Tuesday, September 11, 2007

In Which Meg Reviews Games - Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus

Overall, I enjoyed it. The gameplay is fairly easy to get the hang of, and once I'd realised that the "attack" and "jump" buttons were the other way around to the ones in Kingdom Hearts 2 (which I'd been playing before I started DOC) I was relatively okay. I'll never be an expert gamer, but I can definitely manage the "point and shoot" interface of this game without too many problems. My biggest annoyance throughout the whole game was when I was attempting to keep track of something which moved fast, I'd inadvertently drop into "scope" mode, which was rather annoying (particularly since at those times, I was attempting to keep track of it in order to dodge the bastard... dropping into a closeup of the surrounding scenery was therefore intensely distracting at such moments).

One other thing I've realised since starting a different game (Dragon Quest: The Journey of the Cursed King) is that this game has a very good mid-game, which is where a lot of RPGs tend to fall down. There's the early game, in which your character is underpowered and you're just starting to collect the plot coupons. Then there's the late game, where you have all the plot coupons and you can send away for the major mcguffin, and in between there's a lot of pointless running around collecting levels so you can beat whichever boss character is next on the list. I tend to find the mid-game section the most boring of anything, since I tend to get annoyed by having to do the same thing repeatedly for no real reason. FFVII:DOC avoids this, by having mid-game sections which largely serve to advance the plot and which don't require an endless repetition of the same basic process. No, I'm not fond of level-grinding, why do you ask?

So, now on to my comments about the plot and suchlike. Most of these are within the context of Final Fantasy VII fandom, and relate the game to previous episodes in the continuity, such as the original game, the Advent Children movie, and what we know of the plot of Crisis Core (which is as yet forthcoming). There will be spoilers (although they're mainly mild ones, and tend more toward characterisation than actual plot points), and there may be obscure jokes.

* Shinra has apparently done a graduate recruitment sweep through Trans Poly U (Transylvania Polygnostic University of Mad Science) in order to have netted both Doctor Hojo and Doctor Lucrecia Crescent.

* Shalua Rui is wearing an outfit which would make the average hooker reach for a nice warm jumper and some comfortable shoes. She's supposed to be a scientist, so why wasn't she portrayed as wearing jeans and a t-shirt, rather than an outfit which makes it look as though she gets her main scientific funding by selling BJs on the outskirts of Edge? Putting a lab coat on over the top doesn't help at all.

* As per the standard anime trope, it appears uncovered female skin is invulnerable. This explains the skimpier armour on both the WRO and Deepground female troopers. I suppose it also explains Shalua's outfit, to a degree, while Rosso the Crimson, being a psychopath, needs no explanation for anything she does anyway (mind you, they should have trimmed the bathmat they attached to her arse - how does she manage to avoid tripping over the silly thing?). Given Shelke appears to be wearing pretty full armour, the development of feminine invulnerability on Gaia is presumably a function of puberty (and Shelke's had hers delayed for about ten years).

* I'm sure there's a reason why Vincent Valentine gets to have all the younger chickibabes (Yuffie, Shelke) throwing themselves at him. I just wish he didn't seem so completely kerflummoxed by it.

* Vincent appears to have a thing for women in lab coats (given he appears to fall arse over ted for Shalua having only seen her twice).

* Vincent on waking up after the events at ShinRa manor: "I'm in hell, and it's full of Yuffie".

* Lucrecia should say what she's sorry for, rather than just being sorry all the time. It'd make everyone's life a lot easier.

* Yuffie appears to have a killer crush on Vincent. Pity he's not able to reciprocate at this stage (maybe she needs to wear a lab coat?).

* It's interesting that they use guilt and emotional manipulation on Shelke, despite the fact she's been effectively living as a computer plug-in for the past ten years. What's even more interesting is that it works!

* More than three words in a row from Cloud Strife - presumably he's now going to remain silent for another three to six months to make up for it. Or maybe he needs to find another "dialogue" materia.

* The phone conversation with Cloud, Barrett and Tifa appears to happen while they're in the middle of a battle - presumably this is just the right time to stop and phone a friend.

* "I don't want the world to end. I just don't want there to be any more pain." - Shelke, showing she is a child after all.

* This story has plot by the bucketload - both in volume and delivery. I'm sure I have bruises from some of it landing on me in lumps.

* Yuffie really has a crush on Vincent. Unfortunately, I doubt he's even noticed, aside from her being a little more annoying than usual. (She really does need that lab coat.)

* I'm picturing a conversation between Cloud and Vincent along the lines of "Now you see why I went off into the wilderness and sulked, right?" - the consequences of saving the world. I can't help but think Cloud's probably glad to be able to hand the job on to someone else.

* I'm not certain what the relationship between Vincent and Shelke is going to turn out to be. I have a feeling she's still dealing with the after-effects of sharing her brain with Lucrecia Crescent, which may mean she's going to wind up treating Vincent as surrogate family. I can see him picking up the role of "big brother" or "random older male relation". I can't really see him feeling anything sexual for her.

* Some questions I'd love to be able to find out the answers to:

- Will Shelke resume the normal aging process now she's not actively required to perform her Deepground function?
- Now Chaos has returned to the planet, will Vincent pick up aging where he left off?
- Given the "G Reports" hint very strongly that Genesis is still alive and with us, can we expect more Jenova-related problems in future?
- What was the story with Cloud and Tifa not being picked up by Deepground in the attack on Edge? Were they forewarned, or just lucky?

Sunday, September 2, 2007

In which Meg Explains What The Hey She's Been Up To

So a couple of weeks ago we got ourselves a Playstation - PS2, to be exact. Why a PS2, now the PS3's come out? Well, one reason, really - the PS2 is something like a fifth of the price. I picked up a couple of games - Kingdom Hearts 2, and Echo Night: Beyond, then spent most of the last week and a half playing my way through KH2. I ordered Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus online, and it was delivered on Monday. Tuesday night, I started playing it (having completed KH2).

As you may or may not have gathered from these disclosures, I tend to get just a little obsessive about new distractions. Particularly when they allow me to feed into fandoms which have suddenly become rather intense interests themselves... (hello, FFVII fandom, and thanks for the slash).

I've decided I quite like Square Enix (aka Squaresoft, or Squeenix if you're talking to the fangirls) and their way of dealing with a game. There is plot. There is plot with extra plot and plot sprinkles, plus chopped subplot on top and the cherry of genuine character development. It is convoluted. It is involved. It is *interesting*, gods help me, and it's something I've been looking for for ages. I've no idea whether the differences are just a result of the difference between the Japanese and the US psyches (the Japanese seem to have no problems with assuming that their "readers" can and will understand such an involved plot, or that they'll have mental equipment capable of handling such a thing. Neither game is aimed at the stereotypical nine-year-old (KH2 is the closer of the two, but I'd say you'd have a minimum age of about twelve for the plot elements - I shall have to find out whether my niece plays it with the cutscenes in or out), which, again, is a wonderful thing. I like games which assume the player is a grownup, rather than a child.

It sometimes astounds me that there aren't more games like this out there - maybe there are, and I've not seen them. Most of the games I play on the PC are very much the long-playing role-playing type. I like the sensation of getting lost in a different world, and slowly finding out what happens next (which may be why I've gone off Dark Age of Camelot a little lately - I've done all the exploring, and I'm down to the boring bits of levelling up characters and hanging around until odd hours of the morning to go on raids). I like plotbits. I like interesting characters (most computer game characters aren't that interesting to me). I'm not actually a huge one for the whole hack & slash side of things, or even for the run & gun side of them (I'm playing Vincent Valentine as more of a sniper - get the shot right the first time, and you only need the one). What makes me stick with a game is wanting to know how it turns out (which is why I sometimes find "boss" battles to be thoroughly annoying: that's not plot, that's diversionary tactics!).

So, does anyone else know what might be a good, plotty game to fiddle around with on the PS2? I already have KH1 and FFVII (the original) marked on my mental "get these at some stage" list, as well as an entry which says "anything by Squaresoft/Square Enix" - what are some others?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

In Which Meg decides to take her custom to Dymocks

Books giant 'threatens publishers' over margins

Australian publishers are reeling after being told one of the country's biggest book store chains will not stock their books unless they pay thousands of dollars within weeks.

The publishers are calling it blackmail.

The book retailer - the long-established Angus & Robertson - says it cannot afford to stock books that do not generate enough profits.

Congratulations to the directors of Angus & Robertson. You've just succeeded in finally convincing me not to shop at your stores.

I've been tossing up the notion over the last few years, as I watched the space available to science fiction and fantasy books reducing and reducing, along with the diversity of authors. I've been watching as more and more shelf space is devoted to a few "well known" authors, rather than offering someone new a chance. It's scary when a shop's remnants tray has more diversity than the actual genre shelves, to be honest. But you're an Australian company, and I've stuck by you, more out of habit than out of actual liking.

However, this is the last bloody straw.

Why? Well, I'm an Australian who writes, and I'm well aware of the diverse number of Aussie publishers out there... but I'm also aware most of them are small publishers, and they wind up staggering financially from title to title. Australia is a small market. Congratulations, you're going to be pushing a lot of these more marginal publishers to the edge. You're also going to be making it harder (as a knock-on effect) for anyone who *isn't* an existing big-selling author to break into the market. Thanks ever so. Make my life harder, why don't you?

So, in return, I'm going to be going to Dymocks. Or Borders. Or W H Smiths. Or Elizabeth's second-hand. Or indeed to any one of a number of small science fiction specialist shops, wherein I can be reasonably certain of getting hold of books I'm interested in. What I *won't* be doing is heading into the nearest Angus & Robertson's, because with this particular tactic, you've managed to completely piss me off.

PS: There's now a link to this whole debate over at Making Light. Given both of the Nielsen-Haydens are known to be editors of some reknown in the US publishing scene (which is larger by far than the Australian one, and would therefore possibly be used to these tactics), it's interesting they point out this *isn't* standard industry practice.

Further PS: There's another article over at the Sydney Morning Herald about it: A&R Dumps Books

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

In which Meg continues to monitor the Work Choices advertising mess

Business groups launch pro-WorkChoices campaign

As expected, a coalition of business groups are getting together to promote the Howard government's Work Choices regime. This is perfectly understandable, given the man people who obtain the "choices" through this system are the employers. They want the laws kept, highlighting a "danger to the economy", saying that a return to the old industrial relations system (ie something where employers aren't allowed to unilaterally decide on appropriate wages and conditions for their employees) will raise interest rates, inflation, and lower our economic performance. Not to mention fading the curtains, causing the cows to produce sour milk, and causing porco-avian congestion on every airport runway.

Further to the earlier story about the bloke in the Work Choices ads who was busy employing kids as "subcontractors" in his painting business, and then failing to pay them, it appears he didn't just confine this to strangers. His own son was another who wasn't paid for work he carried out for the business.

Actually, the case of this painter is a pretty good microcosm of why the whole notion of Work Choices isn't good. For a start, it relies on the employee being aware of all of their rights as an employee, which the majority of people aren't. It relies on an employee being in an equal bargaining position to an employer (rare, to say the least). It relies on an employee being able to turn down a job - and given doing so is a breach of the rules for unemployment benefit, it therefore requires a potential employee to have at least three months worth of income to fall back on before they can go back to receiving the dole. It relies very strongly on the employers playing fair - but then takes away any incentive for them to do so.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

In which Meg explores the beauty of irony

WorkChoices ad pulled after staff rip-off claim

The Federal Government has withdrawn one of its WorkChoices advertisements after an actor who also ran a painting business was accused of failing to pay one of his staff.

In the ad, painter Damien Richardson appears as a concerned father who has been told employers can rip off kids.

But former employee Erin Gebert says he is still owed $2,000 in wages and superannuation by Mr Richardson.

Of course, the ACTU are just about pointing and laughing. It appears that the employee in this case was told he was a "subcontractor", and that he'd have to invoice for his time and provide an ABN[1] in order to be paid. Employee says he was under the impression he was on an apprenticeship. The ombudsman is looking into things, while the Howard government attempts to clear the egg off their faces. It isn't mentioned in the story whether this employee was employed before or after the Howard government brought in their "work choices" legislation (if before, then this is a loophole which may or may not have been cleared up later; if after, the ALP are ninnies if they don't grab this and run with it).

I think I shall track this one just a little...

Later the same day:

Looks like this isn't an isolated incident with this particular person.

WorkChoices actor accused by second employee

What makes this second story quite interesting is that the person in question is apparently rather deeply in debt:

Mr Richardson admits he does owe money to several businesses, and is going through a debt counsellor.

"We have to sort of sit down with these companies and work out whether I can afford to pay them back or we look at bankruptcy or whatever, so they're going to be my options," he said.

Sounds to me more like we have a rip-off artist at work than any other sort. He seems to think the ombudsman will come down in his favour (although how much of that is bravado and attempting to dodge reality is a different question).

I'll keep an eye on this story. I believe further developments will be ... interesting.

[1]Australian Business Number - a GST[2] registration item
[2]Goods & Services Tax - the ATO[3] generates these like clockwork
[3]Australian Taxation Office.

In which Meg reflects on the nature of the Internets

I was recently reminded of the nature of online contact, and the role of personal knowledge in an environment where tone cannot be directly ascertained. The relevant posts are in this thread, more specifically this little subthread.

For those who can't be bothered reading, I wrote something which was sarcastic and non-serious in nature. As is my wont, I didn't indicate this (something I learned early on in my posting history, back on Usenet). It was misinterpreted by the person to whom I'd replied (someone I didn't know), who was later appraised by other people who *did* know me about the nature of my posting. She apologised to me, I apologised to her. Hopefully the whole shemozzle has been worked out now.

However, what this did do for me was make me realise once again that my words are subject to misinterpretation. I've found lately that when I'm posting on various "hot button" issues, I'll tend to include my personal context, so people know where I'm coming from. This is particularly the case with regard to US politics, since as an Australian, I'm able to take a slightly more academic and detatched view of the issues than most people in the US. It's also the case with regard to certain "hot button" social issues in the US, such as abortion or religious faith, where there really *isn't* the same level of cultural focus on the issue itself here.

I can see I'm going to have to start broadening my markers for "context required".

Of course, this bumps into another problem of mine - I do tend to be rather self-absorbed most of the time, so a lot of what I write (even as comments in someone else's blog, or in an online community) will tend to be written from my own perspective, and from how something has affected me. This may be personally relevant, and it may well be the nearest I get to an expert opinion (after all, if I can't be the expert about me, what can I be an expert on?) but I do sometimes worry that it's a bit boring for everyone. I also worry that my self-focus is preventing me from seeing larger issues - I can see what affects me, but what about what affects someone else?

Something which requires contemplation, I believe.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

In Which Meg Reviews Fiction - "The Elder Gods" series by David and Leigh Eddings

As you can see on the sidebar, I'm working my way through David and Leigh Eddings' "Elder Gods" series. I just finished reading the third book of it last night (well, early this morning, to be honest) and I'm not really impressed. The problem being that these books are getting more and more contrived as they carry on.

The first one was okay. The second one was okay-ish (but more ish than okay, if you see what I mean). The third one?

The third one covers up the complete lack of actual plot action by covering the same small section of time from multiple perspectives, complete with a lengthy biography of the viewpoint character. Reading it is rather like watching a daytime soap - you get lots of background, plenty of character development, but positively zero action. Particularly since the denoument is a massive (and literal) case of divine intervention. So, there's all this repeated buildup, swirling around and around, and then... sod all.

About the only thing which makes this book even vaguely acceptable is that the fourth one is worse.

I'll be honest - I used to like Eddings. When I was a teenager reading the Belgariad, it was great. Good characters, interesting plot (because at that stage I hadn't even seen it once) and an interesting way of writing people. The Malloreon - well, it was the same story, and the same characters, and okay, they justified it with a bit of highly specious in-plot reasoning, but yeah, still good. Then came the Elenium, and I started to notice a trend. Yup, same characters, and gee, same damn plot, too. The Tamuli? More of the same. The Redemption of Althalus? Hey, they've managed to condense that same plot, same character set and same set of damn interactions into the one volume. Yays. [FX: waves little flag.]

Now there's this set, and quite honestly, they aren't even damn well trying. If you choose to buy these, use someone else's money, or get them second hand. Or alternatively, go back and read the Belgariad again - at least the plot hadn't had the cover worn off it back then.

Friday, August 3, 2007

In Which Meg Starts a New Blog

Okay, so things got rather silly back at Livejournal. I decided it was probably best for me to wander over here and have a look at what was available. So, new blog, new setup, and hopefully I'll have something sensible to say here.

For those who haven't run across me before, I'm Australian, female, in my mid thirties, strong minded, overweight, and I have all the tact of a brick through a window. I work tech support (although I'm "resting", to use the theatrical parlance, at the moment) which means I have a rather cynical outlook on life. I write fanfiction.

My posts here will probably be a bit erratic. But hey, it's my blog, so it's my space. If you want to play here, feel free.