A creativity blog - including reviews, photographs and discussion on a variety of things; such as dragons and other things almost but not quite completely entirely unlike tea.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

"Even invisible men need to express themselves"

Among the first games I bought for my PS3 were games I knew to be good, either because they were sequels to games whose predecessors I had loved, or because I had been introduced to them at a friend's place - I have mentioned these first games in a previous blog post about Bayonetta, but as a reminder, the others were Devil May Cry 4 and Final Fantasy XIII. This blog post, however, does not discuss either of those games, but another game entirely: Game Republic's Folklore.

Folklore is another one of those PS3 games I became acquainted with at a friend's place. The demo, which was available in Playstation Store, was one of the first demos I downloaded on my PS3 when I finally found the money to purchase it. The full game is only available in disc format though, so it took some time before I found it in my local videogame store and got to play past the first chapters. Plural for chapters, because in Folklore you have two characters, Ellen and Keats, with whom you play through the same story arc from different points of view, intersecting with each other every once in a while. Basically you play through all the same levels with both characters, but their approach is always a bit different. The same story is being told through different points of view, so the actual plot differs only a bit - most notable difference is in the characters' weaponry; or the Folk they get to use as such.

The beginning of the game takes you to the village of Doolin, which is an actual village on the west coast of Ireland, right by the Atlantic Ocean. Ellen is brought there by a letter that is supposedly been written by her dead mother, whereas Keats receives a mysterious phone call suggesting there might be something going on in the village worthy of his attention as a journalist to an occult magazine. Both arrive on the eve of Samhain, that is, the Celtic harvest festival, which marks the turn from summer to winter - the origin of the American Halloween. Samhain was treated as a very mystical time of year. According to Suzanne Barret, it was believed that a lot of supernatural events took place during Samhain (as well as on Beltain, which is on May 1st): it was a night when the fairies swarmed and one had to be careful of moving about outside, out of fear of being abducted by the otherwordly creatures - also, it was a day of remembrance of the dead and some believed it was possible to communicate with the dead on the night of Samhain.

This is also the premise of the game Folklore. Ellen arrives to find out about the letter that has been sent to her, impossibly it seems, by her dead mother and after learning of the possibility of meeting the dead, decides to go looking for her mother in the Netherworld. For Ellen, the village and the faery realms she accesses are a journey of self-discovery. She has lived in an orphanage most of her life and does not remember anything about her childhood. The arrival of the mysterious letter makes her uneasy and so the player needs to guide her through the game to discover her past. I'm not myself a huge fan of Ellen, nor of playing with her, even though she is the central character of the story and most of the events of the game are put in motion by her arrival to the village. My dislike is due to her being so predictable as a character, I suppose. But luckily there are several minor characters who steal the spotlight occasionally from our tragic heroine, so the player is not required to roll their eyes at the main character all the time.

At the same time, in the same place, Keats arrives to the village just in time to witness a tragic accident on the cliffs near the village - the incident and finding out about the legends of Samhain intrigue his curiosity as a reporter and he enters the faery realms in order to write the story of his life-time. But as is often the case, solving mysteries turns out to be more of a handful than it seemed at first - for uncovering the first secret yields two more and more surprises seem to be waiting around every bend. Playing through the game it sometimes seems the two characters are on opposing sides of the conflicts, but they manage to work through it together after all. I have currently played the game up to a point where I cannot continue Keats' journey until I catch up with him with Ellen - at first I played a chapter with each character before moving to the next one, but I quickly tired of running through the same maps time and again, so I decided to stick with Keats from chapter three onwards. The NPCs in Keats' previous chapter kept telling me how the next one will be "the last big one" or something such, so I don't think a lot of the game is still left after I manage to trudge through the remaining chapters with Ellen. That being said, games sometimes cheat in that respect too. (Mainly Persona 3, Final Fantasy X and other similar games... But those ones are often quite obvious cheats, and as the games are so enjoyable, there are most often no hard feelings for continuing with the game even after the "final fight".)

The actual game play in Folklore is, in my opinion, a lot of fun. When in the village of Doolin, you can do little else than run or walk around and talk with people, maybe sometimes search places for clues or something such. Once you enter the Netherworld, however, the action begins. You get to meet differents kinds of Folk, or faery people, living in different sorts of realms you get to access one by one as the story progresses. Each Folk has an Id and it is possible for the characters to absorb these Ids and then start using them as weapons. Each Folk has some sort of attack, or possibly a defend, and you assign Folks on the buttons on your controller - pressing a button then executes an assigned Folk's action. After absorbing Folks you also get an info note about them to the menu and can also see the tasks you need to complete to make the Folks stronger to use. Completing a task is called releasing Karma and can sometimes take a while, bringing a bit of that beloved running around from one corner of the map to the other, leveling up your weapons, into the otherwise rather straightforward game. Most of the first Folks you get you can level up to maximum right in the first realm, but later in the game you need to travel between several different worlds in order the get all the Karma released. Releasing Karma has several different results: the cost of using a Folk is lessened, you get more consecutive uses out of a Folk or a single use becomes stronger, for instance.

As mentioned, Ellen and Keats have different Folks they get to use as weapons, but there are also some that are the same for both characters. However, most often than not, the action the Folk performs is a bit different, even if it is the exact same Folk, but the character controlling it is different. With Ellen, most of the Folks seem to be separate from her, in that they often charge away from her or jump in front of her to do whatever it is they do - but with Keats the Folks often just seem like a continuation of his own arms, complementing his movements. This sometimes makes it difficult to play consecutively with both characters, as you keep expecting them to execute the same actions with the same Folks. Luckily there are also the other Folks which are unique to their respective characters. Some have magical attacks too, the elements of which are indicated by the colours of the circles around them. In the Folk palette, where you can choose Folks for your pad, you can even arrange the Folks by their elements, as opposed to the default arrangement by worlds.

And naturally, some Folks can only be defeated by some other Folk's attack, while others are useless against it... This is true both in regards the smaller Folks as well as the bosses, or Folklores, which await the player at the end of chapters. Most of the bosses are challenging in some respect, but as it is possible to collect Picture Book pages throughout the way to the boss (which give the player hints on how to defeat the bosses) the main problems are posed by such age-old evils as camera angles, attacking-and-not-hitting or running out of Folk juice (or whatever the thing's called) just when the enemy is prone and you're supposed to be hitting them with everything you've got.... And when you've managed to coax their Ids out of them (i.e. make them visible) you need to absorb the Id. This is accomplished by attaching to it (via pressing a button, but you need to be close enough too) and jerking the controller up (normally), although sometimes you need to soften the Id up by turning, shaking or timing the movement of the controller (and the Id), before the Id allows itself to be absorbed. And if there are enemies around you when you're doing this... Well, they've every right to hit you while you're standing still, don't they? Doesn't make it any less annoying.

I've now reached the point in this blog post, where I can finally get to the root of the game, as it were. And that is:

...this game is pretty.

The music is excellent too, if a bit repetitive at times, but then, that's background music for you. One of the things I'd like to change for this game is the amount of voice acting - there's way too little of it and I'd really like to listen to those lovely Irish accents a lot more while playing. Most of the dialogue is in text format, however, and I suppose it's nice too to hear the rustling of pen-on-paper while the characters talk, too... But as there are some instances where there is voice acting, I for one am left wanting for more.

I hope to be actually able to finish the game when I get back to my console for the New Year's... But as I've played a lot of it already, I felt I'm already capable of writing this introduction of the game and maybe encourage other people to at least try the free demo from PStore, nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Asiria update #5

It's been a while since the last update, mainly because I've been stitching so slow. But finally at the edge of the confetti, three more columns to stitch on page two! The first column is actually not too confettish at all, it's just that it's stitched with new colours. I just think it's going to be lots of confetti because it shows as lot of different symbols than the ones I've been stitching so far on the chart. :D

I'm currently correcting the last exams for this year and I'm hoping I'll have more stitching time after those. I'd like to get a good solid beginning with the last three columns, so I can finally get to page three! I've been stitching this now since July (very slow progress indeed!) but I've been so busy with the moving to a new town and beginning at a new workplace and having gotten a bit accustomed to the work, dividing my time between work and free time. I often need to correct word tests and such at home, plan lessons a bit, make sure my dog gets enough exercise in between - and then there are all my other hobbies such as videogames, reading, role playing games and boxing, which I took up this autumn.

But the end of a page is always fast to stitch (the end is nigh - attitude) as is the beginning of a page, too,(new page - yay!) so hopefully I'll be able to post more update photographs soon.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

About imagination

Imagination is, in my opinion, one of the greatest powers we humans possess. I'm interested in the workings of imagination a lot, since most of my recreational hobbies are either completely about or at least somehow related to the art of imagination; role playing games, video games, reading the fantastic, films, anime and manga, teaching languages - even the cross stitch patterns I like most are ones I like to think I could easily imagine with while I'm stitching. I've always had a really active imagination and I've liked games and pretend play and drama and such as long as I can remember. Role playing games are among my chief forms of self-creation at the moment. As I've mentioned before I like to write a little bit fiction occasionally too, but for the most part I somehow cannot seem to be able to tie down things I imagine into such solid a form as a coherent text would be. I like to vary and enlarge and change and specify and expand the things I imagine from the moment I think of them, so that I can rarely be satisfied with one solution only - and I'm much too lazy to correct and write down and remember all of the different re-imaginings I so easily conjure up inside my head.

I admire people who can do that  - authors, game designers, musicians and such. And I'm quite happy being an admirer of such people and of their varied works - I can agree with their choices and limitations and rules just because I know that in order for a work of imagination to get out to the world and become admired by me, it also requires an ending of some sort - a thing I as a creator am often not able to make. Because even when I'm given a work of imagination made by someone else, I like to play with it even beyond that, which is given. That is one of the greatest thing about imagination - it's all about enabling you to create for yourself, to live outside or inside of yourself, if you so wish, without being dependent on the actual beginning or the end of the imagined. There are no rules, or if there are, they are most often only there to guide you onward.

The power of imagination is infinite and that in my opinion is what makes it great. If only we could somehow harness that power. :)

Another curious thing about imagination is that it is (again, this is my personal opinion) at its best when you get to imagine with a group of like-minded friends; although they don't really always need to be friends either - mortal enemies will do too, so long as everyone's like-minded. To have the instant gratification from voicing an idea and having it being developed further by not only yourself and your limitless imagination but by the same of a handful of other people - that is what makes imagining its most enjoyable. I myself get that mostly through tabletop role playing, but there are aspects of it visible too, when I discuss books I've read, video games I've played or films I've seen with friends of mine who've also partaken the same. It is terrific just to sit somewhere talking about some imaginary character, for instance, for hours on end, and everyone thinks that everyone else is completely sane and not only that, but a great fun to be around, too. Imagination also has the power to connect people, even if it is something that happens solely inside one's head and is often difficult to put it into exact words.

It is the connection with kindred spirits that hooks us to imagine together, I believe. 

Sometimes I read or see or hear opinions from people who don't imagine - or if they do, they keep it at a bare minimum - and I feel amazed at how narrow-sighted they can be. Mostly these opinions are something along the lines of "imagination is for children" - people who don't think any other recreational activities than sports and crafts are socially acceptable after certain age, for instance. When I sometimes meet these kinds of people, I mostly avoid discussing my hobbies with them - it's not because I don't want to discuss them with those kind of people, it's just that I feel distraught if someone has this disapproving attitude towards me or towards things I like (which most often are in fact just an extension of who or what I myself feel I am) and as such I feel the need to defend myself against their disapproval. I, however, don't want to feel the need to defend myself and because one of the ways I'd defend myself would be to attack against their beliefs or attitudes and make them defend theirs instead... I mostly decided just not to bother with it all. I can manage with non-imaginative people too, but only if we keep the relationships rather strictly focused on the whatever-the-thing-is why we're in the same room to begin with.

I want to believe I can understand people like that, too. And if I'm to understand them, I'm also to accept them, the same way I'd like them to accept me and my imagination. Maybe it cannot happen, or maybe it can, who knows. I like to think I always see the grey sides of things and I enjoy pondering the different sides to matters - sometimes endlessly - and I cannot really fathom people who are very absolute in their world view.

Imagination is beneficial too, not just purely enjoyable. In a similar manner that video games are both entertainment and can also train you in problem solving or with your hand-eye coordination, for instance, imagination keeps your mind sharp, your daily routines lively and is good for you physically too in the cases where it relieves stress, anxiety and tension from your body. Also, for me exercise is not rewarding if the only things I get from it are the number of calories or the amount of time or the distance I've spend or achieved on it. The thing I enjoy most about exercise is the feeling of clear-headedness - that which allows me to continue or begin focusing on the matters at hand with a new vigour, for as mentioned elsewhere, I live my life mostly inside my head.

So that's just something I thought about imagination in general. It could just be all in my head, though.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

My fictitious self and I sometimes get along

I write fiction very rarely. I used to write it more often at some point, but I never finished anything and upon rereading stuff it usually ended up being deleted - if it was on a file on my computer - or ripped to shreds and the shreds duly hidden from view. Also, if I write fiction rarely, I more rarely let anyone read it. My fiction writing is most often only for myself, it's about clearing my head and unloading stuff - in addition, it's almost always in the form of poetry, so one more reason not to let anyone else read it. There are some poems I've rewritten over and over and am quite proud of and will probably keep till the rest of my days, but don't think I'll ever publish them anywhere. They're mine, and that's how they'll stay.

So now this text: I got an inspiration to write something last night when I was going to bed and I thought this morning, that since it's the National Novel Writing Month, I could in the spirit of it publish it here in my blog. I'm not taking part to NaNoWriMo itself - I don't have the time and I could never hope to write anything as coherent as a novel. My writing is at its best in short form and I myself enjoy it the most when I get to describe moments in time - then move on to something completely different once I'm finished with it. Also, my writing often tends towards the fantastic, as it is my favourite type of literature for reading as well. My weakness is writing is that I cannot ever think of things that could happen in the text - it's always just a description of things gone past, of kingdoms or estates, of characters, or sometimes, as in this case, of dialogue between characters. The dialogue writing is one of the most challenging ones for me, so I was surprised this ended up becoming such - I was rather planning on some self-reflection on the part of the main character; but she ended up being rather suppressed by the other one I brought on primarily as a supporting character. That's how things happen sometimes - the best plans go wrong, as those imagined start to develop a life and a character of their own, regardless of what you as a writer were planning for them. 

Maybe now that I debut some fiction in this blog too I can publish something more later. I like writing, but I believe I need a lot more practise in it. Poetry is starting to be rather fluent for me already, and I can often spot points of development straight away after writing the first draft; but with prose I lack the experience.

They got the fire going and after a while both of them quite forgot themselves; both staring at the flames and the sparkles dancing, flying upwards only to disappear into the blackness of the sky. The wind was picking up, disturbing the sound of water heating on the fire. It boiled after a while and Autumn picked the tin up, pouring half of it on the herbs she'd gathered before making camp and to Ella's dismay, the other half straight on the wound on her leg, without as much as flinching. The smell of the burning flesh and blood made Ella feel sick again, and she gasped at the cleaner, colder air from outside their ring of fire. The memory of blood and bone returned with the smell of the same at the back of her throat.

- What are you? She managed to get the words out, as Autumn started padding the wetted roots and whatnot on the wound that had started to seep blood again. The other gave her a look and with an effort, Ella shrugged her shoulders. - There's no harm telling me, is there? It's not like I could run off telling anyone else, right?

- Knowledge is a nuisance. You're better off without it. Autumn finished tending her leg and leaned back. As Ella watched, the phosphorescent tattoos started to move again - swirl and stretch and spread - they closed on the wound and encircled it, pulsing with a faint light. Autumn had resumed staring at the fire and said nothing.

Ella shifted her legs around, but remained sitting on the other side. - What are those doing? she finally asked. - Are they mending your leg? Can you heal yourself that way? I can see how that could be useful...

- They don't heal anything. The flesh has to do that on its own. They just concentrate on a tainted area, to fight corruption.

- So it doesn't get infected?

- No. More like, it doesn't allow passage.

- Passage? For corruption?

- Yes.

- I don't think I follow.

- I don't really expect you to.

- Oh.

They were silent for a time, then Autumn also shifted, raising a bit to inspect the leg and turning then to lie sideways to the fire, while the tattoos continued their swirl.

- Does it hurt? Ella had seen wounds like that before, on men much bigger build than the stranger facing her now. Most didn't live through such, unless their leg was cut off above the wound. Autumn, however, didn't seem to be even in much pain; she hadn't even gasped at the boiling water or at the funny smelling herb paste she had applied to the open wound before dressing it.

- I don't really feel pain. Sometimes, but that's quite rare. And then its on the inside too.

- Inside? Autumn looked suddenly straight at her and she almost unconsciously curled up a bit, drawing her knees to her chest and hugging them. - Just asking.

- Hmph. Well, as you say, there's no one you really can run off telling. Autumn looked back at the fire and Ella perked up a bit. - If I were to explain this plainly, you could say that I'm two different people.

- Somehow I get the feeling you mean that literally.

- I do.

- I don't understand.

- You don't need to understand. No one does, not even me, really. And no one is supposed to, either. It's just how it is. Simply put. Autumn reached and picked up a stick from the fire, waving it until it no longer burned but only glowed from the other end. Then she started drawing figures to the air above her. A triangle first, then a circle around it, and while those were etching themselves in Ella's eyes, staying there even though the light had already faded, she closed them both within a square.

- You see, a wood doesn't heat much if there's no fire to burn it. And fire, well, it needs the wood to keep on burning, as well as air - if you try to light a fire in a sack, it will only smoke a little while and then die.

- So you're burning the wood to be the fire?

- No.

- No? But.. then how? Before? The camp?

- I'm not the fire. I'm the wood.

- Oh. Ella paused, thinking. - I don't follow. If you're you, but you're not the fire... Who's the other one?

- That's something you don't need to know.

- You can't just tell me this much and then nothing! Ella bursted out, and saw how Autumn flinched a bit. Emboldened, she continued - You said something before, that I'm "bonded" to you, whatever that means. You may not remember about it anymore, but I do. So if there's something else beside you or with you, then it's clearly it that feels the bond with me, right? And since it's not here, or not now at least, you owe me the explanation! While her tirade was going on, Ella could see Autumn moving uncomfortably, raising her shoulders up defensively and tensing her muscles - but otherwise she stayed still. Ella felt a bit out of breath after her outburst and as the silence stretched, she too started to feel herself uncomfortable in the other's presence. 

- Tell me, she said in her most commanding tone. Not that she had ever commanded anyone before, but she somehow now felt she could.

- Fine. But you asked for it. Autumn picked up the twig again and this time, started making wavy patterns in the air, circles and swirls, similar to those her tattoos kept still making on her leg. - You know, most of the raw power in this world is pretty much useless on its own. I talked about the wood and the fire both needing each other - otherwise there'd be no use for them.

- A wood could grow, as a tree.

- That's true. But in order to grow it needs the dirt to grow on, water and probably some other trees too, as growing on its own on an open plains is difficult. Then it might bear fruit and be a mother to more trees, but eventually it will die and fall down and be trampled or eaten - or a forest fire might kill it, who knows.

- So you're saying you're like that? Dependent on something else?

- Yes and no. Something like that. You see, there was this power. No one really understood it properly, didn't know what it was or indeed, what it was good for. They just knew it had power, or more accurately, that it had the potential to have power - a great amount of it. But it required something else to flourish, a wood to burn, or a patch of dirt to grow on.

- So you're using this power, burning it, so you can level an entire camp of bandits in a manner of moments?

- No.

- No?

- It is "burning" me.

- What? How? Why?

- I told you already it required something. Not me, I require mostly food and rest - but now I require less of both. You see, I'm sort of a vessel for this power. See these? Autumn pointed at her tattoos, which had slowed down from their previous movement, but were still pulsing with the bluish light around the wound. - These are a part of it, its protection. Protection mainly for it, but by extension some also for me. They mark me as a vessel, but they have another purpose as well. As I said, they forbid passage - nothing is to come in, but not a drop is to get out either, unless warranted. Such as in the bandit camp. It is currently balancing itself out - burning me, so to speak, to make more of it. But as I'm wounded on the outside as well, it is doing it more slowly, so that my body can concentrate on healing as well and won't allow anything from the outside to interfere with it beneath the surface.

- So it's inside you?

- Yes. And when there's excess of it, it comes out. And then I can kill a campful of bandits in a manner of moments. I'm using the word "I" quite loosely here too.

- You mean... You don't control it?

- That's right. Not completely anyway. There are some ways I can affect it. Autumn looked at Ella again and smiled a little smile. - And sometimes I loose myself, wake up later, no recollection of what has happened. And I don't remember what I've done, or what I've said.

- So that's why.

- Yes. Usually it's quite bad at those times.

- How bad?

- You don't want to know.

- Actually, I kind of do.

- Hmph. Well, I woke up on a plains once.

- And?

- There had been a city there when I arrived.

- Oh.

- The well was still good, thankfully. It was rather long way from anywhere.

- You destroyed a city?

- Apparently.

- Were there... a lot of people there?

- Yes.

- Oh.

- So that's what you're bonded with it, if I'm to believe what you're saying. Never heard anything like that happening before though. That's why I think you're still here. And that's why I'm taking you with me.

- Well, it's not like I have anything to return to.

- Sorry.

- No, that's not what I meant. I mean, I was a slave. I don't mourn any of those bastards. It's just... Well. I don't know if I've not traded the freezer into the fire at this point.

Autumn smiled at her at that, then turned to her back and closed her eyes. - We'll see.

It was a long while before Ella was able to close her own eyes - the fire danced low now and the tattoos kept encircling the wound on Autumn's leg under its dressing. But she didn't feel quite so afraid anymore, and after some time she also slept.   

Monday, 11 November 2013

Asiria update #4

A bit more of Asiria done. Almost half of the second page finished- still one more easy column to go before the confetti starts. :) Also, trying out the camera and content transfer functions on my brand new PSVita. Works splendidly, although the camera cannot really be compared to my Nikon or Canon - but that's to be expected.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Light of my life

I don't really do interior decorating much... I don't really see the point of it. I do like moving the furniture around occasionally, but as I like to have stuff like cds and games accessible near the places I'm going to use them in, there are only so many ways you can arrange the various pieces of furniture I own. However, there is one thing I'm a bit nutty about and that is candles. Thus, I own a number of decorations for candles, and as it's late autumn (or early winter if you believe some days when there's already snow) and the light outside is failing, I like to bring some fire hazard into my life by burning candles.

Featured in the above picture are almost all candle decorations I have, alongside my plants and my other tv. I have a few Christmasy decorations I don't really use except during that season and I'm quite sure I missed a couple hiding somewhere in my bookcase... One at least I noticed right after taking these pictures, but nah, as usual I can't be bothered to take more pictures since I've already gotten these ones out of my camera.

The two linked white glass decorations on the foreground here are the "Gemini" by Partylite. Gemini is my star sign and apart from that, this decoration is just amazingly beautiful and serene. Behind it there is one wintery decoration, which doesn't show it really well, since the blue glass inside which has the snowflake pattern isn't really visible from this angle. The snowflakes are cast as shadows, which makes this decoration one of my favourite smaller decorations - it is not Partylite, though. I might have gotten it as a gift from someone, but I can't remember its exact origins anymore.

These are my favourite Partylite decorations. They are called Brilliance in Finnish (Loistavuus) but the only English name I could find for them was Change O Style, which doesn't really convey their magnificence, in my opinion. They are sort of Asian styled with black frames and white glass and detachable magnetic walls, of which there are several different kinds. Here they are with the Halloween -themed walls, as I had them in school for Halloween last week. I have two smaller ones and one big one and I wanted them exactly because I could change them around so much. There is also a wall set sold separately, which adds to the amount of change you can get out of them. And the Asia-ish theme doesn't hurt either, when it's me we're talking about.

The Buddha, along with two of the three elephant decorations I have. My mother originally bought a Buddha for herself and I liked it a lot - so much so, that the next time there was a Partylite evening I got them for myself too. I first bought a set of two elephants and I later received one more as a gift from my brother's wife. The elephants also have different markings on their sides, so they're not just all from the same cast either.

Neither of these two decorations are Partylite. The big one I actually bought for something like 10 euros for myself, as I wanted to have this kind of big decoration, but the ones Partylite has invariably cost something like 80 euros a piece... This one is not very good in that the candle doesn't seem to be getting enough air when it burns lower and the flame starts flickering a lot, which leads to the candle burning unevenly. The smaller red one I seem to remember having been a Christmas present a few years back, maybe from my Grandmother. It is really pretty and casts this red glow around it, but the colour red is only in the bottom and has been scraped away a little during me cleaning the decoration.

These ones are both the other ones from a set of two similar decorations I have. The one of the foreground and its pair I got as a Christmas present from my other brother's family and the lilac lantern I bought just this autumn from a buy three pay for two sale in the local crafts and other stuff -store. I would have only bought one, but I was missing one item from another set of three items, so I got the second lantern for free. The lanterns I mainly use on the balcony, while the other decorations is only for indoor-use.

In this picture then is the prettiest candle decoration I have: the Sakura Sconce. It used to be terribly expensive and I kept drooling after it for a long time - then, as often happens, it's production ended and the remaining storage at Partylite HQ or wherever was sold of with nice discounts. I was worried I wouldn't be able to get one, but my mom luckily went to a Partylite evening and didn't have anything in mind for herself, so she asked me if I wanted / needed anything... It has screws and holders with which it could be attached to a wall, but I rather like it on the top shelf of my bookcase, where it usually sits. My cd cabinet is not really wide enough for it to look pretty here, but for the purposes of this picture it is good enough. I also have other Asia-themed things on or above the top shelf alongside this decoration, such as fans, chopsticks, a manga poster and such and such, so it has friends from "home" to keep it company. 

The round glass swirls are among the first Partylite gifts I got from my mom - I thought she bought them for herself, but no, I got them. They are really pretty and cast wonderful shadows with the wavy pattern the glass has.

Here's another picture of the decorations together - also featured, my PS2 & PS3, and their respective games. Here you can see a few more walls for the Brilliance decorations as well. (I think I'm going to use this name for them in English from now on. It's lovely.) I would still like to have some bigger decorations (I don't know where I'd put them, but I still want them) and also, I'd love to get my hands on these long, reflective decorations Partylite has... The reason I haven't bought them yet is that they are sold as a set of three decorations, which hikes the price up somewhat... Also, my eldest brother's wife has got those - not that it matters since we don't live that close to each other, but still. One more decoration I have and that I don't have a picture of is the Starlight Gemini, which my mom bought me as a birthday present (I think it was) a couple years back. It is lovely blue glass decoration that has the stars of the Gemini star sign on it - also within is a candle that smells rather strongly. I tend to get a migraine from strong smells, so I haven't burned the candle inside yet - plus, as it is very pretty, I don't know if I ever will, even if I could then burn other candles in the decoration once the one inside is gone.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

"Dark dreams lie upon the heart." - Begin play with 3 Corruption points.

In this blog post I discuss mostly a Dark Heresy campaign I played in some years ago and the two characters I played as in the course of it - if you're not interested about my insights on things-gone-by, just read the second and third paragraphs, which discuss the system and the setting in general.

One of the longest-running regularly played role playing game campaigns I've ever played in was with the Fantasy Flight Games' Dark Heresy rules system, in the Warhammer 40'000 setting. During the campaign I played with two characters - the first one was a random-generated male Imperial Guardsman with loads of guns and a heck of an accuracy for firing them, another one was a more well-thought of and fleshed-out female psyker, who was a bit gun-nut too, to tell you the truth. Our party included another psyker, who was noble-born and thus all sorts of trouble ensued; a tech-priest with a strange affinity for doors; a cleric who was wont to do something silly like set himself on fire in order to climb a sheer cliff surface up and save us all from, well, flames; an assassin who didn't often talk much but could slice and dice any enemy in a matter of seconds and a bit later addition, a half-man, half-machine (the leg-half was the machine) guardsman, with big guns and not so big a brain. (We didn't of course all start out as competent as that, but things tend to occur, experience and levels pile up and suddenly you realise your character has evolved quite unexpectedly from what your initial idea for them was.)

WH40K is an old setting (at least to me as a role player), which means that there are loads of background materials for aspiring players; the system has gone through several rules modifications, changes and rebuilds and products available vary from miniature games to role playing games rules books to novels. Dark Heresy was the first, what I like to call new generation WH40K rpgs, published by Fantasy Flight Games - it was later followed by Rogue Trader, Black Crusade, Only War and Deathwatch, all set in the world of WH40K, but with a different focus within the imaginary. Dark Heresy (DH) places its players on the employ (or debt or whatever) of an Inquisitor, who are very powerful individuals working for the benefit of the God-Emperor, the Ecclesiarchy and the man-ruled space. The milieu is that of Calixis Sector, which was once lost and then rediscovered by the Empire, due to abnormal behavior in the warp. The sector is close by to the Golgenna Reach, which is the main setting for the Rogue Trader rpg (RT) and thus it is entirely possible to advance a DH game into a RT one - the characters in DH are pretty low-levels in the beginning, whereas RT starts with more advanced character-base. Black Crusade (BC) is set to the chaos-side of the setting, i.e. the enemies of the Imperium; Deathwatch  (DW) takes on the enchanced supersoldiers, the Space Marines; while Only War (OW) brings to the table exactly that, which it promises in its title. Having not played any of the other games except for DH (so far) I cannot really comment on them at all - also, DH is getting a rules update with a second edition, so for most part anything I have to say about it will in a while be obsolete too. But nevertheless, I wanted to write something, in the honor and memory of one of my favourite role playing games ever.

What I most liked about Dark Heresy, was the apparent simplicity of its rules - you throw a percentile die and try to get lower than you ability score and the possible bonuses from skils or earlier actions. A skill of 20 I believe was a human average and as for the PCs, it is quite easy to get most characteristics over 30 in the beginning of the game - thus you need to roll 30 or under to succeed in your action. Along with this, of course, is the overall setting of the game, which I found so different from the few other games (mostly adventure fantasy such as AD&D or Warhammer Fantasy rpg) - it is basically science fiction, in that everything happens in space; but there's also the element of medievalism in the way the church is portrayed; the technology is a mixture between steampunk and faith and the society is a dystopian caste-system, where those with power rule over those who work, and that with or without pay as well. The main way to control to huge Empire of Man is through its religion - as mentioned, the Emperor is also their God, lighting the way through the warp, which is used in faster-than-light space travel. The warp is also where the daemons and chaos lurk and sometimes it gets through to pester the mankind - there is corruption, mutations, insanity and worse yet - player characters who accidentally (or purposefully) summon daemons in the middle of delicate negotiations...

My first ever character, as mentioned, was a shrine world-born Guardsman. Stern was completely random-generated character, as I had no concept of the setting before starting to play it and thus, no biases for or against any sort of character. Stern was also maybe the third character I had ever made, so it was good that he started out simple - he had guns. Lots of them. Also, he liked to get drunk on people's birthdays (and since the Empire is vast, it's always someone's birthday) and that's how he actually found himself on anspaceship in the first place too; being woken up with a terrible hangover by a red-clad Tech-priest, who needed aid in something or the other... Can't remember what it was exactly, but as Stern was hungover in any case, maybe it doesn't matter so much. I do remember collecting some seals one maybe wasn't supposed to be collecting, killing a bunch of mutant rats or something or the other and always being just around the corner from the command center. I do believe there were also some doors that didn't want to open up.

I played with Stern for quite a long time and got to know other PCs too, apart from the Tech-priest named Red; there was a Cleric named Barack who was initially the cook on the first spaceship Stern was on; a noble-born Psyker Tybalt and his bodyguard, the Assassin Scarlet joined up on a mission to some mine that was filled with yellow goo; and a later addition that was another guardsman, going by the name of Karl; whom Stern met only briefly as Xanthia has already surpassed him as my character.

Xanthia then I created myself and I liked playing her very much. The reason behind her creation was that Stern's levelling up started to get boring - he'd only get more weapons and more fighting skills and at some point I started to crave for something more than just that, seeing there were those nice quirky skills and techniques the Tech-Priest and the Psyker could get, plus the Assassin and the Cleric were far superiour to Stern in close-combat... Wanting to maintain some of the gun-ho attitude of Stern's, Xanthia originated from Gunmetal City on Scintilla, the capital planet of Calixis Sector, and always carried with her dual pistols, or autoguns, at a later stage. Which she kept losing on a regular basis, given that characters from Gunmetal City get a huge minus to several stats whenever they're not possessing a firearm... So then, she had to rely on the psychic abilities to get those damn guns back! Playing a Psyker was very much fun and I believe our GM enjoyed having two Psykers (Xanthia and Tybalt) in the fray, as it meant lots of psychic phenomena occurrences, daemons, chaos and insanity - and that just in the breakfast table, as we somehow almost always managed to not get any phenomena during the most critical moments... Don't know why that happened.

Xanthia's other quirks were her deep love for a young Cleric she knew during her training on Terra, hatred/fear for the actual trainer, affection for her whimsical brother and distrust towards her sister, whom she met for the first time after returning from the voyage with the Black Ships. She was also devoted to the God-Emperor and was proud to get to work for an Inquisitor; although she liked to keep her own head rather than just blindly follow commands given to her. She was a mind-controlling type of a Psyker, although her skills reached their full height slowly - but towards the end of the campaign she could kill a Sororitas from 10m away by having her head explode internally. She didn't last a lot of damage though, so she was often the first one to go down - most of her skills required her to get close-by and the pistol didn't have a huge range either, so she got mixed up in a melee a bit too easily, if she didn't use a rifle for the shooting.

Our campaign plot took us far and wide, but mostly towards the "north" if you look at a map of the Calixis Sector. Two of our characters at least were born on Scintilla, so we had plenty of adventures there too and this one time we even made a gruesomely long journey to Terra, because we felt we had to get counsel from the God-Emperor himself, as all his agents that we knew of seemed to be more or less untrustworthy... After some years of playing we left the employ of our Inquisitor, got a spaceship of our own and continued on our holy mission of fulfilling a prophecy about the destructions of Calixis Sector, being all the time vary for both the enemies of the Empire and our former employer, who might or might not have liked that we stole away with the prophesied Messiah-character in the middle of the night, so to speak. Things were starting to look grim and there was tech-heresy and dealings with daemons to spare, but eventually it all culminated in a high-level battle between a Mistress of Assassins, a daemonhost and a daemonspawn - and us, the PCs. Naturally we kicked all of their asses, but not completely without casualties - some from our midst were lured in by corruptive powers, while others stood fast defending those they loved, and still others, those they believed would be able to save to day. And saved it was too, although the two (or was it three?) approaching armies might have had something to say to our PCs once they got to the hill where we conveniently ended our campaign.

I enjoyed playing Heresy very much and the players who I played it with are still all very good friends of mine, even though it was already been some years since the campaign ended... Maybe, when the second editions rules come out, we could play an anniversary mini-campaign, or something such. I should definitely suggest it to the GM. Not with the same characters, though. I think it's good to leave things as they were left. That way the story can go on forever, in my mind.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Grandma Anni's cream cake

So. One of the prettiest renditions of this particular cake recipe of mine. Or, it's not mine, but Grandma Anni's. I once read in Pirkka, or someplace else where they often have baking and cooking recipes, that you're supposed to name a cake recipe after the person you got it from. If going by that rule I should then probably call this Mom's cream cake, as this is the cake my mom would bake, two of them, every single weekend when I was growing up and there were three older brothers and my dad also there to eat their fill. It is still this particular cake mix that tastes like childhood to me. But my mom got the recipe from my father's mother, grandma Anni, so I'm calling this Anni-mummun kermakakku, or Grandma Anni's cream cake, because of that. I don't think I've ever had this cake as made by my granny though, but the ones my mom makes are just heavenly, and I think I'm getting nearer to her level each time I bake one or two of these. Sometimes I also call this "the miracle cake" because no matter how badly it seems to fail, it never quite does. Fail, that is.

I don't always understand the cake logic though. This time round, I made two cakes, in the picture is the first one out of the oven. While making the mix, it seemed to get a bit too thick in my opinion, but it evened out nicely into the form and rose well in the oven and ended up being really soft, making it a real careful operation to lift and get inside a plastic bag. It also fell away from the form all by itself. The other one I made felt so much better in the mixing phase, it was fluffy, soft and easy to get nice and tidy into the form. But then it seemed to stick to the bottom of the form more, it was a pain to get out without slicing it up and it also felt to be thicker and heavier than the earlier one. I managed to get it out nicely though, with the help of a wet towel and careful knife-work.

The recipe, in all it's simplicity is as follows:

Break four eggs into a mixing bowl, add two coffee cups of sugar (these would be around 1,5dl - my granny always used coffee cups as measure, so even though the amounts were always a bit uneven, depending on the cup, they would be around the same in relation to one another) and whip until it resembles whipped cream. Add one cup of melted butter and one cup of cream (sour or not). In a separate bowl, mix together two cups of wheat flour, one teaspoon of baking soda, a half teaspoon (or so) of kardemumma and one teaspoon of cinnamon. Add the flour into the mix after mixing the butter and cream into it evenly. You might want to just "turn" the flour into the mix, but I'm always lazy and just use the same mixer, just at a bit lower speed. Hasn't been a disaster yet. Butter the sides of a form and flour them with oatmeal - gives the cake its pretty exterior. Heat up the oven to 150 degrees centigrade (preferably a little earlier than this! I often forget to do it myself...) and put the form, into which you've obviously poured the cake mix by now, in. Keep in 150 degrees until the mix rises to the edges of the form or max 20 minutes. After that, turn the heat up to 200 degrees. And then you're on your own, because I never seem to remember what is the "exact" time it needs to be there - I go a bit by feel, a bit by look and a bit by smell. I also stick in toothpicks to test whether it's good or not. One good way to tell is if the cake starts to be loose from the edges, but this doesn't always happen, as I witnessed today with the second cake. It doesn't matter if the crust gets a little black, as it's going to be at the bottom of the cake once you turn it out of the form. One time, I remember, I kept checking the cake at least fifty times, and never taking it out - I was baking it for a party or something and wanted it to be perfect - and the heat must have varied a lot inside the oven with me opening and closing the door so many times, but eventually, the cake turned out really nice. And that's one of the reasons I like to call it "the miracle cake".

Saturday, 12 October 2013

The continued tales of a packomaniac - Small World

I wondered if I should have entitled this post "Tokenomania", but I decided to stick with the packomania theme so that people can more easily link this board game post with my previous board game post, and such and such. Also, "The continued tales of" has a nice ring to it.

My love/hate relationship with Small World (published by Days of Wonder, designed by Philippe Keyaerts) started around the time the game was first published. It was another one of those long-haired, heavy metal -listening board game and rpg -people I learned to know in the university, who first introduced me to this game. At first I thought it was cute and nice and fun and a lovely pastime, but I wasn't seriously impressed by it. And then came the expansions.

Currently, I'm the very proud owner indeed of Small World (SW), along with the Grand Dames of Small World (GD), Cursed! (C!), Small World: Be Not Afraid.. (BNA), Royal Bonus (RB), Small World: Necromancer Island*, Small World Tales and Legends (SWTaL) and Small World Realms (SMR) -expansions, alongside Small World Underground (SWU). As is visible, the game keeps getting Smaller and Smaller.

Let's start by looking at the contents of the original SW box. It currently houses the basic game, as well as the tokens for the RB -expansion, as they don't fit on any of the trays. There is an extra tray that comes with BNA -expansion, which houses basically all the tokens from GD, C! and BNA - I also like to pack them so, that the basic game is in it's own box and the expansion things are in their own tray - that way it's always possible to play a vanilla game whenever one wishes.

The packing is really neat. There are actually directions for you when you first open up the game box on how to pack the game - as most of the tokens come in punch-through cardboard sheets, you should save the sheets once you've removed the tokens and put them under the black plastic tray - this serves to raise it's level from the bottom, which packs the pieces nice and tight against the rules sheets and the lid - you no longer need the extra space on top once you've removed the tokens from their cardboard sheets, you see? And as the cardboard sheets are still of the same width as they were when they were on top, they push the black tray up just the correct amount. It must have been a genius who designed this box. Or an idiot, as he/she turned out to be, when all the expansions started pouring in. Design a new box for us, to fit everything! Please! And I mean EVERYTHING!!!! (coughs)

So, here're most of the tokens inside the box - minus the coins. There are race and special power cards, or whatever you want to call them, each naturally with their own tokens, should there be any. With trolls, for instance, you'll get the troll tokens and their stone houses, all just with the race card. If they happen to be, say, Fortified as well, as their special power, then you'll get those tokens too! Joy and happiness! Not all special powers come with tokens, though, such as Hill, which only gives you extra coins for all Hill areas you occupy at a turn's end.

The token tray that comes with the BNA expansion, sadly does not fit into the boxes. But it is a much better design than the original tray was, as it has curved, yes you read it right, curved slots. This means easier pick up for each row of tokens, as they are wont to fall down and get stuck to the bottom of the tray. But with simply rounding up the corners one's life become infinitely easier. What a stroke of genius! 

I'd like to point out, that during me taking photos I didn't notice that the game was still in the previous gameplay packaging - which means that I had been helped by other players to pack the game and tokens and cards and thus, stuff was in places it wouldn't have been in, had I packed the game carefully and precisely myself. Luckily I noticed this grave error while repacking and was able to correct it, but I couldn't be bothered to take new photos anymore... But that's what you get when you are too tired to say "no" to eager helpers. ;)

SWU is a complete game in and of itself. It has basically all similar pieces to the original SW, just with the Underground special twist. Rules sheets, boards and tokens all have their own kind of artwork, only the coins and the die resemble those of the original SW.

An example from SWU, where you'll have eleven Shadow Mimes, who've decided to be Vengeful for this game, and thus receive the Vengeful tokens.

SWR is a map expansion. It comes with several (I could count them, but I won't) tiles, which can be turned one way up for SW map and the other way for SWU map. You also get the tokens for the tunnels, which were at least at some point also sold separately. The purpose of the tunnels is to join the SW and the SWU maps together - they cannot be built together due to the edges of the tiles not matching with one tile being the other side up. There are also smaller tiles for mountains, peaks (a new terrain type), and impassable regions - all of which are two-sided too.

SWTaL is a card expansion. The cards describe events which occur during the game turns and affect everyone. There are good things, such as that this turn, forests will produce one extra coin to anyone occupying them, or really, really bad ones, such as no active race scores points this turn. You get the amount of game rounds - 1 event cards a game, so there's no event on the very first turn. You always reveal the Upcoming event on the round before it comes, and on the next round it becomes the Current event, and you reveal a new Upcoming. There are themes to the cards, so it is possibly for you to pick a single theme for any game, or you can make a complete mix of them and get 7-9 completely random cards too.

So, as a mini-example of all of my games, here are two maps, SW and SWU, side by side, but not joined. There is one tunnel leading from SW swamp to SWU mud plain - so the Mudmen occupying that particular mud plain are adjacent to the swamp on the SW map. 

Amazons have used their extra tokens to conquer a peak, which takes four tokens to conquer - also they've slaughtered some Indigenous people on the swamp close to the peak with three tokens and ridden through it to the empty hills beyond, requiring only the normal two tokens - the latter two regions they choose to protect with their Heroic tokens, meaning no other race tokens can come there to bother them - not even the dragon.

The Mudmen started from the mud plains, as is their right to do since it's on the edge of the SWU map, and they also took the caves on their right. After that they started lusting after the treasure they knew was being guarded by the two hideous monsters in one of the mushroom forests, so they attacked there with their two remaining tokens and a die - which was a huge success to the relief of everybody, as they rolled exactly the two extra tokens from the die they needed for the conquest. They are thus rewarded with the control of a relic or a popular place, whichever happens to come from the randomized stack of treasure. They are a bit worried about the Amazons, even though they're not yet occupying the swamp on the SW map - but if they do, they'll be right adjacent to the mud plain and could steal it away from the Mudmen- and where would one get one's extra Mudmen then? Nowhere else on this map, that's for sure.

And let's not forget that there are both a Current event and an Upcoming event to worry about! Oh dear, whatever is going to happen next, I wonder. No forest conquests at least, as it's being denied by the Upcoming event card. The Current event would require everyone to abandon one of their current regions, but as both of the races just started this turn, it doesn't affect them. The first round wouldn't even have an event card in any case, so it's clearly cheating being on top of the current event card.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, in a nutshell - or, in three boxes, a separate token tray and a deck of cards, is Small World. It's a disaster to pack, terrific to play and a great way to gain new enemies, at least until the next time you play. The arguments I have witnessed (and had!) over this game, oh, I could tell you stories... But I shan't.

The game also comes with empty race and special power cards, as well as with empty event cards. I've been meaning to bring some science fiction into the game with Aliens (equipped with a mothership, naturally), Space Marines, and possibly some eastern flavour along with Samurai and maybe Ninjas. But I need to think how to fit them together with the rest of the game first - and I use the word "fit" in the most endearing way I possibly can. 

(*I've never got the chance to try Necromancer Island, mainly because it's a scenario of co-operative play, which players of Small World are not often inclined to try... The game is, in my opinion, the epitome of competitive play. My ex-boyfriend had tried the Island once with a group of friends when I was off visiting parents or something such, and he said it wasn't any good - not that I trust his judgement in all things, but I've been disinclined to try it after that.)

Sunday, 6 October 2013

New cross stitch charts #3

So, another sale occured. Large Middle-Earth map above and Tsuru Kame by Haruyo Morita below. When I get back from Oulu, I'll probably start thinking about getting the fabric and flosses for another work than Asiria. Not sure which one it'll be though. Could be one of the minis or could be the Middle-Earth map - god knows I'll need the time to make it. :)