Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Samurai Madness!

Good Day to you all again,

Hope you guys enjoy the current surplus of awesome posts. There have been much discussion and I would like to add that the last article by Joshua on the Human and Robot dichotomy was really intriguing. It was great to see so many people putting great pointers and opinions on the topic.

As you have noticed recently, I have been putting up many figures from the Rurouni Kenshin and Samurai X anime as the release of the live-action film of Rurouni Kenshin is coming soon. Weirdly enough, my week has been centered around much of ancient Japanese culture. From passing my Aikido grading to doing all these Samurai blog post, it seems that the Bushido spirit has washed over me.

Today though, I shall be talking about an epic game that Josh and I have been playing that pretty much showcase the Bushido Spirit of the Samurai and the Traditional Japanese Culture of Feudal Japan. The game is none other than Shogun Total War 2

This game is a true example of the saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". Creative Assembly (Designers of the Game) decided this time round to go back to its roots and bring back Shogun Total War in this new sequel.

Taking everything the fans loved from the old Shogun Total war and implementing new modifications taken from the development of the Total War Franchise, Shogun Total War 2 was everything I imagined it to be. From the great graphics to the improve AI that enabled allies to act as allies rather than distrusting backstabbing enemies, this game was awesome. The last game from the Total War series that I played was Medieval Total War 2. I did pretty much skipped the entire Napoleanic era, including Empire total War, so for me, it was a great delight to discover that there is a Multiplayer Co-op Campaign feature in Shogun total War 2. While this was something that was already implemented in Empire Total War, it was something new and great to me. (If my late friend Qamarul were here, he would have been overjoyed at getting his hand on this game and join me and Josh in some awesome Samurai fun)

I must reiterate the part in which Creative Assembly had taken all the good stuff from the Old Shogun Total War and implemented it to the new one. Things like the Samurai Music and Soundtrack which gave me a nostalgic feeling of the old game, to the Ninja Cutscenes which are so iconic to the old STW.

All in all, the Total War gameplay mechanics is addictive and the result in endless fun replaying single or multiplayer campaign mode. PC Gamer mentioned that the average Shogun total War 2 players plays about 100 hours, which is relatively true. I am in my 80th hour soon and I don't see myself stopping anytime soon. And I can easily say the same for Joshua.

So far,

Josh and I had successfully impose our Mighty Rule in our first Multiplayer campaign using the "Easy" Difficulty level.

Together, our Takeda-Tokugawa Alliance was strong

Takeda-Tokugawa Alliance

Joshua's Daimyo, Takeda Shingen

Tokugawa Ieyasu, apparent heir in our game for the Tokugawa Clan

While this alliance was not meant to be of any historical significance, I could safely say that there were only a small handful of times where our growing influence and power was ever challenge. It was really awesome and ecstatic to see strong clans falling under our might which culminated in the showdown between our alliance and the Ashikaga shogunate.

Our second failed campaign involved us getting in over our heads and choosing "Hard" difficulty using the Date and Uesugi Clan. We were swiftly disposed off by neighbouring clans, ending off in a sad misery of defeat as the Massive Hatakeyama Army marches to eliminate the last of Joshua's provinces while I had to contend with a double assault from the Mogami and Honma Clan. Our folly was the result of getting in over our head and sending an attack force against our enemy that was too small. We should have slowly build up ourselves but we were underestimated and lost big time.

As of now, we are in the midst of a "Normal" Difficulty campaign in which we are doing pretty well. Josh taking the Shimazu Clan and I using the Chosokabe clan. Our dominance is note-worthy and it will be a matter of time before we come in contact with the Shogunate. Hopefully, we can do well to gear us to take on "Hard" difficulty again.

This brings me to the next part of this entry,

Shogun Total War must have definitely gotten a lot of its inspiration in terms of battle gameplay from old films like Ran and Kagemusha directed by the great Akira Kurosawa.

Kagemusha (Courtesy of Wikipedia)
Winner of Best Direction and Costume design for the BAFTA awards

For me personally, my first samurai battle film I had ever watch was Heaven and Earth by Haruki Kodakawa. An epic film that depicts battles between the Uesugi and Takeda clan. While not as critically acclaim as Akira's films, it was rated as Number one japanese film in the Japanese Domestic market in 1990.

Snippet of Heaven and Earth.

It would be the start of my fascination for Samurais and the Bushido way of thought. It was after this that I was introduced by my late buddy, Qamarul to Aikido and we also began sharing our interest and conquests in Shogun Total War.

And then the Last Samurai film came along, and it would be this iconic song that he and I would never fail to sing along the yelling part that really just brings me back good memories and gives a warm feeling in my heart even today.

So for those who are into the whole Samurai thingamajig, this game is guaranteed to be pretty darn awesome. The downloadable content are also pretty damn great. Furthermore, if you were a sucker for the Last Samurai movie, the latest expansion, Shogun Total War 2: Fall of the Samurai would be a fitting game to fulfill any imagination and fantasy construct you might want to play out in that expansion.

Aside from my review of STW2, i have also recently discovered an upcoming tabletop game called Bushido.

It is a 2 player tabletop 'skirmish' type wargame that is based on Oriental Fantasy storyline. Much of the game play is represented by 32mm figures in which players are to outwit and defeat each other to achieve their personal objectives. I for one, particularly like the Prefecture of Ryu starter set as seen above as it is very Samurai-orientated. While it is a new tabletop game, it will take awhile for it to establish itself, but if you are a fan of skirmish tabletop wargames like Warmachines and Hordes, this might be something you can embark on.

As of now, that is all from me. Hope you like the Rurouni Kenshin and Samurai extravaganza for the past few weeks. Will be coming back with the usual Model kits and Miniatures real soon!

Till then, Any Samurai or STW fans out there? Give me a holla on what do you think about the New STW 2 and its latest DLC, the Fall of the Samurai.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Sagara Sanosuke

Greeting again Toyconstruct readers!!

Today, I would like to talk about Sanosuke. Like how Ironman had War Machine by his side, Luke Skywalker had Han Solo and Batman had Robin, Sagara Sanosuke was Kenshin Himura Wingman and Closest Buddy.

Sagara Sanosuke was a fighter for hire before he met Kenshin Himura. But before he even became a fighter for hire, he was formerly from the Sekiho Army.

Born 1860 in Nagano, Sanosuke was a member of the Sekiho Army. He had a very great admiration for the leader of the Sekiho Army, Sagara Sozo. Unfortunately, when the revolutionary government encounters financial problems and wanted to bury their promises that they owed to the Sekiho Army, they labelled the Sekiho Army as a fraud and in the process executes Sagara Sozo, leaving Sanosuke as one of the only survivors.

Because of the predicament that had occurred to him, Sanosuke was consumed with hatred for the Meiji Government and becomes a fighter in Tokyo. Ten years onwards, he gains notoriety as one of the strongest fighter for hire in the city. The Kanji Word that he wears on his back
aku means "evil' on which is a symbol of his loyalty toward his past in the Sekiho Army.

Initially, Sanosuke wields a huge zanpakto which he uses as a weapon that crushes and smashes enemies rather than cut them. The first fateful encounter between him and Kenshin Himura is when Sanosuke was hired to fight Kenshin. It was at this point that Sanosuke comes in first hand contact with the skill and prowess of Kenshin. Kenshin easily destroys his Zanpakto and Sanosuke learns of the truth of Kenshin's no-kill approach which leads him to become one of Kenshin's allies. (Usually, I would share the fight scene via one of the youtube links, but this time, wasn't able to find it. My apologies, but do take note that the fight scene was epic!)

Throughout the entire series, we see how Sanosuke develops a close buddy relationship with Kenshin. Unlike many other sidekicks in other various stories, Sanosuke had come to be Kenshin's best friend. Sanosuke was a wingman that was willing to punch Kenshin when he was sad to wake him up from his sadness.

While he does not match up to the talent and skill that Kenshin has, he is a great fighter himself. After his zanpakto is destroyed, he chooses to focus on hand combat which he excels in and improves even further along the TV Series.

At this point of time, I kind of have a lapse in memory of other wingmen that have been influential and supportive to their various respective main character heroes but this I can say for Sagara Sanosuke. He has been always there for Kenshin. During the entire TV series and onwards, he has always cheered up Kenshin when need be and given tough love to him.

What really moved me is that here you have Kenshin Himura, who was the Hitokiri Battousai and is still the Top dog of Samurai Swordsmanship which usually would give the impression that he is invincible and need not have anyone to help him at all. But much as Sagara Sanosuke can't compare or compete to Kenshin in skill, he has been a great buddy and wingmen in helping Kenshin throughout other aspects of his life. In several occasions, Kenshin even learns from Sanosuke's advice.

Brotherhood and Friendship is really golden. And while Words just fail me now, It does bring back memories of the Bro and Great Friend I had.

Nonetheless, I am appreciative of the awesome close wingmen around me. That includes you JOSH!

Help me out here though guys, What other wingmen from various stories or shows do you think are one of the greatest wingmen? Do share..

Till the next post, Cheerios!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Kamiya Kaoru

Ohayo my Fellow Readers!

Today, I shall continue and proceed on to the next action figure that I have procured from the Samurai X/Rurouni Kenshin Anime. The action figure for today is Kamiya Kaoru. The main girl in the Rurouni Kenshin, and ultimately she would be the romantic party that will get involve in Kenshin's life as the TV Series progresses.

Developed by Toycom, this action figure is Kamiya Kaoru in her iconic Yellow Kimono as she dusts and sweeps her dojo. If I can recall correctly, though my memory does not always help me that much, she rarely wears a kimono, but in the TV Series, when she does wear it, it would be this yellow kimono that looks simple yet wonderful and amazingly beautiful.

For Non-fans of the Series, Kamiya Kaoru is one of the main characters in Rurouni Kenshin Anime. Born in Chiba in 1862, Kamiya Kaoru is lead instructor of the Kamiya Kasshin-ryu School. Inheriting the fighting style and dojo from her late father Kamiya Koshijiro, she struggles to get students and seemed likely to lose her dojo. Partly because at the start of the series, there was an assailant who claimed to be the Hitokiri Battousai, harassing the dojo too.

Of course, the REAL Hitokiri Battousai, Kenshin, whoops the assailant, and the adventure begins as Kaoru and Kenshin gets acquainted. Obviously, since she is the first lady to be introduced to the series, you sense a certain connection the She has with Kenshin. Before we know it, she falls for him.

Kamiya Kaoru is sort of an enigma. While she can be short-tempered and posssessive, she is very selfless. Kaoru does tend to get jealous when another girl gets close to Kenshin but never fails to show a compassionate, courageous and independent side when need be. However, it is noteworthy to point out that one of her iconic traits is that her cooking is horrible but her ability to see good in others is something that deserves recognition too.

As a practioner of the Kamiya Kasshin-ryu, Kaoru uses the bokken, a wooden sword to practice her technique. Since she is a teacher of the Kamiya Kasshin-ryu, she also has mastered successions technique of the art.

All in all, Kaoru has provided much love, joy and animated humor to the Rurouni Kenshin Manga and Anime series. All the while that I have been watching Kenshin in the OVAs and what he has gone through, you'd believe that there could be noone who could make Kenshin smile or goof around.

But then Kamiya Kaoru came along, and was able to show that she could do it.

That's it for me today!
Stay tune next week for more Toyconstruct posts!!!


The Uncanny Valley

Hey Everyone

Apologies for being offline for quite awhile, my weeks turned out to be busier than expected and I've been collecting quite a lot of stuff to share with you all :) Many thanks to JQ for his recent posts on all things geeky and awesome.

This time, we're going into sci-fi stuff and it's about Quantic Dream, the French video game developer behind the groundbreaking interactive movie video game "Heavy Rain" (and also "Omikron: Nomad Soul" and "Indigo Prophecy"). Interestingly, they've been trying to recreate real life experiences in their games ever since MMX was the cream of the crop for computer processors (I'm old), and they've come a long way from their roots.

Lo and behold, Quantic Dream recently released a new PS3 developer demo titled "Kara", which demonstrates that the PS3 is still able to produce awesome graphics despite its age:

What strikes me about "Kara" is its exploration of one of the most prominent hot button topics in the realm of sci-fi: the human/robot dichotomy. Thoughts about the Terminator, Blade Runner, the Matrix/Animatrix, I, Robot, A.I., and Battlestar Galactica would surely come to mind in some of us...

Thinking about Animatrix's "Second Renaissance" still gives me the creeps.
 It always captivates me how we (as humans) are repelled by robots/androids that either try to be human or appear too life-like to be cute anymore. What does it mean to be human? Are we playing gods when we "create life" like robots? Are our bodies simply biological machines?

A discussion on this topic can go on forever, but what I've found is that back in 1970...a Japanese robotics professor, by the name of Masahiro Mori, coined the term "The Uncanny Valley" to describe human responses to objects that lie within the spectrum of human likeness from an industrial robot to a healthy person.

Masahiro Mori, the man who coined "The Uncanny Valley" in a time long long time ago...

Mori actually got his inspiration from a 1906 essay written by Ernst Jentsch titled "On the Psychology of the Uncanny", who tried to describe how people's moods in uncertain events. In particular, Jentsch touched a little on the added emotional effect of storytelling is achieved by placing an automaton instead of a human character.

The graph below illustrates the main point of Dr. Mori's essay, that familiarity rises gradually until it takes a sharp dive at the zombie/corpse stage, before rising up to a healthy person's level. Falling sick and dying actually brings a person towards the bottom. I've added a picture of a bunraku puppet for illustration (if you ask me, a bunraku puppet looks rather creepy, like the Puppeteer from Saw).

I guess it helps to put a name on that creepy feeling I get from seeing robots/automatons that resemble humans, and the fear that comes when robots become 99.999% human. For one, I am unsure if we will see the day when robots will completely resemble humans, but I will be a fool to say that will not happen at all. A Japanese school has already started to try out Saya, a human-like teacher that is capable of facial expressions and calling out students's names.

Looking at how much science has advanced so fast over the fast few hundred years, and seeing how robots today are starting to look a lot more human than before...we can be in for an interesting time. Science fiction is indeed slowly becoming scientific reality...

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Touched by the Fey.

Good Day to all again!

Just recently, I finish the Knights of Bretonnia Novel by Anthony Reynolds, It was quite a good novel providing insight on the World of Warhammer and a more in-depth view of Bretonnia. Since my first army was Bretonnia and I always had a fascination for Knights, I was happy to see a Bretonnian Novel finally created after observing so many other Warhammer Fantasy novels and games conveniently omitting the land of Knights.

Critically, aside from giving a great tour around the lands of the Knights, the novel didn't make me grow attach to the main character as much as I would have expected. My only other critical point would be that Anthony made the King Of Bretonnia not very awe-inspiring and portrayed the main character in the ending of the novel as something way more powerful than just a Grail Knight. It seemed like he was more of a Paladin compared to the Grail Knight I am familiar with in the Army book of Warhammer. Nonetheless, I have gotten a better understanding of the society and culture of Bretonnia. However, when you delve into the world of a Song of Ice and Fire, its hard to find anything that comes close to that type of fantasy novel. No offense to Anthony Reynold, but this novel doesn't come close to George R R Martins Fantasy story.

A Damsel and a Guardians, the Knights of Bretonnia

Anyway, today I shall focus on one of the most feared and respected individuals in Bretonnian Society. The Damsels of the Fay Enchantress, touched by the Fey, they have the gift of magic and foresight. Fear by peasants and nobles alike, Damsels are born special when young. Parents would soon discover their "Gifts" as a child, more often than not, it would bring shame, revulsion and fear among the people surrounding the child.

Usually, The Fay Enchantress would come to take these girls away. Some never to be seen again, while others emerge as Damsels, aiding the Fay Enchantress and protecting the lands of Bretonnia with their gift of Magic.

Unlike the Wizards from the Empire, much is not known on how Damsels learn or improve on their special ability of wielding and controlling the winds of magic. Even in the novel, they do not give much details on it. However, it is known that the Damsels are the representatives of the Fay Enchantress and as such, commands respect and allegiance from the Knights of Bretonnia.

No Knight would dare question the will and command of a Damsel. And while the King is the only authority that could intercede a Damsel's command, he would think twice in doing so as every damsel is a close representative of the Fay Enchantress which theoretically holds more authority than the King himself.

So here I have a Damsels painted by DPS in her original theme colour. I must say that among all the various editions of Damsel Miniatures, this is by far the best one. Would have love to paint one on my own, but with the amount of painting i have to deal with and the time needed, I decided to let DPS take on this one.

One thing I must grumble about the Damsels is that they are only able to use two lores of magic. The Prophetess of the Lady gets to use 3 which kind of suck when Imperial Wizards get to choose from ANY of the lore of magic. I mean it isn't be as bad as Wood Elves selection of magic but Bretonnian magic isn't really that great.

Then again, I might have to concede to the fact that Teclis did teach the Imperial Wizards magic, and High Elves can use all lores too. Pfft Oh wells...

I guess Teclis must have been repulsed by the fact that little boys who were gifted with special powers in Bretonnia were taken away by the Fay Enchantress and never to be seen again, unlike girls that were chosen by the Fay Enchantress.

On a side note, I have been doing much painting and as a result, my skills have improved by a bit. My highlighting, drybrushing and blending have heightened in skill. Thus, when I was looking at some of my Heroes and Lord Type miniatures for my Bretonnian army, I seem to be disgruntled at the fact that many of my other Bretonnian Units outshine in painting level compared to those Main characters. Thus, I have decided to repaint my Lord, my Paladins and my really old Damsel that some of you old readers might have seen before.

It will be awhile before I feature them again, but do stay tune!

Thanks for reading my rambles! TOODLE LOO for now!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Slava Class Cruiser

Greetings to all to another military post.

Today, I shall be featuring the Slava Class Cruiser. As you may have noticed, everything that I have been showing for GHQ is Naval. This is largely due to the fact that I started painting GHQ naval miniatures only. I have acquired many land forces miniatures and will get to it as soon as possible. So stay tune for that.

As of now, Let me get on to talking about the Project 1164. The Slava Class Cruiser was the proposed project naval vessel that would be a conventional, less expensive alternative to the Kirov Battlecruiser.

An Interesting fact would be that all Slava Class Cruisers were built in a Ukranian Port in Mykolaiv. Originally, 10 Slava Cruisers were planned for the Soviet Navy. However, Since the fall of the Soviet Union, 3 were only built. Pretty much in typical Fashion, many of the Soviet Military projects ended up with lower numbers than it planned out to have.

One of the Iconic weapons of the Slava Cruiser are its 8x2 P-500 Bazalt SS-N-12 Sandbox Anti-ship missiles. While there are not re-loadable during sea operations, it packs enough firepower to deal with surface vessels. It is also armed with 64 SA-N-6 Grumble long-range Surface-to-air missiles. With several close-in weapon systems and a few dozen anti-submarine mortars and a couple of torpedo tubes, the Slava cruiser is an arsenal of a ship which could give western counterparts a run for their money in a naval battle. This is especially so based on the amount of firepower this ship possesses on its own.

That's about it for me this time round. Stay tune for more Toyconstruct posts!!