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Why Lunar: Eternal Blue for Sega CD is the best Lunar game

Wow… long time since I updated this. Guess I just haven’t had much to write about until now…

Anyway, I’ve been on a bit of a Lunar binge recently. Maybe it’s because I’m going to see Lunar’s composer, Noriyuki Iwadare, in concert next month. Maybe it’s because there is going to be yet another re-release of Lunar: Silver Star Story coming out soon, this time on iOS. Whatever it is, I’ve had this old, classic, and beloved (especially to me) game series on my mind recently.

The first game in the series, Lunar: The Silver Star, was released for the ill-fated Sega CD in 1992. It was one of the developer’s, Game Arts, first entries into the RPG genre as well as one of the earliest RPGs to take advantage of CD-ROM as a medium, and its “rookie nature” shows. However, despite this relatively primitive state, it still remains a classic.

Three years later, the sequel, Lunar: Eternal Blue, was also released for Sega CD and was among the last titles released for that platform. Whereas The Silver Star was relatively primitive, Eternal Blue was in many ways a state-of-the-art RPG and became the model for all the Lunar games that came later (except for the one that doesn’t exist on that Nintendo handheld with the touch screens…). While I’ll go into more detail about what makes the Sega CD Eternal Blue so great, I’d first like to rank all the Lunar games in order of “best” to “least good” as, except for the one that shall not be named, they all were great games and it’s not fair to call any of them the “worst.” However, I do like to note that I won’t rate Lunar Legend for the GBA as I’ve never played it. I also won’t rate the iOS release as, at the time of this writing, it hasn’t been released yet. Anyway, with that, here is my ranking:

  1. Lunar: Eternal Blue (EB) – Sega CD
  2. Lunar: Silver Star Story (SSS) – Sega Saturn/Sony PSX
  3. Lunar: Silver Star Harmony (SSH) – Sony PSP
  4. Lunar: Eternal Blue Complete (EBC) -Sega Saturn/Sony PSX
  5. Lunar: The Silver Star (TSS) – Sega CD

It wasn’t easy to come up with this list, especially in the case of choosing between #2 and #3. Even #5 is still a classic and only scores so low relative to the others because of its “primative” nature. Also, I grouped the Sega Saturn and PSX versions together despite there being some noticeable differences between them (Saturn had better sound, PSX had better FMV), but these differences more or less amounted to a wash. Anyway, while I’ll break down why Eternal Blue (Sega CD) is #1 at the end, I’ll give a brief explanation of why the others ended up where they did.

The most difficult choice on this list was in comparing Silver Star Story to Silver Star Harmony. Granted, once upon a time, I would’ve placed both lower due to They Changed It, Now It Sucks, but hindsight has led me to believe that the changes between SSS and The Silver Star were overall an improvement and not a negative. Anyway, the pros for SSS are that it’s possibly the ultimate refinement of Lunar’s game mechanics as set up in Eternal Blue as well some preference for Working Designs’ voice acting and song translations over those of Xseed in SSH. Yes, I know, Xseed did use WD’s scripts as part of their translation, but some of their song translations were a bit off sounding and I do prefer WD’s actors for nostalgia, if no other reasons. Xseed does get props for bringing back Jennifer Stigile to sing the songs in the game, however. The negatives against SSS are that, except for the gorgeous FMV scenes, it really wasn’t much of a technical leap forward over what came before or even on par to its own generation. It basically was just a polishing of the 16-bit era, complete with super-deformed sprites. They were well done and nicely animated, but it still looked a bit dated. SSH, on the contrary, revamped the entire graphics engine and ditched the super-deformed sprites for more proportional sprites. Needless to say, SSH is the most gorgeous looking of all the Lunar games. The reorchestrated (and apparently digitized) soundtrack also was gorgeous — a significant improvement over the much more synthesized/MIDI sounding music in SSS on the PSX and even on the Saturn. However, as a drawback, the FMV quality still looked like something from the late 1990s. The game mechanics also seemed to be downgraded. One of the unique things about the prior Lunars is the limited inventory mechanic. All of them had limits on how much stuff you could carry, and all except for EBC had per-character inventories that was fairly realistic, in my honest opinion, and gave some enjoyable additional challenge in the form of resource management. SSH used the old RPG standard of a shared inventory with up to 99 of each item — something that got particularly ridiculous towards the end of the game when Ramus offers you anything from his shop for free. Still, despite these faults, I would still recommend SSH as the best game to introduce someone to Lunar because its gorgeous in-game graphics and soundtrack makes it the most approachable to modern audiences.

Next at #4 is Eternal Blue Complete. Unlike SSS, it was pretty much completely faithful to the original storyline in Eternal Blue. Granted, it still wasn’t an exact port: a couple of my favorite cutscenes were removed (although some newly added ones were quite nice and helped make up for it), the bosses’ difficulties and attacks were rejiggered (Borgan was a total pansy this time around, whereas in the original he was possibly the hardest boss in the whole game), and a couple of my favorite enemies (like the Phantom/Star Sentry) were also removed. They also readjusted some of the spells and spell costs as well. For example, Hiro’s Poe Sword spell went from 4 MP in EB to 6 MP in EBC. Overall, though, it was definitely a very solid remake, so why did it rate lower than the original? Well, one reason is that while the original truly did push the boundaries of what its hardware could do, this one, again like SSS, really didn’t push anything with respect to hardware capabilities. Additionally, the music, while crystal clear due to being synthesized, was synthesized and lost some of the “oomph” of the digital music of the original. Also, the sound effects and even some of the spell effects actually were worse in the remake. than the original. For all the limitations of the Sega CD’s sound chips compared to that of newer hardware, you at least got the impression that when you landed a blow on your enemy, that blow hurt. In EBC, sometimes you never got that impression at all. My favorite example of the “Nerfing” of sound and spell effects would be Hiro’s Poe Sword attack. In EB, when you used it, the entire screen darkened, Hiro jumped into the air, and his sword made contact with a yellow crescent ala Strider and a very satisfying 16-bit “buzz” (for lack of a better term) to indicate that yes, this hurt, big time. In EBC, you just got a pixellated zoom in on Hiro slashing the enemy when he comes down accompanied by a “woosh” sound and then the standard “hit” sound for the damage. It just didn’t feel as powerful as the original, despite being the same spell (and costing more MP!). Leo’s Blade spells, such as Flash Blade, also suffered a similar fate of not looking/sounding as cool in the remake as the original, although most of the other characters, admittedly, did have better spells, sounds, and effects. A further knock against it is eliminating the per-character inventory system for a global shared inventory where you are limited to 20 of any particular item. Finally, I missed seeing the names of the enemy spells like EB, SSS, and even SSH did, although this is a very minor nit. On the positive side, however, the FMV cutscenes were gorgeous (Gonzo should probably stick to making cut scenes for video games and not even bother trying to make their own anime series) and its extreme faithfulness to the original game was definitely very welcome to those who were disappointed in the changes between SSS and TSS.

Next, we get to The Silver Star. It pains me to rate this as low on the list as I do due to how beloved this game is to me, but I’m trying to be somewhat objective. Interestingly enough, the problem with this game isn’t so much the story (which still holds up very, very well, even with the later changes in SSS), but more with the technical and mechanics aspects. As one of Game Arts’s first (if not their first) RPGs and one of the first games on the Sega CD platform, you can tell that they still had a fair bit to learn. The animated cut scenes, while impressive for the time, were limited both in total time (somewhere on the order of 10 minutes or so) and actual animation (instead of using digitized video, they essentially used some sort of sprite-based animation engine. This made it clearer than FMV would’ve been on the Sega CD, but also limited how much was actually animated). The magic system was also pretty much generic for any RPG — you had your standard number of “big boomer” spells along with various healing and typical status effect spells, but nothing particularly unique. You also had the issue of spells learned early on being essentially useless later on in the game. However, the game did have a wonderful story and the soundtrack, oh my goddess the soundtrack… Taking full advantage of the CD-ROM platform, the soundtrack was pure Redbook audio on the CD (along with the audio to the cut scenes — beware of spoilers if you pop the CD into your CD player to listen to the music). Not only was the music the clearest sounding out of all the Lunar games up until SSH (which I suspect also used a high-quality digitized soundtrack), but the composition was absolutely stellar. It was a shame that they couldn’t use the same music for SSS for some (licensing?) reason, but TSS’s soundtrack is arguably second only to EB’s, and not by much. TSS also introduced us to the per-character in-battle inventory accompanied by the shared global outside of battle inventory that would be used in EB and SSS, albeit a more restrictive version of one due to in-battle inventory having to share the same equipment slots as combat equipment. Still, this was a good idea and one that needed just a bit more refinement, as done later on in EB.

Finally, we get to my argument as to why the original Eternal Blue is the best game in the entire Lunar series. First, let’s start with its technical merits. This game was definitely state-of-the-art for 16-bit RPGs of its era. Admittedly, some of it was aided by the use of CD-ROM as the storage medium, but a lot of it was just pure programming wizardry on the part of Game Arts. Yes, I know I’ll probably get some flack for calling this game technically superior to Final Fantasy, but in my opinion the only one of Square’s 16-bit games that matches up to EB technically is Chrono Trigger. First, let’s start with the biggest thing: in-game (as opposed to cutscene) animation. The amount of animation you see in EB is astounding. Rivers flow, waves crest on lakes and seas, windmills turn, candles flicker, and so on — and this is just on the various map screens (overworld, town, or dungeon). Once you get into combat, then the animation really catches your eye. Nothing stands still in combat. Your party has animated wait poses (nothing too spectacular here — most 16-bit RPGs had animated wait poses for the player’s party), but the rest of the character battle animation has very nice additional touches such as holding their weapons differently if they’re going to use a weapon skill, magic users chanting and even kneeling as they prepare to cast, different weapon animations based on the type of weapon the character is holding, and so on. The main difference between EB and many of the other 16-bit RPGs are the enemy animations. All enemies also have animated wait poses (unlike the static, unmoving enemies you see in various other 16-bit RPGs) for starters, with even the mooks getting at least two different wait animations and some bosses having a half dozen or even more. These animations aren’t just eye candy either — they play an important strategic element. Based on an enemy’s wait animation, you can often deduce what their next action is going to be. This allows you the opportunity to target a specific enemy or boost your defenses in order to protect against an upcoming dangerous attack. Finally, sometimes even the backgrounds during the battles were animated. This is particularly noticeable in the Red Dragon Cave, where you actually see lava flowing in the background while you do battle. These animations alone made EB technically superior to many of its 16-bit contemporaries and was a feature that did not rely on the game’s storage medium to implement.

Next comes something that does rely on the storage medium to implement: the animated cutscenes. Unlike TSS, we have over an hour of fully animated cutscenes in EB. While they pretty much used the same animated sprite trick as TSS, they really pushed it to its limits. Instead of just mouths moving, you’ll see multiple levels of animation: hair moving in the breeze, birds flying overhead, waves crashing on the shore, and so on, all of it smooth as silk. In fact, if it wasn’t for the relatively small color palette, a lot of this animation looked like it could’ve been taken straight out of an actual anime show.

The music in EB is the next part that makes it such an amazing game. While I admit that some of the music in towns isn’t quite as good as in the other games (and the “desert town” theme played in Larpa and a few other towns grated on me at first until I started to appreciate it more), they are still very high quality tunes overall. However, the other songs, such as the overworld themes (yes, I like “Adventure Road,” thank you very much!), certain event themes, the vocalized songs, and the battle songs (especially the regular battle, “Hiro’s Fight,” and the incredible song during the final battle with Zophar) rank up there as among the best songs in any game ever. Much like TSS, the music here is all digital. Unfortunately, due to space constraints, instead of redbook it had to be encoded as 11kHz mono PCM files. This does degrade the quality of the music, obviously, but being digital and not MIDI seems to give it an extra punch that the synthesized tunes of the PSX version lacked. For what it’s worth, the Saturn had 22kHz stereo renditions of these songs and I feel that the Saturn version overall has the best music out of all the various versions of EB.

EB is the game that perfected the individual battle inventory/shared common out-of-battle inventory system that was unique to the earlier Lunar games. In fact, SSS pretty much uses the same system unmodified. The fundamental change here over TSS was that each character’s battle inventory is separate from their equipment slots. This means you can have the full complement of equipment (weapon, headgear, armor, shield, and two accessories) on your character and still be able to carry up to 12 items in your personal inventory for in-battle use.

EB’s magic system was the basis of the magic systems used in every subsequent game. Unlike TSS, where basically the only spells were big boomers and healers, there is much more variety to those in EB. The first is the introduction of weapon skills — essentially magically-enhanced weapon attacks, whether they be Hiro’s Poe Sword, Leo’s Flash Blade, Jeans Karate skills, etc. To this day, EB’s Poe Sword remains my all time favorite RPG spell because it was cheap enough to use frequently, very powerful, and looked pretty cool. The rest of the spells run the gamut from healers, to status inflictors/removers, buffs/debuffs, and so on. One main change is in the Dragon spells — so much that they remained (with one exception) the Dragon spells used throughout the rest of the series. Unlike TSS’s Dragon spells, which were all big boomers, EB’s had a variety of uses for them, all that the very affordable (yeah, right) price of 99 MP (they would rejigger the MP costs in subsequent games to more accurately reflect how useful/powerful the spells were). The most important of them was White Dragon Protect, which protected you from the next spell to hit you and was absolutely vital in some boss battles. Next was Blue Dragon Anger, which was kind of weird until you figured it out. It appeared to do nothing, but then the next turn it gave you three times the normal number of physical attacks. In the hands of a character with 3 moves per turn and a high critical hit rate, like Jean, it could be utterly devastating in boss battles. However, perhaps due to the non-obviousness of how it worked, it was replaced by Blue Dragon Healing in later games. Next was Black Dragon Shield (renamed Black Dragon Grief and various other names later on) which was a “kill ‘em all but get no experience” spell for when you really want to eliminate every mook on the battlefield. Red Dragon Anger was the sole big boomer among all the spells, although it wasn’t worth the 99 MP cost. Finally, there was one more “Dragon” spell, Althena’s Light, which was a cure all status and heal to max spell. This one was removed in name in later games, but it remained in effect as the new Blue Dragon Healing spell.

One drawback with the original EB’s magic system that was removed in subsequent games was the Magic Experience (MXP) system. Basically, while some spells would be learned and/or powered up as your character levels up, others would require spending Magic Experience Points you acquired just like money and regular experience points in battle. On the face of it, this is good as it means you can customize your characters and only focus on spells you actually care about using. However, this did result in a lot of useless spells not really being powered up until well near the end of the game, when you’re just doing it to spend MXP because you’ve got no better use for it. One other drawback, and one that was admitted as a mistake by Working Designs, was the requirement to spend MXP to save games that was added to the US release. The idea was to prevent people from abusing the fact that the game lets you save anywhere in the world as opposed to specific save points, but in effect it just annoyed people as it sometimes meant they cannot save when they absolutely have to and where a game would normally provide some sort of save point. Honestly, though, towards the end of the game you typically got so much MXP from battles that it wasn’t an issue.

Another unique twist not found in all the Silver Star-derivatives was the Epilogue (which was also in EBC). Unlike NewGame+ (not to denigrate games with a NewGame+ feature), it was basically a bunch of bonus dungeons and plot and was provided to let the player cope with the regular game’s extremely bittersweet ending. Granted, the existence of the epilogue doesn’t really constitute something that makes this game better than the others (especially since EBC has the same epilogue), but I figured it was worth mentioning.

Finally, that brings us to the plot. Given how the plot was hardly changed between the original and remake, you gotta figure they did something right with it. One drawback, though, is the fact that the ultimate enemy is your standard evil god type, albeit one with a significant backstory related to the world and one that’s much more clever than your average “I am a destroyer who must destroy things” type. The reveal of this evil god before you even complete the game’s first dungeon could also be a drawback as it leaves little to guess as to what your final goal will be. However, the various other plot twists (like Ghaleon’s return), tie-ins to the original game (again, like Ghaleon’s return), and so on as well as the developing romance between Hiro and Lucia more than make up for the cliche ultimate evil. That said, I do find it difficult to decide whether EB actually does have a better story and characters than SSS/TSS as they both have their strengths. At the very least, I can claim that the plot in EB is at least as good as in the other Lunars and that, combined with how everything else is just as good if not better makes Lunar: Eternal Blue for the Sega CD the best of the series.

Next time, on this Lunar kick, I will discuss the character of Ghaleon as well as the plot changes between TSS and SSS, since they mostly revolve around our favorite Magic Emperor, and why, when I honestly think about it, SSS’s plot is better than TSS’s.

IFR flying is hard

So it’s been a couple of weeks since my last post. Since then, I’ve received my copy of X-Plane in the mail (only took a couple of days – great service on the part of the x-plane.org store!). Overall, I’ve been very happy with it and will probably post a more thorough review of it shortly. However, I’m going to talk about something else here: IFR flying. I’ll be approaching this from the viewpoint of simulated IFR flying (hence why this is also in the Gaming category), but I think it could also apply to the real thing.

In reading various articles about how whether or not PC flight simulators are an aid or a hindrance towards helping beginning pilots get their licenses, one of the biggest complaints I saw is that PC pilots often spend way too much time looking at their instruments and not enough time looking out the “window,” which is what real pilots do under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) conditions — i.e. pretty much when the weather is good, the skies are clear, and you’re not flying at jet airliner altitudes. A proper pilot relies on seeing what direction the nose of his airplane is pointing at to determine his general direction and looks at his wings and the angle of his dashboard relative to the horizon out the window to determine if he’s flying level, with only the occasional peek at instruments such as the compass, heading indicator, and artificial horizon. Simulator pilots, because they really don’t have a “window,” often rely way too much on these instruments and this can often hamper their flight training as they have to unlearn this habit.

In my case, after reading up about flying and mistakes made by simulator pilots when they start flying for real, I tried to do things the “right way” whenever possible — looking out the “window,” etc. for roll (the side to side “tilt” of the plane) and pitch (whether the nose of the plane is pointing up or down) indications and avoiding the instruments. I still do “cheat” a bit due to the limitations of the simulator — typically I use the heading indicator when I turn instead of turning towards a landmark because simulated scenery sometimes tends to be fairly sparse with respect to usable landmarks. However, by and large, I think I’m mostly doing it right. This made things quite interesting when I decided to stop using perfect weather conditions and instead practice flying under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) conditions…

Anyway, I’ve gotten to the point where I feel like I’ve more or less mastered VFR flying with calm winds on my simulator: plot a course, take off, climb to cruising altitude, descend near the target airport, and land in one piece. I do kind of cheat a bit on course plotting, however. Instead of using a real chart with a flight course plotter (neither of which I have nor do I wish to spend money on just for playing with simulators), I instead use FltPlan.com to figure out my headings, etc., for me and then set my course appropriately. It all works pretty well, although I still do make the odd mistake (never assume than an airport in a coastal state is near sea level — I got bitten when I flew to Worcester Airport which turned out to be on a hill at over 1,000 feet above sea level).

After figuring out how to fly VFR (more or less), I figured it was time to practice flying IFR. I started following some simulator IFR lessons. While some of these lessons do take place with calm winds and perfectly clear skies, many of them take place with total cloud cover (i.e. you see nothing but gray out of your window) and strong winds. What’s worse is that X-Plane, much like what apparently happens in real life, makes flying through clouds very turbulent. So other than the first challenge of relying entirely on the artificial horizon to determine if my plane is level (trickier than it sounds when you’re used to looking at the real thing), but those instruments are going haywire as the turbulence buffets your little Cessna around like balls in a bingo machine. Keeping straight and level at constant altitude and airspeed was not easy and even the autopilot had difficulty with it. However, there is nothing like the feeling of relief when you descent below the cloud cover and can see your destination airport ahead after such a grueling flight.

Given my own experience with simulated IFR flying, it’s no wonder why the FAA requires 40 hours of actual or simulated IFR instruction in addition to 50 hours of solo cross-country flying (although certain flight school classes can have this requirement waived) before you’re allowed to fly IFR. Every last hour of training/practice you can get is well-worth it — especially when lives are on the line in a real plane.

FlightGear vs. X-Plane

When I rediscovered my love for civilian flight simulators, I was pretty torn between two products that ran on all the platforms I use (Mac, Windows, and Linux): FlightGear and X-Plane. FlightGear has the advantage of being free and open source. X-Plane was known for being an excellent commercial product, albeit somewhat pricey at $80 (at a time). Now, in general, I love open source software but I’m not an open source bigot — I use what works best for me within my budget. If that happens to be open source, then great. If it’s a commercial package that fits within my budget, I’ll go that way. However, what made things much more interesting in this situation is that X-Plane 9 is currently available for $30. While $80 was a little hard for me to justify, being the cheap bastard that I am, $30 was something I was willing to consider.

So anyway, I downloaded the free X-Plane demo to give it a whirl. While the demo limits you to 10 minutes of flight time around the Innsbruck, Austria airport, it did give me a decent idea as to how the simulator looks and feels. For as fair a comparison as possible, I also loaded up FlightGear at the same airport with the same aircraft, the Cessna 172 Skyhawk.

Visuals

Both products have pretty darned good visuals in my opinion, although my frame of reference is Microsoft Flight Simulator 5.0, the last civil air simulator I tried.

Aircraft Models

The aircraft models are roughly on a par with each other — X-Plane‘s models look a bit smoother, but their textures are a bit “shiny” for my taste when compared to the somewhat more realistically textured FlightGear planes.

Backgrounds/Scenery

Background scenery is no contest: X-Plane wins handily with its higher-resolution textures. Interestingly, FlightGear‘s development versions include a new feature, “urban terrain,” which uses bump mapping to give height to various buildings in the otherwise flat city textures. It is a very neat looking effect, but even with this effect, I think X-Plane still wins in the background scenery department.

Cockpit

You can tell that there is a fundamental difference in design philosophy between the two simulators’ approaches to cockpit design and layout. FlightGear views its 3D cockpit view as the canonical view and pretty much all effort by airplane modelers go into making this cockpit look as good, realistic, and accurate as possible for the modeled airplane. This is for the best as its 2D “schematic” cockpit looks pretty awful and is identical across all aircraft, whether a Cessna or a 747. The only problem is that it’s sometimes hard to see all the instruments on screen while looking out the windshield, but I guess this is accurate as the same problem may take place while flying a real plane.

X-Plane, on the other hand, uses the 2D panel as the canonical view and its 2D panels are aircraft-specific, accurate (to the best of my knowledge), and beautifully designed. Some aircraft do have 3D panels and they do look pretty good (better than FlightGear‘s, actually), but not all do. In addition, the 3D panels are so zoomed in that they aren’t particularly useful to control the aircraft from.

Based on these comparisons, I’ll give X-Plane the slight nod in the cockpit department.

Sound

All I ask from a flight simulator is reasonably accurate engine and related sounds. Both simulators deliver pretty much equally and I think it’s a matter of personal taste as to which one sounds better.

ATC & ATIS

One area where the simulators differ is in how they handle communications with AI Air Traffic Control (ATC) and the Automated Terminal Information Service (ATIS).

FlightGear 1.9-2.2 had completely broken AI ATC and ATIS, although ATIS is fixed in the upcoming 2.4 release and is working in the 2.3 preview releases. FlightGear‘s ATIS implementation uses what sounds like a custom voice synthesizer to read out its notifications and it works okay, except the volume is too low relative to the other ambient noises and I have yet to figure out how to turn it up. I also can’t figure out how to turn off the COM radio after hearing the ATIS message so I don’t hear it looping incessantly.

X-Plane, on the other hand, has a fully functional and more robust ATIS/AI ATC implementation — including full tower communications. On the Mac, it sounds like it uses OS X’s built in voice synthesis libraries to provide the voice of ATC, but I’m not sure what it uses on other platforms. One other slight difference is that you don’t need to tune the COM radio to the tower or ATIS frequencies — a pop-up menu provides options on what you can say to ATC. Personally, I prefer having to manually tune the radios, but this is a nit. Still, I think X-Plane does have the better AI ATC and ATIS implementation.

Flying

Flight Dynamics Model

This is probably the biggest source of flamage among simulator aficionados: which simulator has the most realistic flight dynamics model (FDM). In general, there are two different types of FDMs available in flight simulators: look-up table models and geometric models.

X-Plane makes the claim that it has the most accurate FDM by using blade-element theory to model aircraft characteristics. This is a geometric model that was developed in the 1800′s to model propeller behavior. Since I’m not an aeronautical engineer, I dont know if it applies to airfoils in general or if it’s really only useful for propellers.

FlightGear actually supports multiple FDMs. One of them, YASim, is a geometric FDM similar in concept to X-Plane‘s. However, the most commonly used one is JSBSim, a look-up table based model developed by a NASA engineer along with many others in academia.

Again, since I’m not an aeronautical engineer, I can’t really judge the pros and cons of the different FDMs used here. While some may say that a geometric model is inherently superior because it is tied directly to the geometry of the aircraft, there is also the issue about the precision of said geometry — if the theory is applied to the actual visual model used by the simulator, the polygon count may not be high enough to accurately model the aircraft. On the flip side, the quality of a look-up table based FDM depends on the quality of the generated look-up table and the number of parameters it contains. In theory, you can model a 747 to fly like a Cessna 172 if you apply the 172′s look-up table to the 747′s visual model. However, given the people who work on FlightGear‘s FDMs, I can only assume that the core FDM engines are sound and will properly handle their respective parameters, provided that the airplane modelers also provide correct data to the FDMs.

In short, I consider the FDM debate a draw between these two simulators, given my lack of expertise in the area.

Aircraft Handling

Never having flown a plane, I can’t judge which simulator more accurately models what flying a real plane actually feels like. However, I have noticed that X-Plane overall seems to be easier to fly than FlightGear. In the case of the Cessna 172 in FlightGear, it tends to really want to bank to the left constantly (which apparently does happen in real life due to the physics of a single rotating propeller on a plane), making flying straight challenging. In addition, I haven’t been able to properly trim the aircraft to fly level either, despite trying various tricks including enabling an “autotrim” feature. X-Plane‘s 172 does not bank to the left anywhere near as much and I overall had a much easier time trimming it to fly level. Again, I don’t know which is more realistic, but I do know which is easier for me to fly.

Hardware Support

By “hardware,” I mean joysticks, flight yokes, rudder pedals, and the like. Both simulators have pretty good support for them but take different approaches around configuration.

FlightGear includes joystick configuration definitions in XML files with the package. If a configuration exists for your joystick, it pretty much will “just work.” However, if it doesn’t, you’ll need to hack together your own custom XML file. While I personally don’t find this too daunting, I’m a computer software engineer by trade. Someone without as much computer experience may find it nigh impossible. Even with my experience, however, I still find the idea of having to hand-hack an XML file to work with my joystick tedious. However, if you are so inclined, these XML files have tremendous flexibility. You can include snippets of code in FlightGear‘s built-in scripting language, NASAL, in the XML files to program your joystick’s buttons to do all sorts of interesting things. It also allows for you to chord joystick buttons to give you near limitless flexibility in configuring your joystick.

X-Plane, on the other hand, doesn’t have any pre-configured joystick definitions — you’ll have to go to a dialog box and map all your buttons and axes manually using a “press the button then click on the behavior” model. It also doesn’t allow you to chord buttons, so you’re stuck with the exact number of buttons on your stick as opposed to multiples of them based on how complicated your chording gets.

I therefore view joystick support as a draw. FlightGear is simpler if you have a pre-defined joystick and are willing to use the defaults, but it’s much more complicated if your joystick is not defined. X-Plane is much simpler to configure for any arbitrary joystick, but it lacks FlightGear‘s near infinite joystick configuration flexibility.

Miscellaneous Features

FlightGear has a really neat external mapping program called Atlas. It shows a live display of your plane’s position along with airports, terrain, navigation beacons, etc., in your vicinity. Since it runs in a separate window than the main simulator, you can easily take advantage of multiple monitor setups by having the simulator run full screen on one monitor and the map appear on the other.

FlightGear in general has better multi monitor support as it allows you to put a window containing a different view of your plane on your second monitor. X-Plane only allows you to span your current view across your monitors (which all must run at the same resolution).

FlightGear also has the ability to automatically download scenery as you travel to a particular area as opposed to X-Plane‘s requirement that you pre-install scenery you care about to your hard drive. It also has more scenery overall than X-Plane as it includes the extreme north and south, which X-Plane doesn’t. However, FlightGear‘s auto-download facility is a little flaky — if the connection to the server is slow you may not see scenery for the area you’re flying over and instead be stuck with only water.

FlightGear has a very large supply of free aircraft models to download. X-Plane has a mix of payware aircraft in addition to what looks to be a decent free model community.

X-Plane allows you to fly on Mars. FlightGear limits you to Earth.

X-Plane lets you change planes without restarting the simulator. FlightGear requires a restart whenever you change planes.

X-Plane includes a proper aircraft GPS unit in its aircraft. FlightGear has more limited GPS support.

Documentation seems to be about equally spotty for both, but both do seem to have decent communities and documentation wikis to help out.

X-Plane includes a bunch of tools for designing aircraft, scenery, etc., in the package. FlightGear requires you to download separate tools from different developers to do so, although it supports quite a few standard formats.

X-Plane, with the proper additional hardware and a commercial use license can be used for FAA flight training. I don’t believe FlightGear has been approved for the same training.

Conclusion

It wasn’t an easy decision, but it all came down to which simulator gave me an easier time flying. For $30, it was worth having a critically respected simulator that was easier to fly, had more up-to-date navigational equipment in its model aircraft, and prettier to boot. Therefore, I purchased X-Plane and I’ll probably give a more detailed review once I get my copy. However, FlightGear is also an excellent simulator package, especially if you’re on a very tight budget. Even after I get X-Plane, I plan to still hold on to a copy of FlightGear and keep track of its development.

Thrustmaster T.Flight HOTAS X — First Impressions

Anyway, after struggling to use the keyboard and mouse to fly a plane in FlightGear and X-Plane (whose free demo I’ve been playing around with, but more on that in another post), I finally felt like I needed something better. I was originally looking at a $150 or so yoke with rudder paddles (kind of like the paddle shifters in some sports cars) as getting proper rudder pedals alone would cost around $150 on top of whatever yoke/joystick/etc., I purchase. However, I couldn’t justify the cost at my current level of simming, so I did some shopping around and settled on the Thrustmaster T.Flight HOTAS X which I was able to purchase for about $33 from Amazon.com.

It certainly made a huge difference over the joystick in both of those games! Plenty of programmable buttons, rudder control by twisting the joystick (or optionally using the rocker button on the back of the throttle), and a separate throttle handle (also with lots of buttons) made things much more pleasant than the mouse and keyboard. Granted, for certain things I’ll still need to use the mouse and keyboard (can’t map everything to a button on the stick), but it’s quite the improvement over what I had before. It also gets bonus points for being PlayStation 3-compatible, should I want to get any combat flight games for my console.

Now some people have complained about it having a relatively large “dead zone” in the middle as a side effect of being such an inexpesive joystick. While I did notice said dead zone, I didn’t find it to be anywhere near as bad (yet…) as the folks who complained about it. Besides, it only cost me $33 — if I wanted something better, I’d be pushing $100. This will more than do for the foreseeable future. Maybe one day I’ll get a full yoke/rudder pedal combination, but not today.

The Joy of Flight (Simulation)

Ever since my first flight on an airplane at age 6 (actually, even before, but I think it really hit after flying for the first time), I’ve been utterly fascinated with flying. Right around the same time (not sure if it was before or after), I also discovered the existence of flight simulator software for personal computers. Between my love of planes and computers, I pretty much promised myself that if/when I finally got a computer I would make sure that one of the first things I got for it was a flight simulator.

Fast forward to the end of 6th grade and I finally got that computer. Wait a couple of months more for my birthday and I purchased a copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator 3.0 as the first “real game” (I managed to pick up a bargain bin game or two one the day we got the computer) for my new computer. While flying turned out to be much more complicated and difficult than I expected, I still enjoyed flying around the world, learning about pilot terminology, etc., despite the limitations of the 8088 CPU, lack of hard drive, and CGA graphics of that computer. However, after a while this software sat on the back burner as other things came to possess my interest. This may have been partly due to the horrible graphics of the limited computer I ran it on, but also because, as a real time simulator, flying anywhere interesting took a long time — longer than I typically was willing to spend. I did revisit flight simulation again just before college when I purchased a copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator 5.0 for my then brand new and state-of-the-art computer, but college being college, I didn’t play it all that much either.

Now, alongside my love of flight simulation was a long time dream to get a pilot’s license. I remember as a kid spending way too much time figuring out what I would do if I somehow became rich and how I’d spend the money. At the top of the list was becoming a pilot and buying a private jet I could use to fly around the country, visit my family overseas, and so on. While this dream has sometimes been dormant due to the nature of life and the responsibilities of adulthood, it was always there and it never took much to reawaken it at least for brief periods of time…

Moving on to the present day, my dream of flying was probably reawakened by small plane posters up in the cubicle of one of my co-workers. It reminded me of how much I used to enjoy flight simulators, so I decided to give the open source FlightGear simulator a whirl…

Wow! What a difference between FlightGear and MSFS 5! While it may not be the prettiest simulator on the market today, it certainly looks quite good and leaps and bounds beyond the earlier simulators I’ve used. Add that to free scenery for the entire world (including the airport in Portugal where my first flight as a six-year-old landed — allowing me to recreate that first flight) and a huge selection of free aircraft ranging from the ubiquitous small Cessnas to 747s and I was hooked once again. I was hooked so bad that for the hell of it I started looking at local flight schools to see how much flight training would cost (answer: thousands of dollars) and even started shopping for planes and pilot gear, just for the hell of it.

Now I can’t say for certain if I’ll ever reach my dream of having a pilot’s license and owning a plane (which is now a much more realistic Cessna as opposed to a business jet) due to the expense involved as well as having higher priority things on my financial list, but at least until if/when I can fly the real thing, there is always FlightGear. Even if I do get my license, I’ll probably still use FlightGear or another simulator as where else would I be able to practice flying a 747? :)

Am I Luddite? Cloud Computing

It’s funny that I’m considering the possibility of being a luddite, given how I work in tech and generally love gadgets. However, as I’ve gotten more “mature,” I’ve become somewhat more skeptical about the latest and greatest technologies. It’s not like when I was just a “dumb kid” and fell for anything that I thought looked awesome in the store or in a magazine (mostly with regards to video games). I mean, when I first saw demo units set up for the Phillips CD-I (geeze, I was dumb) or 3DO (okay, less dumb here, but that machine really didn’t go anywhere either), I for some unfathomable reason wanted those consoles (using the term very loosely with respect to the CD-I). This probably culmonated in my purchasing of a Sega CD, Sega Saturn, and Sega Dreamcast (I was a huge Sega fanboy back in the day and probably still would be, to a much more reasonable extent, if they still made consoles). Hey, at least I didn’t buy a 32X! Anyway, being somewhat burned by these purchases (although all of them gave me some of my all time favorite gaming experiences, so it wasn’t all bad) left me of the opinion that should probably wait a bit before purchasing new technologies just to make sure they aren’t half baked and won’t be abandoned by their makers (which admittedly I haven’t always followed — I did buy a generation 1 iPhone, but only after the price drop).

Other techs I’ve been very cautious about included cell phones back around 2000-2001, though this was partly due to them still being pretty expensive and service being pretty crappy, especially with the first cell phones I used back in the 90′s. My first cell phone plan was therefore very limited — I basically only got enough to use it for emergencies or nights and weekends while out/on the road and still primarily used a land line. Now, my cell phone has become my primary phone, but I still keep a land line around for backup use as reception at my house is sometimes spotty (it also comes out slightly cheaper as part of a bundle with my internet connection than if I got the connection without the land line).

Web-based e-mail is also something I was slow on the uptake with, although part of this was due to how much I loved using mutt on a shell account as my primary email client. However, when that accounts spam filters just weren’t cutting it anymore, I fired up my dormant Gmail account and switched to that (with appropriate forwarding set up). At first, I primarily used it via IMAP interfaces to mutt and Thunderbird, but later I just went whole hog to the web interface and pretty much never went back. Google eventually added enough features to their web interface that I didn’t feel the need to use an IMAP client anymore to get the functionality I wanted for just about all the emails I send and receive. The convenience of being able to access my mail on any computer with a reasonably up to date browser also was very nice.

Now, webmail is probably my first entry into part of the grand scheme now called “cloud computing.” Other examples of cloud computing include Google Docs (and its various other online services, like Reader), Amazon EC2 and S3, and other cloud services. Despite spending some time working on cloud computing infrastructure software at a former job (which I left for reasons other than my opinion on cloud computing as a whole), I never quite got what the big deal of it was, other than the fact that “it’s the hot new thing and it’s probably not a bad idea to be working on it while it’s still hot.”

Part of my skepticism on cloud computing is that I’ve seen it hyped before, though under different names: utility computing and grid computing, both of which failed to get any market acceptance. At their cores, they both basically offer the same thing as cloud computing: instead of having your own data center, you instead lease storage and CPU time from a service provider. Cloud computing’s main difference is that a lot of it takes place over the public Internet instead of a private network between the customer and the service provider, but it’s still basically the same concept.

There is also the talk of “private clouds.” This is the idea that a large enough organization that doesn’t want to use an outside service provider for some reason (perhaps because they aspire to be a cloud provider themselves) acquires their own cloud infrastructure and manages their own internal cloud that may be distributed across many of their data centers. Hmm… this sounds almost like the 1960′s-70′s era notion of “big mainframe in the basement with lots of terminals accessing it everywhere else” with the addition that the “mainframe” can be distributed across multiple geographic locations. Now don’t get me wrong — some applications of private cloud technology are great. The ability for a geographically dispersed large organization to easily mirror their data across all their locations is definitely useful. Being able to spread virtual machines anywhere across a company’s global network to better balance CPU and network utilization is also a very useful feature. However, most of my cloud skepticism is related to cloud computing as provided by a service provider.

The main issues with using a cloud service provider are “How much do I trust my service provider with my data?” and “How reliable is my internet connection?” I can definitely see the possibility of people/organizations not wanting to use a service provider for highly sensitive data (financial data, proprietary blueprints/source code, etc.) due to not being sure how secure the service provider’s infrastructure is. You also have to rely on the provider’s infrastructure always being reliable so that you can actually get at your data when you need it. Similarly, while internet connections are getting better and better, 100% reliable, ubiquitous, fast, and cheap internet still doesn’t exist (at least not for everybody). Once again, I wouldn’t want to keep my critical data on an outside site that I may not be able to reach when I absolutely need to access it.

Still, I do use a fair number of cloud applications, but I’m pretty judicious in which ones I use and how I use them. Webmail is a notable example. Google Reader is another favorite. Google Docs is awesome for collaborating with other people across the ‘net (although I still use an offline office suite for most of my personal document needs). I also use an online backup service to do offsite backups of my data. What do all these apps have in common? They all are applications that require the internet to use anyway such that if I don’t have an internet connection, I wouldn’t be able to do what I wanted even if it wasn’t on the cloud. For anything that I can do offline, I almost always choose to do it offline. The classic example is an offline database application I put together for managing panels at a Japanese animation convention I staff. While talking to another con’s panel organizer about collaborating, he suggested he would make a nice webapp for doing the same thing and we could work together, given my experience, to make sure it had all the necessary features to do the job. While I didn’t get the chance to express my reservations about such a system, my main issue was that internet connectivity at just about every convention I’ve been to was either too unreliable or too expensive (IMHO — please keep in mind I’m a cheap bastard) for me to feel comfortable with using a webapp to manage panels.

That is where I see the future of cloud computing. I don’t see it ever fully supplanting offline applications. Instead I see a future of mixed offline/cloud environments where applications that are a natural fit for the cloud eventually do migrate completely to the cloud whereas applications that for security, performance, or lack of connectivity reasons are a best fit for offline use remain offline.

JRPGs are dead to me

Wow… This is my first real blog post on my new, real blog. Bear with me here.

Anyway, I’ve come to the conclusion that JRPGs (Japanese RPGs, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the acronym) as a favorite video game genre, are dead to me. Well, not exactly dead — it’s just that the the newest ones on the latest consoles just don’t seem to appeal to me as much as the old ones (which I’m still playing via various methods). This doesn’t mean I’m giving up video gaming completely as there are other genres I also love (for example, I can’t wait to get my hands on Duke Nukem Forever). So what is it about the newer JRPGs that turn me off compared to the older ones?

In my opinion, there were two great eras of JRPGs. The first was what I call the “Silver Age,” AKA the 16-bit age. This was ushered in by Phantasy Star II on the Sega Genesis (the first 16-bit RPG) and goes through all the other games that appeared on both major 16-bit consoles, including LUNAR on the Sega CD and Square’s releases for the SNES. The other era is the “Golden Age,” which consists of the games on the 32-bit consoles as well as some that appeared on their followups like the PS2 and the Dreamcast. This would include Final Fantasy VII (which I partly blame for the later downfall of the JRPG, but more on that later), the LUNAR remakes, the Wild ARMS series, the Grandia series, and Skies of Arcadia. These terms are arbitrary (I can see someone arguing that the 16-bit era was the true Golden Age, for example), but these eras contain the pinnacles of the JRPG as a game genre.

However, it was during the late PS2 era that JRPGs started morphing from the genre I loved when younger to what they are now. Is it a case of me just not liking them as much as I aged? I doubt it, since I still enjoy going back and playing the older ones from time to time (and yes, this may be partly nostalgia, but I don’t think nostalgia can be all of it). No, I think it was a case of the genre changing to reflect what the developers feel modern gamers want while losing the “magic” the older games had. So what happened to the magic? Well, I feel that by trying to go for more “mature” storylines with more “character development” (I’ll explain why I’m quoting them later), they ruined what I enjoyed about the games due to poor execution.

So let’s start with making more mature storylines. Having mature storylines (by which I mean stories more sophisticated than just “teenage kid saves the girl/world and/or defeats the evil king/god/etc.”) is nothing new. Phantasy Star II had a core storyline that I think is as mature and serious as any of the more recent RPGs (albeit, given its early state, it wasn’t quite as developed as more recent ones, but the core plot elements were pretty sophisticated). However, the first JRPG I can think of that really had a well developed, sophisticated, and mature plot was probably Xenogears. When I first played it, I was blown away by how sophsiticated elements of its story was (even though I originally got it cause “holy crap! giant robots!”) — I can’t think of any other game before that blended theology, philosophy, and psychology in quite the same manner. In retrospect, I can see all the holes and weaknesses in its plot, but at the time it was definitely a refreshing change of pace from the standard “teenage kid saves the girl/world” storyline. Unfortunately, it seems like many later JRPGs try to emulate it and often do even worse than the original. Now it seems like every JRPG storyline is written by someone who took a semester of theology, philosophy, and/or psychology in college and thinks it makes them enough of an expert in the subjects to write a compelling story. No… it just means you can write a crappy slow-moving story with lots of big words in it.

Besides, you don’t need a “mature” story to make a good JRPG story anyway. Some of my favorite JRPGs are from Game Arts, including the LUNAR series, and all of them tend to be variants of the “teenage kid goes on an adventure and ends up saving the girl/world/etc.” plot. However, the stories and characters are so charming and well done that they are very, very entertaining. Phantasy Star IV is another game that’s a variant of “teenage kid saves the world,” but the characters are great (if not really developed much during the story), the plot moves briskly, and it’s just plain fun to play. Some of the newer games seem to eschew “fun” for “seriousness” and it hurts them severely.

The other main thing people want in their JRPGs is character development. You can have a game with a great story, but people will still ding it for lacking much in the way of character development these days. Phantasy Star II is a classic example of this — it pre-dates modern notions of character development in an RPG despite having a base plot that holds up well. Even so, the plot gave hints into the deep backgrounds of the characters that gives plenty of leeway for a modern rewrite to give it the character development people expect these days. On the other side of the spectrum are the Game Arts games — their stories were pretty simple, but their amazing character development is what helped elevate them to classics in my opinion.

Unfortunately, most modern JRPGs seem to take their character development ideas from the “Dr. Phil’s School of Personal Growth.” Now, overcoming personal demons is certainly a valid way to develop a character. Those demons could be anything from not knowing your origins, trying to live up to the expectations of others, or overcoming mental instability. However, it seems like modern JRPGs only seem to focus on the mental instability part (hence the “Dr. Phil” quip). I blame this on Final Fantasy VII, which I think was the first JRPG to feature a mentally unstable lead character. Now it seems like being borderline insane and overcoming said insanity is the only way modern JRPGs can think of to create a character that can develop. I mean, it seems like every recent JRPG has some bit involving exploring the psyche of the characters in the game, which is something that was novel in the PS1 days but is ridiculously cliche now while being less entertaining than a well-done “teenage kid saves the world” cliche. Oh, and every character is an ass that I couldn’t give a flying bleep about. At least I cared about the characters in Phantasy Star IV, despite them not having much in the way of “development” relative to more recent games.

Okay, so we’ve touched on plot and characters. The last bit is game mechanics. Let’s start with all the superflous stuff they want to throw into JRPGs these days. <old-man-voice>Why, back in my day, we could only acquire items at shops, in treasure chests, or if monsters dropped them and we liked it!</old-man-voice> While I may be exaggerating somewhat, what the hell is the purpose of some of the crazy systems these days where you need to combine exotic materials found in random spots of the game via some bizarre form of alchemy in order to create new weapons, medicines, etc.? It doesn’t add anything of value to the game and just makes it more annoying to play. If I want to stock up on healing potions before a dungeon, just let me go to the nearest item shop and buy them. I don’t want to waste time gathering herbs and minerals in the wilderness and experimenting with alchemical concoctions just to be able to heal myself later. Mandatory minigames are another thing. They’re okay if you want to do something extra to get a bonus item, more money, etc., but they are annoying as hell when you need to complete one in order to advance to the next part of the game — especially since most of them are so poorly done they aren’t worth playing on their own.

The last bit is changes in combat systems. Old school JRPGs are purely turn-based. While probably mandatory given the limitations of the hardware they first appeared on, it’s still a valid design option in my opinion if you come up with a well-designed turn-based system. Later on came more modern systems like Square’s Active Time Battle and Grandia‘s real-time-with-pause. Personally, of the two newer ones, I prefer the latter since JRPG menus aren’t designed for quick navigation during the heat of battle. However, both are better than the action-oriented system most JRPGs seem to be going for these days. Now, don’t get me wrong, a well done action-oriented system can be fun provided the developers of the system do it well and know its limitations. Sword of Vermillion on the Genesis, despite being a so-so RPG overall, actually had a very solid action-oriented combat system. Sure, it was limited in that you could only do physical attacks, cast a single type of spell, and not use any items during combat, but it worked very smoothly. If done well (as many FPSes seem to do), you could even have an item inventory and multiple weapons/spells/etc. accessible through an action-oriented system. However, most JRPGs don’t implement one very well. First, when dealing with multiple character parties, you’re still going to have to do a turn-based system in effect as you can’t control more than one character at a time without at least some AI assistance (and those AIs tend to be pretty dumb). Second, FPSes tend to give you greater control over your character and give opportunities for you to take cover or find a safe area to monkey with your inventory, something I haven’t seen in JRPGs. Last, but not least, the typical action-oriented JRPG combat system just feels clunky when compared to a pure action game. Basically, given how most JRPG developers aren’t experts in action-style gameplay, they are out of their element when it comes to implementing an action-oriented combat system.

So, how would I make a modern JRPG that holds up to the older ones I hold so dear? Here’s a list:

  • Ditch the philosophical/psychological mumbo-jumbo. It’s become cliche and you can’t do it right anyway. Instead, either come up with something really original or that pays homage to a classic trope that’s underutilized in JRPGs. If you can’t do that, then try to make the best damned “teenager saves the world” story you can. Those are nice to play every once in a while as they make me feel like a kid again.
  • Get rid of superfluous game play elements like mandatory minigames and alchemy-style item creation. Everything you actually need to complete the game should be available via shops or treasure chests. You can keep the minigames and alchemy as optional gameplay elements you can use to get extra stuff, but nothing mandatory should result from them.
  • Unless you’re doing a single character RPG, ditch action-oriented combat. Go with pure turn-based or real-time-with-pausing instead. Your programmers can’t do action right anyway, so don’t give us a crappy combat system as a result.
  • Even if you are doing a single-character RPG with action-oriented combat, hire someone who knows how to do action games to program the combat engine and give him/her the time and resources necessary to do it right (Sword of Vermillion was done by same same folks who later did Virtua Racer and Virtua Fighter at Sega, so they know action games).
  • Games with action-oriented systems need minimal grinding, even more so than others. This is because I find it much easier to get gaming fatigue from repeatedly doing the same hack-and-slash actions over and over again as opposed to just a few quick menu clicks in a turn-based system — especially one with some sort of macro system like Phantasy Star IV or LUNAR after Eternal Blue came out for the Sega CD.
  • Don’t use funky level building mechanisms. Keep the classic experience points = levels system, at least for core statistics. You can augment this with other systems (magic experience, etc.) for traits that you want to give some ability to customize.
  • Grinding should be optional, but possible. If I just complete all the required portions of a game using the shortest path possible and fight only the minimum number of monster mooks and bosses I can encounter on that path, the game should be beatable, if challenging. However, if I find it too challenging to go that short route, I should be allowed to optionally level grind to get past the hard bits. Frustration is even less fun than grinding.

There may be other changes I would make, but those are the ones that come to mind.

Anyway, until modern JRPGs return to the form I enjoyed most, I’ll just stick to playing older ones (I do have a bit of a backlog from the PS1 and early PS2 era I can go through) and other genres of games. Oh, and for other roleplaying fixes, I’ll stick to tabletop-style gaming.

Please excuse the stock theme

I just got this up and I haven’t had a chance to create a theme yet. Of course, I may never create one or customize one, mostly out of laziness.

Starting off this blog…

Well, I had this blog sitting around for ages. I figured I may as well use it in lieu of/in addition to my LiveJournal account. More to come soon…