Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Monthly Update: 11/13

Greetings, all!

A couple of things of note this month, starting with the most important news: we are officially moving to Weston-Super-Mare on December 18th!  (Well, assuming we pass our referencing checks).  What this means for all of you is that we're a step closer to the shop, and all we need is the money to start.  It also means we'll be looking for players for a gaming group soon, playing either D&D or Pokemon Tabletop Adventures- if you're interested in joining then let me know.

In other news, Rooksburgs Realm now has a Twitter account, where you can be updated on new blog posts as well as other random gaming things I come across.  The Twitter handle, as you can probably guess, is @RooksburgsRealm.  I promise it won't be filled with irrelevant things like what sandwiches I'm eating, it will be entirely gaming related- the most mundane thing there will be what games I'm playing, and I'd be grateful if anyone wants to drop me a comment along the lines of 'you should totally have this for the shop' or something similar.  Likewise, if you come across something I might find interesting like a new game then don't hesitate to let me know.

Now then, I also promised I would elaborate a little more on my long-term plans this month.  Let's do this role-play style:

You are in the city of Bristol.  A city known across the country for being a busy cultural centre; a reputation well-deserved and a matter of pride to the Bristolian people.  As you explore, one shop in particular catches your eye: 'Rooksburg's Realm'.  There are a couple of posters up in the window- one reads 'Currently seeking party of five level 6 adventurers for slaying a dragon and looting ancient temples: D&D 3.5, Wednesday nights, apply within'.  The other reads 'Do you want to be the very best? Like no-one ever was?  Then take part in this Saturday's Pokémon League and take home the title of Champion!'.
Hesitantly, you enter- from previous experience with gaming shops, any newcomers are met with stares that say 'you're not local, are you?'.  You breathe a sigh of relief as that doesn't happen here.  On one side of the room are shelves of games and miniatures, some of which you are familiar with but many you've never seen outside of ebay.  On the other side is a small seating area, with a group of five people- 3 guys and 2 girls- chatting whilst eating their lunch of homemade sandwiches and milkshake.  There are two others, sat opposite ends of a small table with biscuits held above cups of tea, staring at each other intently.  On the wall there is a rather ornate sword hanging, with a small note next to it.
'Good day sir, can I be of assistance?' says a man in smart shirt and hat, presumably the owner of the shop.
'I'm fine, just browsing' you say.
'No problem.  If you find something you like the look of, we can try it out if you want.  You see we offer a 'try before you buy' service, just pick a game and we can have a practise before you buy.  If you decide you don't like it then all we ask is a small fee for the trial- much cheaper than buying the game and finding out later that you don't like it.'
'Sounds great', you say, 'but my group has to like the game too'.
'Well then bring them here and you can all try it out together.  Even if you do like it but not enough to buy then you can 'rent' the game for a few hours.'
'I shall bear that in mind!  Also... what's with the sword?'
Rooksburg smiles.
'You saw the sign in the window, the D&D request?  That sword is the +3 Keen Rapier used to defeat the Devil-King of Dinosaur Island.  The party fought hard for that.'
'But that's a real sword.'
'From a fictional game.'
'Yes,' Rooksburg beams, 'and you can buy it for £250.'
'Wait... are you saying that you sell the items your gamers find in their games?'
'That's right.  And if you look at the note next to it you'll see a photo of the group that found it as well as their characters' names and classes.'
'...Where do I sign up?', you say.

Well I hope that's explained a little of what things will be like, and didn't sound too much like a text-based promotional video.  (Who am I kidding, I hope when it comes to tv advertising I have something exactly like this with the corniest actors it's possible to find!).  There are bigger plans, but they are much, much further down the line...

So until next month, assuming I have internet access after moving and I'm not too busy with Christmas, so long!


...also sorry for the blatant Order of the Stick reference

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Rooksburg Reviews: Pokémon X (Part 2)

Having exposed myself to most of what's left of Pokémon X (barring wi-fi battles, as I'm still busy building my team), I can now conclude this review.

The Story:
The story is practically non-existent in Pokémon X and Y.  There are a couple of references to Team Flare but nothing significant, then they just sort-of show up in places you happen to be.  As you get closer to the 8th badge you're suddenly called to another town where all hell breaks loose, you're forced to capture the obligatory version-exclusive legendary pokémon, then you're literally told 'let's go back to Anistar town and carry on where we left off!'.  The only evidence anything happened at all is a geographical change to one of the towns, otherwise everything continues as normal.  The legendaries themselves don't make an awful lot of sense in context, and their existence isn't really explained, much like this generation's 'N'- here called 'AZ'.  He seems a very interesting character, but unfortunately isn't given time to develop his character aside from a couple of beautiful cutscenes.
My grade for the story is 6/10- what little there is is very good, but it's very much a case of 'blink and you'll miss it'.  Hopefully this gen's sequels/third version will expand on it.

The League:
The 'final boss' (here taken to mean the last challenging encounter before the credits roll) of any Pokémon title is the Pokémon League, where you must face the Elite 4- each specialising in a certain Type- and the Champion.  Often it is expected you will use tens of Full Restores and Revives and maybe even a few Ethers.  You can also expect to face 'that one guy' who poses a real threat, leaving you with one pokémon standing.  That being said, this generation was a pushover.  The biggest reason for this?  Pokémon-Amie.  Seriously, if you want any kind of challenge then don't use Pokémon-Amie as it will make you feel like you're cheating, when every hit given is a crit and every hit taken is endured leaving you on 1HP.  Add O-Powers into the mix and it gets even worse.  An easy solution to make it more challenging would have been for opponents to have the same Pokémon-Amie benefits, after all you'd expect a gym leader or Elite 4 member to have a strong bond with their pokémon.
I give X and Y's league a 4/10 if you're using Pokémon-Amie, and only a 6/10 if you're not using it.  This is partly due to the forgettable Elite 4.

The Characters:
In Black and White, and Black and White 2, the gym leaders and champion played an integral part of the game.  You would often bump into them, they would help in your adventure against Team Plasma, and generally you got a feel for them as something more than just people to defeat.  X and Y don't have that.  The only times you'll find a gym leader outside of their gym is very rarely in the Battle Chateau, and even then they're underlevelled.  The champion is lacklustre; although you've met them earlier in the game you don't know much about them and they don't seem to have the passion of former champions.  The Elite 4 have extremely interesting designs and personalities, but again there's no development outside of battle.  As for other characters, yes there's the sense of being on a simultaneous journey with your friends but do they really deserve the same amount of credit in the ending cutscene?

Character's get a 7/10, in the hopes they get some development in the sequel or in a piece of postgame I haven't reached yet.

So far it's coming across that I've disliked the game.  Yet I've racked up over 180 hours on it.  Why's that?  Let me explain...

Route Design:
I can't emphasize enough how good the route design is- and this goes for the 'dungeons' too.  Previous games had routes that all looked similar, a mostly linear path with patches of grass and possibly a Strength puzzle for an optional extra.  In that respect these games are exactly the same- only the routes feel more natural.  Each has a different 'theme'- an Autumnal area, a beach, flower gardens, etc.  There are tens of pokémon available on each route, some varying by which patch of grass you're exploring.  There are still Strength puzzles, but they're hidden away- you'll only find them if you go looking for them, usually with Surf or Waterfall.  The 'dungeons' are varied and unique too- from Glittering Cave's 3D view, to Reflection Cave's doors hidden in mirrors, to the Lost Hotel hideout for skaters.  It's almost certain you won't discover everything on your first visit either.
A solid 8/10, as there should always be room for improvement.  And Route 1 is very silly.

The Post-Game:
I feel this is a concept unique to Pokémon games- that of a 'post-game', i.e extra content available after the credits have rolled.  Regardless, there's no shortage of options available to you.
'Gotta Catch 'Em All!'.  In total there are now 718 pokémon.  Around 118 are not yet available, until Pokébank goes live in December.  (edit: LOL)  That means that between the two games there are approx. 600 pokémon you can catch which will keep collectors (like me) busy for hours.  To catch them all you'll also have to visit:
Friend Safaris.  Some pokemon are only available here, and they all have high odds of having their Hidden Abilities and perfect IVs (individual values).  The idea is that every 3DS Friend Code has a Type associated with it, and 3 pokémon allocated to it of that type.  When you add someone as a friend you can encounter their three pokémon, but you can't encounter your own.  There are now hundreds of places online where you can share friend codes for the purpose of finding your perfect 'poké-bro', which inevitably leads to further hours of:
Breeding.  Getting your perfect pokémon has never been easier thanks to friend safaris and a new use for the Destiny Knot.  Every pokémon has IVs that differentiate them from others of their species, and in previous games these values were practically invisible.  Now, however, there is a judge that can tell you what your highest IVs are and whether they can get any better- then it's a case of simple genetics and breeding chains to get pokémon with up to 5 perfect IVs (it is possible to get 6, but extremely impractical).  You'll spend hours reading up how to do this online, let alone the hours you spend in-game actually doing it!  The end result is:
Battling.  Personally, I'm still on the breeding stage so can't comment on what the battling community's like at present- but if you think you're ready for battling then take comfort in the fact that there are no hacked pokémon (at least until Pokébank comes out), and there is a ranked battle system so (theoretically) you'll always be fighting someone of around your ability.  You also have the option of Singles, Doubles, Triples, and Rotation battles.  Unfortunately no Sky or Inverse battles, but perhaps in future DLC?

But wait, there's more!

Post-Game Lumiose City:
On returning to Lumiose City, you will now be recognised as a celebrity due to your champion status.  This is a welcome change from previous games, where the public were completely oblivious to your actions.  Some battle cafés will also now be open to you if you fancy a small challenge and a hefty collection of mushrooms (and if you want to give an old man a heart attack- seriously, the dialogue in this game is a lot darker than previous games.  Incidentally, don't forget to pick up the pokémon you left with that lonely man...).  You should also now have enough money to increase your style leading to new haircuts and outfits to try, as well as some different dialogue with townspeople and even more recognition.  Not only that but Looker returns, setting up a detective agency in Lumiose City!  Cue a dramatic series of events, marking a story possibly longer than the one in-game, and with the potential for DLC.  Finally, a new train is available to take you to a brand new town- home of the friend safaris and the Battle Maison- this generation's Battle Tower/ Battle Subway, and just as cheaty as ever- but a much better challenge than the League was, and the only way to get certain items.
All-in-all the postgame gets a 9/10 for the sheer amount of things available to do- if they actually release some DLC then this will be a definite 10/10.

In conclusion, this game is exactly the same as its predecessors, only better.  After 180 hours I'm still not bored, as I keep switching between catching, breeding, and Looker's missions.  The gimmicks are fun but there's always the threat they'll be taken away in the next games- just as contests and following pokémon were.  The story leaves a little too much open to interpretation, and the characters have next to no development, but after Black and White 2 I hold out hope for some further story either in a sequel or DLC.  From what I've seen, all multiplayer elements are amazing, at least until hacked pokémon come back in December.  And whilst I'm not a fan of Pokémon-Amie's in-battle effects, the feature itself is very cute and will put a smile on anyone's face.

...Except Espurr's

Thursday, 7 November 2013

The Traveller's Guide to Faerun: Becoming a Bard

The future Zephran?
Becoming a bard was not something I had considered, though it occurred to me that if the Simbul couldn't help me then I may be trapped on the material plane for a while- and honestly I was alright with that.  Every day so far had brought new surprises, and the landscape changed so drastically after every mile of travel.  But if I was to explore this world then I would have to have a more reliable source of income than just doing odd jobs here and there.  Regardless, Sir Rayner wouldn't take no for an answer and so I found myself on the road again, this time in Sir Rayner's luxury carriage headed for Velprintalar and the Simbul's palace- I only hoped that John wouldn't worry about me too much.

'You know, I used to dabble a little in the bardic arts in my youth', said Sir Rayner, 'but then what youngster didn't?  We all want to take up instruments with the belief our music will inspire others and heal the world.  Then we grow up and realise we sound worse than a troll in a lighthouse.'
I looked at him blankly, and he frowned.  He seemed disappointed I hadn't got the reference.
'Of course, you wouldn't know about that... I'll have to tell you the story some time.  Dreadful business.  Anyway, the point is that those who have actual talent- like yourself- often don't realise it until someone discovers them.'
'There were noodles everywhere...'

Sir Rayner suddenly jumped forward on his seat, looking into my eyes with a penetrating gaze.
'Right!  Time for a test!  Hypothetically, if there was a peasant uprising n Furthinghome what would you do?'
I was taken aback by this sudden tangent, causing me to stutter.
'Oh, er... um... well honestly, I probably wouldn't get involved.  Who am I to say who's in the right or wrong?'
Only after I finished answering did I remember who I was talking to.  Luckily he didn't seem offended, and was instead beaming.
'Excellent answer!  First rule of Bards is to never get involved in politics.  After all, there would be no passion in your stories if it's propaganda.  Next question: I know you've only been in Furthinghome a couple of days, but what can you tell me of the area?'
'Well, I know there's a divide between humans and half-elves that goes back to when the elves of the Yuirwood took offense to human expansion, and there's constant threat from the wizards of Thay, and of course there's that estate with the escaped peacocks...'
I stopped talking as Sir Rayner held up his hand for me to stop.
'Alright, I get the idea- you've certainly got the bard's ability to pick up local knowledge quickly.  Last question.'
Sir Rayner removed his gauntlets, and slid a ring off his finger, giving it to me.
'This ring was given to me by my mother.  Tell me, how much is it worth?'
I looked at it closely, turning it in my fingers several times.  It was a pure gold, with a pristine ruby set in it.  I looked up at Sir Rayner, knowingly.
'It's worthless.'
Sir Rayner looked surprised.  'What makes you say that?'
'It's too perfect.  A ring like this would get scratched under your armour, and if it was worth as much as you say then you wouldn't give it to someone like me.  My guess is that it's magical, a simple cantrip.'
Sir Rayner shrugged as he took the ring back.
'A logical deduction, but you're wrong.  This was indeed my mothers, magically reinforced to avoid superficial damage.  As for why I trust you handling it, well you severely underestimate my abilities!'  Sir Rayner winked.  'Still, you show a keen mind and certainly have the confidence of a bard.  Only thing left to get you started is magical training, and finding a suitable instrument for you- both things we can sort out in Velprintalar.'
There was a clunk, and an urgent shout from the coach driver as the vehicle came to a stop.
'Sigh, when will these bandits learn,' said Sir Rayner, putting his gauntlets and helmet on, 'Zephran- under your seat is a box.  Inside is a longsword.  Time to see how well you can do in battle!  And don't forget to sing!'

The adrenaline pumped through me as I picked up the sword.  Sir Rayner had already leapt out the carriage, and I could hear panic outside- the noise sounded almost like dogs yapping.  As I leaned out the door I saw Sir Rayner engaged in battle with three tiny creatures that looked almost like the dragons I had heard so much about.  Surely these can't be the terrifying creatures feared by every being on the material plane?  They were barely as high as Sir Rayner's waist!  I cautiously stepped outside, sword at the ready, though it hardly seemed necessary as Sir Rayner struck one of the creatures down and another started running.  The third was attempting to run, but its tail was stuck under Sir Rayner's boot.  I stepped further into the open as Sir Rayner released the struggling creature, which ran yipping off into the distance.  Sir Rayner sheathed his sword, but as he turned he shouted at me- 'Zephran, watch out!'
I span round, ducking to the side as one of the creatures leapt from the top of the carriage towards me.  In the dark moonlight its eyes glowed red as it circled me, growling as it poked its spear up towards me threateningly.  I gulped as these creatures seem a lot more threatening up close, despite their size.  I remembered Sir Rayner's command- don't forget to sing.  With a shaky voice I started to softly sing the song of the half-elves to myself, and sure enough it gave me much better clarity.  Everything seemed to slow down, and I could now see my attacker more clearly- it was reptilian, scaly, and wearing ridiculously ill-fitting armour.  With this new-found courage I took a swipe at it, but it deftly dodged to the side and hit me across the back with his spear.  It didn't hurt much, but it made me more aware of the creature's skill.  It took a lunge at me, but I managed to swipe its spear to the side.  I tried to use the momentum of the swing to hit the creature but again it rolled away.  It was clear I would need more than my paltry combat skills for this battle.  I took a deep breath, focusing on my assailant, then released the air softly, channelling it around my body.  The creature looked momentarily confused, then lunged at me again; this time, with the help of the swirling air under my control, I could use my agility to spin around the creature and deliver a decisive blow to its back.

As the creature fell to the floor with a small gurgle, Sir Rayner casually approached and I let the wind dissipate.
'I'm impressed.'
'Heh... Thank you... My first time wielding a sword.'
'Oh no, not your swordplay- that was appalling!  Struggling that much against a pesky Kobold... What I mean is that thing you did with the wind.  I'm guessing that's an Air Gensai thing?'
I shrugged.
'I guess so... Why, can't you do that?'
'Hah!  Not without the use of magic, or a few years of training!  Come on, let's carry on the journey.'
'Hold on,' I said, stooping over the creature's body, 'What were those things?  Why were they attacking?'
'They're just Kobolds.  Filthy little buggers, but easily disposed of.  As for why they attack, the same reason as any bandits- for treasure.'
'Are they dragons?'
'Hah, I'd love to see the look on a dragon's face when you compare one to them!  No, they're no more dragons than we are monkeys.'
'I see...'
I didn't really understand, but I made a note to read up more on 'kobolds' when we reached a library.  Right then, all I really wanted was a rest.  Fighting bizarre creatures was exhausting, and these were meant to be little more than pests?  I hoped I would never have to face a real dragon in the future...

Friday, 1 November 2013

Monthly Update: 10/13 (with Survey Results!)

Good day!

I know, I know- it's technically 11/13.  I also know there's been little to no activity on here over the past month- it's been busy what with trying to find somewhere to move to and putting up with just about everything going wrong trying to slow us down.

I still plan to move before Christmas (if I can afford it then it will be around Dec 21st), but shortly after my previous post the car decided to die and set me back £300 on what I was expecting to be a £40 fix.  Shortly after that, my wisdom tooth decided to cause me extreme agony so I haven't been at all motivated for writing recently.  This is unlikely to be fixed for another 6 weeks yet, but the pain has subsided enough for me to continue blogging, if only because of friends participating in NaNoWriMo making me feel guilty.

Now for some actual news you may be interested in, rather than reading my sob story- I have results from my survey!  (It's still ongoing, so if you haven't completed it yet then do so now- it only takes 5 minutes! )
Now I can give some sort of definitive answer to what you want from Rooksburg's Realm; here are some of the more interesting results.

A significant majority of you are interested in role-playing games more than Wargames.  Practically no-one wants TCGs.  Over half of you are interested in third-party miniatures and out of print books.
Over three-quarters of you are interested in both types of membership I am currently considering.
You are mostly interested in weekly gaming, and are most likely to want to play on Saturdays.  You are least likely to want to play on Mondays.
Those of you that are interested in painting want non-GW paints more than anything else (specific demand for Vallejo).  There is also some interest in my partner's painting lessons (trust me, she's good!).
It seems that if you're interested in video games, you're interested in everything apart from MMOs.  There is an even divide between those of you interested in video games and those of you who aren't.
Regarding refreshments, there has been an overwhelming demand for sandwiches and significant demand for just about everything else.  Except juice.
Out of all respondents, only 3 people believe there is no demand for this shop/club.  Even better, some of you answered that you would go out of your way to come here from further afield!

Now I know that surveys like this are biased towards the sorts of people willing to complete an online survey, but still this all looks quite promising.  Now I'm confident to reveal my plans a little further... But you can wait till the next update for that ;)

Until then,