ROW80 and General Update

Hey folks, sorry for having disappeared on the past week or so. Exams, deadlines and projects at the university, plus some really bothersome shoulder pain (that came from nowhere) got the best of me, and I ended up not having much energy to post anything here. I won’t lie, the last few days I did have some more time spring up, but I actually used that to blow off some steam in some new games I had been planning on playing (one of which, by the way, is Star Wars: The Old Republic, which is awesome), so shame on me, shame on me. This next week is probably going to be busy as well, but I will try to have something up here as soon as possible, if not a short story at least a gaming post or something of the sort to not let the digital dust rise too far. Sad news all around, but the end of the term is always like this, with a shortage of time and energy for anything besides the university.

-JNicolini

Gaming Thoughts: Sleeping Dogs

I’ve been playing Square Enix’s Sleeping Dogs title lately, and have just recently finished the main storyline (and more than half the bonus side-missions as well, I think), and I’m going to focus this Gaming Thoughts post about my experiences and thoughts about the game. In Sleeping Dogs, you play as Wei Shen, an undercover police officer infiltrated on the Sun On Yee, one of Hong Kong’s most dangerous triads. Your mission is to destroy the triad from the inside, and you also have a personal stake on the criminal organization’s demise, as is revealed throughout the game. Sleeping Dogs is an open-world Action/Adventure title with interesting combat, an engaging storyline, and likeable characters, all wrapped together in gorgeous graphics. The game does have its flaws, obviously, like most female characters being depicted shallowly, or a few bad dialogue choices, but overall the game is a pleasant experience, and while I have no idea if it is strictly correct or not, its depiction of Hong Kong’s culture is interesting, at least from an Occidental point of view.

The combat system follows the lead of other Action/Adventure titles like Assassin’s Creed or Batman: Arkham City, pitting the main character in fast encounters with many enemies at once. The combo, counter and grappling systems are interesting and diverse while remaining simple enough to not be frustrating, and the ability to use your environment to defeat your foes (like grappling your enemy and crashing him into a garbage bin, or hitting their heads against the wall, etc) adds a nice touch to it all – after the first few combats, I found myself always looking out for environmental attacks I could use, even if just to see the cool cutscenes that came out of them. Combat using guns, which only happens more or less halfway through the main story-line (and never quite becomes the focus, though melee weapons are also available and in larger quantities) is done well enough to be enjoyable, keeping in mind that the game is not supposed to be a shooter in the first place.

There are several minor aspects of the game that are not the main focus, but together add to its depth and fun-factor, like the racing mini-games, the diversity of vehicles to choose from, interesting side-quests (though the romantic side-quests are more lacking than not, but… preciously few games get romance right anyway), several NPCs to interact with, and the ability to buy your own clothes and dress yourself almost in any style you wish, among other things that alone don’t amount to much, but together with an already strong base make the game that much more interesting.

One thing that disappointed me was the lack of choice; while Sleeping Dogs is a great game as it is, the addition of choosing your own path would make the game a great hit. Wei, the protagonist, is constantly assaulted by the conflict between his duty to the Police and his increasingly loyalty to his comrades in the Sun On Yee, and there are certain events in the storyline that just scream for player input in deciding whether Wei takes the Police’s or the Triad’s side. Unfortunately, we can just sit down and watch as the events unfold in the developer’s planned storyline, but not every game can be expansive enough to support multiple choices and multiple ends, so it’s not really a flaw of the game but merely my wishful thinking.

All in all, Sleeping Dogs is a great action game which took me roughly 18 hours to complete, but keeping in mind that I like to take my time, explore my surroundings, and test out the waters, so a more dedicated gamer could probably finish the game in half that time without missing out on much content. I heartily recommend Sleeping Dogs to any gamer looking for a new Action/Adventure game to play.

-JNicolini

ROW80 Sunday Update

It’s Sunday again, and time for another ROW80 report. Unfortunately, things are still going slower than I had hoped; I only had the time to finish one short story this week, despite being halfway through the second, and I still haven’t done any real progress on my novel, either. Unfortunately, I think this will be pretty much the norm for me, at least while I still have classes to attend and exams to study for. On the other hand, I’m in no hurry, so even though it is a bummer to not be able to fully devote myself to writing, I’m happy with at least being able to churn out one or two stories a week. I’m also beginning to seriously plan other kinds of posts for the blog, else it will be left to rot for most of the week when I don’t have time to finish all of my planned short stories, as has been happening lately. Either way, for next week I plan on finishing the short story that is already in the works and writing at least one other, so let’s look forward to trying to accomplish my weekly goal at least once! :D

-JNicolini

Daughter of Battles

Katarina surveyed the army that gathered beyond the fields around Illaryon from atop its Shining Walls, her mind racing. Many of the other Captains sneered at her habit of patrolling the high walls, saying that a Captain shouldn’t have to do the “dirty work” themselves, that they could count on the reports of their lieutenants and subordinates. It was not that Katarina didn’t trust her men; on the contrary, they were the best the decadent city had to offer, as she made sure that only the elite served in her unit, and because she provided additional training for them herself. No, she liked patrolling the high walls because she liked seeing things for herself, instead of having to rely on what others had seen; no matter how good they were, there were always details that they could miss, and that she would not. Staring at the gathering army, Katarina bit her lower lip in frustration. The numbers that were gathering there were such as the city had never seen before, and there were rumours of a terrible general behind it as well, and yet neither she nor any of the other Captains had received orders – either the High Lord was extremely confident of the city’s defences, or there was more afoot than the Captains were allowed to know, which bothered Katarina. She disliked not knowing, and besides, what you didn’t know could kill you before you had the chance to do anything about it.

Giving a hasty look around her, Katarina took a deep breath, calming her mind and relaxing her body. She opened herself to her Inner Source, embracing the flow of Karma that suddenly filled her, basking in the power that it brought her. She did not Weave, however; instead, she shifted that flow of pure energy into her eyes, activating the ability that had made her attain so much honour and prestige at such a young age. When she opened her eyes again, they were a bright purple instead of their usual green, and their shape was different too, appearing as a seven-pointed star instead of the normal human circular iris. The world seemed to shift in Katarina’s vision, as she suddenly saw shapes and colours in the field below, purple and red bruises indicating where men would die, flowing rivers indicating where they would move, to attack or flee depending on which colour the flow was painted with. It was a madman’s portrait, and enough to sicken any stomach, but Katarina’s eyes filtered the layers upon layers of possibilities and outcomes, and she absorbed enough battle information as if ten veteran generals had been whispering in her ear, an hour’s long analysis entering her brain in a split second.

“What do your Eyes see, Daughter of Battles?” The voice at her shoulder startled Katarina, making her lose the Inner Source and jarring her vision back to normal, the sudden change making her as sick as when she had activated her Karmic Eyes. She whirled on the spot, turning towards the speaker, saluting with fist to chest, “Apologies, my Lord General-Commander, I had not heard you come, sir.” General Derek Lento, commander of Illaryon’s army, was widely considered as one of the best strategists alive, and a force to be reckoned with in the battlefield as well. He had lived more than a hundred years already, with most of that spent on battles and wars, and yet he never dismissed the counsel of his officers – perhaps the very reason why he had been considered one of the greatest strategists of the world for most of his life. The bony man sighed, shaking his head, “At ease, Captain. You have not answered my question yet. What do your Eyes see?” Again, the capital E was clear in his voice. Katarina hesitated, looking back towards the gathered army. “Blood and death, my Lord General-Commander. If – no, when they attack, there will be many losses, on both sides. However… however, as long as the Wall holds, we will  emerge victorious.” She did not tell him about the ominous shadow she had seen coming from the centre of the enemy’s camp; she did not know what it meant, for she had never seen it’s like before, and yet it made her shiver and feel genuinely afraid, something that had seldom happened in her entire career as a soldier. The older man simply nodded, accepting her analysis of the situation, but his eyes were grim. Almost as if he, too, could see a great shadow falling over the city. “Your analyses never disappoint, Kat. I feel the same, myself.” The General said, dropping the formalities as he turned towards the field, considering the army below. They stood there for a few moments, shoulder to shoulder, watching and wondering.

“You know I have always liked you, Kat.” The General said, finally, breaking the silence. “Unfortunately, others do not feel the same way, especially considering your… abilities. If the worst happens to the city, or if anything happens to me, I advise you to flee from Illaryon. I have prepared a boat for you, and a crew of a handful of trusted retainers, that will hopefully get you out of the city. No, do not argue, Kat.” Katarina bit back the reply she was going to give, knowing that when the General set his shoulders that way, he would not be moved by any arguments. She sighed, dropping her head. The General had been like a father to her, the only person to have cared for her after her parents died while she was still a child. For all intents and purposes, he was practically her foster father, having raised and provided for her, and always being there to protect her. That was why she had joined the military, to make him proud; unfortunately, she later discovered that he had wanted a different life for her. No wonder he would try to save her if things went wrong during the battle, and there was nothing she could do to stop it, no matter how much she wanted to actually stay by his side. After all, if things went wrong, he would be one of the first targets, being the commander of Illaryon’s armies. “I…. understand.” She forced herself to say, though her fists clenched at her sides. She hated feeling powerless, and that’s exactly how she felt during this talk of fleeing the city.

“Good, good.” He patted her shoulder, smiling at her, “This is for the best, Kat. Don’t be like that. Much better if you live to fight another day, if you will, than if you die here with the rest of us old geezers. You have to much potential to waste your life like this, for this decadent city.” He chuckled, “Or for an old man like me.” Suddenly serious, he turned to look at the invading army once more, “I don’t know why, but I do feel that something bad will come out of this battle, Kat. Be prepared for the worst, no matter what you Saw. Come, now. Let’s go downstairs and get something to eat.”

“Yes, Lord General-Commander.” Katarina said with a nod. As she followed the General downstairs, she couldn’t help thinking about the invading army, and the shadow that she had seen coming from the enemy camp. What could it mean? And the General’s intuition was seldom wrong, which spelled bad news for Illaryon. Looking out to the sky, Katarina wondered what the future would bring, for her foster father and for herself.

ROW80 Update

Hey, folks. Finally a ROW80 update that isn’t laced with bad news and doom! I’ve been working on a short story today, and already finished it (it is already scheduled to be published tomorrow, as per my intended posting schedule), and already have an idea for another, hopefully to be completed soon and to be published on Thursday. On the other hand, I still haven’t done any work towards my novel, and I don’t think I’ll be able to do any soon, either, due to responsibilities and deadlines piling up at the university. This doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about it, however! Still not on the pace I want to be, but working towards it, which is always good. Not much else to report this weekend, though, so keep your eyes open for another update next Sunday!

-JNicolini