Saturday, February 28, 2015

Fun With Pastels: Creative Platypus

So along with a cheep set of colored pencils, I also picked up a set of pastels.  We were taught how to use these in high school and I fiddled around with them a little in college.  This past Christmas, I decided it was time to begin experimenting again and the above is my humble first attempt.  Below is a pastel sketch of Arthur Hughes' "Ophelia" that I did in college (Note: I have used ms paint(rather poorly) to erase my name and some unsightly blotches).

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

More Fun With Pencils: Creative Platypus

Concept art for a novel in the editing process.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Back to Square IV (Cont.): Platypus Nostalgia

A sudden bout of illness has made normal activity difficult again, so I've had more time than usual to mash buttons.  My play-through of the port of the DS reboot of Final Fantasy IV has taken me right up to the foot of the tower of Babil (gotta love the dwarfs!).  Earlier meditations in this series can be found here and here.

I have to say that I like the way that characters pop into and out of the story.  I always felt weird leaving characters behind in FFVII.  In FFIV, there's a plot excuse for why a character suddenly joins or leaves the party.  I've already mentioned in a prior post that this forces a player to keep adjusting their tactics as the composition of the party (and their respective skills) changes.  It also means that when characters rejoin the party, they may do so at higher or lower levels than the other characters and thus make game play more challenging and unpredictable than it would be otherwise.  Finally, not all characters increase their stats as they go up a level.  Tellah, the sage, loses speed and other stats the more levels he goes up as a nod to the fact that he's an elderly man.  What this means on a practical level is that I have to consider my tactics more carefully than in FFVI, FFVI, or Chrono Trigger.  It also means that my party dies much more frequently.

On the level of story, I'm continuing to enjoy things.  The variety of locations and characters is much more complex and feels more organically united than in FFVII though it's not quite as much so as FFVI.  I particularly like the Dark Elf in his Lodestone Cavern and the Dwarf Kingdom in the underworld.  Everything feels distinct as if it had an existence of its own.  None of the towns or castles scream "we needed something to go here" (see Kalm in FFVII).  Nor are there any locations so far that are coherent and interesting, but feel like they belong in a different game (see Cosmo Canyon in FFVII).  All the character plot-lines continue to interweave as we see Cecil taken back to Mysidia to receive mercy and help and to liberate Baron.  Edward's story continues even though he's not allowed to rejoin the company and Kain also continues to develop as a a character while he's away.  Even though Rosa's tied to a post (geesh), her pity for Kain helps keep him sympathetic even as he turns traitor.  One story complaint I had is that Golbez's seeming immortality isn't sufficiently explained.  How badly did Tellah's "Meteo" hurt him?  Why didn't he die when the party overcame him in the Dwarf Crystal Room?  Oh, and why is he twice as tall as everyone else?  It seems like they could at least have him fall over when Tellah blasts him and maybe explain what spell he's using to stay alive after Cecil, Rydia, and Co. paste him.  Oh well.  That's nit-picking.

So there you go.  I have some more thought jumbling round inside my head, but they'll have to wait for another post, maybe of the "final thoughts" variety.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Back to Square IV (Cont.): Platypus Nostalgia

I've played my way through the DS version of Final Fantasy IV up to Cecil's transformation on Mount Ordeal.

Thus far, I've been impressed by the amount of plot material and the careful attention paid to each member of the cast.  The later is something that I felt Final Fantasy VII occasionally fell flat on.  I also enjoy most of the heroic fantasy melodrama and find that it's worn well over the years (perhaps an updated translation of the dialogue helps with that?).  Rosa needs a serious feminist intervention, but her kindness toward Edward and Rydia give her a little counter-balancing depth to all that save-me-save-me-Barbie-princess non-sense.  That aside, every character has a well-established motivation and background that fits in well with those of the other characters and the overall plot.

Another difference from Final Fantasy VII (the game in the series that I've played through most recently) is that each member of the ensemble has very distinct skills that have to be used in tandem in order to succeed.  Since characters come and go over the course of the plot, the player has to quickly adjust to working with different combinations of skills.  Furthermore, each character's stats can only be raised to certain levels that vary from character to character. I have to say that I like working with these set characters rather than having every character be widely customizable and capable of near-infinite progress.  It gives a greater sense of constraint to Final Fantasy IV and makes it more challenging than VI and VII.

Those are my notes so far.  I'm enjoying the game and will report back with more thoughts as soon as I have covered some more ground.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Back to Square IV: Platypus Nostalgia

The First Final Fantasy title was a major event in the formation of my creative imagination.  I was fresh from my first reading of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and primed for the idea of exploring a fantastic world peopled with strange heroes and even stranger monsters.  A friend and I teamed up and spent months carefully working our way through the world of the four crystals armed with a whole host of maps, charts, and strategy guides.  We never quite beat the game.  I believe baseball got in the way.  In my mind, only a short time passed before another Final Fantasy title hit the shelves -this time with a much expanded world and more intricate plot- and we were off again into a world of adventure.  This time, we did beat the game and hang up our controllers with honor.  More Square Soft titles came and went, and I have to confess to never having gone back to either of the first two games in all the years that followed.

It was with a sense of delight, then, that I noticed yesterday Final Fantasy IV (released as Final Fantasy II in America) popping up on Steam for 50% off.  I scooped it up this re-launch (originally created several years ago for the Nintendo DS) and have played a little less than the first two hours.  The updated graphics, sound, and (I think) translation, are a welcome change, but all of the old fun is there as well.  We'll see how my trek progresses over the months to come as I look at this child-hood favorite through adult eyes.  Whatever I discover, you can be sure that I'll share it here at Platypus of Truth.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Anne C. Petty and Tolkien's Heroes: The Platypus Reads Part CCLXXXIII

This is the second in a series of posts on Anne C. Petty's Tolkien in the Land of Heroes.  The prior post can be found here.

I'm just about finished with Anne C. Petty's Tolkien in the Land of Heroes and I wanted to add some (perhaps) final thoughts to my previous post.  The overall news is that Petty does not disappoint.  Her "big picture" approach allows her to refine the work of previous scholars in ways that suggest fruitful new approaches to Tolkien's material.  In particular, while she sees conflicting elements in Tolkien's thought, Petty stresses unity where so many prominent authors stress tension and contradiction.  This comes out in the passages where Petty deals with Tolkien's view of Evil and in her discussions of the Pagan and Christian roots of Tolkien's mythos.  My fears that the author would try to subordinate J.R.R. Tolkien's works to the level of mere illustrations for Campbell's theories (As I feel Flieger does with Tolkien and Barfield) proved to be unfounded.  Where Campbell does appear, he is employed tastefully and in equal weight with other critics like Northrop Frye.  Indeed, Petty's use of Campell and Frye to set up a grid for analyzing Tolkien's heroes was particularly useful.  All in all, I found Tolkien in the Land of Heroes to be an enjoyable and useful book.  It wasn't earth-shattering, and I certainly have my quibbles, but it does what it sets out to do: provide a framework for organizing the vast amount of thought on Tolkien's legendarium so that as Petty says "we don't miss the forest for the Mallorns".

Monday, January 19, 2015

Clariel Doodle: Creative Platypus

Because it needed to happen:

Fun With Pencils: Creative Platypus

Two concept sketches for a novel-in-planning:

Anne C. Petty and Tolkien's View of Evil: The Platypus Reads Part CCLXXXII

My mind and my conversation tend to move down certain set grooves which become irksomely apparent once you get to know me.  Several of my friends once suggested turning any conversation at which I was present into a Bingo game with squares labeled "Connecticut," "Cthulhu," "Tolkien," "Tennyson," and "That one time we were playing Exalted when...".  It's a pretty fair observation.  In that spirit then, I'd like to take up one of my perennial topics: the thought and fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien.

I'm currently about half way through a book by a Tolkien scholar I hadn't previously encountered, Anne C. Petty.  The book is Tolkien in the Land of Heroes.  As Tolkien criticism goes, it's a fairly typical work which admittedly seeks to look only at "the big picture" of Tolkien's general themes in the "big three" (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion).  Where I have felt so far that Petty has moved the ball forward is in handling Tolkien's view of Evil.  Petty is plainly in dialog with big guns on this topic Verlyn Flieger and Tom Shippey.  I think, however, that she combines and refines the work of each of these authors by adding categories to their thought (such as "Sacred" and "Secular" embodiments of Evil as well as honing in on "External" versus "Internal" forms of Power) and attempting a more faithful interaction with the orthodox aspects of Tolkien's Roman Catholicism (though here she still lacks the nuance of the late Stratford Caldecott).  Petty's commitment to the writings of Campbell (The Hero with a Thousand Faces) is a little off-putting for me, but I haven't seen that skewing her analysis so far in the book and in the case of Tolkien's attitude toward Evil it encourages her to take a comparative view that is broader than that of other authors I have encountered (as evidenced by her examination of the role of Satan in the Christian Scriptures and her cross-referencing of it with evil as presented in Northern Literature without immediately throwing the two into opposition).  While Petty's analysis is admittedly truncated given the purpose of her book (the "Big Picture"), I do think that so far it nicely avoids Flieger's temptation to read Tolkien through the lens of her commitment to another thinker (Barfield for Flieger, Campbell for Petty) to the point of making Tolkien subservient to that thinker and Shippey's tendency to try and divide Tolkien's thinking into "orthodox" and "pagan" spheres and stress the tension between them (especially where Tolkien would have ardently stresses unity or denied the allocation of a particular idea to a particular category).  I will be curious to see if these improvements continue all the way to the end, especially in the case of Petty's devotion to Campbell.

That said, has anyone else out there read Tolkien in the Land of Heroes and would be willing to share their thoughts?  I know we have some Mythguard fans out there who might be a little more up on the current state of the field than I am.