Friday, August 9, 2013

Game 108: Windwalker (1989)


Every once in a while, a baffling sequel appears. I remember when The Whole Ten Yards came along. Don't get me wrong: The Whole Nine Yards was a pleasant-enough film, but it's hard to imagine some studio executives and scriptwriters saying, "You know, I don't think we fully reached closure on the tale of Jimmy 'The Tulip' Tudeski and Nicholas 'Oz' Oseransky. Viewers need to see what happens in their continuing slapstick adventure." Ditto Taken 2 ("Guys, wait! Listen! What would happen if Liam Neeson's daughter were kidnapped again?").

We've seen plenty of sequels on this blog so far, some of them good (Starflight II, Ultima V, Curse of the Azure Bonds), some bad (Ultima II, The Bard's Tale II), but few that seem as fundamentally pointless as a sequel to Moebius. I rated the first game pretty low, but I'm not saying it was horrible. It had its moments. But it didn't demand a sequel. I can only imagine that someone at ORIGIN Systems said, "Hey, what's better than one Karateka-inspired action RPG with a quasi-eastern theme?" and not realizing the answer he received was sarcastic.


The manual provides far more detail on the game world than we found in Moebius. The land, Khantun, is apparently ruled by Emperor Chao Ti, who's in trouble. Chao Ti sent one of his warlords, Zhurong, to the neighboring kingdom of Nubia to conclude a trade agreement. But Zhurong got a swelled head during the journey and decided to conquer and pillage Nubia instead, carrying their Ivory Princess back to Khantun. Upon his return, he colluded with the court alchemist, Shen Jang, to overthrow and imprison Chao Ti. Evil spirits have taken over the land's holy shrines, slaves are conscripted to work the jade mines, and the populace is forbidden to even complain about it.

Once again, a single disciple of Moebius must defeat the lot of them by himself. In the last game it was because there had been "no need" for an army after Moebius showed everyone the path of enlightenment. In this game, it's because "the priests and monks are sworn to non-violence; the cowed peasants make no resistance," and the few protestors against Zhurong's tyranny "cannot organize." Thus, I must "overthrow Zhurong, defeat Shen Jang and his evil spirits, and restore the Harmonious Emperor to his Nightingale Throne."

If there's one thing that you'd hope the makers of Windwalker would change from Moebius, it would be the weird disembodied floating heads that make up the character, enemy, and NPC icons. But they didn't change them; in fact, they made them worse:


There are meters on the main screen for body, spirit, honor, and karma, as well as an animal-based description of the current level of enlightenment. The "karma" meter seems to refer to your "lives." Food and water are again necessities.

You can't tell very well from static screen shots, but in the graphics, the game attempts a kind-of oblique angle rather than a top-down approach. As you move north, the horizon "scrolls" towards you rather than simply revealing the next line of tiles, and you can see the sky above the horizon. It's an interesting approach, but the screen is a bit too small to accommodate it well.
 
Inside a shop. Notice how my expression has changed with low health.

Buildings actually have separate interiors in this game, and NPCs have a little more to say when you talk to them, though so far most of what they have to say is somewhat unhelpful. One of the NPCs I met early was a fortune teller who had me cast coins in real life and then interpreted the results. I can't imagine how that possibly helps me in-game.

And this beggar demanded gold for every question.

Combat is far more complex than in Moebius. So far, I find it much much harder, and I'm losing almost all of my fights, even during training. One thing that hasn't changed is that hits that seem to land unimpeded on unguarded parts of enemies nonetheless do not "connect." There appears to be no sword in this game; combat is either by staff or hand-to-hand. One potentially-interesting innovation is the ability to switch to "concentration" mode, at which point the combat becomes turn-based instead of action-oriented, theoretically giving you more time to interpret your enemy's position and choose the best attack or defense.

This one could end very badly.

There are some more interesting combat moves offered, such as handsprings and cartwheels, though I don't know how helpful they are in practice. Once you finish combat, whether victorious or defeated, you have the ability to "reflect upon your experience," which basically means to watch a video re-play.

No, thanks. I'm just going to lie here and moan.

If you lose all your karma or "abandon" the game, you're treated to one of the most bizarre screenshots that I've ever seen in an RPG.

Why is my character suddenly a naked female hobbit?

I didn't play a lot of the game, so let's digress a bit into a discussion about authorial presence. The game puts author Greg Paul Malone more in-your-face than in Moebius, and at times it gets a bit overdone. The manual begins with a section titled "The Making of Windwalker" that compliments "the author's attention to detail and commitment to authenticity" and promises that "Windwalker may have been designed primarily as entertainment, but the experience of playing the game encompasses much more." Uh-huh. Later, Malone gets a page-long "author's afterword" in which he encourages players of all ages to "seek to increase your awareness of the intricate beauty that this life and the people you meet in it have to offer." If that wasn't enough, he then gets a half-page acknowledgements section where, after we learn the names and ages of his children, he personally thanks "human history, for being such a wonderful source of endless stories (and amusement)!" But we're not even done there. We also get a full-page "About the author" in which we learn about Malone's personal, eastern-based philosophies (the manual is full of quotes from I Ching), family, hobbies, and bland platitudes ("The world provides us with a true treasure trove of ideas and stories to draw upon," Greg declares enthusiastically). The game manual has a damned bibliography of 18 sources, including Chinese Herbal Medicine and Zen in the Martial Arts. Oh, and it's also clear that Malone used his own face for that of Moebius the Windwalker. Of course, this is all from "Lord British's" company, so it's not like there wasn't a precedent.

Origin: Where Narcissism Lives.

After typing all of the above, I realized I might be a little out of line. Why shouldn't the "author" of a computer game get as much face-time and credit as, say, the author of a book or the director of a film? My answer is that perhaps he should, but even in books and films they have to walk a careful line. Stephen King has said several times that he sees his stories as "found things, like fossils in the ground...part of an undiscovered pre-existing world" (this specific quote is from On Writing) and that the author's job is to"use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible." You might think the quote is silly, even offensive to authors who go through the exhausting process of creating, not finding, their worlds, but the point is that Stephen King believes it (or says he does) and writes his stories as if he believes it. Every time I read a Stephen King book, I'm fully aware that it is Stephen King who wrote the book, but I still don't feel his presence in the text. If the book is from a first-person point-of-view, it truly feels as if the narrator is telling the story; if from the third-person, it feels like a truly impartial, omniscient narrator. This is true even when King interpolates some direct address to the reader.

I'll contrast this with the works of Terry Goodkind even though there are probably plenty of far worse examples. When I first went looking for another mammoth multi-volume fantasy series to keep me occupied over a summer and picked up Wizard's First Rule, I was put off by the photograph of Goodkind on the rear cover. I'm not going to try to analyze why. Maybe he just didn't look like the sort of person from whom I really wanted to hear a fantasy story, or even contribute to his royalties. Whatever the reason, I nearly put the book down. But Stephen King has also taken some bafflingly horrid cover photos, so I figured don't judge a book by its rear cover and bought it.

In case you want to do your own analysis.

I found it passable. Not George R. R. Martin or even Robert Jordan, but passable. I liked it enough to buy the second and third in the series. But as the narrative progressed, I became more and more aware that the teller of this story wasn't some omniscient narrator, but the guy on the back cover. Through subtle shifts in tone, language, and plot, he made it impossible to maintain the illusion that he was telling the story rather than making up the story. His characters' objectivism-inspired philosophies became his philosophies. His increasingly-lame excuses to get his main female character out of her clothes didn't feel titillating; they felt like some pervert sharing his own fantasies. I got to the point that I just couldn't read any more. Most people who criticize Goodkind criticize the quality of his writing, but that wasn't the problem for me. His writing had always been average. I quit because I couldn't stop thinking of the words as specifically coming from his mouth.

But if Goodkind gave me a call and said, "Damn, Bolingbroke. You're right. Tell me what I did wrong. Tell me how I could be more like Stephen King," I wouldn't know how to respond. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what he did to break the illusion. By the same token, Richard Garriott/Lord British can appear in the Ultima series, and yet still make me feel that it's a real place and not the deluded fantasies of "some guy," whereas Greg Paul Malone/Moebius the Windwalker can't pull it off. Obviously, this is an area in which individual player opinion may vary, but I know that every time I read some I Ching nonsense about "winds of gradual change," I'm going to picture Malone smiling to himself at his computer, satisfied that he's giving the player a truly spiritual experience.

More soon, though my output is going to continue to be a trickle for the next few weeks.

71 comments:

  1. I really like your last couple of paragraphs. I also find it interesting because I can't get into Ultima because having Lord British be Garriott makes too much "the deluded fantasies of "some guy,"" for me.

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    1. I can see why you would. As I said, it's different for every reader/player. I'd probably feel that way about LB if I hadn't come to the series at a much younger age.

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  2. You have just ruined the I Ching forever! Seriously, that's amazingly pretentious. If I'd read that manual even as a kid I think I'd've been put off. I can't imagine thinking 'wow, this guy is cool, I want to grow up to be just like him! Perhaps Moebius 2: Windwalker will show me the way!'

    But hey, we all make mistakes. I'm sure he's a thoroughly nice bloke with interesting ideas!

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    1. Erm, also just occurred to me I think this is the first time I've actually commented. So, hi! Love this blog. Have read every single entry and check it obsessively when I think it's near time for an update. We're getting into an exciting time period for me, possibly why I suddenly became chatty!

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    2. Well then! Glad to hear from you. Grab a commenting mug of commenting beer, sit back on a commenting chair and warm your commenting feet by the commenting fire! Now that you have your feet wet you'll find it hard to keep then dry.

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  3. *I'm fully aware that it is Stephen King who wrote the book, but I still don't feel his presence in the text.*

    In Danse Macabre, Stephen King referred to this as 'author intrusion' and described it as being akin to masturbation. I tend to call it 'author wank.'

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    1. Everyone should read Danse Macabre, it is a fantastic book.

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    2. I can't find the name of the movie, but Nicholas Cage plays himself...and himself as a failed author and his twin brother. In the beginning, he is super excited about finally coming up with a story to write, only to realize the story would be about a writer who can't think of what to write. A story about himself, in other words. He gives up in disgust.

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    3. Adaptation. I don't know why I know this. I've never seen it before.

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    4. The funny/sad part is that King later wrecks his previously fantastic Dark Tower series by literally inserting himself as a character (there are other things that make Dark Tower books 5-7 really disappointing but that's a big, big part).

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    5. To be fair to him, King wrote the Dark Towers a long time ago before he mastered the trade.

      Also, him being there is to facilitate the plot further. He'd probably have to pay out royalties if he had used Arthur Conan Doyle or Edgar Allen Poe's name instead. XD

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    6. It's funny that King himself has commented on the phenomenon. I read Danse Macabre ages ago and didn't remember that.

      Malkav, I thought about commenting on that aspect of DT but didn't want to open up that can of worms. In short, I think it was an awful plot decision but it still (oddly) didn't feel like King TELLING the story. In fact, the entire device was to give the idea that King didn't make up the story of the DT but was simply compelled to write something that actually happened and was revealed to him. The same way that it turns out (in DT context) that Salem's Lot describes events that happened to real people, he's making a meta comment on the idea of stories as "found things."

      In a strictly plot/narrative sense, I thought it was dumb, but in a stylistic sense, I though he pulled it off.

      As you say, DT 5-7 were disappointing for a lot of reasons. Essentially the moment he revealed that gur jbyirf jrer ebobgf, I think the series jumped the shark and never recovered. It's too bad. He had done some extraordinarily provocative tie-ins with Black House and Insomnia, and it all seemed to be building to a climax that never delivered.

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    7. "...and it all seemed to be building to a climax that never delivered."

      That's pretty much all of Stephen King's books for me. The Stand was especially disappointing.

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    8. I loved "Under the Dome" all the way through (best scary-@** Christmas ever! Incidentally I was working a holiday security job at a factory that used to be a POW camp during WW2 and is rumored to be haunted. That just made the read all the better!). After watching the first two episodes of the "mini-series" that was supposedly based on UtD I am foaming with rage at all that was changed!

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    9. @Giauz - Cows instead of squirrels? XD

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    10. @giauz

      I can sort of get the changes, some, anyway. American viewers wouldn't have gone for Junior Rennie'a rather...disturbing 'girlfriends'.

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    11. @Kenny

      The good Dark Tower books are actually the ones he wrote a long time ago - i.e., 1-4. And they are very good. The disastrous 5-7 were churned out in quick succession long after he'd become a major success, and after being hit by a car and mastering his substance issues (which is when a lot of people feel he started sucking, although I've by and large enjoyed the rest of his more recent books and think Duma Key is one of his finest ever.).

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    12. Man, I'm feeling out of place having only read one story by Steven King: The End of the Whole Mess, in the short story collection Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse (So-so as short story collections go: That was the gem of it, though there were enough stories to count it as a good use of money, unlike Shadows Over Baker Street, which had ONE good story in it.) It seems it was first written in 1986, so one of his earlier ones I guess. Which makes sense, given that it refers to a certain town being unusually peaceful when it is now famous for a massacre that happened there in the 1990s.

      That said, I found it excellent: The writing of the character was beautiful, the plot interesting and original, and it is dark as a coal mine at midnight, in a power outage, with overcast skies...after the sun has burnt out. Too dark for me really, but damn, it is good. Far better then the Orsen Scott Card one that followed it.

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  4. Interesting quote from Stephen King. Tolkien said much the same.

    As for the "I, Ching" it also features heavily in Philip K Dick's novel "The Man in the High Castle". The book would probably have been less of a disappointment for me without "I, Ching" being treated as some sort of omniscient oracle.

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    1. When I first read the book I had the same reaction, but i recently re-read it(it's one of the few books I have on my Kindle) and what I found interesting was that the only reason that the I, Ching was so prescient was that characters based their decisions on it. It was more of a self fulfilling prophecy than a guide, and in some cases caused characters to act in ways they probably shouldn't have. I'm not sure if this was intentional, but it did render the book more interesting.
      Also I went to post this and the CAPTCHA was "CHINGTE". spooky

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    2. You make a good point. But what really irked me was that everybody is living a false reality, and only the "I, Ching" knows the real world, with no explanation of why it was so (except for Dick being obsessed with "what is real?").

      Funny CAPTCHA there. Reminds of the time I was going to download a porn clip from Megaupload and the word I had to enter was "WANK".

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  5. I don't know, I think the heads are a big improvement in Windwalker. At least your character doesn't look like Fresco Jesus anymore.

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  6. Your output is going to slow to a trickle? Just when you were finally starting to get to some good games. Honestly I've lost interest in the blog the last few months since you haven't really played any high profile games for a while. Not that it's a dig at you or your blog, there have just been a lot of games I'm not interested in recently. Can't wait for Champions of Krynn, Ultima VI, Eye of the Beholder, Wizardry VI, etc.

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    1. Personally, I'm way more interested in low-profile games that I don't already know very well.

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    2. His output is slowing to a trickle because he has a job and a life. Lost interest? This isn't a post-a-day blog. Just check it once or twice a month.

      Frankly, the fact that he does do obscure games instead of Eye of the Beholder and Ultima is a lot of the appeal. The stated goal of the blog is to play EVERY CRPG ever made. Sorry if that doesn't appeal to you, there are plenty of Champions of Krynn videos on youtube to watch.

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    3. It may be best to put visiting the blog on the backburner for a while, then, and check back after some time has passed. Maybe he'll have reached a high profile game then, and I'd say him having played through some low profile games prior to it would probably add to the nuance of his evaluation of said high profile game.

      Maybe, if you have an RSS reader, you ought to subscribe to this blog. If I were savvier I think I could find a way to make the reader tell me when a favourite game was being played. I could then happily tuck it away somewhere and forget about it, until I was told.

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    4. The whole attraction of this blog is the low-profile games. And the glee I'll feel once he hits Baldur's Gate in 2020 and it runs into 2022.

      Eh, the game isn't that long actually. Baldur's Gate II runs longer.

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    5. "Personally, I'm way more interested in low-profile games that I don't already know very well."

      Same here.

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    6. I love seeing his perspective on high-profile games that I've played, and lesser well known titles too. I also love seeing his take on games I could never finish. Sure, there's some titles here that bore the pants off me, but unless I really, really dislike the game, I find it interesting.

      I'll check back in a few weeks, Chet. I know you got super busy this time last year, too.

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    7. I appreciate the defense, but I actually kind of agree with Steve. Sword of Aragon was a nice surprise, but at this point I wish I could just skip Windwalker, Keef the Thief, et. al., and get to a couple of the blockbusters.

      It's funny that you mention that, Sheila. I've hit a lull in August every year so far. I wouldn't have thought it was my busiest month, but perhaps that's why it is: I get used to thinking of it as "open" and schedule too much stuff.

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    8. Maybe it's time to apply your 6 hour rule a bit more regularly, it sounds like you have already clocked up a couple of hours each on these two titles anyhow. I know you don't want to break your "games won" streak, but there is no point in burning out on crap games.

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    9. Thanks CRPG Addict. I enjoy the blog as a way to relive the nostalgia of games I played years ago. Like those "I love the 80s" shows or the Angry Video Game Nerd or Nostalgia Critic.

      The annoying thing is actually that when you play games that I want to play, but haven't played yet, I don't read those blogs because I don't want the experience to be spoiled on the off chance that I do play them sometime. Not sure if I ever will play them though so maybe I just like to keep the dream alive of all these wonderful games that have yet to be played, rather than spoil the dream by actually playing them.

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    10. @Chet- I'm just wondering what you'd do when you hit the Chinese RPGs later. There are no English versions for them; with the exception of Xian Jian Qi Xia Zhuan (or the "Chinese Paladin") which has a fan-made one.

      If you need, I could do some translation for you. Be prepared for wall of texts and very cryptic riddles that require some knowledge in Chinese culture.

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    11. I just put all those games on my list without knowing whether there was an English translation or not, of course, and I guess my feeling was just deal with them when I get to them.

      I do appreciate the offer, and I might take you up on it, but more likely I'll use the lack of translation as an excuse to drop the game. It's not like I don't have enough.

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  7. The bizarre screenshot is so memorable I remember seeing it when I was a kid even though I've never played the game before. It must have been in a magazine review.

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  8. When starting to read this post I didn't at all remember what kind of game Moebius was. Then you wrote "floating heads" and it came back to me.

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  9. It's not that much about author being present - the whole point of Proust's oeuvre is rummaging through its author's subconscious, and it's still great art. It's more about the author thinking of himself as enlightened to preach something to the world. Which is really not a sign of a great mind, so the thing preached usually ends up being some banal boring shit. The key concept here is "self-expression" - probably the very worst thing that ever happend to art.

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  10. Not so much about the game, but about Terry Goodkind. I really liked the series the Sword of Truth... mostly. Now the first book was kind of awful and you could tell it was his first time writing anything. By the middle of the book it was really pretty good. The next 4 or so books were also good, but once he introduced the Old World... well. The books became less a story to tell about Richard Cipher/Cypher/Seyefur/Whatevah than it became an Objectivist Manifesto. The main character was doing what he was doing so Terry Goodkind could show us why Objectivism was good and socialism was bad. Bleh. I finished the series (I am a masochist), but the last books were nowhere NEAR the quality of the first books. And if you didn;t like the quality of the first books... definitely don't read the last books.

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    1. I had much the same experience.

      At first I quite enjoyed the series. But the books became gradually more and more preachy, to the extent that it stopped feeling more like a piece of propaganda than anything else.
      It didn't help that I have little sympathy of Objectivism and his presentation of both it and rival views to be inane caricatures.

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    2. To be honest I quit after the first book because I found it pretty uninteresting. Now i'm kind of glad that i did.

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    3. My understanding is that objectivist proselytizing was the goal from the beginning and Goodkind is furious that people label his books (with their demons, magic, undead, dominatrix cults and so on) as fantasy.

      It's a pity. I don't know that they were ever top tier, but I did quite enjoy the first few books before it went off the deep end.

      And really, that's the magic bullet for making the series a story instead of an authorial mouthpiece. Cut out the damn preaching and tell a story of a fantastical world without expecting us to take it as moral and philosophical truth. (This is why the very idea of "Christian fiction" alienates me, also. I have nothing against authors being Christian in faith, but stories should be stories, not teaching religious doctrine.)

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    4. @malkav11: Exactly. Stories can have morals or reflect certain values, but when it becomes so focused on being propaganda it ceases to be interesting reading.
      I hope I would have the same reaction, I had to Goodkind's books, to a story propagandizing in a similar manner for views I actually find appealing.

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    5. I read a book called 'Eli' by Bill Myers a while ago. Basicly, a man living his last hours on a machine "hallucinates" an alternate reality where Jesus didn't appear in the CE but in modern day USA. There are some problems in the execution (would 'Noahchidism' or whatever have really become a thing?), I could definitely perceive some propaganda messaging, but I thought the transfer of the Gospels to modern contexts a bit cool in the situations "Eli's" motor parade gets into (esp. with the porn mogul and the private militia leader). An ok modern-day fantasy story (if you don't mind the source material).

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    6. I think I've mentioned before that I got to about Naked Empire before stopping reading. I had to give up after he started redoing Rand's powers to make them more in line with his vision.

      I didn't know it was called objectivision, I just thought it was too much like the annoying right-wing politicians on TV any time there is an American election.

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    7. I've actually read them all... I'm not proud of that fact. I don't know, I liked the first few books, then I just got stubborn. The story really deteriorates when the Old World is introduced. It felt like he was really reaching for something, anything, to keep writing about his ideas. And the propaganda became intense. I guess it kinda worked, I ended up googling what he was on and on about. So I learned a little about objectivism, shrugged, and moved on.

      Being a Norwegian with some experience with socialism and a government pretty keen on regulating everything, I am still wondering where he gets his weird ideas about it. Not even the USSR was as bad as he tried to paint it. Does he really believe socialism to be the root of all evil? We're actually living good lives in Norway and we're not hell bent on pushing our views and beliefs on everyone else. Methinks Goodkind ought to take a look at himself and his own country. ;) No offense intended. :)

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    8. [Offtopic on] I've never read Goodkind, but I was born in the USSR and the kind of socialism practiced there has probably much more in common with his writing, than with Norwegian one. And history has examples of much worse kinds of communism taken to the extreme - Pol Pot's Cambodia for one. The thing with the Nordic countries is that while socialism is the most prominent political power there, there are enough counterweights to keep it in sensible limits. But you wouldn't want to live in a monoideological socialist state, believe me.[Offtopic off]

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    9. Man, I wish we could convince people that Socialism isn't what the US makes it out to be. We are at this balance point where we are better off then the US, but haven't gone QUITE far enough to get any of the really cool benefits of socialism; Sure, ER visits and vaccinations and doctors appointments are free, but I still have to pay for glasses and dental, and our hospitals aren't nearly as nice as I keep hearing about northern European ones...

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    10. @Canageek: I can't speak for Norway, but at least in Denmark you still have to pay to go to the dentist or to get glasses. The state does, however, pay part of the bill at the dentist's. I don't wear glasses so I don't know about that.

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    11. I haven't read The Wheel of Time, but as a hate-reader of Goodkind who is familiar with accusations of plagiar-- er, borrowing, I'm amused that Carnageek referred to the protagonist as "Rand."

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    12. Opps, Rand was Wheel of Time, wasn't he? I get the two giant fantasy series made of massive tomes that I stopped reading partway through mixed up once in a while. I technically read the first book of Game of Thrones, but I always get that one straight, since it is the one where everyone I like dies horribly.

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    13. You guys might like to read this for a laugh...
      http://www.tremeritus.com/2013/05/08/mp-zainudin-posts-controversial-quotation-on-facebook-gang-rape-is-democracy-in-action/

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  11. The Terry Goodkind / Stephen King comparison strikes close to something I've observed in years and years of roleplaying/larping. Some storytellers seem to be talking through their stories, and others let the story talk through them. The latter seem to regarded as the better ones, and I agree.

    I -think- what goes on is that there's two ways of telling stories. The "good" storytellers/GMs a la King don't try to steer or control what happens, they just try to find the right words for what unfolds, and stay somewhat detached from the story. The other GMs get personally involved during the telling, and try to steer the story in a certain direction, because it could make them feel uncomfortable otherwise.

    But that's just my guess.

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  12. Terry Goodkind's picture always reminded me of Jagang (once I got to that part). If you've read through the first few books of the Sword of Truth, you'll know what I mean (although you might disagree, who knows). But thinking of him that way always colored my view of the writing just a bit - I felt like he was deliberately being cruel to his characters, putting them through the tortures and experiences that he does.

    That didn't stop me from reading the books, although the philosophical spouting nearly did. That said, I see the series as something of an inverted arc, with the first and last trilogies mirroring each other, the nadir around the eighth and ninth books where the philosophizing gets really bad, and a spike in the sixth book which, while it was somewhat philosophical, made the philosophy serve a beautiful story, and not the other way around.

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  13. That losing screenshot is quite memorable for all the wrong reasons, I definitely agree!

    That said, it sounds like you haven't discovered a couple of the more interesting parts of the game yet. Not that I'm saying your mind will change a ton -- the game is certainly not higher than average (with one of its advantages being it is relatively short)...but there were a couple of parts that I thought introduced nifty ideas I hadn't seen in a CRPG before.

    You still are finding battles to be quite difficult -- that may be something you want to find a way to change...it has less to do with actual fighting experience and more to do with exploration, discovery, and learning...

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  14. I remember quitting Goodkind after the first book in that series because, while I thought the book was fine, I didn't really want to read about any more punishment for the lead characters. They ended the bok in a pretty good place and I wanted to leave them there. It sounds like, for me, this was a good decision.

    The author photo reminded me of the time I read a book by Clive Cussler, at the recommendation of my father-in-law. The back cover photo was a picture of the author in a garage full of all the cars he had bought. The book read like it was written by a guy that would put a picture of himself with all his cars on the back cover of his books. It was one of the most effective blurbs I've ever seen.

    One final point of synchronicity: I've been playing Might and Magic 3, another series with a fair bit of author presence. The game is introduced as a Jon van Caneghem game, one of the prerolled characters is named "Sir Canegm" and the author's initials appear in the dungeon maps. This happened in the earlier games too, and it hadn't bothered me. Until! In one of the dungeons I ran up against a monster named a "Scorpia", which is a monstrously fat, grey woman in a red dress who leers at you and waves suggestively. If this is aimed at the CGW reviewer, which seems highly likely, I'm faced with the unpleasant possibility that JVC may be a huge asshole. This shouldn't affect my view of the series, but I think it has.

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    1. Apparently, Scorpia is a reviewer who totally dissed Might & Magic II:

      "… Might & Magic II seems to have swerved off the path in the boring 'monster mash/Monty Haul' direction, where ever-more-powerful characters with ever-more-powerful weapons fight ever-more-powerful monsters until it all escalates into the realm of the ludicrous...

      Not up to par with the original; great graphics but emphasis on combat overshadows all else. Great for monster mash lovers, but not recommended for others."

      I totally loved M&M2...but then again, I also enjoy Icewind Dale 1 & 2 (though BG1/2 is superior IMHO). I don't really see how someone could seriously love M&M1 and not think M&M2 was a pretty good game that came at least somewhat close, so I do think the criticism Scorpia gave was a bit harsh, despite the Cuisinart that seems to ruin it. Besides, M&M2 was one of the first games to have class-specific quests (not the absolute first I don't think...but one of the first).

      Seriously, I remember M&M3 the least out of the excellent M&M series. M&M2 is my favorite, for 2 reasons: (1) nostalgia (the first one I played, back when I was a kid...and my first CRPG with EGA graphics), and (2) I never found the Cuisinart, which I still pretend doesn't exist in the game...that part is disappointing in an otherwise fabulous game.

      Out of the M&M series, I generally have at least one game going that I occasionally will fire up to make some more progress...right now, it is M&M4-5, which I have never played together, only separately. That said, when Chet gets to M&M3, I plan on switching back to M&M3 and playing along with him...he'll probably play a lot faster than me, but it will help me remember things from that entry in the series.

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    2. Scorpia should be proud of that...

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    3. To be honest, I can't get too excited about his dissing Scorpia in his video game. Lady ranks on his video game, he puts her in it as a gross character. Then she can diss him in her next review. It's juvenile, but seems pretty harmless to me, and actually would have been fun to follow if you'd been around, like rap feuds, but without the real-life violence. ;)

      Oh, and as for the coins: that's one of the ways you can cast I Ching in real life. The other involves yarrow stalks, which are a LOT harder to come by.

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    4. Just to be clear, I was being sarcastic when I said "I don't know..." Even though I didn't find Scorpia's review to be accurate, I did find the reaction very childish...but I'm not going to let that ruin my enjoyment of the game. Sarcasm doesn't always come over well in text...

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    5. Scorpia published a lot of frankly mystifying reviews. I wasn't yet scanning old reviews when I did my "final rating" for MM2, but I remember reading hers at some point and wondering about it. MM1 and MM2 were the only two games on the market that featured such open worlds and complex side-quests (and, as Sam points out, character-specific quests); I agree that it seems impossible to like the first and dislike the second. She did the same thing with Curse of the Azure Bonds.

      I kind-of hope I've forgotten Bunyip's comment by the time I get to MM3. That would have been something fun to encounter as a surprise.

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    6. Clive Cussler is the worst perpetrator of the Gary Stu cliche I've ever encountered. Such a hack.

      Personally I consider MM2 the best rpg of all time, MM1 was pretty good, and MM3 on were all big letdowns.

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  15. It's just funny that a guy so into Easter Philosophies would have random Chinese words, that totally means nothing, written as plaques(not one but THREE of them! It's the equivalent of writing a warning sign that says, "Attention! Telephone grinding check-check on grapes two rows!" repeatedly) to be hung in a temple with a hideous-looking mockery of a Buddha statue.

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    1. Also, the fighting is terrible! It's a lot tougher than Moebius not because the AI is now smarter but the controls were horribly unresponsive, too many useless moves that does not connect correctly and way too many random encounters. The only plus point is that you could see them coming prior to engaging.

      Then there's the inventory, or the lack thereof. Similar to Moebius, other than quest items, you'll only have some incense. I foresee a rating of 1 for Economy here.

      That said, there are some pretty innovative stuff in this game. Head-scratching, but innovative... like univat gb bofreir n Ibj Bs Fvyrapr gb wbva n zbanfgrel.

      Anyway, there is not enough Oriental-themed RPGs on the market (Jade Empire being the next one decades later), so that's a little redeeming factor here.

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    2. Most of my time spent with the game so far has been trying to figure out the combat. I've been trying to defeat each foe during the training cycle, but the guy with two swords keeps winning. I've logged hundreds of combinations of enemy position and distance along with my chosen attack to analyze which ones connect when ('cause it's otherwise not very intuitive), but nothing helps me with him.

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    3. Try Cartwheeling back and forth. You probably don't need any other moves. XD

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  16. For me, the major difference between Lord British and Mr. Windwalker is that Lord British is an NPC and not the player character. Garriot's character may be ostensible ruler of an entire fantasy world, but he advises and guides players as opposed to making them play Lord British's Really Cool Adventure.

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    1. Well, the PC in Windwalker isn't Moebius/Malone himself, just one of his disciples. But still, the inclusion of Lord British as an NPC is an important distinction, one that you'd think would enhance the sense of authorial intrusion but which, paradoxically, does the opposite.

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  17. Personally what I noticed in Goodkind's books was a pattern that I see in the writing of lots of semi-famous authors. You know, the ones who are just well known enough to have a contract and a publishing deadline, but not well-known enough to be able to say, "It's not ready yet, so you can't have it." Philosophy aside, you can tell the ones where he was up against some kind of time or creative-energy limit by the way the characters start acting out of character or the plot devices stop making sense. It's rather similar to what happened with the Harry Potter series when Rowling was rushing to get the books done quickly enough to make movies out of them.

    Personally, if I ever get around to writing a book series, I'm going to lean toward writing the entire thing first, and *then* publishing it.

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    1. Unfortunately, I'm the kind of person who wouldn't be motivated to work without a publisher threatening to sue me for the return of my advance.

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