20 October 2006

The Shadow of the Wind

I started on this Spanish bestseller on a whim at the end of July and didn't finish it until last night. 'The Shadow of the Wind' is a bestselling melodrama in the vein of Dumas' 'Count of Monte Cristo'. What melodrama! Passion, unrequited love, revenge, lost love, secrets, vanishing books, haunted mansions, lost fortunes and more! It's quite a tale. A love story, a mystery.

It took quite a bit before the story really started. Before that it meandered all over with some rather inconsequential subplots.

All in all, not a bad read for a bestseller.

19 October 2006

All is lost save Honour: Campaigns of the Italian Wars 1494-1530

This came in from Italy last night. I took a quick glimpse of the rules. This game will be challenging.

One 22"x34" maps of Northern Italy
360 die-cut counters
Standard rules
Optional Rules
Scenario Instructions for 5 campaigns
Charts, tables

The campaigns featured includes:

- Agnadello 1509, Venice defends its Republic against the foes.
- Novara 1513, the Swiss against the French army. The last triumph of the Swiss.
- Marignano 1515, Fran├žois I grabs the Duchy of Milan from the Swiss
- Bicocca 1522, the French lose the Duchy of Milan
- Pavia 1525, Fran├žois I loses the largest battle and Milan to the Empire

The game, of course, focuses on the campaigns of the Italian Wars (and not the individual battles). 'All is lost save honour' utilises a modified system used by most of the Napoleonic OSG games.

Source: Website

18 October 2006

Dungeon Siege II: Broken World

I started on the Dungeon Siege expansion a few days back. The combat is more intense here.

The monsters have more immunities and resistances to more kinds of damage than in the previous game. In fact, certain kinds of damage will heal them! Thus, it is important to have versatility in dealing different kinds of damage.

The expansion introduces two hybrid classes, one of which combines a warrior and a nature mage and the other, an archer and a battle mage. Both new types appear to be rather limited unless one were to spend vast amounts of time building them.

The premise, of course, is a direct continuation of the first one. As usual, the world is 'broken'. Devastated. What has changed? And some powers in this game were tweaked. I have heard that this expansion will require 20 hours to finish it.

This should be great fun.
Dungeon Siege II

I finished Dungeon Siege II a few nights ago. It was an enjoyable experience. I had spent many happy hours slaying monsters and accummulating treasure. Initially, the game had been rather bland and slow but it picked up in Act II and was a lot more involving in Act III.

  • The interface. The interface was great and it allowed easy switches between the four different characters. The inventory system was a pleasure to use, unlike that in 'Sacred'.
  • The class and character design. The warriors or melee types in this game are not as obviously weak as in other games where melee types often function only as 'tanks' or damage absorbing characters. Yes, they still absorb damage and cannot deal damage as much as the other types but they are still effective. The powers tree appeared to be useful and well thought out, like that in Titan Quest.
  • The item design. The items in this game do make a difference in gameplay and I like that. Different combinations will yield significant results which makes tailoring fun.

  • Drab drab drab graphics. One of the most visually unexciting games I have seen in a RPG in a long while. The environment is drab and block-ish. The character design is uninspired. Polygons abound. Sometimes, utilising 3D technology for the sake of technology instead of 'sprites' leaves quite a bit to be desired. Dungeon Siege II may have a fairly advanced engine but in terms of look and feel, Titan Quest, Guild Wars, and even Scared are much much more attractive.
  • Act I. Act I was a linear walk in the jungle with insipid slow-moving monsters. Surely, the entire long Act I cannot be a learning scenario? The game only picked up in Act II and Act III when the story played out.
  • Level design or scene design. Surely, the 'same-ness' and 'blandness' of each area, be it forest or city is visually unexpected. Block-ish trees, one-track areas... This is seriously a let down. As for towns and cities, I have realised that many RPGs including World of Warcraft, Guild Wars these days can only be bothered with one main city or two. I wish the designers and developers would devote more effort into the design of the cities and towns. I recall the large towns and cities of the Ultima series of games with pleasure. I enjoy the huge capital city and the smaller ones in The Elder Scroll: Oblivion.
  • Monster design. Creepy crawlies, froggies, doggies. I mean, c'mon, these are really stale.
  • Main quests are linear. Secondary ones are not. What gives? To go back to an Act I area where monsters are 30 levels lower to get something? Seriously...

  • Specialisation. All RPGs,, whether MMOs or single player now have hybrids character classes. Seriously, hybrids are weak in almost every game including this one. It is important to specialise. Pure classes like mage, healer, warrior, etc are important if one aspires to have balanced characters that are capable of finishing quests, beating end-game bosses and other players.

16 October 2006

Footage of Type 99 MBTs on CCTV4

I don't know if anyone here can receive Chinese CCTV4. Anyway, there is some sort of a soap opera with a military theme that runs on CCTV4 at 7:15 pm every Sunday night (or maybe on a more regular basis, I don't know).

I saw great footage of the latest Chinese Type 99 MBTs, Type 69s moving fast cross country and many other types. There were helicopter gunships, self-propelled howitzers, armoured personnel carriers, trucks and more.

From what I see, a lot of the footage were shot specifically for this programme. Last week, the plot apparently involved a situation where the Type 99 MBTs were trapped and an audacious commander had proposed to use three old Type 69 MBTs to strike across improbable terrain and this was effected. It would appear that the indirect approach* and unorthodox thinking have always been a Chinese concern, even on a TV programme. Shades of Sun Zi?

Last night, a senior character in the programme mentioned a scene from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. It cannot be understated how this military classic is embedded in the Chinese national psyche. Militarily, culturally and more.

And yes, there is martial music and hearty singing at the beginning of each programme.

Type 99 (ZTZ-99). The Sino-Defence website has detailed information on the Type 99.

*See Liddell Hart