The Age of Wushu – China’s #1 Anticipated MMO Comes to America

While there have been many video games that delve into Japanese culture, there have been very few that really get into specifics on Chinese culture. In fact, outside of the Dynasty Warriors series (which are based on the legendary Chinese story, Romance of the Three Kingdoms), you’re hard pressed to find a game that reflects on what has been one of the longest, richest cultures in the world. There’s been the official Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon game, but beyond that, not much else. Most other games that go into Chinese culture tend to use a modern-day setting, like True Crimes: Streets of LA, Wu-Tang: Shaolin StyleStrangleholdJackie Chan Adventures, and Rise to Honor. That’s where Snail Games comes into play.

Snail Games are a small United States division of Chinese developer Suzhou Snail Electronic Company, Ltd, who focuses primarily on online gaming. While the US division hasn’t been around too long, the main company has been in business for just over a decade. Despite this, they hit the ground running, winning the “China Cultural Games Overseas Development Award” 4 years in a row, “China Top 10 Game Provider” 3 years in a row, and 30 other awards from various outlets including government, media, industry, and player communities worldwide. Despite this, Snail’s biggest endeavor is yet to come.

Jet Li for Age of Wushu

Age of Wushu (or Age of Wulin, as it’s known in Europe) is quickly becoming Snail’s biggest title yet. Already one of the highest ranking games in China, it is also only the second original game to secure a celebrity endorsement from a famed Chinese martial artist: Jet Li, who also endorsed and starred in the Playstation 2 cult classic, Rise to Honor (True Crimes was endorsed by Snoop Dogg, Wu-Tang by the Wu-Tang Clan, and StrangleholdJackie Chan Adventures were based on a movie & tv series respectively). What makes it so interesting? Well for one thing, as the title suggests, it focuses on actual martial arts rather than a hack n’ slash style of combat. In other words, like many single-player games have implemented, there is a system for actively using dodging & parrying techniques rather than rolling the dice as it were and hoping the opponent misses. Another is something of a revolutionary idea in MMOs: your character does not level. Instead, as it has been seen in single-player games, skills will level. From jumping to dodging, to weapon proficiency, the more your character does an action, the better they will get at it. Not only that, but many of your character’s skills can be customized as well.

Another difference between this & many MMOs is the fact that there are no classes. In their place are 8 schools including Wu-Tang (or Wudang), Shaolin, Royal Guard, and Emei. As with reality, while your character may primarily know techniques from their initial school, they can go to another school and learn skills from there. However, there may be times when learning a skill from a different school would be counter-productive for your character, such as a Shaolin-based character (who value their bodies as temples) learning Drunken-Fist skills (which as the name states, requires the character to be drunk for maximum effectiveness). The result would be self-destructive moves which would liken any battle to that of Krillin vs Perfect Cell. In true martial arts fashion, there are a myriad of weapons to choose from, such as bare-hand, single-blade, dual-wielding, daggers, hidden weapons, throwing knives, staffs, bladed staffs, and many more. On the other hand, like many modern MMOs, there are professions which characters can learn in order to make in-game money or items. Some of these include beggar, scholar, royal guard, and fortune teller. And in true “my kung fu is stronger than yours” form, you will be able to challenge your profession skills against other players. This is in addition to combat-based PVP tournaments which will be held regularly and random challenges which can be made at any time.

And what of the missions themselves? Age of Wushu, like the RPG game Dragon Age: Origins, will feature a main storyline mission that will vary depending on what your character’s background and hometown are. And much like many RPG games, there be a large number of side quests. To gain access to some side quests, your character will have to have certain relationships with NPCs, usually some level of trust. An extra interesting feature this game will have is that while the player is logged off, they will have the option of leaving their character still in the game doing some sort of autopilot activity including working at a shop for in-game cash. As with an MMO, one could imagine that there a risk involved with taking this option, and there is. Malevolent players will be able to kidnap these characters and sell them into slavery, so that instead of logging back in with a surplus of money, they will have to buy their freedom before being able to go anywhere. But do not fret – kidnappers will be easily identified by a special icon over their heads and a large sack on their backs while they are in the process of doing so and do-gooders will be able to foil their plans through a battle.

Age of Wushu looks to be a fresh, exciting change to the MMO genre. The world of ancient China has captivated much of the world’s population for decades. Now, for the first time, fans of China and the martial arts will get a chance to join that world. As with all of Snail’s games, this will be 100% free to play, however, there will be an online store for special items and gear as well as the opportunity to preorder the game with special items & bonuses for just $9.99. Age of Wushu is currently in its first Western beta test and will start up a second beta in December before its official release in February of 2013. See more about it at http://www.ageofwushu.com.

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Maj’s Top 5 Favorite Live Action Adaptations

It’s a good time to be a nerd and/or geek. That is something which absolutely cannot be argued. I never thought I’d live to see the day when many of the biggest blockbuster movies would be based on comic books and video games. Not only that, but video games are now a massive industry and rather than one incredibly great game being released annually, great games are now being released monthly. In addition to this, a new wave of people now call themselves nerds and/or geeks. And I am NOT going to get into whether or not only fringe interests (comics, video games, sci-fi, fantasy, etc) count as being geeky. One of my favorite things to daydream about is being able to go into the past and bring a geek into present day so I can show them trailers for movies & video games. In fact, I usually like to imagine it’s Eric Forman (from That 70’s Show) if only to put a face to the geek. We’d watch trailers like the original Spider-Man trailer with the World Trade CenterBatman Begins, the Smallville openings, the Avengers trailers, and many others. Kind of like a geeky version of the “It Gets Better” campaign, if you will. Anyway, now with fantastic geeky movies on the horizon, such as James Cameron’s Battle Angel (a film adaptation of Battle Angel Alita) and Legendary Films’s Mass Effect as well as the releases of live action movies Rurouni KenshinAce AttorneyThe AvengersThe Amazing Spider-Man, and The Dark Knight Rises just around the corner, things are looking especially bright. However, as fun as all of them look and sound, I cannot guarantee that any of them will be great. For every Men in Black, A History of Violence, or Ghost World, there’s at least 5 stinkers like The King of Fighters, Super Mario Bros., and  Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.  This is why I am going to look back at my 5 favorite live action adaptations.

Note: I am limiting these adaptations to visual media, like anime, cartoons, comics, manga, and video games. I am also limiting my favorites to those titles in which I’m familiar with both the original source AND the adaptation.

Captain America: The First Avenger

For a long time, I didn’t get the appeal of Captain America. He was a goody two-shoes who (compared to the most of the Avengers) didn’t really really seem to be all that special. Then I started playing as him in Marvel vs Capcom (teamed up with Captain Commando), and my appreciation for him increased exponentially. Soon after, I picked up Marvel’s Earth X series (which stars him) and liked him even more. Admittedly, I haven’t read every comic about him, but I do understand a enough about him to know if he’s getting treated fairly, and this movie definitely did him justice without being overly cheesy. I like to think one of the main reasons is because unlike past films, both his origin and return to present day weren’t squeezed into the same storyline. His campaign in the Army encompassed multiple years and ignoring them doesn’t do his story justice. Not only does this film take that into context, but it also accounts for the Army’s being overprotective of him because 1) he originally wasn’t extensively skilled in combat and 2) he was the only super soldier created. Not to mention that some of the comic’s favorites were included, even if they weren’t really explained, such as Bucky (who was given a different origin for the movie) and Dum Dum Dugan.

Initial D

This is yet another title that I didn’t initially take to (pun not intended). I remember hearing about it when I was in college, but despite being a big racing fan, I had no interest in seeing  or reading it. I can only assume that it’s because I thought it was about professional racing, rather than street racing. Anyway, I didn’t actually get into this until a few years ago, when I decided to pick up the manga at the library. Unfortunately, I’m only at volume 10, but that’s only because it’s VERY difficult to find the complete series of this in one place. If you’re not familiar with Initial D (which is legendary in Japan), imagine The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, except the main character is a master at drifting, and it takes place in the mountains instead of Tokyo. As for the movie, like most live action adaptations, there are some differences between the it and the original manga & anime series. However, everything that matters plotwise was kept intact, and that’s what’s important.

The Dark Knight series

There have been many interpretations of the Batman series, but it’s Christopher Nolan’s versions which seem to come the closest to what Batman is actually like in the comics. I know many people are probably saying, but what about the old Adam West series or Tim Burton’s takes? Well, while accurate for its time (thanks, Comics Code!), the Adam West series is nowhere near how dark Batman was supposed to be. Despite portraying Batman as the skilled detective he is, it is done in a laughable manner – almost to the point of spoofing him. As for the Tim Burton movies, while Batman is definitely feared, he also racks up a massive body count, which it has been generally established that Batman does not do. He [mentally] tortures and breaks bones like twigs, but he simply does not kill. Christopher Nolan’s interpretations, on the other hand, combine both of these essential elements without the excessive cheese factor.

Smallville/Superman

As I’ve mentioned before, I am a huge fan of Smallville, and part of that is because it introduced me to comic books. If you missed that post, Smallville was a show on the WB and CW which was essentially an updated version of the Superboy of old (the original Superboy was Superman as a teen, while the current Superboy is a clone of Superman & Lex Luthor). While it is definitely its own story, there are a lot of hints towards Clark’s future as Superman. As the series goes on, more an more references from the comics are woven into the plot. I consider it tied with the old Superman movie in that there are many elements which suggest that Smallville is heavily inspired by the Christopher Reeve Superman movies. Also add in the fact that some of the main cast from those era films have guest spots (many recurring) including Terrence Stamp (Zod in Superman II, Jor-El in Smallville), Annette O’Toole (Lana Lang in Superman III, Martha Kent in Smallville), Margo Kidder (Lois Lane in Superman, Ms. Crosby in Smallville), Helen Slater (Supergirl in Supergirl, and Lara-El in Smallville), and last, but certainly not least, Christopher Reeve (Superman in Superman, and Dr. Swann in Smallville).

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

I have been fascinated by the concept of Tomb Raider since it first arrived on PSX in the mid-90s. Unfortunately, the only reason I wasn’t a big fan right away was because I didn’t own a Playstation. However, that changed a few years later when I received Tomb Raider II and Tomb Raider III for PC. I quickly fell in love with the games despite the fact that I never finished either of them. Even though they come off as action-adventure games, the original Tomb Raider trilogy are much closer to puzzle games. In fact, most levels rarely feature any sort of combat. This is one of the main reasons I consider Lara Croft: Tomb Raider as one of the most accurate video game to film adaptations out there. The film follows the fairly simplistic formula from the first three games: Lara travels to various [seemly] unrelated destinations to find an artifact, Lara dodges traps in the process, Lara trains in her mansion, and most importantly, Lara has huge boobs. While I have heard people complain about the movie, I’ve never actually heard any reasons why they considered it bad. Until I hear a decent reason why, I will continue to think of it as one of the most faithful video game adaptations ever created.

<Note: Because of the sheer number of adaptations available, I honestly can’t just keep it to 5 – on the other hand, for certain reasons which I will explain, I cannot justify having them on my top 5.>

American Splendor

American Splendor is actually one of my favorite comics ever. It’s about a guy named Harvey Pekar and his life as a middle-of-the-road hardworking American in Cleveland, Ohio. In fact, the movie to me perfectly captured the tone of the comics. So if I’ve read all of it, and I saw the movie as well as enjoyed it, why don’t I have it in my top 5? Because American Splendor is an autobiographical comic series. That’s right – Harvey Pekar is a 100% real person…er…was. He actually died in 2010. But I would imagine having it on the list would be a cheap shot since the comic that the live action movie is based on comes from the most ultimate live action there is: real life.

Blade

Blade is most likely my favorite live action adaptation of a comic. At the time of its release (this was BEFORE Marvel began adding their name to the credits), I remember being one of the few who recognized the character as being a Marvel character. As this was well before I was regularly reading comics, I had remembered him from his guest arc on FOX’s Spider-Man cartoon series. Unfortunately, despite the success of the trilogy, the Blade comics are still fairly difficult to come by and because of this, I’ve only read one trade paperback of his.

Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass was an AWESOME comic & film. I actually got a chance to read the comic just before the movie was released and was thoroughly pleased with it. It was a gritty, VERY realistic take on what being a real-life superhero (like Batman, the Green Arrow, or Spoiler) would be like if they devoted themselves to taking down criminals & kingpins. And then I saw the movie. While the first half was more or less parallel to the comic (except we didn’t know who Red Mist was until his betrayal), the second half was absolute movie insanity. I simply couldn’t understand why the endings were so wildly different…until I found out that the comic series didn’t end until AFTER filming had ended.

Space Battleship Yamato

About four years before the original Battlestar Galactica aired in the US, there was single-season animated series that ran in Japan about a lone warship dispatched to a planet light-years away from Earth in search of a machine which could remove radiation from the planet. The single-season series was called Space Battleship Yamato. It even managed to make its way to the US under the title, Star Blazers. The movie was absolutely great (even though the middle was a bit slow). Unfortunately, I’ve never seen any of the original anime series or movies.

Speed Racer

Speed Racer is another movie that ranks as one of my favorite adaptations ever. It was also one of the few movies that I could watch over & over again without being tired of it. It has action, racing, a decent plotline, and it seems to be relatively accurate. On the other hand, what would I know about the accuracy since I haven’t seen the original anime series. I do happen to notice that it generally falls within one of three categories: 1) You saw it and LOVED it.  2) You saw it and didn’t really care for it. 3) You didn’t really care enough to see it. Unfortunately, most of the populace seems to fall under column 3.

Hating on Love (of Cosplay)

Kristen Bell & Jay Baruchel cosplaying Slave Leia & Obi-Wan Kenobi in the movie "Fanboys."

I’m sure you’ve seen a movie or tv show featuring a geek and at some point, there’s a time where somebody (whether it’s a main character or background) shows up in some sort of costume. FanboysGalaxy QuestPsychRace to Witch Mountain, CommunityCSI, and of course, The Big Bang Theory are all examples of media where this might have been seen. When people dress in these costumes, THAT is called cosplaying. Cosplay is mostly seen at conventions, though people may also cosplay to movie/book premieres and at [pre-planned] public gatherings. Based on that information, it would seem like this is an activity that centers around having fun, right? What’s that? “Yes,” you say? Then that would be one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard in my life. Everyone who heard that is now dumber for having listened to you, you are awarded no points, and may God have mercy on your soul. No, that’s not me saying that, but it seems that there are people who actually believe this.

(Clockwise from top) An unknown cosplayer, HentaiGirl82, and Blikku cosplaying as Kanu Unchou, Ryomou Shimei, and Hakufu Sonsaku from "Ikki Tousen."

You see, as you might have seen on Community and its timeslot rival, The Big Bang Theory, whites aren’t the only cosplayers out there. Now apparently, this is a problem for some people – especially in anime fandom. I’ve heard many stories of snide comments made online and at conventions. It is supposedly because of the fact that most anime and video game characters are of a fair complexion that many people seem to think that people of color are unfit to cosplay anything but characters of color. While there are a good number of characters of color available and this site has a comprehensive list of many of them, though there are more that aren’t listed there, like:

  • Balrog/M.Bison from Street Fighter II
  • Barrett from Final Fantasy VII
  • Dudley from Street Fighter III
  • Elena from Street Fighter III
  • Jadakins from Tokyo Tribe 2
  • Kai Deguchi from Tokyo Tribe 2
  • Kaolla Su from Love Hina
  • Kevin Kotaro Abe from Whistle!
  • Mera from Tokyo Tribe 2
  • Octave from Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem
  • Takenori Akagi from Slam Dunk

My buddy, J Ryoga, as Tidus from "Final Fantasy X."

There are a few more, but I can’t remember the names. However, out of a few thousand anime titles, that still amounts to just under 200 names. Not only is it completely unreasonable to expect every darker-skinned person to stick to such a [relatively] short list of characters, but it’s absolutely ridiculous. Especially in a community where cross-playing is considered perfectly acceptable (Cross-playing is when a person of one sex cosplays as a character of the opposite sex). I should mention that I have absolutely no issue with cross-players, whether it’s a male cross-playing a female character or a female cross-playing a male character – just do it to the best of your ability. Cosplay is supposed to be about having fun and celebrating your favorite characters and/or series. If someone wears a good or bad cosplay, it shouldn’t matter if they’re black, white, fat, thin, male, or female. What matters is how the viewer likes the outfit. If you do, feel free to get a picture. If not, ignore it. If they’re not the same physical type as the character and they look amazing, praise them for doing so.

Any straight guys try to hit on this cosplayer, they're in for a shock - deviantArt's Manolo-kun crossplaying Utena Tenjou of "Revolutionary Girl Utena."

I find this whole behavior odd for a couple of reasons. Firstly, if you want to be technical about this whole issue, then outside of obvious European/non-Japanese characters like the Amestrans (eg: the Elrics, Roy Mustang, the Armstrong siblings, etc) of FullMetal Alchemist, Emma of Emma – A Victorian Romance, and Roger Smith of The Big O, there aren’t many “white” characters, either. Yes, there are far more than their darker-skinned counterparts, but the vast majority of fair-skinned characters in anime and manga are 100% Japanese born and raised. Even the majority of the characters who come to Japan from a foreign nation are of Japanese descent as well, but have simply returned to their home country (Minako Aino of Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon and Kanako Ohno of Genshiken are perfect examples of this). Therefore, according to their theories, they should not be cosplaying many of the characters they do.

The second reason I find this odd (and most importantly), is because if you’re involved in this activity, you’re more or less an outcast. Hopefully not literally in that you don’t have any friends at all, but an outcast in the fact that you don’t really have anywhere else to release this type of creativity. Perhaps you saw someone doing this in a movie or show and thought to yourself that this particular activity looked fun. Or maybe you’re a fan who was watching or reading a series and wanted to dress up as a particular character on Halloween, but just one day a year wasn’t enough. Point is, we’re all in this together. And when I say, “we’re all in this together,” I mean we’re all in this together.

(Clockwise from top) 'Chef' McElroy from "South Park," 'Might Suit' Naruto Uzumaki from "Naruto," 'Hunky no Jutsu' Temari from "Naruto," Kai Deguchi from "Tokyo Tribe 2" (Center) Eikichi Onizuka from "GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka"

A Love That Seems Not To Be

It's laughing at me 😥

One of the most anticipated games of the year is set to be released on Tuesday and despite my love for the series, I won’t be able to join in the festivities. I have both PS3 and Xbox 360 as well as the previous installments, and I could find some way to afford to preorder it despite my low income, so why won’t I be getting it? Because the Xbox 360 I have has been showing an error code 74 since March of 2010. For those who don’t know what that is, it is one of those infamous Red Rings of Death which plagued the original Xbox 360s. And mine happened just 3 months outside of the [extended] warranty, so Microsoft refused to extend any courtesies towards fixing it. What this means is that for a common problem that happens to Xboxes, I’m going to have to shell out $90. However, I am poor and have never made more than minimum wage, which means it will most likely take some time before I am able to get that done.

My prized Project D Skyline from Midnight Club: LA

Luckily, most of the games I play are cross-platform, so if I really wanted to finish a title, I was able to simply get that title on PS3. I was able to do that for Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 2Wet, and Midnight Club: Los Angeles. And yes, I realize  that not too long ago, the Mass Effect series joined those titles which bridged across platforms. However, there is one extremely important difference which makes the Mass Effect series different from continuing titles like Elder ScrollsFalloutGrand Theft Auto, or even The Legend of Zelda. That difference is a feature which has been a staple of EA Sports’s football titles since the late 90s, but hasn’t really been seen elsewhere – the ability to transfer a custom character from one game to another. However, Mass Effect‘s version is a bit more advanced. See, in the original Mass Effect, Commander Shepard makes 3 major decisions which can change the course of the entire series including how s/he is treated and who interacts with him/her for the entire series. Not only that, but there are a number of smaller decisions made  during side quests which are continually referenced later in the series (for example, one particular hero-worshipper meets up with my Commander Shepard in ME2 and recounts how I punched him in the previous title. Punching him was a momentary Renegade option my character had taken despite him being a Paragon).

One of the subtle cool moments from ME1

So why am I griping about this instead of being in line for the midnight release? Because when BioWare made the Mass Effect series available for the PS3,  they only made 2/3 of it available. To make PS3 owners feel like they aren’t missing out, there was an interactive comic which was made as DLC and allows the player to make some of the decisions which should have been made to properly enjoy ME2. However, as someone who had a chance to play 1 & a bit of 2 on the 360, I feel robbed of an incredible opportunity to replay a series that I love. Especially since I do happen to know exactly the experience I’m missing out on. I want to re-experience that  hopeless firefight and get to the end only to realize I must sacrifice a crew member. I want to prove to the other races that humans are worthy of joining their ranks after experiencing the doubts of [Shepard’s] ability. Not letting me undergo the journey firsthand just feels like it cheapens the experience. And in this case, I can’t allow myself to settle.

The ULTIMATE Ninja Storm

Recently, Namco/Bandai put out a full trailer for their newest installation in the Naruto: Narutimett Hero/Ultimate Ninja series that has been going strong for about 9 years, Naruto Shippuuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations. This trailer also now confirms something I’d noticed when I first saw the December trailer: that Danzou Shimura, unofficial 6th hokage, would in fact be playable.

Danzou is CLEARLY Team Shippuuden. Because eff that 3rd Hokage...seriously.

Just LOOK at that outfit. It SCREAMS, "Don't f$%& with me."

This addition to the series over 70 playable characters, and what I’m also noticing in the trailer is that some of the lesser-known grunts (but nevertheless recognizable faces) such as Darui, Akatsuchi, and Ao will also be available, but whether they will be full characters or just support remains to be seen. This game series has continually kept me jizzing in my pants every time a new release is announced. Why is that? Because of the dedication and attentiveness to fandom the CyberConnect2 seem to have. In Narutimett Hero 2, Doto Kazahana, the villain from the first Naruto movie was available as an exclusive character. A hypothetical version of Naruto wearing Gai’s might suit, Anbu Kakashi, Minato Namikaze (the 4th Hokage), the Konohamaru Corps, and Hanabi Hyuuga were included in Narutimett Hero 3.

All that said, yes, I’m admittedly biased towards Japanese games that are based on an anime or manga. This is usually because I’ve found that they managed to make the game simple, yet complex and fun at the same time. Oddly enough whether or not I’m a fan of the series doesn’t even seem to matter – before I ever played the original Dynasty Warriors: Gundam, I had only seen a few episodes of MS Gundam Wing and decided I didn’t like it. Jump Super Stars and  Jump Ultimate Stars (both fighting games for Nintendo DS), gave me new manga titles to look out for from Shonen Jump. Now in a few months, One Piece: Pirate Warriors will be released, and even though I have a hard time getting into the One Piece phenomenon, I am still quite excited for that game to come out. That should tell you how well the Japanese do at porting licensed titles.

I promise it's not nearly as complicated as it looks.

Anyway, where was I going with this again? Oh yeah – I’m SO excited for this game to come out. I’ve been dying to play as Obito Uchiha ever since Kakashi Gaiden was first published in Jump. And finally, there’s going to be a Naruto game that will let us play as any of our favorite ninja that we (and Naruto) have met throughout his story.