Flights of The Electribird

Through Games, Events and Multimedia

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Wonder Project’s Robotic Childcare

Sorry for the lack of updates again. I’m planning to do some major changes to this blog, giving it a fresher look and add some stuff that’s been missing for some time. When that’s done, you’ll know when I’ll tell you (or you can just wait for the updates to “magically” happen).

To make up for lost time, I thought I’d review a game someone else wanted me to try. The more I learned about it, the more I knew I had to try the whole series. These games were not easy to get hold of, so I hope you’ll enjoy my reviews of some of Enix’s works of art, Wonder Project J for SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) and Wonder Project J2 for Nintendo 64.

Wonder Project J
Dr. Geppetto Lamarck is a scientist, who’s just finished building his greatest invention, Gijin 4649. Before Geppetto got a chance to activate this human-boy-looking robot, he gets arrested for high treason, leaving Gijin 4649 in the hands of the interface-robot named Tinker and an a person from another world…

If you haven’t figured this out by now, the person from the other world is the player. With Tinker as your cursor, it’s up to you to teach Gijin 4649 how to be as human-like as possible. After naming him (you can choose any name you want, but I kept the pre-set name, Pino, and will call him that from now on), it’s time to activate Pino and get started.

To teach Pino things, he has to interact with things in his environment. Some objects can be found in the player’s inventory and must be dragged out by Tinker into the environment for Pino to use them. Pino will most likely interact with the items on his own sometimes, but it’s much faster to tell him to interact with something using Tinker. After that, the player can make Tinker praise him, scold him or make her hit Pino in the head with a mallet to help him memorize or forget the way he interacted with the object. Just keep in mind that scolding or hitting will make Pino mad at you and trust you less than before and you need his trust level to be high enough to get him to listen to you or you’re going to be forced to bribe him with some pudding.

Apart from trust, there are some other status levels to keep an eye on. By interacting with objects, Pino can increase and decrease these stats to fit the player’s needs. Do you need Pino to get more arm power? Tell him to use a dumbell. Do you need Pinos intelligence to increase? Teach him to read with a grammar book to make both his imagination and reasoning levels increase. Some things in the game require some stats to be at the minimum or maximum of a certain number to get somewhere, so there are cases when Pino will have to get better at something and then be forced to get worse at it to get somewhere else. Just make sure to praise him when he does something right, scold him when he does something wrong or hit him when he does something really wrong (the last one looks optional to me, but it is effective if you don’t mind losing most of Pino’s trust). It’s also a good thing to keep in mind that Pino can only memorize how to use each object a certain way at the time, so if you taught him to, for example, pick a lock, he will stop bowing before the door while saying “Open Sesame”, if you taught him that earlier.

By raising Pino in different ways and using certain objects on him at the right time, you’ll also help him survive in areas where he can break down easily, costing the player money and 3 days for repairs. There are maze-like areas, where Pino can find stuff and fight monsters, if you’ve taught him how to use a weapon. Once he’s there, saving the game won’t be an option anymore, so you need to keep an eye on his energy and health levels while he’s there. Luckily, since you’re able to access the inventory with Tinker, you can stock up on stuff for Pino to eat in the mazes, but there are areas where that won’t be an option, like in the fight scenes, where Pino can fight people if you taught him how to use a sword (he’ll refuse if his kindness level is too high and his agression level is too low). To do this, his HP (Health Points) need to be really high if he’s going to make it out of there alive. There are several objects to use to get Pino’s HP to increase before the fights, but they can be a bit expensive and won’t do much if Pino’s unhappy.

The game doesn’t just stop at the very end. If the player is patient enough to wait until after the credits have rolled by, Dr. Geppetto will challenge you to play the game again, only this time from Act 2. You’ll also recieve a score for the least amount of days used per act. The higher score you get, the more likely it will be for you to be awarded with the secret ending of the game.

A game this difficult to play can’t get a higher score than 2/5 out of me, unfortunately. To move a cursor around with D-pad buttons or stick controls in general is a time-consuming business and Tinker is definitely no exception, because it can take forever for her to aim at what you want her to pick up from the inventory or at whatever it is you want Pino to interact with. Since Pino has the attention span of a 5-year-old boy, he’s not going to wait forever for the player to tell him what to do and start doing stuff on his own accord if you don’t stop him. As for Pino, he’s a bit of a pain to babysit, because it doesn’t take very much to make him lose his trust for you, making the game very hard very fast at the very beginning. But the story of the game is beautiful, the concept of being a babysitter to a robot is brilliant and some of the ways that Pino interact with stuff can be quite funny to watch. This game would definitely recieve a higher score if you could control Pino during the fight scenes, because I’m pretty sure that the player can beat the fighters faster than Pino does by himself…

Wonder Project J2
Years after the secret ending of the prequel, Dr. Geppetto Lamarck has finished building his next robot, Gijin 5984 (named Josette). But before he can teach her everything, Geppetto tells Josette that she needs to leave home, making her cry. But when Geppetto gets a heart-attack, he tells her to pay attention to her new caretaker, a person from another world. When he dies, Josette has no other choice but to pack her stuff and leave to another island with the interface-robot named Bird.

Once again, the player is the person from the other world and this time you’ll have to raise Josette (yes, you can change her name in this game too, but I refused) using Bird as the cursor. Just like the player had to do with Pino, you need to teach Josette stuff by letting her interact with things and people in the environment and then praise or scold her to make her remember or forget a certain behavior. But this game still differs a bit from its prequel. Unlike Pino, Josette is more friendly and talkative towards the player and will learn from the answers she recieves from you. The player is also free from keeping an eye on any other status levels than health and mentality. Instead, there’s a list of 25 goals for Josette to reach. She doesn’t need to reach them all to finish the game, but there is a bonus to recieve for finishing them all.

Remember what I wrote about the fight scenes in Wonder Project J? It’s still the same thing here with those too. But now the maze areas have been updated with 3D-mechanics. By controlling Josette, you can run through (or drive through, if Josette is in a vehicle) those to reach whatever it is that needs to be found. It takes a while for her to master each vehicle once she’s learned how to drive them, but at least the player gets to be in charge a little more by using the controls.

I really want to give this game a higher score than 4/5, but I can’t. Some of the mazes can be a bit hard in this game and just like with Tinker, it’s tricky to control Bird with the D-pad and Josette isn’t always patient enough to wait for your command. But this story is so beautiful and the 3D-mechanical elements in this manga-styled game makes some of the flaws ignorable. But nothing made this game as lovely as much as Josette herself, who is so sweet and innocent, it’s hard to dislike her even a little bit. Enix also gets a major plus for making the player a part of the story so well, because it’s not easy to break the fourth wall without causing a mess.

Enix made plenty of wonderful games in the past, both before and after the merge with Square, but never have I played a game from the 90’s that effected my biological clock like these two did. If I ever get a daughter, I hope she’ll be like Josette and you can bet on that I will personally play Wonder Project J2 again soon. As for Pino, there are plenty of kids like him in my family already and they all require patience to raise, which is something you don’t always get when you play a cursor-controlled game with a D-pad or a stick controller. Just the fact that I’m refering to these characters as kids instead of androids shows how much this game series has affected me and I look forward to the day Square Enix chooses to make another Wonder Project game in the future.


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Bitter-Sweet Vengeance Against Piracy

Piracy is a sensitive subject, depending on who you talk to. To game development companies, it’s stealing. To consumers, it’s a way to get hold of a sometimes over-priced game for free. The fact that I’m mentioning the subject on this blog is a big risk, but what kind of multimedia blogger would I be if I was too wimpy to bring it up? Besides, the story I read about a few days ago is way too good to leave unmentioned!

When the game development company Greenheart Games released their game Game Dev Tycoon, a simulation game where you build and run your own game development company, they decided to make an experiment. When they released the game for people to buy, they also released a cracked version of the game for the “economically challenged” to download illegally. Some would probably see something like this as a nice jesture, but like almost everything else in life, there’s a catch. This cracked version had a specific detail that made it different from the buyable version – a “bug” that made the player go bankrupt because of piracy. For more information about this, you can read Patrick Klug’s blog-entry for the entire story.

Personally, I found this whole thing to be hillarious. Sure, artists should get paid for their work and some games can be too expensive to buy, but what a scheme! It wouldn’t surprise me if other companies thought of doing something like this too (it would explain a lot, actually), but the honesty and openess of the brothers at Greenheart Games about the subject is very refreshing. On top of that, the theme of the game alone made this whole thing even sweeter! I can’t think of a better way for a game development company to teach illegal-downloading gamers a lesson than to let them taste their own medicine, even though it might not have been the intention in the first place. Sure, all gamers can’t buy stuff online for various reasons and $8 can be a lot of money to someone, so this can be seen as a cheap trick.

As someone who knows game development, I understand the hard work that the developers put into making the game and their need for the payment they deserve for it. As a gamer, I’m a bit concerned over the invasion of privacy, but also happy about being the kind of person who always go for the buyable versions for newly-released games. As the person I am, I’m laughing at this whole thing!

After reading their blog-entry, Greenheart Games has most certainly gained my respect. If I had the money, I’d get myself Game Dev Tycoon right away just for laughs, but I’ll settle for downloading the free demo if I ever get the time to try it. I may not be the kind who can afford anything, but I do believe that the Klug brothers deserve a reward for this one. After all, the ones who downloaded the cracked version didn’t really suffer any major consequenses. They just ended up losing the game the same way real game developers lose their jobs – they go bankrupt. Game over.

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Build a Simulated City that Adapts

I’ve played a lot of city-building simulators over the years and very few of them have been able to beat the Sim City games. Today is no different, because Maxis are once again back in action with a game where you create and rule over a city of your own as the almighty mayor – yes, the long wait for the next sequel of Sim City (or Sim City 5, as it is called in some cirlces) is finally over! You build a city, help the citizen with their problems and do what you can to keep the city thriving. Seems simple enough, yes? If it was a little less tricky to learn how to use all the features and to keep the economy stable for more than 30 minutes after every mission, the answer would be yes.

With most city management simulators, the cities adapt to the quality of the city. The better the location is and the more citizen who move into the location, the more some of the buildings evolve and become bigger on their own. I’m glad to see that Sim City is no different this time. It takes a lot of decorations and expensive roads, but at least there’s no need to tare down every single building to get the skyskrapers when you can afford them. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t cost anything to afford homes, private businesses and factories anymore! You just place the zones next to the roads and watch them evolve on their own as you build the rest of your city. The only things that require money, are the buildings the city needs to keep everything maintained and the citizens happy, like utilities, political buildings, parks and service buildings, and these buildings are the only ones that don’t evolve on their own. These you have to upgrade manually for a sum of money, so you better make sure there’s enough room for them to expand on. Even the roads can be upgraded for a sum of money!

If there is a feature in Sim City that is totally new to me, then it must be the feature where you can connect online to sell and buy help with utilities, services and other things with other cities. This is perfect for those who want to keep their cities small or don’t have enough room or money to build everything their city needs. To do this, you need to add your online friends in the game and add their cities to your map. Got no friends to play with? Don’t worry, you don’t really need them. In this version of Sim City, you can have several cities at once under your control! No need to exit saves or get secondary accounts, every city is just a couple of clicks away and you build them in any way you please. You just need to be aware of that each city has its own budget, so keep your eyes on the money.

As fun as it is to play, there are still a few things that bothers me about this game. For starters, you need to be logged into Origin to run the game, which I think is absolutely stupid, especially when you didn’t buy the game from Origin in the first place. I understand that Electronic Arts wants to verify that you have an original copy of the game and the importance of keeping the game fully upgraded and patched, but you don’t really need to be online to enjoy everything in the game (although I do end up back to the main menu when my computer is disconnected from the network from time to time). It also bothers me that the environmentally-friendly utilities and services are not always the most efficient ones to use, but at least the radiation levels are kept at a low rate when you use them and some of the realism of it all makes sense today. Last, but certainly not least, what would Sim City be without disasters? “Too easy” is my answer. I still haven’t managed to get far enough into the game to be able to activate any disasters manually, like tornados and alien invasions, but one of my cities did get to suffer from a couple of automatic earthquakes and fire break-outs, so chances are your city won’t be entirely safe from disasters. Last, but definetly not least, the speeds of the time in the game is something I must question, because the fastest setting in my game is only twice as fast as the regular speed (1 regular hour in the game is 1 second).

In conclusion, this is my favorite version of Sim City so far. I don’t have to waste time by rebuilding everything to make my city perfect and I can have several cities to control and co-operate with without switching save-files and get secondary user accounts of some kind. However, the need of an Internet connection to run the game is a completely rubbish idea when you don’t want to play online and after building 3 cities, I expect to be wowed and bothered by something unexpected, like an alien invation or a giant Servo (a kind of robot) to walk around the city like a huge Godzilla and wreck everything. I’m also impressed by the many options for those who want to make an environmentally-friendly city, but I’m not too sure about how accurate and good the stats for each building are. On top of that, the highest setting of the game speed also has to be fixed, in my opinion.

This game gets a 4/5 from me. Well done, Maxis!