Friday, November 2, 2012

We should be happy Disney got Lucas Films

Disney recently acquired Star Wars. There has been a lot of hubbub around the internet and, as I was surprised to find out, real life. People still care about Star Wars? I mean, I know that nerds cared, but normal people? I was kind of surprised.

Anyway, being the king of nerds within my social circle, everyone wanted to know what my opinion was. I hadn’t given it much thought so after considering for a couple seconds my initial reaction was that this was good, though I couldn’t really nail down why beyond the fact that Lucas was getting kicked upstairs to creative consultant. Now that I have had some time to think about this, I feel that I can give a much better explanation of why this is a strictly good thing for the IP.

Star Wars is a deeply damaged IP. Star Wars has been bad for at least 10 years, and nothing truly great has come from the IP since the conclusion of the original trilogy. There have been a few decent books and videogames, but by and large nothing worthy of the Star Wars name. 95% of all things Star Wars related are terrible, and the sequels were especially awful. It has gotten so bad that I actively avoid anything even related to Star Wars. Anytime I break this rule I regret it. No one should be wasting their time with Star Wars.

However, get Lucas out of the picture, bring in new creative talent, and focus on the core of what made Star Wars great all those years ago and you might just be able to overcome all the baggage of the last 13 years.

Disney cannot ruin Star Wars. The only question is if Disney can fix Star Wars. At worst we are going to get more stuff we should just ignore, so there is no downside to this. In fact, we might even win if this is bad for Star Wars. Maybe people will finally realize that Star Wars is dead and move on.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Oswald Review: Academagia - Text was never so magical.

Genre: Hell if I know. Life Sim Text Adventure RPG, I guess.
Platform: PC
Released: 2010
Developer/Publisher: Black Chicken Studios


Writing: 3 - Generally engaging, which is good because the game is 95% text.

Interface: 1 - Very poorly designed and implemented. Will be a deal breaker for many.

RPG Elements: 3 - Fairly deep but very confusing.

Art: 2 - Minimal and of questionable quality, but it serves its purpose well.


Arcademagia is the first game I have ever played of it’s kind, and it doesn't fit into any common genre. You play as a child who has just received a letter inviting them to attend the Academy of Magic in the city of Mineta, which is basically the Hogwarts of this fictional universe. You attend your first year of school, learn magic, make friends and go on adventures.

The basic gameplay is very simple. Each day you choose what you will do in the morning, afternoon and evening. You name the action and the game calculates how it went, you receive a report on how the day went and you will now have more experience, money or whatever you were working towards. Sometimes random events occur during the day, which are beneficial if your character can handle it or detrimental or not. I will discuss random events in detail later, but for now lets stick with actions.

There are many, many actions available. Most are variations of the theme of practice a skill and get better at it but framed in a fun and interesting way. For example, My character is good enough at reading people that I can increase my study levels by manipulating my professors into giving away what will be on the exam. In additional, I get a couple bonus points in random manipulation skills even if the action fails. Other actions include working a shift at a restaurant to earn money and cooking skills, gossiping about a person you hate to lower their social standing, or encouraging a fellow student so they will become your friend.

You will start the game with only 20 or so actions available, but new actions are earned as you play. If you improve your flowers skill you might earn the ability to go collect herbs which, with enough points in brew, can be used to make a potion. Leveling up skills can give you other benefits, such as learning of new school locations, upgrading your relationship with a certain professor or student, access to bits of lore, and other possibilities too numerous to name here.

With over 200 skills, 11 levels for each and a reward for each level of each skill, there is quite a bit of content and a real sense of progression as you play. You can unlock some really interesting rewards. My current favorite is the max level of calligraphy, which allows you to create invitations so spectacular you can mind control the target for a day or two.

There are problems with the skill system.  There is no clear indication of what earning points in a skill will get you, and the usefulness of the skills varies wildly. Negation magic (counter magic) is probably the best skill in the game, but I have rarely had a use for grammar. Also, redundancy of skills can make things a little confusing. Do we really need three separate skill for seeds, roots and flowers? However, these problems are generally minor and don’t really detract from a skill system where you can base a character around gossip and knowledge of hairstyles and they will actually be useful.

Unfortunately, not all of the systems are as compelling as the skill system. Spell casting is clunky, boring, and generally unfun, which is unfortunate in a game about attending magic school. Each spell requires a roll and most provide a temporary but fairly powerful skill bonus. Spells can be further augmented by adding extra phemes (the basic building blocks of magic) that will add effects but increase the difficulty.

The problem is that most spells you cast will be to temporarily buff a skill so you can pass a difficult skill check, so you will be looking for spells and phemes pertaining to that skill. With 266 spells, 364 phemes and no ability to sort by effect figuring out a useful spell to cast is an extremely annoying exercise in hunting through the poor interface. Having a browser with the Academagia wiki open is practically a requirement, and while hunting through wiki pages is easier it certainly is not fun. Fortunately, spell casting in this way is rarely necessary.

The last type of action I am going to touch on is going on an adventure. You choose an adventure, from exploring a haunted forest to helping another student with their bullying problem, and attempt to navigate the adventure through a series of skill checks. For example, I went on an adventure in which I explored an abandoned tower. Through the use of my negation magic I was able to disable the magical defenses of the place, and using rhetoric I was able to befriend a resident ghost who helped me as I explored. Most adventures have several steps (requiring several actions to complete) but they have rewards as you go along and usually a big reward at the end. Also, if you fail in the adventure you can just try again so you never have to reload when you fail. The adventures are generally fun and entertaining.

The random events I touched on before are essentially mini adventures that can come at any time. Random events usually consisting of “This happens! What do you do?” followed by a skill check based on your response. For example, as I was exercising the star athlete of my class wanted to challenge me to a race, knowing that everyone would bet against me. She would then throw the race and, with a third person acting as a bookie, make a bunch of money. I used my gambling skill to accept, hoping that I might also place a few choice bets and make some cash myself. This blew up in my face and I got beat up by the people I had hoped to con. Random events are fun, break the monotony of the daily gameplay cycle and add a great deal of depth to the world.

All in all, Academagia is a very unique and interesting game. If you don’t mind reading and enjoy non standard game design, it is certainly worth checking out.

Final Score

3 - Interesting and fun but not for everyone.

For a breakdown of my scoring system, view this post.

I am currently accepting recommendations on what to review! I will review anything, from soundtracks to web browsers, but I can only claim expertise in video games and I will only review something if I feel like it. Put recommendations in the comments or send them to