Sunday, September 22, 2013

Kotas Reviews RWBY

So, I watch a LOT of Internet videos. I watch videos that review bad movies, bad comics, pop songs, nostalgic things, video games, and sometimes even action figures. I watch videos that portray insane science fiction, talk about board games, and even just people playing a video game. One of my favorite sites to watch videos on is the Rooster Teeth site, home of Red vs. Blue, the Gauntlet, and today's review topic, RWBY.

RWBY (pronounced Roo Bee, you know, like the gemstone) is perhaps the most anime-ist thing that I've watched in a long time. The story opens with some very stylized artwork and a voice over that tells us what the deal is in this world. Seems the world is full of horrible, soulless critters collectively known as The Grim (as opposed to the Gloom, the Grump, and the Gaga) that used to dominate everything. With the "rise of human kind" however they saw a threat and went to "chew our asses to pieces". Humans, being the resourceful assholes that we are, countered this with our use of tools and a substance known as Dust, which grants magical powers and abilities. This Dust comes in powder form (naturally) and in the form of crystals, and can apparently be mined. Using the magic of Dust, humanity has built itself into a world-spanning power. The creatures of the Grim still haunt the darkened corners, but they are the province of the Hunters and Huntresses, fighters trained to use Dust and Dust-enhanced equipment to, well, Hunt Monsters.

So, what does that leave us with as far as the aesthetics of RWBY? Well, what if Final Fantasy and Harry Potter totally went out, had a few drinks. One thing led to another, and 9 months later you got RWBY. Maybe throw in a dash of Gurren Lagann for the fact that just about every piece of technology in the series runs on the Rule of Cool and you've got a highly stylized, gonzo-tech world. It is a show that takes a few design queues from Steampunk, but then you have airships that look like something out of HALO...which is crazy awesome really. The character designs are heavily anime inspired, but they look like someone played the Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and said "You know, I could gussy this up and make a show around it." Cell shading might be a thing, I guess? Still, I LIKE the designs, particularly concerning the gear that all the characters use, but I'll get to that in a bit.

The main character of the show is Ruby Rose (Red Riding Hood inspired). She's a young girl who just graduated top in her fighting academy and has only the desire to help people by becoming a Huntress...and has a fuck all huge scythe/sniper-rifle to back her shit up. In short order all the other characters are introduced: Weiss Schnee, a snooty well trained rich girl with a chip on her shoulder (Snow White inspired), Yang Xiao Long, Ruby's fun-loving upbeat bruiser of a sister (Goldilocks inspired), Blake Belladonna, the quiet, bookish sarcastic girl with the hidden soft spot for Ruby's wacky antics (Belle know, Belle? Beauty and the Beast? Right), Jaune Arc, the clumsy Nevil Longbottom stand in, Nora Valkyrie, best described as the spastic one who will END YOUR SHIT if she decides to, Pyrrha Nikos, the hyper competent yet for reasons unexplained crushing on Jaune one, and Lie Ren...the other boy.

You may conclude that none of these characters is particularly well developed or explored in depth. You would be totally right as well, but the series is only 11 or so episodes long at this point (of a planned 16 for the first half of the first season), and none of them exceed 10 minutes long. But you know what? It is not always the originality of the characters that makes a show, but the quality of the presentation.

Monty Oum, the lead animator, was recruited by the Rooster Teeth guys for their Red vs. Blue show. Why? Because of the kind of amazing _Haloid_ video, which is a mashup of Halo and Metroid. You can watch it here. It's a bit dated at this point, and, well, a bit "fanservice-y" but the really fun fight choreography along with animation ability is what got Monty where he is today. The man can show some really interesting fight scenes, even if they can be a little too herky jerky sometimes.

RWBY lives and dies by it's crazy fights and I find them very entertaining to watch. The concept of the Grim-tainted creatures helps easily identify each "type" of enemy that is fought, and each character has incredibly distinctive gear. I've already mentioned the scythe/sniper-rifle, but there is also the javelin/long rifle, the submachine-gun/kama, the sword/whip/pistol, the elementally enhanced rapier, the blunderbus/battle-axe, the armored gauntlet/shotguns, and my personal favorite, the Maul/Grenade Launcher, which I refer to as the Boomhammer. Are you seeing the theme here? Dust-powered gear gives everyone the ability to do "Crazy Matrix Shit", and of course it is put together in some very elaborate fights. Monty Oum seems somewhat obsessed by the idea of using a shotgun to enhance melee attacks as well as a device to aid in movement, and while it is completely works in the context of the show. It's just good old ridiculous fun.

On the FACE Rating Scale, RWBY gets one smiley face. It is a little TOO stereotypically anime-ish at times, and the heavily stylized artwork might be distracting for some, but I love the look of the gear and the crazy nature of the fight scenes. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Kotas Reviews Papers, Please

It's Indie Game Review Time again! Today we are looking at the indie game sensation that is sweeping...uh, something. This is the kind of game that I can honestly say I never expected to see made. Let me put it this way, if I told you I wanted to make a game about the exciting world of being an immigration officer reviewing the documents of those trying to enter your country, would you even give me the time of day? No? Right, well let's take a look at Papers, Please, the game that is about JUST THAT.

In Papers, Please you are a citizen of the fictional country of Arstotzka, and you are the "lucky" winner of the job lottery to become the newest immigration border officer. Each day you enter your station, open the window, and begin processing the paperwork of those trying to enter into Arstotzka. For each person you process, you are awarded 5 Arstotzkian credits, which you then use to pay the daily rent on your Grade 8 living quarters, along with food, heat, medicine, and other essential items for your family (wife, son, uncle, mother-in-law). Make any mistakes, and you get a citation (from the presumably better and automated Second Immigration Post just behind YOURS). After 2 citations in a day, you start to rack up penalties to your pay. Doesn't this just SCREAM excitement and adventure?

The gameplay goes something like this: Every day you wake up, read the state news organ paper to see what is going on in the world. Then you get to see your little person walk into "the booth" at the top of the screen. You receive the days instructions (only Arztotzkians can enter, anyone can enter, anyone can enter but they need a ticket, etc), and then you click the button to open the booth. Then you click the speaker to shout "Next". The would be entrant shows up, passes you their papers, and a little dialog about what they are doing commences via text boxes. You then have to determine if their papers are correct: Do they have all the right papers? Is their passport from the right issuing country and city? Is it expired, incorrect, or from a denied entry country? Once you've made a determination, you stamp it red (DENIED) or green (ACCEPTED), hand them back their papers, shoo them out, and call for the next person. Do this until the day ends, and you see how you did that day, and if your family gets to eat food or not.

The tools you are given are kind of annoying to use, as in keeping with the oppressive theme. To check the documents for accuracy (apart from the obvious stuff like marked "M" for gender when they are female), you have to open up the rulebook. To do this, you have to drag it to the document viewer, then open up the page to the right place. If you see a problem, you have to enter "Examination" mode. As the game progresses, you get more tools such as an interrogate option, a full body scanner, and my personal favorite, the DETAIN button, which sends the person off with little 8-bit silhouette guards to the execution grounds holding station. I'm sure they will be fine.

The graphics are muddy, grimy, and extremely low resolution, but it adds to the atmosphere of grinding totalitarianism. I admit I was absolutely shocked with the "full body scanner" option returned back fully nude (8-bit nudity is still nudity...terrible, terrible nudity) pictures, though there is an option to turn that off. Still, it's kind of...depressing and grungy. The soundtrack is a brooding dirge of a theme song, and no music at all during actual gameplay. The sound effects are what you would expect, with my personal favorite being the pseudo-gibberish that plays when you click the "NEXT" speaker. 

Essentially, this is a puzzle/detective game where you examine evidence and interview people to figure out who they are and if they belong there. Sometimes you find out they are concealing weapons (and then off they go with the DETAIN button). Sometimes they've spelled their name wrong, but otherwise check out. Sometimes they just don't have the right paperwork. Many of them have sob stories (I'm escaping an even MORE oppressive country, my wife and I are going to retire together, etc) and you play a small but important part in a thousand tiny stories. For example, at one point a man presents his papers and babbles on happily about how he and his wife are escaping a terrible place to start a glorious new life. He has the right papers. His wife however, who is right behind him, does NOT. Do you let her through anyway, and receive a citation? Or do you do what I did, and send her away without entry because she didn't have a ticket and you couldn't afford to get any more citations so that Little Billy could get his medicine? Do you merely deny someone entrance for trying to use a fake name, or do you have them hauled away?

Sometimes the booth is closed early due to a terrorist attack, which you can view through a little window at the top of the screen. The newspapers will occasionally inform you of weird stuff going on. For example, a notorious murderer escapes "some other country", and he shows up at the booth, using his real name. His papers checked out, so I let him in. Turns out, he murdered 3 more people in the new country. Oops. The first couple of days I was getting used to the controls, so I didn't manage to process the 9 people/day I needed to keep the heat on and food on the table, so after burning through our meager savings my son, uncle, and mother-in-law are all dead. On the plus side, I'm much better at processing people faster so my sick wife might actually live. The world of this game feels very much alive, but filtered through the perspective of this single cog in the glorious Arztotzkian machine, who is just trying to get through the day. It helps that the puzzle solving is also fun for me, though I don't know if it will be everyone's cup of tea. 

Overall, this is Sim Paper Pushing, but it is very heavy on the atmosphere and world building and has lots of quirky, depressing charm. If you had told me I would enjoy a paperwork simulator this much, I'd have laughed at you, but there you go. On a scale of 5 frowny faces to 5 smiley faces, Papers, Please gets a solid 2 smileys. And hey, it's $10. You should totally try out this game.