Sunday, November 16, 2008

Law School

Hello,
Don't know if anyone is still out there but I am back (loosely speaking). It turns out that law school is a fairly insane time drain, that is why I have not posted at all. I had to totally abandon gaming period pretty much since my last post. That's right, no gaming at all. I have not rolled a single die or even picked up a controller. FFIV is like half finished for the DS and Dragon Quest IV is sitting still in the shrink wrap.

I just finished up my semester paper (memo for those of you in the know) so I am hoping I have enough time to game a bit and write some entries. Looks like I might have a chance to be a player in a tabletop RPG again. I hardly ever get to sit on that side of the table so I should have some interesting stuff to say about that.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

EQ blog

From the EQ Blog
I am working on the details right now for the Beta rollout. Last year we had a longer Beta period and I believe it helped nail down some of the nasty bugs that would have made it though in the 6 month dev cycles. We plan to do a similar Beta cycle this expansion as well.
Once we are getting a little closer to the Beta date I will send out instructions for those of you that would like to participate. Just a reminder… we absolutely love working with players and guilds that can commit to a schedule. We tend to give those players/ guilds more detailed interaction with the Dev Team and in most cases real-time game balancing. If you think that you might be interested or you would like your guild to be considered, please make sure you follow the Beta instructions when they roll out next month.


It seems like SOE has actually been adapting over the last year or so. First the changes to EQ2 to make it a much, much better game; then the move away from fire and forget EQ1 expansions. I wonder what they can do with Vanguard over time?

Playstation 2

My two favorite consoles of all time are the Super Nintendo and the Playstation 2. According to Sony's E3 presentation the Playstation 2 has sold 1.5 million units 2008 calendar year. For comparison Playstation 3 sold 1.8 million units. This is astounding considering its age and the fact that we have moved on to the next generation. No wonder this generation has seemed so lackluster game wise, the last one isn't over yet.

It also looks like PS2 is getting 130 games this year. Now obviously a lot of those will involve Spongebob but it is till impressive.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Nintendo DS

Unless something drastic was announced at E3 since I checked this morning it looks like the Nintendo DS is going to be THE system again this year as far as I am concerned. We are a few days away from FFIV dropping, and it looks awesome.























Here is some video too.


Add to that the recent release of Shiren the Wanderer (a real roguelike for once), a sequel to Izuna (pretty close to a roguelike), and a sequel to the awesome Etrian Odessey and the year is strong already.




Add to that the fact that starting in September we will be getting a remake of Dragon Quest IV, and the first NA releases of DQs V and VI and the year just keeps getting better. All this is topped off by the looming monster that is DQ9.

I have a PS3 and quite frankly there is not a whole lot for either it or the Xbox 360 that really interests me. There are a few games I have enjoyed but neither of them is really putting any distance out on my PC this time around. I am pretty disappointed in this console generation so far, except for the DS. It is the game machine for gamers, which is ironic since it seems kiddie but all the little kids are off badmouthing each other on Xbox.

Spells are expensive

Spent an hour or so last night running around getting spells that I haven't bothered to pick up. I easily blew through 150 plat and still didn't have them all. I still have many, many more Circle spells to go. Hopefully tonights run will be as financially successful as last weeks.

I also need to look into what gear I should be wearing, I am wearing my racial armor with PoK add ons. Need to figure out the best way to sort through EQ's massive amount of gear here.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Nostalgia

Looks like Nostalgia's Friday night group just took down Vox without high level buffs or help, with 10 toons. Excellent work guys. Excellent work.

Friday, July 11, 2008

What I am listening to

Time to shamelessly plug cool people on the internet again.
I love podcasts, especially podcasts about gaming. Here are the ones I am currently frequenting:

fear the boot: My first podcast love. This is one of the best gaming related podcasts and the have been going strong for over 100 episodes now. They have an excellent cast, in fact they have had several different excellent casts over the last two years. They have a strong and helpful community. Earlier this year the put on a great convention.

The Online Gamer Anthology: This podcast deals with the roots of MMO gaming. They have just wrapped up a two episode series on pen and paper D&D. Technically this is a one host show but he always has plenty of guests like Troy who seems to be on every MMO podcast. He has done classic Everquest, text games, Meridian, you name it.

Backseat Producers: This is run by Tony Mast and is a bunch of guys sitting around talking about movies. A bunch of really funny guys.

Bear Swarm: This is a bunch of guys sitting around talking about gaming. They are funny, and they know their stuff. I was lucky enough to meet some of them at Fear the Con in March and they were great guys.

The Podgecast: This features some former FtB cast members and Joe talking about gaming, movies etc. They just had their first episode and it was a blast.

The Man Cast: This isn't what you think. It is not like the Man Show. They discuss things in a smart witty fashion.

Red Earth Saga: I got to meet Phil at FtC and he is a really nice guy. This is a pretty cool concept where he is developing a sci fi setting and keeping us up to date while discussing the choices he makes.

Retronauts: I love this show. Technically speaking it is not very well done, and the hosts mention this every episode. It rambles, it is wayyy too long, but the hosts are insanely knowledgeable about classic video games and very funny

There are a few others I have just downloaded episodes of to try out like EQ-IQ. I'll let you know how they are.

I am only keeping up with a few blogs right now due to pressures at work:
West Karana
@Play: excellent roguelike blog
Massively
io9

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Night in a Scary Tower



Last night we headed out to the frozen tower in the Iceclad Ocean. Getting inside was a bit of a challenge with a couple of obligatory Fada deaths and one Hakiko death just for good measure. Once inside things turned around. We had steady good pulls from Sela and were basically tearing the place up. We made our way to the camp on the second floor where we took on Zorglim the Dead and spent the rest of the night.



All in all it was a good night. I leveled three times and we had Ebonfang come out to group with us for the first time. Hopefully he will be back for more. I think we are planning on starting on the second floor of the tower next week and going from there.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Exposition through dialogue

I am getting hits on my site from people who searched for this. Kids, exposition through dialogue is, for the most part, tacky. Don't do it.

FFXI interview

1UP has a FFXI interview up. My first impression is: Nomad Moogle in Selbina! w00t! If only I still played.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Concerto Gate

Square has released a new trailer for its upcoming MMO. I have no infor yet other than what is in this trailer, which contains no gameplay information. I loved FFXI, so I am excited about this one.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Funniest MMO Death

Massively has a blog entry up asking what your funniest MMO death is. Mine goes back to FFXI in the Valkurm Dunes shortly after launch. We were pulling goblins and flies to fight in the oasis out in the middle of the zone. I really had no idea what I was doing, it was OK because neither did anyone else. I was a Taru Warrior with no subclass, I had come to the Dunes after I accidently took a wrong turn on my way back from a Maze Maker party (we used to do those back in the day) and wound up running in terror across the length of Buburimu Peninsula to zone a Gob in Mhaura. While I was there I found the ferry to the Selbina, and hopped aboard for adventure.
The ferry ride was a nightmare. Someone fished up some tentacled horror from the dark depths of the ocean and we all had to cower below deck in the hold. Much to our surprise it came downstairs and OPENED THE DOOR! Luckily it ate a catgirl red mage who panicked and left me alone.
You have to understand that at this point I was a FFXI badass. I had made it all the way to like level 14 and a group of friends and I had partied up in Tahrongi Canyon and brought down one of the awesome Dhalmels, which we though looked a little bit like dragons.
I had spent the last few levels killing worms and running from ghouls in a tunnel, mostly it was running from ghouls. The funny thing is that due to the way the starting zones are set up I had only seen other Taru and Mithra. I had seen like two humans and a Galka. I had not even seen an Elvaan yet. This all changed when I got to the Dunes, the crossroads of FFXI. There were people everywhere. I spent a few levels killing crabs (this is the thing to do in FFXI, they are like Murlocks in numbers) and a group of mine headed to the oasis.
Mobs have different levels of behavior in FFXI. Some aggro under different conditions, some are passive, some LINK. There are a number of Leeches hopping around the oasis happily, they do not aggro. However, it turns out, they do link. They link like a chain factory on speed.
It is actually pretty easy to target the wrong thing in FFXI if you are not paying attention. We were fighting a crab when we picked up a Gob add on our White Mage. As I was the tank I quickly targeted the Gob and 'voked it. Except I pushed over one too many times and 'voked the Leech instead. The results looked like a Muppet lynch mob. I went down fast, but not quite fast enough. You see in FFXI a passive mob will not go on to target the rest of your group if they do not attack it or heal you while you are fighting it. Sadly our White Mage had just enough time to 2HR with Benediction (a massive group heal that hurts the WHM and heals the group). The Red Mage saw our WHM's life drop and started healing him, it was all over in seconds.
One of the coolest things about FFXI was you played with the Japanese players. You could communicate through the autotranslate function and through the emotes. The Japanese players had been playing for quite a while when the game was released in America. This was usually good for us because they were happy to share and help. I am not sure how many Japanese players were running by when I 'voked the Leech but there was an amusing number of /slap emotes thrown my way by people with funny names.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Drinking and driving

This post on Time.com got me thinking about the legal drinking age and driving drunk. According to the article 32% of all driver fatalities are due to drunk driving. 32%! Evidently this is down from 1984 when 45% were due to drunk driving. These are staggering numbers. But what do they mean?
I could only find readily available data back to 1994 but we can still take a look at it (source). In 2006 38,588 people were killed in accidents. 17,602 people were killed in alcohol related car crashes. In 1994 17,308 were killed in alcohol related car crashes out of 36,254 total fatalities.
How does this stack up with other ways to die? There have been 4092 U.S. deaths in Iraq so far and there were 822 in 2006. In 2006 gang related killings totaled 983 according to the FBI . Roughly 1 million people die of heart related incidents each year in America. 392 people died in 2006 from an unknown robber.
This means your chances of dying in a drunk driving accident are far higher than your chances of being killed in a random home invasion. 44 time higher! Yet we waste a lot of money on burgler alarms and still have no requirement for a device that keeps you from driving drunk.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Indy IV: A scene I would do different

I saw Indy IV again with my wife this weekend. While watching it I was thinking about the first scene and what would have made me like it more. First when the Russians give the description of the box I would have made sure that they said nothing that could not be the box we saw at the end of Raiders. I would leave out the mummy bit.
Second, I would leave out the floating gunpowder. The compass he asks for would work much better here and not have that "Hey look I have a computer" feel.
I would leave out the scene where they open the box. Let the audience, and Indy think it has the Ark in it. He could even make a "Top men" reference.
I would leave out the rocket sled. It is just too Loony Tunes. This could be replaced with a Raiders style convoy scene with Indy trying to steal the crate back. He could get pushed off the truck in the fake town.
I thought about saying that the bomb shouldn't even happen but I only wanted to change the feel of the scene not too much of the content. Instead I would change the way he survives it. Let's face it, a modern audience realizes there is no way to survive an atomic weapon. But, a '50s audience did not know this. That's why I would have had him Duck and Cover. I would have had him survive it by getting under a desk. Still makes no sense but in the warped '50s Cold War logic it worked.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Indy IV (Spoilers)

I have a feeling this is going to get me in trouble. I saw the new Jurrasic Park movie last night and was enjoying it, until I realized that it was an Indiana Jones movie. I hadn't fully formed my opinion by the time I left the theater but as I mulled it over the movie began to come apart. Regardless of whether it is an Indiana Jones movie, the movie still has to stand on its own as a movie. The bad:
  1. Extra Characters: There are just too damn many people wandering around here. Ray Winstone's character is completely useless and adds nothing to the movie that couldn't have been done better with a more dynamic villain. John Hurt's character takes the place of Indy's brain. Karen Allen seems to exist only for horrid exposition through dialogue. All of these people just clutter up the film. Indy is at his best working off one sidekick, whether it is his dad, Short Round, Salah, or Marion. In previous films they were always careful to remove one character from the action as they introduced another. Even in Last Crusade's tank chase scene there are really only two characters actually doing something Indy and Henry even though Salah and Marcus are present. Indy and Mutt are fun, and I thought the movie was at its best when it is just the two of them together early on.
  2. Fan Service: There is just too much of this. I will not list it all but the wedding was completely uncalled for. One little thing I liked: I believe that the town he was discussing in class was Skara Brae of Ultima/Bard's Tale fame. If I heard him correctly.
  3. Cheesy CGI: Please, don't do this anymore. The action scenes lack the weight of the original movies because of the CGI. Everything just feels overlit and floaty. Whether you should do something is at least as important as whether you can. Monkey scene=bad.
  4. Action Sequences: These lack the realism of the original movies, obviously plenty of physically impossible situations exist in the first three films but Indy's actual movements were always realistic. This is not Harrison Ford's fault. I have to say that he still is very convincing in a fist fight as Indiana Jones. The problem here is in the direction and the CGI.
  5. Horrible Exposition Through Dialogue: This is like Rule #1 of writing: You don't do it. It is done constantly throughout the movie, especially in the soulless exchanges between Marion and Indy. Their romance just suddenly flares up in minutes after he abandons her with a child! John Hurt's character exists only for exposition through dialogue and to serve as the Prima Strategy Guide that Indy reads to get through the movie.
  6. Superhuman Indy: What made Indiana Jones cooler than Luke Skywalker? He had no super powers. Well he does now. They have turned Indy into a cartoon character, he was always tough but now he is a rubber man, a cartoon. The thing with the atomic bomb and the fridge was not cool, it was silly. There is a difference.
  7. Bulletproof: The bad guys cannot hit anything.

The movie was at its best when it stuck to the things that made the others great:

  1. The Motorcycle Chase: This scene carries the weight of reality present in the earlier films. It also centers on the contributions of only two characters Indy and Mutt. It also has my favorite bit of acting in the whole movie. Mutt does something daring on the bike and gives Indy a cocky look, Indy fires back with the exact same unimpressed facial expression that Henry senior gave him in Last Crusade's bike scene. This works. Many of the other "we are like you and your dad" moments fall flat.
  2. The Warehouse: The fan service was completely uncalled for but the scene itself is one of the better action sequences in the movie. Indy's failed whip swing and "I thought that was closer" line are about as close to the Raiders Indy as you are going to get.
  3. The Plot: I actually liked the overall plot. You have to take it in the spirit it was intended though. The first three Indy movies were send-ups of '40s serials, this one is a send-up of '50s paranoia B movies. Keeping that in mind it works.

This movie owes more to Jurrasic Park and The Mummy than it does to the other Indy movies (which owe alot to North By Northwest). I think it was an error to turn this into a Disneyland ride were the action sequences are strung together willy nilly. Sadly there is plenty of plot there but they never seem to connect it to the action sequences in any meaningful way. Cate Blanchett's character is the weakest of the Indy villains because she is never developed in any way. The characters, other than Indy and Mutt, are really weak and their relationships seem to exist based on what the fans wanted to see rather than any logical train of thought. At the end of the day if you replaced Harrison Ford with Brenden Frasier this would have been the weakest of the Mummy movies (I am not counting The Scorpion King here).

Overall C-

Thursday, May 22, 2008

PoK Armor

Back in EQ1 land I got started on my PoK armor quests.

The first piece from Butcherblock went down easy, took about half an hour at the Chessboard to get it done.

The second piece (North Ro) took me all day. I had every kill, and item drop within the first 30 minutes except the Dune Tarantulas. It took me another 4 hours logged playtime to get them to spawn, with a lot of offline waiting in between. What is it with this game and giant spiders anyway? On the plus side I got to see the sand giants again and that makes me think of Fansy the Famous. And that makes me happy.

Age of Conan

I started Age of Conan with the guild from Fear the Boot on Tuesday night. Here are my first impressions:
Wow that is a lot of install/update time
OK, that's over with let's play the... not so fast! It never put an icon on my desktop. Ok there are a bunch to choose from here let's choose Age of Conan. A console comes up and nothing happens. OK, let's try patcher. I get an error message in which some of the characters are Chinese and none of them are Phoenician letters. No idea what that means. OK lets try the other patcher icon. It works!
Woops! spoke to soon. I can't see anything there is just sound. Ctrl-Alt-Del time, end process. Error message in Chinese again. And now I have only local network access not internet. This takes an hour and a half to resolve with Microsoft.
Looking at the AoC tech help forums I see that the game doesn't exactly work with ATI x series video cards. Pssssh! Who uses those anyway? Turns out you have to edit an .ini file to get the game to work. Sloppy, really sloppy guys. The x800 256 meg is a perfectly common card, how did you not know you would run into this? It's ATI for Christ's sake! What exactly did you do during Beta?
OK, it is up and running but it looks like crap. I spend a little while adjusting the settings and finally get it looking pretty good other than the shadows which look like Legos.
I make a character and immediatly exit back out to character creation to make an alt to reserve my names. Wait I didn't go back to character creation, I went all the way out of the game! I still haven't figured out how to get back to character select, if this is even possible.
Let's load up again. And I get the Chinese error. More time on the tech forums, turns out I have to delete some .ini files EVERY TIME I WANT TO START THE GAME! Who is running this show, Brad McQuaid?
So I get it back up and running again and finally start playing. First things first, the UI is crap. I prefer EQ1s UI to this. How do I add people to my friends list? Second I have to zone to enter a building. Let's talk about the games where I don't have to do this: EQ1, EQ2, WoW, EQOA, FFXI, UO... there is no excuse for this. There is no excuse when Turbine pulls it and none when you do either Funcom. It's lame. There isn't even anything inside the building and I have to zone.
The combat system is a bit of a let down. Yes, it is fun but once you adjust to the three attack buttons it is the same fun you have been having since you downloaded a fancy MUD client with buttons. It is hardly the promised revolution. Maybe it is better in PvP.
The enemy AI is, as expected, totally useless. We are talking DAoC Catacombs level stupid here. Guys just standing around with PULL ME signs. Oh well I guess PvP is supposed to be the focus, but still.
The world is a lot of fun, the character models are impressive and the quests are certainly more inspired than anyone else's other than LotRO and FFXI. The combat system is at least slightly more active than average. It is hard to tell how dynamic it is until I get into PvP since the mob AI is on the level of The Girls Next Door.
The game has a lot of potential and once I got playing it I had fun with the missions. The problem is, this was a shit launch guys. I know that it is way better than your last MMO launch but that was a long time ago. You are in a post LotRO launch world now. I wasn't too fond of LotRO but it worked when I put it in. I paid $49.99 for a box with the client in it, you need to support the video cards that you know you are going to run into on launch day. You need to not have to edit .ini files and delete files to get it to run. This is not acceptabe for something that came in a box. I had more trouble getting this to run than I did Vanguard...in Beta. Now, once I got it running it runs better than VG did but that is hardly something to be proud of. This is sloppy, careless work that quite frankly you should be ashamed of. It FUBAR'd my network settings, not acceptable.
The game is fun, there is a lot of potential and some good content here. I give it a 5/10 due to technical incompetence.

Unrest

Been sick so it took me a bit to get this up. I am writing this at work so screenshots will follow.

Ran around and collected two more pieces of my newbie armor before the Unrest run (these spiders almost never pop).

Got to Unrest at level 20 and made it to 23 (just shy of 24). I did not have a banner night, personally. At first it was just me and Sela (Tipa) and I got completely stun locked and dead on the first pull. Then I got stuck in the pool outside the mansion and had to be towed out with autofollow.

Once we got inside things went pretty smoothly and I got a gem to boost my stats off of one of Bjoern's dopplegangers.

Sadly Fada got creamed while we were in a hard to get to spot which put him out for most of the rest of the night. He went down fast, I started to cast Heal when he was at 84% and he was dead by the time it was done.

I used Lesser Succor for the first time. I had to memorize it while we were dying and kept getting hit. Sela (or someone) grabbed the mob that was hitting me long enough for me to get it off and as the screen faded I saw she was at 2% HP. I'll be shooting for 1% next time.

After that we regrouped with Fada and pulled from the lower level for the rest of the night.

Sometime early in the night I picked up a decent Belt that either Fada or I could use without realizing it while looting. I tried to get him to roll on it later but I am not sure he ever saw the message. I attached my gem to it but Fada if you want you are welcome to roll on it next Tuesday. Fair is fair.

After we finished up I managed to get my last piece of newbie armor and my scimitar!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Nostalgia the Guild does Paludal

Tonight our Tuesday progression group did Paldual Caverns. We managed to get from 15 to 20 with only one death.
Here you can see us resting up between battles Fada and Soaridor were mages, Sela is our guild leader's (Tipa) fearless halfling Paladin. I am Hakiko the Halfling druid and Tesser the Beasmaster rounded out our crew. We were killing quick and Sela was able to overpull all night, which made it more fun and kept us on our toes.





Sadly Fada got wacked when he got seperated from the group and jumped by some usavory types. Here he is in non-corpse version. We were able to get his corpse back to him and start pulling bandits for the rest of the night. Fada was dishing out some serious damage.








Sela was looking impressive in her shiny armor and pulled a constant stream of mobs all night long. She manages to walk tht fine line between too many mobs and a thrilling line of combat, always staying on top of mana.








Tesser was pulling triple duty, off tanking, off healing, and dishing out the pain with her tiger pet. She was on top of adds and kept her eye on the health bars ready to jump in if I got overwhelmed.

Soaridor showed real attention the many aspects of the mage job, grabbing the occaisonal mob that aggro'd me and doing a good job walking the hate line. I very rarely saw him draw aggro despite being very active, this is a good way to keep the healer happy.




As for me, I was just trying to keep up with these guys and not get anyone killed. I am pretty happy with my performance tonight. I had no runners get loose and only one death. I am getting more comforatable with my party role and finding that healing in EQ is a lot like healing in FFXI. Keep your eyes on the bars, check the scene every couple of secods, and get in a good, low aggro rythm with your heals. I still have a lot to learn especially about picking out what loot will sell. Eveyone else looted several plat worth of stuff over the course of he night. I was encumbered with an paltry 5 gold worth of junk.

Next week...Unrest.

Friday, May 9, 2008

I couldn't have said it better myself

Ironically this is like the devil preaching to the choir here. I am pretty sure that most of America (and certainly large chunks of my age group) not only agree with whay Klein is saying, but have in fact been saying it till they were blue in the face. Now if only he would follow his own advice.

By the way I would love Lincoln/Douglas style debates across the country from Obama/McCain. That is of course assuming there isn't a screwjob at the convention. It only takes one judge to cause Florida v America II, and last time I checked Michelle Obama hadn't appointed any.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Wierd ways that people get to my blog

Looking at my Traffic Sources there are a few that stand out:

Coming in at number 24 is "rambo burma femininst". Obviously this is from when I reviewed the new Rambo film. I just think it is odd that anyone was searching for Rambo+feminist

"Black Eagle Barony" Obviously this refers to the villains of the D+D Mystara setting. Good to know that people still search for them.

"savage dukes" Obviously this is refering to my writeup on Dr. Luke Meyer's excellent Savage Dukes of Hazard game at Fear the Con. I just wondering what the person searching for that unlikely combination was hoping to get.

"'lawful good' seven samurai" ... I have no idea

Hopefully all of these people found what they were looking for. I am dissapointed that there were no pornographic searches leading to my blog. I will have to try harder to work those in. Perhaps Hot Troll on Catwoman Action....

MMORPG.COM

There was a time when I was a regular poster on mmorpg.com. I posted several times a day and the site always had some kind of stimulating conversation about virtual worlds. It started to descend into "why did the devs nerf this?" territory and then took the full plunge into cross game flame wars.

I checked it out today to see if they had cleaned it up any and found this as the top post. I admit that I did not read far into the post, I only needed a few "No you FAIL" comments to see how things were going. It is sad that my once favorite message board is now cluttered with this junk. Obviously there were always flame wars and trolls but by the time I left it was completely out of hand.

It is a shame they haven't started some real moderation over there to clean it up. I do wonder if Gameloading is still around. He could get a bit flamey from time to time but was overall a breath of fresh air when it came to Korean game discussion.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Befallen

The Tuesday Night Progression group for Nostalgia the Guild had its first run last night in Befallen. Overall it was a success. I went from level 10-15 and we only wiped 4 times. We did not have a rogue so every time we died we had to get the key to get back down to our corpses, although later on Tipa brought out her higher level cleric to go grab the corpses. I know that this sort of game play is supposed to be dated and hated but honestly it is just plain more fun when there is a little bit of danger involved.

I may have caused some of our early deaths due to my n00bness on druid and my overall out of shape situation in EQ. Little things like not running past living necros when you are invisible to undead, and remembering to root the last mob. Fortunately I did remember how to heal correctly and did not embarrass myself by running around like a chicken with my head cut off when I drew aggro.

Next week we go to the moon and Paludal Caverns, a zone I have never been to before so I am looking forward to it.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Giant Spider Meet Your Doom

After being out of down in a hotel I couldn't get a good connection in, I managed to get some EQ in tonight. Found and killed two Giant Wood Spiders and got the drops I needed to make my Moss Toe Tunic. These spiders are a pain in the ass with their slow spawning.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Return to EQ


I made my return to Everquest this week when I joined Tipa's Nostalgia the Guild. So far I am having a blast with my halfling druid Hakiko on Luclin. I got through the tutorial with some help from some of my new guild mates. This was the first time I ever did the new tutorial all the way through and it ends in a pretty impressive bang.
This is a pretty cool mob to down at level 10 for EQ.

After leaving the tutorial I started work on my Newbie Armor quests and got the Moss Toe Cap, Gloves, and Bracers finished. I am finding the drop rate to be much higher on these quests than it has been in the past when I did them. I got all of the rat furs in about half an hour, all of the Large Wood Spider parts in three kills and I am getting a steady supply of Spiderling Silks. The only problem I seem to be having is with the Giant Wood Spiders, the one time I killed one I got three of the drops I needed. The problem is I cannot seem to find one again. There only seems to be one in the whole zone, and it does not seem to spawn often. I have been messing around to see if there is a placeholder I have to kill to spawn it, but haven't had much luck.

I also grabbed my Warg reward from the expansion. This thing is great! It seems to increase my mana regen and is a lot of fun just to ride around on.

Friday, March 28, 2008

WAR

I have had a hard time reading up on the Warhammer MMO. For some reason none of the press releases, preview articles, or sneak peeks have been able to hold my attention so far. The writing always seems cheesy or the subject matter boring. I have not found the videos released so far to be all that enjoyable to watch either. This is odd because I love MMOs and I also love Warhammer. Finally there is an article that I enjoy reading over on IGN. It is a description of the path an Empire army will take to sack a Chaos city. It has me pretty fired up for the game. Here it is.

Cool Gamebook Site

I found out about the Fighting Fantasy gamebook site while reading GameSetWatch this morning.
You can find the site and register here.
After you register you can check out a cool article on writing gamebooks here.

Monday, March 17, 2008

4th Edition Thoughts

I am conflicted about the 4th edition of Dungeon and Dragons. I am a long time D&D player, as near as I can figure I have been playing for about 20 years (maybe a little more). During this time I have seen several different versions of the game and I have branched out to many other games. D&D has been a mainstay during this whole period even though at different times other games have been featured front and center.

You won't be reading that I think the whole thing is a sell out and a money grab. It is time for a new edition. It is time in the sense that 3.X is nearing a decade old, and it is time in the sense that the cracks have been showing for a while and are starting to widen.

First edition was a mess, a fun mess, but a mess none the less. There really isn't much more to say about it. The rulebooks were disorganized and chaotic, the modules were all over the place with no real overall sense of theme and setting. This was great for the time, as they were still defining what a fantasy RPG was. In a way D&D was helping to define what generic fantasy was. It brought together many different kinds of fantasy and melded them into a whole. Obviously The Lord of the Rings had a huge impact on D&D but it flows both ways. If the LotR movies had been made in the early 80s they may have looked very different than they do now (and not just because of technology). D&D has had a profound impact on the way we imagine what fantasy objects look like.

Second edition was in much better shape, but was still pretty rough. The spell descriptions were god awful from a gameplay standpoint. They were often vague and easy to exploit, leading to many arguments at the table. Second edition was in many ways all about the role playing part of the game. There was a lot of feel even to the core rulebooks, and there were boxes and boxes of setting information. It was here that generic fantasy was really codified, it was Dark Ages England, France, and Germany with magical powers and monsters grafted on. It was a lot of fun. Some of the settings were hard to tell apart. Honestly, Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Greyhawk, Mystara, and Birthright could have been different continents on the same world. Dark Sun was different and darker and Spelljammer was a great idea ruined by early 90s camp. Planescape and Ravenloft were different and very well done. I have little experience with Council of Wyrms.

By the end of the edition the weak links were obvious. There were too many systems that were too much alike, and many of the ones that were different (Dark Sun) made heavy changes to the rules. The rules were too chaotic and confusing to start with.

Overlapping first and second edition was the D&D Basic Game. This is my favorite edition of D&D. The rules were pretty clear and easy to use. It played quick so that it actually felt like the pulp fantasy adventures that GG had been reading when he made the game. The other editions had drifted towards LotR inspired epic fantasy, which is fun, but it was weighing down the rules and frankly the powers that the characters had in those kinds of books were not very fun powers game wise. The default setting for the Basic D&D game was completely generic fantasy (Mystara in 2nd edition) but it managed to hold to the sword and sorcery feel a bit more. The Grand Duchy of Karameikos was loosly ruled with towns separated by dark dangerous wilderness. The Black Eagle Barony was not some secret cabal of demi-gods it was a harsh baron. As you grew in power you hit on other real world inspired locations and the cool Isle of Dread.

Third edition came with major rule revisions and not always for the best. The rules were much better organized and much better balanced then ever before. However, the game had a board game feel to it that it had never had before, and not just because miniature use increased. The whole style of the game played more to the munchkin set. Combats took a very long time and were often reduced to "I hit, you miss, I miss, you hit" affairs. Every effect was well defined, which was good, and every action that could cause an effect was defined, which was not so good. The first removed some of the ambiguity from the rules that second edition had. The second made it feel like you were playing in a straightjacket. When your turn came up you had a limited number of things you could do, and you picked one. There was very little room for off the cuff actions and improvisation.

Another problem in third edition was that the definition of generic fantasy started to get boring. There were a lot of logic errors in the cosmology and alignment system that started to show and the rigidness of sticking to real world history with magic grafted on was really constraining. Eberron was a bit of a change but not really enough.

My third edition days are over. I had not really been using it for a while. I preferred the two alternate players handbooks put out by Monte Cook (especially Iron Heroes by Mike Mearls). I fiddled around with the Everquest RPG but mostly I just went sci-fi and stuck with GURPS. Recently, at Fear the Con, I played in my first Savage Worlds games. Savage Worlds is a pulp action game that is very faced paced, rules light, but stays out of the way of player improvisation and fun. The whole time I was playing, I was reminded of Basic D&D. When I got home I grabbed the Fantasy Toolkits and quickly converted my upcoming D&D game to Savage Worlds. I'll talk more about the game in an upcoming post, but it went very well.

This brings me to 4th edition and the potential it has. Through their many communications with the fans the designers has claimed that they want to make play faster, more fun, easier on the DM and with more options. If they can pull this off in a way similar to Savage Worlds, they will be in good shape. However, they need to do this without "dumbing down" the game. My biggest fear is that it will become even more board game like than 3rd edition. There have been some things released that have hinted that this might be the case.

On the other hand, there have also been some really exciting things released:
  1. Nothing is sacred: They are shaking up the cosmology, the overly constrained settings, the way magic and player powers work, even the way healing works.
  2. They have put a lot of thought into how they want generic fantasy to be defined by this edition and it looks like guys like Rich Baker have decided to run with the ball. The overall feel could have more in common with the Grand Duchy of Karameikos and Fritz Leiber than with Elminster and the shire. I like the sound of the points of light surrounded by darkness.
  3. Mike Mearls. Iron Heroes was, in many ways, the game third edition should have been. In my opinion he is the best designer of d20 variants out there.
  4. Integration of computer based tool sets from the beginning. This will make the DM's job much easier.
I really like the things they are saying about changing the feel of the setting it is more in line with what I enjoy. I am concerned and excited about the rules changes. If they can streamline the game while opening it up to player creativity I am in. If they make it more Hero Quest like and force you into preset "best" builds for each class... well I already found a system that does D&D better than 3.x.

Rocketship Empires

OK so I have read all the way through the first three Rocketship Empires books and I am impressed. The core book is awesome, just overflowing with fun gameplay ideas and cool setting. The Gunslinger Betty is one of the most in depth, single subject sourcebooks I have ever read. The whole thing is on one plane and he even gives diagrams and pictures from a real B-25. With this much information players can make meaningful repair decisions instead of just a bland roll. In Fury Triumphant does a good job of laying out the Spanish Civil War in space and really sets things up for the upcoming adventure module.

Even as I finished reading those three the next book, Starship Compendium, dropped. I tell you the man is a machine. I will be reading this one this week.

There is a little bit of strangeness with the setting though. It is obvious that it is meant to be pulp action, fast and loose. However the ships cry out for a high level of fidelity in the rules system. A lot of time has been spent to offer many, many awesome ship options. A rule system like Savage Worlds would be perfect for everything outside of the ships. The problem is that Savage Worlds, and similar systems, does not offer the granularity to distinguish between all the different ship options. Also skill consolidation in these kinds of systems means that you will have blanket repair and piloting rolls, when the setting supports many more choices.

Obviously this is not a deal killer, people who use Savage Worlds probably are not looking for tiny differences in ships so they can just gloss it over. The ship creation setup in the books will make it mesh nicely with GURPS, Hero System etc. The problem is that the out of ship parts of the setting do not go into this level of detail (yet). It is more just an annoyance with the continuity of level of detail than an actual complaint.

There is some spelling and layout ugliness but it is not too bad, and I know from reading the forums that he is working hard to eliminate this from future books. One of my main complaints is organizational. The books read great. As you read through the setting he fills you in on bits and pieces of how things work and then jumps back to the setting. While this is a fun way to read it, it will be hell when I need to find something. Information on related subjects really need to be together. Since the book is systemless I can understand the desire to make it a smooth read, but at least there should be a solid index.

These are nitpicks, as he develops his style more I am sure that all of this will be smoothed out. These books are all very, very good. The setting looks like a blast and I cannot wait to play a game in it.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Which MMO would I unmake

Tipa posted another one of her great question posts today. This time she asks if we could erase one MMO which one would it be? See her full post here. She wants to unmake Dungeons and Dragons because she feels like it forced stat heavy MMOs on us and killed creativity. I share her frustration with ExelMOs but disagree about why we have them.
Because the players had to roll the dice and the DM had to figure the results himself the numbers had to be upfront in D+D. Players had to know how much damage they did and how many hitpoints they had left.
The same was true of many of the early computer RPGs. To know how many hitpoints they had left because there was no way to represent it graphically. However these days are gone. There is absolutely no reason for this anymore. Computers can give us qualitative clues to our condition instead of quantitative information. Allowing the players to know their exact strength and damage is, first of all, unrealistic and, second, counterproductive. By supplying large amounts of quantitative data to players we signal that numbers are the most important thing. We give players the ability to parse their performance and the performance of others and determine the "best possible path".
I think the main problem with MMOs is that players should not have all this numerical data, they do not need it and it is couter-immersive. They are always going to be numbers games due to the fact that they are computer games and this is the way computers do things. Even if we distill it down to whether or not they have a skill it is still a numbers game either you have a 1 in the skill or a zero. There are really no good ways to do combat in an interesting fashion without the numbers to some extent. But the players don't need to see the numbers. We can leave them guessing. Street Fighter has numerical values for its health and attacks but we are barely aware of them and it is far more immersive for it.
I think the other major problem with MMOs has nothing to do with their roots in D+D but the solution comes straight from D+D. The problem with MMOs isn't that they are like D+D it's how they are unlike D+D. They are like one of the cheap boardgame knockoffs that have cropped up over the years with a limited number of scenarios. MMOs can't make everyone feel like a hero because the designers cannot make enough content for everyone to have their own personal moment of glory. Computer generated content of real quality is still too far off. The answer is to do what made D+D so successful: player generated content.
There are many ways to do this, the obvious one is to allow players to build dungeons and make quests themselves. But other MMOs have been utilizing player generated content without givng content creation tools to the players. Games like EVE and UO managed to harness the actions of the player community with complex systems to continually generate things for the players to do.

So what MMO would I erase? One of my favorites: Everquest Why? It set the standard for putting the numbers up front.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Saw this test on West Karana

I Am A: Lawful Good Human /Sorcerer (3rd/2nd Level)


Ability Scores:

Strength-15

Dexterity-14

Constitution-12

Intelligence-16

Wisdom-13

Charisma-14


Alignment:
Lawful Good A lawful good character acts as a good person is expected or required to act. He combines a commitment to oppose evil with the discipline to fight relentlessly. He tells the truth, keeps his word, helps those in need, and speaks out against injustice. A lawful good character hates to see the guilty go unpunished. Lawful good is the best alignment you can be because it combines honor and compassion. However, lawful good can be a dangerous alignment because it restricts freedom and criminalizes self-interest.


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


Primary Class:
Monks are versatile warriors skilled at fighting without weapons or armor. Good-aligned monks serve as protectors of the people, while evil monks make ideal spies and assassins. Though they don't cast spells, monks channel a subtle energy, called ki. This energy allows them to perform amazing feats, such as healing themselves, catching arrows in flight, and dodging blows with lightning speed. Their mundane and ki-based abilities grow with experience, granting them more power over themselves and their environment. Monks suffer unique penalties to their abilities if they wear armor, as doing so violates their rigid oath. A monk wearing armor loses their Wisdom and level based armor class bonuses, their movement speed, and their additional unarmed attacks per round.


Secondary Class:
Sorcerers are arcane spellcasters who manipulate magic energy with imagination and talent rather than studious discipline. They have no books, no mentors, no theories just raw power that they direct at will. Sorcerers know fewer spells than wizards do and acquire them more slowly, but they can cast individual spells more often and have no need to prepare their incantations ahead of time. Also unlike wizards, sorcerers cannot specialize in a school of magic. Since sorcerers gain their powers without undergoing the years of rigorous study that wizards go through, they have more time to learn fighting skills and are proficient with simple weapons. Charisma is very important for sorcerers; the higher their value in this ability, the higher the spell level they can cast.


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

No Videogames

I have not had a chance to play any video games for quite some time. I have been able to keep up with my tabletop gaming, in fact I have too many projects going at once on that front.
  1. Introduction to Spelljammer 2nd edition game that my players have been requesting. After this weekend at FtC I am seriously considering converting the whole mess over to Savage Worlds. I have a feeling it will work much better. The game has not even started yet and my players are already asking me about ways to exploit the rules regarding various spells in 2nd edition (damn invisible servant). I will be converting an island chain campaign I made but never used over to asteroids and small moons.
  2. My own Star Wars d6 campaign that I will be running on the weekends that Chris cannot make it to our games. This is an alternate universe where Luke Skywalker died on the Death Star in RotJ and Mace Windu lived through his fall and is in hiding. The New Jedi Order, run by Leia, is in a struggle with Jedi Knights trained by Mace Windu over the very meaning of what it means to be a Jedi. The New Jedi Order tends to stick to Yoda style elitism and prophecies while the Windu faction is less strict.
  3. Traveller: A History Phase 3, this section will take place a few years after the launch of the Generation Ship Pometheus. It will cover the adventures of the crew of the Starleaper Two, mankind's first FTL exploration mission. I am planning on having many different political factions on the ship with different agendas, kind of like if the West Wing was set on the original Enterprise. I am planning on somewhere between 5 and 10 missions for this campaign.
  4. I have to get an adventure ready to run for Swords and Steel a rules system by fellow 'booter The Scribbler that I am dying to try out. It is a planetary romance game and I am thinking about doing a take on either Herland or The Seven Samurai. The Seven Samurai is without a doubt the most useful movie to steal from for games. I ran 3 different games ripped off from it in one weekend for the same group and they never realized it.
  5. I am working on several rules conversions for Rocketship Empires, a super cool WWII in space systemless setting. I am looking at GURPS, Savage Worlds, and Classic Traveller for now but will probably do more later. I want to post them so people can play this game that I will be shamelessly plugging at every chance. I already have an idea for how to do an adventure based on The Bridge On The River Kwai when the war gets to that point in the game.
  6. I would love to get a Battlestations game in again soon.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Fear the Con

OK, I just got back from Fear the Con last night. For those of you who do not know Fear the Con is a gaming convention based around the Fear the Boot podcast. I have done the big cons before but this was my first ever small con (approx 100 people). What follows is random thoughts on my trip. They will be confusing to people who were not there and even more confusing to people who are not on the FtB forums.

W3N4
I had a great time at this event. Highlights were meeting Unknown_Scholar and his wife Elizabeth. Hopefully we can get some Battletech going in the GA/SC area some time. Hanging out with Mike, RobJustice and Duke. Evidently I look like Henry Rollins. Meeting Chris and Tim from Wisconsin. Talking with Christian and Ardent Finder. Meeting Tony the Pimp of the Internet. He got this name because the whole internet seems to know him, this is because he is a really nice guy. Martian_Bob and GrungyDan at the dirty joke session. Meeting Phil, bringer of all things Stargate. Meeting Matt from FtB and talking gaming.

The Con
This was the most fun I have ever had at a con. 12 straight hours of gaming bliss. All of it Savage Worlds and all of it distinct. Tony was bringing around fruit, which was a stroke of genius. I got a chance to sit with Ardent Finder, Christian, and Ghostrunner and talk jobs and computer programming (I have forgotten the other guys name who was sitting there he was a 3D map maker and cool). I was in every game with a guy named Adam (forum name is like El Rav Delux?) and doubled up several times with guys like Omaejel and Mike Flynn (Mad Mike?).

Savage Dukes of Hazard
The premise was that Boss Hogg sells the Duke boys souls to the devil and we have to race to the courthouse to stop them. This was just pure two-fisted joy. I played Daisy and was allowed to use my feminine charms to stun the bad guys, this was GM genius on Luke's part to make sure the wacky character had something to do in combat. The whole thing climaxed with a crazy General Lee jump and a brawl with a giant pig riding devil who could shoot lightning from his heavy metal hands.

Savage Warcraft vs. Sims
This was John's humor game and it was a blast. I played a goblin with a bomb strapped to my back that I could not remove. The premise was that we went through a portal and found ourselves in the game The Sims. We had to scale the Sim Tower and defeat Will Wright. This is how comedy RPGs should be done. The combat was still fun, it was the world itself that was silly. The characters were all interesting (there was a two headed ogre played by two different players).

Danverse
My last game of the day was run by Dan. It was a far more serious game than the other two and was far closer to my preferred play style. Very few shots were fired and there was much intrigue to be had. It was set in a universe of Dan's creation that showed a lot of depth. A perfect was to cap off the night.

Savage Worlds
This was my first time playing in a Savage Worlds game, and all three games used the system. I am, at heart, a crunchy simulationist so I was concerned that this bare-bones system would no hold up with repeated play in different styles. Boy, was I wrong. All three games had a very different feel to them. I was most impressed with Savage World's ability to cover all the possibilities in Dan's game (and of course Dan's ability to pull it off). I don't know that I would use it for most of my games, I prefer the level of skill fidelity offered by GURPS for my less combat centered games. Also I am not sure how you could distinguish between many different types of ships/guns/vehicles with Savage Worlds either. That said, for my more pulp action games this will be my system of choice... I may stop using D+D for fantasy, there I said it, I may never use it again. Also this is the perfect convention gaming system because there is very little room in the rules for argument, they are that clear. I am converted to your cult Luke.

Tony Pimp of the Internet
I got a chance to talk to him a couple of times over the weekend and I cannot stress enough how nice this guy is. Also he seems very charity minded, he was selling a short story collection for charity and then went and donated the left over fruit from the con to charity. I purchased his Toasted Ravioli short story collection and very much enjoyed the story he wrote. Also he has multiple podcasts about movies and loosing weight (Fanboy Smackdown, Tony's Losing It, Scifi Smackdown)

The people who made it possible
This weekend was a great break for me so thank you to all the people who worked to get Fear the Con going. Carla, Stacey, Dan, Luke, Matt, Chad, John, Tony, I know I saw Mike and Omaejel's wife working the desk and others I am not thinking about. Also thanks to the the random drunk guy.

Downsides
Not a lot of these. St Louis airport is a pain in the ass. Our flight attendant forgot her ID so the flight home was delayed for two hours. I have no idea how there is no system in place for this. It took 30 minutes to get a hamburger from the Chilis there too. Sadly Adam is no longer with the podcast so I did not get a chance to meet him, hopefully next time or at GenCon. The only other down side was it wasn't longer, and really that is a pretty good downside to have.

DMing
Next year I will be. This was exactly the type of place I would like to run a game. And the type of people I like to run for.

$500
This is what it cost me, grand total for the trip. It was worth every cent. It has been a long, frustrating couple of months and this was the perfect break, just what I needed. I probably got less total fun from my Xbox than from this con. If you get the chance to go next year...GO!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Gary Gygax

I cannot confirm this, but it appears that Gary Gygax, creator of Dungeons and Dragons, passed away last night.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ship designs

Been working on my ship designs for my pen and paper games. Here

Friday, February 15, 2008

1up has a feature look at Phantasy Star and a Retronauts episode dedicated to it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tabletop gaming update

Those of you interested in my classic tabletop gaming can find my writeup on my West End Games Star Wars campaign here. I will also be posting updates on my GURPS Traveller campaign design (no spoilers) as it moves into its third phase: Starleaper Two. Since there are only a few people interested in this I will just note updates here not reprint them.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Stargate

OK, I have really enjoyed Stargate. Thanks again to the guys at Insert Coin Live for recommending it. I really thought it would be something very different. It is right up my alley. It reminds me a lot of the original Star Trek series where science fiction writers used the episodic exploration premise to explore different sci-fi stories every week. While Stargate does have some overplot it is not a soap opera. It is also far less militant than I feared. I worried it would turn out to be "kill everything on the blue planet, next week we conquer the red planet". I am just wrapping up the first season now and will be watching the second for sure. Hopefully it holds up.

They often explore things from a scientific point of view rather than a save the captured blond chick point of view. There is a larger plot involving the rescue of Daniel's wife and a kid named Scar. They do manage to make progress on this every few episodes. They find some clue, or a hint of a way to remove the parasites.

One thing they do that I like is the low number of alien species. They seem to save non-human characters to explore new topics, forgoing the cliched aliens as race/gender metaphor. They actually use humans for this.

Early on there was a little bit of rescue the captured blond female team member but they seemed to get past that quickly. One thing I am surprised by is that there is some nudity. I was not expecting this from a TV show.

Rantings of a Cranky Old Nerd

One of my friends from grade school has started a video game blog. So far she has done some cool write-ups on the Castlevania series, including untangling the spaghetti that is Castlevania lore.
You can find it here.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Fang and Stargate

Due to some personal life drama I just have not been all that motivated to really play WoW this week. I did manage to get a couple of hours in with the Fang and I have to say that overall I enjoy it and as my physical memory adapts to it I am sure I will enjoy it more. I managed to watch the pilot and the first episode of Stargate and really enjoyed it. My fears that there was no way to continue it past the movie without corniness were unfounded. It looks like they have left it open for character development and homefront drama. Hopefully it will not become "hey this week we are on the ice planet". If it stays good I may be enjoying it and some Stephen Colbert flavored ice cream for the next few weeks.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Fang Gamepad

I got a Fang Gamepad the other night and I will be test driving it with WoW tonight. I am pretty excited about it because I have recently changed my play style. I used to play sitting at my desktop but right before the holidays I got a new laptop. Now I play laying on the couch with the laptop sitting on the coffee table.
I bought a trackball because the mouse was unwieldy in this situation, I had been reaching across and using WASD with my left hand but now I can increase my laziness and situate the Fang on my lap next to the trackball.
I will post a double review tomorrow. Part 1 will cover the Fang pad, part 2 will cover the Stargate DVDs I will be watching while I play thanks to the suggestions of the guys at Insert Coin Live

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

No Street Fighter II for Greenville

I have been reading everything I can about the upcoming Street Fighter IV. I never got into Street Fighter III in a big way, I was mildly proficient in it. Street Fighter II, however, was the badge of honor for people exactly the right age to have an Ugly Kid Joe T-Shirt. So, I am really looking forward to Street Fighter IV and have been getting itchy to play the original again (original, of course, actually refers to II because no one wants to play Street Fighter I).
For those of us who were better than OK at Street Fighter II there are certain primitive tools that are completely inappropriate for use with the game. In order to really enjoy the game you have to have the proper type of controller. I would begin my quest for an arcade fighting stick for any home console I have (I have all three Playstations, the first Xbox, and the Wii).
First I was able to track down the game with relative ease. I grabbed two different Street Fighter anthologies, one Alpha and one regular, and an overall Capcom Fighting anthology for under $30 total spent. I was encouraged because this was the first store I went to and I got all three. All were PS2 games, so I needed a fighting stick for PS2 or, preferably PS3. I asked the Gamestop employee if they had arcade sticks and he said they did not but I should be able to find them in almost any store selling video games. I set out for the next closest store, Best Buy.

After wandering around Best Buy for 20 minutes (confusingly they keep some console controllers by the PC games in the back) I found someone who would admit to working in the video game section and asked him for arcade stick controllers, like you would use with a fighting game. He had no idea what I was talking about. Finally after a bunch of pantomime a lightbulb went off as he remembered playing a game with one when he was "little". He said they did not have them but he thought that Circuit City had more of that kind of thing.

I could not find any in Circuit City, I also could not find anyone who admitted to working in the video game section. I have no idea what they do when a confused parent comes in wanting to buy "a rewinder for my son's Atari tapes" and mean a Wii (trust me, I have been in Gamestop when this happened). It was off to the slightly better Gamestop at the mall.

I couldn't get anyone's attention at the mall Gamestop, they were all playing Wii. Finally a guy my age, also wandering around, asked me if there was any Guitar Hero with Van Halen's "Right Now" on it (this is how I knew he was my age). He immediately knew what an arcade fighting stick was and pointed me to Toys 'R Us.

My conversation with a Toys 'R Us game expert:

Scene: A Toys 'R Us game section. It is separated from the rest of the store by fortress like security detectors and walls. Ironically, everything in it is locked up in a case. It is inhabited by future airport security workers, obviously serving as training.

Me: Excuse me, I am looking for arcade style controllers for the PS2 or, preferably the PS3.

TSA guy: What do you mean?

Me: You know, a joystick with a bunch of buttons on a board, like you would use to play Street Fighter.

TSA guy: Oh, I never played Street Fighter

Me: Virtual Fighter?

It is important that the TSA guy does not change his facial expression here.

Me: Tekken?

Blank stare from the TSA guy

Me: How about Dead or Alive? It has boobies.

TSA guy: The volleyball game?

Me: Yeah...no. It looks like a joystick with 6 or 8 buttons alongside it. It may also have a picture of a ninja or hot chick on it.

TSA guy: Oh, we have those....over in the Lego section.

Scene: This should all be one shot, the camera should follow the characters to the Lego section. Should be shot in guerrilla "Cloverfield" style.

TSA guy: Yup, here you go.

The TSA guy produces a wall full of these


Fade to black as stabbing SFX from Psycho plays.















This is a sad day my friends. The world is now almost overrun with people who have never quartered up, never sipped on Orange Julius in a Jersey mall waiting to take down the guy who has been cheap shotting everyone with Guile. They haven't had gum stuck to their Converse hightops with GNR written in whiteout on the side. I don't know what they do actually. As near as I can tell they roll around on shoes with wheels in them and call each other "homo" on Halo. You never called someone "homo" while playing Street Fighter II, they could punch you for real. However, I do have hazy memories of people with wheels on their shoes from my early childhood.

Yup, this whole post was just me bitching about not being able to play a 17 year old game without ordering something from the internet. It is also a bad roller disco joke. Now you kids get off my lawn!

Monday, February 4, 2008

A ninth reason to hate The Hero's Journey

io9 posted eight reasons why the Hero's Journey sucks. While I do not necessarily agree with all their reasons, or even with the statement that it "sucks", I do have my own bone to pick with Campbell. The Hero's Journey is often elitist and undemocratic.

For the most part the Hero's Journey requires there be something special about the hero. They are freaks of nature, or mutants, or most insulting: born and destined to rule. Luke Skywalker is stronger in the force than almost everyone else, Anakin Skywalker has more bugs in his blood than everyone else and is the product of immaculate conception to boot, Jesus is the son of God, Rand is destined by prophecy to be the Dragon Reborn, Taran is destined to be the High King by birth, Gandalf and Aragorn have all kinds of destiny and superhuman wackiness going on. These stories all assert (I am going to argue with myself in a second, stick with me) that there are certain people who are just born better than the rest of us, they are destined to rule us and decide our fate, we do not really get a say in our own future because we cannot compete with them. Comic book superheroes are the best (worst) example.

This is not an original thought or realization on my part, David Brin for example, has written along these same lines. Why do so many of our stories feature these supermen? Why do we construct myths that tell us, contrary to our cultural values, that there is a divine right of kings? Is it really hardwired into us, like Campbell says? If it is how do you explain other writings that appeal to many of the people reading this, like say the U.S. Constitution or Marx? Maybe so many of our stories are still like this because our whole form of storytelling is built up around it. Not because of some internal need but because of the conditions under which man's earliest stories were written. Throughout most of history man was ruled by people who claimed they had the divine right to do so. These were not people claiming to be slightly wiser, or a little bit stronger than the rest of us; these people claimed that they were destined by god, the force of history, or magical comets to rule over everyone else. They were not first amongst equals, they were a race unto themselves. How could they stories from that time have served anything but this notion, especially when those in control were often the only ones who could write things down?

The argument can be made that in fact the stories I listed do not promote rule by elites, you could argue that they in fact attempt to subvert that very idea. Jesus may be God's son but he is raised by a carpenter. Anakin was a former slave. Rand came from a poor farming village. Taran was an assistant pig keeper. The Lord of the Rings wasn't really about Aragorn and Gandolf it was about common hobbits. Luke fought against the rule of elites by disregarding the pontifications of crazy old Yoda time after time. I would argue that all of these are a stretch at best, because at the end of the day all of these characters still possessed either powers, or destiny that the rest of the world did not have. Even the hobbits have the power to resist the ring that humans do not, a regular human could not have gotten the job done.

You can also argue that the values present in the Hero's Journey are embraced by western societies like the U.S. Well over half of this country believes that Jesus is the son of God and the king of man (I am not arguing this fact, just pointing it out). Subscribers to Milton Friedman want to limit the control of democratically elected governments (especially dispersed forms like legislature) putting more power in the hands of private corporations run by economic elites. Many Marxist societies (the U.S.S.R.) have based their government on a small circle of elites competing amongst themselves for the direction of the government.

Blah, blah, blah, what does this have to do with MMOs?

This thought process has infected our games, and may be getting in the way of more fun. We believe that competition to sort out who is elite and who is not is the natural order of things and design our games that way. Games are designed to facilitate competition between everyone. Even when there are cooperative elements (like PvP sides, or guilds) they are always designed to foster the vomit inducing, corporate buzz word coopertition (yep, spell check say "Not a word"). I personally feel that this has gotten even worse as the MMO has "evolved", WoW is all about the e-peen and MMOs are now completely over-parsed to find out who is putting out the highest DPS. ery often the foundations of teamwork are thrown out the window to compete for the top damage spot. Things like the Armory and actually displaying a numerical value for your damage only encourage this.

Is there a viable alternative though? Hasn't competition proven to be superior and the way of the future? How can cooperation be fun?

Cooperation is a viable alternative. I realized this recently while reading Susan Faludi's excellent book Stiffed. In the book she explores how masculinity in America has changed since World War II. She makes some very strong, well supported arguments that humans (men in the book) have a deep need to contribute in a meaningful way to the whole. That men fulfill their feminine side by nurturing society in the form of their country, military unit, or even football team. She also argues that the current competition bent in western society is undermining men's ability to fell fulfilled. They often express this need through things as simple as a high school football team booster club.

That was an example from, well women's studies of all places (I may be placing my far from feminist claim in danger here with my intellectual crush on Miss Faludi). But I can hear the echo of Tipa's comment from my sci-fi post here "All of this high minded stuff is great but how will it be fun?" you are all asking? Cooperation is fun, and cooperative games are often the most fun kind. One of the most fun board games in the last few years is Arkham Horror from Fantasy Flight Games. In this game a whole bunch of players cooperate to defeat an Elder God. We have played this a whole bunch of times and it wasn't until the last time that I even realized there was one paragraph of rules to determine who had done the best over the course of the game. We decided not to use it because it might ruin the game.

Finally the game that the whole idea of an MMORPG is based on is cooperative. In Dungeons and Dragons there is a team effort by the players and the dungeon master to have a good time, and tell a good story. Anyone who has every played in a game where the DM competes with the players can tell you that it sucks.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sci-Fi MMOs and Star Trek

There has been a lot of talk about what form the Star Trek MMO might take over the last few weeks. I noticed it as a topic on Elder Game, Ancient Gaming Noob and West Karana at least. I planned to discuss what form I would like to see a Star Trek MMO take and as a set up I wanted to expand on my earlier comments on sci-fi. Well my expanding got quite.....expansive so I'll leave the Star Trek specific discussion for a later post.

I'll be raising some questions about sci-fi and MMOs. I will not be attempting to answer them.

What kind of issues could sci-fi in an MMO be used to address:

  1. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank: The New Deal, the Marshall Plan, and the Keynesian economics they were based on were a product of the tension between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Large corporations and governments were forced to strike a compromise with labor because of the threat of radicalization. Without the Soviet counterweight, laissez-faire capitalism has reigned as envisioned by economists like Milton Friedman. This counter-revolution has been spearheaded by Chicago School insiders in the IMF and the World Bank with their refusal to grant debt relief and new loans unless countries lower perceived trade barriers. Take Star Trek as an example here, what has happened with the end of Klingon-Federation conflict? What social bargains forged in the light of that conflict have been eroded? Who has taken advantage? What is a good metaphor for this kind of situation?
  2. Group Think: Many people are concerned that things like Youtube, wikipedia, and Myspace will lead to group think instead of independently driven opinions. In a future setting the availability of this outlets and the number of people participating in them will have increased exponentially. Did these kinds of sites lead to group think? Was this a good or bad thing? If it was a good thing what were its benefits? If it was bad were controls placed on it? Is there an interesting metaphor for this in science fiction?
  3. Illegal Immigration: We are not the only country dealing with this issue. Right now there are thousands of Palestinians crossing the border into Egypt on TV. What kind of metaphor can a science fiction MMO draw up for this? This could easily tie into the first topic.
  4. Virtual Property: The very idea and nature of MMOs should be up for discussion in a science fiction MMO. Surely things like replicators can be used in a way to look into the issues surrounding ownership of virtual property. Is there a good metaphor for gold selling? Could we have a virtual economy existing inside the virtual economy of an MMO? What would the implications of a capitalist virtual economy existing inside of a socialist real economy be?
  5. Terrorism: What causes people to resort to terrorism? Is it anomie? Do expectations placed on the individual by society exceed their ability to accomplish them by legitimate means? Are they out of reach even by illegitimate means? What does a person do when faced with this? Or are some people just evil, a bad seed? Will it always be impossible to stop people from engaging in terrorism because there is some kind of spiritual or genetic flaw? Is it possible in an MMO to construct economies/situations in which players find themselves resorting to terrorism? Perhaps even suicidal terrorism in an MMO with permanent death? Will other players see them as a hero?
Another question is, can a participatory metaphor even work on an MMO scale? Can a participatory metaphor work well at all? If we cannot have a good meaningful interactive form of metaphor can games ever truly be art?
If we are going to have science fiction MMOs lets actually use them to explore issues the way that good written sci-fi has done. Fantasy works well for fulfilling hero/achievement myths, it is silly to re-skin them with spaceships and say we have something different. Science fiction is not just cool gadgets it is speculative fiction, it is asking "What if...?". It is also a special kind of mirror that allows us to examine our own flaws while pretending to examine our children's.
If you are not going to explore what could be, or reveal what is then pass the broadsword and give me another adolescent male power fantasy. It is OK they are fun...

Monday, January 28, 2008

Rambo

OK, I had some serious problems with this movie. I am far from a feminist but this movie seriously hurt my single X chromosome. It also hurt my high school English Lit background on many levels.

First, I consider Rambo to be a very interesting character. Especially in David Morrell's book First Blood. Rambo is kind of a modern day Frankenstein, he is a monster that the Army has created out of the pieces of a man. Eventually the Army looses control and his father/creator Col. Trautman must venture to the cold north to destroy him. I think that the story, whether intentional or not, raised some very good questions about the training of soldiers and how to handle their reintroduction into society. I enjoyed the first movie although I hate that they changed the ending so that Trautman did not kill Rambo. I thought there were many interesting things that could be done with the Rambo character. None of them were done in this movie.

There was really no reason for this movie to have any violence at all actually. I really enjoyed the first part of the last Rocky movie and was disappointed when they had him fight. It was a better movie with just Rocky walking around Philly being old. There could have been a good movie here about Rambo coping with getting older and the demons from his past. This is not that movie.

I am going to take the Rambo movie seriously here and I know many people will object to that. People will say that the Rambo films are not meant to be taken seriously, that they are just fun action movies. I completely disagree. Every Rambo film has attempted to make some kind of point about the country we live in and the things we do. The first film raised real questions about military training, and psychological treatment for veterans, questions we still have not found a good answer to. The second movie was an attempt to draw attention to the PoW situation and what our responsibilities were to soldiers left behind. The third, and least subtle, movie was a plea for us to help the Afghani "freedom fighters" (it also raises questions about shooting helicopters down with arrows). The last movie again features a religious group fighting for their lives and freedom in a war torn country. Rambo wants to be taken seriously, and that is what I am going to do.

The script was obviously written by a 12 year old boy in 1956 on his way home from seeing The Searchers. The movie, at its heart, is the stereotypical American captivity narrative that we all learned about in high school English (thank you Mrs. Mortimer). White Christians (trust me they go out of their way to establish this) are kidnapped by dark savages and drug off to the jungle to be....well they never really bother to explain why the raven headed beasts don't just rape and kill them on the spot.

There are a bunch of captured white people but only two are important, the tenderfoot, pacifist doctor and the strong willed but seemingly unskilled blond chick. In the early parts of the film I still had hope for it. The doctor was kind of an useless ass and the girl was the one to convince Rambo to take them upriver when they would not go. I was braced for a Heart of Darkness style trippy boat ride. That's not what I got either. After Rambo drops them off, it quickly turns into a rescue mission.

Rambo here is the Ethan Edwards/Daniel Boone figure except he has neither Boone's cool hat or Ethan's internal conflict. He has a machete and a bow and arrow (thankfully non-explosive). I am not sure whether I am happy that Rambo is Ethan Edwards lite. On one hand some kind of internal conflict and question raising would have been good. On the other hand the only advancement this movie has over The Searchers is that it does not seriously raise the question of whether a white woman should be killed if she is "spoiled" by not white people (the movie The Searchers only kind of asked this question, but the book it was based on certainly asked it).

The pacifist doctor eventually gets to "redeem" himself by abandoning his core values and brutally braining a man with a rock. The woman, who starts strong, becomes weaker and weaker as the movie goes on. When the Christian missionary doctors are tending to the villagers she is shown to be suitable only for bandage wrapping, and staring at wounded people while the men do the work. Later while tenderfoot doc is crushing a man's head during the final battle blondie is cowering beneath a big strong man covering her ears. She shows none of the strong will she had in the earliest scenes. She does not have to give up her pacifist convictions to be strong. There were plenty of wounded soldiers (all men) they could have been bravely tended too under fire.

Rambo wants to be taken seriously but when you do it all comes undone. The movie harkens back to one of the earliest forms of American literature in which the shame of having the home violated is redeemed by the violent, silent male rescuing the woman from the dark savages. The first movie raised questions and was a stronger movie for it. The second movie raised some questions but also preached a bunch and was weaker. The third movie was all preaching and now is a joke. This movie does not even preach clearly. Are we supposed to embrace another religious group in a third world revolutionary struggle? Or are you just pointing out that the situation in Burma is bad?

There was a lot of missed opportunities for a good movie here. We are dealing again with soldiers coming home with mental scars. Many of whom are middle aged this time around. There was a powerful story about an interesting character that could have been told. Instead we get a movie that is like its main character, an old, empty shell jacked up on steroids.

Interesting characterization and plot is thrown away...but if you are interested there is a 30 minute blood orgy.

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