Monthly Archives: December 2012

Free Fiction! New Year Urban Fantasy Edition!

Happy New Year!

To celebrate, here is a snippet of that urban fantasy world I’ve been going on about. There’s some expository text that I cut from it (such as what Scott actually is, which should be evident from the title), which I’m probably going to add in later (if not in a revised chapter one, then in chapter two) and I still haven’t introduced most of the characters, but you can read it anyways. Enjoy! As usual, mind the spelling and grammatical errors.

Continue reading Free Fiction! New Year Urban Fantasy Edition!

Just Chillin’

Just got back from spending the weekend in Quebec for my great aunt’s funeral (ten hour car ride, ugh) so I’m just going to chill and not do anything too stressful. My to-do list:

1. Take a bath.

2. SLEEP!

3. Play more Devil Survivor 2 (GODSDAMMIT PHECDA! I’M GOING TO RIP OFF ALL OF YOUR SPIKES WITH MY BARE HANDS!) Try not to throw your DS at someone.

4. Play something a bit less stressful.

5. Read. (Elves, Wights, and Trolls is on the way!)

6. Write, I want to do some work on that UF thing I’ve been going on about.

7.  SLEEP MOAR!

Game Review: Cute Knight Kingdom

This month has been pretty craptastic on my end, so now, instead of ranting about Trixie, it’s time to unwind with one of the adorable games by Hanako Games that I just bought (for $5 each).

Cute Knight Kingdom is the sequel to the life simulation/role-playing game Cute Knight, although you don’t have to play it first to understand what’s going on. The setup is suspiciously similar to Princess Maker 2 (imagine that!) a woman finds an infant on a hilltop, and a strange glowing figure appears to her and promises to return when she turns twenty one. However, instead of playing as her father and controlling her life you sexist pig you you take control of the girl directly, and send her out into the kingdom to be whatever she wants to be (and perhaps to discover her true origins).

Who will you be?

First things first, you start off by selecting your character’s name and birth month (which determines her starting stats and particular specialties). I chose to name my character Kanata and assigned the month of Gods as her birth month. Characters born in this month are “pretty and charming with a touch of magic” which sounded good to me. There are months for good warriors and mages, there’s even a month that makes your character, well, lazy, if you want to play like that.

From there, you’re basically free to do whatever you want. You can go adventuring (battles take place in typical JRPG turn-based style) or find a job and earn some cash, jobs will raise particular stats provided your character does well. In order to perform a job well, you need to successfully complete a minigame in which you fill up a yellow bar until it becomes green. You fill up the bar by using Exertion (which drains HP) or Concentration (which uses MP). Physically-demanding tasks (such as hunting) mostly use exertion, and tasks that involve study use Concentration, but you’ll usually end up using a combination of the two (especially if your character is like Kanata and doesn’t have a lot of HP). Successfully causing the bar to go green rewards your character with a stat boost and some pocket change that you can use to buy equipment, food, ingredients for recipes, you get the idea. If you run low on HP or MP, you can rest at an inn or head to your parents’ house to rest for free.

Lest you begin to think that this game is ridiculously easy, you also need to watch out for the Dream stat. This stat is basically your character’s hopes and dreams for the future. If it drops to zero, the game automatically ends. If you rush into jobs without taking your character’s strengths into consideration, you can potentially end the game within the first five minutes, doing badly at a job will cause the Dream stat to plummet. There is a default ending (out of a possible thirty seven endings) for if your stat plummets and you don’t qualify for any of the others, it’s not “bad”, just unsatisfying, really unsatisfying.

A battle against a wolf.

Speaking of endings, there are a bunch of them, from Guard to Queen to Snake Oil Saleswoman, but none of them (I checked) are as sleazy as the ones in certain other games. You won’t find any Bondage Queens or *ahem* escorts in this game, but you can be Prime Minister, or a Pirate, or a Mermaid (yes, you can actually be a mermaid). Some of the endings involve romance (including one same-sex romance and at least one inter-species romances) but not all of them.

One interesting thing this game does is how it treats the Sin stat. It’s not the first game to have one, obviously, and depending on what ending you’re going for, you might end the game with zero Sin, but what interests me most about it is that it’s very hard to get rid of certain sins, once acquired, to quote Hanako:

There are several common problems that occur in games with sin/karma mechanics. One is that you can be considered an evil demon for only doing a tiny little sin, if you do it often enough. Say your character steals an apple, and thats worth 1 sin. Fine. But you steal 100 apples, and suddenly you’re considered the most evil being imaginable, even though you’ve never hurt anyone or done anything else bad at all, you just stole apples.

[…..]

The other problem in games with karma is that you can be a horrible evil murderer but get off free in the end because you gave apples to orphans. Which is why in this particular game, sin is very hard to get rid of. If you murder someone, you can’t make that better.

This is something that’s always bugged me about games with morality meters. I recall playing through Jade Empire  being the most Opened Palmed person ever, and then one heavily weighted “evil” choice sent me permanently over to the dark side, and my whole party hated me, so I had to reload. I thought that character would make a useful ally, okay?!

So basically, actions like hunting animals (not actually an endorsement of vegetarianism, despite the unfortunate choice of the word “sin” to describe it), stealing, and killing characters (which can apparently only happen at certain points in the game) increases your Sin stat, which is required for certain endings, natch. Sin can only be forgiven once every in-game year, so no cheating by working long hours in the church like….other games…

Let’s see, other things of note. The graphics are….okay, the ending portraits are particularly pretty, the rest is very storybook like, certainly nothing to write home about (and the protagonist’s eyes are waaaaay too far apart, even for anime-style graphics, it looks kind of creepy). What little music there is is very nice (particularly the gorgeous theme that plays at the title screen and when your character sings in the church choir) if repetitive, and the game is short, but that’s not surprising for an indie title.

Overall, Cute Knight Kingdom is cute, doesn’t take more than a few hours to get a good ending, and isn’t mired by sexism and other assorted WTFery. (Bust enhancing pills, really???) At $10, it might seem a bit pricey, so I’d recommend trying the demo first to see if it’s your thing. Find it here, of course, if you buy it by the end of this month, it’s only $5 USD, in which case it’s practically a steal.

Taking the Plunge Into Urban Fantasy

I’ve decided that enough is enough, and now, instead of ranting about how cliched urban fantasy has gotten these days, I’m going to write my own urban fantasy and fuck mass appeal. I even wrote a blurb for it…

In a world where extraordinary abilities are determined by genetics, Scott Raine-Harte just wants to live an unexciting life with his husband in a moderately-priced apartment complex in the cosmopolitan city-state of St. Cyprian. When you live next door to a demon, a faerie, a dominatrix (and her techie boyfriend) and a single father with two hyperactive five year olds, however; life is anything but unexciting.

Scott is also a Splicer, a genetic anomaly capable of permanently altering a person’s genetic code so they can no longer use their powers–if it doesn’t kill them first. Hiding from a government who forcibly “recruits” Spicers into working as assassins, Scott gradually finds himself drawn into a conflict between rival demon clans that could plunge his entire world into chaos.

It’s awesome and you want to read it, amirite?

This is a project that’s been stewing for awhile, so it may take some time to finally come to fruition. Please be patient.

News, and the Victorian Romantic Companion Book

So, the good news is that Trixie has decided that she won’t marry Loki after all, the bad news is that now she’s apparently talking to an entity that calls itself ‘Azazel’ and the gods have abandoned her. Again.

You know, I bet I could turn this into a drinking game: take a sip whenever Trixie says the gods have abandoned her, take another when she refuses to follow good advice, take a drink if she ever follows the advice….and it sticks, but I’m not that mean and you would probably all be dead from alcohol poisoning.

In other news, someone on the interwebs called Hanako Games’ games the worst dating sims ever. Why, you ask? Was it because of the graphics, the simplistic gameplay? The *gasp* inclusion of same-sex relationships?

Nope, it’s because you have to play as a girl.

Yeah, I know.

I finally received the companion book for the Victorian Romantic tarot. It’s a great book, packed with information on each of the cards (and the Victorian Era in general). In edition to the “standard” one card draw and three card spread, there’s also a special five-card spread (the Tarot of Prague “Threshold” spread) and two spreads specifically developed for the Victorian Romantic: a romance spread, and a more general spread.

From the introductory section, we move to looking at the individual cards. Each card has keywords and key phrases, suggestions for reversals, a section on the “traditional” meaning of the card and the story behind the image Baba Studio chose for the VR, and information on the artist. Some cards show the entirety of the original image that was used (for instance, the image that became the Justice card) but most do not.

I love my copy of the Victorian Romantic Tarot, but finally knowing the stories behind the images gives the deck that much more depth for me. No wonder the Knight of Pentacles looks bored, she’s Britomart from The Faerie Queene, about to explain to Princess Armoret that she cannot marry her, because she’s actually a woman. Judgement depicts a couple in the presence of the Fairy King and Queen, Oberon and Titania, definitely more of a Pagan-y interpretation than the normally Christian imagery on this particular card.

In short, if you have the second edition deck and haven’t bought the companion book for it, I’d say it’s worth the buy. Unfortunately, the other deck from Baba that’s heavy on the Victorian imagery, the Victorian Flower Oracle, is sadly out of print.

Review: Guilty Pleasures (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, #1)

Once upon a time, a woman heard about this amazing book series. It had vampires and were-creatures and zombies and a kick-ass heroine. It sounded like just her sort of thing.

“It’s good,” everyone said. “Well, until book nine, but before that, it’s good.”

The woman didn’t know whether she wanted to commit to another series, especially one that seemed like it would eventually collect dust on her shelf, half read, but one day, Kobo had the first book on sale, so she thought “What the Hel?” and bought it.

And now that she’s read it, she’s convinced that everyone who ever recommended this book is crazy, because this book is not good, it’s not even close to good.

This book is fucking awful.

So, basically we have our main character, Anita Blake, a necromancer person who raises people from the dead (known as an Animator) who ends up being coerced into finding out who’s chopping up the local vampire population in St. Louis. Oh, and Anita hates vampires.

Seriously, she hates vampires.

Did I mention she hates vampires?

She does.

Now, before I really tear into this book, I should say that there are some interesting things happening in Anita’s world. The vampires have their own church (popular with atheists and agnostics, apparently), there are wererats…er…ratmen, which is a nice change from the constant focus on werewolves (note that this book was published in the early 90s). There are some intriguing ideas here.

Unfortunately, all of these great ideas mean nothing if the writing doesn’t hold up, and the writing in this book is abysmal. I’ll just let the book speak for itself. This is from a scene in chapter 36:

He glided to me, just like I wanted him to. He put a hand on my shoulder. I screamed in his face as loud as I could. He hesitated for just a heartbeat. I shoved the knife blade between his ribs. It was sharp and thin, and I shoved it in hilt deep. His body stiffened, leaning into me. Eyes wide and surprised. His mouth opened and closed, but no sound came out. He toppled to the floor, fingers grabbing at air.

You know what one of the first things my creative writing teacher told me about writing? Don’t use the same word at the beginning of every sentence in a paragraph, it makes the writing look stiff and uninteresting. Actually, I probably learned that in grade one or so. Seriously, this is like Writing 101.

The dialogue isn’t much better:

“Answer me, A-n-i-t-a,” She stretched my name out, biting off each syllable.

This line just doesn’t make any sense. Last I checked, “Anita” has three syllables, and that doesn’t even look like she’s stretching the name, it looks like she’s spelling it out. “Aa-ni-taaa” makes a bit more sense, or, if she’s really biting off each syllable “A-ni-ta!” looks a bit more like a staccato beat. I’m sure you can think of something better.

Oh, and you know how the big mystery is essentially solved? The baddie walks up to Anita and he’s just like “I killed all those vampires, lol” and she’s all like “I just figured that out two seconds ago,” I’m serious. In the afterword to the book, Hamilton seems to think it’s some Big Mystery, when what it basically amounts to is Anita wandering around until the solution hits her in the face. It’s basically the JRPG school of mystery-solving.

As if the writing wasn’t bad enough, Anita herself just isn’t likeable. She’s rude and condescending to everyone (including her friends). Her hatred of vampires is reasonable (considering that the vast majority of the vampires in this book aren’t very nice, to put it mildly), her pissy attitude towards everyone else is just annoying.

Also, why is every man in this book built like a bodybuilder? Seriously, most of the men in this book are so chiseled they are practically walking statues.

I should also mention that this book has an orgy party scene that is strongly reminiscent of the one in one of the Sookie Stackhouse books, which is as equally awful as the one and that book. Seriously, if you’re going to include a party scene in a book written for adults in which there are racy things going on, there are ways to portray it that don’t make it look as if you, the author, are a total prude (or, at best, someone with no experience of such things, for which I don’t blame you, but really).

So yeah, terrible book. I’m not touching the others. No, not even to read about all the bad sex for myself.

Vapid Post of the Day: Princess Maker 2

How is your solstice shaping up? Mine is crap-fucking-tastic, so while you’re all celebrating whatever significant event you wish to celebrate (I’ve heard everything from the disir to the Wild Hunt to Freyr and Freyja to Sunna to all of these things together), I’m just going to talk about a game I loved to play before one of my previous computers (not the one I had before this one, the one before that that lasted nearly a decade) also crapped itself and died. This isn’t really a review, since I haven’t played this game in a long time. This is just me talking about something floofy.

I first described this game to a friend thusly: “You play a guy who has a daughter, and your job is to raise her to become a princess.”

And my friend was like “‘Raise her to become a princess?’ That’s terrible!”

“But it’s cuuuuuuute!” I protested.

So she played it, and then we were both hooked on it.

This sexist, sexist game, let me tell you about it.

Princess Maker 2 is a life simulation game developed and published by Gainax. Apparently, as the story goes, it was all set for a North American release and then….it was never officially released in North America, presumably because the North American publisher finally realized WTF kind of game they were publishing and dropped it.

The player takes the role of a man who saves a kingdom grown decadent and prideful from the threat of the demon king Lucifer Lucifron. In gratitude, the king gives you a house and you are known far and wide as a hero. Sweet. One night you feel drawn to a hilltop, where you see a child descend from the heavens. Entrusted with this child by the gods, your task is to raise her until she comes of age.

And so begins Princess Maker 2…

Your daughter (default name Olive Oyl) and Cube.

So, yeah, you’re her dad (you get to select your age and birthdate) and your job is to basically run your daughter’s life. How the game works is that you set her schedule for the month. You can get her to go to school, do various jobs (simple ones at first, with better paying jobs as she ages) which increase certain stats. You can also arrange for vacations, time off, or adventuring time. You can adjust her diet (normal, robust, “slim-down” or “weight loss”). At certain times of the year, she can enter contests to increase her popularity.

Oh, and you can give her bust-enhancing pills.

Yep, bust-enhancing pills.

Uh huh.

There are also stat-dependent events that pop up from time to time. Supernatural beings (such as the demon Paimon or the warrior maiden Valkria, who will give her stat bonuses. Sometimes, rivals like to present themselves and challenge her to various contests. When she goes adventuring is when the game slips in some RPG elements. There’s always a chance that she could be carried away by bandits, but don’t worry, your faithful demonic butler Cube is (usually) there in time to save the day.

Where the game really derives its replayability though, is its endings. There are a ton of different endings based on your (adult) daughter’s stats and if certain events have been seen. These endings run the gamut from Royal Concubine to Farmer to Bondage Queen (who “administers discipline to the rich men for a price”) to Prostitute. Yes, your daughter can become a prostitute, her patron deity will *not* be pleased.

Oh, and there are also marriage endings. Your daughter can marry a bunch of different people including Cube, a dragon prince, and you.

Yep. She can marry you. Her father.

Her adoptive father, but still.

Yeah, I never got that ending. I usually just set her up with Cube. If you think that’s bad, the dragon prince one has the dragon’s grandfather giving you a whole lot of money in exchange for selling her her hand in marriage to his grandson. She has to beat him in battle first, but still.

Yeah, this game is terrible.

And yet, I played this stupid game for hours. It takes a certain kind of person to like a game like this. They’re very repetitive, but after awhile, it’s almost….calming? They’re not usually “fun” in the adrenaline-pumping way that Assassin’s Creed was fun, or “fun” in the way that Alpha Protocol is fun and ridiculous, because a coke-snorting knife-wielding Russian mob boss who’s obsessed with the 80s is pretty ridiculous. The fun is trying very hard to collect all the endings, and then bragging about which endings you got to your friends, and then realizing you have no life.

While I’m on the subject of life sims in general, I should shamelessly plug mention that one of my favourite indie game companies Hanako Games (and affiliates), is having a mega sale. I’ve gushed about Hanako Games in previous posts, so of course I would recommend their games (and if you use the discount, you can get many of their games for five bucks each) along with MoaCube’s wonderful visual novel Cinders. I particularly recommend Magical Diary and Long Live the Queen but for a non-sexist alternative to Princess Maker, Spirited Heart is great, and the Girls Love expansion (which can also be played on its own) adds same-sex love interests, six of them.

All the sales can be found here.  (Until the end of December, anyways.)

Okay. I think I’ve plugged my share of products today.

“Sea, Sky, Soil” is Out Now!

I just received an announcement from Nicanthiel Hrafnhild that the first book in the Waincraft series is (finally) out now.

Waincraft is a new tradition that grew out of Vanatru, so if you’re interested in brand shiny new traditions (especially if you’re interested in Vanatru) you might enjoy this book. Here’s the full text of the announcement:

I [Nicanthiel], and the folks at Ravens Hall Press, am pleased to announce that, after two and a half years of research, experience and writing, all the threads have come together in this book, officially kicking off a new Pagan tradition for the modern age.

Feel free to spread the news to any interested parties

The book will be available soon on Amazon and other online retailers, and is currently available directly from Lulu.com and the Ravens Hall Press website.

Direct link to the book on Lulu.

I will most likely be picking it up….eventually.

SIGH

I was going to give everyone a nice solstice present by sharing some more words, strung together into sentences and paragraphs, but my great aunt passed away suddenly last night, and Mother Nature decided I’m due for cramps today, so fuck it, I’m taking a bath.

I’m just not feeling very festive today.