Katawa Shoujo

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Torchlight 2: First Impressions



While I’ve never been a fan of the Diablo franchise, I was a great fan of the previous Torchlight, so I was really looking forward to grab the new Torchlight 2. 

With some friends we grabbed a 4-pack as soon as it hit the Steam store and got down to business.

Back to Torchlight… now with Multiplayer

One of the things we most repeated while playing Torchlight 1 was – “this game is so frigging awesome, pity it doesn’t have multiplayer…” – Well, now that suffering has come to an end. Torchlight 2 does feature multiplayer, and does it well. My first multiplayer game was a 7 hour marathon with very fast response and no lag whatsoever.  This was one of the critical points to me, as the battle speed in Torchlight is frenetic.

My first choice to delve back to the dungeons was an Outlander. The ranged, was my first class in Torchlight and I recall I loved the ricochet shot mechanic. So I tuned up a bit my visuals, got my pet (a ferret) ready, and dropped to the lobby where my two friends were waiting. Just then I noticed one of my friends had grabbed an Outlander too. So we ended with two Outlanders and a Berserk in the group.
My second character, a sturdy Engineer girl, with a fellow Outlander friend.

Character Customization

The first thing I loved in this game is the great amount of customization of the characters, either via items or skills. Despite we were having two outlanders in the group, we were different like night and day.

Skills are grouped in skill trees but they have no previous requirements aside from level, so you can freely pick the best of each world to fit into your play style. Never we had to worry about a skill being mandatory to progress and through the 25 levels we upped, only 2 skills we shared: the starting burst shot, and some bat invocation shot.

My friend decided to max his dual pistols and his passives abilities, thus choosing range and damage output as his primary focus. He is not fond of the keyboard so he limited himself to two maxed spammable skills. His pet was a bulldog, his armor, looked like a barbarian archer of sorts.

I, on the other side, love having lots of skills, so I soon found myself cross-building between the different skill trees for a lot of variety. Some Ricochet shots, and glaive throwing abilities, made me less dependent on the weapon, so I kept going from bows to pistols to shotguns as items got better. I paired the damage with utility skills that allowed me to back-flip out of combat and debuff enemies, so in the end I made myself a not so powerful, but far more versatile skillset. My tunic-like armor finished the picture for a complete different character played on the same Class.
My Outlander and his pet - as you can see, nothing to do with my friend´s Outlander.

Difficulty and leveling

One of the things I have to praise Runic for is the way enemies adapt to the parties. While you usually drift through lone monsters meant to be just “time-killers” to be munched upon, they are tough enough to justify using skills instead of auto-attacks, yet weak enough to not suppose a real threat.

When you get to the ambush points or mid-bosses you will face quite a challenge though. While they are not impossibly strong, the enemies can hold their ground and pack some punch. You will have to manage your resources well if you don’t want to be re-spawning at the nearest city.
Even alone you can charge into the horde and obliterate them without mercy.
Even if you stray away from the group, neither you nor your friends will be obliterated as the mobs seem to adapt to the number of present teammates, thus you will always face a decent challenge so the game doesn’t get too easy or too hard.

Leveling is also done at a steady pace, and it never took more than 10 minutes to reach the next level. This is one of the things that keeps me grabbed to the game:  As the skill points flow you have always your eye in the next best thing you can buy from those tempting skill trees.

Explorable Areas

The first impression on the game areas was really nice, the overworld is big and vast, with lots to explore, and if I am to judge by my friends in-game comments it is randomly generated because it didn’t match their previous gameplays.

One of my previous concerns about the original Torchlight was that the dungeons got repetitive due to few environment variations as you delved deeper.
Dungeons are still there and have a lot more detail now.
In Torchlight 2 you don’t get that boring feeling due to the dungeons being randomly fit on the overworld. This keeps you constantly switching from open surface environments (with their day/night cycles), to the tight passageways of dungeons sprawled across the land. 

Loot, portals and the meaning of live.

Torchlight loot is evenly distributed between the players, who don’t see what is dropping for fellow players. This is good because you usually don’t worry nor rage about what other’s drops are, and instead you keep chatting alive with news of notable items that might be interesting to others - or keep in secret items you are too greedy to share.
You can have the weapon but the pok√©mon is mine!! 
Portal waypoints in multiplayer are pretty cool, as each player can keep an active portal, which any player can use as a destination in his travels. To add on that, you can always teleport to your friend’s location from a portal waypoint so even if you die in the middle of a boss fight, you can re-spawn at the city for no cost and then portal your way to the fight in less than a minute (I talk from personal experience on this one).
This means death is almost a zero penalty issue in multiplayer as you will never lose anything from dying as long as your friends keeps themselves alive.

PvP

We’re not much into PvP but once we came back to town from our long dungeoneering we tried some for fun. I really doubt the game is meant to be balanced for PvP, as even at the same level, the ability of the Berserk to wipe Outlanders was out of question.
As long as you stay at the city you can die without worries or penalties so turning the cities into a battlefield is fun from time to time.


An example of badass enemies and cool environments.

Closing Comments

I am really glad I got Torchlight 2 and certainly is worth every one of the 15 bucks I paid for it. While the first Torchlight kinda got old with the time I’m sure I will be playing this one a lot for the next months, especially as soon as mods start being released.
Overall I highly recommend it.  I will not compare it to Diablo as I never played any of them, but for my hack and slash needs it has totally lived up to my expectations.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sundome - A Manga Review


There are many things that could describe Sundome, but probably the first one to say is that is not a manga for everyone. Not only because it’s an adult manga, but because the theme that explores through the lenght of the series might be controversial for some and disturbing or  disgusting for others.

Certainly is a manga that you wouldn’t like anyone catch you reading if you want to prevent wrong interpretations of your persona, but on the other side, the story enthralls you in such way that once you grab it it will be difficult to stop reading. So watch out!

Okay, that’s cool, but what is it about?

Sundome tells the story of Aiba, a high-schooler belonging to the Roman Club, a club who seeks for traces of paranormal activities, UFOs and such other misteries.  

Graduated Ex-members of this club are notable members on Japanese society and will help club members to achieve their desired career after graduation with only one condition: they must remain virgin through highschool. To prove the members are worthy, the ex-alumni regularly send women to tempt the club members into giving their virginity (these girl´s are often refered as Assasins).

The story begins the day a new transfer student named Kurumi Sahana appears at Aiba’s class making him fall instantly in love with her. Sahana discovering Aiba’s interest in her starts to power-play Aiba into a master-servant relationship, allowing him to have all kind of sexual experiences with her, with one condition: under no circumstance, even if they were the last people on earth, she will let him have sex with her.

Sahana has some "peculiar" ways to show she cares.
Aiba, desperately in love with her, will accept everything and go to high extremes to satisfy her mistress while improving to be a better person as to better please her.

Uh… is this as weird as it seems?

Sundome in japanese stands for “the instant that precedes the orgasm” and this is the concept that is played around during all the story: while Aiba is always wanting a bit more of Sahana she is always managing to let him go only until when she allows it. This concept is further reinforced by the chapters, called “collars”, in reference of how Sahana is always in command of Aiba.

While this may seem at the beginning like she is getting advantadge of Aiba, as the story unfolds you will see that Sahana is in fact quite in love of Aiba too, and despite of her sexual preferences she cares a lot about him and helps him become a better person through their relationship.

Aiba will turn to be a reliable person thanks to Sahana

Why I cannot read this with people around?

To give you an idea: Sahana’s first request is to see Aiba masturbating himself... with a nail… from then on she will start to control when and how is he allowed to jerk off, and they will together go through various sexual experiences, from funny to completely kinky, going in some cases into various degrees of bondage and domination play, including breath play and even golden shower. As Aiba is negated almost all physical contact without Sahana´s permission, she starts to treasure every last bit of her like an invaluable thing. 

The fact that you have to read this in solitude kind of helps you to feel more into the atmosphere of the story. Sundome is about sexual discovery, is about secret encounters and love practices seen as devious from most people, even in the series. But also is a story about love, about people that holds secrets and specially about how we deal with confidence in our relationship.

You end up feeling like a silent voyeur of Sahana and Aiba´s peculiar relationship.
This looks like a dense story…

Fun thing is it isn’t. While the story about Aiba and Sahana is playing through secret encounters, the main day by day of the story follows the adventures and misadventures of the Roman club, a bunch of really pervy nerds while they scout for ghosts, ufo and other phenomena.

The typical chapter structure for sundome is always the same: The Roman club plans an activity, some comedy scenes will occur and then Sahana and Aiba manage to have some alone time which will lead to either some sexual encounter or some dramatic scene. This helps from keeping the mood either too gloomy, or too hilarious for two much, attaining a great balance.

The Roman club members and their relationships are hilarious on their own, and when a secondary love story emerges within the club (between Tattsun and the new girl Kyouko) you have one more story plot that will grab you to the book until you finish. In some chapters you will in fact be more thrilled with Tattsun’s story that Aiba’s.

Tattsun and Kyouko have a peculiar story on the background.

You kinda left me curious: What other things I should worry about…

The art may not be for everyone. While I personally loved it, the art style shifts from extremely detailed and dark on the heavy sexualized encounters or dramatic points, to caricaturesque plain characters with crowded panels on the more comedic points.

While inconsistent, I think it shifts well with the mood of the story so I gave it my personal thumbs up.
Also, as the story unfolds it progressively turns more dramatic. And while I personally didn’t cry over this one as i did in Ano Hana, I know quite a handful who did. So be warned.

From drama to terror to humor to fanservice... Sundome has it all.
Conclusion

If you really are a thoughtful adult and not shaken by out of the standard sexual practices (hell, you may even be into it) I would totally recommend you to grab this one. I devoured the 8 volumes in 2 days and certainly I consider it one of the best love stories I have read so far. 

The manga has been adapted into 4 live-action movies which suffices to say that it made quite a success on Japan. They have picked my interest so i´ll try to see if they live up to the magnificent story the manga is.

That said, there is only one thing left to do...




Monday, September 17, 2012

Burn the City - an iOS app review




Burn the city is a small casual game that puts you in the skin of a giant firebreathing lizard with no other purpose in life that to put cities ablaze for shear amusement.

The game relies basically on physics and the "angry birds" catapult model to offer a lot of fun in a small package.


Tried and true mechanics at the purpose of mindless destruction. YAY!!
Unlike angry birds, in Burn the City you won't be restrained by a limited number and shots and ammo. Our little lizard and his unlockable companions all have a basic fireball attack, that causes impact damage to buildings, sets them aflame and even bounces a bit when stroke on the right angle. This removes the frustration factor of the game as you can practice most shots before wasting your precious special ammunitions on them.

Special ammo, must be obtained in the very stage, and comes in 3 forms, sniper, explosive or remotely detonated. The first is not affected by gravity so can reach targets beyond normal firebal range, the second goes boom on everything it touches, bouncing up to 3 times, while the last wont explode until you touch it which will allow to hit onto other surfaces and enter ducts without exploding.

From chapter 2 onwards meteorological effects like rain and wind will also affect the performance of your shots so you'll have to learn to use it in your favor while aming for the weakest spots of the city, like energy generators, nuclear plants or oven overflying airplanes that you can take down into uncovered buildings (i wonder if they'll ban this game on the USA).

Usually there is more than one way to clear a mission, but only one way to score tons of points. This is tood because encourages you to retry mission until gaining gold, but rarely you'll find a mission that blocks your progress. Only a handful of missions can actually be failed due to being dependant on timing of a shot and but not usually on precision.

You must admit that the dino is kinda cute.


The game never penalizes failed shots, in fact scoring is only dependant in the amount of destruction you can cause, and you will get multipliers from striking multiple targets and causing chain explosions with a single shot. This is a good point for a tactile game because we all know that aiming is not always easy in a handheld device and is kind of frustrating to repeat a 10 shot chain just because you missed a milimeter on the last shot, or unvoluntarily touched the screen causing a rogue fireball to launch.

The game also includes a "Battle" mode where you have to survive an onslaught of copters and tanks coming from a big city. The time and precision is critical on this mode, as well as taking profit of the ricochetting nature of the fireballs to strike multiple moving targets.

In battle mode you can score big by bringing aircrafts in flames down to the buildings.

Overall the grafics, though simple are clean and the physics are well represented, specially in the final stages in space. The backgrounds are plain and simple, and the music and sounds are not memorable, decent at much, but they complement the game enough and are not annoying.

The game totals around a 100 missions, some of them with some hilarious setups (special mention for the Space invaders mockup stage). Shame is the most original ideas are used only on one or two missions. In the end of the game you feel that some ideas could have been used more into further extending the fun. I wish we see updates with new missions on the near futuro.


The space invaders stage closes the game with golden key.
There are 3 additional dinos, all unlockable with points earned in game, but none of them affect gameplay, just are small graphic variations.

Overall it's good fun game that will keep you entertained for some hours.

You will like it

If you like mindless destruction or thoughtful destruction, whatever.
If you hate casual games with frustrating bottleneck stages.
If you are into dinosaurs.

You wont like it

If you´re looking for really tough challenges.
If the idea of throwing planes into buildings makes you shiver

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Clean Desktop for Efficient Working



Since some months ago i´ve been a computer order junkie. After some virus fought valiantly and forced me to make a system restore of my manufacturer settings, the subsequent work to reorganize together with the amount of info lost made me realize that I needed to do something to keep my virtual life tidy.

For the good or the bad I had search around the internets to find the proper solutions to the things I wanted to achieve, so today I’m starting a series of articles to explain how I managed to find inner peace within the madness of my previously chaotic virtual self.

A Dock to keep it all in reach

I love wallpapers, I really do. I have a collection that probably goes above the hundreds, rotating randomly in my computer background every 30 minutes. They inspire me when I’m out of ideas and sometimes bring me a smile when I recall images I haven’t seen in a while.

But in order to appreciate my wallpapers I need to keep my desktop clean. This is quite difficult when your desktop icons keep shifting from place to place constantly due to changing screen resolution and/or screens.
My first incursion on the clean desktop world was lead by apple style docks. Mainly Rocket Dock.
Docks are small instant access bars that remain hidden, but hover over your desktop when your mouse comes near their screen edge. They allow to have some amount of quick access icons to recall your defined programs in a visually appealing way.

Rocket Dock in action

 Though I used docks a lot during the last two years, they still left some issues to deal with:

First: In order to not overcharge the dock with useless things you should only place a handful of programs on it, thus, if you ever used a higher variety of programs, you will have to go back to the classic Windows Start menu and search them out.

Second: Documents you are working on are not so long-lived as to place them on the dock, yet, they are important enough to not leave them on the confusing mess of a constantly shifting desktop.

Third: The dock has two activation modes – under windows or over windows – this means that you either have to go back to your desktop with no active windows maximized to open it, or you can activated over your maximized windows, usually resulting in the dowck beckoming a constant a**hole by popping out when you don’t need it.

Organizing desktops with Fences

Part of my dock problem was solved when I found another tiny and useful program called Fences.
Fences allow you to set a group of contained areas in your desktop where icons stick to whatever happens in the outside of the fence. So you can for example define a IMPORTANT fence with all the docs you are working on, and another fence with something like PENDING ORGANIZATION. No matter what sorting order you apply to the Desktop, the fences will remain in place and the contents of them won’t get mixed with the others.

I myself love to have the recycle bin in the lower right side of the desktop, so I have her in her own fence so I’m always sure she will always be there no matter how I mix and shuffle other things around.
For almost a year the Dock/Fences combo did it for me until I met WinLaunch.

How Fences can keep order on your desktop

WinLaunch - The temptation apple

I am an ipad user, and though I’m not an apple fanboy, I must confess I really find peace on the organization system of the icons in OSx. So when I met WinLaunch I decided I needed to give it a try… and I loved it.
Winlaunch loads on startup and remains hidden from sight as long as you don’t activate a certain command on your computer (mine is Ctrl-Alt-F in order to not mess up with some gaming keyboard configurations). When you do, your desktop blurs to an ipad like icon shelf, where you can place as much icons you want, acting like a second desktop of sorts.

This not only allows you to keep a clean Windows desktop, but also prevents that unwanted attention to your desktop contents, especially important when you use to carry your computer around to job meetings, roleplaying sessions, or have a meddling girlfriend.

Winlaunch will blur your desktop and put everything one or two clicks away

Icons can be further organized into folders, and will always remain in the place you left them so you don’t have to worry about them shuffling around. Also, as they are not crowding your wallpaper now, icons can be considerably bigger, allowing faster identification.

Folders will open on the exact way they do on OSx, showing their contents in a small strip but without cramming your screen with lots of open folder windows. This that may be something stupid sums up with the decision to open programs with a single clic, and auto-hiding the WinLaunch app after opening. At the end of the day, you won’t need to close all folder windows opened while searching for the app. 

Conclusion


I hope that if you are in the same journey of self organizing as i am this article has been helpful and shown you some tidying options. During the next weeks we will talk on some other ways to help you achieve order on other places of your computer, so don't miss it!

Oh, by the way, the header image is from Real Desktop, some fancy thing if you are into the visual, but i guess if you were reading this is because you don't want that kind of desktop to begin with.