Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Best Mods for Knights of the Old Republic

When it comes down to naming the best Star Wars video game ever made, one game regularly reigns over all other contenders. That game is Knights of the Old Republic, the creation of the legendary western RPG developer, Bioware. Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel are not only amazing Star Wars games, but also exceptional RPGs in their own rights. They possess quality leveling systems, unforgettable characters, and captivating stories that can be experienced through multiple playthroughs without getting old. Critics and everyday gamers alike adore and respect the series.

What scores of KotOR fans might not know is that a dedicated modding community exists for the phenomenal PC series. For those unfamiliar with the term, “Modding” refers to the act of making custom modifications to a piece of software or hardware. In the case of computer games, this usually involves adding in new content, such as characters, levels, and weapons. Both Knights of the Old Republic games have received hundreds of such fan-made additions in the years since their releases. With the recent announcement of a bundled rerelease of Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel, it is an opportune moment to review the best of these mods. While the KotOR modding community isn’t the largest on the internet, it has still produced some truly top-quality content over the years.

Brotherhood of Shadow: Solomon’s Revenge 

The magnum opus of the modder Silveredge9, BoSSR is the most extensive mod ever released for the first KotOR game. While the majority of mods for any game are often merely tiny tweaks or minor additions, BoSSR is far more ambitious. It adds to the game an entirely new story arc, one with the size and polish of an official expansion pack. Bioware themselves would've been hard pressed to develop something akin to it with the same limited time and resources of a modder. Just as impressive as BoSSR's scope and technical feats is the narrative it has to tell. Its story is exceptionally well written and features a diverse caste of likeable characters (my favorite being the sarcastic wisecracking Duro mechanic, Mec'Hanic). Not only do the characters and plot fit perfectly within the bounds of the original game's storyline, they enrich it with new perspectives on KotOR's back-story.
Those who play BoSSR can expect multiple new locations to explore. They range from the bridge of a Mandalorian battleship to the depths of forgotten Sith Ruins. Every setting has an engrossing atmosphere, with several possessing the feel of a survival horror setting. While the mod often relies on retextures of existing KotOR areas, a number of completely new modules are also used in the mod. These unique locations stand out the most as being professionally realized and memorable.

Many new weapons and armor are included with BoSSR, along with a number of new player-controllable characters. While these are often only briefly available to the player, their segments are often the most brilliant in the mod. Without spoiling too much, players can expect to play through important events in the Old Republic era. They will experience the  Mandalorian Wars through the eyes of a misguided Jedi apprentice and witness firsthand the reign of the enigmatic Sith Lord, Darth Revan. With a lengthy main adventure and several side quests, BoSSR easily provides well over ten hours of gameplay. Possessing both professional quality and creativity that only a passionate fan could give it, every KotOR enthusiast should make it a priority to play Brotherhood of Shadow: Solomon’s Revenge.

Revans Robes Revisioned
The most stylish attire in all of Star Wars has to be the robes of the Sith Lord Darth Revan. Unfortunately, like enticing forbidden fruit forever denied to those who crave it, players were never able to don these awesome robes in Knights of the Old Republic. Many mods for KotOR have sought to fix this in the past. The best of them however, has to be Revans Robes Revisioned. Not only does it provide players with the best Revan robes ever modeled, it even offers seven different versions of the robes to choose from. The mod also includes a special flowing animation for Revan’s cape. 

 While Revan’s Sith robes are perfect for dark side leaning characters, they don’t really fit the image of a Jedi. Thankfully, there are also versions of the robes that no knight of the Republic should feel ashamed to wear. My personal favorite is “Jedi Revan Robes” by Darth_Shan. Since this mod is only a re-skin, it has to be used with another mod that adds Revan’s robes to the game. Revan’s Robes Revisioned is the ideal mod to apply it to, of course.

Visual Enhancement 2012  
Visual Enhancement by Xarwarz is a series of updates to Knights of the Old republics’ graphics. The mod provides higher quality textures for both the first KotOR and its sequel. While it doesn’t put the games on the level of modern games, it is still a huge improvement over the original visuals.

Nar Shaddaa (KotOR 2 location) with Visual Enhancement 2012 

It is a well known fact that Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords was released in an incomplete condition. While its developer Obsidian often receives the flake for this, much of the fault can be placed at the foot of the game’s publisher. There has been much speculation that LucasArts pushed Obsidian to finish the game for a Holiday release. Because of this, a ton of content ended up being cut from KotOR 2. Many of this discarded material would have greatly benefited the game had Obsidian been allowed the time to implement it.

After its release, a number of fan projects stepped up to restore the game’s cut content. Perhaps the best known of these groups was Team Gizka, which worked on their restoration project for years before collapsing due to internal divisions. Thankfully a second group of modders took up the immense task that all before had failed to do. Finish Knights of the Old Republic 2.

Titled “The Sith Lords Restored Content Mod” (TSLRCM), the file contains a compilation of restored content and bug fixes. The degree to which it improves KotOR 2 cannot be fully expressed given the sheer range of dialogue lines, and story events it restores and improves. One of the mod’s crowning achievements is the restoration of an entire level that was removed from the game: the HK Assassin Droid Factory. The inclusion of this area to the game, a feat that required multiple rounds of testing and bug fixing, adds a huge new twist to the way the game's ending plays out.

TSLRCM is an example of what talented modders can do when they band together to realize a common dream. It is a massive undertaking that wouldn’t have been possible without years of dedicated work by passionate fans. Fans who have dedicated hours of their own free time to ironing out the flaws in a game they played no part in creating. That is something that takes true dedication that only the greatest of games could inspire. TSLRCM is currently on version 1.7, with a 1.8 update in the works. When it’s released, it will be closest KotOR 2 has ever been to the complete game Obsidian had intended to make.  

M478-P (Unreleased)
The most significant feature cut from KotOR 2 was the entire planet of M4-78. Inhabited only by droids, it would have given players the chance to explore a completely mechanized planet. While there wasn’t enough of its original data left for inclusion as part of TSLRCM, a separate modding team has been able to create the models, scripts, and storyline needed to finally make the planet playable. While the mod hasn’t been released yet, work on it is progressing smoothly and can be followed on the Star Wars gaming site “Deadly Stream.” 

Revenge of Revan (Demo) 

Many fans of the KotOR series were disappointed when Bioware announced its Old Republic MMO. While they had eagerly awaited a single player RPG continuation of the KotOR saga, and TOR was not what they had expected. Even today, many gamers long for a Knights of the Old Republic 3. While it cannot lay claim to such a title officially, there is one project that is attempting to provide just that.

Revenge of Revan seeks to be an unofficial continuation of the KotOR storyline. Picking up a few years after the end of KotOR 2, its story focuses on the attempts of the Republic and Jedi Order to rebuild after years of war and galaxy-spanning devastation. The project is nothing if not ambitious. It features a robust cast of characters, both new ones and fan favorites from the past two games. It also seeks to bring new gameplay content to the standard KotOR 2 experience. This includes a lightsaber progression system, the chance to play as alien races, and a new system for building trust with party members. At the same time, RoR is shooting to have full voice acting, along with a completely new original soundtrack.

Though the mod as a whole has a long ways to go, it shows a lot of promise. The team behind it released a demo last summer. Overall it offered a total of 3 hours of new KotOR gameplay, and acted as an introduction for what is sure to be an expansive experience. When finished, the project promises the chance for players to continue their KotOR adventure and bridge the gap between the second game and its MMO successor.  
Read more about Revenge of Revan at its official site

Check out the following links to learn more about KoTOR modding:

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Crunchyroll is My New Best Friend

For the longest time my anime viewing has been limited to DVDs and what little I can catch on TV. Like many young fans of Japanese animation, I simply don’t have a lot of money to spend on it. At the same time my honesty prevents me from stooping to pirate my favorite shows from unscrupulous websites. Because of this I have never been very keen on watching anime online. I believed the only avenues to do so were ether illegal or outside my budget. Safe to say, that point of view has changed since I discovered Crunchyroll.

Crunchyroll is an online anime streaming website that allows free access to a vast collection of anime. The site licenses anime legally and uses advertisements to subsidize free users. If you’re not a fan of watching commercials (and who on God’s green earth is) you can sign up for a premium membership. With it you can enjoy ad-free content, HD picture quality, and early access to new episodes. Crunchyroll’s shows range from mainstream hits like Naruto and Bleach, to numerous niche titles. Hunter x Hunter, Eureka Seven, Gosick, and Fate Zero are only a few other amazing shows to view on the site. The only potential downside is that all the audio for these shows is Japanese with English subtitles. 
While Crunchyroll’s past isn’t exactly squeaky-clean, it has come a long way towards cleaning up its act. The web site has gone from being a distributer of copyrighted material to a legitimate company that secures legal distribution rights. Today Crunchyroll is doing the anime industry a world of good by providing a legal (and easy) way to stream anime online. Though I for one still prefer owning my favorite shows physically, streaming on Crunchyroll is a great way to get an early look at the best cartoons Japan has to offer.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Anime I Want to See Localized

Despite the number of stereotypes attributed to it, the word “anime” is simply an abbreviation for the Japanese term for animation. It covers any form of cartoon made in Japan, comprising multiple genres. While cartoons in the States are often unfairly dismissed as juvenile junk, they flourish as a true art in Japan. With content generally more serious than American cartoons, it isn’t surprising that many anime franchises have become mainstays of youth culture in the west. Without a doubt, those who dismiss anime as the obsession of japanophiles are missing out on the best animation in the world.

Before people outside Japan can enjoy an anime (legally at least) it has to licensed for western distribution. Determining what get’s brought over and by who is a long complex process. Anime is first and foremost produced for a Japanese audience and not all of them can find success in front of a western one. The following listing is basically my wish list for the anime I want to see localized. Ideally, these shows would be given Region 1 DVD release, preferably with an English dub.

Hunter x Hunter

Saying that Yoshihiro Togashi is one of the greatest manga authors ever doesn’t even come close to overstating his talents. A gifted minimalist artist and master storyteller, the anime adaption of his first major manga, Yu Yu Hakusho, is one of my all time favorite cartoons. By all regards, Togashi only improved with his adventure series, Hunter x Hunter. While at first glance it appears to be a typical kid’s series, this is purposely deceptive. Boasting complex characters, an intrigue plot, and hidden depth, it deconstructs everything one would expect from a Shonen anime. 

There are two Hunter x Hunter anime series, one that began in 1999 and ended with a number of OVA releases in the mid 2000’s, and an ongoing reboot series that began in 2011. The newer show is being produced by the respected Madhouse animation studio. The company has a well known penchant for quality, which is evident in how seamlessly they’ve adapted Hunter x Hunter. Madhouse has done a great job of capturing the manga’s identity, especially the dissonance between its lighthearted visual style and dark content. With each episode pristinely animated, Hunter x Hunter really has the potential to become the next big Shonen anime in America.

Funimation would be the ideal candidate to bring this masterpiece series to North America. While Viz Media was the company that licensed the first Hunter x Hunter anime, the results of their efforts weren’t exactly ideal. The quality of their English Dub was hit and miss and poor marketing doomed the series financially. Viz Media didn’t even bother to bring the entire series over. Funimation is really the only company with the resources to do Hunter x Hunter justice. Their voice actors are the best in the anime dubbing business. Furthermore, the company already has experience dubbing anime based off Togashi’s comics. Yu Yu Hakusho is one of their most popular series, and their acquisition of the 2011 “Level E” anime shows they have continued interest in the author’s works.


Set in a fictional European country in 1924, Gosick follows Japanese exchange student Kujo’s adventures with a mysterious girl. The girl, Victorique, is shown early on to be far from ordinary. Her deductive reasoning and intuition allow her to solve the most bizarre mysteries with little more than a shrug. Most cases Kujo and her face have a supernatural appearance and the show is decidedly spooky and downright sinister at times. Still, enough humor and heartwarming material is mixed in to keep the mood balanced. Romances in anime are often too over the top for my tastes, but the one between Kujo and Victorique manages to avoid this.
Gosick was originally going to be licensed by Bandai in America. The company unfortunately stopped releasing new titles recently. This means that Gosick is now back up for grabs. Right now it’s debatable who, if anyone will pick it up. Funimation has rescued series from defunct companies in the past but they might not bite on this one. They’ve been burned on detective anime before (Case Closed) but Gosick could be different enough to be successful. The series is much shorter in length, so it wouldn’t require as much money and resources to bring over. Costs can further be reduced through releasing it sub only.
Digimon: Xros Wars 

Digimon became a major part of my childhood when it first hit the States in 1999. Looking back, it’s hard to not see it as an attempt to cash in on the Pok√©mon craze. Still, the franchise has been able to stand on its own through the years. Admittedly, the cartoon is often ridiculously cheesy, yet it also has some truly profound moments too (I’m looking at you Digimon Tamers).
Xros Wars is the latest incarnation of the Digimon anime. With a fast moving plot and loud explosive battles, it sticks pretty close to the traditional Digimon formula while also managing to avoid feeling stale. The animation is crisp and colorful and I can definitely see it finding a good home on any number of kid oriented channels. A new generation of kids needs to experience Digimon and Xros Wars would definitely get the job done.

Yu Yu Hakusho Poltergeist Report
As I said earlier, Yu Yu Hakusho is one of my all time favorite shows. It’s only natural that I’d like to see its feature length movie get a proper English adaption. While Poltergeist Report has technically already been released in North America, its dub is terrible. So bad that it might as well not exist. Naturally, it would be perfect for Funimation to get the rights to Poltergeist Report. It’s all they need to finish their dubbing of the popular series after their released of the Yu Yu Hakusho OVAs last year. It’s easy to tell from this that Funimation is still interested in the series and capable of bringing their dub’s brilliant voice caste back together.

Dragon Ball Z OVAs
The term OVA stands for Original Video Animation. They are basically mini-films made directly for home video. Currently there are three OVAs in the popular Dragon Ball Z series that have yet to be licensed in North America. Obviously, it would be great to have them become available here so that DBZ maniacs (myself included) could finish their Dragon Ball collections. Obviously Funimation would be the ones to license them. It's probably only a matter of time until they get around to it.
None of these short films have particularly compelling plots, but they’re all well animated regardless. DBZ animated features outside the main series have always been about telling fun side stories that feature our favorite characters. For better or worse, that’s pretty much exactly what these OVAs accomplish.

The oldest of the three OVAs is from the Cell saga era of the series and features the main caste going up against the evil Dr. Raichi. There are actually two versions of this OVA, dubbed “Dragon Ball: Plan to Eradicate the Super Saiyans.” The original was released in Japan in 1993 and the second was re-scripted and re-edited as a bonus feature for the 2010 video game Dragon Ball: Raging Blast 2. While this second version came with the North American release of the game, it included only the Japanese audio with subtitles. An English dub would definitely be ideal and I’d also love to see the original version of the film included along with the new one.

Dragon Ball: Yo! Son Goku and His Friends Return!! premiered in Japan in 2008 and marked the first new Dragon Ball animation since 1999. Set a short time after the end of DBZ, the short film introduced Vegeta’s younger brother, Tarble (for what’s supposed to be a nearly extinct race, new Saiyans really have a habit of turning up out of the blue). Most of the episode is about Trunks and Goten fighting two chubby joke villains. Its focus is definitely more on humor than action. This isn’t a bad thing by any means, given that humor has always been an important part of Dragon Ball.

Dragon Ball: Episode of Bardock is the anime adaption of a short manga story penned by one of Akira Toriyama’s assistants, Naho Ooishi. It tells a what-if story featuring Bardock, a fan favorite character made famous in the TV special “Bardock: Father of Goku.” The gist of the story is that Bardock is sent back in time when the galactic warlord Frieza destroys Planet Vegeta. In the past he fights one of Frieza’s ancestors and turns into a Super Saiyan during their battle. Though the whole plot reads like a bad fanfic, the animation itself is sharp and seeing more of Bardock is definitely not a bad thing.

Dr. Slump
Dr. Slump is the first major work of Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama. Being equally as popular as Dragon Ball in Japan, two Dr. Slump anime were eventually made. It would be great to finally see either or both of them brought to states. Considering the phenomenon that Dragon Ball is, it’s amazing that nobody has at least picked them up for a subbed release. My preference would be for the newer 1997-1999 series, as it has better animation. Its shorter length would also make bringing it over easier. Dragon Ball’s protagonist even appears in a few of its episodes and it’s always great to see more of an iconic character like Goku.