July 21, 2003

More Comic-Con Notes

Spent Friday morning trolling the anime companies' booths for free stuff. Bandai's the big winner here, with at least five different T-shirts to give away over the weekend plus the usual stationery, posters, etc. Now I was glad to have got the .hack//SIGN soundtrack since the closing song was about the only one I might not butcher at the karaoke station. Plus the plushie gruntie clipped to my bag got quite a few envious inquiries (yeah, it's a pathetic way to boost one's ego, but I'll take it). The poor marketing girl just couldn't get anyone else to sing on stage, even with the cool swag. It's not as if anyone else gave a crap, and the hall was much too loud for anyone in the aisles to hear my warbles. Unfortunately, almost everyone sang songs from .hack, since it's the only choice that's been on TV and the opening is the only English song on the list (although it had such a Japanese accent that I didn't even realize it was in English until I saw the subtitles). More reason for Bandai to release anime soundtracks on CD.

Seems like everything is being turned into a CCG nowadays. The Initial D game was kinda bland, with lots of numbers running around but not much car racing flavor. At least it played fast, with lots of back-and-forth action, as each player play cards representing maneuvers trying to beat the difficulty number on your opponent's previous card. You have to discard cards to make up any difference between the value on your card and the difficulty set by your opponent. Of course, there's complications like different maneuvers being more effective in curves or straights, different colors which probably represent different maneuver types that also have to be matched, and various draw/discard/modifier effects that come with played maneuver cards. Maybe if I've seen more of the anime and could get excited about the gadgets and characters.

.hack//ENEMY is Decipher's contribution to the budding multimedia empire. Playing only one card (a Player Character, Monster, Item, or Hidden Card which can be flipped over for effect in combat) per turn is an annoyingly arbitrary limitation. The game plays well enough otherwise. Lots of icon-matching, and drawing for destiny points for randomness in combat, both of which seems to be Decipher staples. The icons in play act as play costs for cards in hand, forcing a slow buildup, and the one-card limit forces you to choose between defense (building up your Player Characters with items and hidden card tricks) and offense (monsters to attack their PCs). Seems like a balanced and fair system, but it's a little limiting.

More on the anime CCGs front, tried out a demo of the Yu Yu Hakusho game, from the people who brought you the Dragonball Z game! Passed on the DBZ game, although I should've gave it a try since it was likely better than YYH. They only had a preliminary demo there. It was insulting to even call it a demo since you only played a single, carefully choreographed turn. They even had a film loop of a perkily underage teenage girl (obviously reading off a teleprompter) going over exactly how to play your single hand. It wasn't even a very compelling hand. You have your character, slap a few Techniques and Items on him to increase his attack value, and do one point of damage if your attack exceed his defense value, and two points if you can double his defense value. Four points of damage and your character lose the fight (out of four or five fighters per round). Talked to the demo folks who've seen more of the set, and they confirmed that there's not much more than that. Each turn is basically a static puzzle to maximize your attack value. There's nothing the defender can do to change the math to slow down the attack. Plus the attack use discarding as the play cost, which further limits future play options, although the draw step is generous. Definitely a big blah.

The WotC Star Wars game is what Richard Garfield wishes Magic could've been: a big creature battle with slowed down build mechanics. Heck, even Magic is moving in that direction, with cards like Counterspell rotating out. Dice and persistent damage add flavor to combat, even though the dice and chits take away from its CCG-purity. It's hard to see any potentially funky decktypes with a pre-built demo deck, but I'm sure theres something sexy to be done with lots of Force-adding cards and Jedi tricks. The WotC guy was definitely the best demo-er of the bunch. Solid game, with lots of things going on in the different zones and interactions amongst them, but not hard to play, even if you need about a dozen D6's handy.

Always been slightly curious about Warhammer and friends, so I went by the Games Workshop booth. Played a demo of the Lord of the Rings game, which is basically Warhammer Lite. GW had knowledgeable and enthusiastic demo guys, which helps, and lots of cool terrain and painted figures set up for the hard sell. The scenario (Riders of Rohan vs. some Urukai) was designed for simple dice rolls and results, but a little digging revealed the real rulebook in its thick, full-color glory, with more stats and modifiers than you can shake a stick at. My problem with miniature games is that I get way too bogged down in every little thing, getting caught up in all the ranges, modifiers, and degrees of freedom in movement. Of course, speed comes with familarity, but frankly I wouldn't really play these games often enough to really get comfortable at them. Not to mention that GW and WH is about the only system better designed to suck up $ than WotC and Magic.

The best game of the bunch might've been Fleer's Ophidian. I didn't even know ophidian was a real word rather than just a Magic card. It's not based on a licensed property, so the backstory is paper-thin, about some sort of sci-fi gladiatorial combat. This got really annoying when the demo guy insisted on describing all the game mechanics in grandiose analogy with the theme. The turn mechanic is slightly innovative, in that you get to keep playing cards as long as you play "positive actions," which are generally aggressive actions like attacking, advancing a gladiator from the Support zone to the Attack zone, etc. You lose the "Flow" whenever you play a Negative action like healing or items/monsters. You can also retake Flow by spending a Cheer point which is earned for a successful attack. Certainly encourages action, anyway. Too bad the game is DOA with the lousy theme and complex (not necessarily bad, just complex) rules.

Spent a little time watching anime in the three(!) video rooms they set up for the occasion. There were projectors being fed by Panasonic progressive DVD players and the picture was pretty damn impressive (big!). They had good light control and animation with its punchy colors and sharp lines is ideal material for a digital projector. Did have to jump in once to fix the subtitle and audio setup since the Panasonic players have the most retarded interface design, lots meaningless icons and way too many convoluted arrow keypresses to get anything done. Too bad front-projections is totally and utterly impractical at home. Yeah, the folks like the light and airy design, but it sure sucks for home theater.

Thanks to Bandai, etc., I scored seven freebie T-shirts plus a couple of caps over the weekend. Considering I do laundry about once a week... No, wearing anime/gaming T-shirts every day probably isn't a good idea.

Posted by mikewang on 02:38 PM