Thursday, December 25, 2008

Played Lately: Lord of the Rings Online

  • If you've read this post, you might wonder how Lord of the Rings Online could end up in that title. I will forgive you for snickering at me. Two months after giving up a game that I called "boring", the ubiquitous Michael Zenke has lead me to reenlist. And it seems that I'm not the only one. If you're wondering why, there are sure to be several rambling paragraphs to follow that may accidentally swerve into an answer.
  • I've always had a soft spot for LotRO. There are so many things that is does right, this would likely be the game I played if I wasn't playing World of Warcraft. The first twenty levels of the game give a better impression than just about any other game I've seen. After twenty, I know the game becomes a grind because that's where my ship ran aground previously. But starting a new character is quite a joy.
  • When I restarted my subscription, the first thing I did was roll a Warden character. My previous character, a Champion, felt particularly vulnerable while soloing. The warden, while limited to medium armors, is designed to tank as well as provide hefty damage depending on how they are played. The best part of the class is the gambit skill mechanic. Instead of having thirty individual abilities to cast, the warden relies on four: a basic spear attack, a shield bash, a taunt, and a gambit trigger skill. By using chains of the basic skills, a gambit is opened that have different greater abilities. The shield-shield combo improves your chance to block while spear-taunt opens a double attack. At my current level, I have access to all of the two skill chains, though they can go up to five at the highest levels. I might have to draw up a diagram to keep it all straight.
  • I also came back because of the crafting system, still one of the best in an MMO. For my warden, I chose the Explorer vocation, which grants Tailoring, Prospecting, and Forestry. Although I previously complained about this bundling, having two characters with compatible vocations help a lot. So far I've been using the forestry to make leather for my tailoring to make armor. Any wood or ore I've been mining I've sent to my champion to be converted to weaponry. Since my champion's woodworking can make spears and javelins for the warden, there is a nice synergy. So I'm that much happier with crafting system now.
  • The entry level quests are as fun as I remember, though I'm playing an elf now instead of a human. I've been able to tackle some lower level group quests, but I'm still worried about whether I'll be able to tackle the epic quests to my satisfaction. I know this is a preemptive worry, along with the impending level 20 grind wall. So I'm trying to enjoy myself and not think about it.
  • And this isn't about LotRO, but today is the day to say it. I hope you all have a happy Wintersday, Feast of Winter Veil, Yule Festival, or whatever holiday you celebrate.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • As much fun as I'm having with the new expansion, the best time I've had in World of Warcraft of late had nothing to do with my mage's run to level 80. Instead, I started a new priest alt for two reasons. First, I wanted to see what playing a new character with the achievement system in place would be like. Logging in with my old characters and finding them with a bunch of retroactive achievements was interesting, but not nearly as gratifying. Not first, I really wanted an inscriptionist of my own. (I know scribe is the right term, though it's not as much fun.) Since I wanted a priest on the horde side and inscription has some interesting bits for spellcasters, it seemed like a good fit. That's a lot to say to completely miss the point but I'm getting to it.
  • The specific bit of fun I'm referring to was an unexpected invitation to run the Shadowfang Keep instance. SFK, as it's known, is a dungeon for characters level 17 to 21 and has been around since the game launched. I was running though the Undercity on Monday morning, thinking I would spend just enough time online to complete my daily Minor Inscription Research, then log off. As I was going about my business, I got a whisper asking if I wanted to run SFK. Many times, I politely refuse such a request since I don't like getting tied down to the expectation of other players for long stretches of time. This morning, though, I couldn't think of a good reason not to. The fact that I had a few days earlier sporting the great looking Robes of Arugal might have tempted me as well.
  • So off I went with a rogue, a warrior tank, and a higher level warlock to fight our way though. Even though there were only four of us, we were plenty to win though to the end. Although the robe did not appear, I did win the slightly less impressive Belt of Arugal as well as the Bloody Apron and Feline Mantle.
  • My fear, of course, is that now that I've hit level 20, I have to start the long climb through the dreaded middle levels. I still have a lot of fun playing the old world content, but a lot of it was designed with a different paradigm than the expansions. Quests in one zone that take you to another zone on another continent is busy work, not adventure. If you find that I never talk about my priest alt again, you'll know why.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Watched Lately: The Dark Knight

  • I think the truest measure of a person's age can be found in how many times someone can gain pleasure from consuming the same media repeatedly. As any parent can attest, a child when placed in front of a television will invariably request to watch whatever cartoon DVD they just watched before. When I was a teenager, I read the Dragonlance Chronicles several times even though there were many other books I could have read. In more recent years, I watched my Sports Night DVD at least three times. But the older I get, the less I go back to relive those familiar experiences. When my wife and I went to watch The Dark Knight in the theater for a second time, I knew that we weren't old yet.
  • For the last few years, Batman Begins was my favorite superhero movie. I loved that it was a mature movie that actually took the superhero story to heart. It didn't try to do the "What if superheroes where real?" deconstruction modern comics have tried. It embraces the Batman mythos wholeheartedly, but on a level above "Yay, explosions!" which most movies aim for. As much as I enjoyed Batman Begins, The Dark Knight makes it look like a kiddie flick.
  • Anything I could say at this point would be superfluous, but I guess I have to try. Actors Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Aaron Eckhart must be commended for showing the kinds of madness each of them has inside. But the hero of this picture is Christopher Nolan. In the hands of a less ambitious director, we might have gotten a good sequel. The Dark Knight is a better movie than the superhero genre probably deserves. The bar has been set and I don't think people will accept just anything from the spandex set anymore.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • There is so much great stuff in this expansion, it's hard for me figure out what to write about. So if this post seems a little random, well, you've been warned.
  • I have to carry on a little about the two starting zones here. Howling Fjord is an amazing starting zone. From my first landing and through all my explorations, I was completely immersed in the placiness of it all. A lot of love and care went into making the entire zone a beautiful, but lived-in world. Throw in a lot of fun quests and I haven't enjoyed the environment in the game since Zangarmarsh. As other people have mentioned, Borean Tundra is not so much. It feels like a conglomeration of minizones, each with its own identity, but seperate from those around it. There is still a lot to enjoy about it, but it definitely comes in second place.
  • There are two quest areas in Howling Fjord that stand out, though: Gjalerbron and Scalawag Point. Gjalerbron is a large vrykul fortress of slavers, liches, necromancers, and a frostwyrm. There is so much to do here, I got the feeling that I was infiltrating and sabotaging their operations. Plus killing a frostwyrm was very cool. Scalawag Point, on the other hand, is a crazy mix of quests to ingratiate myself with the pirates, both to recover some vrykul artifacts and to stop pirating activities. Any quest that has you boarding a ghost ship to help bombard a giant elemental has to go down as a highlight in anyone's book. Killing the pirate captain by chasing him into the waiting maw of his pet grizzly bear was hilarious as well.
  • On Tuesday night, I was able to cajole a few of my guild mates to run Azjol-Nerub with me. I have heard that the instance is not that hard for the level, so bringing a couple level 71's did not seem unfeasible. We ended up finding a healer and a tank, so the three of us just brought the pain. At least, that's what we tried to do. The tank could not hold aggro to save his or our lives. We made some lame excuses and left the party. I was bummed out that I had put together such a lame group, but my guild leader rallied me to try again.
  • This time around, we had much better results. Although we lost our warlock, the guild leader switched to healing, a guild paladin came to tank, and a PUG shaman and hunter came along. This was what A-N was supposed to be like. While The Nexus and Utgarde Keep were more traditional dungeons, Azjol-Nerub felt like a 5-man raid. There was very little trash to clear, but that made the trash more interesting to fight. Both of the first two bosses start with multi-pull gauntlet and are fun fights to learn. I don't remember how many times we wiped on the second boss, but we knew we could figure it out. Then we took two tries on the last boss because we didn't know there was a gate that closes after he aggros. So far, Blizzard is three for three on the instance. I'm excited to see what's next.
  • Beyond all this, I've absolutely fallen in love with the new capital city, Dalaran. But that's a post for another day.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • Now that I've done the standing in line, chatting with strangers, waiting for my beautiful little box with the magic disk inside, you're likely to read that subject line quite a lot over the next several weeks. Of course, that's only if I bother to write. I make no promises.
  • I came home from work Wednesday night with the intention of taking a nap so that I could stay up all night playing. That didn't work out so well because I was so wired with excitement. (I am still a little kid in some ways.) So a little earlier than I expected, I hoped in the car and drove down to the local GameStop and the expected queue. I took a book with me (Lucky at Cards by Lawrence Block; thank you Hard Case Crime.), but I didn't get a chance to read it. I ended up chatting with a bunch of other players, each nicely fulfilling a gamer stereotype. One guy (around my age) had 12 level 70 characters and was unsure who to launch into the expansion with. One guy was an inveterate altoholic, with thirty to forty midlevel characters spread across multiple servers. The younger guy was the epitome of the PvP mindset, annoyed about the lack of skill, proliferation of epics, and frustrating class balances in the game. The fourth was the quiet guy that barely said anything, and thus a stereotype of his own. I ended up passing an enjoyable hour chatting about our game playing experiences and plans for the expansion. The employees did a great job of insuring that everyone had prepaid the expansion in full before midnight, so the line flowed a lot better than the last expansion. The weather was better too, so thank you, Blizzard for launching on time. Anyway, I had my new precious in only 15 minutes and the five of us parted ways, never to meet again. I'm sure that we're each playing the expansion in a different way.
  • I drove home as fast as possible, kissed my wife goodnight, dropped the disc in the tray, upgraded my account and waited. It was not a long wait. I remembered TBC taking far too long to install, but this was much quicker. Soon I was in the game and on my way to Northrend.
  • Although patch 3.0.2 gave me incentive to play my paladin again, it was Ashlynh, my mage, that took the first zeppelin to Vengeance Landing. And the first thing I did when i got there was train all my professions. That was funny. Between Enchanting, Tailoring, Fishing, First Aid, and Cooking, the only one I've made any progress on is the one involving ovens. That's primarily because I was so far behind on Fishing that I haven't even reached the prior skill cap. It's also because the new food available is so nice compared to the old, with buffs lasting a full hour now. And with a pool of Imperial Manta Rays right behind the zeppelin tower, I had to see what a manta ray was good for.
  • As you can guess from reading all that, it took me about twenty minutes just wandering around before I thought about questing. Luckily the quests show a little flair in dressing up the "kill ten rats" paradigm. I got to train a plaguehound, meet the vrykul, burn them out, and fight off the Alliance landing near the base by dropping plague bombs on their ships and targeting their cannons for an offshore bombardment. None of this is anything new for the game, but the fact that they mix in all these quest types right from the start.
  • But I didn't spend all my time questing. Not long after getting started, I queued up to try out the new instances. Everyone has said they are very PUG friendly, so I figured it could not hurt to try. In short order, I was able to get groups for both Utgarde Keep and the Nexus. Both instances were beautiful, the boss fights were fun, and both had some neat mechanics that made the experience interesting. I eventually when back to Utgarde with a guild group and it was just as fun the second time.
  • And all that was on my first day. I could only stay up until dawn before I could play no more. I showered, went to bed, and crashed. It was a short crash, though, since I couldn't stay away from the game for that long.
  • As an aside, the writing in game is still as fun. Upon freeing a Warsong Peon from his silk cocoon, he said "Why it keep telling me to put da lotion in da basket? Me no like da lotion!" I had to retype that and sent it to the guild. I'm so glad to have something new in WoW.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • With the release of Wrath of the Lich King only a few days away, the MMO blog community has been hit by a meme to look back on the success or failure of The Burning Crusade expansion. In only a couple days, we'll be standing in long lines outside the local game purveyor, waiting for our ticket to Northrend, and ready to say goodbye to much lauded and derided Outland. Now seems the appropriate time to evaluate the time I've spent in World of Warcraft.
  • Just about one year ago, I was writing about the WoW end game. (Have I really been level-capped for over a year now? And I'm still playing? I am stunned.) At the time I listed a few goals that I wanted to accomplish. So how did I do?
  • My first goal was to craft epic armor for my primary characters. Sure enough, my mage owns a full set of Frozen Shadoweave armor and my paladin crafted not only the Breastplate of Kings, but was finally able to craft the top level Bulwark of the Ancient Kings. While that makes this sound like a success, there is more to this story. With my mage, I picked Frozen Shadoweave with the intention of sticking with the Frost talent tree. When I started raiding though, it was impressed upon me that I would have to respec to be the most help for the raid. So my newly crafted armor went right into the bank where it is sitting now. As for my pally, the Breastplate of Kings worked out pretty well. At least up until I shelved her in favor of my mage. I didn't craft the upgrade pieces until just recently by throwing a lot of gold around in the auction house. I'm glad I did, so I have something nice to start the expansion with, but I don't know if it will be useful for very long.
  • My second goal was to see the inside of Karazhan and just maybe step foot in Zul'Aman. This goal I met and well exceeded, just with the wrong character. Beyond completing both of those raids, I also got to see Gruul's Lair, Magtheridon's Lair, Serpentshrine Cavern, Tempest Keep: The Eye, and The Battle for Mount Hyjal in the Caverns of Time. While raiding can be overly time consuming, I got nothing but enjoyment from the time I did spend. It's easy to dismiss as a primarily solo player how much fun it is, but getting together with 9 or 24 other people to take on a challenge makes the adventure that much bigger. I'm looking forward to raiding more in the expansion someday and I trust that Blizzard will make it just as fun.
  • My third goal was to enjoy playing my alts. That was like shooting fish in a barrel with this game. WoW is practically designed for solo players to run to the level cap and start over. Kesandru, the warlock mentioned in that year old post, hasn't hit level 70, but she's now been joined by another paladin, a rogue, and a priest in the last few days. Each alt has different goals (like the paladin leveling entirely on Kalimdor) and is played for different reasons. I've already saved a name for the inevitable Death Knight. While Northrend will give me more to do with my level 70 characters, I know I'll be back to my alts eventually.
  • Coming up on my two year anniversary in the game, you might think I would be as disillusioned with it as I have been with Guild Wars. Maybe finishing Wrath will be the nail in the coffin for me, but I'm confident that I will be found in WoW for months to come.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Played Lately: Fable II

  • I've typed these words many times before but it bears repeating here: I rarely finish video games. If I were to review games, I could rate them solely by the percentage of the game I completed and most likely that would match whatever arbitary rating I would give. It's just that most games are too long to fight my way through compared to how much enjoyment I get out of them. The original Fable for the Xbox was one of those games I was able to finish and enjoyed doing so. I seemed to like that game a lot more than other people did, but I had not poisoned by the high expectations everyone else seemed to harbor. Thus then Fable II was announced, I was thrilled to have a favorite game return for a second try.

  • The first thing I thought when I started playing (and I know this is weird, but hear me out) is that this game plays a lot like the first Fable. Considering it had been a couple years since I'd even looked at the prior game, I was amazed that the sequel evoked such strong feelings of familiarity. I was able to jump right in and start playing with very little difficulty.

  • So far, I've been taking my time with the game. I know the main storyline can be run through rather quickly, but there is so much else to do that I was to relish everything instead of rushing to the ending. That means I've been spending a lot of time collecting things, like clothes and weapons and real estate. I never bought that many properties in the first game. Here they make it so easy and rewarding that I can't help myself. My prized purchase so far was the main bookstore in Bowerstone. For all that, the main story is interesting enough that I'm looking forward to seeing how it is resolved.

  • On the combat side, I've been trying to play the hard way. I have focuses almost entirely on leveling my Skill abilities so that I can shoot people head's off. While this is a lot of fun when I get the drop on an opponent, a lot of encounters start as ambushes where I don't have the time to aim and carefully snipe at the baddies. Thus there is no way to neglect my melee or magic abilities. Luckily those are just as much fun, just not what I wanted to focus on.

  • In all, I'm having a great time playing Fable II. I just hope the lure of Fallout 3 doesn't distract me from this great game.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • Ever since patch 3.0.2 came out, I'm not really playing Warhammer Online any more. It's not that I don't like WAR, it's just that I don't really have any desire to fire the thing up. My subscription is still active because I will be coming back eventually. It's just that I'm having much more fun in World of Warcraft now.
  • First off, as I mentioned to the sole friend I keep in contact with on my Alliance character, paladins are awesome now. My very first character was a paladin and I got her all the way to level 70 before I stopped having fun with her. Now, they've made paladins play so differently that even with no new content, I'm enjoying going out and taking on challenges I ignored before. Considering the incoming nerfs with the next patch, I'm hoping my enjoyment is not short lived.
  • Also livening things up, Hallow's End started a few days ago. I've taken my newly cool paladin into Scarlet Monastery a couple times and came away with a very nice epic helm and a magic broom I use every chance I get. I also took my blood elf paladin around trick-or-treating since holiday quests a good, easy experience at low levels. I can usually work out an extra level or two just by participating.
  • If that was not enough, Blizzard kicked off the Scourge Invasion again in the midst of the holiday, which was very fitting. So far we've gotten both the return of the original invasion as well as a plague of zombies. I wasn't around for the first invasion as I did not sign up until long after Naxxramas was added to the game. Again, I took my Alliance paladin out to kill lots of undead and scored the long lost Tabard of the Argent Dawn as well as some nice Undead Slaying gear. As if to prove how bad my current gear was, the Undead Slaying gear has been a significant improvement. At least it looks nice, too.
  • So that's why I've been playing WoW instead of WAR. Except until my brother's computer is fixed and I go back to my Archmage a few nights a week. I'm so confused.

Friday, October 17, 2008

By Request: The Cancellation of The Inside

  • I'm going to start by saying this post is all for me. I've only seen the search term come up a couple times, but that was enough to pique my interest in the topic. The Inside was a show that I was looking forward to ever since I heard Tim Minear was working on it. I first discovered Tim from his work with Joss Whedon on Angel and the amazing Firefly. When Firefly was unjustly canceled, I followed him the wonderfully quirky Wonderfalls. And when that was canceled, I was going follow him to whatever happened next. Next was The Inside.
  • The Inside started life as a Wiseguy clone of a girl working undercover in high school. When the network demanded that the show be changed to an episodic format (more like 21 Jump Street), the original creators were stuck. The undercover agent angle works well as an initial premise to a season long arc, but how do you find new ways and new reasons to put someone undercover for each of 22 episodes a season? To help fix this network imposed problem, Fox brought in Tim Minear, much as they had for Wonderfalls.
  • The first thing Minear did (well, maybe not chronologically, but by importance) was to chuck out everything except the star and the cop show premise. The Inside became a show about an FBI agent with a unique perspective that allows her to identify with various predators in society and use that knowledge to bring them to justice. She is inducted into a select FBI unit run by a special agent who will do anything or use anyone to solve a case. With this new set up, we get a new monster-of-the-week format, with the difference that the monsters are all human psychopaths. He also, based on prior experiences, created a character arc for the show that would cover the initial 13 episode run if things went down the drain. And down the drain they went, rather quickly.
  • So what happened? For one, the nature of the show was a limiting factor. The lead character starts off in a very dark place and is very stoic. Over the course of the series, she slowly opened up and became more trusting of her fellow agents and, thus, more likeable to the audience. While this storytelling style is very rewarding for the long run (for reference, see just about any show on HBO and newer shows being released on cable networks), network television audiences are very unforgiving if you don't grab them immediately. As well, the subject matter was very dark and morally complex, something you can't expect the average viewer to enjoy.
  • But there is an even easier answer, as to why the show failed: Dancing With The Stars. Fox put The Inside on during the summer because it had taken so long to get on track and they could not hold it until the fall season. While off season launches have become more accepted lately, this was before the practice had caught on. No one really understood that DWTS was poised to grab the same crowd the followed shows like American Idol. In the face of that oncoming juggernaut, The Inside never stood a chance and was cancelled with only six episode airing. To date, no DVD set has been released for anyone to see the unaired episodes, though they have been easy enough to find online if you are willing to look.
  • Although The Inside may not have been the best show on the air, I think its cancellation was unfortunate. Over time, the complexity being built into the narrative would have been quite compelling. Tim Minear once referred to the show as a struggle for the soul of the main character, whether she could be brought into the light and redeemed or dragged into the darkness and devastated. The episodes we got certainly gave us that and we are poorer for not getting to experience more.
  • If you're interested in reading more, Tim Minear gave an interview to iF Magazine (in three parts posted here, here, and here) that was my primary source for this post.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

News Filter: BlizzCon 2008

  • This weekend, I was one of the several thousand people lucky enough to spend a bunch of money to get tickets to BlizzCon in Anaheim, CA. Thankfully the money was well worth it and now I'm going to rub how much fun I had in all your faces.
  • The thing you always read about BlizzCon or any other convention is the panels, so I thought would try to catch as many as possible. What you don't read about is all the other cool stuff that is going on. That's what I really ended up doing. I did sit down and hear the Diablo III Gameplay panel. It was, um, interesting. That's an appropriate descriptor. In retrospect, it's much more interesting to read about the panels on MMO-Champion or the like.
  • Instead of panels, I spent a lot of time waiting in lines. Lines seemed to be the primary attraction at BlizzCon. There were lines to get to the demos, lines to get into the stores, even lines just to get into the building. There were several lines I didn't even have the time to stand in, the place was that crazy. It was almost anticlimactic to reach the end of a line and find myself ushered to sit in front of a computer to play some demo. But since I could spend all my time in lines, I decided to try a few things out.
  • The first demo I got into was for Wrath of the Lich King. What I took away from this is that I need a better computer. It was really beautiful and played really smooth. I started a death knight, hoping to get a sneak peek at the opening zone, but all the characters were autoleveled to 80 and dumped at a random point in Northrend. Since that wasn't how I wanted to spend my time, I rerolled as a mage. Demo time was short, so I didn't have time to do much more than fly around, ooh and aah at the beautiful environment, and kill a few beasts. I did find the mage quest to earn the Portal: Dalaran spell, so that was my demo goal. All the creatures I faced were level 71-73, so I didn't have any problems and was able to complete the quest. Yay, me! If there was any question whether I was coming back to WoW from WAR, this demo definatively answered it.
  • Even better than that, however, was the demo for Diablo III. Again, we only had 15 minutes to play, but there was a set goalline and cooperative multiplayer was encouraged. Three classes were open to play so I took a barbarian (having not played a melee class since the first Diablo), my brother grabbed a wizard (having never played Diablo at all!), and we got matched with a witch doctor, so we had all the bases covered. First and foremost, the game played exactly like a Diablo game should, which is as big of a compliment as I can make. Yes some of the systems have changed and will continue to be tweaked, but it felt just right. I had been worried that going 3D might hurt the visuals, but again they've captured the look of the earlier games and even expanded the possibilities. I particularly enjoyed the destructable environmental bits, and that they didn't skimp on the wooden barrels. The three of us rushed through Tristram and the catacomb below them and finally took down the Skeleton King just before our 15 minutes were up. We had a great time and I'm really looking forward to playing more when the game comes out.
  • Funny enough, the thing I was most looking forward to this weekend was the early preview of the World of Warcraft Miniatures Game. I have a weakness for board games and miniatures, so this seemed like a perfect fit. I bought a starter and a booster as soon as I hit the show floor the first day (without benefit of waiting in a line) and signed up for a starter tournament. Then I walked off for a couple hours and forgot to show up for the tourney. Yeah, I'm not that bright. The Upper Deck folks were cool enough to put me in another round, though they did tease me a little bit. As for the game, it is really cool. The base set seems nicely balanced even with four very different characters, making for a close match. Adding a booster and building a team in the second round was a lot of fun, and that round was just as close. Luckily for me, I was able to win both rounds, so I walked away with an extra figure. They also gave out a vinyl Tanaris map as a door prize, and my partner in the second match and I both won one. It was a great experience all around and well worth the time. Kudos to Upper Deck for a fun game and a great event.
  • As much fun as I had, two days was plenty to see it all and live to tell the tale. I'd definately go back if the oppotunity arose, but my feet are glad it will be a full year before the next one.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

News Filter: Bloggers Lose Their Cool Over Blizzard Making Money

  • Thank goodness for Blizzard because the MMO blogging illuminati have been way too civil lately. Syncaine (of Hardcore Casual) and Keen (of Keen and Graev) have decided to lay into the company for their intention to open some form of microtransactions in World of Warcraft. As this announcement falls hard of the heels of for-pay downloadable content for Diablo III and the trifurcating of Starcraft II, you'd think the effing sky was falling and Blizzard was going to mop it up with piles of cash.
  • First, can we please get over blaming Activision for everything that Blizzard decides? Mike Morhaime is a big boy; he can take it. Also, people have been complaining about their decisions since before Activision came into the picture. It's not like Blizzard has gone all Edward Hyde on us.
  • Second, you people don't even know what you're talking about. I know irrational ranting is the foundation our community is based on, but this is downright strange. If Blizzard does end up selling gear or attunements or anything outside of cosmetic changes, go ahead and turn on the flamethrowers. If they decide to offer the equivalent of horse armor in Diablo, blast away. If Blizzard delivers any less than than three full games of content of Starcraft, you might have something to complain about. Until then you all look just a little silly.
  • Third, thanks for giving me an easy blog topic today. Ranting about ranters ranting is about as Ouroboros as you can get, but what can you do. That tail is yummy.
  • If anyone wants a real rant, go check out Scott "Lum the Mad" Jennings's posts about Warhammer, both the good and the bad. The man is an OG of MMO ranting and he knows how to do it right.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Played Lately: Lord of the Rings Online

  • Once upon a time, I got bored with World of Warcraft and looked for a new game to occupy my time. This happens a lot since I can only start so many alts before the novelty of playing a new class through the old content wears off. This is not a story about me moving to Warhammer Online, though. Instead, this once upon a time is about me joining Lord of the Rings Online. It's also about me canceling LotRO.
  • In one of my gaming lulls about five months ago, I decided to give Middle Earth a second try. I had played a little on a free trial account, but didn't connect with the game well enough to subscribe at that time. This time, though, Turbine was offering a 6 month subscription price for $10 a month, so I jumped back into the game to see if I enjoyed it any more.
  • I decided to try a Human Champion because I usually play caster classes in games and I wanted to see how a melee heavy class would play. It turned out I had a lot of fun in those opening levels. There were a lot of quests to follow and leveling did not feel like a massive chore. I liked the opening solo instance that introduces you to the world without resorting to teaching you how to play by killing the local wildlife. I ended up spending a fair amount of time working through the opening zone (Bree-land) and had a good time doing it.
  • I also enjoyed the crafting system. The recipe rarities and critical successes was a system that I would love to see used in other games. I would have liked to have move flexibility in choosing professions instead of getting two I liked and one I ignored.
  • Eventually though, as fun and friendly as that first zone was, it was time to move into the Lone-lands. It was here that my interest in the game died. A combination of unfocused quests along with group quests in a nearly empty zone frustrated me enough to keep me from playing. I eventually completed all the quests at the Forsaken Inn (an awesomely dense quest hub, I will admit) and moved on to the next hub. But as I ran around collecting quests, I found that I wasn't even reading them. I just stacked them up to go over later. I knew then my heart wasn't in it.
  • So I've canceled my subscription, even though there's another month left on it. I might poke my head in again to say goodbye to my character, but I doubt I'll stay much longer. There are better games to hold my attention. Turbine, your stupid exit survey was no help in detailing why I was leaving your game so I'm going to spell in out here. I was bored. I'm glad other people are having fun with the game, though. You just didn't fit my needs very well.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • I fired up World of Warcraft this morning with the intention of doing something Warcrafty. My human paladin (former main, long abandoned) has been looking more interesting as the expansion looms. So I loaded the game, loaded up on daily quests, and flew off toward adventure! I got through one and a half of those quests before I shut everything down and walked away.
  • This is not the first time a long beloved game has left me cold and it will not be the last. Over at Random Battle (one of my favorite gaming blogs), Cameron Sorden is feeling a similar ennui about Warhammer Online and MMO gaming in general.
  • As early as 2004, World of Warcraft was described as a theme park as opposed to Everquest's or Ultima Online's playground-style game. At the time, this seemed like a huge advance and it absolutely helped make a game that was more accessible to a greater number of people. Now it is time to strain and mangle that metaphor well beyond its original bounds.
  • World of Warcraft, as a theme park, is the Disneyland of MMOs. Perfectly polished, it is the destination of choice for many and the standard against which all others are measured. But like any theme park, you can only explore it so many times and in so many ways before you've wrung all potential enjoyment out of the experience. Disneyland has combated this over the years either by tearing out the old rides and replacing them or my opening a second park in close proximity to the first. WoW did the same with content patches and boxed expansions. However no matter what you add, you still get the same fundamental experience.
  • Sometimes a new park opens up (like Warhammer) and people get excited again. Connoisseurs of theme parks may savor it for its differences. People who had their fill of the first park will think it is more of the same and seek an entirely new adventure.
  • The problem with WoW and its descendants is that everyone is in the theme park business now. The more theme parks they build, the less they remember what it was they loved about that original playground and why their designs turned away from it in the first place. I would have to put a lot more effort than just this blog post into fully exploring what could be done. But there has to be more possible solutions to the problems everyone had with UO and EQ than the one we've settled on so far. It's time to build a new metaphor.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Played Lately: Warhammer Online

  • Zubon over at Kill Ten Rats has been driven from the fold like the infirm gazelle is culled by ravening hyenas on the African savanna. (Please don't fact check that.) It seems that a perfect storm of gold spammers and lingering bugs have forced him to cancel his Wahammer account. As much as I'm enjoying the game, I can't entirely blame him.
  • His story reminds me of something I haven't thought of in quite a while. When I was in high school, I played in the marching band. Saxophone to be precise. We traveled to many places in the state to compete, usually with one long trip to avoid all the same local bands. I always sat in the stands after we had competed to watch some of the other performances. This is always an odd thing since the free seats are on the opposite side of the field, so listening to the music is strange. but there is not much else to do.
  • On one such occasion, I was sitting with a bunch of my friends as one rather ambitious band played. All along the back of the field, cages of doves were placed in preparation of the big finale. This is not a usual occurance in the small town I grew up in, so we were all fascinated that anyone would go to all the trouble. As expected, the cages were opened at the end of performance and a few bird flew out. It was not the most impressive display, but we all agreed that it was pretty cool.
  • All except my friend, Tim. The birds, positioned along the back of the field near us, flew up over our stands as they fled the stadium. As they rose, they dropped balast like a rising hot air balloon and some of that balast splattered on Tim. He was a pretty laid back character, so he didn't blow up. But whatever enjoyment the rest of us were having was no longer shared by him.
  • Zubon just got shit on by his game, so I don't blame for not wanting to play anymore.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Played Lately: Warhammer Online

  • Syncaine over at Hardcore Casual had a great post up about Public Quests in Warhammer Online. For those of you who are allergic to hyperlinks (there's drugs for that, you know), Mr. Impact PVP tells us that Public Quests should be viewed as the evolution of group quests and as such they are quite a success.
  • As much as I hate to admit it, Syncaine has brought me around on this. I was getting ready to whine and carry on about how PQs didn't live up to my outrageously high expectation. I might also have offered some half-baked suggestions to fix them by dynamically scaling the encounters based on local populations. But that would have all been missing the point. I never did group quests in WoW. I'm an avid solo player so group quests were an annoyance to me. In WAR, I love public quests and I go out of my way to participate when I can and I have a lot of fun. They're the same thing, but WAR has changed the way I play the game. That is 100% better than before so I'm going to stop complaining.
  • In other news, Mythic has decided to make me look like a fool by hiding their patches from me by calling them Hot Fixes. I burn with a rage that only Khaine can fathom. Also, a deep, deep shame.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Played Lately: Warhammer Online

  • As they've done for their prior game, the folks over at Mythic have put up their first grab bag for Warhammer Online. As well we have our first patch notes for the live game. I have a few notes of my own, but since Mythic won't let me on their web servers, I'm posting them here.
  • The grab bag is half "Duh!" and half kind of interesting, though I'm loathe to admit it. The questions about Master versus Game Accounts are the kinds of things that belong in a technical FAQ buried somewhere in a text file, not the opening questions in the very first Q&A. The question about how guild ranks improve is at least a little more enlightening, pointing out that inactive characters don't actually hurt anything. I guess the inquisitor (Doesn't that sound like an Empire class?) thought this might be a Brad McQuaid style hardcore game instead of something fun. We also get a little more info about the rested experience system. Essentially it is WoW Plus +1, like a lot of this game. Building a better mousetrap... err... MMO isn't a bad thing if you like that sort of thing.
  • The last half is a Q&A within the Q&A about the capital cities and how city ranks work. Evidently, you can increase your capital's rank via questing (something I've already experienced) and controlling the top tier RvR zones (which I'm not even close to.) I also discovered that sieging the opponent's city will reduce their rank. That is a very cool mechanic and definitely encourages you to attempt a defense of your capital to avoid big losses like that. It also assures that newcomers and perpetual leveling slowpokes (like, ahem, myself) will get to see the cities in many states from slum-ridden to potentially awesome.
  • The patch notes are certainly an odd collection of fixes. I am of three minds about it. Either 1) Warhammer is in such great shape that there was very little that needed to be patched, 2) Mythic decided to knock out the easiest fixes first and is leaving the doozies for a later date, or, 3) Mythic writes really bad patch notes. In this crazy, mixed up world we live in, I wouldn't be surprised if it is a combination of all three, but only someone as smart as Jeff Goldblum could perceive it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Played Lately: Warhammer Online

  • Just like most of the MMO blog community, I have jumped into the bright, shining city on the hill that is Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. I was hesitant at first, avoiding most of hype. But I could not help but follow when many bloggers gave their impressions of the beta test and how much everyone (almost) seemed to enjoy it. With so much discussion about how great the game was, it was hard not to get caught up in the fervor.
  • I made the decision to try the game at about the very last minute. I bought the preorder box and ran home to start downloading the beta client, both from Fileplanet and via BitTorrent, hoping that I could get into the head start. With my luck being what it is, the Fileplanet download was half filled with junk files. However the other half was good enough to drop into the torrent folder where I concentrated my effort on just those remaining parts. It took over three days to get the client down and installed, so I only had one evening to play before the official launch. But that one evening was enough to hook me.
  • To date, I have rolled a Witch Elf and a Witch Hunter based on how cool the characters looked. This was my plan since I first read about the game. (I know I said I tried to avoid the hype, but it just gets under your skin!) What I didn't know is that these classes are actually one of the mirrors pairs between the Order and Destruction sides. They play just differently enough to make them unique. Also the questing experience is really different, storywise, for each. But they are similar enough that I won't be able to keep from rolling one or two alts, probably an Archmage and a Sorceress.
  • I've spent a lot of time on each character questing as I'm a carebear at heart, even in an explicitly PvP game. I'm especially curious about the epic quest lines available early in each zone. Both my characters are moving into the Tier 2 content and it looks as though those quests have no end in sight. It's been interesting seeing at least one MMO quest that's more than just a simple "Kill ten rats and you're done" story.
  • I've also been spending plenty of time in the public quests and RvR scenarios, though I'll be talking about those more later. For now though, I've been enjoying my time in WAR a lot more than I anticipated. With the impending release of Wrath of the Lich King, I will have some hard choices to make about where to spend my time.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Played Lately: Rock Band & Rock Band 2

  • Although I haven't written about it at all, I have become absolutely smitten with Rock Band and, now, Rock Band 2. For the longest time I looked at the smallish plastic guitars with a combination of disdain and a little bit of fear. Disdain that I would lower myself to playing with such a silly toy and fear that I might suck if I did try. After lowering myself and also sucking, I find that it is a lot of fun.
  • Playing Rock Band is a lot like playing Whack-a-Mole with two hands, one to aim the mallet and the other to whack. What elevates the game is how elaboratly the developers disguised this simple premise. Primarily, you could not play so silly a game without the music. Well, you could but the whole thing would be sadly mechanical and not much fun. But with the music added in, it is a huge reward for timely button pushing. You feel pretty bad missing a note in one of your favorite songs. Then with all the rock star presentation and a great selection of songs, it's easy to get lost in the experience.
  • The best part of all this is that it makes you an active participant to the music. This is not to kid myself that strumming a plastic guitar instead of a real one makes me a musician. However, I have found a greater appreciation for the individual parts that make up a song. It's really a different experience to turn music from something you put on in the background while you're blogging or, I don't know, grinding MOBs, into something you have to pay close attention to. How can that be a bad thing for music?
  • And speaking of the music, the first game has a nearly impeccable collection of favorite tracks. There are a few clunkers, but there are several more that I hadn't heard before and rather enjoy. The fact that you can use all those songs and the downloaded songs in Rock Band 2, even in the tour mode, made me grin when I discovered it. I'm not deep into the second game yet so I don't know if the selection gets any better, but the ratio of good-to-bad songs isn't as high so far.
  • Oh and if someone from Harmonix happens to run across this blog, can you please add an option to either rate songs or tag songs as favorite? I would love to sort my songs based on how much I like them. Having to scroll though a really long list to get to Dani California can get old.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

News Filter: Wrath of the Lich King Beta Opens

  • The gaming world seemed to explode yesterday as the beta test for Wrath of the Lich King, the new expansion for World of Warcraft, just opened. And since there is no Non-Disclosure Agreement in place, there is info everywhere. I've been looking over all the information released, focusing on my two primary cases, the paladin and the mage.
  • With the paladin class, it seem that Blizzard has gone out of its way to rework how the class plays, from new toys for the Holy skill tree, rebalancing the Protection and Retribution trees, and streamlining the Seal, Blessing, and Aura systems. With all the changes, it's like they are making Paladin 2.0 and I'm quite considering going back to my long neglected pally when the expansion hits.
  • But as excited as I am for the paladin updates, I am equally disappointed with the mage updates. In the most recent patch notes, there were only ten lines, the least of any of the classes. In those lines, they improved two talents and the Invisibility spell slightly, made the armor spells harder to be dispelled, and rescaled the mana cost of other spells. On top of this, the new talents and spells found in beta test are underwhelming. One talent does stand out, but it seems so open for abuse that it is destined to be nerfed before the expansion launches. And the one interesting new spell, Frostfire Bolt, is ambiguous enough that its hard to know if it will be worth using or forgetting entirely.
  • That is the problem with this entire revamp; it is entirely forgettable. As a mage, I would really like to see some new toys, not just more levels of food and water vending. Give us mages something to look forward to, Blizzard.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Microfiction: Reaction Shots

  • Dorothy: "This is so terrible. So many innocent children just gone. My husband and I drove three hours to be here. We don't have any children in school anymore, but it felt like we should be a part of this. It's just so terrible."
  • Terry: "You know who the real villain here is? George Bush. Bush and Cheney and Karl Rove and all those gun-loving, NRA card-carrying rednecks who would rather that everyone had a gun than made sure something like this could never happen again."
  • Diana: "Please, can you just leave me alone? Please?"
  • Cassandra: "That coulda been me in there. My psych class is on the same floor, 'cept on a different day. Too bad he didn' try on Tuesday. I've carried this handgun since I was fifteen years old. I would have shot his ass dead."
  • Jamie: "Yes, it's awful what happened inside. It's almost as big of a God-damned tragedy as what's going on out here. I didn't come down here to mourn for your cameras. I'm not going to cry to get on TV. And I'm not here to help you win your ratings timeslot for the night."

News Filter: More Interesting Stuff from E3 2008

  • I honestly don't know how I forgot this last time, but one of the more exciting revelations from E3 this year was the new information about Rock Band 2. The combination of over 80 new tracks, 20 new free downloads after release backward compatibility for prior downloads, and the ability to import tracks from the first game has got me really excited. All this tells me that Harmonix has focused on making this new iteration a great fan experience.

  • The ubiquitous World of Warcraft has finally made its widely rumored achievement system to be released with Wrath of the Lich King. Although this kind of thing can be very popular, it ends up being both a blessing and a curse. Hopefully Blizzard knows enough to use achievement to encourage positive behaviors instead of negative ones. (I'm looking at you, Survivor title from Guild Wars.)

  • Also in the long rumored and now confirmed column is word that Bioware really has been working on an MMO based on Knights of the Old Republic. Finally the teasing is over. Will this do for Star Wars fans what Star Wars Galaxies could not? No clue until we hear a little more, so I maintain my stance of cautious optimism. (I don't get Guarded Wariness stance unless I respec.)

  • No, I don't give a damn about DC Universe Online. I've been waiting for a Champions game for almost twenty years and I'm not waffling now.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

News Filter: Interesting Stuff from E3 2008

  • It's that crazy time of year again. That's right, it's E3. Though a pale shadow of the bacchanals of prior years, this is still the season for everyone to make their big announcements about what we'll be looking forward to for Christmas and beyond. Already I've seen some great stuff and I'm eager to see more.
  • A couple new trailers have been released for Fallout 3. I still get a chill every time I hear Ron Perlman say that famous line, "War. War never changes." I continue to be cautiously optimistic for no particular reason whatsoever.
  • The big news for the Xbox 360 seems to be that Final Fantasy XIII will be coming to the console, at least in North America and Europe. Since this was previously annouced as exclusive to the Playstation 3, this is quite the shift. I always love when an announcement comes out like this to excite and exasperate the fanboy throngs.
  • I watched Peter Molyneux's appearance at the Microsoft presentation wherein he told us that Fable II is actually finished. There wasn't much a reaction from the crowd, but I'm looking forward to this games since I really enjoyed Fable.
  • While I was hoping to hear more about other games, like Warhammer and Guild Wars 2, there are still a few days for them to make an appearance. I'll post more if anything comes up.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Random Shots: In From The Cold

  • It's been over a month since my last post, which is sort of a thing I do when the weather heats up. There is always more to do than time to do it. Also, I'm very, very lazy.
  • World of Warcraft, as always, has occupied more than its fair share of my free time. My new guild, Exile, has been having a good run of in the Tier 5 raids late. I got into the guild just after their first kills of Void Reaver and High Astromancer Solarian. Since then I've taken part in first kills of Hydross the Unstable, the Lurker Below, and Morogrim Tidewalker. We took a stab at Al'ar last night, but didn't make it out of phase one. I'm going to have to remember my frost gear for that fight. This all takes a lot of time, but it has been fun to see so much more of the raid game.
  • Outside of WoW but still on the computer, I'm been spending time with a bunch of other games. I leveled up to the early twenties in both Lord of the Rings Online and Everquest II. That seems to be the point in any MMORPG where they figure they've already got you hooked, so they can give you any old crap and the subscription money flow anyway. Since I'm not so hooked I'm not playing nearly as much anymore. I also dropped into the old Guild Wars stomping grounds long enough to make a new character and finally take a tour of the insanely difficult Domain of Anguish. I'm not going to rant here, except to say, "Bad, ArenaNet. Bad."
  • Otherwise, I've been reading lots and lots of comics, joined the Hard Case Crime book club and watching a few movies. Recently, my beautiful wife and I have taken in Hancock, Hellboy 2, and Wall-E. We're very much looking forward to The Dark Knight, I with geekly anticipation.
  • Of course, the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons was released and I've been burying myself in the new rules. They have become less arcane than previous editions, stripping the system down to its most elemental levels. While it no longer tries to be everything to everyone, it has polished the adventuring game up to a nova-bright sheen. Should I even find myself facing a game, I'll at least be ready now.
  • So enough about me. What have you been up to?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Comic Roundup: May 29, 2008

  • Why does anyone need 10 copies of a comic book? What possible reason could you have for buying that many? Especially when you're holding up the line when I have to drive back to work on my lunch hour?

  • Final Crisis issue 1: What in the world is happening here? If there was ever an event comic aimed solely at the fanboy contingent, this is it. I know some of the characters from reading Identity Crisis and Infinite Crisis, two books I could get my non-DC-reading mind around. But I feel like I picked up this story in the middle, but not in the cool in medias res sort of way. More like starting War and Peace on page 275. As much as I could get into the prior events, I just can't see myself riding this one out.

  • Giant-Size Astonishing X-Men issue 1: After four years, Joss Whedon and John Cassaday finally bring their saga to a close. It really was everything it needed to be: a big action piece with deep character issues addressed and exploited in the Whedonesque way. Anyone who did not enjoy the prior issues is not going to find anything to change their mind. Anyone who did will find a great, fitting, and touching ending here.

  • Judenhass: Although we have been clued into the general subject of Dave Sim's Secret Project One, we did not know exactly what he was trying to accomplish with this book or how we would go about it. Instead of retelling the Shoah story, Sim instead focuses Judenhass on the insidious way the smallest verbal and written dehumanizations of the Jews could lead not to an aberration in Nazi Germany, but the inevitability of disaster. Even though I was reading this at work, I could not put it down until I had finished reading. And afterward, I could not shake the feeling that when we say "Never forget" that we're focusing on the wrong thing. It's not enough to promise not to allow a genocide to run unchecked; we must also never allow ourselves to fall for the intellectual trap of thinking another person or group of people are somehow less than how we see ourselves.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • Haven't had much to say about WoW of lately, mostly because I haven't been spending much time in Azeroth. Mostly I've been logging on just long enough to say "Hi" to my friends and complete the daily fishing quest. All of that changed recently when I saw a recruiting post on the Draka server forum. Amazingly they both were looking for a mage (When does that ever happen?) and their raid times actually coincide with my schedule. So I went over to the guild webpage and filled out an application.

  • It wasn't very long, but it still took me two to three hours to complete. I really like the guild I was in and have some good friends there. I didn't want to give up on that lightly. Plus, joining a guild that is progressing in high level raids don't mess around all that much. I wasn't sure if I was up to the standard, or even if I wanted to try and put out that much effort. In the end I submitted it. And then I waited. Amazingly, I was offered a trial run in the guild. My friends sent me off with their blessing and I joined my new guild, Exile.

  • So far I've been to two raids, one into Tempest Keep and one to Gruul's Lair. In the first, though it took a few tries, we were able to take down the Void Reaver. At the second raid, we cleanly cut through the ogres to kill both High King Mauglar and Gruul the Dragonkiller. All of these were firsts for me, so it has been an exciting week. Looking at the statistics, I did not stand out from the crowd, but I was not left behind, either. I think I've made a good accounting for myself, especially in the boss fights as I was only ever killed by trash mobs in both raids.

  • So despite my hesitation, I have enjoyed moving to the new guild and I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish in the future.

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 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.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Played Lately: World of Warcraft

  • I'm splitting this post in two, because it's already way too long. Look for more World of Warcraft blogging (imagine that!) in a day or two. On with the news.

  • I joined my guild, Chaotic, for our guild-first kill of Nalorakk, the bear boss of Zul'Aman. We wiped six times trying to take him down and had to reclear trash once in the middle of that. In spite of all that, the seventh try saw us take him down pretty handily. A lot of things have to go just right to get through that fight, so it won't be an easy feat to repeat. But it was a great moment to revel in. It's not often you get to enjoy real raid progression. If only we could have taken down a second boss that night.

  • This is the place where I would normally say that I'm looking forward to future raid progression. Only it turns out that the guild blew up over the weekend and was disbanded. It turns out the guild leader thought the guild had hit a brick wall on progression and that the best thing to do was to set everyone free. At least that's the happy face on what happened. I got whispers from both factions of the fight immediately upon logging in Sunday. The former guild leader told me I was a shoe in to be invited to the raiding guild he just joined. I was also quickly invited to join a guild by my two good friends in their unfortunately named guild "Show Us Your Crits." /sigh. I went with my friends because that is the real reason I play the game, but the whole business has soured me on playing my mage.

  • On the Alliance side, my shadow priest finally won the Stranglethorn Vale Fishing Extravaganza after four weeks of trying. I was literally shaking in my chair in anticipation as I counted up toward 40 Tastyfish. A quick hearth to Booty Bay and a frantic run to the finish line later and I was announced the winner, with my brand new Arcanite Fishing Pole in hand. It is pretty silly how worked up I can get over a video games, especially a weak simulation of fishing. But the competitiveness and need to excel hit me in weird places. I may not be good at much, but by goodness, I can win an online fishing tournament.

  • I've also been playing my paladin a lot more. It feels a little strange since I'd pretty much given up on the poor girl for newer, flashier characters. But Mesia, my friend from the days when I was exclusively Alliance, convinced me to join his guild and so we could hang out more. I'm on a two week trial with The Venerated and not entirely sure it's a good idea. But with all the guild drama for my mage, this might just be the in-game home I need.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Read Lately: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

  • I'm several years behind the times, but I finally got around to reading Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. And thank goodness I did because if I waited another five or ten years, it would be too late.
  • Stephenson's book, like any great work of speculative fiction, is a fascinating portrait of our potential future. Snow Crash shows us an American ruled by the classic megacorporations of cyberpunk, but this time organized on the franchise model of today's disposable culture. We follow the exploits of two primary characters, the eccentrically named hacker Hiro Protagonist and a courier known only as Y.T, as they uncover a conspiracy to spread an informational virus. I never was actually sure why as the story is quite complex and I have very little brain.
  • The best features of this novel come from updating the old cyberpunk to relate with our current relationship to the future and how far we've come already. It's also one heck of a fascinating read. Although this book will become dated like all speculative fiction, Snow Crash is a clever and evocative novel that any fan of the genre can enjoy.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Comic Roundup: April 9, 2008

  • Late again, but moving fast.

  • Criminal volume 2 issue 2: Wow. It has been implied throughout Criminal that Teeg Lawless, the star of this issue, was a straight-up bastard. What this issue shows is that he was so much more and so much less. Once again, Brubaker and Phillips craft a great story, this time of a broken man who can't help but break everything around him too. My highest recommendations for this series continue unabated.

  • Echo issue 2: Terry Moore's tale of technological terror (couldn't resist) continues on in this equally strong second issue. We get his usually blend of humor, despair, oddity, and the mundane in one attractive package. The story has started to focus and I'm very interested in seeing where this is going.

  • Serenity: Better Days issue 2: I wish I could say this was getting better. There were some little bits that I enjoyed about this comic, but it is just not the same. At least there is only one more issue to read before I can tuck my Firefly nostalgia safely away.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Comic Roundup: April 2, 2008

  • Another slight week at the comic shop. But any week I can find something new to read is a little holiday.

  • Anna Mercury issue 1: Warren Ellis's new series from Avatar is out and once again his brain is spewing the crazy all over. It seems like a straight forward sci-fi actioner until you get to the last page that explains what is really going on. It's a little like the big reveal in The Matrix. Sometimes this goes well and sometimes it feels like you wasted an issue for the sake of set up. I can't give a verdict on that for another couple issues, so I'll be buying into Ellis's madness for at least a little while longer.

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight issue 13: More good stuff from Drew Goddard and Georges Jeanty. As part two of a four issue story, there is a decidedly middle-of-the-story feel here. However the great bits between Xander, Renee, and Dracula really standout, if in a vaguely disturbing way. All good and funny and I'm looking forward to more.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Comic Roundup: March 26, 2008

  • The date up there is a little misleading, but does represent that I bought all these comics on the 26th. I just so happens that only one of those books shipped that day. Of course if they published better comics, I'd be more tempted to go to the store every week. Well, enough griping. On with the comics.

  • Ex Machina issue 35: Has this really been going on this long? Crazy. Thankfully, although the audaciousness of the series has faded, Ex Machina continues to be a book I look forward to every month. This is the part where I fit in a one line synopsis, but I am drawing a blank. That can't be a good sign. Hmmm.... Oh yeah, this was the one-shot issue about the ghost of a black man haunting Mayor Hundred and also his relationship with the deputy mayor. I liked it. It was a pretty good issue, but the wow isn't there any more.

  • Justice League: The New Frontier Special issue 1: I'm listing this as issue 1 as there was a big "First Issue!" logo on the cover. That this will be the only issue doesn't seem to be a concern to whoever put this together. Someone probably hoped that this would sell more copies. The selling point should not be the number, though, but the story inside and this was a lot of fun. We get three stories in the vein of Darwyn Cooke's amazing DC: The New Frontier, here retitled for the matching DVD release. The first story is an effective continuation of the original series, wrapping up and focusing on the arc of DC's heroic trinity. The other two stories are lighter in every sense of the word, but no less enjoyable. Anyone who read the original series should enjoy this.

  • World of Warcraft issue 5: Yes, I'm still buying this, primarily on the basis of the property. Yes, I'm still enjoying the grand tour of the game world and the over-the-top fantasy adventure. Yes, the art and writing hold up. No, I'm not apologizing for my taste in comics.

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.