Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Avatar World: The Ninjas Moves

I have waited for weeks to use a Mirror's Edge song because I wanted to put it on the Ninja moves. Mirror's Edge is one of my absolute favorite games, up there with Mass Effect 2 and The World Ends With You, and its soundtrack (mostly by Solar Fields) is amazing. New Eden is a mid-game chapter that has a lot of variety in its music - other pieces up for use were Heat, and possibly Kate for an Airbender post because of the very atmospheric atrium segment. So glad to finally have this out in there.

Hey, I'm here with the moves of The Ninja today! I'm surprised by the direction my mind took while writing these. I ended up making the Ninja's whole thing about using and accruing Chi in different ways. The Monk's deal is gonna be about having the Chi, the Waterbender is about placing Tags and setting up foes, but the Ninja is about using it inventively - they burn through it pretty quickly. They're also about incredible violence, but can't take too many hits.
All in all, it's taken me a really long time to really nail down what these moves are really about, but I'm very happy with how it's turned out in general. I think it does some rather creative mechanisms here I think.
On the other side, basically everything has a pretty high power level. I daresay this is the most blatantly overpowered playbook I've written. Still, at the same time, those overpowered mechanics look primed to inspire some really cool-sounding play since most of them rely on cool narration to trigger them. Of course, cool is subjective, but there's a lot of using the environment and doing crazy stunts, and that will sound cool.
Stealth: When you conceal yourself from view, roll+Fluid. On a hit, enemies can't see you and take the tag Ninja's Prey. On a 7-9, also select one of these:
     * You can't stay undetected here for long.
     * Someone is on alert now.
     * You can't keep track of everyone from your hiding place.
This is, originally, a core move of the playbook. However, I've since decided that THERE IS NO MANDATED MOVE FOR THE NINJA. That's basically necessary to fill in the lost space of The Martial Artist. Ninjas originally had a lot of focus on this, but I think that this is for the best anyway as I'd have a harder time making a more significant move to build the whole playbook around.
The tag Ninja's Prey is a built-in way for players to take advantage of their stealth to go on the offense with it without the Ambush move. Heck, it might even invalidate the Ambush move.
Environment Master (Option 1): When you trigger an Environment Tag, you can choose to reroll only one of the dice - which one is your choice.

Environment Master (Option 2): When you spend Chi to trigger an Environment Tag but still fail the roll, you get that Chi back.
Option 1 is a riskier option, about getting potentially more benefit out of it. The latter is about safety. It seems at first like it might be too powerful, but really it's the same sort of gameplay dilemma as seen in The Pool and Lady Blackbird - you have a chance to win based on your existing traits (your stat for the move), and you can invest your pool (chi) and if you win you lose that Chi and if you fuck up you get it back. Plus, environment tags are harder to place for the players, and players coming up with how they interact with the surroundings to do cool ninja stuff is something I don't mind slightly over-encouraging.
But yeah, I'm not sure which option is more fun to play. Gonna wait a touch before picking.
Also no, Environment Master is not the final name.
Wire-Fu: When you perform an implausible feat of athletics or a physics-defying acrobatic stunt, roll+Fluid. On a 10+, it's no problem for you, and you take +1 Forward. On a 7-9, you pull it off, but you either take -1 Forward, take an appropriate Tag, or lose 1 Chi (MC's choice).
This is my least favorite of the moves so far for the mechanism. It's just kinda boring. I like the trigger though. This is functional, but I hope to come up with a more interesting idea to go with the trigger. I'm just tired of stewing over this for days right now.
I do mean that this is for when you do improbable acts. If it's not over-the-top or unbelievable, it's either flavor or, more likely, it's Move With Intention. In fact, I might have an alternative version!
Wire-Fu (The Simpler Version): When you perform an implausible feat of athletics or a physics-defying acrobatic stunt, roll Move With Intention. On a hit, select an additional option from the list.
That's less complicated, but potentially a bit less interesting. It's also potentially more powerful too - there's a less powerful version as well that only gives the benefit on a 10+, but that doesn't seem as cool.
Ambush:When you attack a foe with a Tag indicating that they are unaware of your presence (such as Ninja's Prey, Unaware, or Blinded), don't bother rolling, just deal your harm. However, they're now aware of your position and don't have that Tag anymore.
Amount of power in this is probably fucking stupidly high. I'm absolutely insane. In fact, like, half of The Ninja's stuff here is overwhelmingly tough-sounding, but it also sounds sweet and crazy and fun.
Unconventional Weaponry: When you make a weapon out of something that was not meant as such, you can choose to use it as a 3-harm weapon instead of whatever harm value it already has.
Absolutely everything is dangerous in a ninja's hand. His own sword. The farmer's sickle. The drunkard's mug. That chair he's currently strapped to. Everything.
This might be a little over-powerful, but until I actually see that in play, it stays.
Hopefully this inspires some odd and interesting weapon choices. It also allows the D&D monk to use all of his utterly absurd-seeming specialty weapons. And nunchaku.
This move is also probably absurdly overpowered if you take it from some different playbooks.
Dim Mak: When you assault your foe's pressure points, roll+Hot. On a hit, they take the Tag Addled. Whenever an Addled foe attempts an action, you may spend a point of Chi to negate that action. Additionally, on a 10+, you immediately gain 2 points of Chi.
This is the Chi blocking move. In other words, this is how you play Ty Lee. Basically, you set them up, and then you pump your Chi into them to keep them from being a problem. On a 10+, you get a little extra so that you have a couple free stops before cutting into your own stock, whereas with a 7-9 you're immediately shot into your own supply.
Of course, the tag is a tag. Your friends, and you, can treat it just like any other tag, triggering it with Chi for re-rolls.
Dirty Fighting: When you trick your foe or otherwise deceive them, roll+Hot. On a 10+, pick two. On a 7-9, just one:
     * Deal an additional harm to them on your next attack.
     * Reduce their armor to 0.
     * Give them an appropriate Tag.
     * Gain one point of Chi.
There's two things I'm achieving here. Mechanically, I'm giving another Hot move. Narratively, I'm covering a lot of the tricky moves Ninjas do. I'm not entirely sure it's even necessary - I think Dirty Fighting of some kind could easily just be handled on-situation and mechanically promoted using Chi Keys.

The other thing you'll notice about this whole list is that there are, uh, seven moves instead of six. Not a problem - in fact, it means that I have room to remove one if it's deemed unnecessary (Dirty Fighting) or overpowered (Ambush) without threatening the diversity of the playbook. And if I decide I need them all, well, seven is just fine, as Monsterhearts shows us.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Oscars Commentary

I am SO excited to pick up Metal Gear Rising when I have the spare money. The soundtrack is every bit as golden as I thought it was back when the demo showed up. Locked & Loaded, Cosmic Consciousness, I Am My Own Master Now, Rules of Nature, hell yeah.

So the Oscars somewhat surprised me, but they also fell in line with a lot of my expectations. The big surprise for me was the pile of wins Life of Pi also accrued - I figured it was good, but definitely underestimated it. Gonna have to see it.
But let's go through this.

What I wanted: Argo
What I thought it would really be: Zero Dark Thirty
What won: Argo
What I think of that: I was very much prepared for a ZDT win. I'm very happy that an extraordinary movie like Argo pulled the win. Ben Affleck and the rest of his team did an amazing job and should enjoy their win because it was well-deserved.

What I wanted: Denzel Washington (Flight)
What I thought it would really be: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
What won: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
What I think of that: I said it then and I'll say it again - he definitely deserves it too. I really do want to see Lincoln to see how good it really is.

What I wanted: Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
What I thought it would really be: Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
What won: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
What I think of that: It was only after I wrote the predictions post that I started hearing about just how good she was in that. Despite the rampant nominations, I'd kinda discounted Silver Linings Playbook, and I was wrong to. I don't think I personally would enjoy as much as the general public since I'm really not a fan of romantic comedies at all, but I shouldn't have discounted its quality just for that.

What I wanted: Alan Arkin (Argo)
What I thought it would really be: Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)
What won: Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)
What I think of that: Fair 'nuf. He was my second-place for wanting, but I enjoyed Alan's performance more. Still, nice job Waltz, and congrats on pulling this award two Tarantino films in a row.

What I wanted: Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)
What I thought it would really be: Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)
What won: Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)
What I think of that: Well, that makes sense. It was a guess, but sure.

What I wanted: Wreck-It Ralph
What I thought it would really be: Brave
What won: Brave
What I think of that: Sure thing. I didn't see them, I'm still iffy on the visual style pursued by many animated movies (including Brave), but that's not indicative of writing and acting quality.

What I wanted: Django Unchained
What I thought it would really be: Life of Pi
What won: Life of Pi
What I think of that: This is one of those categories that is really hard to gauge without actually seeing the movie. I can see how Life of Pi would have done it well though, so I got lucky with the guess.

What I wanted: n/a
What I thought it would really be: n/a
What won: Anna Karenina
What I think of that: I, uh, entirely forgot to do this one on the predictions post and I didn't notice til today. Turns out I still don't care. Congrats Anna Karenina.

What I wanted: Life of Pi
What I thought it would really be: Life of Pi
What won: Life of Pi
What I think of that: It was entirely a guess, but I'm down with that. Nice job Ang Lee.

What I wanted: n/a
What I thought it would really be: n/a
What won: Searching For Sugar Man
What I think of that: I didn't care, but cool. Maybe I'll check it out.

What I wanted: n/a
What I thought it would really be: n/a
What won: Inocente
What I think of that: Same thing.

What I wanted: Argo
What I thought it would really be: Argo
What won: Argo
What I think of that: Weeeeee

What I wanted: War Witch
What I thought it would really be: War Witch
What won: Amour
What I think of that: Welp, whatever. Congratulations to Austrian films.

What I wanted: The Hobbit
What I thought it would really be: Les Miserables
What won: Les Miserables
What I think of that: Yeah, I really figured that'd be it.

What I wanted: Skyfall
What I thought it would really be: Lincoln
What won: Life of Pi
What I think of that:  Sure thing. Time to go find that soundtrack.

What I wanted: Skyfall (Skyfall)
What I thought it would really be: Suddenly (Les Miserable)
What won: Skyfall
What I think of that: Honestly, that's what I really expected. I kinda opted to make my guess and my hope different just for difference's sake, but I really did think Skyfall would win, cuz Adele hit it out of the park.

What I wanted: The Hobbit
What I thought it would really be: The Hobbit
What won: Lincoln
What I think of that: I didn't know Lincoln would be the type of film for impressive production design, but okay, sure.

What I wanted: n/a
What I thought it would really be: n/a
What won: Paperman
What I think of that: I meant to see that. Probably still will eventually.

What I wanted: n/a
What I thought it would really be: n/a
What won: Curfew
What I think of that: I don't know what that is, but congratulations regardless.

What I wanted: Django Unchained
What I thought it would really be: Django Unchained
What won: Skyfall / Zero Dark Thirty
What I think of that: Well that was unexpected. I mean, I still don't know what this category judges specifically, but still.

What I wanted: Argo
What I thought it would really be: Argo
What won: Les Miserables
What I think of that: I really should have guessed that, even without understanding what exactly this category means.

What I wanted: The Hobbit
What I thought it would really be: The Hobbit
What won: Life of Pi
What I think of that: I can buy that. I don't really think it would be better than The Hobbit, but still, that would be my second choice.

What I wanted: Argo
What I thought it would really be: Argo
What won: Argo
What I think of that: Weeeeeee

What I wanted: Zero Dark Thirty
What I thought it would really be: Zero Dark Thirty
What won: Django Unchained
What I think of that: *snorts whole potato chip up his nose out of disbelief*
Apparently using the N word over and over about everything is enough to get Best Writing.
Nahhh, I'm just teasin'. The film was good and well-written, but I really don't think it's better than its competitors. The only point this entire show where I think The Academy didn't make the right choice.

All in all, pretty satisfying. 10 of the 19 categories I guessed on I either got my wish or guessed correctly, which is a pretty good rate of success, and even the ones I got wrong I usually was pretty okay with that.
Because of the results, I have a couple movies that go on my to-see list. First, Lincoln was already there but the rewards back that up. Second, Life of Pi got a plethora of awards and has convinced me to give a shot. Third, the insistence of the awards has given me the urge to go against my type and see Silver Linings Playbook.
My big surprise is the underwhelming performance of Zero Dark Thirty. I still want to see it, and I still expect it to be excellent, but I'm surprised by its invisibility at the awards. Hell, I guess there might even be such a thing as too controversial.

End Recording,

Sunday Songs: Skyward Sword - Fi's Theme

I confess, I have enormous trouble with Skyward Sword. I've gone back to start trying it again, and while I'm trying to think charitably and I see a lot of good ideas and, in general, the puzzle design has been fantastic and made me actually think about how to solve stuff, I'm driven to madness by the MESS that is the controls. I was never adept with a Wii remote in the first place. I can't precisely control with swing angle, and the analog stick is way too sensitive for me to properly control link, and the camera keeps dicking me over. For everything good in the design side of things, the execution makes me hurt inside. Except character design, that hurts me from the design side too. I'm hoping that, with time, I'll adapt and get better, but it's really frustrating, because I WANT to be able to enjoy this game.
However, my distaste does not come from the soundtrack. I mean, I guess it does on the odd occasion - not every song is good, of course. But in general, it's a competant soundtrack by Mahito Yokota and Hijime Wakai and Shiho Fujii and Takeshi Hama and Koji Kondo. A reliance on brass and very light melodic parts played by, primarily, harp or flute (ocarina?). It gives the whole production a fairly light and airy feel that's quite appropriate for the world.
Unfortunately, I'm not a huge fan of the overarching theme of the game's music, Ballad of the Goddess. It's good, but not great. I have much stronger attachment to stuff like Ocarina of Time's Song of Time or Link's Awakening's Ballad of the Windfish.

Fi's Theme easily emerged above the rest as particularly special. It has that aura of mystery and wonder that I think games sometimes struggle to capture. Fi's Theme in particular actually reminds me the Journey soundtrack, which is a very very good thing. There's also a bunch of variations of it on the soundtrack, and that's pretty cool. The song I chose, Chasing Fi, is probably my favorite mix of it.

I'm still amazed that Nintendo finally locked themselves into a timeline using Hyrule Historia. I mean, Skyward Sword is basically an extended backstory explanation piece.

Theme of Skyward Sword - Ballad of the Goddess
Knight's Academy
Zelda's Theme (I'm also a big fan of this one, very dynamic yet sweet tune)
(I gotta say, I DON'T like Groose's theme. Where I am in the story though, he's still just a bumbling jerkwad, so my dislike of his character may be affecting that)
Exploring the Skies - Overworld
Dance of the Goddess
Thrill Digger (woooo, Goron theme!)
Earth Temple (one of my favorites as well)
Lanaryu Desert
Beedle's Airshop
Lanaryu Sand Sea
Ancient Lanaryu
The Sacred Dragons
Bazaar - Fortune Teller

Fi's Theme
Chasing Fi
Call of Destiny - Fi's Theme
Conclusion - Fi's Theme

Seeya later folks! Should have some postable stuff right away, and I'll do an Oscars reaction post tonight or tomorrow.
End Recording,

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Monsterhearts: Home Session 1 (Set-up)

I'm probably gonna do a decent amount of goth metal on these Monsterhearts APs. The Birthday Massacre is among my favorites.

Hey there, first AP post in a damn long while!

So our group is playing Monsterhearts. We have a couple of line-up shifts from what I was expecting! I'm not gonna bother with an intro to what the game is - it's an Apocalypse-Powered high school teen monster sex horror story. That may seem like an odd mash-up of genres, but it's very much akin to Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Vampire Diaries, Twilight, and Being Human.
Kenny as Cain the Infernal,
Daniel as Cole the Ghoul,
Me (Max/Ego) as Alex(ia) the Doppleganger,
and Kris as the Master of Ceremonies!

Before I go further, if you don't know about The Doppleganger, it is of my own creation and is available for free download HERE.

You can probably see a few things that are a little out of the ordinary. Daniel is back, now Skype-ing in from university after graduating Air Force basic training (he's training to be a cryptolinguist). Kris is still Skype-ing in from university, but this is his first time running the game remotely. I'm evidently playing my own unofficial Skin - this is my first playtest of it. If you pay attention to my group's continuity, you'll notice Luke isn't here. We had some scheduling issues - Luke is somewhat interested in playing, so hopefully we'll see him soon enough. Lastly, Kenny wasn't initially the hottest on the game. I gave him a legitimate out that we could just game, like, ApW or something, but he said he was cool with giving it a shot, but after the first real gameplay session we might have a little roster shift.
Through the course of this session, I acted as MC in a lot of interactions because of familiarity with the text.

I should call out that I'm probably the only one in the group very okay with queer content. Kris is okay with its presence I think, and I don't think any of us are actively biased against homosexuality, but for everyone else talking about it is pretty awkward. Especially for my two Skype folks whose dialogue usually ends up spoken not just to the group, but also aloud in front of whichever room-mates may be present at the time. Kenny too has some awkwardness about it. As such, while I'm sure some gayness will creep in, the game will likely be pushing the Dark And Horrifying rather than the Hot And Sexy.

The brunt of this post is just character descriptions so I'll have something to reference in later posts if I can keep up the discipline to write them. I'm really gonna try though, since these are also operating as my playtest.

Cain the Infernal: I predicted immediately that Kenny was going to be The Infernal. I never had a doubt. Anyway, obviously he picked Cain for a name. He picked vicious for a look, and burning eyes for the other. His origin he picked was Emissary, which is pretty badass. His stats are Hot -1, Cold -1, Volatile +1, Dark +2. The moves he picked are Soul Debt (obviously) and Dark Recruiter. His bargains are The Power Flows Through You and Numbing It Out.
So now that I've given the run-down of him by-the-numbers, I can talk about his more interesting parts! Cain is the agent of The Fallen, a great spirit that was once an angel. Cain has been a servant of the Fallen for a very long time. Cain grew up in an orphanage, one of those awful and cruel-ish ones. He was 4 when the Fallen first showed itself to him. As he grew up he had a fairly close relationship with The Fallen. Finally, not too long ago, the Fallen asked his first real debt: to kill the headmaster of the orphanage. And Cain did it, made it look like an accident, and got away with it with The Fallen's help. Since then The Fallen has treated him as an emissary. And his job as emissary has been to start bringing people to him (hence Dark Recruiter).
I asked Kenny what exactly "vicious" looked like. He said it was like, green spiky hair, and some scars, and piercings, and probably a black coat and all of that. Basically he's punk. I followed up with what exactly "burning eyes" really looked like. Kenny gave me a cooler answer than I expected, his irises are literally green flames without pupils, about the same color as his hair. He can disguise it though.
He is currently a senior at the high school. We actually had an interesting kind of discussion about the best year of high school. Dan and I both said Junior, Kenny thought Senior. I think Kenny enjoys the autonomy of it all, and it totally makes sense for Cain.
As for his Backstory options, his 3 Strings to give away as debts all went to The Fallen actually. His other, someone thinks they can save him. Cain thinks it's me, Alex, and I totally agree with that idea, so I've got a String on him.

Cole the Ghoul: I called Daniel as playing a Ghoul or a Werewolf, and managed to be dead on with that as well. I'm glad to have a Ghoul around, they move the action forward really nicely.
Anyway, so Dan is playing Cole, a gaunt Ghoul with hollow eyes. He was resurrected as an origin. He has Hot -1, Cold +2, Volatile +1, and Dark -1. His moves are The Hunger, which he hungers for fear, Short Rest For The Wicked (YESSSSS) and Disaffected (YESSSSS).
I'm gonna talk about Dan's move selection for a moment, because I think he picked the array I wanted to see the absolute most. Fear is the best long-term hunger for a beginning player in my estimation. Flesh is a little on-the-nose, it makes things come to a head very quickly, while power and chaos are a little abstract for someone used to playing the barbarian. Fear is abstract, but it's also really obvious how to cause it. Short Rest For The Wicked is one of my absolute favorite moves in the game, it's tough as balls and awesome, and was among the few moves that I REALLY want to copy with my Doppleganger. Lastly, Disaffected tells me something I wasn't actually expecting - it's a (for him) boost to Turn Someone On, and that indicates an interest in actually USING that move, which was something I feared Daniel might shy away from. Alex might not be used to being turned on by being fucking terrified, but as a player I'm sure as hell ready for it.
Cole has been dead for a week. No one found the body really in the meantime, so he's just been missing for the week. The first day of the game is the first day back in class for him. He was the passenger in a drunk driving accident - the driver survived, he didn't quite, but woke up soon afterward. The driver obviously hasn't admitted to anything. He's also in homeroom with us >:D (that was one of my homeroom questions I put forward, "Where does the driver of the accident that caused your death sit?").
For his Backstory questions, someone reminded him what love was, when ge thought that death had stolen it away from him forever. He chose Alex, so that makes sense. So I have a couple strings on him. As for if anyone saw him die or come back to life, he said that Cain saw his return to life - I'm not quite sure how that'll flavor the action. But they've got strings on each other now.
Cole is a junior. Not the top of the school, but pretty good.

Alex the Doppleganger: Alex is female, it's short for Alexia but goes by Alex. I like this name because it's a really gender-neutral shortening. I chose to be female for the benefit of the others actually - as The Doppleganger, I'm going to be doing a lot of stalking, and I figured it would be easier on everyone if I was female so it wasn't a constant push of the gay stuff. It lets other characters get into messy sexy stuff of their own volition as well without triggering any queerness. I coulda pushed the other way, but I'm not gonna make them uncomfortable. I've never played a female PC before (though obviously I've GM'd female characters), so I'm trying my best to avoid stereotypes, but I'm new at this particular thing.
For look, I picked forgettable and prying eyes. I was really tempted by paper-white skin, but I decided to not go with another visible sign of things, fading into the background is what I want for now. And my eyes are prying for what makes all these other people so perfect.
For origin, I'm a stalker. It was between that and wannabe, and I kinda feel like bein' a stalking type.
My natural stats are Hot -1, Cold -1, Volatile +1, Dark +2, so the same as Cain actually. That's okay, I don't have Walk Like You, Talk Like You so I'm not gonna end up cloning my own stats.
I obviously have Transform, and took Be Like You because it's the move that most needs some playtesting. I've gotten kinda lucky - both other PCs have required negative moves (Soul Debt, The Hunger) so there's awful things that the MC can saddle me with.
The most important question is: who am I impersonating? I waited til my backstory asked it to decide since I did backstory last (I wanted to know who I would be copying), and based upon my urge to "save" Cain and his bad boy senior attitude, I wish I could be like him. I've been watching him, closely. And now I can become him. I've only done it the one time so far, and unfortunately, Cole caught me turning back! So he has strings on me.
I'm a sophomore. That puts me in a great place to really admire a senior, and to be drawn to the juniors too.

So let's recap the little web among us.
Alex wishes she could be like Cain and thinks she can save him. Cain saw Cole come back to life. Cole was shown love again by Alex, though that doesn't necessarily mean he's IN love with here. He's also seen her shifting, though didn't see what form.
That's a mess waiting to happen.

So I don't actually have the complete seating chart in front of me, but I'll call out some interesting individuals in this horrible class.
Cain and Cole sit next to each other in the back of the room. To Cain's other side is Dominic, a rich kid who's an occult wannabe, the sort of guy who buys a lot of Hot Topic and goes to the creepy ritual shops. Cain likes him, they hang out together, and when Cain finds real materials in those ritual shops Dominic is willing to buy 'em for him.
My best friend Jam, who sits behind me, is a quirky sort of fellow, but they're a total flatterer, and that makes me feel like I'm actually wanted. They're like that to everyone, but it still makes Alex feel good.
In the front-row, we have the good kid Neil Peart. For being a good kid, he made a mistake - he chose to drive drunk (he has no history of doing it) and got Cole killed. But he's generally a good kid! Also in the front row, right in front of the teacher, is super-Christian Elizabeth. She really doesn't like Cain.
And one guy has been missing for a week now, he hasn't shown up and there's been no news of what's up with that. This was a gift from me to Kris as a kicker tool.

So that's the set up for our Monsterhearts game! Hopefully I get the chance to play tomorrow, but I'm not so sure. I'll keep you all informed!
End Recording,

Monday, February 18, 2013

MONday Songs: 1 Giant Leap - Bushes

Oh shit, I totally got confused by my long weekend. Oh well, one day late is better than never.

1 Giant Leap made an album in 2002 named after themselves. They'd spent what I can only imagine was years traveling the world and recording music and vocals by a huge array of artists. As far as categorization goes, the music is a combination of world, electronic, and trip-hop, and it's damn compelling.
It's formed by two core members. Jamie Catto is a founding member of the band Faithless, but eventually left to work on this project. The other member is Duncan Bridgeman.
Really, 1 Giant Leap is more than a music group, they're a multimedia project. They've done a pair of films, their albums have a decent amount of spoken word elements, and they transcend several genre boundaries. It's a hard trick to sell this album, but it's really a golden piece of art.

Several of the songs contain spoken word intros. One that I'm consistently amazed by is at the start of Daphne, "Music is to me proof of the existence of God. It is, so extraordinarily full of magic, and in tough times in my life, I can listen to music, and it makes such a difference." Said by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. If I haven't said it before, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. is one of my absolute favorite authors ever - his work literally re-inspired me to begin reading again. I know that my own writing style has incorporated a couple of stylistic leanings inspired by him, and I'm sad that I only discovered his works after his death. Even 1 Giant Leap said that getting an interview with Vonnegut was probably the most surprising thing during the creation of the original album.

In 2009, they released another album, What About Me? I discovered it today. I haven't listened to the whole thing yet, but it's still damn impressive.

All Alone
Braided Hair
The Way You Dream
My Culture
The Truth Is Changing
Set Me Free

End Recording,

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Art/Schoolwork: Sketchbook Stuff!

Fine. I'll take a break from the Halestorm and give you something a little softer for Valentine's Day, even though this post took a bit longer to write than I'd have hoped. This is by Sweet Talk Radio, the band most-known for doing the songs to the Syfy channel show Haven (which I adore, along with its star Emily Rose). The show has a really special look to it, and I love it and its musical stylings. Sweet Talk Radio is just gorgeous. This is very VERY close tie for my favorite song by them, along with We All Fall Down. Hell, let's just give you that video too!
Just fuckin' incredible.

Hey there! So if you weren't aware one of the classes I'm taking this semester is an art class. It is...

Drawing 101.

Okay, yeah, that's not impressive. Plus I can already draw decently enough (though I can always get better!). But regardless, I figure to get a bit more art up here I'll be posting up stuff I do for the class in the same way I post my essays.

Today is the first little batch of stuff. See, one ongoing assignment throughout the semester is to do personal pages in our 5"x7" sketchbook. They need to be pen and ink, but can be whatever we so desire, though they will be judged on quality (meaning how obvious it is that we put care into the drawing), composition (making a piece out of things and paying attention to the page as a whole rather than just floating object), and whether it meets the general goal. The class requires everything in the sketchbook be pen and ink. The goal for the end of the course is to have done 12 personal pages.
It's been a week and I have five. Somehow I imagine I'll be bustin' that bar pretty quick.

Let's see now.
All these photos are gonna be a LITTLE messed up, but I'm not putting that much effort into them. I'll probably re-compile things later and make good images, but I'd love to be able to get this post out soon, so just take it.
The top part of the page is just a couple things layin' around. The bottom part was drawn from life, and I was mainly focusing on the bottle cuz it was catchin' the light right. Overall, a pretty meh page.

This page I like though! The focus is, of course, the kitsune in the foreground. I've had kitsunes in my head for the past couple days since I've been talking with HyveMind over on Story Games about his transforming Monsterhearts Skin about this critter. I drew a different fox earlier, and it was not half as good. I'm quite fond of the posing, it looks believable to me.

Very little to really note here - it's an arm. I wanted to take a stab at getting the right musculature. The very light body isn't accurate, it's just there to kinda fill up the empty space. The arm and hand are the important bits.

Drew this today based upon the image you see referenced there at the bottom (no need to go see really, it's a skull picture). I wrote a couple notes on it - I didn't get the proportions QUITE right, so I'll be taking another stab. I still think it looks pretty good though.

Everything else has been done with a Micron gel-tip pen or just a ballpoint. This one, however, was done with a felt-tip pen, which I hope counts, because I really like it. It's obviously a little inspired by Native American art traditions, but I'm just very happy with it. Yeah, if you're being anatomical, the wings are too high and too far forward. But this is about STYLE, I don't care about that.
I really like this piece.

Anyway, that's my first dump of art stuff. I have another thing to share on next Wednesday, but not until then.
Cheers, and hope your Valentine's Day has been excellent!
End Recording,

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Monsterhearts: The Doppleganger Version 2

Levitate by Hadouken. The official video for it, People Are Awesome 2013, is pretty good, but this is just the song. Thanks bro.

Hey there! Over on S-G there was a bit more feedback, especially about clearing up the text itself in a couple places. HyveMind there has had some experience laying out Skins before and had a template and knew all the right Wingdings and stuff, so he was kind enough to fill it out in a way that makes it look a bit more like the "official" skin. I'm very happy with it and am hoping to be able to game with it on Friday.

Link: https://www.dropbox.com/s/lya6ydy22n9m0b2/Monsterhearts%20-%20The%20Doppleganger%20Skin%20%28v2%20layout%20by%20HyveMind%29.pdf

Just a fast one for now. Later folks!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Avatar World: Thoughts on The Ninja

DubFX is pretty freakin' rad. I kinda prefer his live performance here, and understanding how he does his music (which he explains in the beginning minute) makes his music significantly more impressive. If you just want to here it without the intro though, he has a studio version here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xbQtfEh3WQ. I also recommend checking out Flow by him, it's also extremely impressive.

Just posted this on Story Games, but since I don't have a ton of stuff to share right now I figured I'll give an update on this as well.

Okay, hey folks. Took a break from this for a little bit so I could do The Doppleganger for Monsterhearts cuz we're starting a game of that soon and I wanted to able to play it.
But, I have a whole draft of that now in PDF form (I'm really proud of it, despite a nagging issue I can't go into), so I'm ready to turn my attention back to this for now.

The Ninja. That's where my mind was last focused, so I'm gonna write up a bit of an outline here for what I'm thinking.
Unlike the Benders and The Scholar, The Ninja doesn't have a pre-selected move. The driving thing for me about the Ninja is that I need to cover a lot of ground. When I killed off the idea of a Martial Artist playbook, most of the characters who would have fallen into that instead fell into The Ninja. The Samurai is a pretty narrow concept of playbook - he's an armored, honorable warrior (though I've decided I'm gonna make it no longer solely sword-specific, despite a little hesitation on my part). The Ninja, on the other hand, is broad. The Ninja is a fast or stealthy warrior who doesn't rely on armor. That's a LOT broader. I want to be able to cover characters like Mai, Ty Lee, and the Dai Li, who are, in general, Ninjas who took Earthbending cross-Playbook, though I may write an unofficial sub-playbook for them as well. Same thing with the Kyoshi Warriors, though I've already written them a sub-playbook, the Ninja needs to be able to do a decent job at emulating them even without it - they're Ninjas who took cross-playbook Samurai moves. I also want to hit historical Ninja ideas, and other anime ninjas. Mugen from Samurai Champloo is DEFINITELY a ninja, and one of my favorite anime characters, so I want to be able to model him. I actually have ZERO experience with Naruto, so if any of you know if I'm covering any of that, I'd love to know. There's just way too much of that show for me to jump in and get a picture that would satisfy me. I know there's a pretty heavy supernatural element to the show's ninjas, but that's mostly covered indirectly by taking cross-Playbook bending moves - the Ninja himself isn't highly supernatural by default, though his actions aren't entirely grounded in reality.
The big thing the Ninja needed to include when it absorbed The Martial Artist is that the D&D Monk is now a Ninja.
Let's check out some move ideas.

Speed: As I mentioned, this immediately makes me want to hijack the Airbender's Momentum, but that's actually easier said than done. However, I want to make it work. It'll make Airbender-Ninjas pretty damn tough, but I kinda like how the two synergize.

Acrobatics/Athletics: This is a things Ninjas do. I'm tempted to call the move "Wire-Fu" and have it trigger "When you attempt a physically-implausible athletic or acrobatic act, roll+Fluid...". This lets you do all the crazy jump-kicking and ridiculous things ninjas do that make no sense. It also lets you fill in some of those fun urban legends about what historical ninjas could do - I'm thinking pretty specifically of water-running.

Stealth: I have two moves in mind for stealth. One is a more general-purpose "Hiding in plain sight" type move, and the other is a Disguises type move. I haven't gotten into really thinking about the mechanism for the former, but I'll likely have some stuff from my Doppleganger work helping with the Disguises one.

Weapons: Again, two ideas. One is a previously mentioned "unconventional weapons" type move, which actually helps cover a lot of things (all the traditional weird ninja weapons like kama and kunai, even stranger ones like Mugen's steel geta, and the vast assortment of things a D&D monk uses, plus even cross-playbook it operates as a move to establish improvised weapons as a sound strategy). The other idea is basically about never being unarmed or some such, but I'm not entirely sure if that's even a move or just something like AW's Many Knives (infinite) thing. It would apply to shuriken/kunai more than anything I guess, so probably the latter.

Fighting: I want to have some kind of move about using a sort of street-level awareness type of move. My mindset of the ninja, despite historical tradition that did place them as military assets, focuses on an idea of a ninja that lives more or less at street level and doesn't fight according to strict combat rules. Essentially, I guess I'm looking for a "Dirty Fighting" kind of move. Again, Mugen is large in my mind with regard to this, but the idea of fighting dirty is definitely the sort of thing historical ninjas did too. Dirty Fighting is probably what I'll end up calling it even.

Supernatural: The ninja has a lot of supernatural force at his disposal in legend. A LOT. From the water-running tricks above to illusory duplicates to invisibility to elemental magic, the ninja is full of unrealism in legend, and despite the fact that a lot of it is obviously historically ridiculous, it's an important thing. There's a few things to touch on.
* Chi-blocking, as Brien brought up. I simply cannot have the playbook without it, since without it we really don't have any way of having Ty Lee. I may alter the idea to be about pressure points as a whole and applying tags, some of which have more narrative strength than others. Perhaps your strike puts them Off-Balance, or makes them Paralyzed, or gives them Stunted Bending or some such. How exactly I make it operate though is a still up in the air.
@bhartung: It likely wouldn't be too powerful, though I won't know til I write it. A fire blast is about 3-harm as is a full earth blow, most water or air strikes come in around 2-harm, a lightning strike is 4-harm. It's degree of overpoweredness is less related to the power of bending itself and more about how much your MC relies on benders to threaten you, which isn't too tough to adjust anyway.
* Invisibility, Illusions: I'm almost tempted to try to integrate invisibility directly into the stealth move, and illusions are sorta more of a detail than a specific thing to really use. I could make something, but I don't actually think it's necessary. I could be wrong though.
* Elemental Power: You can probably guess what I'm gonna say: this is just taking a bending move cross-Playbook. It could be argued that it's different, but for now, this is good enough.
* I'm really tempted to have some Shadowdancer-y stuff, jumping through one shadow into another and stuff. This is just a magical effect I happen to really like and I think it makes for pretty dynamic scenes, and it makes logical sense for a ninja playbook, so okay.
Other than chi-blocking, I may decide to split off some of the magical stuff into a Ninjitsu Magic sub-playbook or some such just to open up my moves options. The entry bar would probably be abnormally low, I'm just trying to save some space on the playbook for the REALLY necessary stuff.

So let's see, that's 1 Speed, 1 Acrobatics, 2 Weapons, 1 Fighting, 1+n Supernatural (where n = whatever the hell I feel like), that's 6+n Moves and that works for me.

So, how's that sound? I've got some homework to go do now so I'll be hopefully back sometime soon with some actual move text. Later folks!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sunday Songs: Halestorm - Hate It When You See Me Cry

Shit, is it Sunday already? Wow. The back half of the week kinda went by like a blur. Anyway, I kinda had a bitch of a time choosing a song today. I wanted to not do another video game piece since the last few have been, and I really didn't want to subject you guys to the pop that's been dominating my playlist lately. I'm not afraid of admitting to liking it, but I sure as hell don't think I should be subjecting everyone else to it. (that said, some blog posts might have a few songs, but I'm not doing a Sunday Songs post on them).
You might recognize Halestorm. I put their song I Miss The Misery on my post about webcomics and pop music. I am completely in love with that song. No joke, I've listened to their album "The Strange Case Of..." almost every single day since I discovered it. I'm not usually one to repeat bands, especially this close to the last share, but whatever.

Halestorm has been around for a while, but their first actual album came out in 2009 (it was also titled Halestorm). Formed by the Hale siblings, Lzzy (frontwoman and vocalist and various guitars) and Arejay (drums), as well as Joe Hottinger (lead guitar) and Josh Smith (bass), Halestorm is a rock band that managed to become the very first female-fronted band to top the active rock airplay chart with Love Bites (So Do I). They're one of the very few female-fronted acts in the major rock scene, a place I admittedly know quite little about - I'm not usually into the heavy stuff.
Lzzy has a charismatic pull, with a very aggressive tone in most tracks, though there's numerous softer tracks in The Strange Case Of... (something done very intentionally, since the first album was much harder but didn't really showcase Lzzy's full range of character).

Something you may have noticed about me from my reviews and such is that I love knowing intent. You can REALLY tell from my RPG design posts - I share a lot of my intent with what I'm trying to go for. I remember discussing intent quite a bit in the Basement Collection review in regard to Coil. I don't usually get to talk about intent with music. Often the albums are left to speak for themselves. Halestorm has, in some location, talked openly about what they were discussing in most of their songs, revealing what they were trying to get at. I say "some location" because Wikipedia has compiled the discussion from somewhere, but nobody bothered to CITE anything. My best guess is that they discuss it in the liner notes or some such.
It gives a lot of interesting context to the music. For example, I Miss The Misery isn't actually about an abusive relationship, which would be an easy leap to make after hearing the song, so it's interesting to know that's not it. Rock Show in particular has a neat context that's cool to hear about even if ultimately it changes nothing (it was written after receiving a letter from a young fan who learned to play guitar after being inspired at one of their shows). It really says a LOT to me that they're willing to talk about intent, because intent can really expand the music.

This particular song does a good job of including both sides of the band's persona - the soft and the hard. It's catchy, and hits some nice chords. If you have the album but haven't heard this, it's one of three songs that're only on the Deluxe Edition. If I hadn't remembered that not everyone would know this song I probably would have shown off Daughters of Darkness, but might as well share something even less people would already know.

I've said this before, but they feel to me like what might happen if you smashed together Paramore, Lacuna Coil, and some other element (a radio station?). I mean that in the kindest way possible by the way. It has the guitar power and gruffness of LC and a lyrical style and voice that reminds me of Paramore. So, I guess a pop- and punk-influenced rock band? I'm saying that as a good thing.

Love Bites (So Do I)
Mz. Hyde
I Miss The Misery (<3>
Freak Like Me
Rock Show
Daughters of Darkness (also love this)
American Boys
Here's To Us
Don't Know How To Stop
I Get Off
Familiar Taste of Poison

End Recording,

Friday, February 8, 2013

Monsterhearts, Art: The Doppleganger (PDF Available)

I came across Acacia while reading a bit more about Imogen Heap. They were a short-lived project, only managing to release one album, but it's a varied and wonderful affair. This is a great song from it. It reminds me of an odd combination of Vas and Juno Reactor. Pretty awesome dark ambience with middle-eastern sounds.

Hey there, sorry for the silence! I've been pretty busy working on The Doppleganger. Thanks to the repeated help of the folks at Story Games (especially cneph) I've really refined the content from what we saw a week ago.

So let's go over it in text form real quick. The actual link to the PDF is going to be near the end of the post, so if you really don't care about anything else, just jump down and read from the bottom up.

Se here's what we've got.
The Doppleganger
You idolized them, their icy glares, their smoldering looks, their razor intellect. You had none of it. You tried to act like them, pretended to be like them, but it never worked.
Then you started to become them.
Now none of it is outside your grasp if you can just find the right person.
Names: Alex, Cameron, Chris, Emily, Hailey, Jennifer, Jordan, Michael, Sarah, Taylor, Tommy.
An unassuming name, a gender-neutral name, a plain name, a common name
Look: Choose one from each list:
* Paper-white skin, Boring and average, Unappealing, Inconspicuous, Forgettable
* Prying eyes, Jealous eyes, Distant eyes, Harmless eyes, Brooding eyes.
Origin: Circle one: Rich and neglected, Fanboy, Wannabe, Depressed, Stalker
 Stats: Add 1 to one of these: Hot -1, Cold -1, Volatile +1, Dark +1.
Backstory: You've been impersonating someone recently. Who? Gain a string on them.
Someone caught you while reverting to your own form once. They get two strings on you.
* Add 1 to Hot (max+3)
* Add 1 to Cold (max+3)
* Add 1 to Volatile (max+3)
* Add 1 to Dark (max+3)
* Take another Doppelganger move.
* Take another Doppelganger move.
* Take a move from another skin.
* Memorize a person's form. Pick one character you have at least one String on and have studied closely. You can take their form at will, as if you'd rolled a 10+.
* Take a dead PC's form permanently. Take the discarded Skin sheet and just start using it, with their stats and selected moves and remaining Strings and all.
 Transform: When you take the form of someone whose mannerisms and habits you've studied closely, roll+Dark. On a 10+, you've got it just right and can stay that way as long as you desire. On a 7-9, choose one:
* Your impersonation doesn't hold up under scrutiny,
* Assuming the disguise is an agonizing process. Take 1 Harm,
* The disguise won't last very long.
On a 6-, the MC chooses any or all of the above and makes a hard move.
Walk Like You, Talk Like You: "While you're disguised as another PC, use their stats instead of your own."
Personality Bleed: When you return to your original form, alter your stats based upon the stats of the form you just changed back from. Whichever stat they had highest, increase your own stat by 1 (to a maximum of +3). Whichever they had lowest, decrease your own stat by 1. If you had been copying an NPC, the MC will tell you which stats to change.
These alterations go away when you next Transform.
Crawl Inside Your Head: When you spend time and intimacy with someone, it counts as closely studying their mannerisms and habits. From then on, whenever you assume their form you may ask one question of the other character's player. It needn't be something you could reasonably know, and they have to answer completely and honestly. If you do ask a question, they get to ask one in return, same rules.
Your Evil Twin: When someone is blamed for something you did in their form, mark experience.
Be Like You: When you Transform into another PC's form, you get one of their moves. If you rolled a 10+ on the Transform roll, you select one of their Skin moves and consider yourself to have that move until you change form again. If you rolled a 7-9, the MC chooses the move instead.
Linked: While in the form of another character, you both know and experience the emotions of the other, though you cannot necessarily distinguish those emotions as being from a foreign source. When you allow the other's emotions to affect your behavior, you can take an appropriate Condition (eg Furious, Despondant, Elated) to take a String on the other character.
Darkest Self: You despise yourself. All these other pretty people have everything you've ever wanted but could never have for yourself. In fact, no one would even notice if you were just...gone. Just be someone else - ALL the time. And if you need to get the "real" them out of the way to pull it off, so be it. Escape your Darkest Self when someone calls you on not being who you say you are.
Sex Move: When you have sex with another character, it counts as studying them closely. You can assume their form at will, but it always counts as if you'd rolled a 7-9. If you are transformed, Hold Steady or  return to your original form immediately afterward.
Playing The Doppleganger: The Doppleganger is about jealousy and hating yourself and wishing you were more like your heroes. Transform gets done by abandoning yourself to try to take on their form, but they often find the flaws in the people they take on, resolving to find a new, perfect person to copy.
Ultimately though, The Doppleganger wants to become the person he thinks is perfect, the person who has the most that he thinks he's lacking. They aren't likely malicious at first. As they discover the flaws of the new body, however, they may desire revenge over being "deceived."
It can be very hard to strike back at The Doppleganger - continued picking on a single PC could annoy the other player, so bear that in mind.
Your moves all are functions of your transformation. Some, like Personality Bleed, are statistic-based, while others, like Linked, are purely narrative.
In your Darkest Self, you're abandoning your own shape in favor of being a certain someone else - that would be a single someone else.
Beware using your memorization advancement lightly - you only get one perfect other form. You can get a partial memories from your sex move though.
The final advancement is forever - you give up Doppleganger-hood for it. You keep no moves or stats. You could take Transform with your new skin's advancements, but that will never be your core identity ever again.

And that's the mechanical bits of the Doppleganger. Am I still unhappy with anything?

Hell. No.

I'm willing to augment things still. I'm not saying I'm done. But there remains nothing that I am dissatisfied with, as opposed to before where there were things I didn't like and wanted to change. Now everything is fine-tuning.

So here's the art! I made this from Male Stock 140 of Kevin Leon by birdsistersstock.deviantart.com. Kevin is a great model, he has some great stock art on that account, and her other stock is great as well.
Click the link for a real full-view.
I'm happy with it. Kevin's hair is a bitch to render around. But I like it. It's supposed to be very blank and featureless and using negative space since I wanted to give the impression that you don't really know precisely what The Doppleganger looks like. He's so fluid in his form that the best way to convey "could be anyone" is to leave out features. I'm very fond of it.

Anyway, I think that's all I have today. Now that I'm done with that:
That's a DropBox link to the PDF of The Doppleganger. If you have any trouble, let me know. Once I finalize this completely I might pull the PDF and get it moving in the Playbook/Skin trading circuit, but for now, it's an open download.
I'd love to get feedback. If you read it and have comments or questions, share, and I'll answer as best I can or change the Skin so I can. If you play it, PLEASE let me know how it goes - playtesting is the next step.

Enjoy! Later folks, hopefully it won't be very long til I post again. I'll probably be back on Avatar World right away now.

End Recording,

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Sunday Songs: Final Fantasy XIII-2 - Paradox

Hey there, having a good Super Bowl Sunday? I'm emphatically not watching it. I really just don't care.
Weird thing happened this morning. About 8am, this blog got a surge of views. 255 of them. That's a record. Too bad it's made of, most likely, spambots. I checked and it's not like I got linked anywhere, there's no common traffic source, and seeing as they seem to have come from South Korea, Ukraine, Kenya, India, Hungary, Indonesia, Algeria, and more, I'm pretty sure it's spambots. I can't figure out WHY though - that's a LOT of bots for this place, like I said that's a views-in-a-single-day record. If anyone has any idea what the hell happened, please let me know.

I'm aware I keep missing these, I've kinda been out of the groove. Tryin' to rectify that.
Enough apologies and babbling, to the music!

Final Fantasy XIII-2! The sequel to Final Fantasy XIII is a vastly superior game. FFXIII is a problematic game - little story control, ridiculous dialogue and plot, and a battle system with some cool ideas that weren't taken to their full potential. I didn't play it - I can't handle games that feel like that much a grind - but I watched through Pork Lift and Wateyad's great Let's Play of it. I may have burned 60 hours of my life, but it was certainly enjoyable, even with the crazy. And I cannot deny it; the graphics of the game were top-notch.
Cue the sequel. By some stroke of fortune, Square Enix tried to actually LISTEN to the players. The game has a lot of control over the story, or at least the specifics of the story within a given framework, which is a step forward. The battle system is very similar, but instead of half-implemented good ideas, there are fully-implemented good ideas. It's not the best battle system ever, but it definitely no longer feels like wasted potential. The characters are just as ridiculous, if not more so, but the plot is no longer as ridiculous, it's just pretty blah. It's not quite good, but it doesn't have the same level of crazy that made it almost funny. So they tried to move away from being ridiculous, but stalled out in that middle zone where things are just dull. Maybe Lightning Returns will fix it.
Who am I kidding? Lightning is the most boring character of the bunch,  minus a couple very specific instances.

Oh wait, this is a music post?

Both games have stellar soundtracks. It's not Nobuo Uematsu, but I actually really like the style of the person who did them. The guy in charge for both was Masashi Hamauzu, though the FFXIII-2 soundtrack has like a million guest artists. Heck, Origa come around for a few songs - if you don't know Origa, she did both the opening theme songs for both seasons of Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Both of those are great songs, and I've blogged one of 'em before.
The FFXIII soundtrack had a few motifs in it. The main identifying instruments are a lot of piano, a lot of violin, and a lot of female choir. This trend continues into FFXIII-2, but it adds in a bunch of other little themes as well. The biggest change is the addition of numerous songs with vocals, and numerous songs with obvious electronica elements. In fact, there's a good number of songs that actually have alternate versions, usually titled Aggressive Mixes, that are pretty much electronica remixes of songs. It's really good.
In case you really missed him, Nobuo popped in again for a couple of the Chocobo themes in FFXIII-2.

I had a hard time choosing which song I exactly wanted to use to represent the game today. I went with Paradox, but there's so much musical variety in the second game's soundtrack that there really isn't any single representatives. You really need to hit a bunch of songs to really get the feel for the game. In accordance with that, today is FULL of links. It's taken me an hour and a half to prepare this bloody list of links. But it's all really good stuff. If there's one legacy to come from these games, I think the soundtracks are really it.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 Overture
Warrior Goddess
Etro's Champion
Eternal War
Giant's Fist
New Bodhum
New Bodhum Aggresive Mix
Paradigm Shift
Groovy Chocobo
Worlds Collide
Unseen Intruder
The Last Hunter
Eclipse Aggressive Mix
Village and Void
Limit Break! (I like this one a lot actually)
Plains of Eternity
Plains of Eternity Aggressive Mix
Feral Link
Labyrinth of Chaos
Time's Master
Heart of Chaos
Closing Credits
Secret Track

And have some from the original FFXIII as well!
Prelude to Final Fantasy XIII
Saber's Edge
Those For The Purge
Snow's Theme
Lake Bresha
Blinded By Light (one of my absolute favorites)
The Vile Peaks
Sazh's Theme
March of the Dreadnoughts
The Gapra Whitewood
The Sunleth Waterscape
No Way To Live
The Pompa Sancta
Chocobos of Cocoon - Chasing Dreams (this is absurd and I love it)
Desperate Struggle
Start Your Engines

There, finally done. Seeya! Hope you like the music.
End Recording,

Friday, February 1, 2013

Schoolwork: Military Ethics Policy Paper, The Moral Justification of Non-Lethal Weapons

Was watching Kung-Fu Jesus's Kingdom Hearts 2 LP and he replaced the final boss music with this from the Bonkers! 16 compilation. It was pretty rad - that game is fucking ridiculous, but that last fight LOOKS super-awesome. Tetsuya Nomura makes a lot of lame styles, but when he's good, he's really good (see: that Xemnas fight, the entire The World Ends With You).

Exactly what the title says, this is the revised version of the original essay I put up a couple weeks ago. It's far superior to what I had then.
Here's the prompt again.
"Write a 2500 – 3000 word paper on one of the below topics...
...While it is necessary that you spend some time laying out the problem and engaging the philosopher/text, it is crucial that you also present your view (with supporting arguments), consider counter-arguments to your view and defend your position in light of these counter-arguments....
...YOU MUST HAVE AT LEAST ONE OUTSIDE, SCHOLARLY SOURCE FOR THIS PAPER! An outside source is defined as one that was not assigned as a reading for the course. [Encyclopedia articles OF ANY KIND (yes, I mean Wikipedia) are excluded.] You will need to have proper documentation for your sources, which will mean a citation within the paper, as well as a Bibliography.
HOWEVER, Please note that this is not a research paper.  Any outside sources that you use (regardless in which Step they appear), should only help you make your argument, not be the argument.  Clearly outside sources can be very helpful in Step 1, especially analysis and Step 3, to help flesh out objections to your view....
...15 – Non-Lethal Weapons:  Some scholars view non-lethal weapons as a way to make war more humane by limiting the damage and harm inflicted on both combatants and non-combatants, as well as property and the environment.  Other scholars are concerned that such weapons represent an erosion of the moral limitations on war and/or the blurring of the lines between war and other kinds of activity (policing, peace keeping etc.)  What is your view of the ethical acceptability of implications of the use of non-lethal weaponry in warfare?  How might the use of such weapons impact the jus in bello aspects of the Just War Tradition? What are the implication of non-lethal weapons for thinking about the moral questions and concerns associated with warfare?"
There. Now here's the essay itself. Unlike the religion ones, this one has proper citations.

Max Hervieux
PHIL224 – Policy Essay
Word Count: 3034
            Non-lethal weapons are a relatively new force in the modern world. Prior to the Twentieth Century, the vast majority of weapons were intended to do a single action: kill their target. Clubs and stones bludgeoned their targets to death with blunt strikes. Swords and spears and axes sliced lethal gashes or created deadly puncture wounds. Firearms tore through skin and flesh, with early guns leaving huge gaping holes in people and later ones leaving smaller holes that were no less lethal. If your first attack did not kill them, you struck again to make sure. Sometimes wounded combatants were captured, but this was the exception the the norm. However, with the advance of technology, a new variety of weapon has arisen, the non-lethal weapon. Rather than death, non-lethal weapons have as incapacitation as their primary goal. Following the tenets of utilitarianism, I believe that non-lethal weapons are theoretically moral to use based on the greater potential for contribution of happiness by targets, given that a few specific qualifications are met, namely that time is given for development and regulation and that users are properly educated.
            Early non-lethal weapons were quite simple and direct in their use. Spray agents that have become common are tear (CS) gas and pepper spray[1], useful for their pain-causing but usually non-lethal abilities. Another non-lethal weapon that has become very wide-spread is the Taser (and similar stun-guns of different brands), a close-combat device used to direct an electric shock at the target[2]. These, however, all seem to be peace-keeping weapons. They are primarily used by the police and for peace-keeping military troops, rather than for general military application. However, a few non-lethal weapons have become standard, especially in specific circumstances. Military riot-control operations use many of the police weapons, and there are a fairly large selection of non-lethal ammunition types that are used, such as rubber bullets[3] and beanbag rounds[4]. Hostage situations are handled with the assistance of gas-type weapons, particularly tear gas, though its use is declining due to side-effects. One of the less-controversial (though not completely without controversy) military-use non-lethal weapons is the stun grenade[5], or the flashbang, which is able to temporarily remove vision, hearing, and balance from those exposed. It is used to great effect as a breaching agent, catching the target by surprise and removing their ability to react.
            These are the current and standard non-lethal weapons, however. There exist a number of new and specialized devices, some of which are new approaches to existing technologies and some of which are entirely new concepts. Brand new technologies being used, or at least explored, include sonic/acoustic weapons[6] (which use projected sound-waves of varying frequencies to deter or scare targets out of a target region), laser weapons[7] (intended to temporarily blind) and microwave weapons[8] (which induce the sensation of being on fire without causing permanent damage).
            Non-lethal weapons, despite the name, are not always completely non-lethal. Improper application of a non-lethal weapon, whether by incompetence or by circumstances beyond control, can still result in death. One case of the former would be SWAT officer Fred Thornton, who was killed when he accidentally set off his own stun grenade while secure his equipment.[9] A case of the latter might be the case of Ruben Salazar, who was killed by being hit in the head by a tear-gas canister – the canister itself, not as a side-effect of the gas – and the firing officer was deemed to not have been ultimately at fault.[10]
            Utilitarianism, as understood by John Stuart Mill, argues that the moral action is that which will bring the greatest amount of happiness to the greatest number of people, or in other words promote the greatest general happiness[11]. Non-lethal weaponry allows for many people's lives to go on when previously they would have died, and I would argue that even an inconvenienced life produces more happiness than a dead person does. Especially if a true non-lethal weapon is developed and utilized that will allow a return to life exactly as before, non-lethal weaponry would be something Mill would absolutely agree with.
            One particular journal, The Futurist, has published many articles arguing both for and against non-lethal weapons, revealing the rampant disagreement about the subject. For example, one article argues that the prospects of non-lethal weapons make them too potentially useful for us to ignore them entirely. It also draws up current technology and explains their problems, but provides a guideline for what an “ideal” non-lethal weapon would look like.[12] On the other hand, a different article argues against non-lethal weapons with arguments such as the idea that non-lethal harm being acceptable causes severe implications in other legal areas. However, even this article states that the problem is a short-term issue, with the future potentially being different.[13]
            I  agree with Mill that the theoretical use of non-lethal weapons is moral because the large number of deaths they have the potential to prevent will create more happiness for more people and prevent much unhappiness, although I have a few qualifications that must be met before I would accept non-lethal weapons being put into practical use. One of those requirements is that time be given for the development of an 'ideal' non-lethal weapon and for the legal community to catch up and regulate this new form of weapon, and the the other requirement is that users, whether police or military, are properly educated and trained in their use. I would still argue that there is nothing intrinsically immoral about the concept of using of non-lethal weapons.
            The morality of the use of non-lethal weapons hinges on a single main argument: that causing fewer deaths is a morally good thing. I place my basis for this on the shoulders of utilitarianism, that the action that supports the general happiness is the morally correct thing to do. Therefore, in order for my argument to be true, I need to reinforce the idea that causing fewer deaths creates more happiness that creating more deaths. Thus, I need to argue that death is worse than life inconvenienced. It would seem impossible to refute that every living person has the potential to generate happiness – barring mental illness, there are no people fundamentally incapable of happiness. So, as long as we are living, we have the ability to add happiness to the general well-being. It would also seem ridiculous to deny that a dead person can not contribute to the general happiness any longer; they are no longer a source of either happiness or unhappiness. Given this, we can conclude that, for death to be a better result for the general happiness, the individual's life after being targeted by a non-lethal weapon must produce more happiness than unhappiness, since producing more unhappiness would result in a net loss to the general happiness, making that action immoral. My evidence that non-lethal weapons could produce more happiness than unhappiness lies within one of my qualifications: the requirement that, before use, an “ideal” non-lethal weapon be developed. My own definition is quite in line with Tenenbaum and Moore's, with one of the most important criterion being that the subject will be neutralized “temporarily, with little or no side effects.”[14] One of my own clarifications would be that any potential side effects need to be temporary as well.
            Given this weapon though, a target of the non-lethal weapon will be creating a certain amount of unhappiness immediately, but this will wear off and they will again have the potential to continue contributing positively to the general happiness. If they had been targeted with lethal force instead, they would have been removed from the equation without contributing more to the general happiness (overlooking whatever burst of unhappiness may be caused during death). So, on the individual level, death has zero effect on general happiness, while non-lethal action has a negative effect followed by potential for positive effects. Taken on a societal scale, however, death doesn't really have zero effect. Death makes the people around the victim unhappy, whether they be friends, family, or just other citizens who hear about it – death is considered a tragedy by society. In this way, death has purely a negative effect on general happiness, with no potential for future happiness from the victim. Given the option of two paths of which both cause immediate unhappiness but only one of which provides the possibility of future positive contribution, the one that permits more happiness to occur would be the moral option. That path is to take non-lethal action.
            Several arguments exist that would attempt to counter the assertion that non-lethal weapons are a positive moral force. Several of the more basic arguments are countered by the qualifications I've set up.
            The first obstacle that will fall away over time is the lack of a definition of non-lethal weapons. As of now, it is still somewhat foggy why precisely constitutes a non-lethal weapon and where along the spectrum of force one should draw the line. This is a valid concern in the short term, as it prevents any sort of law from accurately regulating its use. However, time will give way to a definition of non-lethal weapons. I suspect it will involve sectioning off non-lethal weapons into multiple varieties, each with their own definition, but whatever the eventual result is, a definition is only a matter of time and debate.
            The same applies to the next concern: a lack of laws regulating the use of non-lethal weaponry. Without legal regulation, the weapons could be abused or employed poorly. Time and debate will produce laws of the same caliber, or greater, than the ones we currently use to govern lethal international conflict.
            A third conflict that I'm considering solved by time is something I've mentioned several times already, the idea of a “true” non-lethal weapon. While what exactly that means technically will depend upon the eventual definition, what I use it to mean is a weapon that can be directed at a target, incapacitate them for a desired length of time, and allow them to be physically unaffected in the future by the experience. Tenenbaum and Moore have a more comprehensive answer, but this is what I consider the most important core.[15] The advancement of technology is rapid, and has progressed from the simple stun grenade of the 1960s to the microwave-emitting Active Denial System of the current day. Given even more time, the technology will only be refined and perfected until such qualifications are met. Given that this qualification of time is met, the argument of lasting physical side-effects or unintentional effects of weapons (such as in the Moscow theater incident) is removed. (BBC)[16]
            The second qualification is that the users of the weapons be sufficiently well-educated enough about the use of the weapons to use them competently and appropriately. With this qualification, I rule out the arguments that non-lethal weapons are problematic if improperly or incompetently used. The complaint still exists, but if the practice is to properly teach the use of the weapon, the argument becomes aimed at individual violators rather than the policy governing the weapons.
            Even should my qualifications be met, my position is not without its opponents. The following trio of arguments all attempt to defeat this moral position, but are all refuted by the same general line of reasoning. The first argument is that of non-lethality being a poor deterrent. A non-lethal state has a hard time avoiding having war declared on it for its potential vulnerability and the lack of harm directed at the aggressor since the non-lethal state is not killing them. The second argument is that using non-lethal force primarily actually lowers the threshold of violence and inhibitions against willingness to declare war, making it seem more reasonable to go to war over some dispute because the targeted group is not at as much risk because you will not be killing them. The third is that war will stretch on longer than before as sides are less-inclined to surrender early to avoid destruction and damage is felt less as the opposing side isn't really losing any lives.
            My response to these arguments would be that even should they prove to be true, they do not change the situation. The first can be mitigated if you retain lethal force for defense of the country, but don't use it for aggression, even in peacekeeping or humanitarian intervention. This way, you are not made more vulnerable by the non-lethal weapons, but are rendered less deadly when on the offensive. The latter two arguments are true, but are outweighed by the benefits of the non-lethal weapons. Overall, the wars will be more frequent and last longer, but there will be less death happening on either side, and the general happiness will accordingly be higher.  People may become restless or tired of specific wars, but significantly less so than one would be if the death toll was higher. Should the populace ever tire so much of a war that they are no longer willing to sacrifice to participate in it, it would indicate that the people seem to no longer believe the war to be worth it, and since I'm allowing lethal weaponry in national defense it would not apply to the one cause that may be considered to never be worth surrendering.
            Other arguments are more difficult to counter. One would be that, along with the lengthened wars, they would become more economically unfeasible. Take into account that you need to actually do something with all of those incapacitated enemy combatants, and you have a sizable financial problem on your hands. In one way, this could actually be turned into a benefit: if wars are more difficult to maintain in a morally-strong way, wars will be less frequent. The second argument above, that we will have lower inhibitions about going to war, will be removed if we have the increased inhibition against war because of the difficulty of maintaining it economically. This doesn't solve the problem however. I could argue that the saving of human lives is more important than the saving of money. However, spend enough money on the non-lethal effort and your country cannot support their own people, which creates a great level of unhappiness, more than the happiness being left possible by not killing the enemy. I think that the best way to approach this is to consider the benefit of economic difficulty deterring war. If a people thinks a war is unjust, they will not tolerate the huge economic destruction it would cause for them. If the people think a war is just though, they very well may be willing to sacrifice their own economic prosperity to succeed in the war. In this way, the economic troubles of a non-lethal war actually help to deter unjust wars and only take up just causes in creating war.
            There are two more primary counter-arguments against non-lethal weaponry's morality in war. The first is not really applicable to this discussion, and that's the potential for abuse of a non-lethal weapon if obtained by the wrong people. For example, a large concern is the potential for terrorist use of an electromagnetic bomb (a specific for of non-lethal weaponry), ruining our society's economic and informational infrastructure.[17] However, this is not actually a fault of using non-lethal weapons at all but of developing or even theorizing about them, and even if we do not pursue them the terrorist groups (and enemy nations) may still produce them on their own, leaving us completely unaware. Because of this, even development and theoretical conception of the weapons is vital, if for no other reason than to know how to protect ourselves against them.
            The second and final counter-argument is the measurement of non-physical harm, either lasting or temporary. I've established with my qualifications that the weapons used for this discussion have no lasting physical side effects and the target is physically left exactly as they were once the effects wear off. However, there are emotional and mental traumas that can never be fully removed. The dehumanization and embarrassment of being victimized, and the denial of someone's autonomy, are very real problems for non-lethal weaponry, regardless of how temporary its temporary effects are. My arguments against this are again based on the alternatives. Those alternatives are to allow the offending behavior to continue, or to act with lethal force. One is not morally allowable – leaving an unhappiness-causing behavior unaddressed does not increase general happiness at all, instead decreasing it. The other would not give them the chance to be happy again later, because even after the emotional trauma, death is still worse than not dying.
            There are some serious implications of morally allowing non-lethal weapons. The first, and largest, implication is that, ultimately, bloodless war is unlikely. I permitted the use of lethal weapons in national defense, and rarely is a war fought where neither party is operating in their own country (though they do happen – the Gulf War might be considered one), so even if two non-lethal nations are at war, one would likely be acting lethally. Even given that, the potential for the entire world to have its general happiness elevated by a lack of deaths and, potentially, a reduced number of wars is far too significant for the world to completely ignore. Morally, the implication is that if harm is temporary, it is preferable to death, almost regardless of the severity of the harm. The implication that temporary harm is not morally problematic does have the potential to be an issue, particularly in the context of torture. The only real way to counter that implication is to work to ensure that non-lethal action is only used to replace situations where lethal action would otherwise be necessary, not spread to be able to be used in a larger number of situations (such as in, say, a domestic dispute). As long as these rules are followed, non-lethal weapons will produce more general happiness than lethal action would, and that makes non-lethal weapons the moral strategy to use.

[1]          The City of New York, "Tear Gas/Riot Control Agents." Last modified 2013. Accessed January 29, 2013. http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/bt/bt_fact_tear.shtml.
[2]          HowStuffWorks, Inc, "How Stun Guns Work." Last modified 2013. Accessed January 29, 2013. http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/gadgets/other-gadgets/stun-gun2.htm.
[3]          The Slate Group, LLC, "What Are Rubber Bullets?." Last modified 2013. Accessed January 29, 2013. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2000/10/what_are_rubber_bullets.html.
[4]          Ijames, Steve. PoliceOne.com, "In defense of the 12-gauge "bean-bag" round." Last modified 2005. Accessed January 29, 2013. http://www.policeone.com/columnists/steve-ijames/articles/118328/.
[5]          Elite UK Forces, "SAS Weapons - Stun Grenade." Last modified 2013. Accessed January 29, 2013. http://www.eliteukforces.info/special-air-service/weapons/stun-grenade.php.
[6]          Yenigun, Sami. NPR, "Bad Vibrations: Investigating Sound As Terror." Last modified 2012. Accessed January 29, 2013. http://www.npr.org/blogs/therecord/2011/06/14/137178421/bad-vibrations-investigating-sound-as-terror.
[7]          Thales Group, "Green Light Optical Warner." Last modified 2013. Accessed January 29, 2013. http://www.thalesgroup.com/Portfolio/Defence/DLD_Products_GLOW-Green_Light_Optical_Warner/.
[8]          Pike, John. Globalsecurity.org, "Vehicle-Mounted Active Denial System (V-MADS)." Last modified 2013. Accessed January 29, 2013. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ground/v-mads.htm.
[9]          Balko, Radley. The Agitator, "SWAT Officer Killed By Non-Lethal Flashbang Grenade." Last modified 2011. Accessed January 29, 2013. http://www.theagitator.com/2011/03/09/swat-officer-killed-by-non-lethal-flashbang-grenade/.
[10]        Soylent Communications, "Ruben Salazar." Last modified 2012. Accessed January 29, 2013. http://www.nndb.com/people/961/000111628/.
[11]        Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism, Second Edition. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc, 2001.
[12]        Tenenbaum, Abraham, and Angela Moore. "Non-lethal weapons." The Futurist. 27. no. 5 (1993): 20-23. http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.plu.edu/ehost/detail?sid=55d19926-972b-49ef-9ef3-200dbd8da4a2@sessionmgr113&vid=2&hid=105&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl
[13]        Lewer, Nick. "Objections to Weapons of Less Destruction." The Futurist. 33. no. 8 (1999): 39-40. http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.plu.edu/ehost/detail?sid=b6b0d8b0-83b3-4d9c-abbd-89aff6cf61a7@sessionmgr112&vid=2&hid=105&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl
[14]        Tenenbaum, Abraham, and Angela Moore. "Non-lethal weapons." The Futurist. 27. no. 5 (1993): 22. http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.plu.edu/ehost/detail?sid=55d19926-972b-49ef-9ef3-200dbd8da4a2@sessionmgr113&vid=2&hid=105&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl
[15]        Tenenbaum, Abraham, and Angela Moore. "Non-lethal weapons." The Futurist. 27. no. 5 (1993): 22. http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.plu.edu/ehost/detail?sid=55d19926-972b-49ef-9ef3-200dbd8da4a2@sessionmgr113&vid=2&hid=105&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl
[16]        BBC, "Gas 'Killed Moscow Hostages'." Last modified 2002. Accessed January 29, 2013. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/2365383.stm.
[17]        Kopp, Carlo. "The Electromagnetic Bomb - a Weapon of Electrical Mass Destruction." Air & Space Power Journal - Chronicles Online Journal. (1996). http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/cc/apjemp.html (accessed January 29, 2013).

So there you go. Maybe you learned something, maybe you know about the subject and agree, maybe you disagree, maybe I was convincing, maybe I wasn't. The essay pulled a B+, which I think is pretty decent since the Apocalypse Now essay (which I think I did a pretty great job on) only got a B-. Tough professor.

Done with the class now. It was decent, far better than I was expecting. Definitely NOT interested in pursuing philosophy though. Expecting a straight B from it, which is okay. Out of class until next Wednesday.
Later folks, enjoy the essay! Let me know if you found it interesting!
End Recording,