Still Waiting for an Awakening

Over the last few days, I've been thoroughly sucked in by the newest Fire Emblem game, for the 3DS, called Fire Emblem: Awakening. For the life of me, I have no idea what Awakening has done to me that Sacred Stones or Path of Radiance didn't manage. My only guess would be the support system, but it's not like that's new to Awakening! Perhaps, then, it's not the support system itself but the characters and the conversations within it that have captured my attention.

For anyone completely unfamiliar with the Fire Emblem series, the support system is designed to define relationships between characters and grants combat bonuses to characters that are close to one another. As characters spend more time fighting together, their support rank increases; from C rank up to a maximum possible of S. On top of that, characters start out completely unranked with all others; even C rank must be earned.

And every time characters gain a rank, a conversation occurs between them, showing how their relationship is developing. It would not be an exaggeration to say that those conversations and the relationships between my characters that I'm seeing in those conversations is a huge part of why I'm playing Awakening as much as I am - perhaps even the only part!

But, as perhaps might be expected, characters are restricted in who they can build support ranks with. In theory, I don't have a problem with that. I think it reflects real life to an extent in that some people have their own preferences, and that maybe this character just doesn't want to get to know one of their companions that well. Awakening reflects this by making it impossible to build support ranks between some characters at all.

There is, however, one huge problem that I have with Awakening's support system. Because there's one more element left to be mentioned: the fact that the game also locks some characters out from reaching the highest possible S rank with certain other characters. Again, in theory, I don't have a problem with this. It's not like it's possible in real life to be intimately familiar with everyone you meet!

But, the way Awakening did this... well, if you can build support ranks between two characters at all, you can build them to A at least. And you can only build an S rank relationship between two characters of opposite gender. Which doesn't mean you can always build an S rank relationship between characters of opposite gender, but so far the only time that it's been limited to A rank is when the relationship in question is between family members.

To put it mildly, this is somewhat of a disappointment. In this day and age, it seems like such a pointless restriction! I defy any and all readers of this to give me a good reason why heterosexuality is the only possible option. Heaven knows I can't think of a single one. (I have thought of some flawed reasons, and if I was writing a paper I'd go into them and explain why they aren't good enough, but this blog post is shaping up to be massive already, and a lot of the reasons are fairly spoiler-heavy. I'm happy to talk about it in comments if there's interest in that.)

It's worth noting that this is not something that's going to make me put Awakening down and stop playing it. I am disappointed, but I do still enjoy the game a great deal, and I do want to see the relationships that are in the game. What I want even more, though; the opportunity that I think Awakening missed? Is for a game to give me a relationship system that's as progressive as possible, something true to life and effective at inspiring emotion. Because that's the kind of relationship system that will engage me even more deeply and be even more rewarding for me than the one Awakening actually has.

Essentially, I want my games to provide engaging and compelling experiences. And there are a lot of ways that games can do that! Aside from the support system, Awakening is a tactical combat game that has provided me with enjoyment on that level as well. (Although Normal is too easy and Hard is too difficult... *sigh*)

However, one thing that I keep searching for in the games that I play is an enjoyable relationship system. Fire Emblem is hardly the only game to provide a system of that nature; Mass Effect springs to mind, although I've only played ME1 so far (and my experiences there would be a whole separate post). I have no doubt there are others, although that's the only one I can come up with off the top of my head.

I do believe, though, that Awakening has come the closest of any game I've yet played. And if it didn't completely ignore any intimate relationships outside of monogamous heterosexual ones, along with mostly ignoring the possibility of limiting some relationships to the "friend" level regardless of sexual orientation...? I think that would have been a major step forward, if it had happened.

I suppose that is an awakening which the gaming industry has yet to fully embrace. Developers take note: there are a lot of gamers out there that are eagerly waiting for it to happen. If only because this, too, is how we change the world.

(Commenting note: When discussing either Awakening or any other game, I'd appreciate it if people could try to minimize spoilers and mark any spoilers that they do feel are necessary.)


Lost in Translation

Along with a lot of other people, I am a huge fan of Bad Apple, the one Touhou song that you've probably already heard about if you know anything about Touhou at all. And if you don't know anything about Touhou, well, that's what Wikipedia is for. It doesn't really matter for the rest of this post, but it's certainly interesting in its own right.

Needless to say, given the popularity of this song (sure, it's no Gangnam Style, but three million views is still a lot), numerous different translations have been made. There's a good example of that if you look at the full version of the song; the subtitles there are noticeably different in places, aren't they?

As it stands, I prefer listening to the full version of the song, but I tend not to notice the translations, because oddly enough there was actually a point to me spending years studying Japanese. I have no real interest in throwing my hat into this particular ring - to be fair, the prior existence of other translations hasn't necessarily stopped me before, but I simply don't have the interest in trying to translate Bad Apple. Not when I can understand it myself and can point other people that need the translations to the already-existing ones.

But, as long as I'm thinking about it I might as well share my opinion of the existing translations. And on that note, there's one more "translation" of the song that I'd like to take a moment to highlight: the semi-official (mostly by virtue of Internet acclaim) English version of the song, sung by Cristina Vee.

It's a very different translation when compared to the other options. I mean, it's clear (or at least it should be) that the dry questions "Is there a future for someone like this? / Do I belong in this world?" creates a very different effect when compared to "Will tomorrow ever come? Will I make it through the night? / Will there ever be a place for the broken in the light?"

This does set up one question, though: which translation is "better"?

The answer is complicated and definitely depends on what the translation is intended for. There's a great deal to be said for the value of being as literal as possible; there are several points in the English version that just have no analogue in the original song, and adding details that didn't exist in the original seems to defeat the purpose of translating that song. At the same time, while the more literal translation works as a subtitle displayed on-screen to help people who don't speak Japanese, trying to communicate it verbally causes it to lose a great deal. I've tried to essentially "read" some of the translations I've created for songs, but that always seems entirely insufficient and indeed very awkward.

In short, I think the former option is the superior choice for a subtitle, but the latter is preferable if you're reading or singing out loud in time with the music. Attempting to read the former out loud highlights its total lack of the poetic or metrical elements of song lyrics, while simply printing the latter as text on a screen makes the differences between it and the source text obvious.

If there's a broader take-away point, try this: it's important, when translating, to have a clear idea of what you're trying to accomplish and how your translation will be conveyed to others. Failing to do so means you lose that much more in translation, and we usually lose entirely too much as it is.


League of Legends Championship Series

I'm usually optimistic about my ability to change even something as broad as the culture and society we live in. It helps, of course, that I live in a time when I can watch that society change right before my eyes. Little changes, perhaps - maybe the concert features a purely computer-generated singer, instead of a live person, and still draws major attendance in cities across the country from the actual concert (yay simulcasting). Even if it's a little thing, it would have been unimaginable ten years ago.

Or, you know, maybe an online video game kicks off the start to a league that draws hundreds of thousands of viewers on its opening two days of matches.

The League of Legends Championship Series (or the LCS for short) is, perhaps, not that much of an innovation. These kinds of leagues have existed in Asia (particularly Korea) for years, to my understanding. It is most assuredly something new in the United States, if nothing else. And speaking as someone who (currently) lives in the United States, it is quite definitely exciting. (There's also a new European league, for people on that side of the Atlantic.)

I think it's certainly been the case that video games can have somewhat of a bad reputation outside gaming circles. Indeed, anything that takes place online or uses a computer can be negatively defined as "not real", as if something requires physical form to be counted as "real". I should probably back away from the philosophical minefield that I'm about to step into, but suffice to say that I don't think Miku is any less "real" for being a computer construct, to take one example.

And this kind of bias against online society as somehow less than face-to-face interaction is very much alive and well today, in case you were curious. "The online, social media stuff does not matter because it is behind a computer", you say...?

These people in the LCS are making a living off of video games. They are professional sports players, in a very real sense, although perhaps less well paid than some sports stars. We live in a world where the definition of the word "sports" is changing before our eyes - to accommodate this idea of "e-sports", the arrival of video games on a professional stage.

Don't tell me that it can't be done. It's being done as we speak.

(Oh, and in a development as critically important as any of the above, my favorite team kicked major butt, going 3-0 in the first week. Priorities!)


Unwarranted Assumptions

I stopped by the mall today, mostly because I needed to kill time and didn't have any better ideas. While I was there, I was accosted by one of the people manning a stall in the center of the hallway. I do sort of mind that, because I always have such a hard time saying no when someone's aggressively trying to get me to buy something - or at least, say no in a final enough way to get them to listen to me.

(And yes, the idea that I can say no and not be listened to is part of a much larger problem. It's one that this post isn't really going to get into.)

Interestingly enough, this particular stall was selling, effectively, makeup. That's probably not the best word for it; the stuff that he was trying to sell to me was designed to make one's fingernails look better, and was comprised of several things including lotion and... I guess something kind of like a fingernail file? I wasn't exactly paying too much attention, since I was trying to find a way to extricate myself from the sales pitch without just flat-out saying "go away". Either way, though, damn if it didn't actually work. I have one very shiny fingernail now!

And yet, even though the guy went through the effort to use my fingernail as a demonstration, even when his own fingers provided ten more examples of the stuff he was trying to sell me... he wasn't really trying to sell this stuff to me.

The conversation began with him asking if I am married. Then if I had a girlfriend. Both get answers in the negative. He pointed out that Valentine's Day was coming up. When he showed me the results of his little buffing tool, he asked me if I thought my mother would like that effect. When I wasn't inclined to buy the full set of products he was selling (even after three or four discounts on the price) he started asking which one I thought my mother would use.

Through the entire conversation, he simply assumed that I had no desire to buy this thing, and that he would have to sell it to a family member or friend of mine by proxy through me.

This is not an unusual incident or a coincidence. While it's the first time that I've seen an obvious example in my life, this happens all the time (more often to women trying to buy something that isn't feminine enough, I would guess), and it's one of the more irritating displays of gender stereotypes in society.

If I express interest in your product, unless I specifically mention buying it as a gift, you damn well better believe that I'm buying it because I want it. And if you're coming after me to sell me something? Before you try to convince me to buy your product, you should probably convince yourself that I want to buy said product first.


Final notes for Midchildan Music

Well, in case anyone missed the memo yesterday, I finally got around to actually updating one of the stories I had started writing. In this case, Midchildan Music was first posted to fanfiction.net in December 2010, meaning it's been over two years from story start to completion - and this is a work that tops out just over 25k words, when I can and have pounded out twice as many in a month.

The short version of that paragraph? I may have some issues with procrastination when it comes to things like this.

Part of that has to do with my personality, I think. I tend to be fairly... anxious about putting my writing on the Internet for all to see. (As an aside, that applies not just to fan fiction, but to blog posts and comments as well.) What happened with this final chapter of Midchildan Music was that I had it essentially finished and ready to post - and then stopped to re-read it. Theoretically to make sure that it was free of errors and that it was what I wanted to post. Then I re-read it again. Then I went to bed, deciding to sleep on it before I posted it. And then, well, it kind of slipped out of my "immediate concerns" pile and didn't find its way back into said pile for around a year and a half.

To be fair, I did make some edits over the past few days to the chapter that I had written back then. So perhaps it turned out better for the delay? I doubt it ended up better enough to justify as long of a wait as it was, but who knows.

Anyway! Chapter 5, Miku Append. Spoilers ahead! Go read the chapter itself first.

Of all of the Vocaloids, Miku is and probably will remain my favorite - and as far as Vocaloid costumes are concerned, in my opinion Miku Append wins hands down, at least as far as "general purpose" is concerned. Then again, I didn't title the chapter entirely on that reason, considering that the Miku in this chapter is very much an evolved form from the Sergeant's first Intelligent Device creation, just as Miku Append in the real world is to some extent an "upgrade" for the original Miku Hatsune.

There are two major goals that I was aiming for in this chapter. The first is to finish the Sergeant's change of heart. Meeting Miku has affected him. He started this story in a very uncomfortable position as someone who was very inwardly focused on his own goals, and very narrow ones at that. He ends it as someone who cares a little more about the people around him - not only Miku, but he demonstrates in the letter he sent to Haruko that he recognizes the mistakes he's made in ignoring the world around him before Miku showed up. Or at least, that's part of what I was trying to get across.

The second was to give the Sergeant and Miku a chance to finally win something. And to show off some of my favorite Vocaloids songs as battle themes. The fights are short and sweet, but I hope they are sufficiently awesome all the same. I also enjoyed the chance to link the magic he was using to some particular songs that I enjoy, and I would encourage people to go give a listen to both Disruptive Diva (yes, the one line in that song was entirely responsible for calling the spell Prelude to Destruction) and Love is War.

That wasn't the only thing I got out of the second fight with Fate, though. I highlighted the Sergeant's change of heart, as well. He's no longer focusing on sheer and overwhelming power, but on using what he has and what he knows to "defeat" a foe that is (still) far superior to him in raw combat ability. And it works out very well for him in the end.

Anyway, I should probably cut this off here before I write another several thousand words. I hope everyone that read Midchildan Music enjoyed the ride! And hopefully I'll be able to polish up and properly finish the sequel that I started working on for last year's National Novel Writing Month...


Midchildan Music chapter 5

Well, I finally got around to dealing with my fan fiction stories again. Yay!

The next (and final) chapter of Midchildan Music, my Nanoha/Vocaloids crossover, is up.

The beginning of the story can be found here. Feel free to let me know what you think either here in comments or through Fanfiction.net's review system; I'll try to post a longer kind of author's notes here sometime within the next day or two.