Friday, March 28, 2008

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • It's my turn to make the obligatory patch 2.4 post for WoW, so I'll go ahead and get that out of the way. So far, I really like it. Hmm, maybe I should say more.

  • When I finally got into the game and got my mods up-to-date, I was greeted by a very different Shattrath City. I only took a few minutes to check out the new quests before portalling to Silvermoon and from there to the Island of Quel'Danas. There were a lot of people all standing in very close proximity. Rain was falling thickly and the misty darkness obscured the horizon. There was also an ongoing war on the waterfront between the Shattered Sun Offensive and the blood elves and demons defending the Sunwell. In other words, it was really cool to watch. The new dailies were interesting, if overcamped at this point. I also got a chance to witness the capture of the Sun's Reach Sanctum and the new quests there.

  • After a rather fruitful run in Karazhan this week, I was able to get a group of guildies together to run Magisters' Terrace, the new five-man instance. I had more fun in this instance than in any of the others I've run. Each of the bosses plays like a "best-of" selection of earlier encounters. It looks beautiful and is a lot of fun. The only problem I had was the final boss. I like the encounter, but my lack of stamina and the difficulty of healing made it just south of a nightmare. We won, but it did dampen an otherwise fun evening.

  • What haven't I checked out? Well, I haven't PvP'd at all, so I'm not sure how the removal of diminishing returns or the updated Alterac Valley have changed that. Considering how little I PvP, I doubt there will be a huge effect on me, but I'm still interested to see them. I also haven't tried the fishing daily quest because none of my characters fish well enough. Someday, maybe.

  • On a semi-related note, I decided that I'm not going to leave my guild any time soon. I wasn't seriously consider it, but I did wonder if staying in the guild was keeping me from seeing the deeper raids. Chaotic may not be ready for 25-mans any time soon, but I'm not ready to burn bridges for the short term gain.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Comic Roundup: March 12, 2008

  • Not a whole lot by the way of comics this week. I did as threatened and reread the first issue of the new Criminal. It's still great. Beyond this list I also purchased Empowered volume 3, but that is deserving a much longer post than I can give it here.

  • Return To Wonderland cover gallery: Yeah, I bought this because I'm a big nerd. Don't judge me.

  • Serenity: Better Days issue 1: I wonder sometime if I'm not as big a fan of Firefly as I aught to be. Other times I remind myself that I am and Firefly, it's just Serenity that I have trouble with. There is always something lacking in these comics, as though the writing does not quite mesh with my feelings for the original television series. I don't have this trouble with the Buffy series, but I can't tell whether it is because the writing is better in that book or if distance from the show makes me more nostalgic for it. In spite of all that, this was not a bad issue and I'll be picking up the next two just to see how it ends up. I just wish I could get more enthusiastic about it.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Top Five: Books

  • The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler: The funny thing is that I never actually knew much about Raymond Chandler until the re-release of the movie classic based on this book. When the film came out of DVD, I was fascinated by this prototypical portrayal of the private detective and the dark world he travels in. That lead to me tracking down the novel and the inevitable inclusion on this list. Before the pulp era, fiction had grown florid and overwrought. Then at the beginning of the twentieth century, the authors of the new genre fiction market began paring down their prose to a keen edge. The master of these was Raymond Chandler. Chandler's power was in the precise way he used language to not only tell you what was happening but also how the main character felt about it. The sad thing is that so many people ape the style without understanding the purpose in his craft. The Big Sleep was my first exposure to Chandler's finely honed prose and will long be a favorite.

  • H Is For Homicide by Sue Grafton: While my favorite pulp author may be the master himself, my favorite crafter of modern crime fiction is Sue Grafton. Beyond continuing the legacy left by Hammett, Chandler, and MacDonald, Grafton made her mark by presenting a fully realized character in Kinsey Millhone. In the hands of a lesser writer, the minutia of everyday life recited in these novels would be grating and monotonous. Grafton, instead, uses these details to ground her heroine and the very human dangers she faces. While it is almost stupid to pick out a favorite among the series of books, H stands out as the turning point in the series where Grafton has said all she can with standard mystery and starts to elaborate on the form. Although I'm singling this book out, I encourage you to take the journey starting from A Is For Alibi and enjoy the journey with Kinsey.

  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke: As a writer, if there was ever a book that I wish I had written, this would be it. In truth, this is an idea so genius that I very well may steal it for my own purposes. JS&MN is the story of two magicians in 19th century England who's actions bring about the return of English magic to the world. Only that one line summary tells you as much about the book as dipping your foot in the shallow end tells you how a swimming pool feels. Clarke has realized an entire world that is so detailed that one is left wondering whether she is telling a truth the rest of us have been overlooking. She is able to juggle multiple plot threads, lets them cross one another in natural ways, and resolve them in fantastic fashion. All of her characters, from the stars to the supporting cast to the bit players, have rich personalities and fascinating contributions to make to the narrative. (A favorite is Jonathan Strange's wife, Arabella, who becomes such a full and interesting character that when she becomes imperiled, one can't help but become invested in her rescue.) Her prose is evocative of the period's style while maintaining the readability of a modern novel. If I had one complaint to level at the author it is that Clarke needs to write more books. Seriously, Susanna, if you're reading this instead of writing I'm going to be very cross with you.

  • The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul by Douglas Adams: Out of all of Douglas Adams' books, you might be surprised that I did not pick one of his Hitch-hiker's novels. That would not be the case if you read this book. The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul is, Adams' exploitation of the detective novel to discuss the consequences of myth and belief. It is also one of the most tightly wound and intricately plotted books I have read. I have read this book numerous times to savor the care that went into proving Dirk Gently's belief in the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. I doubt a novel of its like will ever be written again.

  • Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein: I began reading Heinlein at the insistence of my maternal grandfather. He handed me a copy of Farmer In The Sky, sure in the knowledge that I would enjoy the book as much as he had. Thus began my life long affection for science fiction in general and Robert A. Heinlein in particular. My favorite of these is Starship Troopers, written in the transitional period between his juvenile works and his latter novels. In many ways it shares the best of both spheres, combining the action-driven plots of the earlier books with the mature themes he would soon be exploring. What makes this book stand out for me is Heinlein's ability to make science fiction not just about the advances in technology, but about the changes in humanity. I've read in many places about the fascist agenda this novel forwards. That is patently false. The agenda forwarded here is that humanity is a resilient species with the ability to adapt to their situation. That a military government was the solution to their problems was not a prescription for us, it was a description of our ability solve societal problems. That so many people dismiss Robert Heinlein's work for the surface elements without regard for the deeper writing structures he was constructing is one of the great tragedies of literature.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Comic Roundup: March 5, 2008

  • It's already new comics day again, but better late than whatever, right?

  • Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 8 issue 12: The best compliment I can give is that Drew Goddard writes this exactly like I believe Joss Whedon would have. It's a testament to the strength of this franchise that there are people able to step up and tell an entirely Buffy story so seemlessly. While it was teased that this issue would see the return of a fuzzy character we haven't seen in some time, it turns out that the surprise was very, very surprising. And hilarious. I had to stifle my laugher because I made the mistake of reading this at work. That doesn't happen often. I'm not spoiling anything for you, but this turn of events was very interesting and I can't wait to see what becomes of it.

  • Echo issue 1: Some might find it strange that Terry Moore is writing a... well, what is it really? A superhero story? A techno-horror? What is it? No matter what the book is about, I'm confident that Moore will had it with the warmth and depth we expect from him. Maybe Strangers In Paradise was a romance at heart, but the way he handled the mafia/conspiricy story lines shows he's comfortable with a more muscular tale. This first issue was an interesting introduction that didn't overdo explaining its premise, but included enough detail to hook me until the next issue.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Watched Lately: The Wire

  • I don't have a lot of patience for television anymore. I've probably become a TV snob, much like the movie snob I became years ago. I can't stand to watch something that does not at least aspire for greatness, even when confined within the limits of its chosen genre. With that in mind, I now mourn the passing of one of the finest shows to even turn the standard cop drama on its ear, The Wire.

  • Over the last year (or so) my wife and I have followed this series on DVD and were just caught up enough to catch the final season broadcast on HBO. Last night, we watched the final episode of the series. I am, of course, of mixed feelings. But the good kind because I'm just feelings sorry for myself for not having anymore episodes to watch.

  • The ending of the episode was much like the prior season closers, just longer. Once again we are reminded that no matter what any one individual achieves, the system goes ever on in its own broken fashion. The cyclical nature of life, pointedly displayed in the final scenes for Michael and Duquan, has been a constant theme in the show. It also reminds us that Baltimore is a city that David Simon and his crew have genuine affection for even as they take it to task for its imperfections.

  • From the first episode of the series to the last, I have been captivated by this tale where the good guys and the bad are not all that different. They all have their good sides and they all have their flaws (some very bad, like committing multiple murders). But they are all real people trying to make their way in a world that has the deck stacked against them.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Random Shots: What D&D Character Are You?

  • I Am A: Lawful Neutral Human Wizard (3rd Level)

  • Ability Scores:
    Strength-10
    Dexterity-10
    Constitution-12
    Intelligence-13
    Wisdom-11
    Charisma-12

  • Alignment:
    Lawful Neutral A lawful neutral character acts as law, tradition, or a personal code directs him. Order and organization are paramount to him. He may believe in personal order and live by a code or standard, or he may believe in order for all and favor a strong, organized government. Lawful neutral is the best alignment you can be because it means you are reliable and honorable without being a zealot. However, lawful neutral can be a dangerous alignment because it seeks to eliminate all freedom, choice, and diversity in society.

  • Race:
    Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

  • Class:
    Wizards are arcane spellcasters who depend on intensive study to create their magic. To wizards, magic is not a talent but a difficult, rewarding art. When they are prepared for battle, wizards can use their spells to devastating effect. When caught by surprise, they are vulnerable. The wizard's strength is her spells, everything else is secondary. She learns new spells as she experiments and grows in experience, and she can also learn them from other wizards. In addition, over time a wizard learns to manipulate her spells so they go farther, work better, or are improved in some other way. A wizard can call a familiar- a small, magical, animal companion that serves her. With a high Intelligence, wizards are capable of casting very high levels of spells.

  • Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • (In light of recent news, I thought about holding back this post. But the game must ever go on.)

  • One of the things I regret about starting WoW so late is that I never had a chance to experience the old world level 60 dungeons and raids. When the expansion launched and the Dark Portal opened, I was only in the late 20's or early 30's. The world emptied out and I was left to fight my way through Azeroth with my only goal to reach level 58 and join everyone else. So I have never killed Onxyia. I've never forgotten to loot a core hound. I'm not even sure where Naxxramas is.

  • However as of Monday night, I can officially say that I've been to Zul'Gurub and defeated the evil god, Hakkar the Soulflayer. If you were in Stranglethorn Vale last night, you might have seen the announcement (as my brother who was fishing in Booty Bay did.)

  • When I logged in last night, I was expecting to find our raid forming to finish off Nightbane and complete our group's first full clear of Karazhan. Since we had a couple of no-shows, I instead found myself invited to run ZG. My first inclination was to politely decline and get on with more lucrative questing. But something in the back of my mind said, "Why not?" And I'm very glad I succumbed to guild pressure. ZG was a bit of a cake walk for us, our only deaths coming from lack of knowledge of the encounters or undisciplined play. Finally we downed Hakkar with only eight level 70's. The only bummer is that my Polymorph: Turtle book didn't drop. (/sigh) Guess I'll have to try again next week!

News Filter: Gary Gygax (1938-2008)

  • It just came to my attention that Gary Gygax, the father of the role-playing game and co-designer of Dungeons & Dragons (along with Dave Arneson), has passed away. His contribution to the hobby that framed my formative years cannot be overstated. I have not rolled a d20 in years, my gaming long since converted to an electronic medium. But tonight, I'm going to heft the dice one more time in memory a legend.

  • So long, Gary. You will be missed, but never forgotten.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Comic Roundup: February 27, 2008

  • For a blog about games and comics, I sure spend a bunch of time talking about games and very little on comics. Here I attempt to rectify this omission and, thus, reestablish this blog as the foremost resource of all things Anjin. Without further ado:

  • All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder issue 9: Once again the question must be asked, "Does Frank Miller have any idea what he's doing?" At times, my opinion has swung between thinking that he's definitely pushing the Batman mystique to its logical conclusion, if not farther, or thinking that he's just writing from the seat of his pants. With this issue, I've come to the conclusion that he maybe doing a little of both. Topping this all off with Jim Lee's detailed line work certainly does a good job of disguising the parody being played out. But underneath the art, Frank Miller is having his cake and eating it too, probably losing fans on both sides, but genuinely amusing us in the middle.

  • Criminal volume 2 issue 1: My favorite ongoing comic returns to ongoing status with this issue. And thank your requisite deity, because I can only deal with so much nerd heartbreak in my life. Criminal is constantly the best comic on the stands, hands down. This new issue 1? Awesome. Ed Brubaker has a masterful command of the crime genre and the all-too-human characters that are the real reason to tell crime stories. Sean Phillips' art is consistently compelling in clarity of storytelling and evocation of emotion. If you are into crime fiction or film, you are doing yourself a disservice if you don't read this book. And this issue is the perfect starting point.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • Take everything I'm about to say with the proverbial grain of salt. I'm typing in the aftermath of a disastrous week in Karazhan which is sure to color my view of things.
  • I have found lately that I'm much more interested in my playing my alts than my main character. A number of things have gone into that. With the patch 2.4 update still a distant vision, there aren't many challenges my mage has left to face. I've been raiding faithfully and pushing through the same old daily quests every day. However that feels more like work than the fun of exploration I so crave. Thus I've looked to other characters, even my retired level 70 pally, to change things up.
  • I still have two blood elves, a paladin and a warlock, that I've been leveling on separate continents for the sake of variety. I took the plunge and dropped blacksmithing from my paladin and have begun training herbalism and alchemy. It's only taken me a few days of random wandering to catch up with my current level, but more than once I wondered if it would be worth it.
  • Another turn of events that has brought me to a new alt is that my brother has started playing the game. Now that he has a computer with a cooperative video card, he's discovered the addiction that is WoW. I rolled a human priest to tag along with his paladin and together we've already outleveled my blood elf alts. The reduced leveling curve in patch 2.3 has really been a benefit to him. Not once have we faced the problem of too few quests to make the next level.
  • I have to admit that since I started writing this post, I've been back in Kara and got both of my Tier 4 tokens. Yay, me! In the long run, it's hard to stay mad when the loot train keeps rolling.
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