Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Someone Called for an Exterminator?

I've been busy.

No, really, I've had overtime over the course of the month. Work! Lots of it. I love my job, but it's still a job and sometimes it requires something above 8 hours a day.

But, I've also been playing Monster Hunter Freedom Unite. Also known as Monster Hunter Portable 2G. A game most people have never heard of, that topped Japanese sales charts for all of 2008. It was released March of 2008, in Japan. In America, it came out June of 2009. I have been waiting MORE than a YEAR for this game to come out. And I already own it.

Monster Hunter Portable 2G is the SEVENTH game in the Monster Hunter series, when taking into account the various versions made for home video game systems and portable game players. The ironic thing (maybe not so ironic, if you think about it) about this game is that all seven versions are essentially, at their core, the same game. You see, the Monster Hunter series is a lot like a car. Each year, BMW manufactures a sports automobile called the M3. The M3 is a high-horsepower sports car, precision made by Bavarian Motor Works (the BMW had to stand for something right? Too bad M3 doesn't…) for its markets in Europe and America, and presumably, exported to other locations around the world.

Each year a "new" M3 is released. But year to year, the changes in various models are not substantial. New parts are used that cut the manufacturing costs, new technologies are implemented to improve gas mileage and emissions, etc. Once in a long while, the car's basic design is overhauled. Back in 1989 a new M3 would be an "E30" M3, because E30 represented the body design and manufacturing standard. In 1997, a new M3 would be an "E36" which, while still representing BMW's chief mass-market sports car, is essentially a totally new design. The two cars would look only vaguely alike, mainly because cars usually have four wheels, windows, a grill in front and a trunk in back. Usually.

Similarly, Monster Hunter games are released once every year or two (the first came out in 2004). After the initial release, a special upgraded version called "Monster Hunter G" was released. The Japanese sometimes tack G into game titles to denote something is stronger or better - I'm not sure why, but I've been told that sometimes it's to invoke the word "God" which represents power and strength to the Japanese. Not sure myself. Monster Hunter G was EXACTLY the same game as Monster Hunter. Same monsters, same areas, same items, everything. With two exceptions: One, they added "extra" monsters - all of which were simply old monsters with new colors. The fire breathing dragon, for example, was normally red, but in "G" you could fight a BLUE one, because blue flames burn hotter than red. Neat huh?

The OTHER thing they added was a new set of weapons. Not a new weapon, but an extra set of about 40 weapons. These weapons were "dual swords", basically large daggers sets, wielded one in each hand. The original game had Sword and Shield weapons, HUGE swords called Great Swords, giant Hammers, large spears called Lances (always paired with a shield) and finally, "bowguns" which are guns, that propel ammo by way of… a bow string. The addition of dual swords effectively increased the number of weapons by 20%.

After the first two, Capcom released a true sequel, called Monster Hunter 2 Dos (Dos being… Spanish for 2). The sequel added… more monsters. Crabs and monkeys. GIANT crabs and monkeys. It also featured new versions of all the original game areas. And new weapons. But the core game remained the same. Later they released Monster Hunter Portable, a version of the first game for the PSP (actually a version of Monster Hunter G, but they left the G out). After Portable came Portable 2, a PSP version of… you guessed it, Monster Hunter 2 Dos.

Every game released so far has been like this. Take the original formula - and change NOTHING. Change the art slightly. Change the monsters - just their color maybe, or add something new, even if it behaves similarly to the old monsters.

Fuel Injection. Carbon hood, carbon roof. Power Steering, Power Brakes, Power Seats. HEATED Seats.

No one reinvents the car, not a regular basis - the closest we've come are hybrids and pure-electrical automobiles. Similarly, Monster Hunter never needed any of its core mechanics to change. The original was one of the biggest sellers on the Japanese Playstation 2 system. The sequel never came out on home systems in America, because by the time the game would have been ready, the Playstation 2 was being replaced by the Playstation 3 (… at least Sony would like you to think so. Technically the Playstation 2 has outsold the Playstation 3 every year since the PS3 came out) so instead, they "ported" the game to the PSP.

I own every version of Monster Hunter released in North America. So while I had been waiting for Monster Hunter Freedom Unite (the American name of Monster Hunter Portable 2G) for over a year, I'd also been playing it THE WHOLE TIME.

Sound crazy? Maybe. But ask the owner of a BMW M3 if they'd like to keep their old car or trade up to the new one. Most are going to say, "Can't I just have both?"

Jeeze look at all that text. And I didn't even explain what the game is about! Next time, and with more pictures.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Flaming June

Flaming June is a song by BT, off of his ESCM album - his second album, I believe. It's a nice tune that can easily get stuck in my head no matter what month it is, but I love listening to it in June, because... June is busy.

THIS June, has been VERY busy.

The reason I haven't posted in a while is a combination of things: Overtime at work, followed by the release of not one, two, or even three, but FOUR games I've been waiting a long time for: [Prototype], Ghostbusters: The Game, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite, and Spore: Galactic Adventures.

Oh yeah, and Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen came out.

Add to all this the usual summer hangouts and gettogethers, and I simply haven't had time to do much creative work. I've been playing the games to unwind from work, and as it turns out, Transformers 2 is nearly three hours long - so that will eat up an entire evening all by itself. I promised myself I'd do some writing last weekend but I can get really bad at doing things when I'm not actually hanging them around my neck and reminding myself to do them constantly. Plus, I tend to get absorbed in my games, so after a few hours... what was I doing?

In fact, what was the whole point of this post? To just whine about not having enough time to do fun things? ARGH! I should get cracking then. The worst part is, May was BORING. I had to go buy model kits to put together on weekends to waste time and unwind!

Expect more shortly! And enjoy your Flaming June!

Super Go!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Scale in modeling

I'll try and keep this one short. Maybe 1/72? Heh...

Scale in modeling terms is the fraction of size a model is compared to the real deal. Let's say you had a statue - a model, sort of - that was twice the size of your height - let's say, 5' 10", that's a good random number.

Model kits, on the other hand, are SMALLER versions of real life things. If a fighter jet is 20 meters long in real life, then a 1/72 scale model kit - this would be fairly large - the model kit would be roughly 28 centimeters long. That translates to between 11 inches and one foot in length. Displaying that on a stand would end up taking a lot of your desk or shelf space.

Even models of giant robots tend towards a scale system. In Japan, the people who write the giant robot shows pride themselves on fictional specifications - the dry weight versus the fueled weight, the various demensions, range and top speed, etc. Because of this, the model makers tend to have a lot of hard data for their designs. A 1/100 scale Gundam would be .18 meters tall... or 18 centimeters, which works out to about 7 inches tall, because the Gundam was specified as being 18 meters tall.

Silly, right? They just DECIDE it's 18 meters, even though the thing's not... actually... hey what's that in the distance...

A little known project the Japanese have been working on for a few months (yeah they started this earlier in the year. Scary right?) is a 1/1 scale "model" of the RX-78-2 Gundam mobile suit. Now don't worry, it's not actually mobile. But it's not quite a statue either - it is, honestly, a model kit. A model kit that's exactly the same size as the "real" Gundam would be... but it's made of individually machined peices that were crafted together - it has joints and everything! It's apparently going to be part of an attraction and the cockpit will be open to sit in, and play a little movie for anyone who sits inside it. Rad!

It's currently located in Odaiba, Japan, but will be disassembled (!!! Yikes!!!) and moved to its final location later. Here's a few more pics - you can get a personal story here. Man am I jealous. And on a side note - all the cynics saying how lightning is going to strike this thing, bring it to life, and cause it to rampage through Tokyo are forgetting this is a GOOD GUY. It's not like they built a Zaku.

EDIT: I was wrestling with the formatting of this post all evening when I put it up, and I ended up with a duplicate paragraph! And I re-read that post a dozen times. Just goes to show - don't make posts after midnight! They get all scaley and mean...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Mobile Suit Whatnow?

Well my sister, who is a darling and a saint, actually read through that entire first post I made, but she had a question: Gundam? Is that like, Japanese Transformers?

The answer: Uh, not quite. There are Gundams that transform, but Transformers and Gundam are about as different as Spiderman and Star Trek. Actually they're about as different as Spiderman and Dawson's Creek.

The thing that made Mobile Suit Gundam unique and original, when it came out thirty years ago (it just had it's 30th birthday in April, actually), was that all the other robot shows were basically:

"Oh no! A giant monster is destroying the city!"
"Someone must stop it… "
Queue the dramatic music… "We're saved! It's Giant Robo to the rescue!"

Essentially, large robot shows were seen as little more than kid-targeted commercials to sell robot toys, and as far as story was concerned: Giant monster attacks, then hero robot shows up, hero beats monster in highly dramatic fashion, day is saved. Now, repeat 25 times over the course of a four month TV season! And make sure someone's making a toy of that robot, so that you can generate revenue off of the toy sales - it's worth tons of money.

Gundam changed a lot of that.

In the first episode of Gundam, the main characters are living in a space colony that comes under attack for mysterious reasons. It is explained that a war in space was being waged between the Earth Federation (the Good Guys) and the Principality of Zeon -all humans of different sorts - but the main characters thought the war had nothing to do with them. The Zeon are a Nazi-Germany themed group of space colony nationalists who believed the Earth Federation is mistreating their people and declared independence from the Earth government - and started bombing earth from space to enforce their independence. The attack on the main characters' colony was a mission to find a prototype military weapon called "Gundam" that was under secret development in space (the earth Federation apparently thought keeping their secret weapon as far from earth as possible was a good idea. Whoops!)

By the end of the first episode, most of the main characters have lost their entire families in the colony attack. There's a notable scene where one of the women is running towards a shelter, and is lagging behind the rest of the crowd - who are suddenly scattered in all directions by a missile blast. In one second she watches her father, mother and little brother killed right in front of her. This is an important theme of the show: War Is Hell. Try To Survive.

The bad guys on the show were not giant, comical monsters, but rather soldiers of an opposing army who often seemed fairly reasonable, but still decided they would fight for their own country's independence. The main characters rally around the Gundam, a seemingly unbeatable vehicle that combines the firepower of a tank with the mobility of a fighter plane - and had giant, energy swords that could cut through metal like a light saber. However, even though the fights often seemed like over the top, kiddy cartoon stuff, the horror of the enemy pilots' screams as their robots were destroyed were a painful reminder of the truth of armed conflict. War truly is hell, and survival must sometimes take priority over a soldier's personal feelings.

Gundam itself didn't do well until the company Bandai became a sponsor and made model kits for the various robots. Ironically, the practice of turning the robots into toys SAVED Gundam (which had been suffering from poor ratings), and funded a new series called Zeta Gundam (the first to feature TRANSFORMING robots!) in 1985.

The "Military Robot" genre of anime that Gundam started is still being made today. The show Macross and others followed in Gundam's footsteps, making robot war dramas and stories of personal heroism in the face of horror more commonplace. It's a style of Japanese television that is still quite successful today.

Thanks for reading! SUPER GO!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What's in a Name? Quite a lot actually.

Eidolon Reptile Celestial Spirt (E.R.C.'S.): Ronidrake!

Phew! That's a mouthful, isn't it? (And believe it or not, I trimmed it down!) Where the heck did that come from?

My close friends may already know but to others it may be much more… confusing. EXTREMELY confusing. The name is something of a joke on the ridiculously long names of Japanese Anime that I love so much. The company that a few of my friends and I used to work for (Wizkids Games, before it was bought by Topps) created a piece of merchandise which was referred to as - I'm not making this up - the Spirit Eidolon Solanavi Celestial - and when we were first introduced to the figure we couldn't stop laughing. A previous joke that we heard regarding "extra" special editions of DVD releases (based on what I believe was an online joke regarding the final "Super Tiger Dragon" edition of Lord of the Rings) lead to us referring to the Mage Knight monster as the "Super Tiger Dragon Spirit Eidolon Solanavi Celestial something something." I don't know that any of use could ever make it to the word "Celestial" without breaking into laughter. I'm giggling to myself right now just typing it.

I mentioned in weeks afterwards that the only way to make the "STDSESC" (man that's even long to spell as an acronym) more cool would be to make it a ninja. Or a robot. (It was already a dragon, in our version.) Eventually I began to reason that adding anything onto a Robot Ninja Dragon was extraneous, and that this combination of attributes already made it the most badass and super powerful entity in all creation. But I digress. The real story with this name actually started in 1979. In Japan.

In 1979 Mobile Suit Gundam started airing on Japanese television. Let's look at the origins of Gundam, or at least what I've learned over the years... Gundam was originally concieved as a "super robot" show featuring a suit of powered armor worn by a young man (or boy), called "Freedom Fighter Gunboy". The eponymous Gunboy had a gun or other similar weapon of immense power that he used to fight whatever the fictitious villains were to be. After a great deal of go-between by the show's creators, the general idea and theme of the show were changed to a military drama. The "powered armor" suit grew as the scope of the story evolved, into an 18 meter tall colossus that was piloted much like a vehicle. The name "Gundam" came from the combination of the original "Gunboy" with the Japanese corruption of "Freedom". Gunboy plus "Freedam". Gundam. The extended title "Mobile Suit Gundam" was finalized to describe the nature of the Gundam unit as a Mobile Suit, the giant robotic vehicles the show centered on. Although "Mobile Suit Gundam" might sound a little busy, right?

Well you see, the Japanese have always had a special fascination with adding a lot of words to a single title or phrase that seem… well, complete gibberish. Let's take for example, the Transformers franchise - the original series was simply called "Transformers" in America, sometimes with the line "More Than Meets The Eye" tagged along (less a subtitle, more a slogan they could shout in toy commercials). In Japan the full name of Transformers is literally "FIGHT! Super Robotic Lifeform Transformers". Seriously. It starts with "TATAKAE!" which means "FIGHT!" Typically in all caps, just like that. Additional words were added to each sequel of the original series - my favorite is FIGHT! Super Robotic Lifeform Transformers: Super God Masterforce. So that explains the pile of extra words I tacked on for "no reason" -I had plenty of reason! It's important to maintain FLAVOR in these things.

Super Dimensional Fortress Macross is a great example of combining a weird portmanteau with extra adjectives thrown on the grill for more spice. Originally planned as "Super Dimensional Fortress Megaroad" or "Super Dimensional Fortress Megaload" - the true translation is difficult because the Japanese use L and R sounds interchangeably and because both translations have meaning - the titular "SDF" was a giant spaceship with "extra dimensional" capabilities. Megaroad and Megaload evoke the image of a huge journey or a huge capacity for cargo, and the "Super Dimension Fortress" did/had plenty of both. The ship fits an entire city in its interior and also travels from the farthest reaches of the solar system back to earth after a screwed up "space fold" event (the "warp drive" of Macross literally folds or bends space so that two far away points become connected by a portal that the ships fly through. Great super science! Completely trivializes the ramifications of the theory of relativity and long term space travel).

So where does the word "Macross" come from? Well when the show's creators found a distributor, and as the story goes, one of the higher ups asked that as part of the distribution deal, the name "Megaroad" be changed to "MacBeth." Apparently the higher up was a big Shakespeare fan (pretty cool actually, given that Japanese and English are VERY different languages with very different styles of prose) and loved the sound of the name. Now, readers familiar with Japanese will know, that a word like MacBeth is hard to translate to Japanese. Instead of a seven letter, two syllable word, it becomes a four letter, four syllable word - Japanese letters are each their own syllable. MacBeth thusly translates to "Makubesu" (because in addition to combining R and L, the Japanese also have no "th" sound in their alphabet). Ma Ku Be Su. Ironically, when translating "Megaroad", the word is the same length - four letters: "Mehgarodo."

The creators of the show tried to talk the Shakespeare fan out of it (it's always hard to give up creative control!). Eventually, a compromise was reached. They combined "Ma Ku Be Su" (MacBeth) with "Meh Gah Ro Do" (Megaroad) into "Ma Ku Ro Su" or simply, Macross. Believe it or not, to the Japanese, these three nonsensical words (which have no meaning in Japanese whatsoever) all sound remarkably alike.

All these should bring us back to the name I've chosen for my blog: Ronidrake. Robot Ninja Drake - or rather, Robot Ninja Dragon. Following the same corruption and portmanteau tradition that Anime creators used years before me I have crafted a pure (corrupt) work of art (goonish wordplay). The rest is just the window dressing you would expect from a robot show title - which also, amazingly, form an acronym of my name! Almost. Turns out Blogger wouldn't fit "Eidolon Reptile Integrating Celestial Spirit: Ronidrake!" in the blog title. Fiddle.

So what possesed me to actually USE this naming convention for my blog? Well, robots will always been my first love. Before I knew dinosaurs, before I knew dragons, before I knew ninjas or comic heroes or special forces soldiers or Jedi or Phasers or ANYTHING ELSE - I knew robots. The artificial body! The mechanical colossus! So does it inspire me every time I see one, so I hope to inspire those who read my works here. SUPER GO!

Note: Whoops if this is a double post! I'm new at this and I edited to add a title.