Bildungsroman, puppylover, do you read it?!

With recent unfortunate recognition of not-so-good visual novels released on Steam (I won't point fingers at other threads because that's not nice!) I figure I'd attempt a positive discussion on visual novels I thought were not-so-bad that I finally got to reading: WORLD END ECONOMiCA episode .01 and Dysfunctional Systems: Learning to Manage Chaos. Coincidentally, both are 3-part series with the last two parts successfully funded on Kickstarter and pending a Spring 2015 release. (WORLD END ECONOMiCA is already complete in Japan, as far as I know) Also, both VNs' protagonists are coincidentally coming-of-age and I suspect both novels (I have no idea how they're actually going to play out at this point) could be considered bildungsroman, hence my title...

Bildungsroman, puppylover, do you read it?!

A bildungsroman is essentially a story centered around character growth relative to the demands of society. If you were ever made to read Great Expectations for an English course, that's a prime example of the bildungsroman: in it we see the orphan protagonist Pip, whose simple life under the guardianship of a blacksmith is knocked off course as a mysterious benefactor forces upon him the wealth of an English gentlemen. With it comes the titular "great expectations" that come with an English gentleman's wealth, so much of the story follows how Pip in his youthfulness copes with this sudden elevation in socioeconomic status and responsibility. Essentially, his unforeseen financial and social boon comes with an emotional cost, causing Pip to grow up and get real.

I thought it was ok! (Don't ask me why, I was made to read this waaay back in the 8th Grade, which in hindsight was probably a little early.)

WORLD END ECONOMiCA

Wealth disparity happens in the Moon, too!

That opening movie doesn't communicate much, but it's cool because hey - it's Kishida Kyoudan & The Akeboshi Rockets!

From what I've been teased of future episodes and what I've read of the first episode in the 3-part kinetic (as in, no player choices) visual novel WORLD END ECONOMiCA, I'm hoping that its protagonist, Haru, is going to take this 3-part series opportunity to grow up and get real, because his initial aspirations and naivete were whack! I know he's a teenager so I'm not actually hating on him directly that much; in fact I actually think he has potential to gain some great, worldly insight on surviving the economically disparate reality of the moon in the next two episodes. (Quite a brutally capitalistic place you got up there, @video_game_king.)

I have especially strong hopes for the next episodes since this is a product of the same author of Spice & Wolf, Isuna Hasekura. As such, there's a lot of talk about economics and especially a lot of stock market jargon, so be cognizant of this fact if you plan on reading it! It is by no means easy reading.

Similarly, if you're an interested English-reader, note that there are some strong criticisms against the quality of the English translation worth noting:

@bocam said:
@equitasinvictus said:

Well... At least World End Economica -complete- got funded on Kickstarter!

If the translation is anything like the first episode, I'd stay far away from it

Maybe I have a good imagination, but I found it read-able even with my mid-tier experience with literature. Perhaps it's the fact that the Japanese author in question is so renown for his talent that it's reasonable to hold the translation to a high standard, but I actually didn't find anything too jarring about the English version that lowered the quality of the VN for me. I'm a good speed reader, though, and perhaps I was able to read past really bad translations.

I should also probably mention at this point that WORLD END ECONOMiCA is being translated by Sekai Project. (They also translated the very recent VN released on Steam that is on the front page of a certain video game website.)

Anyway, with regards to the actual story, I did enjoy the beautiful mess of almost tragically flawed characters in WORLD END ECONOMiCA episode.01, and I'm really looking forward to some great character arcs over the next two episodes. The titular protagonist himself was originally presented as a self-assured runaway teen with a natural talent for stock trading, so while he might not seem like an approachable, exciting protagonist from the start, his experiences, encounters, and character development in the first episode lead to a perfect storm that demonstrates promise of Haru being a great bildungsroman subject. Even with a supporting cast filled with arguably stronger and more lovable characters than Haru, he's got great character development potential that I am almost certain will be addressed in the next two episodes.

While this is a difficult read that I wouldn't be able to recommend to everyone, I think there's literary merit and quality (translation issues notwithstanding) in WORLD END ECONOMiCA that may make it a great example of a visual novel bildungsroman.

Dysfunctional Systems: Learning to Manage Chaos

Yoooo... a world *actually* ends in this

Due to the first part of Dischan's Dysfunctional Systems being extremely short (can be read in under an hour), I don't have too much to say about Dysfunctional Systems short of that crazy spoiler or any spoiler for that matter. There's a lot of criticism against its length, which is somewhat reasonable if you take into account how its sequel was an uncertainty at the points of those reviews being made, but I think there's a lot of promise now in the wake of its episodic completion being successfully funded on Kickstarter.

From the short read that's this first part of the story, I am actually excited to read more. Perhaps this makes me the exception rather than the rule. I must admit to being partial to a supporting cast member introduced towards the end that'll likely play a larger role in the sequels.

There is an overarching moral conflict involved with Dysfunctional Systems that suggests the precocious young protagonist, Winter, will similarly be going through a coming-of-age transformation as a result of her firsthand experiences in attempting to mediate intergalactic imbalances, and the hints of this in the first episode is what gives me hope that the complete series is going to be a good read. People might call out the gravity of "Learning to Manage Chaos" as contrived, but I think it'd actually be safer to consider the hour-short prologue an in media res introduction to the enigmatically complex universe of Dysfunctional Systems.

It was funded as of March this year and its continuation is slated to be released next year. Maybe hold until then to pick this up? I'll definitely have more to say about it when that gets out, and I can definitely speak about its literary qualities in greater depth then.

Neither of these are actually my favorite VN of a protagonist growing up and getting real...

In writing this, I finally remembered I once wrote a blog about Sharin no Kuni. I would like to conclude this blog by reaffirming Sharin no Kuni: Himawari no Shoujo is still my all-time favorite dystopian bildungsroman of a visual novel.

Nevertheless, I still definitely believe that there's merit and promise in World End Economica and Dysfunctional Systems, and that they're kinetic/visual novels I'll be keeping an eye on.

On a tangentially related note: now that I finally have a x86 tablet and Steins; Gate made its way stateside, I am definitely looking forward to my next bit of visual novel reading.

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How the Roman Empire Beat the Aztec Invaders and made CK2 my GOTY

One thing I love about Crusader Kings II is the amount of flexibility they give for the player's Grand Campaign options, enabling the player to essentially start as a anyone, whether it be an Emperor or a Count. So basically you can start off a lowly Count with a never-before heard person/dynasty (thanks Ruler Designer) and actually expand and build your Kingdom or Empire from scratch.

My Byzantine Empire went Catholic, since I figured it'd be easier to expand east with a united Christendom.

The Legacy of Rome DLC particularly had me vying for control over the Byzantine Empire with my new Sicily-based dynasty. From there I began restoring the Roman Empire's borders (from Augustus Caesar's reign), since a new major decision available in Legacy of Rome is to actually replace the Byzantine Empire with the true Roman Empire once you have its borders restored. Since I also recently got the Sunset Invasion DLC, I was basically trying to expand fast enough within two centuries before the Aztecs landed in Western Europe potentially starting an "end of the modern world" alternate history scenario in a game event similar to the emergence of the Golden Horde/Ilkhanate/Timurds except from the other side of the map. Not only was going to restore the Roman Empire but I'd basically be pitted against barbarians from every side just like good old ancient times.

Because I was so used to the Sicily start (was my preferred start even before the DLC) I had no trouble building up the Kingdom of Sicily, entering the Byzantine Empire and eventually having my own claim to the throne. After a brief blitz of Constantinople and friends due to a fractured Byzantine Empire (it's not very cohesive from the start) I was well on my way from restoring the Roman Empire.

Fast-forward through a lot of micromanagement, wars of expansion, multiple successful crusades and finally I've got my Roman Empire just in time to stop the invading Mongolian hordes in their tracks. The Ilkhanate in particular tried to pull a fast one with my Middle-Eastern holdings but that backfired on them hard, as their surrender request above shows.

A cool new event the Byzantine/restored Roman Empire gets for victories after a major war is a prestige-boosting opportunity in which you can dish out some gold to lavishly celebrate your victory:

This would typically be a good endgame for most people (there's not much else after successfully thwarting the Mongol hordes besides conquering the rest of the known world) but due to the impending Sunset Invasion, I wasn't done there. Considering I had both all of Spain and Britain under my belt (and was about to start a war of expansion over Scotland), I definitely faced a larger hurdle with the Aztecs. Unlike the Ilkhanate, who conquered my neighbors first at full-strength causing them to be whittled down by the time they tried encroaching on my turf, I'd be facing the Aztecs raw. That basically meant they'd be landing with a force of over 100k, kind of unprecedented compared with the wars I've dealt with up to me defeating the distilled Ilkhanate.

At this point I knew I had at least a year before they arrived. My strategy at this point was basically to raise the armies of my entire realm for the first time and concentrate them at Western Europe while leaving a huge navy in the English Channel to deal with shipping over troops in the case they were over at Britain.

Thankfully I had a good volume of armies and would be able to basically use the entire Mediterranean as a staging area for pre-deployment. At this point I had enough navies to concentrate all my Central European armies in Italy and ship them over in time for the fight. I actually would have a very small window for a counter-attack before I'd be forced to surrender to the Aztecs if they sacked enough of England (after losing a handful of counties the game surrenders you automatically for some reason, no matter how strong your remaining forces actually are).

While my war with Scotland was going well, I wasn't using as many forces up North (about 10-20k) to be able to divert and put up a fight as the Aztecs landed in Cornwall in a huge lump (~120k) and essentially they managed to grab two full counties (also cutting open the heart of one of the counts apparently; oh well -- they weren't too fond of me for conquering them first, so they did me a favor in that respect, heh) before deciding to fan out in thirds to try and subdue multiple counties simultaneously. That would be their biggest mistake, because I guess they did not anticipate one of my fleets carrying the first 60k troops of my counter-attack right on top of one of their thirds that was reduced to half the size of my force.

While I made short work of one of the Aztec army thirds (60k vs 39k gave me pretty good odds at a small cost), their remaining two-thirds attempted to merge and try to put up a formidable force but by that time I'd already landed the second batch of fresh Romans ready to shed some Aztec blood, since being Pagan was sooooo yesterday for them (as in a whole millennium yesterday!)

What?! One gold? You're lucky I don't have the option to cut open your heart as an offering to Jesus! (Although certain cultures in CK2 have the option to blind or even castrate their prisoners!)

If I'd been too hasty with conquering Ireland I would've had a bigger mess in my hands. Thankfully for me, they weren't yet affiliated with me. The Aztecs presence in Ireland basically assured that Ireland would soon fall under Rome's wing, considering I had also just united Great Britain in conquering Scotland right on top of my first victory against the Aztecs in Cornwall and Devon, and there's no easier way to start a war than a religious one.

As much as I crushed them in England, their second landing force made short work of the fractured Irish counties (they weren't lucky enough to be united under the Roman banner yet), but that ended up being a blessing in disguise for me since it gave me the perfect excuse to land my own invasion force in Ireland and "liberate" the Irish. Hey, I'd think being under the Senate and People of Rome is a much better fate than being enslaved and living under the constant threat of becoming a sacrifice to Pagan gods!

A new feature in the Crusader King II games from the latest patches and DLC is the ability to keep a personal, standing army outside of raised levies. This essentially enables you to pre-position raised standing armies in the form of retinues and declare war from there, giving you a great head start for invasions. From the combined forces of the retinues I raised for both my invasion of Scotland and the defense of England against the Aztecs, I had a a standing army of 220,000 right in front of Ireland and could declare war at the same time thanks for that force being entirely comprised of retinues (really expensive though; fortunately I had the entire economy of the Mediterranean funding me as the restored Roman Empire).

And that was the beginning and the end of the Aztec's presence in Europe. They would've been a lot more devastating and would've also been probably there to stay if I hadn't been around with the restored Roman Empire! Their unsuccessful invasion of my borders assured that the rest of my expansions would continue unperturbed, as there would be no concentrated military force left to challenge the combined might of my ever-growing empire. It was game over for everyone who wasn't Roman.

About a century later of being the largest fighting force around having thwarted invasions from all sides while holding invasions of my own, I've conquered the known world.

Roma Victor, as they'd say.

Three DLCs (didn't talk about the first one, Sword of Islam, but know that's pretty cool too) and forty hours later (eighty total hours considering the first forty I spent earlier in the year), Crusader Kings II is my most played game of 2012. Eh, at this point I might as well say it was my Game of the Year. I'm a huge fan of strategy games and Crusader Kings II basically converted me from being big on the Total War franchise to enjoying the grander strategy behind Crusader Kings II. I'm so invested in this type of strategy game now, I actually dug up Europa Universalis 3 and found a program that converts Crusader King 2 saves to EU3 saves! Unfortunately the actual Roman Empire doesn't exist in EU3 (which is all historical starts) so I basically opted to have it ported into the Holy Roman Empire. Anyway my Roman Empire is Christian, so I guess that title would be more fitting.

To be continued?!

Porting the save over to EU3 is probably coolest but most broken thing to ever happen. At the very least, unlike my historical counterpart, my Empire is actually both Holy and Roman. Nevertheless, this broken game would probably be the dark middle chapter of my grand strategy experience. I'd at least be able to finish the fight with the Aztecs and invade them proper! That being said, I'm probably going to take a break before taking on EU3 with my broken and probably overpowered save game.

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Investigations & Storytelling (L.A. Noire / Kara no Shoujo)

If there's one moment-turned-into-gaming-mechanic that I've seen approached in several of different ways (to varying degrees of success), it's the crime scene investigation. Between attempting to score five stars on cases of Team Bondi's L.A. Noire and simply avoiding the bad endings of Innocent Grey's visual novel Kara no Shōjo, I've realized there are many interesting methods for a game to determine both player success and narrative progress, whether it be having the player comb out an area for clues or simply having the player pointing-and-clicking in the correct sequence.

Before I begin discussing about investigation mechanics and storytelling, however, let me say I thoroughly appreciated both L.A. Noire and Kara no Shōjo and would readily recommend either game to anyone. (The latter is an eroge visual novel, however, so I can't actually recommend it to everyone. Keep away from children!)

One thing that was especially appreciable about L.A. Noire was how you could do a less-than-stellar job on certain cases and still progress. Granted, the different conditions for achieving five stars weren't always intuitive, but it was still great that you could miss certain clues and botch certain interrogations while still coming to an acceptable(? your mileage may vary) conclusion given certain situations. Kara no Shōjo revolves around an overarching case where investigative success is key to narrative progress, however, and certain points towards the end can get quite punishing during the investigation sections.

The room pictured above, for example, is one of the latter "investigate for clues" sections that turned downright frustrating. I was certain I pointed and clicked to find enough evidence (I mean it's practically a plain, old schoolgirl's room), and the game even prompted that there was nothing else to be found, or so it seemed...

"But I'm still missing a vital piece of the puzzle. What do you think it is, Zach?"

Never mind that, Agent York -- we'll simply have our ex-Police officer, detective protagonist defy logic and be fooled by the very person he suspects to be involved with a crime into following her to a shady room in a shady building in which he gets drugged up, bound, and left to starve to death while the person he meant to protect also dies due to his lack of situational awareness and straight-up stupidity (these negative aspects I stress about the protagonist being completely nonexistent in him prior to this sudden bad ending -- he's actually very intelligent and alert, otherwise).

Game over, because I apparently didn't click interact with the objects in the right sequence. How does that translate to good detective work?! I actually had to take multiple attempts at this particular investigation to get the right, final piece of evidence. Without that specific evidence (a certain photograph hidden in a book in a bookcase that has some odd trigger), the basic reasoning skills of our protagonist and overall storytelling goes to crap. If it comes to that, why ruin the narrative with such uninspired bad endings? At least have me make the wrong arrest or shoot the not-exactly-right perp in the face rather than have me done in cheaply! Considering how much I loved the visual novel in the end, the frustration of nonchalantly derailing myself into such a bad bad ending beforehand was a bitter pill to swallow.

When Kara no Shōjo does progress in its canon narrative, however, the storytelling is exceptional -- but it is beyond me why they would go so far to guarantee a bad ending over something as trivial as clicking one bookcase three times after you clicked the books on the shelf, which basically seemed to be the only way for me to find the evidence that actually progressed the storyline. That aspect of the investigation mechanics or at least the narrative consequences could've been worked out a lot better.

I'll admit, however, I was charmed by how certain aspects of Kara no Shōjo reminded me of L.A. Noire at first. The protagonist's notebook basically serves the same function as it does in L.A. Noire, but Kara no Shōjo doesn't go as deep in terms interacting with the notebook during certain dialogue portions as in L.A. Noire. Instead, you organize evidence and associate people with certain conclusions in an inference portion of the game, which was far better worked out compared with the investigation portion I mentioned earlier.

Setting aside investigation mechanics, both games had magnificent narratives.

Noir vs. Nihilism

I'm a huge fan of film noir, and I personally thought the concluding arc of L.A. Noire was appropriate considering my experience with the genre in film. There's nothing I find more touching than a bittersweet resolution to a conflict involving a protagonist scarred and haunted by some really dark decisions made in the distant past. Nevertheless, I still felt like the better crime thriller narrative arc actually came with the homicide desk. The tension building towards the end was great, and the "resolution" was definitely far more satisfying, because even with the finality of the case being entirely solved, it was still actually left inconclusive for reasons beyond the player's control.

The narrative in Kara no Shōjo gets even darker and more psychologically thrilling than the homicide desk of L.A. Noire, eventually ending up being straight-up nihilistic. With smart references to Dante's The Divine Comedy and some of the murders being recounted in real-time with all gory details disclosed, Kara no Shōjo is not for the faint of heart. I don't even want to go too far in detail about it, either, because I feel like the narrative is so great, that anyone interested should go ahead and overlook my gripe with regards to the particular investigative sequence I mentioned earlier and check it out. If you loved narrative qualities about L.A. Noire and are up for picking up a visual novel, check out Kara no Shōjo. If you have a passing interest in either but haven't played, play them!

Also, if you have any great examples of good (or bad) investigation mechanics in video games, feel free to bring them up as well! Now that I think about it, I'm itching for another video game crime thriller...

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Best of Amazon's PC Sale Laundry List & Steam Redemption Guide

With everyone scratching their heads as to when the heck Steam's summer sales are going to start, I've noticed a lot of threads about sales on Amazon's sales. Not until I checked Amazon myself did I realize how extensive the digital end of the Amazon sale was. They virtually subverted the coming of the Steam summer sale and had their own! Not only that, but Amazon's digital distribution end makes it very easy to bring games to Steam! For those who need help getting their digital Amazon purchases on Steam, I'll have a little guide at the bottom of the laundry list.

So, PC gamers, I hope you have your credit cards ready, because Amazon is offering "Digital Games Best Deals of July: New Discounts All Month Long!"

This laundry list is going to feature what I figure most people will be interested in. I'll first break them down to price ranges (under $10, etc.) and then those lists will be broken down alphabetically. Especially killer deals will be highlighted in asterisks' braced **bold**. For those especially wary about saving money, I included that information, too, for whatever reason.

Note: If the titles aren't bold, then they probably exist elsewhere on the list in a pack that might save you more money, if that's your thing.

Under $10

Battlefield 2 Collection ($5.00, you save $14.99)

Battlefield Bad Company 2 ($5.00 you save $14.99)

**Binary Domain** ($9.99 , you save $30.00)

**Bioshock Dual Pack** ($7.49, you save $32.49)

**Borderlands GOTY Edition** ($7.49, you save $22.50)

Call of Duty MW2 ($9.99, you save $10.00)

**Crusader Kings II** ($9.99, you save $30.00)

**Dragon Age Pack **[Origins & DA2] ($9.99, you save $39.99)

Duke Nukem Forever & DLC ($7.99, you save $31.98)

EA Niche Bundle [Including Shank 2, Gatling Gears, & Warp] ($9.89 you save $20.08)

Grand Theft Auto IV ($9.99, you save $10.00)

LA Noire ($9.99, you save $10.00)

Max Payne 2 ($4.99, you save $5.00)

**"Oh So Fine" Double Fine Bundle** [Costume Quest, PsychoNauts, & Stacking] ($9.99, you save $29.98)

The Sims 3 ($9.99, you save $20.00)

**Square Enix Ultimate Bundle** [Just Cause 2, Kane & Lynch 2, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, Supreme Commander 2, & Tomb Raider Underworld] ($7.49 you save $87.46) !!!

Spore / Spore Galactic Adventures ($4.99 you save $15.00)

The Stronghold Collection ($9.99, you save $10.00)

Warhammer 40,000 Dawn of War II - Gold Ed. ($7.49, you save $22.50)

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine ($7.49, you save $22.50)

**X-COM Collection** ($2.99, you save $12.00)

Under $25

**2k Strategy Pack** [Civ 4, 5 and ALL Strongholds] ($19.99, you save $79.98)

**2k Shooter Pack** [DNF & BioShock 1, 2] ($19.99, you save $89.95)

Civilization 5 GOTY Ed. ($24.99, you save $25.00)

**The Darkness II** ($12.49, you save $37.50)

**Rockstar Classics** [Bully, GTA:VC, GTA:SA, Max Payne 2, Midnight Club 2] ($14.99, you save $44.96)

Sega Sonic Bundle [Sonic CD, Sonic 4 Episodes 1 & 2] ($12.49, you save $17.48)

Sega Awesome Pack [pretty much all Genesis games] ($12.49, you save $45.48)

**Spec-Ops: The Line** ($24.99, you save $25.00)

Syndicate ($14.99, you save $15.00)

**Paradox Games Bundle** ($19.99, you save $125.88) *there's also a "mini," Plentiful Paradox Package, $12.40)

Over $25, but "On Sale," Nonetheless

Battlefield 3 ($35.99, you save $23.96)

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 ($29.99, you save $30.00)

Max Payne 3 ($39.99, you save $20.00)

Total War Bundle ($29.99, you save $104.93)

Find one of these games cheaper elsewhere?

Do a duder a favor and post a reply stating where so you can help fellow Bombers mitigate the hole in their wallet caused by this sale. I'll edit and indicate accordingly where Amazon isn't the best deal, digitally.

This is great, but how do I get these digital games on Steam (or Origin)?

First, *THIS IS IMPORTANT*, make sure you're shopping in the right place, as in Amazon's Game Downloads section, http://www.amazon.com/b/ref=dsvrt_myd_store_games?node=979455011 . I don't think anyone here would make that mistake, but I just wanted to reiterate for good measure.

Anyway, after you click "Buy and Download" and afterwards "Complete Purchase," instead of pressing the download prompt in the next page, find the link below that says "Only need product keys?" and you should be taken to the page Your Account >>> Your Games and Software Library, with a list of your purchased games and their respective product codes. Copy the product code.

Finally, open up Steam, and under the Games menu click "Activate a Product on Steam," then next, then "Agree," and paste your product code. Viola! (Note: I am not certain if all games are redeemable on Steam, but most should be!)

Oh, and if you're wondering, today alone I bought the X-Com Collection, Binary Domain (shout-out, reppin' the year of the BO-), and the Total War: Shogun 2 expansion pack.

Happy summertime gaming!

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Celebrating America, Revisiting Empire: Total War

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure. - Thomas Jefferson

What better a way to celebrate Independence Day than lead a young United States to victory in Empire: Total War? Loading the game up for the first time in a while, I chose to play as the United States in a Grand Campaign of Empire: Total War, which can be unlocked at the end of Episode III in the Road to Independence campaign line.

Post-Independence United States' Grand Campaign

We don't negotiate with Berber pirates. Especially when they demand 5400 gold.

In the United States' campaign at the conclusion of the Road to Independence, you start out as a young United States. Off the bat, you're at war with the Barbary States, an accurate reflection of history (the U.S. actually fought the Berber states at the start of the 19th Century due to their piracy of U.S. vessels.) By the way -- historically, the United States won the First Barbary War after a successful blockade, several of naval victories, and the landing of the United States' first marines in the shores of Tripoli, where the United States flag was raised in victory for the first time over foreign soil. (If you'd like to read more, click here to read about the First Barbary War in Wikipedia).

You know, the second line of the Marines Hymn references the first marines landing on the shores of Tripoli. (Although here we ended up landing off Algeria.)

In my alternate history of the Barbary Wars, a small force led by veteran American Revolutionary War General Nathanael Greene embarked on the USS Constitution for Algeria, the location of one of the two Barbary States' centers in Africa.

My strategy was to completely eliminate the Berbers with surgical strikes on their region capitals (in Algiers and Tripoli) with Nathanael Greene's strike force. Although outnumbered, the experience of Nathanael Greene and his forces as well as their longer ranged weaponry gave them an edge.

Choosing to fight out the battle as my first tactical-level experience in Empire: Total War for a long time, I remembered how fun it was to control lines of troops and cavalry in battle.

Algiers was not well defended, and Natahnael Greene defeated the army of its commander, Barbur Akil.

Wait, why am I playing this, again? (The Drawback of E:TW)

Playing through the Grand Campaign turn-by-turn, I realized what deterred me from Empire: Total War when I first played it years ago -- the excruciatingly slow loading times between turns. I figure this had something to with how the major/minor AI nation code was written for the Grand Campaigns, which were extremely large in scale considering they included not only Europe, but also the Americas and India. Even with a competent Intel i5 CPU, the times between my turns waiting for the AI nations to complete theirs was kind of hard to sit through. This is probably why I barely examined Empire: Total War after exhausting it for the first time after its release.

Pressing on past Painfully Slow Turns... the Conclusion of the Barbary Wars

From Nathanael Greene's success at Algeria, I decided to finish the fight and take the fight to the Berber's last bastion at Tripoli. That got kind of gnarly, since it required a frontal assault on a walled fortification. In the end, the U.S. infantry, with their superior experience and equipment, managed to successfully scale the walls, defeat the Berber infantry defending them, and open the gates for a cavalry charge. Nathanael Greene died heroically leading the charge, however. Eventually, the enemy commander's cavalry was forced to the fight, but by then I had already positioned riflemen to pick them off.

It's a great moment when you manage to take potshots against enemy cavalry....

Eventually, the remaining United States forces lived up to history and planted their flag on foreign soil for the first time of this United States' now not-so-alternate history, eliminating the Barbary States. (In actual history, however, that wasn't the last time the Berbers were a problem.)

Some Post-War Diplomacy Tips for Total War players out there!

As a young, protestant United States, there's no way in hell you can expect to hold the formerly Barber regions in Africa. In general, for any nation, it is difficult to hold regions an ocean away from your capital (*cough* Pre-Revolutionary War Great Britain *cough*), so learning from the mistakes of our predecessors, the African regions were given away for trade agreements with other European nations.

King George III, still reeling from his defeat at the hands of the U.S. during the Revolutionary War, was reluctant to trade with the U.S., even after being given Algeria.

And so my young United States, enjoying newly found trade through selling its spoils of war, unwittingly started the Scramble for Africa almost a century too early...

The End... or is it?!

Coming out of winning the Barbary Wars, I felt invigorated to declare war against the Iroquois Confederacy. Unfortunately, I was not invigorated to sit through any more of the slow turns of Empire: Total War's Grand Campaign for today.

Should Empire: Total War be Revisited?

Honestly, as amazing of a total war game Empire was when it was released, I feel like Napoleon: Total War worked out the kinks with regards to the slow campaign turn load times I experienced with Empire. Although that could be attributed to the smaller scale (the campaign map incorporated only Europe for Napoleon), I also think the campaigns in Napoleon cover a more exciting, turbulent time in history, leading to a superior campaign experience with frantic war and diplomacy.

I did have fun revisiting Empire: Total War as a young United States; however much I would recommend Napoleon, Napoleon lacks the American experience Empire offers.

Perhaps one day I'll have a far superior CPU and will be able to play a much faster paced American campaign and actually conquer Western Civilization with the United States! For now, I might just have to revisit Crusader Kings II.

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Forgotten Shareware: FSGames' Gladiator

Forgotten Shareware: FSGames' Gladiator

Remember when shareware games used to be a thing? You’d typically exit them and encounter screens that asked for some cash in return of the awesome features of a full game? There was actually one I really enjoyed and ended up purchasing – I literally mailed some cash in an envelope to a certain developer named Tom Ricket and he emailed me with the files for the full version of a shareware I sought and ended up enjoyed immensely, Gladiator.

I’m talking about that really obscure dungeon crawler some may find akin to Gauntlet. Forgotten SagesGladiator, dated from 1995. I played a bunch of it as a kid, and out of curiosity I decided to look it up. It's open source now, and with my newfound knowledge of C I hope to mess around with it a bunch. Before that, however, I decided to play it through once more, just to be reminded how much fun I had playing it.

Like Gauntlet, it is a hack-and-slash but with a twist of RPG and strategy in terms of building and managing a team of mercenaries to fight your way through "scenarios," instanced dungeons that are loosely connected in a narrative of survival.

You can roll deep with a team of soldiers, archers, druids, fairies, elves, barbarians, orcs, slime, undead skeletons, thieves, healing clerics, and ghosts. An all-star cast of fantasy characters (not that deep, though, since there is apparently a team limit of about 25), each class of character mentioned above have their own characteristics. Fairies, for example, can naturally fly above forests of trees that would obstruct most other characters. They're incredibly weak, though, so you don't want them to engage in combat alone. Ghosts can fly through all obstacles, clerics can heal and druids can create obstacles to slow the advance of your enemies. There is a lot of depth to the classes and types of attacks and abilities they can employ in the field, and they can unlock more abilities by leveling.

As seen above, there are archers! I felt compelled to name this one "BIg Bo."

Managing your mercs can get pretty involved considering you have cash that you can allot to leveling up your characters. You can find cash lying around in dungeons and you also get cash for simply completing scenarios with a bonus for completing them quickly. With that cash, you can increase characters' skills or level them up, although they also level up naturally with the experience they get from slaying foes and completing scenarios. If your smart about the skills you boost and who you commit to leveling up, however, you'll get a leg up over your opponents.

If you level your archers enough, for example, they unlock the special ability "Exploding Bolts." While their normal attack is shooting arrows, this special fires arrows that explode on impact with devastating splash damage that will hurt enemies and even yourself if you're not careful!

With a team of properly trained mercenaries, there are no unbeatable scenarios in this game!

If you really wanted to mix it up, however, there's even split-screen multiplayer! Yes, split-screen multiplayer on PC. As such, the control scheme on keyboards are really weird, but you do have the option to change them! Nevertheless, I never actually tried playing this split-screen multiplayer with anyone, but I remember being amazed at this idea, since I played this as a kid who had no idea how these things could work on PC. The main menu even lets you configure it to either cooperative or PVP if you wanted to go at it with your friends, after you got past the awkward split keyboard controls.

Another interesting aspect is that the narrative of scenarios can actually branch at some point. In one scenario, you end with having the option of taking one of two exits -- one that will bring you directly through a harder scneario and one that eases you into the game with scenarios that aren't as immediately intense with the numbers and variety of enemies. Considering most of the games I played back then were extremely linear, this was also kind of mindblowing for me.

The full game even came with a scenario game I messed around with a lot. In fact, the scenario editor kind of got me interested in how games were developed, and so here I am! Now I'll get to mess around with this game in C; maybe I'll port it to my phone...

Gladiator is a really old school game (I mean I first encountered it as a shareware), but I feel like it ages well. I can still definitely sink some time going through its scenarios, leading mercenaries to victory through the game's instanced dungeons.

EDIT: This game is now available for free, open source and ready-to-play on Windows and Linux as OpenGlad(offsite link), bring your nostalgia goggles!

Anyone else have shareware games they can look back at fondly?

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A Dystopian Bildungsroman of a Visual Novel, Sharin no Kuni

I don't typically pick up visual novels; but then again, I don't typically expect fascinating dystopian fiction in visual novels, either. That is the reason why I am most surprised a story like Sharin no Kuni, Himawari no Shoujo (Wheel Country, Sunflower Girl) ended up being a visual novel as opposed to more popular media of fiction. As my longest experience with a visual novel, I was surprised at how committed I became to finishing it. In the order of 20-30 hours, I ended up marathoning this over the course of four nights. I even picked up a fandisc for the sole purpose of reading through the backstory of the antagonist, which actually did tie in with the overarching plot nicely.

Before this, my only other experience in the genre was G-Senjou no Maou (produced by the same company, Akabeisoft2). I especially appreciated it for its story of crime and intrigue, with the protagonist overcoming most of his obstacles with quick wits and competent detective work, but I digress. From G-Senjou no Maou and how much I appreciated it, I ended up reading more about the company that produced it and how they wrote another visual novel in which the first "heroine" you meet gets shot dead two lines after she is introduced. I was obviously entertained by this idea and eventually decided to finally pick up Sharin no Kuni just to find out why that would conceivably happen in a visual novel. It turned out to be much more than I was expecting.

Essentially, the dystopian aspect behind Sharin no Kuni, which the protagonist makes clear from the very beginning, is the fact that there are no prisons or capital punishment in the setting's society – instead, criminals are punished with "obligations," handicaps placed on their everyday life in order to compel them to rehabilitate from their wrongful ways. It sounds like a romantic ideal at first, but crimes in that setting are a little more ambiguous with punishments that are much more severe. For example, one of the heroines you encounter accumulated a debt that stemmed from her gambling problems and inability to find employment. Her "obligation" is a day reduced to 12-hours by means of a pill that will "stop" her mind and body for a 12-hour period she is required to take on a daily basis (and it doesn't come with benefits of sleep, either; she has to do that in the time she is not stopped.) Also, despite the lack of prisons and capital punishment, people who don't follow their "obligations" are shipped off to concentration camps, a fate worse than death that stresses the incentive of following one's obligation.

This is the heroine with the 12-hour obligation. (Oh and by the way, there are definitely points in this visual novel where the language gets vulgar more so than pictured, but justifiably so.) The protagonist's self-introduction to his class was a little ridiculous, prompting that response.

At this point, I have to say the concept of obligations was a clever means to justify the fact that this is a visual novel. The protagonist is starting his final exam to be among those responsible for administering and overseeing the obligations and rehabilitation of others (the prestigious title known as "Special High Class Individual"), and the premise is set up with the revelation that in order to pass his final exam, he must rehabilitate three girls with different obligations in monitoring their everyday lives while compelling them to change the behaviors so that they may be considered rehabilitated with their obligations revoked. It is much easier said than done, however, because these girls have real problems that aren't even necessarily their fault (hence how the society of the setting is dystopic and inherently flawed)! The protagonist isn't in the best situation, either, with two of the three girls being from a regrettable point of his past causing him to assume a different identity in the game's present.

Between the protagonist's objective to rehabilitate the girls and him trying to make up for his greatest regret, I would call this a story a dystopian bildungsroman with themes of redemption and sacrifice. I would actually go so far to say that I was not as compelled by the protagonist as I was with the development of the heroines, but I feel like that is to be expected with this genre of games. Nevertheless, Sharin no Kuni features a surprisingly deep story that I would recommend to anyone interested in the visual novel genre or willing to pick one up for the first time.

This also has me wondering about other great stories uniquely contained in the form of visual novels or other niche genres.

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