Thursday, February 26, 2009

Watched Lately: Dollhouse

  • Since the invention of the DVR, I don't watch live television anymore. I'd rather watch when I'm in the mood instead of putting whatever I'm doing on hold. That said, Friday night at nine o'clock found my wife and I on the couch waiting for Dollhouse to start. Sometimes "immediately" is as good as you can do.

  • For a first episode, I was mildly surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did. Yes, it is a little rough, which we had all been warned about. Eliza Dushku is not the most gifted actress, but she fit her role well and will probably do fine on the show. The show is a little dark, but as with Firefly, Joss Whedon has an affinity for that.

  • Since I started writing this post, the second episode snuck out. I'm happy to say that it improved on the first in every way. It shows the kind of slow burn storytelling we expect from Joss now. So far, I'm happy to see where he takes us.

  • I'd better get this posted before a third episode comes out. Or the show is cancelled.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Comic Roundup: Incognito #1

  • My big comic purchase for last week was Incognito, issue one. If that sounds wrong to you, that's because there is something wrong with the world.

  • Last month when I went into my Friendly Local Comic Shop, I asked if Incognito came in. And it had come in, only they all went right back out again. I was stunned by this. I know, I know, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are awesome. Sleeper was awesome and Criminal continues to be awesome. But I normally don't have trouble finding them on the shelves. This was a problem for me.

  • It seems this was a problem for Marvel as well since they went back to press for a second round. It was this second printing that finally showed up at my comic store along with the second issue. "Second issue?" you ask. "But you typed '#1' in the title instead of '#1-2.'" You would be right. It seems like no one ever learns. So I have the first issue but not the second. I hope to pick that up when issue three comes out.

  • Issue one was good, if a little slow. It was beautiful, thanks to Sean Phillips and Val Staples. But for some reason the whole superpowered thing was a little offputting. It'll probably pick up in a issue or two so I'm not stopping now.

Friday, February 13, 2009

News Filter: Guild Wars 2 in 2010-2011

  • Ravious over at Kill Ten Rats got a little info about Guild Wars 2 out of NCSoft's quarterly earnings report. Notably, the game is not set to launch until 2010 or 2011. This means, at best, we're a full year away from release.

  • As much as I want to be disappointed about this, I'm not terribly surprised. The game was announced in 2007 along with the Eye of the North expansion. My guess would be that they were in development only a year or two at that time since they were planning on a very early beta test (like with GW) in 2008. By that estimate, 2010 gives them a five year development cycle which feels about right for an MMO.

  • Of course, NCSoft has scheduled their North American and European launches for their next big thing, Aion, in 2009. The new hotness certainly looks very nice, though it will probably run like a pig in mud on my system. It might do very well, but NCSoft isn't going to accept any distractions. Even is GW2 was ready, they can't let it get in the way of Aion.

  • Personally, I'm trying to keep my expectations low and not worry about it. Exeter's post over at Expletive Deleted about expectations ruining our experiences is quite timely. Three years ago, I would have killed for more information. Now the difference between 2010 and 2011 is just time.

  • No matter when it launches, though, I'm rolling a Ranger.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Top Five: Console Role-Playing Games

  • Dragon Warrior - One of the first things I remember about Dragon Warrior (Dragon Quest in its native land) was not playing the game. Instead what I remember was my school friends taking about their experiences with the game. They made is sound like so much fun: adventuring across the countryside, delving into caves, fighting slimes. And while the I usually build up a supergame in my mind from such desciptions, I found that Dragon Warrior won me over with its unique charm. Even today although the series holds true to its oldest-of-old-school roots, I can still get sucked into a game, menu driven combat and all. All I need is a smiling slime ready to take me on.

  • Jade Empire - Blasphemy time: before this game, I never got why people thought Bioware was so great. Sure, they made Baldur's Gate and Knights of the Old Republic, but I didn't actually like those games. In spite of that, my recently found love for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and other wuxia films led me to buy the game. And thank goodness I did. The mix of action combat with Bioware's high quality storytelling finally clicked in this game. I know a lot of people had problems with the game, but I think they just didn't get it.

  • Mass Effect - If Jade Empire was a promise, Mass Effect is the fulfillment. Everything that I loved about Bioware's prior game was built upon and improved. The epic story comes to one of the most satisfying endings I've experienced in an RPG. The romantic subplot, amazingly, did not make me cringe even though I was playing my usual female protagonist. The combat was exciting and fun. And I loved the update to the morality system. Instead of wavering between stupidly good and stupidly evil, you balance your virtuous or roguish natures. Any nitpicks I have about the game is in comparison to how great everything else is. I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment in this proposed trilogy.

  • Phantasy Star - While everyone I knew was into Final Fantasy, my brother and I were busy playing Phantasy Star. I think we got the better end of the deal. PS on the Sega Master System was a revelation to us. The intriguing mix of fantasy and science fiction completely rocked my younger self. When an early quest sent us to another planet, we were completely hooked. I even replayed this when it was released for GBA several years ago and I still had a blast.

  • Phantasy Star Online - If you think I'm cheating by including a second Phantasy Star game on this list, I don't really care. PSO was a watershed moment for online console gaming and will forever be known for that. But for me, it was a blast to just fire up a character and hack, slash, and shoot my way through waves of baddies, completing quests, and taking down the larger than life bosses. When people say that they would play a single player version of their favorite MMO, this is the game they're thinking of.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Read Lately: Fifty-To-One by Charles Ardai

  • For Hard Case Crime's fiftieth novel, publisher Charles Ardai wanted to do something special. What he came up with was a novel based on the premise that Hard Case Crime had been around for 50 years instead of 50 books. This book would have 50 chapters and each chapter would be named after each of the published books, in order. All he had to do was figure out a story to tell around all of those names. It sounds crazy, but somehow it works.

  • Fifty-To-One is the story of Tricia Heverstadt, a small town girl who moves to New York City to follow in her sister's seemingly glamourous footsteps. When events conspire against her, she ends up working as a dancer in a mob run night club and writing about it for the fictional Hard Case Crime. Of course, writing about the mob has its problems, even when you're making it all up. Before long, the mob, the law, and various real life authors are drawn into the escalating danger.

  • I've been jealous of Charles Ardai's writing ability ever since I read his prior novel, Songs of Innocence, written under the pen anagram Richard Aleas. He has a wicked way of description that does more than tell you what's going on; it also makes you feel it. With the compact nature of pulp fiction, there is no room for purple prose. Ardai's spare but evocative writing style sell his story and characters without giving up a lot of page real estate.

  • As one would expect from a crime novel, Fifty-To-One starts at a run and doesn't really slow down. However, Ardai has to add several more twists and turns due to the fifty chapter structure. While some could see this as a problem, the story is light hearted and, therefore, is easier to forgive.

  • So long as you don't demand deathly serious fiction, any fan of the crime genre should find something to enjoy here. Charles Ardai has proven himself an excellent writer as well as the curator of the Hard Case Crime publishing line. He did not disappoint with this novel and I look forward to anything else he cares to write.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Listened Lately: Gamers With Jobs #121

  • This week's Gamers With Jobs Conference Call had an interesting discussion about face-to-face gaming and how computer and console gaming has supplanted it. While there was nothing to argue about, I did want to share my take on topic.

  • The high point for face-to-face gaming for me was high school. Back in the days when my biggest worry was whether or not I would remember to do my homework, I had a lot of time to get together with friends and play games. The game of choice in those days was Dungeons and Dragons. That's not to say we didn't play anything else, but everything else was of the roleplaying variety as well. Top Secret/S.I., Robotech, Paranoia, and Call of Cthulhu all came out at one time or another. But it was never hard to get a bunch of adventurers together to kill, pillage, and loot.

  • As I got older, though, my tastes changed and my circle of friends narrowed. In college, I discovered Avalon Hill and the great board games they produced. My problem was not having a group of people or the time to play them. I tended toward games with a solitaire component, but could not keep myself from buying games on the off chance I could get a group together.

  • After college, my face-to-face gaming came to a stop entirely. Nowadays, I pick up the core rules when a new edition of D&D comes out, but mostly out of nostalgia. I don't buy many board games anymore, though I do have a copy of Runebound sitting on the table behind me, read for a solo run-through. What I do have is online games.

  • For someone who has self-selected a solo gamer role, I find myself constantly amazed about how much fun I have have playing with people online. Raiding in WoW was tremendously rewarding, in spite of the time commitment. And accepting a blind guild invite was one of the big reasons I'm enjoying LotRO so much.

  • I do occasionally miss the days of sitting around with a group of friends and slinging a handful of dice, but online gaming is able to scratch that itch. It may not be the same, but it is enough.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Played Lately: EVE Online

  • There is a chance that I've gone completely crazy. I downloaded the free trial for EVE Online.

  • For years I've been reading about the various shenanigans going on in EVE Online. There was the Great Scam in 2007. And just recently, there was the betrayal of the Band of Brothers. These massive intrigues are fascinating to me. But at the same time, the harshness exhibited by the game can be very off-putting.

  • What pushed me over the edge, though, was this tweet from Van Hemlock. I had casually referenced CCP's game in this post about Warhammer Online. While I'm not vain enough to think he was talking specifically about me, it did make me realize that I don't really know anything about EVE. Thus, this confluence of events has led me to download the demo from Steam and give it a try.

  • My first impression was that it is overwhelming from the start. I'd read that there are ways to hobble your character right in the creation screen, but I haven't done enough research on how to avoid it. I've only got twenty-one days of free time, so I just chose what sounded best and went for it.

  • My second impression was that the game is very attractive. Space games, lately, have taken on a dense universe look as shown by the Hubble telescope. Since all of that can be imaged in background paintings, you get awesome vistas that you're never in jeopardy of approaching. The starter ship and various space stations are attractive as well, even on my lame graphics card.

  • My third impression is that the game plays a lot like a Microsoft application. The funny thing is that it feels completely accurate. In a time when space flight is widely available, a point-and-click interface feels more likely than the joystick-and-throttle model used by space sims patterned on WWII dogfights. However while it feels accurate, it's about as fun as playing with Word or Excel. But like any software application, it's only a tool. The fun in the game will only come in proportion to how much effort you put in.

  • So far in the game, I've run a couple of starter mission. That means mining and killing pirates. I've also been running my out of game skill training. I can't say I'm enamored with EVE Online yet, but it has been fascinating.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

News Filter: 300K People Still Playing WAR

  • Just this week, someone digging through the EA's financial report that Warhammer Online has a subsciption base of over 300,000. That's a good sized number compared to other games. Of course, they bragged about 750,000 subscriptions at launch and over a million box sales. To still have 300,000 this long after launch seems to place Mythic in a decent position.

  • The model that Mythic wants to follow is CCP and Turbine. EVE Online had a rocky launch but put in a lot of work. Through word of mouth, they have built up a sizable following and are known as an industry leader in PvP and sandbox MMOs.

  • Lord of the Rings Online was a game that many people wrote off as just-another-WoW-clone. But Turbine has added and added and added to the game until it has become a genuine option for disaffected WoW players.

  • With all the announcements Mythic have made, it sounds like they are moving in the right direction. Of course, with a new round of layoffs just announced, I hope it is not too late to turn the game around.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Read Lately: Tamara Drewe by Posy Simmonds

  • It was Journalista where I first read about Tamara Drewe. I certainly never saw it in stores. And I'd never heard of Posy Simmonds. So I can't say why I was interested in reading it. What I do know is that I'm a sucker for good word-of-mouth in comics. Seeing a bunch of headlines about the book (along with the occasional snippet of art) was enough to pique my interest.

  • Tamara Drewe is the story of the people who live at and around the Stonefield writers' retreat in England. It is told from the points of view of three characters: Beth Hardiman, the retreat's proprietor; Glen Larson, a visiting professor and novelist; and Casey Shaw, a teenage girl from the nearby village. Each goes about their mundane lives until Tamara, the daughter of a deceased neighbor, shows up to reclaim her childhood home. Drewe's presence has an immediate effect on the men of Stonefield, including Jonathan Hardiman, famous author and Beth's husband, and Andy, Stonefield's groundskeeper.

  • Originally published as a weekly comic in The Guardian, Simmonds doesn't constrain herself to a panel-to-panel format. Each page is composed as a whole, with comic panels showing events and long text passages telling the main characters' inner thoughts. With so much text, I was worried this might end up an illustrated novel. However Simmonds neatly avoids the problem by splitting the narrative like this.

  • The story runs at a leisurely pace for the first three quarters of the book as Simmonds slowly draws out the depths of her characters. Then the plot takes a turn for the wicked that, though I can't spoil it here, only throws her cast into high relief. Best of all, the story felt true, both in the tone and the reactions of the characters.

  • Tamara Drewe will not top any lists of great literature, graphic or otherwise. But it does have higher ambitions than to be mere entertainment. This is a graphic novel that I would happily recommend to anyone interested in seeing what the form is capable of.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Admin: Post One Hundred

  • What a long, strange trip it's been.

  • This is my one hundredth post in just under two years. Not a massive achievement by any stretch of the imagination, but one I want to note anyway.

  • I started this blog in February 2007 after I stopped posting at Guild Wars Kira, an in-character blog about my time in GW. When I stopped playing that game, I decided I needed another outlet to write about whatever was interesting to me. Thus, we have this scatter shot of topics that few beyond myself could ever be interested in.

  • My posts tend to follow whatever currently holds my fancy. The crazy number of World of Warcraft posts should tell you how addicted to that game I was. And the next hundred will say the same about Lord of the Rings Online or some other game. Hopefully I'll have time to write about a few games other than MMOs as well.

  • I'm a little surprised I haven't posted more Top Five lists. Actually, I'm not that surprised. For something that is supposed to be a post filler, they do take a lot of thought and energy. I look forward to getting more out in the future, and not just to pass the time.

  • I've decided to post about all the new books I read this year. By new I mean new to me. That way I don't have to review any comics I reread, like Watchmen or Cerebus. I have missed writing about books, so this should be a fun challenge.

  • Another thing I'd like to do is more responses to the podcasts I listen too. So far I've only done the one, but I will write more so long as the podcasters give me something to write about.

  • Mostly, I just want to post more. I get about ten to twelve visitors a day right now and I would like to grow on that. Not everyone can be looking for links to Be Imba, can they?

  • Anyway, thank you for looking at this humble blog. I hope you find something here worth your time

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.