Wednesday, November 29, 2006

New Comics Day

A very Green week.

Green Lantern
Green Lantern Corps
Guy Gardner
Next Wave

I don't know why DC decides to ship Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps, Guy Gardner, and even Ion in the same week. But then this entire year has been a string of odd, questionable, and downright awful decisions from DC. They want me to think they know what they are doing, but my incredible ego and love for all things comics can only tell me they don't. Too soothe my inner seething they have offered a prestige format issue of "Guy Gardner: Collateral Damage" packed cover to cover with Howard Chaykin inky goodness.

For the record, I don't need Batman to crossover with The Spirit just to introduce me to the new Spirit series to follow. It's such a tawdry ploy that leaves a little catch in the back of my throat. Darwyn Cooke provides all the neccessary draw to the book, tho I would have preferred they just went straight to The Spirit #1 and give readers some goddamned credit.

EDIT: WTF? Despite what DC's promotional page for the book solicits as the cover, the actual printed image on the cover shows Batman on the left and The Spirit on the right. What's the story behind that one? Which is the "real" image? Hit the link to get a multi-page PDF preview, too.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

New Comics Day

Hot Las Vegas Comic Book Action

Wonder Woman
The Goon Noir

Wonder Woman: About freakin' time! And the Goon, black and white is nice. So I happen to be in Las Vegas on New Comics Day, and that means a stop at the super cool Alternate Reality Comics. A great store with a great selection, and purveyor Ralph M. is a kowlegeable bloke who always knows the right books to reccommend to new customers and regulars alike.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

FFXII: Gambits

Damn there is alot of crap to manage in a deep RPG game. For alot of folks (myself included), that's part of the appeal, the resource management. But on the more epic scales of the larger games, the prospect of 40+ hours of selection minutiae is not so fun. Especially with combat, which is usually the focus of all strategic command allocations. Some games give you the "auto combat" option, which does help, but can be limited. Nothing pisses me off more than what the computer thinks mages should do. Spend 30mp to do 3K of damage to a foe with only 500hp? Grrrrr.

Holy fuck I am a geek.

Over the years auto combat got a little smarter, Most recently in thee-e-excellent Dragon Quest VIII. DQ8 gave players the option to not just auto attack, but had a little checklist on how to do so. For example, you could tell certain characters not to use magic unless you took over-- very handy when fighting the throng of random-but-lower-class enemies along the road. But of course here we are again with FFXII, and just when you think they couldn't give you any more to manage... let me tell you about "Gambits."

Gambits are essentially macros. They consist of a command and a target, and you can set them for each character to get on a sort of auto pilot for combat. But oh, were it only that simple!

  • Gambits have to be bought as Licenses (see previous posts), so if you want your character to have multiple Gambits, they need to have multiple Gambit Licenses!

  • Once you have a gambit, you have to buy the damn specifications! If you want to have your mage's Gambit to always cast Fira, not only do you have to have the license and own Fira but you have to buy the appropriate specifier! Thankfully, Gambits are the cheapest thing in the game-- sort of-- there are hundreds of Gambit specifiers. Not all at once, tho, they are doled out and offered as the game progresses.

  • These specifier things come in all kinds of variations that I don't want to start listing, but they are pretty damn, um, specific. So let's see if I can get this across. The easiest Gambit to make is an auto heal: Give your white mage a gambit that says "If any character on the field falls below 50%hp, cast Cure on that character." Easy enough, yeah?

  • So then you get access to more and more Gambits, and start chaining them together. Cast Awake on any character that has been put to sleep. Target nearest foe with >5000hp. Steal from any target with critical hp. Cast Drain on any target with magic higher than whatever. And all this is offered in 10% increments for what I can only imagine is a thorough attempt at getting your characters to play just like you want them to if you weren't actually playing them.

So it would seem that all this Gambit business puts as much work into setting them up as it would for you to make all the individual decisions on the combat field. This is kinda true... as I'm constantly going in and tweaking my gambits for multiple situations... however I do think it's faster than imputing commands for every single round of combat and I know I don't even have the good Gambits yet! Like the ones that automatically find a foe's elemental weakness and exploit it with offensive magic. And once you get a good flow set up, you can just go out there and start hunting. You can turn them on or off any time, directly from combat, which is good when a particularly tough fight comes up, or a boss. But it sure as hell is nice to have a healer taking care of business in the heat of battle when you can't always keep an eye on everyone's hit points.

To offer this in a RPG, let alone a console RPG, is either pretty damn progressive or about freakin' time. But like the PC counterparts and MMORPGs, macros are an essential part of managing an insane number of commands at one's disposal. Gambits are just another way of giving you control and heading into the game the way you're most comfortable. Will it stick around in future versions of FF? I can't say. But I am getting a kick out of deciphering its possibilities in this one.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

FFXII: Licenses, cont.

I may, on a whim, purchase a motorcycle, speedboat, or even an 18-wheel cargo truck. Perhaps, even, a de-commissioned Sherman tank. I may purchase each of these things, but I will not have the license to operate any of them. Such is the catch in FFXII's License System.

The License Board starts whole and empty for each character. It's split into two main areas, abilities and weapons. Each grid space costs LP to unlock and the catch is two-fold. I may spend points to unlock the first level of white magic, but my characters must then go out and purchase that white magic with cash money! In turn, I may come across a vendor who sells fifth level black magic, but I can't use it until I find and unlock the corresponding license!

It's this way for magic, skills, and accessories. Swords, daggers, maces, bows, spears, armor... it goes and goes. Thankfully there are licenses that are instantly accessible (and most valuable) without needing to purchase anything but the license itself. Like +HP, +defense, speed bonuses, stuff like that. And there is a lot of stuff like that.

Since I am a weapon happy gamer, early in the game I spent LP heartily on weapons licenses. But it became crushingly clear to me that many of these groovy weapons were nowhere to be found-- and I realized would not be for who knows how long. Again that license catch-- you need both components to make it work. I have licenses for weapons and armor I haven't even seen offered, let alone will be able to afford when they are.

But I've fallen into a steady groove. Lots of combat got me lots of LP, and my characters are developing nicely:

Vaan: As the lead, he's pretty well balanced. But I'm specializing him in one handed swords, fighting attributes, and the appropriate armor classes.
Basch: The Brawler. Weapons, heavy armor, and all out strength. I've moved him past swords into hammers and spears, and he is getting lethal.
Fran: I've got Fran as an archer and two-handed swordsman (for the super cool and lethal Katana class weapons). I'm also giving her the Quickening super moves along with Vaan. Since Quickenings cost MP, and Fran rarely casts spells, she's always at full MP and ready to unleash a Quickening in emergencies.
Ashe: The game clearly wants Lady Ashe to be a white mage, but I've geared her more towards fighting. But I've also kept up her white mage licenses while buffing her out, so I've got me a great paladin class character. Like Vann I'll have her specialize in swords, a good tactic I think because she can always take his hand-me-downs. Otherwise she's at the ready with healing, status cures, and resurrect spells.
Penello: When Penello finally joined the party, she came with a wealth of LP and I had learned from my early errors in spending. Instantly she got a bevvy of buff licenses and became a jack of all trades. Like Ashe she fights and heals and is great in a support role, tho can wield a mean pole and has plenty of damage attributes to back it up.
Balthier: My power mage. He doesn't just get some magic, he gets all magic. Old school gamers can agree with me on an RPG staple. Mages by nature are initially weak characters that need constant supervision and protection for at least half the game. But stick with them and see the blossoming of a spellcasting juggernaught by the 3rd quarter who's power will be near unrivaled.

The images here are pictures I took of my actual game in progress. On the license board close up, you'll see how some squares have numbers, that's what I can spend on. The others are filled in, that's what I've gotten so far. Empty squares aren't revealed until you buy the square adjacent to it... The second screen shows how my characters are progressing on each of their own boards. As you'll notice I've accumulated quite a bit of LP after my latest trek, so it's time to buy more licenses! Ah, good times, good times.

FFXII: Licenses

Character modification in FF games is handled in a few different ways. In the base rules of RPGs, you kill enemies and gain experience. After N number of experience you level up, up go your stats, health, strength, etc. Rinse and repeat, a stair-stepping process that allows one's party to continually tackle harder and harder foes. For some games, that's about it, for others you spend your experience in certain areas, allowing characters to wean towards thievery, magic, fighting, or what have you

FF games are known to employ some extra, intricate matrix to dispense such abilities. Far beyond the act of simply spending points, these systems are games unto themselves, strategies of spending needed to get the most out of what is offered. Back in the early days of FF this was handled by the much favored "Jobs" system, setting a new trend and numerous copies across the genre. The milestone of FF7 on the Playstation introduced "Materia," weapon bound enhancers of all nature. My favorite game of the series, FF8, put forth the seethingly lucious "Junction System" which tied traits of elemental guardians to the characters which marked them-- dark pacts of power joyously employed by party members.

Each of the prior ultimately became eclipsed by Final Fantasy X's "Sphere Grid." It was a work of art as visual as it was strategic. Points were spent across a gargantuan labyrinth of jeweled spheres and pathways, some leading to the black arts of offensive magic, others paths of healing and enhancing. Still others lead to proficiency in defense, swordsmanship, and evasion. Each character began in one area of the grid and spiraled outward into new ones, the rewards eagerly awaiting along the way. Still other bounuses allowed one to "jump" the grid and land in another character's area to start anew. With a well plotted path I was able to lead Yuna to complete her sphere area mastery of white magic and then jump to black, effectively making her a destructive force a tear shy of godhood. Coupled with Lulu's own sphere of black magic and each augmented by Doublecast, it was at my discretion to rain down insurmountable fires of heaven on any unfortunate enemy in my path.

Here now we come to FFXII, and "Licenses." And the system may have been trumped again. With all prior FF games, characters were still basically placed in their boxes and nurtured as such. You had the brawler, the white mage, the black mage, the theif... each could expand their skills but they were well worked into areas of expertise. With FFXII, Squaresoft appears to have removed all shackles. They still plotted out a massive switchbox of skillsets, but this time have pronounced, "Here you go folks, here is everything. Develop any character any way you want."

A party of all swordsmen? There it is. Three white mages, three black? Here you go. This is the beauty and overwhelming freedom of licenses. On a Hearst Castle-esque marbled checker table lies every ability available in the game, all you have to do is spend your license points to unlock them. LP, btw, earned in single digits from defeating enemies in addition to experience gained. And it is addictive as all get out!

So I'm getting deep into the game, and have amassed much of this LP and have been spending accordingly. To whom have I bestowed gifts of what nature? More to come.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

New Comics Day

Tiny stack week.

Green Lantern Corps
Sock Monkey
The Escapists

But oh, how I would love to have gotten the Absolute Edition of New Frontier... I'm still putting aside some coin for Absolute Sandman!

Two great arrivals from Dark Horse this week. Sock Monkey, yeah, we love you. I'm also in love with The Escapists wonderfully executed story-within-a-story. Brushed Jason Shawn Alexander "Escapist" comics framed by awesome Steve Rolston Narrative. Great book!!

Monday, November 13, 2006

FFXII: Combat

When the FFXII demo came packaged with Dragon Quest 8 earler this year, my biggest concern was the change in FF's combat system. Gone was the combat "event," replaced with "real time" action and attacks. It was weird. I hoped I could get past it to enjoy the rest of the game, but combat is a huge, huge part of an RPG. Now that I'm a couple weeks into FFXII, I have new opinions on the system.

I love it. I can't get enough of it. I seek it out, getting caught up in combat chains so long I forget where I needed to go to trigger the next story event. What I'm saying is, I can't believe how much fun it is compared to every FF game that has come before.

In prior FF games, as in most traditional RPGs, one walks the overworld and randomly "encounters" combat. A new screen is brought up where your players face an enemy or enemies, and each of your characters takes turn issuing commands to fight, spellcast, heal, etc. Coupled with the turns of the enemies, combat is played out and you win or lose the round. Experience points are gained, treasure is acquired. It's been like this for a long, long time. There is a very specific-- very pure-- strategy involved in this type of combat, one I relish in my ability to command. When to attack, when to heal, when to bring out the spells... How much damage can one character do to one enemy, will another's turn be wasted if they attack the same foe... Is it best to concentrate on the big guy who can kill me in a couple blows, or his partner who will poison me first round and slowly drain my entire party... I live for this stuff. RPG combat strategy can be used to tackle real world problems, you can choose to believe me or not, it's called "strategy" for a reason.

The combat event is gone in FFXII's "Active Dimension Battle" system, but not necessarily replaced. Monsters roam freely in the overworld, you can see them, run from them, or engage them. On one hand, this is a huge advantage if you want to avoid or seek out a certain type of monster, something that was completely random in previous games. But when you actually engage a creature, there is no less strategy than before, it's just a different kind. I think the underlying reasoning behind this has to do with the newfound popularity with MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft, another world environment where you can see your enemies in advance and attack in real time. Except, like WoW, it's not really "real time," it's all still dice rolls, people. And in FFXII, combat is still halted when you need to make a critical menu selection-- something that happens alot in my case. Change weapons, change spells, change party members... it's all still there but now it a strong sense of immediacy. Once you've made that selection, that monster is still there, waiting to wail on your ass, and is also calling over a few of his buddies. FFXII combat is frantic and urgent, and small strategic decisions can be a bounty... or fatal.

Boss combat has always represented the ultimate in strategy management, sometimes ridiculously so in turn-based systems. This is no less true in FFXII, and I've found myself tweaking details for bosses I don't usually need to.

For a more extreme experience, you can even turn off the selection pause, meaning combat actions will never stop even if you're making a menu selection. I don't really need to do that, I'm managing just fine as it is. Saddled to combat are a quartet of MAJOR factors, Quikenings, Espers, Gambits, and Licensing. Quickenings are your character super moves, replete with jaw-dropping special effects and massive damage rewards. Espers are the massive leviathan summonings you call in to wreak havok on the world and bring the pain. Gambits and Licensing? Well, they get their own post.

Adding the awesome monster designs and crazy-beautiful overworld environments, FFXII combat is easy to get lost in. There is always a stage in RPGs where you have to buckle down and "level up," and to me was a tedious necessity that at times prevented me from accomplishing the meatier goals. I have no problem with this in FFXII, in fact my last play session was dedicated to just that, gleefully. I still love the traditional combat system and I'm sure it won't go away anytime soon, or maybe it will-- While WoW-type combat seems catered to PCs, its stramlined cousin in FFXII is a powerful argument for the console RPG.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

New Comics Day

JLA Confidential
Green Lantern
The Eternals
Strangers in Paradise
The Vault of Michael Allred (!)
Project: Romantic (!)
Liberty Meadows: Cover Girl (!!)

The last four issues of Green Lantern have been out of this world. Sure the story is good, but it boils down to two words: Ivan Reis. The guy is a galactic drawing machine.

Strangers in Paradise takes you where it counts as the series draws closer to its finale. Only 5 issues left, the cover reminds us, and it is a gripping one.

Project: Romantic is the latest offering from AdHouse Books, which is to say is the latest offering of dreamy, eclectic comicy goodness.

Liberty Meadows: Cover Girl is a collection of all Frank Cho's Liberty Meadows covers and various sketchworks that went into them. Drool.

FFXII: Eye Candy

This game is fucking beautiful.

The picture retains its worth in words, so I invite you to hit up a few gaming sites and check out the screen shot galleries for FFXII:

FFXII at Gamepro
FFXII at IGN/Gamespy

There is no doubt in this artist's mind that Square has employed the best character designers our generation is likely to see. And that ain't no fluff, in fact that statement is highly contested! Hell, I give actual scholastic lectures on the subject. But one thing can't be denied-- be it by Amano, Nomura, or Yoshida, FF character designs are stunningly original. Yoshida's designs for FFXII tread a delicious line between contemporary haute couture and pure fantasy costuming. The lead character, Vann, is noticeably effeminate, but commands both power and emotion. I can only assume he is appealing to female players, yet with sword in hand and the expected protagonist bravado he still kicks ass without taking names. By contrast, additional male characters are alternate universe Marlboro spokesmen who don't even have time to be labeled cool.

The female supporting cast is as beautiful as can be expected. Requisite Princess Ashe commands respect upon entering the game as a battle-ready resistance fighter (tho most of the marketing materials featuring her seem to contradict this). Spunky sidekick Penelo rocks the combat zone in pigtails! And Fran? Well... yes. Far from the whispy "healer" roles relegated to females in RPGs past. (Aside, FFX2-- who's lead cast is composed entirely of women-- is a hell of a fun game. It's a pristine concoction of D&D Barbie in just about every way)

Environments and support artwork in FFXII are visions of wonder and awe. If not for visual impact, than in the pure artistic skill involved in their creation. All of this is gushing, I know, but I'm an artist after all. Such imagery speaks to the heart as much as the brain, and only spurs inspiration.

Final Fantasy XII Official Site.

Monday, November 06, 2006

It's, like, for cars and stuff

DashDAQ pimped at Autoblog.

Wow, who did those hawt screen graphix? Me, baby. Me.

Car geeks feel free to hop on over to Drew Technologies.

FFXII: First Impressions

I am afraid this is going to turn into FF week at the ol' Edco Blog. Final Fantasy XXII is such a cut above the rest that it's difficult to describe. It is an unbelievably beautiful game, and that is amazing to me considering the visual bar set by each previous FF game. Outside of the general presentation and production values, it is one hell of a game to play. RPG's aren't for everyone, I know, but it is really hard for me to think of someone who wouldn't get caught up in this game. I'm only 10 hours in and it has entranced me completely.

While I am biased because I am a die-hard Squaresoft enthusiast, especially when it comes to FF, I have the impression that FFXII may capture that crossover audience more than ever before. This is no small statement considering FF games typically sell in the millions. Much publicized leading up to its release, FFXII's combat system is a radical departure from previous versions. Or is it??? I'll do my best to expand on my observations in the coming posts. If not in technical detail (the mechanics are wickedly deep and complex) then at lest in how it is affecting my experience with the game.

The release and subsequent time-sucking couch time of new FF games is an old Edco tradition. In fact, it is the very origin of "Edco," the moniker to which I brand all of my videogame lead characters! Which, um, is a little anti-informative at current, since FF games don't let you do that anymore :-( But Vaan is an Edco at heart :-)

I'm certainly looking forward to getting out of FFXII everything Square has put in!

Oh, Glorious Day

Arrival: The winter Taschen Catalog.

The Departed Vs. Infernal Affairs

For those not aware (like me), the recent Martin Scorsese powerhouse The Departed is a remake of an HK flic called Infernal Affairs. My buddy Ben in Japan tipped me off and even got me a copy of Infernal Affairs because he's cool (and knew I would like it). Anyways he wanted to know how the US version panned out, and perhaps you do, too-- so here's just a lift from one of our recent e-mail back-and-forths. BTW, I saw Infernal Affairs first and then went and saw The Departed.

-- Wicked SPOILERS --

You said that IA was part of a series, and you didn't know how many movies The Departed covered. Well as far as I can tell it's a direct remake of IA. And it was 2.5 hours long, to boot. The plot is exactly the same, as are most all major characters. Now I have to say The Departed is a really good movie. Scorsese knows his territory here and he cast the fucking hell out of it. I'm really surprised they didn't find a part for Deniro because he's really the only one missing in a movie like this. But the thing is, I also know they cast the hell out of IA, I mean it's Tony, Andy, and company after all.

The movie starts the same way, in cadet school, with flash backs to how they were from different backgrounds. In IA the two adult cops actually meet early on, but in The Departed they don't meet until after the crime boss dies.

The biggest differences are the weight of the roles. Since the crime boss is Jack Nicholson, I expected he'd have a much larger part in things and he does. He's kind of the main character alot of the story revolves around and connects to.

Another big difference is the shrink, she's barely in IA but it's a major role in The Departed. And they mix it up by removing bad cop's (Lau/Damon) girlfriend and making it the shrink. Then of course good cop (Leung/DiCapprio) has to see her and they get involved so there is the hollywood love triangle. Gone also is good cop's former lover (and implied daughter).

It was real funny to see what was lifted directly, and there's alot. The scene with the arm cast happens much earlier in The Departed, which I thought was better in IA because it's after the first raid and means more. The first raid is almost exactly the same, but without the morse code angle (too bad I thought that was a nice touch in IA that really pays off in the finale). The scene where bad cop pretends to be the lawyer is there, but it was way cooler in IA. The scene at the theater where good cop/bad cop almost see each other is exactly the same. So is the detail with the writing on the envelope and it's payoff, but in The Departed it's really blunt. IA handled it more believably I think, but I think it's because it's easier to believe that you can mistake a chinese symbol rather than an Irish guy not knowing how to spell.

The ending is almost scene for scene, right up to the rooftop and the elevator, to the clapping back at the department-- even the secretary handing him a drink!! But The Departed has one extra very last twist-- and it's not the HK alternate ending. Necessary, unnecessary? Eh.

The Departed is much more violent than IA. No where near as violent as Gangs of NY, tho (which I did not enjoy). It's a thuggy, Goodfellas type violence, mostly to set up DiCapprio's character as fucked up as possible. In IA good cop has been undercover for 9 years (!), in The Departed it's only 1.

So yeah The Departed is a really good movie, and 99% of people just aren't going to know what came before. I'm sure there'll be all kinds of oscar stuff thrown about. But ultimately I felt IA had more... nuance, if you get me. It wasn't afraid to have the unconnected minor characters and I really enjoyed the little details here and there.

One thing that is notable for The Departed, however-- It is very noticeable that this is a contemporary film, for America, at least. Primarily because of the role of the cell phones. Some people say computers instantly date films but they have a ubiquitousness about them that I think is pretty harmless. Lots of modern thrillers involve a major computer detail or two. The cell phone is certainly prevalent in our society but it was a little odd to see a Scorcese movie revolve around it. I just wonder how it will appear years down the road, possibly invisible because cell phones will be a staple. Goodfellas was set in a specific time period, but it could have had cell phones and been the same movie. I don't know quite how to put it, I just noticed it is all. It's weird because it was more natural to accept the HK version for whatever reason, but here you've got Jack Nicholson and Martin Sheen texting with the kids. I think because of this, because of the cast and the director and the overall quality of the movie, it is one of those film notables that won't be recognized until much farther down the road.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Keep your clothes on, Kara

Through a click of a click of a click, I came across this lovely -ahem- "model" in a Supergirl costume (it being Halloween season and all). Now that's a pretty well made costume-- you can tell by the seams-- tho the material may be an off choice. Is it store bought? Custom made?

Further investigation will no doubt lead you to Naughty Girl Sandy, where one could only assume the continuation of the photoset leads to images the Kents would certainly not approve of. And no, there are no more Supergirl pics on the tour, but don't let that stop you if you're inclined to poke around the distinctly NSFW website. Well, NSFW for you probably, since mine is cool like that.

UPDATE: Sandy as Supergirl photoshoot preview. A little more Kryptonian skin but no actual nudity.

New Comics Day

Grrrrr... Midnighter is mean!

Justice League of America
Battler Britton
Manifest Eternity
Spider-Man/Power Pack
Street Fighter Legends: Sakura

Wow, are we halfway through 52 already??

Can Midnighter support his own book? Does Garth Ennis care?

Will Justice League of America continue to put me to sleep?

My worry for Midnighter is that it will just be like Ennis' Punisher run, but without the guns. Or maybe with them. It's ringer is Chris Sprouse on art, which is always a wonderful thing. JLoA is trying really hard to get me to care, but it's not working. Again the main draw here is art, by Ed Benes.