February 25, 2008

Shmalentine's Day

Some men CAN handle the pressure on Valentine's Day!

Ladies and gentlemen, lovers of all ages! The Epitaph proudly brings to you its guide to Valentine's Day!

A couple of weeks ago my local newspaper ran a column by one of its regular journalists that ticked me off enough to comment about it. Perhaps you have someone like him who writes for your daily rag in your neck of the woods. But even if you don't, you'll probably recognize the material. His normal columns are like the blueprint of a cliche sitcom where the man is an out of touch moron, his wife is the intelligent cynic, and their children are the products of the modern society that frightens and confuses the father. We get it, today's world is lunacy and your generation was a better, simpler time. All men are clueless meat heads and women are clever manipulators. But I will hand it to him, he's at his best when he's discussing the peculiarities of Rhode Island, his most common subject matter.

Last Valentine's Day, the writer published a column that could have been the script of the aforementioned sitcom's traditional and predictable V-Day episode. He started off badly by titling his piece "Men just can't handle the pressure on Valentine's Day". Not some men, not most men, but MEN. That's all inclusive. Maybe you can't handle the "pressure", don't try to cast me in a bad light as well. I'm not afraid of Valentine's Day. Let's dissect some key points in his article.
-Valentine's Day is a plot by women? All females concocted this plan just to see their male counterparts "suffer"? Maybe this column is satire. No one could truly believe this. Okay, let's say V-Day is in fact an evil plot by the women-folk. Maybe it's true significance is to separate the men from the boys. The vertebrates from the invertebrates.
-He is right when he states that V-Day is a money-making holiday for candy and card companies. The same can be said for Easter, X-Mas, and to an even lesser extent, Halloween. But whose fault is it for being a consumer whore? Keep in mind that this is not a birthday or X-Mas where you max out your credit card. Not that you should do that anyway. The only time you should be saving up your cash for weeks in order to buy her a single piece of jewelry is when you're ready to enter that holy sanctimony of marriage. If she demands you to empty a diamond mine every year, drop her early. Remember when you were a single guy? What was the term for a woman who demands constant reward for no reason other than being with you? Gold digger. You're not supposed to marry those.
-Many women would not appreciate it if you made a public spectacle of your affection for her.
-"Don't get me anything" translates to "Not only do you have to get me something, but it has to be excessive"? On what planet? Did you marry an extraterrestrial that doesn't grasp our language? If your wife tells you she wants nothing, or not to go all out for a gift, here's some helpful hints, from me to you. Buy her the traditional holiday fare of candy, flowers, and card. Or take her out to a nice restaurant. Say "I love you", mean it, and prove it. If your wife will tell you that she doesn't want anything for Valentine's Day, and then you honor her wish or, out of the goodness of your heart, buy her a little something just to show that you care... and then she puts you in the proverbial dog house because it isn't what she wants... trust me, serve up those divorce papers now. She either isn't happy with you anymore, or just can't be pleased, is miserable, and likes to spread her misery. You'll be much happier giving her half your net worth than spending the rest of your life in fear of this woman. I can not imagine the evil creature you're married to who will get mad at you for not breaking the bank on a gift for her after asking for nothing. Love is supposed to be shown, not purchased. I'm sorry you're either married to a woman that can't be pleased, or your wife married a man who doesn't know how to please her.
-Why do women need so many purses? Is this an original musing, such as wondering why women need so many shoes?
-Okay, I laughed when the writer and his brother recalled previous V-Days when they got their wives crappy gifts. Their ineptitude amuses me. Do they not get this holiday? Get a gift that shows love, not one that will help with the wife's chores. Unless they specifically ask for it.
-A woman has every right to treat their husband like a brainless goon if they can't handle or even understand Valentine's Day.
-The only part of the column I agree with is when the writer's wife told him "You're a weak excuse for a husband, and I don't know why I married you". You got her a fuckin' oven mitt for Valentine's Day. Not only that, you just admitted such to the entire state. Maybe the true reason why she asks for nothing is because she knows you can't handle it. Does she ask for nothing on her birthday and X-Mas too?

I wonder if your wife reads your column. She now knows that you are clueless when it comes to her interests. Then again, she probably already knew.

What the hell is wrong with you if you dread buying her a gift? How long have you known this woman and you don't know her wants? If you need a hint, ASK HER! I've bought romantic gifts for a lady-friend who didn't know she was going to receive anything from me. You know what? I had a fun time doing it, because I actually like to put a smile on the face of a girl I'm into. I didn't feel forced or intimidated. And guess what happened? She liked my surprise gifts so much, she proclaimed that I should be her official shopper. You see, I'm not even married to her, and yet I "get her". I know what she likes, and there was, at no time, the desire to pull my hair out in frustration over what to purchase. V-Day helped build affection, not destroy it.

"Ah, but James," you all say, "you're single and never married, you couldn't possibly know what it's like to go through what I do on the days leading up to Valentine's Day!" That may be true, but let me share a fun little fact with you all. I have parents. And I was lucky enough to grow up with them. That means I've been around to witness many a V-Day between a married couple. So what gifts do my mother and father exchange every year on February 14th? What bank-busting presents did they give that they spent weeks pondering over buying for their significant other in order to keep the marriage peaceful? Candy and cards. That's all. There was no anger, silent treatment, or remarks such as "is this all I'm worth to you?" Instead, they thanked each other and went about their happy union. Ya know why? Because my parents actually love each other, not the material rewards they thrust upon the other. The only disagreements they ever have with each other revolves around my mother's unrelentless purchasing of decorations.

Finally, unhappy men in relationships, if your partner insists you splurge on them for Valentine's Day, then let them know about Steak and a Blowjob Day.

And that's just the way it is.

February 12, 2008

Von Karma Strikes Back

If you are unfamiliar with the Phoenix Wright games, it is recommended you read this Epitaph first.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney- Justice For All
is the second entry in the Phoenix Wright trilogy of games. It contains four new dramatic and humorous cases. It plays similar to the first one with a few new gameplay elements thrown in to improve the experience. There are many references to the events of the previous entry, although the game won't be rendered unplayable if you don't have any prior knowledge. But much like when starting any series, it's highly recommended that you start at the beginning.

Like Ace Attorney before it, Justice For All is rated T for Teen, as it contains blood, mild violence, and suggestive themes. Although there's no citation for language this time, despite the presence of such words as "dammit" and "crappy". Then again, Capcom slipped the D word into MegaMan 7's original SNES release and didn't suffer for it. Or did they, for it was changed to "darn" when rereleased in the Anniversary Collection. Back on topic, the blood warning comes from the fact that, once again, Phoenix is saddled with nothing but murder cases. Can't the guy ever get to defend a petty thief, where the repercussions won't be as severe? Mild violence should be obvious because the scene of the murders is described in detail. As for suggestive themes? Let's just say that a couple of characters have rather "inappropriate" reactions to the weapon of choice used by the new prosecutor.

New Features
Patience Bar- The first title allowed you five errors in court before ending your game. This time you get a meter that depletes a certain amount depending on the seriousness of your mistake. This allows you a little more headway if you screw up, although certain bad decisions can cost you your entire meter.
Psyche Lock- Sort of like contradicting witness testimonies in court, except you do it during the investigation. Present evidence to break apart people's attempts to shield hidden truths. The patience bar will deplete for every wrong move you make, but having it emptied will not result in a game over, just an end to the interrogation. You can also stop in the middle of questioning if you feel you don't have the proper evidence to proceed. If you fail to complete the process, you will have to start all over again. Quite a pain if you have no patience bar left, forcing you to go through the entire thing in one shot. However, successfully breaking all the locks will refill the patience bar by fifty percent.
Character Identity Evidence- Now you get to present profiles of people involved with the case as evidence. You'll often be asked questions regarding a "who" rather than just a "what" this time around. Mostly as the answer to: "If the defendant isn't the murderer, THEN WHO IS?!"

Main Cast
Phoenix Wright- The cunning attorney is back and can't seem to catch a break. He has a knack for snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, although he'll need a little help from his friends (and you).
Maya Fey- Phoenix's partner in justice. Her nosiness often helps Wright find vital clues at the crime scene. She is a spirit medium who can often call upon help from "the other side".
Pearl Fey- Maya's eight-year-old cousin who is a prodigy in spirit channeling. She'll lend Phoenix support while her cousin is busy with her "misfortunes".
Franziska Von Karma- The nineteen-year-old daughter of prosecuting demon Manfred Von Karma comes to America to get revenge on Mr. Phoenix Wright. But it may not be for the reason you'd think. Her two trademarks are her untouchable winning streak and the whip she cracks in court.
Dick Gumshoe- The slow-witted detective who is always first at the crime scene. He'll often give you valuable help during the investigation, much to the chagrin of the prosecutor's office.
Mia Fey- Your deceased mentor and Maya's sister. She'll usually be by your side in court proceedings to set you on the winning path, utilizing the bodies of her relatives.
Lotta Hart- The human camera from America's heartland returns with a recurring role. Lotta always seems to be around at the right (wrong?) time, and her snapshots always find their way into the court record. And herself onto the witness stand.
Miles Edgeworth- After a year of seclusion, the star prosecutor returns after discovering not only himself, but what his profession truly means. Is he on the side of Wright or wrong?

In addition to these, many new characters will play a part in the various cases, including a few familiar faces from the preceding game.

Case Previews
The Lost Turnabout- The tutorial, but much longer and tougher than the one in the first game. While napping in the court lounge, Phoenix is hit over the head and incurs temporary amnesia. Not good since he has a trial to tend to!
Reunion, and Turnabout- Visit Kurain Village, Maya's home and training ground. You stop for a visit while Maya tries to channel a spirit for a doctor wanting to question a deceased nurse. But something horribly unexpected occurs that lands Maya in hot water.
Turnabout Big Top- Who ever would have thought the circus would play host to a murder mystery? When the lights permanently go out for the Ringmaster, the world's greatest magician is fingered as the culprit. While trying to clear his name, you'll meet all the colorful characters of the Berry Big Circus, who will turn the court house into the Greatest Show on Earth when they're brought in as witnesses!
Farewell, My Turnabout- The lavish Gatewater Hotel hosts the yearly Grand Prix awards, a show that honors the top entertainers in the world. The Nickel Samurai gains top honors, but when his rival The Jammin' Ninja is murdered, his prize is an all expense paid trip to the detention center. This case contains many twists and turns, including one that WILL make your jaw drop. As well as a life-altering decision where you will be forced to choose between your heart and justice.

Is there anyone that can tell me why each case in the Phoenix Wright series contains the word "turnabout?"

-SAVE OFTEN! Especially when you're about to make a decision where your patience bar is at stake, such as attempting to break through Psyche Locks or presenting a piece of evidence in court. Like the game before it, the correct choice can often be vague, and too many mistakes will force you to start over from that particular segment of the case. And also like the first, there is much text to read, and you probably won't be able to tolerate going through it too many times.
-Don't bother trying to break Psyche Locks when you first encounter them. You'll usually have to do a bit more digging around before you find the required "keys" to unlock them.

And that's just the way it is.

February 11, 2008

Animal Forest Crosses Over to the Big Screen

I heard the news on a game site quite a few months back, found it interesting, but thought nothing else of it. That's because it was related to a game to film adaptation that would probably never be viewed outside of Japan, aside from importing. But after browsing YouTube a couple weeks back, I inadvertently stumbled upon the film, kindly pirated and uploaded to the service by a fan. WITH subtitles. I figured I wouldn't be able to see this movie any other way, so I put my conscience in my pocket and proceeded to watch Animal Forest: The Movie. That's Animal Crossing for all you English speaking fans. And if that's the name you know it as, you probably won't understand the movie's official web site.

Animal Crossing would take a whole other blog entry to describe, so I'll give the basics. Unlike traditional games that have an ending to work towards, A.C. is a sandbox experience. That means you can pretty much do what you want with the several tasks within the game, and it continues indefinitely. It's like The Sims in that regard. You play the part of a human who moves into a forest with various anthropomorphic animals. You interact with them, do chores for them, find a large catalog of items to decorate your own house and present as gifts to other animals, earn money to expand your dwelling, catch fish and bugs, and numerous other objectives.

The series began its life on the Nintendo 64 console in Japan. It was planned for release in North America, but they decided to hold off and bring it to our Gamecubes instead. The game is digital crack. I played just about every day for months. At least, it seemed like that long. A sequel was put out for Nintendo DS, while a third incarnation of the franchise is planned for release on the Wii. It's online capabilities are being heavily touted, but I hope they decide to give it a graphical upgrade as well. I'm no graphics whore, but we've had two generations of game systems pass since its first inception, and 64 bit graphics leave much to be desired on current consoles.

The movie is based mostly upon the second Animal Crossing game, subtitled Wild World. Just about every job animal and traveler make an appearance, as well as the buildings they work in. You'll see my personal favorites Crazy Redd and Lyle, as well as Brewster and his coffee shop The Roost, located in the museum as always. Also seen in the museum are the dinosaur fossils that can be obtained in the game itself. The characters also behave the same as their digital counterparts with their unique personality quirks. Blathers prattles on and on about historical facts, Resetti blows his gasket, and Tom Nook is a major douchebag. And you haven't seen anything until you witness old Mayor Tortimer running along the beach with a surfboard. But best of all, my favorite villager from the first Animal Crossing game made the cut... Hopper the Penguin.

Not only are the setting and characters related to the game, but the look, features, and mechanics find their way into the flick in one way or another. The filmmakers went all out and paid special attention to detail. The designs on the trees, hell, even what's growing on the trees themselves! Tom Nook's shop is littered with the various odd items that can be collected throughout the game. You'll definitely recognize the background music. There's changing seasons and festivals. Bug catching, fishing, and digging, along with the usual bounty of those activities. Numerous shirts and all those crazy accessories that could be purchased from the Able Sisters shop. Designing outfits that become so popular that everyone in town starts to wear them. You know those symbols that would pop over a character's head to reflect their feelings? Happens here, too. Even the damn stationary made it in. And believe it or not, there's the hardship of a beloved villager moving away. There's even more that I chose not to mention. K.K. Slider also shows up for a performance. He has a normal speaking voice, but when he sings, it's still in the indeciphrable language from the games. But translated with subtitles. Fucking Awesome. It's as if they made a list of all the game's contents and said "THAT'S THE SCRIPT!"

It's neat to see the movie populated with villagers that the viewer themselves probably acquainted themselves with from the game. When I heard the name "Apollo", I immediately remembered him as the grumpy bald eagle before he even came on-screen. Speaking of which, I decided to boot up my copy of Wild World after watching this, just to see how my village looks after me being absent for more than a year. And yes, Apollo is still living there. All my PRECIOUS HYBRID FLOWERS have died off because I neglected watering them, and weeds have taken over the town.

The Animal Crossing/Forest games are a big success in America as well as Japan. I think Nintendo should have taken a gamble and brought the movie stateside like it did for the Pokemon films. Although the plot of this movie is geared towards a younger audience, I recommend anyone who's ever been addicted to this game, even older folks such as myself, to check it out at least once. You'll get a kick out of how faithful it is to its source.

This adaptation was handled directly opposite of how The Super Mario Bros. movie was done. While Animal Crossing's movie world is an animated replica of the game's, the Mario movie took so many liberties with the source material that it turned into an "In Name Only" flick. This should be required viewing for any director looking to handle a game to movie project. Pay the fuck attention, Uwe Boll.

And that's just the way it is.

Game Character Development

Gamers creating their own characters in games is nothing new. Capcom would sponsor contests in video game magazines that allowed readers to design and submit new Robot Masters for the MegaMan series. Wrestling games allow players to build their own dream athlete, customizing everything from their physical appearance to their repertoire of holds. Can't forget about Will Wright's runaway success called The Sims, allowing you to create tiny replicas of yourself and your friends and control every aspect of their digital lives. And most recently, Nintendo DS (Wii version forthcoming) played host to Drawn To Life, an innovative game where players take on the role of "The Creator" and use their styluses to draw not only their game character, but weapons and platforms as well. Before a few weeks ago, the preceding examples were some of the many outlets I had in making my own video game characters. With all that in mind, try to imagine being granted the position of creating game characters that will be built into the game itself for the whole world to enjoy.

I've already discussed being drafted to work on a still-under-wraps video game, and that my first assignment was to write a story that would help sell people on the idea of running with it. With that taken care of, and thankfully well received, I was asked to develop characters for the game that would be marketable. I had to make eight of them, down from the original number of twenty. You see, twenty was the first number thrown around because it was understood that the only difference each character would have is a certain ability the player could utilize to help them beat the game. But then it was decided to give the characters character. And it would be far easier to develop eight rather than that number plus twelve. Which means less bodies for you guys to keep tabs on.

One of the major guidelines for creating this cast was that we wanted them to have different ethnicities and nationalities so that everyone would be able to identify with at least one. Then there was our first idea of giving them their own unique abilities for gameplay reasons. I took five days to create those eight major characters. As I said before, these are not going to be throw-aways who will only be seen in one game. We're talking the possibility of merchandising here. There are profits that could be riding on my shoulders. So after creating them, I sat with them awhile to see if I was comfortable with presenting them as the figureheads of this project. I really felt they would be worthy, so I submitted them to the game's mastermind for approval, and he accepted them.

Here's the list of traits I used to construct the characters.
Name- Important for more reasons than to just keep us from referring to everyone as "that guy". A good name will help you remember the character more, plus it adds a degree of likability. For example, do you think Sonic the Hedgehog would have become a video game icon if he were called Zippy instead? He could have been put into the same great games, but there's just something more appealing about "Sonic" than "Zippy". Anyway, since this project called for a cast with different ethnicities and nationalities, I found a site that had listings of names from cultures all over the world. This helped me in finding names unique to each world region.
Ethnicity/Nationality- All ethnic groups are represented, and I chose the most diverse nationalities as the foundation of the character personas. If I left out yours, I apologize.
Expertise- These characters will have to do more than stand around and blink, they got to get out there and give you an enjoyable game experience with their talents! Each one is special and you will have to capitalize on each individual's strengths to get you through the game.
Description- This explains what each character is all about, such as their role and their personality. Some of their attitudes are even based on what their major skill is. I even figured how they may get along with each other, creating strong friendships and shaky ties.
Outfit- We're looking to keep this game from receiving the much feared Adults Only (AO) rating, so we have to put clothes on them. I made them some threads that would match up well with the three previous traits I discussed.
Hair- I chose varying hair styles to top our characters off with; no one shares the same type of mop. Hmmm... I guess I was wrong. I failed to create at least one character for an oft-neglected group of our society to identify with: bald people.

I even went as far as sketching how the main characters would look and based the outfit and hair descriptions off what I came up with. That's probably a major reason why I continue to draw to this very day instead of sticking completely to the writing process. It just helps me relate to the character more if I can give them form.

I've already birthed quite a large cast of characters for my own stories, so creating a brand new roster was a lot easier than I thought it would be. And consider the fact that I was making them for someone else's approval. A daunting task to be sure but I think I nailed it. So now that I've got the story and game characters down, what's next?

February 2, 2008

Main Page Revamp

For those of you who stop by to James-Gannon.com regularly... oh wait, my psychiatrist warned me about talking to imaginary people. Let me start again... for those of you who accidentally stumble upon my my art gallery's tribute exhibit during your Google image searches for Shadow the Hedgehog pictures, I have made a few changes to my site, each with varying degrees of importance.

The first and most major change is obvious as soon as you click that link I created in the first paragraph. The buttons I created to lead you to each page are gone, instead replaced with a table that shows a text link with the last two updates (three at first) to that particular page directly to its right. Before, I had a bunch of graphics huddled together, with a long list of updates piling up beneath them. I wasn't too sure if everyone would have noticed or paid any attention to them upon visiting my site for the first time, this time you have no excuse. Keeps the front page clean too, instead of having a large listing of updates dating all the way back to early 2007. This sort of reminds me of my days using AOL Press in the mid-90's when I had a similar setup for my role-play wrestling game. I wasn't just a wrestler, I was also a promoter. BACK TO THE PRESENT. For cosmetic purposes, I added yet another Lady Demon original graphic for the background. The cold, icy strip beside a stone gray layout fits the atmosphere of my site perfectly. I remember before I even created this site two years ago, the first thing I envisioned for main page navigation were hand drawn buttons. Yep, it was good for a while, but then I mulled it over recently and decided that the way it is now would be much more convenient.

As for those drawings I "scrapped", they will now be resized and utilized as decorations elsewhere in the site. I've already placed the tombstone used as the button for The Epitaph on the blog itself. As a matter of fact, most of the graphics will be placed on the pages they were originally created to lead you to. But first I will rescan them so I can have them appear bigger. But I'm not going to waste my time clearing out the dead space around them this time, I only have MS Paint to edit pictures with.

Second update: new site-wide navigational system. I figured if all page links were accessible from whatever part of the side you were on (except when viewing the web comic or blog) it would encourage visitors who enter from one page to give others a look as well. I've noticed that very few outsiders discover my site from the main page, and their stays are not long ones. I guess that single home link I would place on the bottom of every page wasn't up to task. Sorry little mausoleum graphic, you're getting a job transfer.

Minor third update. I put in dividers on my art gallery and cast pages. The images there started to collapse on each other and get mixed up with different texts. The dividers help separate and keep them in line.

Fourth and most insignificant update. I didn't like the idea of having the word "gallery" used twice in the art section of my site. The whole thing is called the "Art Gallery", then there was a subsection called "Tributes Gallery". So I subbed the second word for a new one. I already used Wing and Collection, and what other word could be used to describe a part of an art museum? Exhibit, you fools! That's why I'm a writer and you're not! What works have I had published, you ask? Okay, I'll shut up.

And that's just the way it is.