Thursday, May 29, 2008

Comic Roundup: May 21, 2008

  • So I went to the comic shop Wednesday in the hopes of feasting on some Giant-Size Astonishing X-Men. My eagerness blinded me to the reality that, due to Monday's holiday, comics ship late this week. Back to work I went, empty-handed and down-hearted. But my wallet was lighter because, wow, do gas prices suck or what?

  • Casey Blue: Beyond Tomorrow issue 1: I had to go back and look at this book again because I had no idea what it was about. That's right, it left absolutely no impression on me. I picked it up because I like B. Clay Moore (especially his Hawaiian Dick series which I can't find anymore.)

  • Echo issue 3: I find with most comic book series that it is the third issue that tells you whether or not the whole thing is any good. If the parties involved can maintain the momentum of a strong first issue that long, you can count on it going the distance. Terry Moore's new series is only getting better. The characters are more layered and the plot gets deeper and more interesting each issue. The art is still up to his expected standard, quite attractive, with his confident display of emotions. Echo can't help but remind me of Lost with the great mystery serving and the backdrop to tell so very human stories. You only have to look at his Strangers In Paradise to know he's not copying anyone. He was playing this great game with his readers for years. A great read and I'm still on the hook for many issues to come.

  • World of Warcraft issue 7: The WoW comic continues to be pretty and very fan service-y, though not in the perverted way. Still enjoying it, though, so I'll keep at it.

  • Next week: GSAXM, baby!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Played Lately: Lord of the Rings Online

  • If it hasn't become perfectly clear, I've recently become disillusioned with World of Warcraft. After a year and a half of any game, it would be hard not to look toward greener pastures. As of late, the grass has been kind of green over in Lord of the Rings Online.
  • I tried playing one back in December and had a decent time, but all the running around back and forth for quests was driving me crazy. I don't know what happened in the meantime, but Turbine tightened up the game enough that the early leveling experience is very smooth. I started over at level one with a human champion, wanting to try out the pure melee damage dealer that I've never played in WoW. I actually found the play mechanics well polished. And as befits the license, the storyline is interesting to follow. Yes, I know I'm a side character in the main story, but they make you feel an important part of a larger world.
  • Another aspect of the game I've found myself interested in is the crafting game. Crafting is only a little bit more involved than in WoW. You have to construct base components before you can make final products, earning points toward proficiency to mastery of a crafting ability level. Once an crafting level is mastered, you can get critical successes while crafting, resulting in additional components or higher quality items. High quality recipes can be found just by adventuring which is a great incentive. Although I understand the decision, I wish LotRO allowed you to choose individual crafting abilities instead of bundling them into professions. Just about every profession has two abilities that are really great with one that is dead weight. Overall though, crafting is actually useful in the game and doesn't seem like the time filler it's become in other games.
  • One of the things I'm not a fan of is the death penalty. At first, being defeated meant teleporting to somewhere safe with a minor debuff. Now that I've progress sufficiently, that debuff has become harsher. Harsh enough, even, that I actually log out of the game any time I am defeated to do something else while I wait for it to expire. Turbine gets paid whether I'm logged in or not, but do they really want people to decide it's better not to play their game at all?
  • While I can't universally recommend LotRO, I think there is enough of a game here and a good community that gamers may find something that is comfortable. I've enjoyed my time already and I look forward to many more hours in Middle Earth.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Comic Roundup: May 14, 2008

  • Another slow comic week, just how I like them.

  • Newuniversal: Shockfront issue 1: Warren Ellis is finally back with his previously preempted series and it picks up about where the last left off. Except it also left off Salvador Larocca, though he is amiably replaced by Steve Kurth. Big shoes to fill, but everyone looks like themselves so there is little argue with. This is issue shows the emergence of additional superpowered people as the chaos that brings. As this is a long form serial, there isn't much to review. However it is nice to see Newuniversal back on the shelves and another dose of the Warren Ellis crazy.

  • Serenity: Better Days issue 3: Really? That's it? I don't know that it is, but these comics completely fail to catch my imagination anymore. Firefly was such a brief and wonderous flame that, once snuffed, looms greater in my memory than it ever did in real life. So maybe these comics are okay, but I can't see it.

Friday, May 16, 2008

By Request: WoW Gear Auditor

  • UPDATE: Be Imba does not exist anymore. So good luck with your Google searching. I have no idea what to tell you.



  • Much like the definition of bullet points that I wrote earlier, I've decided to start a series of articles to address other search terms that come up from time to time. I'll cover just about anything except any "adults only" terms that show up. That would be a little creepy.

  • Today on By Request, the WoW Gear Auditor. I've been getting hits on this because I've linked the audits for both of my level 70 characters over in the sidebar. Not that anyone but me cares, but I like to share my WoW exploits with the world, no matter how weak they may be.

  • The gear auditor I use is Be Imba! found at http://be.imba.hu. If there are any others out there, I don't know about them. Be Imba! does just about everything I could ask, so I've never been tempted to look that hard.

  • The primary function of the site is to provide an analysis of your current gear. It looks at whether you are undergeared and links to the WoW Armory for potential upgrades. It also looks at your enchantments and provides suggestions were it finds items that are unenchanted or misenchanted. It will also point out if you are missing gems or if your gems are of low quality.

  • One item that I enjoy about the site is that it points out which raids your gear is well suited for as well as where you can pick up upgrades. The site also implies that it will be reviewing talent builds in the future, but that has yet to appear. Overall, it is a good resource to point out your current weaknesses and give a direction about how you can improve.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Comic Roundup: May 7, 2008

  • I ended up picking up my books two days late this week. Thank goodness I don't read anything too popular.

  • Buffy The Vampire Slayer issue 14: Part three of the Buffy and Dracula go to Japan story line and we get a huge, very Whedonesque, shocker. I have to remind myself that no one ever gets to be happy in the Buffyverse. Man, I'm so annoyed but at the bad guys, not the writers. Sign of a good comic, I suppose. Looking forward to next issue.

  • Conan issue 50: Wrapping up this first series, Conan hits with a slab of comic, essentially a double issue plus an old Conan comic in the back. I picked this up on a whim, just to see how the story is coming along. I was surprised how many of the plot threads I had remember came up again here. Timothy Truman's writing is almost as effective as Kurt Busiek's before him. But I'm not nearly as enthusiastic about the art in comparison to Cary Nord's. It was a good issue, though Conan's heyday seems to have past.

  • The Invincible Iron Man issue 1: What with all the Iron Man hype, and based on how much I enjoyed the movie, I thought I'd pick up the relaunched comic and see if any of that carried over. Salvador Larocca's art is just as amazing as his work on the very good Newuniversal. The writing is good and dense, just how I like a comic. But Iron Man as a comic character is just limp for me and I'm not sure I'll pick up a second issue.

  • Iron Man: Viva Las Vegas issue 1: See above, just not quite as interesting.

  • Secret Invasion issue 2: So, last issue a bunch of old school superheroes show up to confuse the situation, which was really interesting. This issue, it turns out that most, if not all of them are Skrulls. Really? Feels like a cop out. Lots of good action and Hawkeye got to really shine, but this was just an okay issue.

Monday, May 12, 2008

News Filter: New Details about WoW:WotLK

  • In what Tobold believes is a strategic strike against the Age of Conan launch, Blizzard has released a massive amount of information about it's new expansion, Wrath of the Lich King (or WotLK as its friend like to call it.) We got a lot of info about the new Death Knight class as well as the Inscription profession and glimpses of how the new zones will work.

  • The most shocking and exciting announcement was that all raid dungeons will be available in both 10 player and 25 player versions. For a game that launched with old-school 40 man raids, this concession to smaller guilds is momentous. If the popularity of Karazhan has proven anything it's that small guilds, when given the chance, will throw themselves into raiding. The 10 player size is perfect for a more casual play style.

  • While I agree with others that this may draw people away from the 25 player raids, I think Blizzard is handling the problem in the right way. By offering better gear for 25 player instances and (potentially) locking out 10 player until the 25 player version has been cleared will help maintain the 25 player raids as the domain of the hardcore. Hopefully the 10 player raids will be time unlocked if 25 player progression stalls for some reason. Of course, maybe that would just encourage more people to try and unlock things themselves.

  • Out of everything I've read about the new expansion, the ability to see all the raids available in Northrend, and maybe even face down Arthas, is the most exciting to me as a player. Kudos to Blizzard for opening their content to a wider audience. (Any chance to retrofit some of the current dungeons? Hint, hint.)

Friday, May 9, 2008

Read Lately: Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets by David Simon

  • Over the last couple of years, my taste for reading has narrowed considerably. Where once I would jump from book to book to book, like little stepping stones through life, now I only pick up something to read if I'm not getting my fix from something else. It is a rare book then that will draw me away from the comics, video games, or DVDs that normally fill free time. Homicide turned out to be just such a book.

  • I was initially drawn to Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets because of David Simon's television series, The Wire. I figured that a show that well written would have to come from the author of just as excellent of a book. Sounds like the height of naivety, right? Luckily, David Simon is every bit as good a writer as his shows imply.

  • The book is a chronicle of the homicide detectives of Baltimore city and the cases, politics, and relationships they go through over the course of a year. Police work is at times routine, morbidly humorous, and frighteningly serious. We follow these detectives as they quickly put away the easy cases and as they toil for weeks over cases that rarely seem to come together. We see the friction between detectives with wildly different personalities. We see the camaraderie as they pull together in the face of determined opposition, either from the top brass or from the extreme evils perpetrated on the streets.

  • David Simon puts a very human face on the people that television and the movies, at turns, fetishize and demonize. Although the one year time frame from January to December is arbitrary, it gives an amazing arc for these lives. And as a reflection of real life, not everything ties up neatly at the end of the book. But there is growth and change and a sense of completion, if only for a single moment.

  • I doubt this book will turn me into one of those reality snobs that turns my nose up at mere fiction. Books will always be a escape for me. But much like Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down, I am reminded of the power of pure journalism and eagerly await my next great find.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Comic Roundup: April 30, 2008

  • Back again for another roundup after taking last week off. Not that I wanted to take the week off; comics for that week sucked posteriors. But let's not dwell on the past. There are new comics to review!

  • Ex Machina issue 36: Brian Vaughan and Tony Harris superhero/sci-fi/political comic series keeps chugging along. And though it has never captured that sense of wonder that the early issues had, I'm still interested in seeing where this series ends up. This issue sees another new costumed freak on the scene. It is implied that she's tied to Mayor Hundred and his exploits as the Great Machine, but Vaughan likes to turn things on their head. Thankfully this is another good issue.

  • Glamourpuss issue 1: I honestly don't know where to begin. No, this may not qualify as your standard comic book story. But Dave Sim has done here what he's always done. He has stretched the boundaries of the form, this time with a detailed monologue on the realistic school of comic art and his attempts to teach himself the form. It is very pretty to look at, even if it's just an art book in comic format. The writing is engaging and his humor hits the mark more often than it misses. It would be hard to recommend this to everyone. But if you're interested in the art of Alex Raymond and Al Williamson, this would be an interesting treat.

  • Secret Invasion issue 1: You may be wondering "Why the heck is he reviewing that now?" I intended to skip this series, but I do love a good event comic. With all the talk about this issue, I could not help myself. Of course the first issue sold out so I had to wait for this second printing. In the end, I'm glad I picked it up. There's lots of big fun and mystery going on with this invasion by the Skrulls. I'm really glad, though, that I read the Secret Invasion: The Infiltration collection that just came out first. This first issue does a decent job of setting the scene, but seeing the lead up definitely helped.

  • Comics I'm Looking Forward To This Week: Buffy the Vampire Slayer #16 and Secret Invasion #2.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • Welcome to part two of my World of Warcraft rant. All of this stuff I would have included in the earlier post if that hadn't become so leviathanish. (It is so a word!) Plus I was really tired of all the typing because I am very, very lazy.

  • Earlier this month, Cameron Sorden at Random Battle posted an article about how gleefully Blizzard likes to give up their old high level content. There are many instances in Azeroth that I and many others have barely seen and many in Outland that will be abandoned when the next expansion is released. Cameron suggests periodically renovating these high level instances to be challenging at the current level cap, much like the Burning Crusade heroic instances. It's a great idea and I fully support it. However, I would like to make a suggestion in the opposite direction.

  • Blizzard should institute a solo mode for low level instances.

  • With patch 2.3, the leveling game from 1 to 60 was accelerated to facilitate new characters reaching the expansion content faster. As part of this, all outdoor elite areas were downgraded to allow solo characters to complete them without waiting and waiting for a group that will never show up. These are areas I very rarely adventured in before due to my inability to solo through them. With that update, I was able to see many place I never had before, effectively expanding the low level content for me. It is this template that should be applied to adding a solo mode to instances. And it would have the same effect.

  • For one thing, Blizzard really want people to move quickly to the level cap and has little interest in expanding the early game for people who enjoy playing alts. Retuning an instance once every few months would give solo players more options in the leveling game without having to add new assets to the game. It would allow more people to experience outdated content and it would provide an incentive to explore unpopular instance. On my most recent play through, I only ever went to the Deadmines, the Stockade, Zul'Farrak, and the library wing of the Scarlet Monestary. A solo option might have seen me in Razorfen Downs or Maraudon or Dire Maul. There is a lot of great stuff out there. It is a shame to let it go to waste.

  • Sure, you would probably want to kill the bosses' loot tables. Just make sure there are a few good, easily accessible quests that take you through the instance with decent rewards for making it to the end. Or really, who even cares if you soloed decent gear if you're getting it at level 37.

  • There was a post over at Mystic Worlds that gives a fresh take on why people play multiplayer games alone. The conclusion is not all that new, though. Solo players are here to stay. The more reasons you give them to play, the longer they will play your game instead of someone else's.
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