Archive for the ‘Visual Novels’ category

A Look at Bottom up Hierarchies

May 6, 2014

While these are things I’ve heard in passing and haven’t participated in (much), they do a good job of presenting a lot of data in a short amount of time (one page). The data needed to understand what exactly is bottom up hierarchies and how they differ from top down hierarchies.

Kickstarter, I would say, is more of a hybrid. There is a middleman, kickstarter itself as an organization that cuts their cut, but it isn’t a mob or mass working on wikipedia forming their own rules on how to create a story nor is it a company that has a top down order list.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FTL:_Faster_Than_Light

This post is directly inspired by a previous project that already ended,

http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/2014/05/04/dysfunctional-systems-the-sequel-funding/

So, we have Love in Space’s Sunrider that has finished a space romance action funding goal. FTL, an almost brutally hard permadeath based ship combat run (same difficulty as arcade shoot ups, without the continue function).

Then there is Exogenesis : https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2921787/exogenesis-post-apocalyptic-tokyo-adventure-visual

Which still has 16 days to go and because they set a rather high goal, they are lacking about 40% of the funding. I’ve heard of Ace Attorney but for those who haven’t played the console or emulation setups, the idea of a lawyer game isn’t particularly popular in America. At least, not right now. It has some bad connotations. I can’t say definitely that this is why there’s a funding difference, but Sunrider runs on a more familiar bishoujo theme.

Now for my interpretation or executive summary.

Bottom up hierarchies are ad hoc organizations formed between two or more people, based upon the needs of the moment: a sort of convenient alliance for survival. There is no adjudicator or mediator usually, so all the negotations must form between the leader of party A and the leader of party B, it is very direct.

Top down hierarchies form based upon a unified social authority, where the group recognizes a sole leader and that leader has a legitimate chain of command under them. The closest example is a civilian political system or a military ranking system.

Since life is rich and complicated, people often alternate between top down and bottom up hierarchies. A married couple, for instance, generally decides things together, using negotiation. The moment they use the court system to adjudicate and force things, then they are living under a top down hierarchy, where things happen only because the Boss says they happen. As a result, negotiation breaks down. Society, the judge, and the lawyers don’t necessarily have the best interests of the divorced party’s in mind. Everybody must appeal and rely upon the judgment of the Top, to get things done. This has a concurrent corrosive effect on personal initiative and a greater reliance on force and power. The use of a mediator, though, someone who lacks legal or physical power to force one party to do something, generally still allows a couple to conduct their relationship as an ad hoc, bottom up hierarchy.

Because bottom up hierarchies are flexible, they can be used in a lot of ways. The leader of Soviet Russia and the leader of Nazi Germany could use a mediator to agree on an alliance to divide up Poland, even though they would later invade and try to kill each other’s people. Even though in those two systems their hierarchy of choice was top down leadership (dictatorship or totalitarian thought control), they could still form an ad hoc, private one to one, relationship with another. And thus also tie their nation’s people together as well, momentarily.

Kickstarter type funded projects are a form of hybrid, taking elements of the best from bottom ups and combining them with the adjudication powers and enforcement powers of a top down command structure. The mediator, or middleman in this case it would be Kickstarter’s organization itself, determines or enforces the correct usage or refunding of money. The various consumers form one side of the party and the developers form the other side of the party, and both utilize negotiation, propaganda, and verbal influence in order to get the other side to do things. In the end, this creates a synergy, a product that pleases both sides.

Now we backtrack and take a side road. Ft. Hood and Ft. Hood 2 are great examples of top down hierarchies making a policy, forcing people to Obey that policy, and only afterwards do people realize that this doesn’t really benefit most people. It’s as if Kickstarter took all the money and fled. Or the developers took all the money and fled, without delivering on promises. Or the consumers got the game, and then stole all the money they said they would invest, back. Since there’s a Ft. Hood 2 deaths, the idea that a top down hierarchy would fix problems they see is… not really looking realistic. The way this can happen is if the top down leader orders and ensures that such events happen. Cause generally a society or organization that obeys its leader, will fix problems the leader tells them to fix, unless stopped by the leadership’s own orders or the organization’s own barriers. The military, or in this case the US military, often looks down on purely civilian militias as disorganized mobs or civilians trained to a high tactical level as out of control loose cannons that don’t obey police or military ROEs. That is indeed a deficiency of bottom up hierarchies; it is unstable, it lacks coordination, the left hand can often bungle straight into the right hand in operations. What the modern 21st century has given the West is not a bottom up hierarchy as historically people called the “mob” or the “crowd”. What the modern 21st century has created are hybrid organizations that combine the best of both, with the deficiencies of neither, using a combination of internet free source information flow, individual initiative, and top down legal enforcement.

In order to be combat effective, the US military has often had to promote individual initiative as well as obedience to orders in their rank and file, NCOs and officers. What we are seeing is a decided lack of personal initiative, more obedience to orders, and the fallout that results from getting rid of bottom up hierarchies and replacing everything with a top down command system. It’s not very efficient and it’s not very effective either.

This is how we can tread the path of a civilian entertainment industry and end up in a war scenario. We’re still dealing with humans here and humans have experienced social hierarchies for so long, for a reason. As for the authority behind this piece, you can either take the reasoning I’ve provided or you can look for another source. Being able to think for yourself, BY yourself, however, is not an option but rather a requirement.

Vignette Ten: Knowledge is power.

Camp Swampy, 1986.
When Hamilton was a young puppy of a lieutenant, his company commander made him promise that, when he took command of a company, he wouldn’t change a blessed thing for at least six weeks. Instead, he solemnly promised, he’d do a lot of LBWO, asking questions, and then analyze.
He did that for the first six weeks of his first command. In the process, he saw all kinds of interesting and eye-opening things: People sleeping in the barracks on duty time, squad leaders who really didn’t have the first idea that they were responsible for their troops, in toto, squad leader time consisting of people playing ping pong in the dayroom. And this was in one of the better companies of that battalion, Hamilton’s predecessor having been a first class officer, in general (though he never made general).
Hamilton didn’t really blame the squad leaders or platoon sergeants. And his platoon leaders were all brand new. The officer corps had castrated the NCO corps decades prior. They were so used to being told what to do, all the time, to having their time managed by higher, that the idea that they were responsible was just alien to many, maybe even most, of them.
So Hamilton called everybody from squad leader on up into his office and gave a little speech, more or less to this effect:
“Boys, I’ve been in the Army about nine and a half years by now. I think probably every year, sometimes twice, some company commander or other would announce, ‘People, I’m sick of this fucking off in the barracks. We’re gonna account for every man, every minute. We’re gonna tighten up the training schedule…We’re not gonna let a minute go to waste…”
“Yeah…no. That usually worked for about ten days until the next crisis came upon us and some new priority popped up; then we went right back to what we’d been doing.
“We’re going to try something different. Rather, we’re going to try a few things different.
“Item one: Look at your new training schedule. Note where it says ‘sergeants’ time’? Right; it doesn’t; it’s gone. All time that I don’t specifically take is sergeants’ time. Now flip it over.
“Item two: Remember where it used to say ‘opportunity training’? Note that now it says ‘mandatory opportunity training.’ That means you are going to do it; trust me on this. I’m testing Friday afternoons. If your guys fail, we’ll retest Friday night until Saturday morning, if that’s what it takes. Yeah, it’s micro-managing. For the moment.
“Item three: Where’s the time coming from for this? Go back to what I said in item one; I’m not putting anything on the schedule that isn’t _my_ major event. So you now have a lot of time.”
The first week they didn’t believe him. He had the first sergeant select two men from each squad, randomly, and used his platoon leaders and platoon sergeants to test. The men failed. So the dirty bastard kept the whole company there retesting until about 23:30. Next week, two of the squad leaders believed. Their people passed. The rest stayed until about 22:30. The next week it was four, until maybe 21:00.
It took six weeks but, by that time, they all believed.
Hamilton kept it up for another six weeks after that. Allegedly, one – at least one; might have been more – of his squad leaders had troops coming up to him and saying, in one case literally, “Forsooth, Sergeant, I am in desperate need of getting laid. Sadly, if we don’t pass the muthafuckin’ CO’s test Friday, it won’t happen again this week, either. So please, PLEASE teach me this shit.”
After that twelve weeks was over there was another little prayer meeting in Hamilton’s office. The gist of that was, “Okay, now you know you can do this; you can train your own troops without being told where and when to do it. The next step is that now you’re going to decide what your squad needs. Right. Now give me five Soldiers Manual tasks, three if they’re exceptionally hard. Yeah, that’s each of you. Yeah, I’m still going to test Friday night.”
That program, in conjunction with some other things, worked pretty damned well. By well I mean that when the annual hands on Skill Qualification Test1 rolled around, the rest of the battalion shut down for two or three weeks to prep. Hamilton’s crew didn’t. Instead, they went to the field, did a best squad competition, some deliberate attacks, couple-three live fires, some patrolling, some anti-armor ambushing…and basically had a good time. They came in from the field rather late the night before it was their turn to take the SQT (which in that battalion was done much like an EIB test, _very_ anal). Hamilton told the boys, “Oil your rifles, knock the mud off your boots, get a good night’s sleep. See you out here in the morning.”
Seven people in that company didn’t max the test. That was something over two thirds of all the maxes in the battalion, which is pretty good considering he had less than ten percent of the battalion. The top nine squads were Hamilton’s, ten counting company HQ. The top three platoons were his, and nobody else was even close. All his squad leaders acquired a pretty vast level of prestige with their own troops and within the battalion, overall.
After that, he still collected their tasks, but just spot checked occasionally. The sergeants were doing it, all individual training, entirely on their own hook. And from there he could put in a date and time for a given inspection or any other event related to his squads and be quite confident it would get done, efficiently and well.
(Oh, the next year, where he paid zero attention to the upcoming SQT, only four of the men didn’t max it.)

-Sometimes personal initiative requires a kick in the pants

Dysfunctional Systems: The Sequel Funding

May 4, 2014

I wrote about this game some time ago, and from the lack of news on its sequel I thought the first episode had not yet achieved enough market penetration to fund a second episode. Which was regrettable. But, it looks like there’s hope on the horizon, when the money comes directly from consumers to the business that provides what the consumers consume, without middle men taking 50-70% of the cut (like some trial lawyers do).

Now if only we could kickstart fund a program that replaces Hussein O’s Regime in America or kickstart fund a program that ensures internet freedom from totalitarian regimes. That would include stretch goals for protection from mind crime and the thought police, vis a vis homosexuality and feminism.

P.S. Click on the K in the upper left corner for the website. This link seems to auto imbed the intro.

Narcissu Steam Greenlight Campaign

November 10, 2013

 

http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=191616515

 

I like the video. This was one of those freely translated and released by the copyright owner, which somehow found its way to Western hands.

 

Most people can probably get an idea of whether they’ll like the visual novel by their reactions to the Japanese song.

A Greenlight is something Steam uses to gauge interest in a product, and if there is enough they will put resources into listing it. Steam is an online digital distribution service mostly for downloadable content and PC games. As it also serves as a chat, message, and website, a game listed there will receive a lot of ancillary support as well as advertisement to a broader audience and market. A broader audience and market is something visual novels need to create, if the subject matter is going to succeed here in the US.

Dysfunctional Systems Review

October 1, 2013

The visual novel in episodic format released on Steam and elsewhere.

It has been a few months since I’ve read it but given that it has been released on Steam, I’d thought I’d provide an insertion point for those unfamiliar with the genre/theme.

Dysfunctional Systems is a science fiction short story with an introduction of the characters, a journey where they meet challenges, and a satisfying ending. Like Brandon Sanderson’s novels, the short term goals will be finished up, even though the long term goals are still long term (it’s Episode 1, with possibilities for further episodes). Other episodic VNs are うみねこのなく頃に – Umineko no Naku Koro ni – When the Seagulls Cry and Gun Rose Days (by same authors).

The theme and environment setting is very easy for Westerners to understand once you start reading. The main protagonist is essentially on an apprenticeship to a job, overseen by a superior. Similar to those paid internships college students go through. However, her job is to go to different alternative realities and ensure that no threat manifests that can harm their Origin universe.

Unlike a longer visual novel or Western novel, there’s not any filler. There’s no time or room for filler. Everything is vital and critical to the task at hand or the short term goal the characters have set for themselves.

The gameplay itself is only “role playing” in the original meaning, where you ‘play’ a ‘role’ that someone else has given you. In this short (kinetic) VN, you play the role of the main protagonist, but the setting, her emotions, and her goals are set by the dungeon master, or in this case the writer and programmers. You have a few limited choices, but only when programmers (or DM) lets you make a decision. Most of the time you’ll just be clicking along, like moving pages in a book or watching a movie. So first of all, don’t expect a VN to be like a number crunching RPG simulation of fantasy or sci fi weapons.

As for what about the novel I liked and why I liked it; to put it into a fundamental level, I liked it because it dealt with a high level analysis of cultural imperatives and cultural changes due to technology and external influences. If you ever got excited with First Contact, where you have a superior or different level of technology and thinking but come into contact with a whole new civilization on a planet no human has ever visited, then you will come to understand the feeling that Dysfunctional Systems give off. For instead of studying aliens or civilization, it studies the dysfunctional systems inherent in other cultures. Things that don’t function right, in our judgment, but still exists as a “system” that is maintained or expanded by human hands. Examples might be North Korea, Jim Jones’ death/suicide cult, and so forth. Unlike Western science fiction shows, the main protagonist and her allies aren’t reliant on their technology to accomplish things: their primary role is as an observer, not a fixer or ruler. This novel feels more like a survivalist story or about an individual being a stranger in a strange land, than as the normal sci fi alien invasion story or the sci fi Cool Gadgets theme found oftentimes in stories like Star Wars 1-3.

It didn’t take me more than say 20 hours to read the story. So for those that want to have a easy to read entry on visual novels, I would say this product is a good option.

P.S.

For those that want to read more about VNs, check out my archives here.

Rewrite: Visual Novel Review

May 7, 2013

This was pretty good. Either at the top 5 or near it in my personal estimation.

I started normally, finishing the routes for the 5 heroines. 3 were open at first, 2 were unlocked later. I suspected, however, that there was some secret ura stories like in Muv Luv. It turned out to be true. The details, of course, I will leave the reader to find out for themselves.

The dramatic component was done quite well, with different combinations of sadness and sublime beauty combined together on each story plot. Each route essentially tells the story of one world line in quantum mechanics, split based upon player decisions and then plot forking.

The romantic elements were varied between action sequences, dark heroic moments, hero of justice moments, and various gray shades between. Multi themed, I would say it was. This VN is listed as having routes being completely different in plot from each other. Thus it makes it similar to Fate Stay/night, the first VN I read. Very exciting and far less boring to redo the common route from the beginning.

Those with weak mental or stomach tolerances, perhaps should watch out or at least train yourself to a higher tolerance as you read the story. Many of the things in the story I have experienced myself, faced the question of doing, or otherwise dealt with in my life, so I found it easy to accept some of the more dramatic confrontations. Others may feel different.

Overall, the protagonist was someone, especially at the end, that I felt very close or comfortable with. In that sense, it takes away some of the adventure (people doing crazy things that would be too scary to do yourself) and excitement from it for me. In compensation, I felt comfortable and pleased with the True End. No disagreements or fundamental disgruntled emotional opinions. For those with little or no experience of certain human phenomenon in the world, they may be more disturbed emotionally by the events depicted in Rewrite. Which is part of the fun, challenging your own self to change emotionally or intellectually. See if you are up to the challenge.

This is a great story for males that want a combination of romance, action, and seinen (teenager grows into an adult) story lines. I can’t speak too much for what females may like in the story, except that the romance is quite well done. Romance is often a side plot in action movies, a way to justify two characters being together but not much else. When I say “romance” in Rewrite, I mean the kind of story where the man is motivated to save or destroy the world because his love of his woman demands it. That kind of epic romantic adventure.

Muv Luv Total Eclipse Anime

July 24, 2012

Total Eclipse is a side story about my favorite subjects: love, war drama, and military survival.

It was a toss up whether it would come out as glorious or a train wreck. The first two episodes were definitely a good run and made me remember all those fond (or psychologically damaging, depending on your perspective) memories concerning Takeru’s role in MLA and MLU. (Muv Luv Alternative/Unlimited)

I’m not sure if they changed the sequence of the character’s backstories or not, but for new comers to the MLA franchise, that set piece battle definitely sets the tone for the story and the world. It is a very accurate portrayal too. If you couldn’t handle episode 2, chances are you would try to kill yourself at the end of MLA. So it’s a good thing people that can’t handle adult material, drop it early on.

The original Muv Luv Alternative/Unlimited and Total Eclipse were visual novels and light novels respectively. The anime industry has gotten quite a bit of experience adapting light novels to the anime screen, so I have marginally high hopes that they can carry it out. Train wreck still possible though.

Muv Luv Alternative: Reply to Tsukuru Review

January 19, 2012

This is a review by Moogy. Courtesy of Lala, a commenter that linked it here. Now I comment on it.

There are a couple of things I disagree with in the review, simply because two people always should have different conclusions or at least different ways of arriving at the same conclusion, unless they think they’re telepathic personalities of the same mind, that is.

Two primary disagreements are the artwork and the pacing. Moogy noted that the character designs weren’t high quality, compared to the good looking TSFs. Moogy also mentioned that the pacing had issues, rated it 33/100.

“Personally, I approached Alternative expecting to enjoy it quite a bit – and indeed I did. However, I enjoyed it for nearly wholly different reasons than I had imagined I would. I suppose that basic concept is what I’m attempting to express with this section.

To put it simply, Alternative will probably betray your expectations in interesting ways – it’s most likely not about anything that you think it is. (I’d like to note that I’m speaking to the western fandom here; more specifically, the people who will be playing it in some months from now when Ammy finishes translating it. And if you weren’t planning on playing it, you really should!)

Ed.: Once again, the translation is available now.

Well, now that we have my likely misguided rambling out of the way, let’s move on to something more concrete.

Aesthetics
Artwork: 60/100
Music: 80/100
Voice Acting: 80/100
Presentation: 100/100
Overall score: 95/100

Standard disclaimer: This section generally has little impact upon the final score I assign to a game. It is included simply for completion’s sake.

In a word, the character art in Alternative is mediocre. It accomplishes its task, but does little beyond that. The designs themselves are fairly funky as well. Also, it doesn’t help that the majority of tachi-e are reused from the original Muvluv – making the new ones they drew for Alternative stick out like collective sore thumbs. That said, I’ll give it a 60 because the mecha designs are attractive and all of the artwork for them is very polished indeed.”

Personally, I found the character designs to be surreal and very charismatic, charming, but also military and disciplined. None of the character’s hair styles or what not changed from Extra to UL to MA. But at the same time, wearing a uniform (which looks good on the women and men), and the introduction of a far more edgy atmosphere, changes them. It really feels like you’re in an alternative dimension, where people look the same but have different personalities underneath. It’s kind of freaky, if you, like me, paid extra attention in… Extra and Unlimited. If they had changed the designs too much, it would have been easy for me to differentiate the personalities from Extra, from Unlimited. And the ones in Unlimited, from Alternative. It wouldn’t have given me that “edgy” queer, unsettling feeling at times.

Now, that’s mostly a superficial issue concerning aesthetics or beauty. Not surprising people have disagreements on that. Now unto something more substantial: pacing and the plot development.

“The story is frequently interrupted by mostly uninteresting briefings and (quite literal) lectures about things that aren’t even very important in the long run.”

I’ll address that first, since it seems to be a central or common concept behind this issue. My viewpoint is that a lot of the briefings are basically what people need to understand about the war with the BETA. If the reader doesn’t pay attention to this, then they aren’t going to understand… about 50 or 80% of what goes in the battles in terms of tactics or military strategy. I think people just got excited by the action, and say they like the action scenes, but they don’t understand what the heck was going on in terms of operational planning. A lot of the more emotional moments required you to understand the decisions being made, why they were being made, and what it cost to make those decisions. Takeru was also supposed to understand this, and when he understands, he doesn’t explain it to you. You were supposed to have learned it with him, combining the info in the briefings with experience of the plot and events. Those that found the briefings boring, missed out on a substantial chunk of MLA’s military substance, so to speak. Of course, I’ve heard those briefings around 2-3 times already, so I find them boring because I already know the info. I have them memorized, essentially.

There was at least one spoiler in the review concerning relationships, but for those of average analysis ability or the uncurious, it shouldn’t be too bad. For someone that likes to analyze and reverse engineer words, ideas, concepts, and information, it’s very easy to figure out some of MLAlternative’s plot surprises with just that one line in Moogy’s review, however. This falls under the category of counter-espionage or data mining, where piecing together seemingly innoculous pieces of information allows one to read the enemy and thus defeat them. Again, something of a military vogue that civilians or those lacking in curiosity or analysis ability, don’t need to know, but it would benefit them if they did.

Moogy mentioned that the character development for Meiya and the squad, stopped in MLA because the focus was on other things and Extra/Unlimited were the ones to focus on them. I agree in general, but disagree about MLA. I’ve played through MLA enough times to understand that they added in the character development for Meiya, Chizuru, Ayamine Kei, Tama, and Mikoto in two parts. When Takeru is stomped on by life, so to speak, he has a choice to choose one person to talk to out of those 5. That person he chooses now becomes the person that will send him a letter at the end of the game, explaining their view and observations of Takeru’s life in MLA. The letter was extremely important and explained many things that would have normally been left unchecked. These are spoilers, but since the game takes so long to even “re skip through”, I’ll describe some of them for you. Skip past the names if you don’t want to be “spoiled”.

Meiya’s ending is perhaps canon and she didn’t write a letter. Everyone knows the reasons, from the game. Don’t think about this one too much. She’s very straight forward, honest, and doesn’t hide much. Not much to “expose”.

Chizuru explains the things that made her insecure, her inflexibility, and how she changed in MLA. Chizuru noted that because of Takeru’s abilities and actions, she came to believe and rely on him. And that is what gave her the strength to take a position of leadership at the end, when the stakes were as high as one can get in life.

Ayamine=haven’t gotten her letter yet. Maybe it got lost in the yakisoba pan.

Tama is a pure and innocent spirit. She is someone that wants everyone to get along, and has ideals that are closest to what Takeru came to believe in at the end of Unlimited. She, however, has problems standing by her beliefs, because doing so causes friction. Her nervousness about shooting also comes into play, and often Tama worries more about not causing friction than making sure everyone gets along in a world of peace and mutual cooperation. Because of Takeru’s actions and abilities, Tama became more confident and tried to change herself to be as disciplined and strong as she saw Takeru to be.

Mikoto is the person (….) that always likes ignoring what people say, a common comedic act or theme in Japan. Mikoto is also a very genki, lively, type, and does much to bring humor and relaxation to the squad when morale is down. The changes are similar to the above.

The letter begins with “Dear Takeru-sama” (which can be hilarious if you don’t understand formal Japanese writing, plus who Takeru is) and often ends with a statement that they respect (sonken) him for what he has done and how he has changed them.

Also, another unique scene was on the carrier at night. Whoever you chose before, ends up coming to talk to you about things. Some of the topics are the same person to person, but some are very enlightening and worthwhile to read concerning the person in question.

END OF SPOILER FORBIDDEN KNOWLEDGE.

So there is the “character development” Moogy wanted, but didn’t see in MLA. It’s hidden. It’s like some easter egg put in because of lack of time and focus, but it’s there if you know where to look. When I first read MLA, I would have agreed with moogy, because I didn’t get ANY LETTER at the end. I didn’t even know it was there to be found. I found myself wanting Takeru to talk more to his squad mates about their various issues, but he never did. The letters, however, explained many curious behavior the squad mates engaged in. So after the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th reread. I was mostly satisfied. Found a lot of info that made a lot of stuff make more sense. That’s always nice.

And it’s sad. If people thought the other stuff was sad, this will make it even more sad: kanashi.

The other things in the review were mostly positive and I either agree or at least do not disagree. My original review and comments on this game can be found here

To read the review that this was all about, go here.


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