Saturday, July 30, 2011

Frank, Laurel and Necessity

It's bigger on the inside.
Basically everyone on Doctor Who wehen they enter the TARDIS.

When I first saw the master bathroom in Kentuck Knob, I thought that Frank Lloyd Wright had been rather parsimonious, only giving the family a shower instead of a bath. That was because most of the tub couldn't be seen behind the door; it's a full sized tub, with some good shelf space too.

Kentuck Knob was one of the last houses designed by Wright, who was 86 at the time. It was, for him, a partial job; he let the owners, the Hagen family (friends of the owners of the nearby Falling Water, install a fair amount of the furniture and do the landscaping. Mrs. Hagen in particular had a strong say, insisting that the kitchen be expanded (because she liked to cook and was worried about getting snowed in  (She also chose a very cool futuristic stovetop, where the burners folded away when not in use, and could be detached and plugged in elsewhere to used as a hot place for dinner parties.)

But Wright's style is still a major component. He had a strong visual theme, and kept it going throughout the house. For example, most things are hexagonal, including the skylights:

This really pays off when the sunlight hits the house, creating a cool pattern:

When the Hagens moved out, Lord Palumbo (Wikipedia informs me he is a baron; the tour guide used the honorific lord) purchased it to use as a summer home when he was here in the colonies. Then he decided to make it available for tours about 15 years ago.

In addtion to the fascinating home, there is also a lot of modern sculpture on the grounds. I think my favoirte pieces were a row of vintage British phone booths and a sculpture called Red Army. I'm not wild about the photos I took, but the artist has some nice ones on his website here.

Luarel Caverns\
The last cave I went to was Lurray Caverns in Shenendoah Valley. Laurel Caverns is rather different. for one thing, it's composed of an entirely different type of rock. While this means there are no stalagmites or stalactites (there were a handful, but early explorers broke them off and took them as souvenirs), you can also safetly touch the walls without fear that the oils in your hands will damage the delicate formations.

There are two ways to explore Laurel Caverns. You can take the short, guided, family friendly tour which goes down 17 stories along well marked paths. Or you can travel on your own (in a section that is still well explored), bringing your own light sources, climbing over boulders and crawling through some tight spaces. I chose the former.

The tour is really designed more for kids, but it was still pretty interesting. My favorite part was an optical illusion, based on the fact you lose your sense of direction when you can't see the horizon. But I also found the parts about early explorers interesting. In addition to taking samples, they graffiti-tagged a few sites to show how deep they went. They also named several of the rock formations, presumably to help fellow explorers. For example, they warned that when you came to this bird, you should head in the direction of his beak, because the other way was the Devil's Staircase, a 40-foot drop.

I don't know why the explorers were so keen  to go around the cavern.. The tour guide never mentioned any valuable minerals found in the area.

Laurel Caverns also features a cavern-themed miniature golf course which I didn't play on, but think is a cute idea.

Fort Necessity
While George Washington did many wonderful things for our country, it's a good thing he wasn't in charge of naming stuff. Otherwise I bet Washington D.C. would be called Capital City and the Declaration of Independence would be known as The Letter to King George.

Fort Necessity got his name because he thought his soldiers woudl need a fort to defend themselves from the French. Depending on who you believe, the French and Indian War started when the British ambushed a group of French soldies and massacred them, or when a group of British soldiers on their way to parley with the French were attacked as they approached.

Either way, the British made some boneheaded decisions. Washington signed a document agreeing that he had assassinated the French commander in that incident because -- get this -- it was written in French. Apparently Col. Washington had a mediocre translator, and the document was also wet and smeared. Later on, a group of Native Americans approached General Braddock, Washington's mentor, and said they were worried about the French encroachment to their territory, and were considering helping the British. Braddock cleverly replied that once they won the land would belong to England, and not a group of savages. Surprisingly, this didn't sway them to his side.

Washington recognized that where he had built the fort was actually a good location for trade, and purchased the land, believing it would be a good location for an inn. He never built one, but was instrumental in getting the National Road, the superhighway of the early 1800s, connecting Pennsylvania to the western states. Someone else built the Mount Washington tavern on the land in the 1830s.

My favorite moment at Fort Necessity was when I saw a deer. At first, since I was a little distance away, I thought it might be a golden retriever, because she (?) was wagging her tail and standing on the trail. I got about 50 feet away without her spooking, but she ran into the bushes as I turned on the camera. I guess she hadn't paid the admission fee for the park.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Drving through Pennsylvania

Beep beep, beep beep, yeah
The Beatles, Drive My Car

A few observations about my day driving through Pennsylvania:

Each rest stop on the Pennsylvania Turnpike has a different ice cream stand. (No, I didn't stop at all of them; I just noticed the signed.) One place had a gelato store; the one near Hershey, unsurprisingly, had Hershey's brand. 

The turnpike is a fairly scenic road, but the feature that I found most interesting were there windmills:
Partially, that's because I wasn't driving (it was one of the rest stops I did wind up at). Partially, it's because I had seen a farm with a field of solar panels a few miles earlier and was wondering if they were related in any way. The other thing I noticed about the Turnpike was that the posted speed limits were ignored even more than they are in New Jersey.

If you are ever in Mt. Pleasant, I recommend the Evergreen Drive-In, even if its website is a little chintzy. The prices are ridiculously low -- I think I paid $8 for a ticket, and that theoretically entitled me to a double feature (though I didn't stick around for Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon). They're very up front that they make their money off the concession stand, not the tickets, and encourage you to buy snacks there to keep them in business.

Sadly, I can't recommend the first half of the double feature, which was Captain America: The First Avenger. At its best, it's by-the-numbers. At its worse, it's incoherent. I'd give it a C, C-: watchable, but not worth full price. (My other choices were Cowboys Vs. Aliens, which has gotten very iffy reviews, and the Smurfs, which was just no.)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Okamiden Diary, Day 13

Bluebird seas I sailed/ With mermaids riding whales/ Oh whistle round the world/ Oh whistle round the world/ I’m a little wolf inside a girl, you say
Ringo Biyori (Spice and Wolf closing theme), Rocky Chack

I've been saying that Okamiden takes place in ancient Japan. Now I can be more specific. It takes place sometime between the year 1000 and 1025. I know this because today I met an actual, historic figure, doing what I must therefore assume are actual historic things, despite some evidence to the contrary.

(Spoilers follow)

Actually, I didn't recognize the historic character. Instead, I recognized her creation, who materialized as a spirit thanks to a magical jewel:

Genji, I knew, was from a work called The Tale of Genji. It's one of those contenders for the very first novel. He was brought into existence by his author, Shikibu. Since Genji was written in the first decade of the 11th century and the author died in 1025, the game must take place then (or, since I'm traveling in time, some point in 1026.)

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself.

To get to Genji, Nanini and Chibi needed to enter a doll-house sized temple, which they did with the help of the Lucky Mallet, which lets you shrink things down to bug-size and bring them back to normal. I didn't mention it yesterday, but Nanini loved playing with it, shrinking and growing Chibi a few times before he got annoyed.

Once in the temple, you needed to go through an underwater side-scrolling level, a staple of video games since at least World 4 of Super Mario Brothers. I've always hated them, though I've played ones which were far more annoying than this one. At this point we arrived at the shrine with the magic jewel, but found a woman had been possessed by evil spirits. We saved her, and found out she was Shikibu. I'm not quite sure how a Japanese lady-in-waiting wound up in an underwater temple, but will assume that it was a common practice of the nobility of the time to shrink themselves to microscopic size and visit shrines you normally need a sea goddess to guide you to.

I will note that she looks nothing like the pictures on her Wikipedia article. None of those show an angry woman who feels her literary creation betrayed her by turning into a horn dog. And none of them wear some sort of dragonfish helmet.

While trying to help us, she accidentally summoned Genji. I've heard of the book, but never actually read it. From what I can gather, he's the Japanese equivalent of Don Juan. As you can see by his dialogue, he takes a shine to Nanini (who, judging by the cartoon hearts, thinks he's kind of cute too). He grabs her and runs off, and Shikibu advises you to find them while she gets the jewel ready to use.

What follows is an easy, but cute, game of hide and seek. In each room, after you find Genji, he grabs Nanini, looks for another good hiding spot, fails to find it, and heads to the next room. At one point there's some fourth-wall breaking, when he looks out the screen of the game -- and blows some kisses while he's at it. I'm curious how that would look on a 3DS. But when you finally corner him, you find out it wasn't necessary -- Nanini doesn't like being abducted, and is beating him up.

After that, we find the information we need, which concerns a character from the first game, Waku. Okamiden reminded me of some of his background, which is good. All I remembered about him when I started playing the game was that he and Ammy had a kind of friendly rivalry going throughout the game.

No game diaries for the next couple of days, because I'll be out of town.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Okamiden Diary, Day 12

Oooh, what does this button do?
Dee Dee, Dexter's Laboratory

I mentioned before that one of my favorite parts of the original Okami, which isn't in the sequel, is feeding animals. I was thinking of this as I helped several animals out while playing today, including a pig and a puppy. The new system lacks the zen appeal of the original, as you can see from this video:

In addition to helping animals, I learned what the strange device that Gen was working on was. Since I needed to travel back in time, I wasn't too surprised it was a time machine. Though it was a nice touch that I had the TV set to Doctor Who while that happened.

I was also overjoyed to see Gen was given another set of blueprints, which he enthusiastically called "dubious." 

A few of the highlights of tonight's session, because it's getting late here.
  • We've travelled back in time nine months. I wonder if that mean's Chibi's mother is going to make a cameo soon.
  • When Kurow hears that we need to conjure a sea queen to help us with our quest, his first question is "Is she hot?" I think he's a little precocious.
  • Since we have to go underwater, and Kurow not only can't swim but is hydrophobic, Nanini the mermaid is back. And I learned why she calls Chibi "Squiddy." 
  • I also noticed exactly how she rides the wolf puppy. I thought she had balanced on him like a seal would, but she actually turns her tail and essentially rides in a side-saddle position, which makes a lot more sense.
  • Ancient Japanese sailors aren't even curious when they pull children and wolf from the middle of the ocean.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Okamiden Diary, Day 11

Reunited and it feels so good/ Reunited 'cause we understood/ There's one perfect fit
Peaches and Herb

Okamiden is set less than a year after Okami, and in many of the same towns and environs. If I was cynical -- and normally I am -- I'd say it was because this let the artists reuse a lot of their assets, making the game cheaper to produce. But while playing today, I saw Chibiterasu raise a paw and attempt to reassuringly pat a distressed character. Who can be cynical when the puppy is trying to comfort you?

Instead, this is a great chance for them to reintroduce old characters. For example, Mr. Chic, a fashion designer, played a small role in the first game. You could get praise by helping him design clothing patterns with your brush. Well, he's back, with a shout out to the last game:

This time, he doesn't want your help, saying he's learned he needs to do things on his own. The cynic in me would say that the DS didn't have enough memory for another drawing mini-game. But a more generous interpretation is that an underlying theme of the game is the concepts of independence and dependence. After all, Chibi is much more dependent on his partners than his mommy was. (He's also more involved with them, if I remember correctly, Ammy was more indifferent to what her colleagues were doing.)

Anyway, this session, which was only about 20 minutes of play, had a lot in it. In addition to meeting our old friend Mr. Chic, I heard some words from an inventor you never, ever want to hear: "I found these blueprints in the old ruins." There is no way that can end well.

I also met a new enemy, Akuro, a super powerful demon, who mentioned that he'd be talking to some old enemies of Chibi. The thing is, those enemies were killed in the first game, which implies time travel. Now, I remember Okami had some time travel, but after four or five years I don't remember the details. We'll see what happens.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Okamiden Diary, Day 10

And very becoming her dress was. It was white velvet, without any other garniture than rich white lace worked with pearls across her bosom, and the same round the armlets of her dress. Across her brow she wore a band of red velvet, on the centre of which shone a magnificent Cupid in mosaic, the tints of whose wings were of the most lovely azure, and the colour of his chubby cheeks the clearest pink. On the one arm which her position required her to expose she wore three magnificent bracelets, each of different stones. Beneath her on the sofa, and over the cushion and head of it, was spread a crimson silk mantle or shawl, which went under her whole body and concealed her feet. Dressed as she was and looking as she did, so beautiful and yet so motionless, with the pure brilliancy of her white dress brought out and strengthened by the colour beneath it, with that lovely head, and those large, bold, bright, staring eyes, it was impossible that either man or woman should do other than look at her.
Barchester Towers, Anthony Trollope

As I said earlier, at first I didn’t like Kagu. I thought she was really bratty, and a spotlight hog. And when the main character of the game is a puppy with a magic paintbrush whose mother is the goddess of the sun, it should be pretty difficult to hog the spotlight. And, as I also mentioned, my opinion of her mellowed after she realized that her magic powers weren’t a bad thing she had to hide from the public, and decided to become a Miko (some sort of magical priestess thing). My opinion of her has changed yet again. This time I feel very sorry for her, after meeting a fan. (Again, apologies for the mediocre screen shots.)

There’s nothing wrong with telling a girl, especially a famous child actress, she looks cute. But then this fan went and turned it into creepy country:

“Maybe I’ll get lucky and a demon will attack me.” Ewww. She’s a little girl, City Dweller.

Kagu agrees with me. Look at her reaction, and her express. It's what I was thinking too.

While I don’t have any screen shots, there were some really wonderful things that happened in Yakushi Village. This is a place where you encourage people – and animals -- who seem restless to move. They give you praise, which is the game’s equivalent of experience points. Yakushi was founded by Dr. Red Beard. A better name for him would be Dr. Red Mustache, since he has giant red whiskers, but that’s neither here nor there.

One of the families which moved to Yakushi Village did so because their daughter, Ayame, was sick. So sick even the great Red Beard couldn’t cure her. In an earlier quest, Chibi and Kuni revived her spirit by getting someone to put on an inspirational fireworks display. But Ayame sickened again.

Fortunately, Kagu knew Dr. Red Beard’s cousin, who, due to his blue mustache, is known as Dr. Blue Beard. It’s a sign that the game creators have never heard of Gilles De Rais. His medicine, with his cousin, is enough to cure Ayame, and this is celebrated with another moving fireworks display. My favorite animation was when Ayame’s mother started crying tears of joy.

Then, to cap off time in the village, I got swindled by a tanuki disguised like a merchant. For those who don’t know what it is, a tanuki is either a) a raccoon-dog; b) some sort of mischievous spirit; c) the cool suit that Mario got in Super Mario Brothers 3. So I was cheated out of money by a raccoon dog. I suppose I should be angry, but that is too awesome for me to stay mad.

And later in this play session, I got to use my lightning powers like a defibrillator, and simultaneously help a ghost pass on to the next world.

The game can be really interesting when you’re not fighting monsters. Not that the combat is bad, but the imagery in the rest of the game is amazing.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Okamiden Diary Day 9

I just can't imagine that you've ever been gone! It's not starting over, it's just going on! 
"Together Again," The Muppets Take Manhattan

Boss fights are fun to play (assuming it's a well designed boss) but not necessarily fun to right about. That seems to be the case with one I just fought, against a monster known as King Fury.

Normally I try to pad this by making interesting, non-spoilery observations, but I'm drawing a blank, so I'll just put in a cut. If you clicked on this from some link, you probably knew what to expect. If not, read on.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Okamiden Diary, Day 8

Fiona: Nibblonians to Nibble stations. Prepare cuddle bug for deployment in 40 nibblets.
Nibbler: Sometimes I fear we are cute.

Futurama, "The Day The Earth Stood Stupid"

A quick check around the Internet reveals that there's no easy way to get screen captures off a DS game. I found three possible options. One was to get a device which hooks up a DS to a TV, which can get screen captures. There are a few problems with this option: a) The device wasn't ever sold in the U.S.; b) the device was built for the original DS, and I have a DSi XL, so I don't know if it would work or even fit; and c) the device is no longer made. Another technique is to buy a specially designed video camera that fits on the top screen and records your game. The problems with this one are a) again, this was built for the original DS; b) the camera covers the top screen, making it impossible to play any game which uses it; c) since it's apparently a low resolution camera, the pictures may not be great. A third technique I found was to buy a developer's kit. This too has numerous problems, but for me the biggest one is that it's several thousand dollars. That isn't much if you're planning to design an actual game, since presumably you'd be hoping to make more than that in profit. But it isn't really economically feasible to just take screen captures of a game or two that you like. 

So I continue to take my screen captures of the game using a camera. Since playing the game requires two hands normally -- one to hold the DS, one to use the buttons and/or stylus, I can't take photos unless there's a time when there's no gameplay. And since those are often animated scenes where a lot is happening, it's hard to get a good picture, since everything is moving. (Plus, I want to keep an eye on the game screen, rather than my camera's screen.)

As a result, a lot of the photos I've gotten don't really do the game justice. I'll miss the perfect picture and need to settle for good enough; or I'm moving the camera and the image is blurry.And certain angles show the granularity of the DS, something you don't notice as much when playing on it.

I suppose this means you should get the game and play it for yourself. That's the only way to really do it justice. 
This is a preface to tell you that as soon as I realized what I was doing wrong yesterday, things got incredibly awesome. And also totally adorable.Some of this material is worthy of a site like Cute Overload or the Daily Squee. For example, consider this photo.

Warning: I'm about 12-14 hours into the game now. Spoilers follow. Adorably cute spoilers.

 It's a puppy typing on a computer!

Let me make it clear this is not the best shot of the puppy banging on the keyboard. There was one where Kurow (the blond boy) batted him away from the buttons, saying he didn't know what he was doing. And there's another when the computer crashes and Chibi bangs away furiously, beads of worry sweat flying off him.

Let me back up a few seconds. Yesterday I said I was worried I was missing something obvious, and I was. You had to draw a certain pattern to get past one door, and I'd been drawing it wrong. I thought I'd been drawing it correctly but missing a key item needed to continue. Once I got the pattern correct, the rest of the ruin exploration went smoothly.

We found the computer room and got some useful information off it. Later on, we found a pair of wings that Kurow could wear; they make it look like he had a flower on his back.

And the first time we tried to use them, we got blown completely off course. We wound up back in one of the old locations. And there was another great psyche out, where you thought an old character had returned but it was a dream sequence.

Then we had to fight an old boss, a giant witch queen who ran a demon market. To the game's credit, this wasn't a rehash of the previous fight; it was a totally different mini-game.

(I'm trying to avoid summarizing, because there's other places you can go for that. This is my impressions.)

Anyway, to make a long story short, we learned the techniques needed to get to the cloud, and learned a new brush technique, how to manipulate lightning. As I've said before, the animals who give you these are children of celestial constellations, and almost as cute as a puppy operating a computer. This is the tiger cub who game me the power of lightning:

I think it's the little rounded ears that make it so successful.That really does make it look like a baby tiger. Here is a video of one if you need an example.

And with the new powers he gave me, I'm ready to face a boss battle. My reports on that tomorrow.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Okamiden Diary Day 7

You spin me right round, baby, right round like a record, baby. Right round round round
Dead or Alive, You Spin Me Around

I'm not sure I like the layout of these spaceship ruins very much. I spent something like half an hour trying to figure out how to get past an electrified barrier. I backtracked to see if there was something I might have missed. I looked at the rooms where I had to solve a puzzle to get through, and replayed the puzzles when possible to see if something noteworthy happened. I left the dungeon and explored the environment around it to see if I'd missed anything (I had, but it was just a chest with a small treasure, not a much needed clue.)

Finally, I realized it was a matter of perspective. There was one room where you have to climb up and down a series of stairs. And what I thought was a dead end by this barrier actually had a staircase leading down. I'd been staring at it for 15 minutes and hadn't realized I could use it. I suppose it's possible that it was just confusing to look at, so I'm going to blame the game designers rather than admit the possibility I'm an idiot who doesn't know what stairs look like.

Also, as is appropriate since I'm getting somewhere in the game, the monsters are no longer pushovers. They're not really tough, but you can no longer be completely careless in the fights. If nothing else, many of the creatures in this board have an ability that paralyzes you for a few seconds, which prolongs the fight at best.

Fortunately, things got interesting soon after I figured out how stairs work. For one thing, I learned a new celestial brush technique -- one which had no analogue in the first game. And it was from the trippy sort of creatures I'd come to expect. I haven't been really happy with the photos I've been taking. In this case, my camera software acted up during the scene I really wanted to capture. But I'll show you my distant second choice.

Chibi is being greeted by two baby whales with yin-yang symbols on their blowholes. The two whales speak in rhymes. And their parent is really impressive; huge and imposing and majestic. These two young whale-gods give Chibi the power of magnetism. Now, I admit that my knowledge of Japanese mythology is very sketchy, but I don't think that the gods were known for their amazing ability to create Tesla coils.I may be misremembering the original Okami, but I don't think it was quite as anachronistic.

Still, it's a cute ability. There have been puzzles where you need to manipulate charged balls, attracting or repelling them from each other.

Unfortunately, I've come to another spot I don't quite know how to advance from. Maybe I'm missing something obvious again. We'll find out tomorrow.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Okamiden Diary, Day 6

Look, out the window! A fire truck! I've seen drawings of fire trucks in my picture books, of course, but how could I have ever known how pale and insignificant those crude representations were in comparison to the real thing! Fire truck! Oh, great God in heaven, fire truck! This has got to be the most moving of mankind's creations, and perhaps of nature's, as well.

As today's quote suggests, the session I played today is guaranteed to appeal to your inner five year old. There are no fire trucks, but there are plenty of other awesome things. Seriously, in a couple of paragraphs, what I'm going to say sounds exactly like the story you'd here from a five-year-old boy.

But, to give some warning to people who are coming here because they Googled "drawings of fire trucks" and don't want to know what happens in Okamiden's plot, I'll start out by saying I actually died when playing the game today. That was the first time it's happened to me. I got careless when fighting some monster who can not only shoot lightning, but disassemble himself and spin around to create whirlwinds. I'm a little surprised; I remember Okami was very forgiving, and this game had been too, so far.

Also, all of my screen shots were mediocre. Here's the best one from today, with the explanation below. As Dave Barry says, I am not making this up.

Okay. So Chibi and his new pal Kurow are in ancient Japan, and they're looking at ruins because a pretty lady who was exploring them is sad that she ran away when monsters attacked it, and her friend is there, and Kurow likes the lady because she's pretty. But before they can get to the ruins, they learn that the bulldozers which are digging it up are cursed by demons! And they have to fight the demons and make the bulldozers work again. And then they get to a cliff, but Kurow can fly over the cliff and Chibi can make a vine to get to Kurow. And they enter the ruin and Kurow sees a spaceship and tells Chibi that it's his, and it's from the moon, and he's from the moon, and he was told to go Earth and wander around and he'd learn what to do and he's been having a real good time on Earth so far. So now the wolf and the boy from the moon are exploring the space ship ruins and they're fighting tough monsters.

Tune in tomorrow to see what happens next.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Okamiden Diary, Day 5

“Ah!” there sat the dog, with the eyes as large as teacups, staring at him.
“You’re a pretty fellow,” said the soldier, seizing him, and placing him on the witch’s apron, while he filled his pockets from the chest with as many pieces as they would hold. Then he closed the lid, seated the dog upon it again, and walked into another chamber, And, sure enough, there sat the dog with eyes as big as mill-wheels.

Hans Christian Andersen, "The Tinder-Box"

Yesterday, I complained that Chibiterasu seemed somewhat overshadowed by Kagu. I can now take that back. In my latest play, the pooch has shown he's got lots of personality.

While there's several things I'd like to talk about, I'm rather tired. So let's just show a couple of pictures and put in a paragraph or two.

Oilers-spay ollow-fay

As you may recall, my goal was to make trees bloom, but Kagu and I were interrupted by a super tought monster. When Chibi tried to attack him, the monster, King Fury, knocked him out. Look at his expression. He's got tons of personality even while unconscious. (Had I taken this a second earlier, he'd have had stars circling his head).

Later -- and I'm leaving out some interesting stuff, including a wonderful psych-out -- he and Kagu separate, but he meets a new friend. And he reacts to the friend by scratching himself. Because he's not impressed by what he's hearing. Or he itches. Or both. (His mother did that too, it's a family trait.)

Kurow, incidentally, has a similar problem to Kagu. She thought she was an X-Man in a fairy tale land. Kurow is quite open that he has a mysterious superhero background, coming from a meteor that crashed into some ruins. I think Kurow believes he's one of the Avengers. While the meteor background suggests Superman, the blond hair and way he twirls a flute like it's a hammer make me think of Marvel's Thor,

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Okamiden Diary Day 4

To look at Montmorency you would imagine that he was an angel sent upon the earth, for some reason withheld from mankind, in the shape of a small fox-terrier.  There is a sort of Oh-what-a-wicked-world-this-is-and-how-I-wish-I-could-do-something-to-make-it-better-and-nobler expression about Montmorency that has been known to bring the tears into the eyes of pious old ladies and gentlemen.
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men In A Boat

The little girl on Chibiterasu's back is Kagu. The blue monkey with the paper mask over his face is a demon. But he's not an evil demon; he's just a merchant who will sell you things like bones (which replenish the dog's health) or ink (which will replenish the ink for the celestial brushes). But I don't really want to talk about the demon, who gets one line, but about Kagu, Chibi's partner for a decent chunk of the game.

Kagu, who calls Chibi "Pooch" is a child actress. It's gone to her head just a little bit; she's bossy and rather vain. But she's not a total brat; she wants to help people.

I feel bad for her for two reasons. One, her hair seems pretty tough to manage. I know it's hard to tell from a photo of a DS screen. but it's got an elaborate braid, with a very long, thin strand on the back that's interwoven with pink flowers. (It's in the upper right of the shot.) Also, she mistakenly thinks she's in a different game than she actually is.

(As I said yesterday, potential spoilers ahead. But you should continue reading anyway, for such great phrases as "toilet demon" and "giant kabuki puppets.")

Kagu has magic powers. She can create lightning, lift heavy objects with her mind, and use this power to drive out demons. Unfortunately, she thinks she's in an X-Men game, where everyone will treat her as some sort of mutant pariah if they find out. However, she actually lives in a fantasy medieval Japan, where people love the idea of little girls with the power to exorcise demons, especially when demons have taken over her parent's theater. Fortunately, after using her powers to save them, and getting the approval of a priestess, she realizes that the ability to shoot lightning at monsters is a very, very cool ability.

Kagu and Pooch meet several interesting demons while going through the possessed theater. My favorite, who I was unable to get a good photo of was the Toilet Demon. He wasn't a living latrine, just an ordinary demon who locked his prisoners in a toilet stall. (Did they have toilet stalls in ancient Japan? This one was on the second floor, which implies decent plumbing, or a garderobe.)

Another cool demon is the prop spirit. You don't need to fight him, just help him fix his broken props so his bosses won't be made at him. Here he is revising his opinion of humans after being helped by Chibi's magic brush.

His bosses are a turtle and a crane who think they are wonderful actors, and possess giant kabuki statues to fight you. The fight was a little tough for me because I misunderstood the mechanics and wound up wasting ink and time, but I defeated them.

After they've been beaten, Kagu goes out to correct the ills, great and small, in the rest of the city, armed with a new dress a priestess gave her. At the moment, my quest has gone from fighting demons who possess giant puppets to making cherry trees blossom.

I notice this entry is mainly about Chibi's partner and not the wolf himself. Though he does one or two interesting things, and saves her a few times. I don't know if the scenes are Kagu-centric or she's just got one of those personalities that takes over the screen, like so many child actors do.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Okamiden diary, days 1-3

No, no, Lord Byron, before I'll believe that this Assyrian was actually like a wolf I must have some kind of proof;
Did he run on all fours and did he have a hairy tail and a big red mouth and big white teeth and did he say Woof Woof?

Ogden Nash, "Very Like A Whale"

On Saturday, I began playing Okamiden. So far it's a good game, though hardly perfect. But while playing, I kept running across moments I wanted to share. After all, it's a game that involves -- so far -- puppies, drawing, mermaids, giant toads who eat too much fruit deluded catfish who can swallow a man whole, and child actors. (It's likely this post, and others, will contain spoilers. But I'll put a warning when they come.)

Okamiden is the sequel to Okami, a game which initially came out for the Playstation 2 in 2006. I played it then (or maybe some time in 2007) and really enjoyed it. "Okami" roughly translates as "Wolfie" Some research on the interweb tells me that in Japan, Okamiden has a subtitle, and the full translation might be something like "Wolfie's legend: the little sun." In other words, it's a diminuation of an already diminutive name. Here are the boxes for both games.

The original Okami was beautiful. and I don't mean "beautiful for the time." Screen resolution, polygon count and anti-aliasing have very little to do with how good a game looks. Rather than trying for realism, the creators made it look like classic Japanese prints. It tells the story of Amaterasu, a sun goddess who comes to earth in the form of a white wolf. In addition to her divine weapons, she is armed with a celestial brush, which allows her to draw and alter the environment. She uses this power in the game to do things like repair broken machines, bring water out of a lake to extinguish fire, or cause wilted flowers to bloom again. (Since the game involves drawing, a version for the Wii was made, since the Wii-mote is a more natural brush than the PS2 controller). Throughout the game, Amaterasu is accompanied by Issun, a flea-sized artist who provides the commentary. The game tells a rather convoluted plot about fighting an ancient multi-headed dragon and his minions, and re-enacting events of a century before.

The gameplay is not particularly challenging if you're used to video games. But it's worth it for the story. There's some really funny scenes. (Issun is great comic relief, calling the sun goddess who has come to save the world "Ammy" or "furball." Almost everyone else calls her "doggy," so it's almost respectful.) There's also a lot of touching moments. In addition to fighting monster, Ammy goes around trying to help people and animals. There's something very zen about watching her offer grains to some birds, and seeing them eat it as peaceful music plays in the background.

Okami told a rather complicated story, about fighting a giant evil multi-headed serpent, events repeating themselves from a century ago, Issun's quest to become recognized as a great artist and lots of weird things. Honestly, I'd forgotten much of it by the time I started Okamiden, though I remember enjoying it.

The sequel takes place nine months after the first game, and involves Ammy's son, Chiberatsu. If I understand Japanese -- and I don't -- that name translates as "Cute Little Sun God." It's made for the DS, and the graphics are almost as good as the original version despite the smaller screen and weaker processor. It still looks like an artist's print come to life. The DS isn't quite up to the task -- sometimes the game slows down when there are a lot of enemies, and there are frequent, though very short, loading screens -- but it's 95 percent there. For the most part, it's a pleasure to play, and the fact one of the major mechanics is drawing things works well with a game system that uses a stylus.

I'm not going to go into depth about mechanics or all the plot. You can get that information from or some other site. These are just the details of the game which really appealed to me.

I plan to update this diary daily, until I win or I get bored, though if I only play for a few minutes one day I may not bother. With that out of the way, here are my impressions.

Potential spoilers ahoy.

Okami had a character named Susano. He started out as comic relief, but by the end of the game he had really matured. I was very impressed to see in this one that his new attitude has remained. It's always annoying when you see a sequel and everyone reverts to their old habits. But he does something that is both in character and touching for his adopted son.

Because Chiberatsu is just a pup, he needs to travel with companions. His first is Issun, but he's just around for what amounts to the tutorial. The second is Susano's son Kuni. Kuni calls Chibi "Mutt," saying he's not sure whether the pup is a dog or a wolf. The second companion, a mermaid, calls him "Squiddie," and the third "Pooch." Each time the little deity looks very, very sad.

In Okami, constellations came to life to give Ammy new brush powers (because these were celestial powers). In this one, the children of constellations help Mutt out. The original were funny, such as the mouse who carried a giant sword. These are also great; the three mice children come running out of the scabbard.

About the mermaid: the animation of her riding around on the dog's back is adorable. The boss they fight, a catfish who thinks he's a carp, is hilarious.

A wonderful touch: when Chibi is with a companion and comes to a sign or something else to examine, the companion reads the words on the sign, or explains what they're looking at. If the puppy is alone, he just cocks his head, whimpers, and looks confused. Apparently having the power to make plants bloom, cause the sun to rise, or create bombs out of thin air doesn't help you read. Surprisingly, this makes a lot of sense. He's a little puppy; why should he be able to read.