Monday, 29 December 2008 knows my tastes....

I was rather amused to receive this in my inbox this morning. Amazon's product recommendations aren't usually that on the ball, especially since I use Amazon infrequently enough that they're often in relation to things I decided sounded like a good idea several years ago, but this accuracy was a pleasant surprise, even if they're a bit late to earn my custom.

"Accuracy", however, isn't the best term for the rest of this article. "The highly anticipated simulation RPG"-- I don't think that's exactly what "dating sim" refers to-- "is returning to the PS2 promising its cult followers"-- don't they mean the game has a "cult following"? I'm not sure Ar Tonelico fandom generally requires obscure rituals and obedience to a charismatic leader-- "more gameplay, features and innuendos." Innuendos? Plural? And what about, oh, say, the music? I suppose that's counted under "features".

Oh, no, wait:

"See more in PlayStation 2 > Rhythm > Singing & Karaoke Games"

At least they did recognise that there's music in it, I suppose.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

The Flesh Fair -- Ar Tonelico fanfiction (Reyvablog canon, 1,459 words, violence, disturbing themes)

Warning: this is a harsh story. I hadn't originally intended to post it online, for a variety of reasons; for one, it's a very dark piece, and I think I had internalised the idea, from my works in the other fandom that I write in, that my "mission", of sorts, in writing was to counterbalance the excessive darkness and aggression that seems to be popular in fandom.

However, I've realised after some thought that what I was actually doing in my other fandom was writing the untold stories of that world: where others only wrote of darkness, I tried to illustrate that there was a lighter side to be seen in that world that few people considered. Ar Tonelico's world, on the other hand, is one in which people often celebrate the Reyvateils, but few reflect on the sufferings such an imbalanced caste system as is found in Sol Ciel would produce for this race of people. Again, I am attempting to tell, I suppose, the stories less told; to lighten the path less followed, in order to help people see both sides of the world.

Knowing that this is the path I seem to be on as a fanfic writer, I'm now more comfortable posting the story.

It's told from the perspective of the Angry Reyvateil, the in-character author of Falling Through the Generation Gap.


Down at the border of the worst part of town, where the poorest of human habitations bleed over into the Reyvateil slums, there used to be a horrible little hangout that called itself the Flesh Fair. Its crowd was invariably drawn from the dregs of the human gene pool, grubby-fingered louts with table manners almost as crude as their vocabularies, the edge only taken off their thuggishness by drink, and in a few cases exascerbated by it instead. The walls inside looked like they hadn't seen fresh paint in decades, a fact poorly hidden by the demeaning centrefolds that dotted the walls here and there; I suspected the place probably used to be a squat, bought out on the cheap or still being occupied illegally in a sector all but ignored by the law. I'd pass by it almost every day on the way to work, wanting so badly to turn away from its graffiti-sprayed exterior and its obscene decor, but unable to keep from staring inwards at the horror and the shame.

A hand-scrawled sign upon the door forbade entry to any Reyvateil, and just in case they couldn't read a constant harsh noise blared over the speaker system, a parody of song distorted and screeching enough to set the teeth of even human passers-by on edge, yet which amazingly did not seem to bother their clientele. Even without the music, no Reyvateil would have been at ease in the place; the main attraction of the Flesh Fair was its reputation as a gathering place for anti-Reyvateil extremists, and from what I could pick out from amidst the cacophony, a full ninety per cent of the conversation that went on there involved the discussion, in savage detail, of what vengeance should be enacted upon the members of our species.

I would have been able to turn away, if not for one thing. The bartenders were a trio of girls, two of them as animatedly vulgar as the rest, but the third as visibly broken a spirit as I have ever seen. She kept her eyes to the floor, her movements skittish, her muscles held rigid in fear. Her lank, mousy hair and grease-smudged skin always looked like they hadn't been washed in days, and the resilient beauty of her face shone through a lumpy mass of scars. I'd seen her get them, watched frozen in shock as a customer smashed her face in with a glass, to the jeering approval of the crowd; she had crumpled to the ground, twisting in on herself, and while I couldn't hear the voice that rose up from inside I saw the light that touched her wounds and knit together the raw edges of her skin.

She was the manager's Reyvateil, and every night he paraded her before this vicious crowd so they could mock her, spit on her, scream in her face. And yet still she was kind to them, as kind as she could be through the terror, probably in part because she feared worse if she stepped out of line, but also because she was what she was. One night I was working particularly late, and I saw the shutters of the place rolled down, rattling with the relentless drone of the sound system. From the painful cries that easily pierced the din, I could tell this establishment's idea of a private party involved no relaxation of that cruelty.

And then one evening, I saw the shutters down well before normal closing hours. The instinctive tension that would grip me when I passed petered out as I realised the speakers weren't on. The next day, and the next, presented me with the same sight: a crumbling, lifeless little haunt that now neatly matched its neighbours. The feel of the place still sickened, its aura of bad intent clinging to the skin like a film, but at least the screams had stopped.

I wondered what became of her, dimly, as I trudged on to work. Did her heart finally collapse under the strain of their hatred? Did they beat their star attraction to death, and then disperse, unsure what to do with themselves now that they'd consummated the act for which they'd hungered so long?

As the mazy back streets led me further into the slums, I felt a tug on the hem of my skirt, a weak one. I was used to this; these streets crawled with the homeless as lesser slums crawled with rats. I never had money for them, but still, I always looked down. Sometimes, the smile of someone who didn't see you as living waste was all it took to put some lightness in your heart.

I saw blue eyes staring back at me, through a mask of familiar scars.

"You used to work at the Flesh Fair, didn't you?"

"I left," she said, averting her eyes as if the very mention of it shamed her. It probably did, I thought, cursing myself silently. Those two words, their tone, their feel, carried volumes of information to my intuition. I left, with purpose. I timed my leaving. I wanted him to know I'd rather walk out to die than live on like this.

I took a seat on the steps beside her. Screw my client, no pun intended; he could wait another five minutes. "I'm sorry. I can't do anything to help you... I live hand-to-mouth as it is."

"It's okay," she said, and there was almost a little humour in her voice; a light, delicate undercurrent that warmed her words from the inside. Goddesses, but her song must have been beautiful, back when she was whole. "Everyone does."

After a moment in which neither of us spoke, she continued on. "It's strange... it must be because I'm dying, but these days, I almost feel like it's... singing to me." Her eyes were focused far in the distance, and I followed her gaze. "The Tower?" I said.

She nodded. "I feel... a warmth coming from it that I never knew before. I wonder if that's where we go... back to the Binary Field." She turned to look at me, a wan smile on her face. "She lives there... doesn't she?"


"Sometimes, I think I see her... out of the corner of my eye. I think she comes for us, you know, when we die. She gave herself for us, let herself be sealed away... and even though she can't help us in life any more, maybe she protects us now...."

I didn't know where Mir was these days, to be honest. I'd heard a lot about viruses emerging up in the Tower, about a year ago, and then as quickly as it started the news dropped dead. But I wasn't going to voice those doubts, not to this poor girl, who only had that hope to cling to; and besides, in a way, I still clung to it too. It wasn't about where Mir was or wasn't, ultimately. It was about what she represented: hope, for all of us, that there could be a better world, a place where humans wouldn't punish us simply for being what we were. A place where we could be free. I still believed in that.

I reached inside my shirt and pulled out the small disc I always wore around my neck, concealed. It was a simple thing, marked with an abstract design in red and black; no one who did not know the colour convention would know what it was, but its subtlety was part of its charm. One who held Mir in high esteem, after all, had to take a certain rebellious pride in keeping it secret, or else be weighed down beneath the burden of the subterfuge.

Carefully, I slipped the cord over her head. I could make another.

"You need this more than I do, right now," I said. "May it guard your steps."

She cradled it in the palm of her hand, tracing one finger over the design. "I don't think I'll be doing much stepping... any more," she said, with that same wry humour.

"Then your steps wherever the world beyond may take you," I said softly, squeezing her shoulder as I got to my feet.

I left her looking at it, seemingly lost in the fascination of the simple pattern. It was one of the signs, I knew, the tendency to get caught up in language, in structure, in geometric designs. Perhaps it was the universal rhythm of the Tower calling us home.

I glanced towards the structure, faint beyond the dusty haze of the street. I released a silent prayer into the Binary Field, and for a moment, held my breath; then turned away into the choking air and the night.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Cover those covers, NISA/A hiatus for the rest of us....

(All images in this post are safe for work, despite descriptions.)

So over at the Reyvateil's Melody forums, LOKFanatic put together a side-by-side comparison of the Japanese and American box art for various NISA-released GUST games.

To be honest, I'd quite forgotten that AT1 had had a different cover, and to see the comparisons illustrated so starkly kind of shocked me. I think I'd subconsciously believed that we were past the days when covers were routinely changed for the American market, even though in practice I know things like the Final Fantasies get different covers (and I'm still not entirely sure why). The anime style of art and the Japanese aesthetic in general is so widely recognised amongst gamers now, and in fact beloved for its charm, that monstrosities like these unfortunate localised covers are looked upon as quaint relics of a less culturally aware era. Given that, I'm honestly not sure I see a need for revised covers. Isn't it just more expense on the developers' part?

Moreover, the aesthetic appeal of the Japanese designs aside, I'm troubled by the assumptions the changed covers seem to make about the two cultures. The Japanese covers for both AT1 and 2 prominently feature the female characters, who are of course the stars of the story, looking non-sexualised and in control. Sure, Chroche has got a bit of cleavage going on, but that's just her outfit in general; she looks composed and refined, not like she's posing for the cover of the Metafalss edition of Hustler. The emphasis is on the women, but not in a degrading way, so as to objectify them; rather, it's on them as the most important people on the box. They look like the protagonists, basically, not sidekick material: AT1 is obviously Aurica and Misha's game, just as AT2 is obviously Chroche and Luca's, even though we all know it's totally Jakuri's.

Contrast with the American covers. AT1's wasn't too awful, and the first release was pink, which is quite a novelty amongst games not aimed at little girls, although it probably did put a lot of people off the game and definitely gendered the content. The original looked like a game that anyone might want to play; the American cover appealed to a niche, which is a counterproductive marketing strategy if ever I saw one. The biggest problem with it, though, is that the female characters have been pushed to the back. The message is clear: this game is about a guy with a sword and his singing, alluring female cohorts!

AT2's cover, however... ugh. Not only is the guy with the pointy thing in front again, but the background image is of the main female protagonists practically making out, and looking kind of nervous and vulnerable (well, okay, Chroche does) while they do so. The message here is clearer still: this game is about a guy with a sword and his two vaguely homoerotic female cohorts! Now, I have absolutely no problem with gayness in my games-- I'm bi myself, and it's always nice to see games that feature a wide spread of sexualities-- but this isn't about fair representation of lesbians, especially since I'm pretty sure from what I've heard (don't confirm/deny/spoil in comments, people!) that Chroche and Luca aren't actually together in the game. This is about putting female eroticism on the cover of a game so it will sell to men who want to look at that sort of thing. And, you know, that's not bad as such. There's nothing wrong with men who like looking at pretty girls. But save it for the artbook; placing it on the cover distorts the image of what the game's about. Ar Tonelico is about much more than thinly veiled sexuality, and selling the game like this cheapens it, as well as reducing the female characters to objects to be gazed upon, not people in their own right. If there's anyone out there you think needs a quick example of what objectification is, link them to this post: I think it's as good an example of the difference between presenting a person as a person, a being capable of independent agency, and presenting them as an object, a thing to be observed and enjoyed with the eyes with their own will seen as secondary, as you'll find.

The big problem I have with these covers is what they say about what games companies think of American fans. They assume the American gamer market is so crude, so adolescent, and, most galling of all, so overwhelmingly male, that they a) won't buy a game that has women shown as key characters in their own right, rather than sex objects, and b) would buy a game with two girls fawning all over each other on the cover over a game that seems to be a pretty, tasteful-looking RPG. Those are two awful assumptions to make about America, especially in contrast to Japan-- "the Japanese may like the tasteful stuff, but here in the good ol' U. S. of A., we want boobs! None of this fancy cherry-blossom-haiku-tea-ceremony stuff for us, no sir!"-- and, in light of the controversy over name localisations and NISA's recent commentary in press release that "the American market is different, and we have to cater to it", really makes it seem like they think the American market is stupid. Those durned Amerikkuns, they hate Japanese names in games, and they hate pretty, delicate things! That's right: the portion of the American market that plays games like Ar Tonelico seriously hates, you know, pretty fantasy worlds and those ker-ray-zee Japanese names. Yep. We hate it. We're just here for the Reyva-tail.


Please meditate upon this link, NISA. Come back to us when you're done. (Warning: music and Flash, for those of you at work. Just check the URL.)

I'm buying AT2 because I want to play it in English, on release day. Furthermore, I want to support NISA over the fact that AT2 is being released here at all, and hopefully get AT3 released as well. So I'm giving them my money. But it's a dilemma, because honestly, I don't like the thought of supporting companies that pull this sort of stunt. At the risk of sounding elitist here, the AT series has been stated by some of the developers to be their life's work. Sure, it has innuendo, but that's not the main attraction; you can see that in the multiple 250-page books that have been released detailing every aspect of the world's history, technology and magicology that barely say a peep about the characters as sex symbols. Turning the characters of this carefully constructed fantasy into cheap tricks to sell games to your perceived market of Dumb Horny Amerikkuns is not okay, okay?

In conclusion: when a country like Japan, notorious for its objectification of the female figure and general lack of feminism, does a far better job than the American distros of presenting its female characters as characters in their own right rather than bits of fluff attached to the male protagonist, you know someone, somewhere, is seriously doing it wrong.

In other news, $INSERT_WINTER_HOLIDAY_HERE is almost upon us, and I'm off to spend it with one awesome individual, several rather less tolerable individuals, and a NEW TINYKITN as of tomorrow. My internet access is going to be minimal, most likely, so don't expect posts from me on this blog or the forums from the 23rd until New Year's; the Reyvablog will also be going on a hiatus until January 1st, which, given timezone crossing and need to recover from jetlag, will in practice probably work out at around the 2nd or 3rd. So have yourselves a merry little season, and I'll join you all again in 2009 for the last leg of our collective wait for the airship to Metafalss!

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Reyvateilian hair accessories!

So today I made a really neat little accessory for my Mir avatar in SL: a tiny set of organ pipes with a ribbon attached. Sadly, I couldn't find an existing ribbon that had full permissions, and I didn't think I was up to crafting my own, so this item is no-copy for now-- meaning I can't sell or give them away. I will hopefully soon have an appropriately-permissioned tiny ribbon, though, so these should go live soon-- with a larger range of instruments, assuming I'm up to crafting them. Pipes are pretty easy. XD

The neatest thing about this little charm? If you click on it, it plays a sound clip. Currently a ten-second clip from Harmonious Fusion, as that's what I had uploaded to that account to test with, but I'll look up some actual organ clips soon.

See the pics here.

(Also, the, uh, giant pixellated pointer is just something she happens to have attached to her head. It's not meant to be pointing at the pipes, though its position was coincidental and amusing enough that I left it in the photographs.)

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Worksafe warnings apply....

So I did say I'd be posting some fanart of Mir using SL as a generating tool, and here are a few from a photoshoot I did today in a great set of sims by La TusSim. I stumbled across these earlier today, played about with some of the poseballs, and went, "hey-- this would make a great setup for an awakening-Mir shoot". Some Photoshop involved, to varying degrees, though the third image needed almost no edits (and was also a fluke, since the pose from the first image accidentally carried over through the teleport)-- and the pseudo-Ar Tonelico in the second was there to begin with!

The problem with fanart of Mir is that it generally either involves nakedness or costumes that are next to impossible to come by (or, I suppose, Funbun t-shirts), so I opted for nakedness in these images-- which, despite the fact that this is how official art and pretty much all fanart draws her, somehow manages to look more explicit than I'd tend to go for. I think it's the 3D.

Still, I think these are tasteful-- or at least, as tasteful as Mir ever gets.

Mule Birth
Virus Code
Wake Up, Mir

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Funbun t-shirts for your First Life!

Since the GUST-licensed equivalents have sold out, we've cooked up some Cafepress-style Funbun shirts. The sleeves are longer than on the originals, unfortunately, and they don't come in huge sizes... but hey, that's not the point. After all, it's fun as a souvenir, but would you really wear it? ;)

*would totally wear it*

Three red lights means you need Diquility... but what if you're a Beta?

While working on an install port design for Mir, we unfortunately encountered a few... stability issues. (Work-safety warning: nudity, mosaic-censored, behind link.)

Poor Mir; looks like she's going to have to be shipped back to the Tower for repairs. Thankfully, like most other problems in the AT universe, this one can be fixed with towels, at least temporarily. Just wrap her up, keep her warm, and she'll be good to go again pretty soon.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Funbun t-shirts and Black Mugs now available in SL!

Okay, I'm still figuring out how to do this whole "selling" thing, so apologies for any bugs; but even though I don't have a store, you can now grab the Last Boss's Black Mugs, as well as a box of Funbun t-shirts in both long and short sizes (modelled here and here by our glamorous assistant Mir, on location at the scenic Obscure Sandbox), for 50L each by pinging Jakuri Halostar in Second Life. Hopefully. Maybe. I will try to actually make this work.

Install ports coming soon, perhaps? XD

Friday, 12 December 2008

Bringing the glory of The Last Boss's Black Mug to worlds beyond....

We all love The Last Boss's Black Mug. With its endearingly Engrish name, its wrathful vibrating action, and its sleek, Jakuri-adorned features, what's not to adore about this unique piece of crockery? Now, the infamous mug has made its debut in a whole new world: the world of Second Life.

Click, click and click again to see the mug in action! Modelled here by my very own Mir avatar (in fetching HTTP status-code 403 pajamas, no less), the Jakuri mug provides an unlimited supply of caffeine to lagging Reyvateils on the go, and its wrath will keep any avatar's hands warm for hours. So even if you can't have the glory of the Last Boss's Black Mug in your own home here, you can still have one in Second Life. (Well, if you're me, I guess. I don't actually have a shop to sell these things from....)

More Mir portraits from Second Life coming soon; this avatar makes a great model for insta-fanart.

So, random thing, but....

...does it say anywhere in the official materials for AT how Grathnode crystals are removed from Reyvateils? Can anyone think how they would be? Since the crystals seem to be absorbed into the body at the site of the install port, one would think getting them out would require magic; it's not like you can just reach your hand in and grab one. Yet the Reyvateils' partners seem to be able to remove them fairly trivially.

Any thoughts on this? I was thinking some kind of device might be used to scan for existing Grathnodes, extract the raw... Grathnode-stuff through the install port and recrystallise them, basically reversing the install process, but that's basically my bit of handwaving and Applied Phlebotinum; the actual process doesn't seem to be discussed in-game at all....

Friday, 5 December 2008

I <3 Reyvablog.

Have I mentioned how much I love the Reyvablog? And the fact that its players are now, amongst other wonderful things, spontaneously generating in-world poetry? (See, at current, the bottom of the thread.) It's always an honour to have one's fanwork generate more fanworks, and nowhere does this tendency have the opportunity to thrive more than in RP, where the fans are the content creators, in part.

I'm thankful to everyone who's participated, and continues to participate, in this great shared exercise in worldcrafting. You've all given something great to this work and helped it to grow, and I hope to see it continue to thrive.