Friday, August 31, 2012

Casual Corner

Welcome back to the latest instalment of the Casual Corner. This month, I have three TM games to talk about: “Be Richest!,” “Dream Builder: Amusement Park,” and “Shop-n-Spree: Shopping Paradise.”

I will start with the last one named, “Shop-n-Spree: Shopping Paradise” by Viqua Games is the last instalment of the “Shop-n-Spree” series. While the first two, however, were very nice HOG games where you had to find the customers’ orders in a huge chaos of objects, this one is far more of a TM game. You still have to manage and enlarge shopping malls, open new departments and spend time there to do some work directly for the customers. Instead of the pictures filled to the brim with objects, there is now a design to each department that is easy enough to keep in mind. You still have customers ordering objects from the screen, but you don’t have to search for the objects, not really. Instead, you have to keep an eye out for filling up the shelves, you need to assemble objects, add decorations, or gift-wrap them. This makes for some hectic gameplay, because for additional money, you should keep the combo-meter filling up (my best was something like a 44 combo so far). On the whole, however, “Shop-n-Spree: Shopping Paradise” is a very good game, fun to play, with nice, bright graphics.

“Be Richest!” by Divo Games is a third part as well. After “Be Rich” and “Be Richer,” you have a much higher goal in this one. Instead of building up a new company, you build a city. Well, you rebuild it, anyway. Story is that the last mayor ran away with all the money and the city fell into disrepair. The game is a solid builder with nice levels and quite a bit of humour. You will meet Professor Jones (senior) and help him with a lot of excavations (and build a museum in the end). You will have to deal with annoying Yetis. And there are a lot of people who want something from you – usually a better place to live or shop or work. The game allows you to finish levels in your own time. There is a gold and silver time, but if you need longer, you need longer. You don’t lose a level, just because you need longer. On the whole, “Be Richest!” is a lot of fun to play and a very good, solid builder. The graphics are very nice and the gameplay is well balanced.

Finally “Dream Builders: Amusement Park” by FUGAZO, a ‘light’ version of games like “Theme Park” or “Rollercoaster Tycoon.” You build your park, add and research attractions and rides, earn money, and fulfil tasks. It’s easy to make money with your park in the game, so I shy away from calling it a business sim. On the other hand, it’s sometimes difficult to fulfil a task. Every task you choose (there’s various of them after the first few) earns you an award and with enough awards, you can open up a new amusement park somewhere else (4 locations are offered by the game). You have to provide rides, advertise your park, offer attractions, restaurants, toilets, and decorations. Grouping certain objects (not only rides and attractions, but also restaurants) will give you special zones that earn you more money (for objects fitting with them) and are required for some tasks. On the whole, the bright game is fun and not too hard to play – it’s a long one, too. It’s a nice builder game of a different kind that reminds me of “All My Gods,” but without the pesky gods trying to ruin everything. And without divine powers.

August was a good month for TM games. What will September be like? We shall see…

Friday, August 17, 2012

Back to an annoying topic

Yes, I know there is a lot of annoying topics for me, but this time it’s the Star Wars Prequels. I was reminded of how much damage they actually did to my childhood memories (sort of), when I saw these awesome ‘Star Wars Characters as people from the 1980s’ pictures. There might be coming something from that, but that’s not the topic here.

Looking over the pictures and identifying the characters (I love Luke’s Marty McFly look and Han’s ‘I shot first’ shirt), I was reminded of how I met the Star Wars cast first – on paper. And how I met them visually for the first time when the commercial stations in Germany started to run the original trilogy and I got to see them (as I was born in 1974, so I never saw any of the movies when they originally hit the theatres).
I was rather happy when they arrived at the movie theatres again, because it was my first chance to see them on the big screen. I even saw them all twice – once separately as they were released, once during a rather chaotic night all in one go. I wasn’t completely happy with all the additional scenes cut into them, but compared to the fact that Annoying Annie from the Prequels is now at the end of Return of the Jedi (which is illogical, as Obi-Wan still looks like the old Obi-Wan and Yoda probably is the old Yoda, too), the first release was pure bliss.

I see the point in not making sequels to the original trilogy, as it’s highly unlikely Mark Hamill or Carrie Fisher would reprise their roles (and Harrison Ford has a lot of other stuff to do). I could accept prequels that keep up with the pure basics of the original trilogy, though. There are a few details you will find in the novels to the movies that are actually negated within the new trilogy (in the novels, Obi-Wan says Owen actually is his brother, not the brother of Luke’s father; Leia claims she can remember her mother, but not much of her, which goes against their mother dying at their birth, especially as Luke is born first in the last Prequel). George Lucas also has gone all out to keep all novels in the same time line, but suddenly changes stuff in the past himself.
When the first Prequel, The Phantom Menace, came out, I was fully prepared to like the new Star Wars movies. Ok, so no Luke, Leia, or Han. New main characters, new heroes, a lot of new villains. That’s cool, really.

The Pod Race should have tipped me off, though. While all Star Wars movies to date had at least one big battle, the Pod Race was different. It was an omen for things to come. Ten minutes of rather pointless action shots. Rather pointless, because it’s obvious who will win the race. Rather pointless, because we will see how good a flyer Anakin is at a young age later one, during the space battle. Anakin’s major challenger during the race will never turn up again in the movies, so WTF, really. The whole Pod Race is ten minutes of my life that didn’t have any use for the story. It is unnecessary to establish the fact that Anakin is a pilot prodigy. It does not introduce any major opponent. It is not really necessary to drive the story, either. Seriously, the whole slavery turn is so unnecessary all by itself. We are talking about two men working for an intergalactic government and the ruler of a planet who need to buy something. Three people that should have some emergency account or something, just in case. I know the Old Republic was not well off towards the end (which is at least ten more years in the future at that point, anyway), but a few ten thousand credits for emergency use? And by the looks of it, Naboo does have quite a bit of cash to spend, why not have an emergency account in case someone from the government has to go off planet under disguise? Every normal government has something like that.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. I, personally, found JarJar amusing, so I am not going to crucify him (others have done so already, no real point in me doing it, too). Cool new villain? Check. Survives the first of what will be three movies? Nope. Help me along here, please. Darth Vader, as we all know, needs a mechanic rather than a medic, right? There’s one dark Jedi in the first Jedi Knight game who only has half a body (upper half, of course). Yet the Emperor never tried to salvage the remains of Darth Maul? That guy makes a great opponent. He is such an opposite to Vader, really. Non-human, non-mechanical, savage, lithe. He would have been great to keep around until he fights a duel to the death with Anakin-turned-Vader. Yet the poor guy gets the boot in the first movie.

And Anakin himself? Not really a guy you would like, either. He grows from the annoying kid in the first movie (yes, he’s had a hard life, but does he have to be such a snotty know-it-all because of those midi-thingies in his blood?) into an adult that can put every Emo out there to shame. We know he will end up behind the black mask. We don’t need a reason to hate the guy before he puts it on. What do we get? Mr. ‘I’m so unsure about me and my life, because my mother died before I could save her, so now I will almost kill my highly pregnant wife I’ve been angst-ing over and try to kill my only friend/mentor in the world’ should have ended up in the black suit at the end of the first scene of the first movie of the Prequels. It would have made them much better. Seriously, the guy tries to strangle his wife to death (and is only stopped by his friend) and later on is shocked that she, and, as he’s falsely informed, the children, have died?

There are a lot of reasons for Anakin to switch sides (and, indeed, that stupid ‘Jedi are not allowed to get married’ rule makes an excellent reason). Playing it all on the ‘angst’ card is using the most stupid reason out there. The whole slavery issue is unnecessary by itself. Okay, Anakin has had a hard life and for some reason (and growing up in the Outer Rim isn’t reason enough?) he wasn’t found as a baby and thus has not attended Jedi school properly. What is so wrong with making him and his mother poor farm hands, for instance? The first Star Wars movie ever made has already established people have chosen a desert planet (talk about logic) for farming. It would make his mother marrying a farmer later on much more logical.
You want better reasons for Anakin to defect from the Jedi order? Have a few:

  • Anakin did not start training at the proper age, make him grow to hate the others, because they treat him as inferior. Good one to explain him leading the forces to destroy the order’s headquarter later on.
  • The Clone Wars are starting, throw him into dangerous situations and have him use ‘just a little bit’ of the Dark Side (which, supposedly, is easier to take power from) to get out alive. This will make him distance himself from his friend Obi-Wan, who will warn him of the lure of the Dark Side.
  • Use the whole ‘Jedi do not marry’ thing and have him defect after he decides that marrying Padmé is more important than the order. I’m sure he’s not the first one to see things that way.

Don’t put it all down to the ‘fear of loved ones dying’. Don’t make the natives of his home world (as it’s pretty obvious the Jawa and Sandpeople are natives and the humans are colonists) look like terrible beasts that need to be slaughtered.
  • If you have to use the ‘fear of loved ones dying,’ let his mother die of a disease that wasn’t treated, because the Republic does not provide any kind of health care to the colonies of the Outer Rim. A disease she would have easily survived, had she lived somewhere closer to the centre of the galaxy. Let him hate the Republic for it, let him join the Emperor to overthrow it.

I’m sure I could find at least a dozen reasons for a young man with a hard childhood to join the Dark Side that do not require him to be a whiny Emo to start with. A guy like George Lucas should be able to find at least as many. And how can a self-assured, snotty know-it-all kid turn into such a whiny adult? Is it all the Jedi training or what?

Then there’s the midi-thingies (I’m too bored with them to look up the proper name). Seriously, what is that all about? People can do awesome stuff, just because they have some sort of bacteria or something in their blood? Logically speaking, that would mean you can create an army of Jedi (forget those measly, non-Jedi clones), just by injecting those midi-thingies into perfectly normal people. The Force for everyone! What happened to the mystical force that keeps the universe together? It became an infection you are born with!

Then the second movie … Attack of the Clones. More like Attack of the Hormones, if you ask me. The movie is nicely balanced – between a sticky-sweet romance that nobody needs and action scenes that nobody needs, either. I’m always happy to see Christopher Lee, he’s an awesome actor and it was time for Dracula to make an appearance in a movie series which has had van Helsing in the first movie (look it up, if you don’t know what I am talking about!). I also like seeing Yoda jump around like a gummy bear on speed during their duel. But apart from that, Attack of the Clones is weaker than The Empire Strikes Back (which is pretty weak, too, second parts of trilogies are vulnerable to a certain weakness). So, all the clone soldiers are copies of the father of Bobba Fett. And Bobba, one of the most badass bounty hunters of all times, is a clone of his own father, too. Great. Someone shoot me, please, to put me out of my misery at that discovery.

And is it just me or does Padmé suddenly look strangely young, compared to her boyfriend? Didn’t the first movie establish that she’s at least about seven years his senior? Maybe choosing such a nymph of a girl wasn’t such a good casting idea. It does establish a certain similarity between her and her daughter, admittedly, but it does not make that jump of ten or more years more logical. If Padmé was 15 at the time of the first movie (which would make her an awfully young ruler) and Anakin was 8, Padmé would at least be 27 in the second movie, if we say Anakin is 20 (and I find that highly unlikely, he should be at least something like 25, in my opinion). She certainly doesn’t look a few years shy of 30 in Attack of the Clones, or even Revenge of the Sith, where she’s pregnant and should probably look even more grown-up.
What’s more, Padmé starts out as a woman very much like her daughter in the original trilogy. Like Leia, she is strong, self-reliant, a leader. But while the original trilogy and the novels that follow Leia’s future enhance those characteristics (even though her life is anything but normal and nice), her mother loses them in the following movies. Padmé must have caught that Emo germ from her husband while they were making new Jedi, because the strong woman she was turns into a helpless and hopeless girl who doesn’t even find the strength to live for her children.

Then there’s the Emperor himself. On the whole I approve of the take they did there. It was a great idea to bring back the actor who played him in Return of the Jedi for the Prequels. He had then reached the perfect age for the consummate politician Palpatine is and he knew what his character would turn into. Palpatine is nicely balanced between the more-or-less (as politicians go) trustworthy guy and the scheming manipulator behind the curtains.
Yet, why so plump? Mace Windu may be the fiery side to balance out Yoda’s serenity (there’s not much that could surprise a guy after 900 years…), but have him jump through a door, accuse a respected politician of being a Sith, and then duel him right there and then? Can you do something like that with any less finesse? Was that only so Anakin can jump in and save the ‘old man’ from the attack? The fight between Yoda and Palpatine later on shows the venerable Emperor is no weakling with the lightsaber. Now, that is a cool duel, really. But Yoda is a cool guy in all the movies he graces with his presence. Palpatine is only slightly less cool himself. Two cool guys, two lightsabers, and a lot of collateral damage, you can’t go wrong there.

It’s also obvious George did not listen to his fans, otherwise JarJar would never have left Naboo in his life (well, okay, once during Phantom Menace). Even after the first movie, it was obvious the fans hated JarJar. Yet he’s persistently present in the whole franchise. He’s in all three Prequels and in the Clone Wars universe (movie plus all the seasons, including the first two which are more artfully done than today’s ‘official’ first two seasons). He’s a minor side character, so why not just write him out of the movies? You can get rid of a potential badass enemy like Darth Maul after one movie, but you keep the hated side character up to now, George? Wesley had to go, which some people could use as proof that Star Trek is the better franchise… Just saying…

The Star Wars Prequels had a lot of potential to expand and enrich the Star Wars universe. They could have told a touching and interesting story about a young man falling for the wrong side. We know there was good left in Darth Vader, just as his son claimed in Return of the Jedi. When faced with the choice to stand by his master and see his son die or defy his master and save his son, he threw his master of over twenty years into the core of a battle station. That’s a definite statement. Novels, comics, and other material have shown a lot of people who had a brush with the Dark Side in their lives (including, btw, Luke himself). Many paths lead to the Dark Side, Anakin’s story could have added to that, enriched the topic. It could have been so much more epic than just ‘I was so afraid to lose my wife that I destroyed an order of guardians of the galaxy and almost killed her because of it.’

And plunged the galaxy far, far away into tyranny for over twenty years, but that doesn’t count…

Thursday, August 09, 2012

I hate Trojans

I don’t hate ancient Greek people, to make that clear from the beginning. I don’t have much of a problem with them, as it were. I rarely think about them at all. But I hate computer Trojans, since I yesterday got one (no idea how, I wasn’t even downloading anything) and now have to build up my whole system again.

Now I have a new system and it will take ages to get all back into working order … not to mention I need to get used to Windows 7…