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Substitute Your Own Titles For This Sorely Vestigial Blog Entry

Though I was looking forward to having five days off to myself, guilt free, it has been ripped from my hands by having to entertain my four-year-old nephew for a good 40-60% of the free time of any given day.   They didn't twist my arm to do it (much) I just sympathized with how the little boy is often bored over at grandma's house (despite a deluge of new Christmas toys).

A pious fellow may observe that children are a treasure, emerging as pure creatures of boundless energy, true innocence, and insatiable curiosity for this world.  Their potential is as unlimited as anyone's, and any curmudgeon should swallow their egotistical cantankerism and feel honored for any opportunity life grants to interact with them.
Cats are the best thumbnails.
Nevertheless, though I may endeavor to be so enlightened to embrace this ideal, I am also very much an introvert who feels drained by frequent interactions with others, and consequently I'm going back to work tomorrow more tired than I was at the beginning of this vacation.  I was really hoping to be able to leverage having 5 days off back-to-back to refocus my free time on being more productive on my own, but these frequent distractions just left me struggling to recover my mojo.

One could potentially learn something about game development from how a 4-year-old observes gaming.  So, out of a desire to salvage some of this time for the annuls of my blog, here's some observations about some of the things I ended up playing:
  • Nintendo Land for the Wii U.  

    Yes, I've finally jumped on board with the Wii U platform, mostly under the rationale that I believe the XBox One and Playstation 4 are going to fail miserably due to wrongfully focusing on features no gamer asked for and eschewing reverse compatibility. 

    I am rather impressed that the Wii U's primary feature is allowing people to play games on it while other people are using the television, via streaming the Wii U directly to its over-sized tablet game pad: that's much more useful to a gamer than social media or TV-watching features (the supposed innovation of its competition).  However, Nintendo Land is a game that does not tolerate streaming shenanigans, requiring most of its 12 activities be played via a combination of the television and the tablet screen. 

    I think that the Pikmin activity, in particular, is ideal for an adult to lead up to four kids through, as you can even fetch wayward kids with Capitan Olimar's whistle.  Playing a pikmin doesn't require much for the kids to do other than move in four (potentially eight) directions and hammer a button to attack, though my nephew had trouble grasping he needs to move in a direction to face it before attacking (there's something unintuitive about that mechanic that shakes even older but inexperienced players).  The rest of the games were slightly too tough for my nephew, whose tiny hands have a hard time manipulating even the minute Wii controllers, and even though he liked the Zelda and Metroid games I think his virtual spacial awareness skills are not developed enough to play them, yet.

    To describe each of the games in Nintendo Land would take too much time.  It's basically a collection of games with excellent presentation value to them that often employ good use out of the Nintendo Wii U peripherals.  Each of the games are smaller than what I'd expect to find were Nintendo Land not a bundle of smaller games, but at the same time I'd say most of them are better fleshed out than what I would call a "mini-game."
  • Minecraft.

    Egads, I'm tired of Minecraft, and for good reason: I played it to death and beyond.  But the nephew loves Minecraft so much that he knew a bit about it before we even started to play.  I'm not surprised: a smash hit like this game undoubtedly will introduce an opportunity for him to have learned about it earlier.  Though some parts of Minecraft are a little scary, such as those Endermen, the graphics are kid-friendly enough that I'm probably not doing any permanent scarring by turning pigs into pork chops as he watched.   He seemed to understand the idea of building a house well enough.

    Despite being a repeat burnout of the game, I managed to rekindle some minor interest in Minecraft by running the latest Tekkit pack, 1.5.1, which includes Galacticraft amongst its massive collection of community-created parts.  Regrettably, no Redpower, which has a number of parts so cool that I believe they should be stock Minecraft parts, but MineFactory Reloaded is a decent enough replacement for many of the related functions, and there's still plenty to do in Tekkit.

    I barely chipped the surface of Tekkit, but I'm still stumped by the overall lack of purpose to play.  Maybe I should play this at least long enough to get my hands on some Modular Powersuits, as that's always been my personal idea of a superhero... but I'm not sure why I'd need to become one in Minecraft, as any monsters in the game (with the exception of the final boss in the game) can be taken down with a stone sword, a suit made of simple iron, and a good sense of timing.

    The best way to approach Minecraft is probably like one would approach a Lego set: survival is easy enough, just build something cool.  Something tells me there are cooler things I could be building than yet another block-assembled domicile.
  • Craft The World.

    This game, which is essentially Dwarf Fortress played from a gorgeous-looking side perspective, has a lot of action and cute graphics that the nephew rather enjoyed.  It's a little violent, but there's technically no more gore here than Minecraft, just a better overall fidelity to the graphics.  Despite everything going on, this game soon bored the nephew, I think it's because it's essentially a big picture strategy game.

    I still rather like this game,  but feel there's no real need to play it while it's in its infancy.  I've already exhausted all the parts the game gives me to build with, and even the recent opening of the in-game store hasn't done much to give me something new to do.  Eventually, they're going to add a campaign to beat, and that will give it some much-needed context.
  • Crayon Physics Deluxe.

    Crayon Physics Deluxe is basically a drawing game that adds a physics challenge where you try to bump, fling, or otherwise convey a ball to a star on every level.  My nephew loved the Hell out of this game, he just wouldn't stop giggling at it.  Unfortunately, it was just a bit too hard for him to play, as he couldn't manipulate my house mouse well enough to draw good shapes.  I aught to recommend getting this for him on the iPad.
Aside from that, there wasn't a whole lot of games to play around the nephew. A surprising lot of my games are way too violent, and I'm not even seeking out violence in my games.  Shadow Warrior and Viscera Cleanup Detail (Shadow Warrior edition) are two of my more extreme examples.  However, the kinds of games I really want to play were problematic, not due to violence, but rather because they're simply too complex for my young nephew to understand: he pretty much flat out told me that Euro Truck Simulator 2 and Cities In Motion 2 are boring.  Well, I never!

It seems that my nephew's boredom may have largely derailed what little impetus I had mustered towards my  burned-out old gaming habit, and currently I don't particularly feel like playing anything.   In my overly-introverted sort of way, even when I wasn't catering to his entertainment, I was largely just mentally recovering from having done so, and wanted to take it easy to the point where even playing games on my own was too much of an effort.
The most unusual thing about Negima is that I've read past volume 15 and there's still story arcs to introducing characters that have been mentioned by name as being in Negi's class since the beginning.  There's just not enough screen time for any one character to do them justice.
I did, however, manage to watch a bit of anime and read some manga... albeit from just one series:
Negima - I'm still reading the manga, and am up to Omnibus 5 out of the 6 that were available for checking out at the library.  Most of my earlier observations still stand: all this fan service is unnecessary, but it's otherwise a brilliantly-wrought manga.  Perhaps the main thing to be impressed about in Negima is just the sheer technical skill that went into creating it.  Ken Akamatsu and his team are magnates of the manga and anime industries, and do an incredible job everywhere: the characters, the background, the story, and so on. 

The back of each omnibus is actually quite a fascinating read, as it includes a great deal of research into the various Latin terms used for the spells, the folklore used for the mythical creatures, and technical details related to the creation of the characters and backgrounds - surprisingly, a great deal of CGI went into this manga!

I have to say that the manga is quite a bit different from the Negima?! anime I watched.  It's disappointingly close to a fighting manga, which annoys me just because that formula is so very played out (maybe less so in 2003, when this manga began).  Fortunately, there is a great deal of diversion away from that, many more pages that focus on the many 14-year-old members of Class 3-A and their wholly one-sided infatuation with Negi, the 10-year-old wizard-from-Wales boy genius protagonist.
 One of the more impressive things about Negima!? is that they provide a slightly unique introduction and ending
to every episode.  This particular intro is a unique-double-length on that includes a humorous parody intro at the start.

Negima!? - I also bought the anime series that inspired me to read the manga, which was nicely bundled in a cheap Funimation S.A.V.E. package for about $20.  So far, I'm a little over half-way through re-watching it.  The fanservice is a bit muted here compared to the manga (and this suits my preference) but then there's always been a little less they can get away with on television.

I don't know when I last watched it, but the general style and animation looks cheaper than I remember it.  However, this is more than made up for by the creative direction behind it; Akiyuki Shinbo is very artistic, and uses a number of shot angles, flashy cuts, and other special effects that some might say is a bit over-the-top, but leave me in a state of perpetual pleasant surprise.

In a way, it's sort of a bonus that Negima!? does not follow the plot of the Negima manga much at all because, in that way, it's basically all new content, giving me something interesting to enjoy aside from the manga.  About the only thing that stays the same is personalities of the characters - I'm sure a few nitpickers could find some differences, but I think that Funimation's usual cast of voice actors really nailed the behavior of the characters in Negima!?, and I can get a better sense for how they're supposed to be than when reading the manga.

Why Negima?

Crap, we went 2 pages and neglected to
to include an up skirt shot.  We're losing
our readership!  Overcompensation is a-go!
Negima was a bit too mature for me to feel comfortable showing it to the nephew, so I didn't.  At the same time, it's probably a bit too immature for me.  Being classified as a shonen manga, it's likely most targeted at adolescent boys, the kind of people who are very excited in scantly-clad young ladies and battle arcs.  Japan is a lot less modest about sexuality than the Puritan-influenced West, and they're not afraid to give the boys what they went in their shonen comics, stopping just short of outright pornography.  Me, I'm not so young anymore and, when I read Negima, it's oddly cathartic, I'm actually less sexually excited from reading it, because the frequent fanservice is such overkill that I actually tire of the idea of sexiness.

If the fanservice annoys me, why keep reading it?  Because, when it's not being obnoxious, Negima is good fun.  The characters are advanced enough that they transcend the easy tropes in their foundations.  The story strikes a fine balance between slapstick comedy, dramatic soap opera moments, and even the fighting manga parts are tolerable when paced well enough that building power levels does not become the whole point of the story.   Fortunately, as the series has progressed, it seems the obnoxious fanservice moments have become less prevalent... likely, it was mostly utilized as a "hook" for their readership, and it was never quite as nauseatingly overblown as some series I've seen (e.g. To Love-ru).

As long as Negima keeps up the fun times and Ken Akamatsu and company deliver this remarkably high-quality product, I see no reason not to keep reading it.  These first six omnibus  cover up to volume 18, but there were actually 38 volumes of this manga leading up to its 2012 completion, not counting a few offshoots.  That's a pretty respectable-sized time sink, and a 2012 completion means there has been some time for localization to have been completed.  The omnibuses from the local community library have dried up, the stand alone volumes are somewhat patchy in availability, and I'm not one to pirate freebees off of the Internet.  It's just as well, I think they have definitely earned some of my money for their efforts.

[Edit: It totally does relapse into a complete battle manga as it goes on, so that's disappointing.  I really prefer slice of life.]

That's all, folks.

Somehow, this is pretty much all I accomplished in 5 days of free time.  Though I did manage to pick up some more content packs for RPG Maker XV Ace on the cheap, I don't know when I'll be able to get around to using them.  Frankly, I've been thinking I really aught to just focus on GameMaker: sure it's more work to put together a complete a detailed game when all you're given is the tools to make one, but GameMaker has a great deal more potential thanks to its portability and power.

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