMETHING will come off right at the show. :) We'll be bringing the MegaGear store with us, and we will even have a few new things to debut at con. If you are coming to Otakon this year, be sure to plan on stopping by.

Oh, and i haven't plugged the MegaGear store recently, but i shall do so now. Go forth, shop, and buy things. All support greatly appreciated. Seraphim has some things in the work that she'll be talking about soon (yes, a long awaited Seraphim rant is in the works :P)

[yet another update... posters are now back online in the MegaGear store. We had to roll the price of shipping into the poster price because of problems with the software (posters all get shipped separate from the other stuff in your order because they go into tubes... you cant just wad up a poster and stick it in a box. I think people might not like that :P)]

---

I've been waiting until i finished Circuity before sitting down to talk about it, and now that it's done, i've been having trouble finding exactly what I want to say. I've been having that trouble a lot lately. It's kind of sad, but it's like the only reliable way i have of communicating my ideas is the comics and drawings I produce. All of my other methods of communicating -- rants, blogs, random sketches, emails, product designs for the store -- are amazingly buggy.

First off, i would like to thank everyone for their patience and willingness to let me stray a bit from the normal fare offered here on the Megatokyo site. In the same way that end of chapter extras (or "Omake" as they are called) usually give creators a chance to do some off the wall humor and laugh a bit at the characters, "Circuity" was an exercise in going in the other direction. I wanted to do something deadly serious, something that would contrast the more serious parts of Megatokyo the same way my last omake poked fun at the more humorous elements of the story. I wanted to experiment and see how well i could do a short mood piece, to see how much i could ratchet things up and still keep it solid.

Was it a successful experiment? To a greater extent, i think so. I learned a lot doing it. It really isn't a very successful short story because it doesn't stand very well on its own. It relies heavily on foreknowledge of Megatokyo and in the end a little too much on Haibane Renmei (the anime upon which it really is a fan-work of.) I wanted "circuity" to stand on it's own as much as possible, to not really require that you understand the world that Abe created, or the inspiration that he took from Murakami. To a limited extent i have done that, but not as much as i would have liked. In the end, a reader will understand things based as much on the knowledge and experiences he or she brings to the peice as much as what we creators can put into it. That may be good or bad when it comes to this omake.

But all of that is really secondary to what i was really trying to do with "Circuity." This is actually an odd reflection and refraction of the original idea, colored heavily buy the characters that play the parts. It's almost like a fan-work of the original concept. :) I ended up going with the idea, and using it because it presented me with some fertile soil to run the characters (and the reader) through some powerful emotive sequences. Understanding the specifics of what happened was, to me, secondary to the emotive content i was trying to create. it's like you know there is a story there, and you just understand enough to get pulled in. Sure, there's all sorts of other things going on - metaphor, allegory, similarities, mirrors, contrasts, strong relational ties to the Megatokyo story... but you don't have to get all of that, honestly. That wasn't it's main purpose.

As i've said many times before, writing and drawing are really little more than exercises in trying to communicate and evoke emotive feelings and reactions from readers. People tend to have a wide variety of security levels on their emotive pull-strings. Some people are very open to having them tugged, and are easily moved. Others guard them very closely, and when attempts are made to pull at them, they laugh and make fun of the attempts. Some are complete gits about it, and refuse to allow anything access to them, including themselves. :P

That, to me, is the difference between a good moving story that rattles something in you, and "melodrama". I tried hard to not let "circuity" fall into the "melodrama" category - not so easy in such a short piece, really. A story like this won't do something for everyone, but i wanted to see how many i could do it for. For most people, getting access to those pull strings takes a lot of care and respect. That's why guys hate 'chick flicks' or refuse to read 'shoujo manga' (when most of the time they don't even understand the term) Emotions are things close to the soul, so we try to protect them as much as possible. If i managed to get access to yours, i thank you for the opportunity.

Regardless as to how well it worked or not, it was a good experiment for me. I enjoyed pulling together a reflection of this world, and a lot of it felt right. I almost chickened out at the end, wondering if finishing it the way i had planned on finishing it was a bit too much, but decided to stick to my guns. The last two pages i think either grip you if you were already hooked, or loose you if you were just getting warmed to the sequence of the first 7 pages... the jumps were almost too big, and i am sorry about that. I just felt that i needed to stick to the schedule, and let Circuity finish along its preordained course.

We all know that i tend to lean towards stories, concepts and moods like this, and sometimes people complain that Megatokyo itself is too tainted by them. Well, this helped me get some things that have been bottled up in my system out, and in a good way. It pointed out one of the reasons why i like to write stories that have a balance of lightness and seriousness to them... a purely serious and dark story requires that you be in that mood for an extended period of time. Sure, i'm a gloomy gus sometimes, but there were definitely days and pages of this omake where i had to bring myself down to the emotive level necessary to do the page. I get too wrapped up in things sometimes, but i guess my work would REALLY suck if i didn't.

Lightness is a necessary thing in life, and i dont think Circuity would have worked as well as it did if Piro, Largo and Kimiko were not who they are in Megatokyo. It's the contrasts that point out the similarities and the differences in things better than anything.

Megatokyo Chapter 7 starts monday. Should be a fun ride :)

---

Oh, i almost forgot - i haven't linked this about Connecticon yet, but it looks like between the time the events happened and me getting a new rant up they've almost raised enough to cover the gap. Awesome stuff guys, and a big congrats to the webcomic reading community for rising to help them out.

< Dom >

So... dorky...

"Cross Crash"

Monday - July 25, 2005

[Dom] - 13:00:00 - [link here]

I realized that for someone who claims on his resume that he's a video game writer, I haven't actually reviewed anything in a while. So, to keep in practice, and because I've gotten more than a few e-mails asking me about the game, I'm going to review Namco x Capcom (hereafter NxC) in this space. I'm going to talk too much and am article this length would never make it to publication anywhere (other than maybe Insert Credit, and even then I can't help but think they'd chop this thing down to a reasonable size). But I need to write about a game, and I have NxC handy.

Those of you who've been paying attention have seen that Namco and Capcom took the easy way out with their crossover--it's a simple turn-based strategy game, not a fighting game, despite a good chunk of the characters coming from fighting games.

Story
If you've ever played a Super Robot Wars game, you know what to expect from NxC in terms of writing. There are a lot of cameos from familiar characters, there's some thinly veiled excuse to get all the characters in one place, and there are plenty of nods to each character's individual story.

There's Ryu against the murderous rage in his heart. There's Jin against his Devil father. There's plenty of random stuff that's sure to please fans, and confuse anyone else. There is a mountainous amount of pure cheese. Which I approve of, thankfully.

The characters are pretty much only interesting if you already liked them in their previous appearances in the game, since there isn't much time spent on plot or character development, instead finding new and inventive excuses to rush characters on to the next fight.

Oh, and there are PUNS. Hordes and hordes of puns. I don't approve of that.

The gameplay
Beyond traditional grid-based, turn-based strategy, NxC tries its hardest to involve the player in each and every combat, with mixed results. See, in every combat (EVERY combat) between units, the game requires a whole lot of button presses. On offense, each direction plus the circle button is mapped to a different attack, and you have to do combos and juggle the enemy to get better damage and other in-combat boosts. That's fun enough, though it can be horrifically repetitive after a few dozen battles.

The main problem with the combat system is that it also rewards extremely tedious activities. See, the combat system is action point based. Everyone has a maximum of 10 Action Points, and when you have 10 AP, it's your turn. Every action taken during that turn consumes action points, and after the turn, you wait until your action points fill up to 10 again.

Where this system breaks down is when you're on defense. It costs 1 action point to defend, and take less damage from each attack--and with each attack that comes from an enemy (they have combos too), you're supposed to tap a direction on the D-Pad. Doing so will restore your AP, and if you do it well enough, you can end a defensive battle with more AP than you started with.

Now, I'd like to take a moment here to impress on you just how tedious this can get.

Let's say it's turn 1 of a battle, and I have Captain Commando going. I select the move option in the menu, which costs 1 AP, and then I run him into combat. Captain Commando has, oh, I dunno, let's say 9 attacks. So it loads up the combat screen, and after Captain Commando takes a moment to say something to please the fans, I start tapping directions like a DDR player while hearing CapCom yell things like 'Captain Corridor!' and such. After I'm done knocking the enemy around a bit, the game brings up a status screen saying how many XP CapCom has gained and what items he earned, while he says some pithy line about how he's just and right. This process has taken about a minute and a half, between loading time, speech and just how long the game takes.

Now it's the enemy's turn, and after the overly simplistic AI takes way too long to think, it will attack Captain Commando because he's the closest (the AI ALWAYS attacks whoever's closest to it. It's even worse than Disgaea's, where the AI would attack whoever was the weakest within reach). A menu will pop up with the various options on defense: No Guard (0 AP consumed), Normal Defense (1 AP consumed), Friend Protects (1 AP for the friend with the Protect ability) and the much shorter option that I sincerely wish was more attractive, Avoid Combat (1 AP, lose super meter, take damage anyway). There's no reason not to choose the middle two, since, when you're good at the mind-numbingly boring button tapping, your turn will come earlier once you're done getting hit.

So it'll load up another combat screen, at which point Captain Commando will start off with another pithy line, then grunt for a good 20-30 seconds while you stare at a D-pad on the screen and tap the right way in time. Then you get another status window, another pithy line from CapCom, and it loads back to the grid map.

EVERY TURN happens like this. It took me 100 hours to finish NxC the first time around, not because I was exploring the world or poking around or anything, but simply because it took that long. Magic, which doesn't consume any AP, is another 5-15 seconds, since it'll be accompanied by another trademark line and some sort of minor graphical effect, and given that some characters will cast about 20 spells during their turn in sheer abuse of the system, battles can be VERY, VERY LONG. And that's not counting the "every fight must have at least three waves" policy of the game.

But enough of that--moving on, we have...

Sound and Art
I mentioned before that NxC characters talk a LOT. It's a large part of what makes the game so fun for fans of the characters. For those of you who are seiyuu fans, Namco and Capcom assembled an all-star cast, and most of them do double or triple duty, to boot. It's a well voiced game, and there's lots of personality to like in it.

The soundtrack is extremely varied and fun, including remixes of classic tracks, from the Dig Dug theme to Street Fighter 2 music, with plenty of new stuff mixed in. If you've seen the opening movie, it's a great song, one Halister got stuck in my head a few months ago, so the soundtrack is great, too.

The problem with the soundtrack is that everyone has their own theme, though some characters from the same game share, and at the beginning of each character's turn, the game pauses for a second to load up their music. It's an annoying way to add unnecessary time to a fight, and it makes it feel like about 30% of every battle is loading time.

The art's nice enough, I suppose, but you can't help but feel that someone got lazy--the sprites bob up and down based on stretching the sprite around the knees, with no real animation until they start fighting. It makes sense to cut corners, given the sheer number of characters included in the game, but it's also disappointing to compare Ryu to his Street Fighter 3 animation, or to look at Lei-Lei and think "what happened to her head crick animation from DarkStalkers?"

On the other hand, the re-drawn old-school characters look cool. Dig-Dug looks badass, and that's all good by me. So there are mixed feelings about the game's overall visuals--the characters who've appeared in newer games (and, in the case of Xenosaga, in 3D) don't look so hot, but the revamped characters look pretty good by comparison.

The balanceThis section is an odd habit of mine when dealing with Namco and Capcom games, thanks to associating with a large number of fighting game players. But I always take a critical look at how useful characters are compared to others. Even though NxC is a strategy game, and not a fighting game, there's an inherent balance problem in it. Compared to the Shining Force games, where there's a lot of Rock/Paper/Scissors going on requiring you to have a good mix of characters, NxC's system is pretty much "beat on the enemy as hard as you can. Often." The bad AI means that you can easily park a tank in the middle of an enemy cluster and have him go to town while everyone else picks from a distance, meaning that you're never in danger. Meanwhile, everyone else just runs up to the enemy and knocks the crap out of them while they're busy with your designated tank.

Also, magic is just plain broken in the system. Since it doesn't require any action points to cast spells, and magic points can be recovered as a combo bonus, the game lends itself to casting spells over and over again--which is especially problematic for balance when you consider that there are characters who can turn MP into action points, especially for other people. That spell combined with Morrigan's ability to drain MP from enemies repeatedly, makes her a hundred times more powerful than any character in the game--given about 20 minutes and an enemy to drain MP from, Morrigan could make sure that everyone on the team had their turn next, before the computer. This meant that often, I'd finish battles before the enemy got a turn. Any that I didn't finish by that point were due to travel time. It was pretty boring, overall, and battles STILL took well over an hour and a half to complete.

As a sidenote, thanks to the magic system, this is how character power levels shape up. It's not a matter of statistics or interesting attacks... it's a matter of how many turns they can give out. While KOS-MOS has disgustingly high stats... there were many maps where I simply had her standing around waiting for a turn that never came, because other characters were going around stepping on the enemy and giving each other extra turns.

God Tier: Morrigan and Lilith
Tier 1: Gilgamesh and Kai, Bravoman and Wonder Momo, Captain Commando (who have reusable spells that give people 10 AP)
Tier 2: Anyone with the Leadership spell that can give someone 10 AP once a turn (including Chun Li and Rose)
Tier 3: Anyone who can give themselves an extra turn, once per turn (including Strider and KOS-MOS)
Tier 4: Everyone Else

So there you have it--a game that's kind of fun, but REALLY bogs down in its own system. It's great to kill time, but other than that, I'd only recommend NxC to the truly dedicated fans out there. I don't foresee any great changes that will occur should the game ever make it to the US, so even if it does have an American release, I can't really recommend it to people who are just mildly interested.

Seriously, just play the second Katamari Damacy if you're looking for a truly fun game. Only get NxC if you're... well, if you're a stupid fanboy like me.

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