Sunday, January 30, 2011

Weekend Update

I know I’m late, but I have an explanation. My computer’s power converter croaked on Friday and I didn’t get my computer back until Saturday afternoon. (And I was lucky – my computer guy is taking a much-needed vacation soon.) So what was I doing and what will I be doing this weekend?

  • DVD to watch: nothing planned, but I’ll find something
  • Book to read: nothing special planned, still stuck in them MYTH novels
  • Game to play: “Dungeons”, even though it’s no new “Dungeon Keeper”

Ah, weekend. With a new converter and the sunshine outside, it’s rather nice.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Weekend Update

Another Saturday, cold, but bright. Inviting, sort of. But what am I going to do when the sun goes down or I get too cold outside?

  • DVD to watch: “Case Closed/Detective Conan” OVA 13
  • Book to read: “The Greene Murder Case” by S.S. van Dine (on my e-book-reader)
  • Game to play: probably “The Stroke of Midnight”

I’ll also be writing, maybe putting down some new posts, whatever I get to.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Religion and Sexuality

Sexuality is a natural need for humans – without it, we would be extinct, after all. Yet especially three religions (Jewish, Christian and Moslem belief) treat sex like the worst thing on earth. Why?

Every society makes its own set of rules which are based on what the society deems right or wrong. Some of the rules are basically existent everywhere: no stealing, no killing. It’s necessary for us to lay down the rules once two or more people live somewhere, to put down the dos and don’ts. A major influence for the rules, though, is not just logic (which is, basically, behind ‘no stealing’ and ‘no killing’), but also belief. As a such, the modern western democracies really are Christian modern western democracies – which explains the ‘troubles’ we’re experiencing with Moslems these days. Christian belief and Christian moral are the basics for our code of conduct, for our idea of right and wrong. And one thing that used to be very wrong (outside marriage at least) is sex.

If you take a look at the 68 revolution (which started in 1968), you will realize that the idea of free sex (meaning sex without limitation to one partner … or one gender) was a political statement. We do not want your morals and we do not want your laws (under which each parent or landlord who allowed an unmarried couple to sleep in the same room was considered a criminal – it was true here in Germany at that time). We are making love (read: having sex) with whom we want, where we want (even in public places – absolutely against morals at that time … and today) and when we want. We do not wait until we’re married, we do not restrict ourselves to having sex with one person only throughout our life – we even have sex with a couple of people at the same time. It was a slap in the face of society at that time.

But why the sex? Because the Christian society abhors sex in all forms. It is ‘allowed’ to have sex for one reason only: to propagate. Whenever you have sex (and, of course, only with your husband/wife), you must have the goal of creating another child as well. It is well understood by the church that you will not produce a child every time, but you have to ‘try for’ a child whenever you sleep with your partner (so no preventive measures). You are, indeed, not even supposed to enjoy it.

Which is stupid. Nature (or God, depending on your view of the world) has given humans something pretty unique in the animal kingdom: orgasms. Beside us, chimpanzees are the only beings on earth (as far as we know) capable of achieving an orgasm. The idea of it, though, is pretty clever: instead of giving a species a certain time of the month/year during which they feel the need to propagate, nature has given us an urge to have sex (because we enjoy it) whenever our needs are taken care of. You see, we’ve lived in various areas throughout our evolution (or have been placed in various climates by God, if you prefer that), so it was a different time of the year at which we should ideally give birth to children. By not setting a certain time (nine full months before the ideal time for new children), but instead giving us this urge, nature (or God) took care of this problem. In other words: we are supposed to enjoy sex, so we have enough of it to keep our species from going extinct! Even the bible sees propagation as an important part of our lives…

There’s a strange thing in the bible – and its interpretation –, though: On one hand, the church claims the only reason for having sex should be to propagate. On the other hand, one of the duties of a wife is to be sexually available to her husband at any time – even when she’s not able to conceive a child. Logic? No. Works the other way as well? No, even though by now we know women feel a stronger urge for sex while they’re actually able to conceive. Theoretically, to maximize the chance of children, it should be the woman’s decision when to have sex.

But why is sex a sin? Because, the bible tells us, humans only had the urge after the Original Sin (you know: tree, apple, knowledge – that stuff). The moment Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge (the fruit is unknown, the apple is not in the bible), they gained knowledge and thus lost their innocence. And only after this moment, the bible tells us, they realized they were different from each other and covered those differences (read: genitalia) in shame. Now, why the hell were they ashamed? They would have had to be very blind, indeed, not to realize that animals were different from them, just as plants were. And Adam must have realized before that Eve did not look like that slightly shaky picture of himself he saw in the water every time he bowed down to drink some.

It was only after they were driven from Eden, Adam and Eve started to have sex. They must have overcome their shame enough, therefore, to take off the stuff they had used to cover their differences and get down together.

What’s written in the bible is, of course, not the word of God, but the word of man – of several men, as it is. And they already lived in a society in which people covered their differences. But what’s it with sex?

Well, from the Christian view of the world, the bad thing about sex is this: it’s fun (for humans, at least). Christian belief says that this life, our life, is supposed to be miserable – only in the afterlife, in Paradise, are we supposed to enjoy ourselves (and not through sex, of course).

The trick with the afterlife is quite clever, actually. By promising a good time in the next world, it’s easier to make sure the poor (in most ancient/medieval societies the vast majority) would not rise and overthrow the rich (still the minority in every society). Even better: the more people suffer in this world, the more joy they will find in the next. People should really line up for martyrdom.

Sex is not part of that – but not having sex seems to be a major criteria for becoming a saint/martyr: especially the female saints or martyrs normally either died as virgins (quite often because they did not want to have sex with a heathen) or were raped before dying. Even Mother Mary got her child without having sex! Can it get any more obvious?

Maybe, just maybe, religions abhor sex not because it is amoral, but because it’s the only way humans can find a little piece of Heaven on Earth…

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Phantasmat and how to do it right

Around the same time I finally managed to download and play “Mystery Case Files – 13th Skull” (see last post), I also found “Phantasmat” by Codeminion. If I compare the two of them (both creepy games, both CEs), “Phantasmat” is a definite winner.

I was aware the game existed, but I didn’t really wait for it. Some other people over at the Pub had played a beta and really were rooting for the game, but I wasn’t. When the game came out, I decided to take a look, downloaded the trial from BFG and fell in love with the game. As I’m no longer a game-club member over at BFG, I decided to buy the CE directly from the developers – the same price, but I am getting a setup file which I only need to download once and can reinstall whenever it becomes necessary.

Phantasmat, for one thing, has no real actors (a sore point with me, ever since the development of the CD also led to the development of ‘interactive movies’ that were mostly bad). Instead, it has wonderfully designed, extremely detailed and very creepy hand-drawn scenes and characters that change over time (I’m not going to spoil the story, so I can’t tell you why they change). The search scenes are crisp and clear, the objects not out of proportion (imagine a two-storey candle…). The game also comes with a twist: you can switch between the search scenes (classical IHOG gameplay) and Match 3 scenes (another type of casual game I sometimes indulge myself with). The switch is fast and easy, you can ‘free’ golden eyes that will take one object off the search scene list. This way, you’re saving hints (and it gets easier to get one of the achievements). It’s a novel concept for a HOG or IHOG.

The game also comes with a great story, told well in scenes throughout the game. It begins with you (or rather: your character) having a car accident and landing somewhere in the woods off the highway. You’re just looking for a phone, but a phone call, as it turns out, doesn’t solve your problems. It will take a long time until you actually get away again. You meet three strange characters during the game: the landlord of the Drowned Dead Hotel, his young assistant and an elderly lady living in the hotel. Each of them has a secret and a background story you will discover. And each of them is one reason why you can’t simply walk away.

In addition, the game offers three game modes (casual, normal, expert) with different difficulties, some achievements and, in the Collector’s Edition, some extras such as the usual (wallpapers, music, bonus episode) and free replay of the search scenes and Match 3 games you have already played in the game. The strategy guide that comes with the game actually is helpful (but the puzzles and mini-games are fair, unlike some in 13th Skull) and allows you to check for tasks instead of the usual chapters (which are not helpful, as games usually don’t announce ‘Chapter X starting here’). Even though I didn’t really need it, I took a look at it and liked what I saw.

The game is really good and fun to play. The graphics are gorgeous and the story is interesting and keeps you playing on. This game definitely is on its way to becoming one of my all-time favourites.

MCF hype and disappointment

Ever since I found “Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst” years ago, I’ve been a huge fan of the series. I bought the first two games, then the fourth (“Ravenhearst” being the third), the fifth, the sixth. Last year, at the end of November, it was time for number seven: “Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull”. And it was time for a huge disappointment.

Big Fish Games, creators of the Mystery Case Files series, created a huge hype in their forum before the release of the game. And a lot of fans (especially over at BFG) fell for it – I, too. But these days, BFG isn’t my only source of information. Some people over at the Pub had played a beta of the game and found quite some things that needed improving. Unfortunately, when the Collector’s Edition (read: especially expensive edition with a few extras) came out, the ‘beta’ they had played turned out to be the trial version of the game.

But where is the disappointment? Well, there’s a couple of reasons to be unhappy with the game. First of all, as many other long-time fans of the series, I had hoped for a new (and maybe final) chapter of the Ravenhearst story arc. The bonus in the Collector’s Edition of the last MCF game (Dire Grove, which is one of my favourites) kind of hinted it. But that alone would not make the game a disappointment.

BFG didn’t listen to their customers, for one thing. After Dire Grove was released, a lot of people complained about the videos (which you didn’t even really have to watch, then). 13th Skull has even more of those.

All MCF games have been HOGs (Hidden Object Games) or, the last two before 13th Skull, IHOGs (Interactive Hidden Object Games). It was always a game with a lone player doing what was necessary. The last two games, the IHOGs, were set in abandoned places: run-down Ravenhearst Manor and deserted Dire Grove village (and hotel). This way, you moved from place to place, did search scenes to find hidden objects (and one or more objects for your inventory), used the objects from your inventory, solved puzzles and mini-games and thus completed the game.

Now, all in a sudden, you are interacting a lot with other characters. There’s the wife of the missing guy you’re looking for, the housekeeper and groundkeeper, the daughter, some local people, too. All of them come along as – you might guess from the last paragraph – videos. Real actors have been filmed and pasted into the still drawn backgrounds of the mansion in the Louisiana swamp. While the montage of drawn background and filmed characters works a lot better now than it did in the past (although “Toonstruck” still was a good game when it came out ages ago), the mixture doesn’t exactly fit together all that well. In addition, interrogating the various characters adds a new side to the gameplay.

My guess is BFG wants to turn the series into real adventures – only they’re missing one important ingredient for a real adventure: freedom. In an adventure, the player can pick up stuff as soon as they find it (and there are no search scenes in an adventure, of course). In an adventure, there are various puzzle chains that work independently and can be solved in various sequences. 13th Skull has none of those qualities.

Even as an IHOG, it’s not all that good. There are some puzzles that can drive you crazy (and almost led to me throwing my computer out of the window). They are unfair not because they’re hard (they aren’t – the whole game has been ‘dumbed down’ compared to its predecessors), but because there’s no tip for the solution around. Example? During the game, you need to unplug a toilet in the local bar. As a such, not that much of a problem, provided you have the right tool (not too hard to find). But there’s no tip about how to do it right. You see, you have to alternate between flushing and using the tool – you need a special sequence and there’s no hint, no matter how hidden, for it. (At least, there’s none I could find – I checked the walkthrough in the end … the ‘Strategy Guide’ they sell with the CE is next to useless.) This is not playing fair, because you either have to check a walkthrough or the guide for it or have to experiment for ages until you find the right sequence. It is, of course, an explanation for the long playing time they’ve announced: 10+ hours. Nobody in the forum has needed 10 hours to finish the game…

On the whole, even apart from my own troubles with the game (there were a lot of technical issues when the game was out, but I had special issues downloading which I only overcame a couple of days ago), the game wasn’t very good and certainly not good enough to warrant the hype. It’s probably the weakest of the series (which includes two rather light-headed games, the first two) and not even a very good IHOG/adventure hybrid. I’ve seen better.

Weekend Update

Another week has passed and the weekend has begun. I hope to get some posts up this weekend – updating my casual games and the books I’ve been reading and the movies I’ve been watching and so on. But what am I going to play, read and watch this weekend?

  • DVD to watch: first three “Case Closed” OVAs
  • Book to read: probably “A Royal Prisoner” by Marcel Allain
  • Game to play: “Soap Opera Dash”

So, hopefully, I’m going to post a couple of things this weekend, too.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Weekend Update

Another Saturday, rain instead of snow (thank heavens!) and another weekend update.

  • DVD to watch: “Supernatural” seasons 2 and 3 … as far as I get
  • Book to read: back to the “MYTH” series after a break
  • Game to play: probably “Minecraft” … a lot to build there

Ah, weekend…