Category: Miscellaneous


MMO Game over

Come with me to escape your everyday life and take on a role for a world much different than your own. Where evil abides in numbers, will you stand with those against it or aid to empower the imbalance? Will you join others in the greatest fights of all or will you be confident enough in your own skills to survive the terrors unaided? Venture to a world where you can make a difference in the lives of its citizens; where fierce beasts lay havoc on the lands and wait for formidable adventurers, like yourself, to bring their reign to an uncompromising finale. So choose your weapon, don your armor and take your first step into the adventure of a lifetime…

This is but a general set up for a genre of games called MMORPGS, or Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games. It is the epitome of creating your own character, your own legacy and your own story. While this does not discount the establishment that single player RPGs or other genre of games bring to gamers, there is one vital difference that MMOs bring to the table: community. Some of the more notable games of this type that most people will recognize at least on some level would be WoW (World of Warcraft), Final Fantasy XI or XIV, Rift, Tera, Guild Wars and the list continues. They are immensely popular games, some being free to play while other require subscription – yet the adventure, fun and camaraderie has always brought more and more people to their ranks and continued to draw people back in.

MMO pic

I will admit that I have never played WoW, I know, it seems crazy. However, my first experience with MMOs was years ago not long after Final Fantasy XI launched. I remember the first time I launched the game and saw the warning message telling me to have fun but not to forget about friends, family, work and school. I had always spent a good amount of time gaming on various platforms, but to think something would have to put that message up beforehand just seemed amusing to me. I soon learned why it was there and encountered people within the game that clearly could have taken those words of wisdom a little more to heart.

But here is the thing: MMOs have taken a turn for the worse lately, and it is sad to me. Although I had many large breaks from FFXI due to other things I was doing in life, I probably went back to it on and off for almost 9 years (9 years! That is a good bit of devotion). It clearly had enough content, challenge and fun to keep me going back and accomplishing more and more. Of course, having played since nearly the beginning I was able to see first hand as the genre began to warp into the creature it is today.

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What Final Fantasy XI used to be was what I loved. It was difficult and unforgiving but it gave you a true sense of accomplishment. Level 75 was the max level that could be reached for the first half of the game and it wasn’t something that could be done in a month…it took me years to get there. Quests were mostly to give you gear or items needed to unlock certain level caps or abilities; missions were used for story progression and to increase renown and gain other benefits and rare items; and leveling to 75, well that was something completely different. The fastest method of leveling was made by putting in time, hard work and team effort. Parties of 6 people of different jobs would gather together at a specific place and simply kill enemies until they reached a higher level and needed to move on. At best the enemies may have given 200xp each; however when it takes 18k, 30k or 50k to get one level it can be quite a time-involved endeavor. Other aspects of the game involved hunting extremely difficult bosses for rare items which would only spawn once every few hours or days and could only be claimed by the first person or party to attack them; a death and exp loss penalty for dying; huge maps of which to traverse usually by foot or with some teleportation help from certain job classes of higher levels. Then of course there was the end-game which had numerous events made up of large alliances of people of varying jobs that met multiple times a week and would give great reward for those who were able to put in the necessary time. All of this made for a challenging and beautiful adventure. Unfortunately, it is something very rare to find now.

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Some of the more recent MMOs that have come out the past few years still offer much of the same format, however it is hard to ignore how easy the games have become. The greatest part of the genre was the community aspect: teaming up with random people who may end up as close friends to fight through difficult battles, level, or down huge mega bosses for merit and reward. This is hard to find now. Leveling up can be done completely solo via quests and missions and done within a matter of weeks usually; and most people tend to just do their own thing as opposed to joining forces and getting to enjoy the game with others. Sure the larger bosses and end game events still require groups to survive, but these are likely random people placed together through a group finder who are spread throughout many servers and will likely never see or hear of each other again. It just feels so soulless and empty. Why play an online game geared towards cooperation between people to simply play it alone or only expect the best people to join you so that you can win the first time, every time?

People said the games were too hard, so they changed the format to be more friendly to casual players. Sure, not everyone has countless hours every week to put into a game, that is understandable; but they made the games so that everyone can easily be swept to max level and then carry on with the same mundane and simple tasks, guided by their happy lighted arrows on the map. The adventure and exploration is gone for most people and the magic went with it. People wanted to see results and they wanted them now. They didn’t want to work on something and earn their reward after putting in the time and effort. There are still many who would like the challenge of years ago to remain, but the majority simply want everything handed to them – which makes for quite a boring game in the long run.

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Sure, I enjoyed my time playing Guild Wars 2 or FFXIV and the others, but they maybe lasted me 8 months tops before I felt like anything else I did was repetition and mostly I stayed that long for the friends I had in game. Sure there is new content being put out, but really, it is the same format as everything else but with a different background. The community is still unimaginative and self involved and the challenge is minimal – sometimes only being difficult at the very start until the method is found that will kill the boss easily. They have made the games so that almost anyone can have the best of the best – and when everyone has it, it loses that special something that made it what it is. Sure having the strongest weapon and the best gear stats is great and will help you, but it has lost that accomplishment of “I worked hard to get this and now I have the right to wear it”.

When I played FFXI, I certainly did not ever have the time to get the best gear. It took years for me to get my first job to 75 and I struggled and fought and suffered to get there. I never had time to join groups that did end game events, so I did the best I could and I had fun doing it. I learned to be good at my job and my abilities on there instead of simply relying on getting the best gear to carry me through. Skill is what sets people apart in those games, and sadly they have made it so that even those without skill can look just as good with little effort.

Some people may disagree with this view, but I personally dislike that I can max out level and gear on a job within a month or two of the game being released. What will make me stay? The friends I have with me certainly will for a while, and sure, I will want to work to get the gear to match my skill and usefulness; but after that? The adventure fades, the sparkly new-ness of everything becomes dull and I move on to something else. I understand why companies have shifted to create a larger, more diverse, player base; but at the same time the longevity that would keep people going back seems to be dwindling.

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Times change and people change, it is just how things are. For myself, I will always be on the lookout for something that may be more akin to the type of MMO world I loved; but in the mean time, at least the variety and adventure of gaming can be found through numerous other genres and platforms – and that is something that I know will never fade away.

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Achievement

Achievement Unlocked!

Oh what beautiful words! That small tiny icon of instant praise telling me, ‘Hey! I did something!’ showing up at the corner of my screen, controller in hand, and you just can’t help but smile at the recognition. Sure, achievements and trophies are a thing of more recent years but even despite that they have caused quite a ripple in the gaming realm and even affect how some people play the games they so dearly love.

Think back to the days when the Nintendo 64 battled head on with the Playstation 1: Was Zelda Ocarina of Time better than Final Fantasy VII? Well, arguments on Internet gaming forums and in High School cafeterias would be the battleground for that death match; but did it really matter? You played what you liked because you wanted to. Did I really want to find every skulltula in Zelda to free that poor family from the horrid arachnophobic nightmare curse? Well, honestly, not really – and I didn’t. What if there had been an achievement for doing so, what if that would have been the last thing standing between me and that blessed 100% completion rating? Nope, still wouldn’t have done it (because I loathe spiders and that family can just rot in misery…far away from me). However, this inclusion just may have pushed people that extra mile to get every last item and complete every optional side quest to perfection. This represents a small view of the love/hate relationship that many gamers have with the achievements, trophies, and gamer scores that preside over the gaming world today.

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Achievements have ruined my life! Some gamers may state this as they now have lost that childlike awe and wonder when looking at the games they long to play. They don’t simply play the game as they want to and leave it at that because now there are achievements! Ooooh, the shiny achievements and I must get them all! Missed one halfway through the story? Damn, well better restart the game or reload a save file from three hours ago. Really, it’s true, there are many gamers who are purely achievement hunters; their gamer scores are astronomical and there is rarely a game logged in their library without that gold or platinum mark on it unless it is still in progress. They claim they can’t look at games the same anymore because they want to gain as many achievements in as few playthroughs as possible then move on to the next game. Surely this raises their score and bragging rights, but really it is all just to show off. Here’s a small and possibly unheard of secret that I will let you all onto: achievements are completely OPTIONAL. They are fun and offer some extra challenge but they are not necessary and missing a few will not diminish the enjoyment of a game. If you claim that achievements have destroyed your gaming life, don’t blame the games – you do it to yourself.

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With that out of the way, I think that the addition of achievements/trophies is a great asset to the gaming industry. As I alluded to in the intro, I adore getting those little pings of ‘Good Job!’ a midst my gaming but at the same time, I don’t make it my life goal to see every single one of those pop up on my first play through. When I first get a game I play it how I want to. If the only achievements I see during that run is ‘You beat an enemy’, ‘You beat this boss’, ‘You beat the game’, well then so be it – time for round 2! That is one of the greatest reasons that achievements are in place: they add additional replay values to games that developers put so much time, heart and effort into. Not every single player game is 80 hours long and it may well be worth the time to go back through and see what you may have missed on the first run. Maybe choose option 2 instead of option 1, let a character die instead of saving them, go good instead of evil, get different endings and see it all play out to the fullest. Even multiplayer heavy games such as the Call of Duty franchise have numerous achievements that extend the life of the title. Maybe you get tired of being the elite sniper on the team and to add a little difficulty change to grenades only (I’m sure there is an achievement for that as well). So step out of the cozy comfort box and try something new – the Devs didn’t put it in there for it to be completely ignored, even if it may not be the best way of getting from point A to point B.

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Speaking from the developer standpoint, it takes years to develop games and oftentimes a team of devoted individuals with varying skills and assets to make their dream come to life. From my standpoint, adding in extra achievements (whether it be 10 or 187) just helps show gamers that there is so much more they can do and get from playing their game. Sure there are some nearly impossible achievements added in for those hardcore masochistic types, but from what I can tell, most of the achievements that I miss my first play through only lead me to explore every aspect within that game as I pursue them on following runs. I know if I was a developer I would want people to find the snarky little hidden messages in secret areas or discover this beautiful character interaction point off the beaten track or know what it is like to team up with a friend and take out an entire enemy team without dying. Plus, they add a level of difficulty to the game that you may not have realized. Oh, the game seemed too easy that run? Well now try beating it while keeping your main character at level one the entire time! It may sound insane to some, but it offers a unique challenge and play style to games that people may not have normally come up with (plus, if it is an achievement, then it must be possible to do…right?).

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If you look at any of my gaming profiles you will find a decent library of games of various genres and find that very few of those games on any platform have that glowing 100% next to them. Most I am still working on or will go back to; others, well, they may be a bit ridiculous or I may just not care for the game enough to replay it 5 more times. I am okay with all of that. I enjoy hunting achievements but they do not control how I play games or how much I enjoy them – and that is how it should be.

Think of achievements as a fun little side quest to your gaming life. So what if I didn’t want to hunt down every evil skulltula in Zelda? Well, I don’t really care that I missed that other achievement either. At the end of the day I’m still going to enjoy what I love to do, and really, that is all that matters.

Return from the Mists

“Cute girl like me, must be hard to close your eyes, huh?”

So, I have definitely been gone a good minute.

Although my defense stands that it was completely unintentional (life happens and all that jazz), it is time to get things going again! ~ and what better way to fire things back up than with a convention! Huzzah!

NekoCon 15 (in spaaaaaaaaaaace!) was a couple weekends ago in Virginia Beach, VA and it pulled out all the stops – complete with a real to life R2D2 rolling around the halls and whistling happily at passerby! All of the usual con festivities were in full swing as well to include various gaming, artist alley, dealers room, more cosplay than any one person can ever really intake in one weekend, panels, concerts, raves, zombie attacks and of course the dance offs (Gangnam Style, anypony?).

A live Vocaloid/Hatsune Miku concert was also not to miss and probably drew the biggest turn out to any one event I’ve seen so far! Understanding the concept of Vocaloid is intriguing as it is, but seeing it live action and in person is simply incredible.  For those who may not know, Vocaloid is a speech synthesizer engine which was used to create one of the main characters, Hatsune Miku (roughly translated to “first sound future). Miku herself is described as an “android diva in the near-future world where songs are lost.”  Her 3D visuals, dance, motions and voice are all done via computer and projected onto a screen on stage. For all practical purposes, she is just like any other performer you would see in concert yet with an uncanny technological twist.

Back to the present, as this is the first I’ve written for a while, I’ll keep this one fairly short ~ but much more is to come, I assure you!

FFXIII ~ Oerba Dia Vanille (Photo by Katsuya Weller)

But for now, I will leave you with a picture of quite possibly my favorite cosplay done thus far:

And the other details:

Friday: Rogue ~ X-Men

Saturday: Oerba Dia Vanille ~ Final Fantasy XIII

Sunday: Casual day, fox ears and companion cube included =)

Animazement 2012

Oh, what is there to be said that has not already been said before~

Once again, the streets of downtown Raleigh were overrun with thousands of character look-alikes from series of anime, video games, movies, TV shows and even cereal boxes. As average residents looked on in complete awe (and occasional horror), con-goer’s simply did what it is that they do best ~ be absolutely awesome!

Once past the initial onslaught of color and activity, the inside of the convention center offered a whole other wealth of entertainment. The convention staples of video game room, dealer’s room, artist alley and AMV contest and display were still ever present amidst so much more. Numerous panels could also be attended on everything from voice acting to costumes to little known facts of the universe – surely, there was something, somewhere that could interest anyone.

The cosplay chess match was an event I was happy to have made it to this year (as I missed it last year…don’t get me started). In a sophisticated and chess-like brawl to the death, main characters from various anime and video games went up against infamous side characters from similar genres. I’m not sure there is anywhere else one could find Pyramid Head from Silent Hill impaling Sailor Moon, Reno from FF7 hi-fiving Zapdos from Pokemon or see a squatting match to the death between Zack Fair and Sonic. Another unexpected turn of events occurred between Link and Midna as an order for slaying turned into a marriage proposal ending in happily ever after =)

Additionally, the Masquerade offered plenty of amusement and talent even though there were only a few acts involved this year. From seeing a small Ash belt out the Pokemon theme song to a huge dance extravaganza from the cast of Baccano, there was much to see and love.

Of course, those who were there know exactly what I am talking about and then some! A great time was had by all and it was difficult to look in any one direction without seeing a slew of amazing and intriguing cosplays.

Until next year ~ Huzzah!

Don’t worry, I know what you really came here for: More Animazement 2012 pictures click here ^^

As for me ~

[Saturday cosplay: Lucy/Nyu ~ Elfen Lied]

[Sunday cosplay: Mei Misaki ~ Another]

What is it that makes us fear things from the very depth of our souls?

There is just something about the Japanese style of horror that leaves a lasting, and sometimes scarring, impression on people. A psychological brand of horror where oftentimes it is what you don’t see, rather than what you do, that you should fear the most. There certainly is no denying the terror of someone running at you with a chainsaw; but when you manifest a fear so deep and pure, it stays with you long after the fact – far beyond anxiety, past paranoia.

Although the topic of horror stretches to far out reaches, one aspect often used is through the concept of dolls. Dolls often represent a symbol of beauty and childhood; a toy played with leisurely or an elegant shelf piece adorning a young girl’s room. They are a picturesque effigy in porcelain with pristine clothes and impenetrable eyes that see everything and nothing. A human personification that stands to show us just how fragile we really are. Although there are many instances of dolls inclusion in horror and other dark genres, here are but a few marked examples:

So I think to myself: ‘Something different; a precious present for a precious person.’ The most suitable thing would be you yourself.

Black Butler

This may have been but a small arc within the anime, but it managed to stick out for me none the less. When young girls begin to disappear from the city at an alarming pace with the only evidence left behind being a small doll of their likeness in an old shop, Ciel and Sebastian begin investigating the case. It seems just like any other task from the queen, however, things become much more personal when Elizabeth falls victim as well. Locating where she is being held, they discover the whereabouts of the other missing girls…at least what is left of them.

No longer human, the girls have all been turned into reanimated dolls, following every command by the strings of their puppet master. As battle ensues and the girls fall in defeat, they do not bleed but rather sawdust, straw and other inanimate materials come apart from their seams. Their humanity left only as a memory. When they finally find Elizabeth held away in a tower, relief floods over them as they find she had not been completely transformed like the other girls. But all is not right in the world as Elizabeth mercilessly attacks Ciel, still being manipulated by invisible strings and unable to control her own actions. These episodes not only show the fragility of dolls but also the terrifying likeness to their human counterparts; or in this case, where they become one in the same.

“The dolls…dolls are hollow, you see. Completely hollow in body and soul. That void connects them with death, but hollow things seek to fill their emptiness. Don’t you feel as though this place is drawing something out of you?”

Another

From the very beginning, the opening of this anime signifies just how beautiful yet breakable a doll can be. Broken, battered, entangled, and distraught – the dolls paint a beautiful and tragic portrait. One of the most intriguing places and scenes in this anime to me by far took place in the doll shop “‘The Hollow Eyes of Yomi at Twilight”. The setting was already mysterious, but this added another level of cryptic darkness to it all. The dolls found within are all effortlessly beautiful but what really stood out was their design and display. Some were posed specifically, some haphazardly sitting or with hanging limbs off of a shelf, and some laid out as if for a funeral viewing;  dressed in elegant attire holding a beautiful flower while others sat aside, forgotten and in disarray.

When Koichi finds his way downstairs he is startled by Mei, who emerges unseen from behind a small coffin. Mei is a character very otherworldly and doll-like in her own sense, and standing next to an almost identical looking doll gives one the feeling there is much more to it than simple coincidence. Mei explains that the beautiful doll is only a half representation of her, but says no more at that time. Even as they take in the remaining scenery and dolls of the small room, an eerie calm yet unrest settles around them. Although the dolls in this series do not cause fear directly, the imagery and ideals they represent add to an already anxious and suspense ridden storyline.

“Didn’t we always used to promise each other, that we would stay together?”

Fatal Frame

This survival horror series holds a special place in my heart and throughout every game the concept of dolls has played an integral role in some way or another. In the original game, dolls may not have been a major aspect of the story but there is one particular room of Himuro Mansion I am sure most people remember: the doll room. At the beginning of the second night, Miku awakens into a room filled with dolls. As you inspect them closer a doll’s head will roll off unexpectedly, a small puzzle must be solved, and a larger doll on a special pedestal in the back of the room is hard not to notice. This is only the beginning though as a child’s laughter soon breaks through the silence and Miku is thrown into battle with the child’s spirit.

Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly offered a much larger concept of dolls through one particular arc/area known as the doll makers residence. The basic story of this game is that in an ancient village, the townsfolk believed that to appease the gods they had to make a human sacrifice – but this sacrifice was something unlike any other. In this case it would involve identical twins, where deep underground at the mouth of Hell, one twin would kill the other and then the sacrifice would be thrown down into the pit. The remaining twin would go on living, though many would suffer extreme psychological illness and duress.

The doll maker’s two daughters were chosen for the ritual one year and after it was done the remaining twin, Akane, fell into a deep depression over the loss of her sister. Their father, torn with grief, built a life size doll of Azami and it wasn’t long after that Akane returned to her usual self – never separate from the doll. However, she became so attached to the doll that a malicious spirit took control and began to possess Akane. When her father realized what was happening he aimed to destroy the doll and the spirit within; but upon finding out about his plans, Akane, in her possessed state, killed her father in order to save the doll. Exploring this area of the game pits you against Akane and Azami at the same time, yet only one can take damage from the spirit camera. A very sad and haunting story. No matter how keen the resemblance, a doll can never replace a life.

Fatal Frame 3 also uses dolls as a means of representation and sacrifice. Wara Ningyo are a type of Japanese doll often used to represent a person or particular aspect and it is believed that a person could become cursed if a doll in their likeness is nailed to a sacred tree. In Fatal Frame, this practice was used through numerous rituals of various levels from only using a doll to transfer sin and misfortune to the other world to sacrificing an actual person through an impalement ritual in which the villagers sins would be taken with that person to the spirit realm.

Lastly, in Fatal Frame 4 a particular type of doll, called a hozuki doll, can be found throughout the game and photographed for completion of a lengthy side quest. These dolls  were made by parents who had lost a child and are generally considered to be extremely unlucky and bring disaster. Although merely used to represent the dead, the mere presence of these dolls adds to the overall feeling of dread as the player explores the island and slowly uncovers its bloodstained history.

Whether the story be one of horror, suspense or simply unnerving at times, there is no denying the effect certain elements can put into play. Dolls may not necessarily bring terror about instantly, but rather do so gradually…psychologically. Barely seeing a distinctly human-esque figure out of the corner of your eye in the darkness, knowing what meaning lies behind certain dolls, a reasoning for their presence; it isn’t that they are necessary terrifying unto themselves, but rather the thoughts and imagery that manifests within our subconscious that brings about a true horror. It is the same tactic that places us on alert in dark situations and similarly can make even the bravest of men jump at mere shadows.

Beautiful. Enchanting. Tragic. Terrifying.

Procrastinators unite!…tomorrow.

Story of my life. However, this little aspect – that I apparently have total control over but continually decide to put off doing anything about – always makes things a little, well, interesting with a touch of panic. Yes, this fits in with work, school, vacations, extracurricular activities…(the list goes on); but in this particular case: conventions.

Conventions occur throughout the entire year all over the world, the trick is finding the ones near you or ones you are willing to travel to. Of course, there are always those last minute instances where you say, “to Hell with it, let’s go!”; but usually these tend to come with a bit more forethought.

In my case, there are two main conventions that we go to – one is Memorial Day weekend and the other is the first weekend in November. Easy enough to remember, right? And remember I do, however, it is in the preparation for said conventions that I lack complete and utter skill.

Every year as it gets within a months time I scramble about finishing my cosplay and arranging other schedules, times, and plans; constantly thinking that for -insert next convention’s name here- I am going to start at least 5 months prior…

Who am I kidding?

So here we are again, less than 2 months one month away and I have all of the materials, in a neat folded pile mind you, ready to craft my cosplay (okay, I lie. I have already  made some progress…on one of them). Hotel reservations have surprisingly been made, and I’m sure other things will simply fall into place as we get closer (are other people coming? who will watch the adorable kitties? homework? oh well, whatever).

So,  for anyone else who loves these last minute pushes to con weekend or for those who may not know, allow me to give a breakdown of how said month-and-counting goes:

  •     Hotel – If you are traveling at all, a.k.a. the con is not in your hometown or any other location in which you have a place to stay, make a hotel reservation. If you are smarter than I and actually do things ahead of time you can probably score a reservation at the site hotel or one within easy walking distance to the con itself.
  •     Transport – Make sure you have reliable transportation or some method of getting there (and know how to get there).
  •     Money – Ensure you have the funds to get ready for, get to and from, and of course, to spend at the con.
  •     Pre-Register – If you know you are going you  might as well go ahead and get your weekend pass. It will save you both money and time at the door once you arrive. (note: if you are staring at the month-and-counting line, it is probably already too late but keep it in mind for next time.)
  •     Knowledge and Schedule – If you’ve never been to the particular con before it might not hurt to look up a few things beforehand such as the basic layout of the center and nearby attractions and food. Additionally, an event schedule will usually come about the week of the con. Amazingly enough, there is more to a con besides dressing up and taking pictures of each other – panels, performances, video game competitions, amv contests, and numerous other scheduled (and not so scheduled) events take place around the clock; and if you think you are going to see everything, think again. So make a rough plan. It is something I rarely ever seem to stick to, but it’s the thought that counts.
  •      Cosplay – Don’t be one of those people that wear a cardboard box with “GUNDAM” written across the front. At the very least, figure out what you are going to do ahead of time and approximate the time it will take you to finish it. Then give yourself enough time to make it into something awesome; whether that time period is months or days, do what works for you (personally, it simply wouldn’t be a con without the 2am race to the finish the night before). Either way, you will be the one wearing it; so show off your hard work!
  •      Packing – I’m not going to provide a list, I have confidence that you can figure it out; but don’t let it sneak up on you. Surprisingly enough, you will pack a good deal to be ready for any and all aspects of the weekend. So if you are one of those pack as you’re loading up the car type of people, you may want to give yourself at least a few extra minutes to make sure you got it all – it’s usually the most blatantly obvious that’s usually forgotten (oh right, pants! ~ that could’ve been awkward…).

Of course despite everything, remember that conventions are fun and getting ready for them should be too!

So is anyone else on the final stretch to an upcoming convention? If so, are you even remotely ready yet? =)

“Do you want to give me a name?”

“Yeah. From now on, your name is KARA.”

Artificial intelligence may seem to be something only found within fiction and movies, but in all reality, it is a part of science diligently researched and worked upon. We may not see it now, in ten years, or even 50; but at some point in the future, AI may become a significant part of our everyday lives.

It might be fate, or even just irony, that I stumbled upon this vision from game developer Quantic Dream (widely recognized for its innovative game Heavy Rain) recently. As this past weekend I worked my way through both Portal 2 (speaking of AI…) and replayed Heavy Rain, seeing and experiencing KARA couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.

In a 7 minute long video running in real time on the Playstation 3, KARA maintains Quantic Dream’s vision of implementing true emotion into a gaming experience.  It is not done through dazzling story elements or breathtaking action sequences, it is simply raw unparalleled emotion and feeling.

This stand alone piece shows a machine becoming conscious and self-aware for the first time; the moment she is brought to life, undergoing assembly and a series of brief initiation tests.  She introduces her serial number, goes through her various functions of taking appointments, watching the kids, cleaning the house (among others) and she even speaks over 300 languages which is then demonstrated through both speech and song. When she asks to be given a name, the programmer behind the camera calls her KARA…and she repeats her name with a sense of pride. Other tests go by as she is assembled together and she passes them all easily. However, when it is explained that she is to be sold as merchandise, that she is merely an expensive computer with legs, she does not simply acknowledge this information – she is hurt by it.

“I thought…”

“You thought? What did you think?”

“I thought, that I was alive.”

At this the programmer considers her defective and to be disassembled immediately. As the machine begins undoing her piece by piece, KARA begs and pleads for the programmer to stop, to please not disassemble her, and that she promises to be good and do everything she is told. The machine continues on as her mechanical heart beats faster and faster.

“Stop! Will you please stop?”

“…I’m scared!”

…the entire room ceases all motion. Time stands still.

“Please, I’m begging you. I want to live!”

It is an experience designed to capture the moments of a machine becoming human.  KARA first awakens to her mechanical role but within a brief 5-6 minutes begins showing human like emotions from happiness to fear to sadness to respect. Quantic Dream wished to create a semblance of emotion not only through the actions and effects of KARA but also to impact those viewing the film. Unlike their work in Heavy Rain, KARA was filmed using 65 motion capture cameras within a sound proof studio in order to film performance and voice within one take simultaneously.

Even years after its release, people may still be surprised at what can be accomplished with the PS3s engine and capabilities. As technology continues to advance, so too does the gaming industry. KARA may not be a game, but it is still an experience worth having. With stunning visuals and emotional performance, KARA transcends a realm between science fiction and reality. In its own way, it stands to teach everyone a small yet valuable lesson. Perhaps humanity is something we all take for granted, and it is within those that are not human in which we can truly find realization in our faults.

“If I’m fighting you with parlor tricks, then you’ll have no excuse for losing, will you?”

If you float around the internet long enough you may come across something by the name of Touhou – but what is it really? It seems most people either know what it is, or they don’t. Is it an anime? A video game? Manga? Art? Fanfiction? Music!? Most know of it but not as many know where it originates, or how far spread its fandom truly reaches. I, myself, was one of those left completely oblivious to its immense awesome-ness. So now, let me lead you into a world known as The Touhou Project…

For those who may be unsure if they know what I’m even talking about yet, perhaps you have seen this video (and if not, watch it anyways – it is amazing and you’ll be caught up to speed with the rest of us):

So what exactly is it then? The Touhou Project, or Project Shrine Maiden, comes in various forms; but at its very core lies an anime style shooter game. Created by one-man developer Team Shanghai Alice, its only member (known as Zun) is responsible for nearly all of the music, graphics, and programming. This type of game is affectionately known as a bullet hell shooter, and is something akin to be launched into laser gun fight in the middle of a fireworks show finale. It is chaos. It is panic. It is confusion. It is addicting. It is epic. There are also a few games of the fighting genre as well. As of now there are currently 13 games in the series, the most recent being Ten Desires released in August, 2011.

Having learned this small bit of knowledge I near instantly decided I had to try this game out for myself. Just to precess this, I will be the first to admit I am a console gamer as keyboards, mice, and gaming just never really zen-ed with me. However, being the determined soul that I am I didn’t let that stop me. So of the 13 games I began to play the 12.8th (yes, point eight.  There are actually a few in between titles in conjunction to the 13 – just let it happen…) game of the series titled Yōsei Daisensō ~ Tōhō Sangetsusei (Great Fairy Wars ~ Eastern Three Fairies) and follows the story of Cirno, an ice fairy with the ability to manipulate cold and freeze bullets (although, apparently, she is not very bright and is often seen as the clown of the group).

The basic concept of the game is you have control of Cirno (or whichever main character, depending on game) and you must simultaneously shoot down your foes whilst dodging their attacks and gaining powerup cards.  Each character in the series usually has two special card abilities – one that can be used close to death and another to use at will, though only so often and indicated by a charged percentage meter. For example, Cirno can become briefly invincible and allow you to focus purely on damage; she can also turn any bullets connecting around her to ice which can then be shattered, effectively clearing the screen for a short time. The power-up cards you collect enhance your own projectiles thereby destroying your enemies faster. After a predetermined onslaught of foes you will come across a boss for the level. Bosses not only have far more ability and range in firing their bullets but also can use cards of their own to enhance their abilities and even offer additional protection. Each game has a few different paths you can choose from as well as different difficulties (easy, normal, hard, lunatic).  Additionally, if you can survive through a certain level of difficulty without using any continues an extra path will be accessible with a longer stage, more enemies, more bullets, and harder bosses.

Yay for screenshots =)

...and this is an easy boss

It all begins around a place known as Hakurei Shrine which acts as a portal between two very different and dangerous worlds. On one side of the portal lies a region known as Gensokyo (literally meaning ‘illusion village’) and on the other side lies the human world which we are all familiar with. It has been said that many things that disappear from the human realm, such as extinct animals or ancient spiritual practices, tend to show up in the realm of Gensokyo. Long ago strange phenomenon began occurring where yokai (spirits or monsters) began preying on lost wanderers into the realm. In order to remedy this problem, exorcists were sent in to battle and eliminate the yokai. Whilst human civilization began to grow using vast technology and advancement on the outside, within the now sealed Gensokyo realm, magic and spiritual qualities prevailed with humans and yokai coexisting – although, not always amicably. However, now the seal at Hakurei Shrine has weakened and more and more people are finding themselves wandering deep within the dangerous Gensokyo realm. This is the story of Touhou and now it is a fight for survival.

Touhou is now so much more than a game as it has grown into a vast fandom base. Stories, manga, fanfiction, beastiary guides, dojinshi, artwork, music, novels, and even full conventions have been born of the franchise; and many characters from the series, even the minutist of bosses, have accrued mass fan appeal and adoration.

Needless to say, the art and story was enough to capture my attention from the start; but now that I’ve experienced the games it has moved to an entirely different level. The Touhou Project is something that embodies many positively awesome aspects, including a couple of my favorites: anime and video games! The games certainly are not easy, and you will die…a lot, but they are an addicting challenge that you will find yourself constantly returning to in hopes of getting just one more level further or defeating that particularly insane boss.

So what if it’s not your average anime, manga, or video game? Who says average is the only thing worth doing any ways?!?

“When you lose your way, you can blame the fairies.”

Anime conventions…yes, they strike in communities where they least expect it. It can be said that everyday is the same as always until suddenly – seemingly out of nowhere – half of the town is over run by people in exotic clothing, vibrant wigs, and (more often than not) sporting unparalleled weaponry.  NekoCon 14 was no exception as over 4,000 con-goer’s claimed reign over much of the Hampton Roads, VA area the weekend of November 4-6.

Among the usual panels, masquerades, raves, and cosplay that adorn many a convention hall during these events, Nekocon also hosted a series of musical guests and artists to entertain and amaze.  High energy J-Rock band BORN performed their melodic and death vocals on both Friday and Saturday Night.  Additionally, Nerdcore MC Frontalot also performed Saturday night as an inclusion to his current tour.  This year also hosted a runway show from Fashion extraordinaire Takuya Angel displaying his new line of Harajuku fashions.  Kimonos, masks, platform boots, fans, monster paws, and exotic colors adorned playful models as they danced and brandished some of the latest styles. Numerous other voice actors and selected guests walked the floors and held panels as well. As always, there was never a dull moment with so much to do…and so little time!

The video game room, artist’s alley, and dealer’s room can always absorb more free time than you realize you even had and this year did not disappoint. Even if those aren’t your cup of tea (and c’mon, its video games and shopping…how can you go wrong!?) just moseying around the convention hall is enough entertainment to last a lifetime.  Cosplays from every genre, anime, video game, and subculture wander in live action replaying animated scenes and posing for photo ops at every turn. Have music, will dance – random dance off circles occur here and there until security eventually catches wind and breaks up the “hall blocking”; other small groups can also be found dancing in their own little ways off to the side.

Keep in mind though that not every con is exactly the same  – the people change and so do the small, little, details that make every con unique.  How about a hi-five escalator…yes, it is exactly what it sounds like!  People go up and down the escalator and so long as you are you get a hi-five from every passerby 🙂 and if that doesn’t make you smile, I don’t know what will!  Katamari balls of people stumble down halls picking up stragglers as they go past until finally…everyone topples over in one huge pile. Remote control sharks float surreptitiously through the air, fins and tails languidly flowing back and forth as if swimming, stalking its next victim to pet its snout.

It may have been chilly outside but inside the weather was happy and warm.  From last year the amount of people seemed to triple which is terrific and a great time was had by all.  At the end of the day it is good to know that cat ears and steampunk will never go out of style.  Anime, video games, manga, fashion – the geek in me is so very excited and bouncy still and I doubt it will wear off anytime soon.  So what cosplay should I begin working on next?…I’m not quite sure but I do know it is already time to get started!

Huzzah, NekoCon ~ See you next year! ^^

Here’s a link to more pics from the con:

 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/kurenai2525/sets/72157627969478029/

Fear Grows Here

“On the dark side of the gardens there’s so much you will find,

The only thing you have to lose is a little of your mind.

Come play in my gardens”

Everyone is brave when they have daylight on their side, but do you think you stand a chance when night falls over the land?  Scares and entertainment abound while the sun is high, but once the hours dim, the creatures that emerge are something found only within your deepest nightmares. Here lies a recipe for one of the greatest culmination of ideas: a world class theme park  infused to the brim with the terrifying spirit of Halloween.  Howl-o-Scream at Busch Gardens, Williamsburg presents the perfect amusement park thrill – and this time thrill refers to much more than roller coasters.  This years theme taking on a life of its own as The Dark Side of the Garden: Fear Grows Here.

Without even going on the rides the park offers a spectacle of horrors as your worst fears lurk just beyond reach.  Blood flows from ornate fountains in Germany, ginormous grotesque spiders spin webs and take claim over much of France, a macabre carnival resides in Italy, and werewolves prowl the alleys of Ireland.  The day presents a family friendly atmosphere of sights and sounds with rides and shows in the All Hallows Eve spirit taking place; however, once the bell for 6 o’clock tolls the park transforms into something comprised more from nightmares than dreams.

So tell me of your worst fears – is it spiders, snakes, doctors, heights, the dark, or some other amalgamation of terror? No matter what it is you won’t be safe as you travel through 13 – Your Number’s Up. Would you care to see what lurks amidst the catacombs, or perhaps the Fear Fair would create more of the side splitting laughter and chills that you seek? No matter what your choice, be prepared; because it isn’t just the haunted houses to be feared…it’s the entire park.

Are you brave enough to visit the Dark Side of the Gardens?