Monday, August 31, 2015

#Blaugust Day 31: Mystara Monday: Module B1 - In Search of the Unknown

Today for Mystara Monday, we'll have a look at the first of the B-series modules: In Search of the Unknown. Written by Mike Carr, it was first published in 1979 as an introductory module to be included in the first version of the Basic Rules. For reasons we'll see shortly it was replaced after about a year by Module B2: The Keep on the Borderlands.

Here we see three adventures breaking one of the cardinal rules of dungeon-delving.

B1 is out of the ordinary in a number of ways. TSR had only just begun publishing adventure modules in 1978 and nearly all those released up to this point had been pre-existing tournament adventures. B1 was instead deliberately designed to be an introductory module both for the players and for the dungeon master. The first five pages consist almost entirely of advice for the new dungeon master regarding adventure preparation, the awarding of treasure and experience, and how to be an effective dungeon master.

In the back of the adventure a full 4 dozen pre-rolled characters are provided (although these consist simply of a name, class, and statline) including such luminaries as 'Eggo of the Holy Brotherhood', 'Trebbelos, Boy Magician', and 'Norrin the Barbarian'. Tables and rules for hiring retainers are included too; retainers were still an expected part of D&D at this point, although rather than poor nameless torchbearers and trap magnets B1 presents retainers as NPC adventurers who get a full share of treasure and experience and are mostly intended to fill out an under strength party if you have fewer than six players.

The art for B1 is mostly by David Sutherland, who provided a lot of art for D&D over the years. The copy I have is a later printing that uses a piece by DARLENE that reimagines the scene drawn by Sutherland for the original cover.  In both cases, I really think those adventurers are going to regret going around poking at strange fungus.

Seriously, it's probably a shrieker. Quit messing with it.

The adventure itself is a classic two-level dungeon crawl through the Caverns of Quasqueton, presented as the stronghold of Rogahn the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown, a pair of now deceased adventurers of some renown. The dungeon itself is a sort of build your own adventure kit. Maps of the dungeon are provided along with keyed descriptions of each room but monsters and treasure are each presented in separate lists and must be placed within the dungeon by the dungeon master. It was later decided that this method was overly hard on the GM, which led to B1 being replaced by B2. As far as I'm aware no future modules ever used this method, although some provided additional maps to be used to continue an adventure beyond its published limits.

B1 is one of the few B-series modules that I've never run in a game. In the B1-9 anthology that I used early on, it's represented only by the dungeon maps without even the room descriptions included. It's very much in keeping with the feel of early D&D adventures with strange and possibly PC-damaging features like magic pools, a rock that can permanently raise or lower player attributes, and many fine furnishings and statuary for the PCs to try to lug out and try to sell.

In the end, In Search of the Unknown isn't a bad module, but there's just nothing particularly special about it. In particular the decision to separate the monsters and treasures from the rooms means there aren't any particularly memorable encounters within the adventure. Some of the rooms are interesting, but the monsters are nothing special with no unique or named foes at all.

Next week we'll take a look at arguably the most famous D&D module ever written, B2: The Keep on the Borderlands. Prepare yourselves for adventure in the Caves of Chaos, and remember: 'Bree-yark' is Goblin for 'we surrender'.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

#Blaugust Day 30: Fight for the Users

Last night we recorded the Hatoful Boyfriend episode of Aggrochat, which meant it was time to pick the game for the upcoming month. September was my month to pick, and I though a lot about what game we should play next. I felt like after a visual novel, something more action-oriented would be appropriate. I also wanted something the rest of the crew were unlikely to have played, which can be difficult since most newer games that sound interesting get picked up and tried pretty quickly by one or more of them.

Because of this, I decided to look back at some older games. A few leapt out at me as having been critically well-received but not commercially successful, which seemed like a good recipe for conversation. One in particular I had played and greatly enjoyed when it came out over 10 years ago. That game was Tron 2.0

Relased in 2003 by Monolith Productions, Tron 2.0 was actually the official sequel to Tron until Tron: Legacy came along and shoved it aside. I haven't gotten very far into replaying it, but based on my memories of it Tron 2.0 is more successful in recapturing the feel of the original movie.

Being an older game, Tron 2.0 does suffer from the resolution issue that is common among games from that long ago. Happily there are a pair of unofficial patches that, between the two of them, allow higher widescreen resolutions, fix a few bugs in the base game, and apply a number of improvements from the console release of the game. Those files can be found at the Tron 2.0 news site. The important ones here are:

The YouTube video I've embedded goes through the process of installing Tron 2.0 in Steam and getting it patched up. If you have any problems, they'll almost certainly be covered in there. There's also an excellent guide posted in the Steam forums for the game. The basic procedure is as follows:
  1. Install Tron 2.0 from Steam and run it once. You might run into an issue where the Tron game launcher goes into an endless loop; if this happens you can try:
    • Running the TronLauncher.exe directly as administrator
    • Running Steam as administrator
    • Replacing the TronLauncher.exe file with a modified version
    Once you've successfully run Tron 2.0 once, you're through the most difficult part.
  2. Install the Unofficial 1.042 patch
  3. Install the Killer App mod
Once you've done that, you should be good to go. It's a little bit of extra work on the front end, but it really is worth it. If you run into problems, feel free to let me know here and I'll try and give you advice or point you to someone who can help.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

#Blaugust Day 29: Thalen Reads To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Burton did not believe in miracles. Nothing happened that could not be explained by physical principles — if you knew all the facts. - Philip José Farmer
This week I read another classic work of science fiction, the Hugo award-winning To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip José Farmer. This is the first book in the Riverworld series, in which the entirety of humanity from throughout history find themselves simultaneously resurrected on the banks of a world-long river. We follow the famed explored Richard Francis Burton as he works first to build a new life and then to uncover the mystery of humanity's resurrection.

As we've seen before, this is another book that started life as a series of stories published in a periodical and later turned into a novel. In this case two novelettes were expanded and combined, each making up about half the book. In the first half we're introduced to the Riverworld and learn how it works. All those who died on earth throughout history have been resurrected simultaneously in new bodies at approximately the age of 25 (or younger if they died younger). Each wakes entirely naked and hairless with only a strange cylindrical device in their possession. These devices, which come to be called grails, turn out to be a source of ongoing supplies; when placed on a large mushroom-like stone at the appropriate time food and other sundries are generated within.

Burton becomes the de facto leader of small group that includes a neanderthal, a 20th century man, an alien who visited earth in the near future, and Alice Hargreaves, among others. Dissatisfied with the thought of simply settling down in one place, he decides that they will build a boat to sail up the river that dominates the land and explore this new world. This exploration leads Burton to begin uncovering more about the Riverworld and the beings who created it. Along the way his path becomes entangled with that of Herman Göring, who has set himself up as the power behind a tyrannical ruler.

To Your Scattered Bodies Go is a fascinating novel that takes a sometimes depressing but entirely believable view of humanity. Brought forth on this new land and provided with food, some groups institute 'grail slavery' where slaves are kept so that the greater part of what their grails provide can be taken by their masters. When someone dies in the Riverworld, they are resurrected the next morning at a random spot along the river. With no need to hunt or farm for food and death not being final, war between groups becomes common in part as a means of creating excitement.

The Riverworld is a sandbox MMO.

In 1971 Farmer predicted the behavior of MMO players with remarkable accuracy before MMOs even existed. I'm actually very surprised now that there is no Riverworld MMO, as it basically writes itself. The sheer number of people (36 billion) would take some work, but the early days in Riverworld are very reminiscent of survival/crafting games like Don't Starve or Rust and the later period, once states have formed, feels a lot like stories I read of EVE Online's null sec (with fewer spaceships).

By the end of the book some questions have been answered, but a lot more are left hanging. There are a few sequels, the first of which follows Samuel Clemens as he hunts for the means to build a riverboat. My interest is definitely piqued.

For next week we have more SF, but a modern book this time. Join me next Saturday for my thoughts on The Martian by Andy Weir.

Friday, August 28, 2015

#Blaugust Day 28: Addictive != Fun

While listening to some podcasts I happened to actually look at my podcast app and noticed an ad for some terrible mobile game or another at the bottom. As I watched, some quotes from presumably random reviews scrolled by, and I noticed one in particular: "Love it, Addictive as Hell!" It got me thinking, when did 'addictive' become a positive thing?

Best game ever!!! So addictive!

Up front here, I am by no means an expert on addiction. If I fail at clever in the course of this post, please let me know. It is absolutely not my attention to minimize or insult anyone who has had to deal with addiction directly or indirectly.

Addiction implies that you're taking actions that you know are harmful to yourself, or that you don't really 'want' to do so much as 'need' to do. If anything, addictive behavior seems to be the opposite of fun; something one tries to avoid and then feels guilty about afterwards. I don't know if my time with World of Warcraft ever reached the level of addiction, but it certainly got to the point of not being fun anymore. The fact that I was able to drop it and not look back implies that it wasn't an addiction. How much worse then, to be in that situation and not be able to quit.

I guess this weird view we have of addiction isn't really new. How many times have you heard someone call themselves a 'shopaholic' or 'chocoholic'? I'd hazard to guess that most of the people using those terms about themselves aren't really addicts though, they're trying to use the language of addiction to describe how much they enjoy the thing. It seems a little thoughtless when I stop and think about it.

So maybe the problem is that, as a culture, we still don't really understand addiction. Not what it really is or how it really feels to be addicted to something. Maybe that's something you can't really understand unless you've experienced it. What I do know is that calling a game addictive is about the last way you'll ever get me to try it.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

#Blaugust Day 27: Corndog Girl

In the world of comic books, Marvel and DC have both been in a period of flux recently. Worlds have ended, characters have been rebooted, it's a whole thing. If you were invested in existing superhero comics, it can seem like a bad time. But some amazing books are coming out of the chaos. One of those is Prez.

The original Prez came out in 1973 as part of DCs attempts to appeal to 'the kids of today'. It followed a teenager, Prez Rickard, who was elected President of the United States after the eligibility age was lowered. His book only ran 4 issues, and he's showed up occasionally since then, usually as an easter egg or in an alternate reality story. If you know the character, it's most likely from the story Neil Gaiman wrote using him in Sandman issue 54.

Where the original Prez came out in a time of youth protests and political action, this new one taps into today's social media frenzies, reality stars, and corporate power. The setting is near future; to me it feels like a few years down the line on the road to the world of Transmetropolitan. Corporate personhood has been established by amendment (CEOs are anonymous figures behind holographic representations of their corporation), votes can be cast via Twitter, and an endorsement from an internet celebrity can win you Ohio.

Pharmaduke is the sensational new character find of 2015

In this strange yet scarily familiar world, we follow Beth Ross as she goes from unwilling internet meme (she accidentally fried her braid in a corn dog frier) to President. For the first two issues she's very much out of her depth and subject to forces beyond her control. The third issue, which came out yesterday, is where we see her start to realize that she has an opportunity here, and maybe she can do something great.

She's not wrong

I mentioned earlier that this feels to me like a world that could eventually become the world of Transmetropolitan. More importantly, this book feels like it could be the next Transmetropolitan. Obviously Beth has nothing in common with Spider Robinson, but the book has a lot of that same twisted humor and strange yet familiar setting, and uses it to poke at the idiocies of the real world. The third issue just came out yesterday, so there's a good chance you could find the whole run so far at your local comic book store. It's also on Comixology if you prefer digital comics. Read it. You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

#Blaugust Day 26: I'm a Rocker. I Rock Out

I've never thought of myself as particularly musically inclined. More generally I've never had a high opinion of my own creativity. As I've gotten older, I've come to realize that a lot of that is just my own insecurity. Everything I create tends to seem trite or derivative because I'm fully aware of what my inspirations were. There's also the fact that I tend to be more comfortable following established guidelines than having complete creative freedom. I think that's a lot of why I don't really have any difficulty with Blaugust, but the rest of the year my blog has tended to wither. I definitely lean more lawful than chaotic.

In any case, one of the game series I've been a big fan of for a while now is Rock Band (and Guitar Hero before it). I know it's not 'actually playing music' but it's a lot of fun, and I'm actually pretty good at it. I play guitar on Expert difficulty by default, and it's only the very hardest songs that give me any trouble.

I'm lookin' at you, Steely Dan. You know what you did.

Rock Band 4 is on the way, coming out in just a couple months. It's only on the current generation of consoles though, so if I want it I'll have to finally break down and purchase either an XBox One, or a PS4. By default I lean toward the PS4; I'm much happier with PSN than XBox Live, and historically XBox exclusives tend to be shooters I'm not interested in anyway. But there's a catch. All of your purchased tracks for previous Rock Band games work with Rock Band 4, but only in the same console family. All of my tracks are on the 360. And that's a lot of tracks.

I had been extra torn about this because the other upcoming current gen game I actively want is Kingdom Hearts 3, which I had thought was going to be PS4 exclusive. Looking around however, it looks like it was announced on Xbox as well (though as a port from the PS4 version, so....). So it looks like I'll be getting an Xbox One. I don't know if it'll be right when Rock Band 4 comes out; I'll likely wait until around Christmas to see if I can find a good deal.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

#Blaugust Day 25: Birds and Bees

Last night was our regular Final Fantasy XIV raid night. We ended up going into Alexander to get gear upgrades for those what need them (which includes me), and then spend about an hour working on the Ravana fight. The speed with which we burned through Alexander really drives home how much better geared we've all gotten in the past few weeks; fights feel super quick now and we can push through phases quick enough that rotating mechanics only come up once or twice. I ended up getting the second token to turn in for a hat as well as my last piece of jewelry, so now I just need pants and chest armor for my main job. Pants I can get next week, as I just need one more spring, but I haven't gotten any of the tokens for chest armor, so that's a month out. I should probably just try to actually run more expert dungeons to cap Esoteric Tomestones and get the artifact chest. Great in theory, unlikely in practice.

I feel like I should be able to open the faceplate

Ravana went pretty well; where last week we didn't always make it through the butterflies with their swords, this time we made it to the dash mechanic nearly every time. Definite progress, and it's mostly a matter of cleaning up our reactions at this point. Ravana is a very precise fight that hinges on reacting quickly and properly when you get targeted with something. Happily, although there are multiple abilities to worry about throughout the fight, you're generally only having to think about one or two at any particular time. Nowhere near as frantic as, say, Nael Deus Darnus from Second Coil.

After we finished up raiding I decided to play some Hatoful Boyfriend so I can hopefully have experienced the long playthrough when we talk about it this weekend for Aggrochat. Basically, once you've successfully romanced enough birds, you're given the option to 'fulfill a promise made long ago' which triggers a longer run that apparently delves into the mysteries that have been alluded to in the normal playthroughs. I had already gotten the endings for the best friend and the aristocrat; last night I played through and got the teacher, the flirt, the runner, and the doctor. On that last playthrough I was given the 'promise' option, so tonight I'll probably play through that.

When you meet this guy, you think he's a little creepy.
But as you get to know him, you realize he's EXTRA SUPER BONUS CREEPY

Man oh man is this game crazy, and much deeper than you might suspect. The first two birds I romanced did not prepare me for how dark things could get. Through sheer happenstance I picked the two that seem to be the least linked to the big mystery of the game. (Well, okay, the runner is also off doing other stuff. Pudding related stuff.) The other three though, those three really make it clear that there is some dark shit going down that you're not really privy to. I'll be interested to see where the game goes with it all.

Monday, August 24, 2015

#Blaugust Day 24: Mystara Monday: Basic Rules

Today we take a look at where it all began, the first Dungeons & Dragons product I ever owned, Dungeons & Dragons Set 1: Basic Rules.

Adventure lies within

If you played Fourth Edition D&D you may recognize that art and cover design as being nearly identical to that of the Fourth Edition Starter Set. This was the third boxed set to be released as the Basic Rules. The first came out in 1977 and was intended to introduce players to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. The second, often referred to as the Moldvay rules was a heavy revision done by Tom Moldvay in 1981. I was in this revision that the Dungeons & Dragons rules split from Advanced D&D. What I have here is the third Basic Rules set, revised by Frank Mentzer in 1983.

In this box, I got a 64 page Players Manual, a 48 page Dungeon Masters Rulebook, and a set of polyhedral dice. Sadly, the dice were stolen along with all my others nearly 20 years ago. I've bought plenty of dice since then, but I still miss that very first set I ever owned. The books have almost the exact same cover layout as the box cover.

The art on that box, by the way, is by the famed Larry Elmore, and the Players Handbook is full of more. Jeff Easley contributed a fair bit as well, but Elmore's art is what I always think of when I think of these books, and of D&D in general. The Dungeon Masters Guide mostly has art by Jim Holloway which is a bit rougher. Elmore's adventurers look like high fantasy characters, almost superheroes even; Holloway's look more like rough and ready mountain men.

And that is what elves, halflings, and dwarves should look like

Based on my internet research, the rules differences between the previous version and this are pretty minor. The big change is in how the information is presented. The box says for ages 10 and up, and the books are very well suited for just that. The writing is aimed young without being pedantic or insulting. The set was also clearly designed as an introduction for someone with no prior experience.

Rather than starting out with rules to create characters and so forth, the Players Manual first explains what 'role playing' is and then runs the character through a simple, linear solo adventure. Throughout the adventure concepts are introduced as they come up, so constitution and hit points are explained when you fight your first monster, a goblin. Saving throws are introduced in a fight with a poisonous snake, and so on. By the time you reach the rules for new character creation, 48 pages in, you've played two solo adventures and should have a pretty good concept of how the game works.

The Dungeon Masters Guide is set up in a similar way, starting out with a pretty straightforward castle adventure to run for your group. I recall playing this adventure with my best friend at the time, with each of us running two characters and me serving as DM. Eventually I put together a more typical gaming group in high school where I DMd for a group of friends every day at lunch, but in the beginning it was just the two of us.

That first adventure was a great introduction, even if it did contain more than one of the classic PC killers (a carrion crawler, yellow mold, and harpies). It also connected to the solo adventure from the Players Handbook through the character of Bargle the Infamous, an evil magic user who served as the main villain in each. In the solo adventure, Bargle kills a beautiful female cleric named Aleena whom you have befriended and now the town (and you) want him to pay. Bargle is a fantastic, and well-loved (hated) villain who reappears in later supplements and adventures and makes a perfect Big Bad for an ongoing campaign. When this mini-adventure was reworked for 3rd edition and published in the final issue of Dungeon, it was even titled 'Kill Bargle.'

Seriously, Bargle is the worst

This box was what kindled my love of tabletop role-playing games, and nearly 30 years later I still treasure it. I had played a few computer RPGs prior to this, notable Might & Magic, so I had a decent idea how the dungeon crawl part was supposed to go. I actually found the character sheets for the two PCs I played in that first campaign with my friend, and I had even reused the names of two of the default Might & Magic PCs for them. But this box was what made me realize we could create our own adventures, and that they could involve more than just killing monsters. It was the beginning of something wonderful.

Next week I'm going to take a look at the first adventure released specifically for the Basic Rules (although for an earlier revision); Adventure Module B1: In Search of the Unknown. Let's see how many ways to kill a player we can find in this one!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

#Blaugust Day 23: Sound and Fury

The Hugo Awards were presented last night at WorldCon, and a lot of people were waiting to see how it would all shake out. If you haven't been following the whole Puppies mess, the short version is that a group of SF authors who have been previously nominated for Hugos but didn't win decided to run a nomination slate to try to get things they like on the ballot. They've tried this for a couple years without much success, but this year the combination of a racist, loudmouth author running a related slate and gaming's own 'organization' of reactionary misogynists getting involved did the trick. The Hugo nominations were gamed.

A lot of people freaked the hell out and declared the Hugos destroyed, or ruined, or what have you. Last night proved that wrong. A number of categories had no award, but that's happened before and will again, just possibly not in the same numbers. The big award (Best Novel) was awarded to a book that is by all reports amazing, and basically none of the slate nominees got a thing. The main result of this whole thing was to highlight just how few people bother to nominate for the Hugos and to sell a heck of a lot more supporting memberships to this year's convention than any previous (though the total number of people voting was apparently only about half the number of memberships; about 11,300 memberships were sold, and just short of 6,000 ballots were cast.)

The part that really fascinates me comes from the voting and balloting statistics that are released each year once the awards have been handed out. Going through the nomination numbers, it looks like a little over 200 people voted a Puppies slate, and about 160 of those voted the racist asshole's version. 6,000 ballots were cast in the final vote, but only 200 or so people were able to game the nomination. Admittedly this year's vote total is skewed by people who specifically voted either in support or protest of this whole nonsense, so let's look at the 2014 totals. 3,587 total ballots were cast last year. So about 6% of last year's total vote. That's all it took.

And that's the lesson of all this. Angry assholes are really good at being loud, puffing themselves up, and making themselves look bigger than they are. The jerks on your game's forum or on Twitter or wherever? They're a minority making themselves look like the majority through volume (in both meanings of the word). They only win if we stand aside and let them.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

#Blaugust Day 22: Thalen Reads Choke

We can spend our lives letting the world tell us who we are. Sane or insane. Saints or sex addicts. Heros or victims. Letting history tell us how good or bad we are. Letting our past decide the future. Or we can decide for ourselves. - Victor Mancini

Choke is a book about salvation.

It's also a book about sex addiction, dementia, suffocation, rocks, and chocolate pudding. But the over-arching theme is salvation. The power that saving someone gives you over them, but also the power the saved has over the person that has, in saving them, taken a measure of responsibility for them.

Victor Mancini is a sex addict and a med school dropout. He works at a colonial village with his friend Denny, who he met through an addiction recovery program. He never knew his father. His mother was in and out of jail throughout his childhood for 'acts of social rebellion' of the Project Mayhem sort; swapping colors of hair dye in store, giving LSD to zoo monkeys, and so forth. Now she's slowly wasting away in a home for those with dementia. To support her, Victor chokes in restaurants.

What Victor has learned is that he can pretend to choke in a restaurant and when someone 'saves' him, they feel a responsibility to him. They keep in contact with him, send him a card with a check on his birthday, ask how he's doing and if there's anything they can do to help. He's choked thousands of times and uses the income from that to pay for his mother's care.

At the care center, other patients with dementia keep mistaking him for someone who wronged them in the past. He ultimately plays along, accepting those sins onto himself and giving the patients a kind of closure. He meets a doctor who claims she can cure his mother. The doctor just needs Victor to have sex with her. He learns that his mother has a diary (written in Italian) that contains some shocking secret about his heritage. And Victor begins to question who he really is and what he can do both for himself and for others.

If you've seen or read Fight Club (and seriously, you should do both) then you should have a pretty good idea of the type of book this will be. By turns hilarious and disturbing, and often both simultaneously. Loaded with sex, but almost never sexy. Ultimately it's a book about a man learning the truth about himself and taking some control of his life. I think I actually liked Choke a little better than Fight Club. It was a bit more optimistic in the end; with a 'we could go anywhere we want from here' feel.

Next up I'm going back to the classic science fiction; Philip Jose Farmer's Hugo-winning To Your Scattered Bodies Go, the first book in the Riverworld series. Come back next Saturday to see how I like it!

Friday, August 21, 2015

#Blaugust Day 21: On the Vanguard

Last night ended up being given over to Mass Effect 3; more specifically the multiplayer mode. I had never tried it before but hearing so many good things about it combined with Ash's recent foray back into the games led to me joining him, Tamrielo, and Kodra for a couple of matches.

Well, I say the night was given over to Mass Effect; most of that time was spent wrestling with the unwieldy beast that is Origin. I had to download the game, and for some reason Origin refused to acknowledge that Ashgar and Tam were friends, so they couldn't invite each other into a game. It took awhile but we finally got it straightened out and could actually play. It didn't enhance my opinion of Origin any, however.

It's not just me, right? You see it too?

Once we were in I was presented with a bunch of classes. I figured Soldier would be a safe middle of the road bet and started out with that. The first mission went okay for the first waves, but then we let ourselves get a little too split up and died one by one on the sixth. I was trying to snipe, but I had trouble finding good sight lines. Still, it was fun, and I got enough experience to hit level 3.
Between missions I decided to see if I had enough credits to buy anything in the store. I didn't, but I did have some free boxes to open; presumably from DLC or something? From one I got a very nice assault rifle, and from the last I pulled a Cabal Vanguard unlock. That immediately raised my Vanguard class to 8, so I decided to try it out in the next mission. Skimming its powers gave me the impression it was meant to be a close range class, so I equipped a shotgun and my new assault rifle and off we went.

The second mission went a lot more cleanly than the first. People went down a few times but got healed, and it started to look dodgy on the retrieval wave we got when two of us went down and stayed down. We made it through though and the remainder of the mission went nice and smooth. Between the Vanguard's teleport, the shotgun, and a paralyzing blade power I felt like it contributed a lot more the second time around.

Overall, it was a fun night that reminded me that multiplayer FPS games can be a lot fun with the right teammates. I'm looking forward to playing more.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

#Blaugust Day 20: Record Keeping

It seems like at any given point I have sufficient brain space for at most two mobile games. I think the energy mechanic most of them use is a lot of the reason; I feel like I'm wasting resources if I let my energy fill completely and sit there for a while. Currently one the two games I'm playing is Fallout Shelter. The other, which I've been playing for a couple of months now, is Final Fantasy: Record Keeper.

From what others have told me, previous mobile Final Fantasy games have not had a good track record. Final Fantasy: All The Bravest appears to be particularly reviled as a mindless cash grab. Happily Record Keeper is a lot more engaging and requires actual strategy to play. The real-money aspect is a bit pricey, but the special currency (mythril) comes at a decent pace in game and you can absolutely play without ever spending cash.

The basic premise of Record Keeper is that there's a world that maintains records of important battles throught the multiverse in the form of magical paintings. Some evil force causes these to be damaged and so you must travel into the paintings and experience the battles they record to restore them. The battles reward equipment and orbs which are used to create all the classic FF abilites that you can then equip. Completing paintings gets you special rewards including rarer equipment and orbs, and most importantly new characters.

This, to me, is the main draw of Record Keeper; the ability to build a stable of your favorite characters from across the Final Fantasy milieu and relive fights from the various games with teams built out of that stable. Boss fights typically have the same tricks and special features they had in the original games, and Dr. Mog, your mentor, can provide tips for each boss fight before you go in if you don't already know how it works.

Quistis, Arc, Gordon, Lightning, and the Warrior of Light
face Medusa in the Tower of Owen

The monetization, like a lot of Japanese based games, is a gacha system. In this case what you're randomly getting is equipment from the various games, ranked from 1 to 5 stars. 5 star is the best, but also the rarest. You get one free draw a day, which could be anything (usually 1 or 2 stars, but I've gotten a couple of 4 star items that way) or you can buy draws that are guaranteed to be at least 3 star. If you pay cash for this, it works out to $3 for a single item or 11 items for $30. A bit pricey for my liking but you can get plenty of draws using in game currency.

Along with the regular paintings, there are also events running on a regular basis. These are usually themed on a particular character or characters and let you unlock new characters who aren't available through the normal paintings. Right now the Lightning event is just about to end, and an Aerith event started a couple days ago and runs for the next week or so. If you miss a character, it'll eventually come back around again, but the character unlock is usually fairly early in the set of event fights with rare equipment and orbs as rewards for the really difficult ones.

You can finally get her back

All in all, Final Fantasy: Record Keeper is a really fun game that will hit anyone with a love of Final Fantasy right in the nostalgia. If you decided to give it a try, using this link to get the game will get both you and me a little added mythril so you can start drawing new equipment that much sooner. Check it out!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

#Blaugust Day 19: Scattered

We've reached that point in Blaugust where it starts to get difficult. The stored up ideas have been used and we're dependent on new ones for our posts. Tamrielo may be able to come up with a couple hundred ideas in an hour, but my mind is not so fecund. Or maybe I just self-censor too much, I know that's a problem. As much as I say that this blog is for me, I'm always aware that I have an audience and that anything I post could theoretically be viewed by anyone and everyone in the world.

Damn you brain!

Last night was a pretty light one gaming-wise. I played a little Magic Duels, long enough to knock out the daily quests I had active. One was to win 2 duels with either a blue/green or a blue/red deck, so I tried out an artifact deck based on Kodra's recently talking about how awesome they were. I won both duels, but the deck never seemed to really click. The idea is supposed to be lots of cards that spawn artifacts (mostly 1/1 flying thopters) and benefit from artifacts being in play along with cards that buff artifact creatures. Despite something like a dozen or more cards in the deck that create the thopter tokens, I never put out a single token in either game. Just bad luck of the draw, I guess.

Three in the deck and I never drew one

Apart from that, I logged into Marvel Heroes for a bit and finished up getting Thing to level 60. With that done, I looked through my stable of characters to pick the next to run up. One problem I've found with the story rebalance is that any character that completed the story on normal prior to the rebalance still has all the story quests completed post rebalance. That means I've got a few characters such as Squirrel Girl and Storm who are between level 20 and 40 that I can't use the story to level. I'll just have to go with the old legendary quest / Midtown leveling method for them I guess. It works, but it gets tiresome fast.

I ended up pulling out Deadpool, who I got as my free hero for the anniversary celebration. He's supposed to be a lot of fun to play, and his synergy bonuses are +10% each to rare item find and special item find which are useful for pretty much any character, particularly the level 60s that I'm hunting end-game gear with. I ran him through the first chapter and liked him reasonably well. I'm playing him mostly shooty so far, with AoE bombs to deal with packs of minions. They did a good job with the humor and fourth-wall breaking of his voiced lines; hopefully they won't wear thin as the game goes on.

Seriously considering picking up this costume

Finally I went offline and read for a while. I'm about a third of the way through Choke and it's as disturbing and hilarious as I expected from Palahniuk. I imagine most of my readers have seen the movie version of Fight Club (if you haven't, you really should), but a lot of you probably haven't read the book. It's well worth your time even if you've seen the movie. In fact I'd say it's even more worth it if you've seen the movie, as the differences between the two make a fascinating study in how you go about adapting a story to a new medium in a way that takes advantage of that medium.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

#Blaugust Day 18: Butterfly Knives

Last night was my regular raid night in Final Fantasy XIV. We started out by steamrolling through Alexander to get armor token drops for those of us who hadn't gotten ours this week. I ended up grabbing a bolt from each of the first two sections, and a lens and spring from the last two. Hopefully I'll be able to grab another lens next week and get a hat made, leaving me with just chest, pants and a bracelet to go for the bard job. I guess I need to hurry up and get the paladin job leveled up to 60 so I can gear it next. Tanks seem to be what we're shortest on in our free company, so I've been wanting to help fill that gap a bit.

After Alexander we moved on to make some attempts at Thok Ast Thok Extreme where the Primal Ravana dwells. Ravana is the first Primal we've faced in Final Fantasy XIV that's new for this game and he's pretty cool. He's a giant multilimbed insectoid with four glowing sword blades and is the patron of the Gnath beastmen, an insect hivemind.

He won't know what hit him

I don't think any of us were really expecting to defeat Ravana in a single night of attempts; he's widely considered the hardest Primal fight yet, and is fairly complicated with multiple stages and a pretty decent dps requirement to make it through a few of them. The hardest is the butterfly stage, where a number of butterflies start to fly into the arena and begin channeling a spell. Any butterfly that completes the channel dies and causes a sword to drop into the arena. The more swords that drop, the more stacks of a nasty defense debuff everyone in the party gets. This is immediately followed by a massive unavoidable attack; too many stacks of the debuff and you just won't survive. On our first try four swords dropped; way too many. The second time around we managed to only let one through.

Ultimately we managed to at least make it far enough in to experience all the fight mechanics, though not much further. He was at about half health on our best attempt, but then we botched handling his 'charge repeatedly across the arena' attack and all fell down.

All but our White Mage, Paragon, who attempted valiantly to avenge us

When we go back in next week, I think we have a decent shot at actually defeating him. He's tough, but his mechanics are managable and all the one-shot kills are sufficiently telegraphed to deal with if you're on your toes. If we can successfully down him we'll have finished the content that went in when Heavensward first went live. Of course, the madness that is Alexander Savage is out there now. That may be a ways in the future yet.

Monday, August 17, 2015

#Blaugust Day 17: Mystara Monday: The Beginning

Many years ago, when I was but a lad, my best friend came into possession of the newly published Second Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks. We were fascinated by the system and the concept, and I wanted my own copies. At Waldenbooks an employee suggested I might want to start with the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, which would be an easier introduction to the game. I bought it, and the rest was history. It's because of that choice that instead of Faerun, Oerth or Krynn my favored game world, the one that I return to time and again, is Mystara.

Mystara in its earliest form, from the D&D Expert Set

Over the years, I played and ran a lot of games of Dungeons & Dragons set in Mystara (originally just called The Known World) and I built up a large collection of adventure modules and supplements. I had come in at the perfect time, as TSR had recently begun to actively detail the setting through a series of Gazetteers that detailed each of the major nations of Mystara in turn. Dave Arneson's Blackmoor setting was incorporated as the distant past of Mystara, prior to a great nuclear apocalypse. The world was revealed as hollow, with ancient extinct civilization preserved within. The great airship Princess Ark crossed the world and even reached the moon (which is populated by samurai cat people). A worldwide calamity stripped Mystara of magic for a full week.

Eventually TSR decided to retire the Dungeons & Dragons rule set and only support Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. For a short period, Mystara continued to be supported and new AD&D supplements were released for it. After only a few however, Mystara was retired as well. It's mentioned every so often in newer editions, most recently in the 5th edition books as one of many campaign worlds that exist, but there hasn't been an official Mystara supplement published since 1995.

Every Monday I plan to bring out an item from my collection and show it off a bit. I'll talk about what it is, where it fits into the setting as a whole, and maybe tell a few stories about games past. Next week I'll be starting with the very first Dungeons & Dragons books I ever owned, the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rules.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

#Blaugust Day 16: Can You Go Back?

Yesterday my wife and I watched Mallrats, which she had never seen before. She's not seen any of Kevin Smith's stuff apart from Jersey Girl, in fact. We watched Clerks a while back, and she didn't hate it. She liked the salsa shark.

Watching Mallrats I felt like the seams were more visible than I remembered. The dialogue was more stilted than in my mind, and while it's still a pretty funny movie, it wasn't quite up to the memories I had of it. I find myself wondering how Chasing Amy holds up, particularly since I know it's often criticized for taking a very stereotypical view of lesbianism. Views on sexuality in our society have shifted a hell of a lot in 20 years time, and I suspect a lot of what was edgy in 1997 will seem almost quaint.

It makes me wonder just what it is that makes one thing seem dated and old, while something else from the same era remains fresh, or at least relatable. Clueless is just as much a product of the 90s as Mallrats, but I feel like Clueless holds up much better. Is it because it had higher production values? A better script? Maybe that it's so over the top in its 90s style that the aesthetic becomes almost fantastical?

Asimov's stories are decades old now, and often based on now-discredited science, but I can still reread them and enjoy them just as much if not more so than the first time. Preacher and Transmetropolitan both came out around the same time, and I loved them both back then, but now while Transmetropolitan still fires my imagination, Preacher makes me cringe a bit. Maybe it's simply that I'm not the same person I was 20 years ago. I've grown since then and my point of view is no longer the same.

That's entirely possible, Spider

Saturday, August 15, 2015

#Blaugust Day 15: Thalen Reads The Stainless Steel Rat

Now that society is all ferroconcrete and stainless steel there are fewer gaps between the joints, and it takes a smart rat to find them. A stainless steel rat is right at home in this environment. - James 'Slippery Jim' DeGriz
Today we begin what I hope will be an ongoing feature; Thalen Reads. Each week I plan to read a book then write something about it here on my blog. A little bit review, a little bit simply my thoughts on the book. Hopefully it'll be interesting to readers, and will spur me to make more time for books. The majority of books I talk about here will almost certainly by science fiction and fantasy as that's where my tastes primarily lie.

For this inaugaral edition, we have an SF classic, The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison, first published in 1961. Like many works of science fiction from the 50s and 60s the first portions of the book were initially published in magazines and later reworked into a full length novel; this does show as the book breaks down into three mostly stand-alone sections that each lead into the next.

I've previously read Harrison's comedic yet biting military satire Bill the Galactic Hero so I had a notion what to expect going in. The humor is much lower-key here and where Bill was a reluctant 'hero' repeatedly thrust into situations entirely beyond his control, Jim DiGriz is a much more capable individual.

'Slippery Jim' is an interstellar criminal in a universe where crime has been nearly eradicated. The majority of those who would become criminals are identified early and 'adjusted' before they can become a problem. Jim is one of the rare few who slipped through the cracks and now takes advantage of the opportunities available to a master criminal in a universe where crime is almost unheard of. Jim is very much a 'rogue with a heart of gold' type; while he's comfortable with crimes up to and including armed robbery, he doesn't kill and when he harms someone he doesn't feel deserves it he does feel guilt and attempts to make up for it.

Plot Spoilers from here until you see the Stainless Steel Rat

As I mentioned, the book breaks down into three sections. In the first, we meet Jim just as the local police have shown up to arrest him for his latest scheme. We get to watch Jim outsmart the cops and escape, then move on to his next plan on a new planet. Jim is quickly established as a brilliant planner who doesn't take undue chances and is always ready to move on when the time comes. Then events start going off plan when the Special Corps, a secretive branch of law enforcement tasked with dealing with the few real criminals still extant, shows up.

In the second section, Jim has been recruited by the Corps. He detects a plot to secretly build a massive battleship of a type not in existence for over a thousand years and is dispatched to run it down. This part of the book plays out more like a secret agent story with Jim able to call on the agency's resources and using his con man skills to track down a criminal rather than committing crimes himself. Ultimately Jim successfully captures the battleship but the mastermind behind the plot escapes, leaving a trail of bodies.

The third part of the book is the bulk of the story and follows Jim as he strike out on his own to chase down the loose end from the battleship case. Away from the Corps, he is once more the criminal Jim we first met and quickly tracks his quarry to a backwater planet. Too bad it turns out be a trap laid by the villain who new he would be on their trail.

The third part is where things get complicated. See, the evil mastermind, Angelina,  is also the only woman in the book and even as he's chasing her Jim isn't sure what he plans to do when he catches her. On the one hand he admires her intellect and the fact that she was able to outsmart him, on the other hand she is a multiple murderer. Eventually it's revealed that she was extremely ugly in her youth and turned to crime to pay for operations to repair her flaws. Crime led to murder and on to her villainous career.

This gave me some pause. "Isn't this a bit sexist?" I found myself thinking. On discussing it with my wife I'm not so sure. She pointed out that we've seen teenagers who were teased and outcast turn to murder more than once in real life. If anything, Angelina has more agency throughout the book than Jim. Where his actions are a result of first being forcibly inducted into the Corps and later outsmarted by Angelina, she is pursuing goals of power and independence which are entirely her own.

All told, I enjoyed this book and look forward to reading the continuing adventures of Jim DiGriz. Jim is a likable rogue, and a clear ancestor of more recent characters like Han Solo or the Discworld's Moist von Lipwig. I can definitely see why the series is so well regarded. On occasions the tech is a bit outdated, but in some cases this is explained away as due to a planet being a more recent inductee into the Galactic League (one character is very angry that the League will only provide his planet with robot brains, requiring them to build coal-powered bodies for them as that's the height of local technology.)

For next week, we'll have a little change of pace. I'll be reading a book that my wife's been after me to read for months, Choke by Chuck Palahniuk. According to the cover blurb it's the story of a med school dropout who supports himself by pretending to choke in upscale restaraunts and cruises sex addiction recovery workshops for action. Should be interesting.

Friday, August 14, 2015

#Blaugust Day 14: Of Vaults and Cards and Other Things

Kinda late with the blog post today. Normally I try to write them the night before and schedule to post the next morning, but a combination of gaming later than I really should have and lack of any clear notion of what to write about meant I had nothing written when I went to bed. Just means I'm writing at lunch.

Fallout Shelter finally came out for Android yesterday, so I downloaded it to see what people were going on about a month ago. It's pretty enjoyable so far, though I'm obviously still in the very early game which is often the best part in these sorts of things. We'll see if it holds up further in once leveling and finding new things slows down. I did get lucky and pull a unique dweller and a legendary weapon from my first and second lunchboxes, so I've had him out exploring the wasteland and bringing back more stuff. So far raider attacks haven't been much trouble to deal with thanks to the early infusion of armor and weapons. I did have a scare for a little where my water production fell off and my overall happiness started to tank; I managed to reassign some people and make it through though and then prioritized expanding water production once I had the caps.

My litle Vault, ticking along
Over in Marvel Heroes, I finished leveling Magneto to 60 last week and started running Thing up through the story to take advantage of an xp bonus for the Fantastic Four that was in over the weekend. I've been enjoying the Thing's gameplay more than I expected. I tend to prefer dodgy ranged characters and he's very much an in-the-thick of the action brick. His secondary resource builds when he deals or receives damage so you want to leap into the middle of a bunch of guys and start whaling away. I finished up Chapter 4 yesterday with him and have reached level 34, so again, no problem leveling in the story.

Dear Gazillion, I will pay cash money for this costume
Finally, I played a fair amount of Magic Duels last night trying to clear out a couple of quests. You can have up to 3 simultaneously and it seems you get one new one each day. I had a full load, so I wanted to get at least one completed so as not to wasted today's. One quest was to put 20 counters on creatures over the course of any number of games, and the other two were both Archetype quests, which ask you to win 4 duels with particular deck types. It's important to note that you have to make a deck using the Deck Builder for it count for those quests. I know Kodra, who's up on the current cards and meta, hates the deck builder but for me it's helpful to give me an idea of what sorts of decks are viable these days.

I ended up putting together a red/black deck built around creature sacrifices, ideally creatures stolen from my opponent, that was a lot of fun when it worked. I feel like it needs some fine tuning, as it could be brutal when things went my way, but I had a couple terrible defeats as well when the cards weren't with me. For another quest I made a blue/white air superiority deck that worked remarkably well in the duels I used it in. There the point was to overwhelm my opponent with flying creatures while handling his creatures via special abilities to tap or destroy them and a few hefty blockers.

Tomorrow I should have the first of what I hope will be many book reviews going up, and I also have an idea for another ongoing series that I plan to start up Sunday. I just have to actually get the posts written. Come back tomorrow and see if I succeed!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

#Blaugust Day 13: Thalen and the Tanuki

My wife insists that Japan loves me more than her. It's because of the tanuki.

A little over two years, my wife and I visited Japan for about two weeks. She had lived there for a year when she was in college and had wanted to go back ever since. I love to travel and see new places in general, and Japan has been high on my list for years and years. So it was a no-brainer. One of my wife's best friends had moved back home to Japan not too long before, so we even had someone to stay with.

While planning the trip, my wife was putting together a list of things we wanted to see and do. She asked for my input and my first (mostly joking) response was that I wanted to see a tanuki. My awareness of Japan as a country pretty much began with the Nintendo Entertainment System and the little cultural elements that would show up here and there in many of the games. Super Mario Brothers 3 made the tanuki a symbol of Japan in my mind at an early age.
It's like a raccoon, but not
I didn't actually expect to see a tanuki while we were in Japan; they're wild animals and we were going to be mostly in and around Tokyo. When my wife told our friend I wanted to see one, she remarked that she had never seen one and she grew up in Japan. On our second day however, we went to Meiji Jingu, a shrine dedicated to the Meiji Emperor. It's 170 acres of forest in the heart of Tokyo, and it is absolutely gorgeous. We were walking the trails and came up a rise when a man who was raking the paths got our attention and pointed. And there it was.

The tanuki
He was eating some peanuts that the man had given him, and happily let us take plenty of pictures while he feasted. He must have only just come out onto the path, because nobody else was there yet besides us and the man who had pointed him out to us. A small crowd gathered over the next few minutes though, and I was pleased to see that the Japanese folks were just as excited as the foreigners.

Seeing the tanuki was sort of an omen for the trip; it was if anything an even better vacation than I had anticipated and we're planning to try and go back next year. I don't expect to see a tanuki again, but hopefully this one is still doing well, hanging in Meiji Jingu, and enjoying his peanuts.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

#Blaugust Day 12: Liebster 2: The New Batch

I have been Liebstered once more, this time by Tamrielo. I'm not going to try to come up with another 11 facts about myself; that was hard enough the first time. I will answer his questions however. Rumors that I am using this as free content because I can't think of anything better to write today are absolutely false and should be disregarded. The computer is your friend.

The computer desires answers

What is the best spell to cast?

Time Stop, no contest. Casting Time Stop gives you the opportunity to set up a cascade of fireballs, lightning bolts, and delayed blast fireballs all capped off by a prismatic sphere to utterly annihilate your foe. Not that I have any experience doing this, nope, not me.

What food item(s) from a game do you want to eat above any others?

I'm extremely curious about that goblin cheese. If the Illuminati want it, it must be some impressive stuff.

You’ve got an infinite supply of one consumable, and can never carry any others. Which consumable do you choose?

Fairies in bottles. Infinite fairies in bottles mean you can brute force your way through any problem.

Cures what ails you

You have to choose a race and class that you’ve never played seriously before. What do you pick?

Bugbear warrior. Bugbears are clearly the chosen race, and are particularly good at beating people up.

What game did you think you would hate but actually loved?

Team Fortress 2. I got it in the Orange Box because Half-Life 2 and Portal. Turned out to actually be a whole lot of fun.

What game did you think you would love but actually hated?

Ultima VIII. I was a huge fan of Ultima, and the idea of taking the fight to the Guardian's world was really interesting. The game was... not good.

Pick a zone from any game to live in. Why?

Hrm, maybe pre-Cataclysm Loch Modan? I always liked it, and it's a reasonably pleasant terrain and climate. Good fishing too.

You can excise one class from every future game. Which? Why?

Warrior. Replace with something more interesting than 'guy who hits people with sharp objects'

What’s your favorite story?

The Wizard of Oz

What hobby does no one (yet) know you have?

I'm a (very) amateur birder. I'm not going for a Big Year anytime soon or going way out of my way to hunt down rare birds, but I do actively keep an eye out for birds when going about my life, and keep record of new or interesting ones I see.

What is your favorite secret shame? >:D

I enjoy bubblegum pop music way too much.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

#Blaugust Day 11: Whalers in the Sky

Last night was my regular raid night in Final Fantasy XIV, led by Tamrielo. This is the more laid-back raid of our Free Company, so we tend to be a little behind the most current content. Up until last week we've been working on clearing out the remaining raid content from before the patch, the Coils of Bahamut. Last week we defeated Bahamut Prime, leaving us free this week to begin in on the Heavensward raids.

We started out by running the Alexander raids, which are lower difficulty raids designed to be doable by random groups. They definitely still require everybody to be paying attention, but there's a little room for error. I had only been in the first and second of the 4 wings before, so two of the bosses were entirely new to me. We took them down without to much difficulty, and by the end of that content a number of us walked away with new gear. I ended up with new boots, gloves, belt, and a ring.

Face away from the explosion for maximum cool points
After we finished up in Alexander, we moved on to the Limitless Blue where the flying whale primal Bismarck dwells, for the extreme version of his fight. For those not knowledgeable of Final Fantasy XIV, primals are the summons of previous Final Fantasy games, generally summoned by the prayers of various beastman tribes. Bismarck first showed up as a summon in Final Fantasy VI and is the patron of the birdlike Vanu Vanu in Final Fantasy XIV.

A number of our raiders had tried this fight a couple of weeks ago but hadn't been able to do damage fast enough to make it through. Last night it took us 3 tries to get the hang of it, but once we all understood the fight, we managed to down him without much difficulty and Tam walked away with a whale-themed two-handed sword to use in his Dark Knight job.

He's much more impressive these days
After months of raiding near the top of our ability pre-patch, it's nice to once again be in the period where we're working our way up through the ranks to see how far we can get. More runs at Bismarck are likely in our future to get weapons for the rest of our raid; next up in difficulty is Ravana in Thok ast Thok. This is reportedly a fight demanding much more precision, so I imagine it'll take us a little longer than Bismarck did to get a handle on. I've been surprised before though.

Monday, August 10, 2015

#Blaugust Day 10: Liebster

I have been tagged by Grace with the Liebster. She has questions, I have answers. Let's see here.

11 Facts about Me

  1. I own approximately 50,000 comic books. They are mostly superhero comics, and are very well organized.
  2. I've never broken a bone.
  3. I got my first computer when I was 4; it was a TI 99/4A and I was hooked from then on.
  4. I wear hiking boots most days. They're very nice boots though.
  5. I own all the Street Fighter RPG books that White Wolf released. It's a better system than you might think.
  6. The only sport I pay any attention to is soccer, and that mostly just at World Cup time. If we had a club in my area, I might actually go to matches but that's not happening any time soon.
  7. No matter how much I try to change my sleep schedule, I remain a night owl. It's just how I am.
  8. The first book I read (not counting picture books and such) was The Wizard of Oz. It's still a favorite.
  9. Washington, DC is my favorite city in America. I've been there 4 times and there's still so much more to see.
  10. For most types of games I prefer PC over consoles. JRPGs are the main exception.
  11. I play FPS with keyboard and mouse.

Why do you blog?
I blog as an excuse to write. It's something I like to do, but without some concrete goal in mind I tend never to do it. Therefore, blog.

What was your favorite childhood cartoon show?
I have to pick just one? Man, it's hard to think back and decide what was my favorite then as opposed to what I like now. Probably Duck Tales, I think. Duck Tales was pretty awesome.

Fantasy or Sci-Fi?
Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

What’s the most amazing place you’ve ever been?
Tokyo is incredible in ways I have difficulty putting into words. I had been to large cities in America such as Chicago and New York, and I still wasn't entirely prepared for the scale of Tokyo.

Pizza: Chicago or New York?
New York. Chicago has excellent pizza-flavored casseroles; they are not pizza.

If you could only pick one game genre to play for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Hmmm, toughie. I think the 4X genre (Civilization and that sort). Infinite replayability.

What inspired your character name?
I needed a dwarven sounding name, and I just started throwing syllables together until I came up with something that didn't sound stupid. The original Thalen Firebeard was a dwarven mage I played in the first D&D 3.0 game I was in. I reused the name for my dwarven hunter in World of Warcraft, and it ended up becoming my main internet identity.

What is your greatest gaming moment or achievement?
Hard to choose. Possibly the Sindragosa kill that Belghast has mentioned in the past where I was one of just a couple of people still up and got the killing blow on her just before she put all of us in ice blocks.

Do you share your love of games with your real-world friends and family, or keep it to the internet?
Most of my real-life friends aren't big into online games, but we play local multiplayer games together on occasion. And we play plenty of tabletop RPGs and board games on a regular basis.

Have you ever had a really weird pet?
It wasn't really a pet, but we had a quail in a terrarium for a couple of weeks after it hit my dad's truck and he brought it home. It turned out to still be alive, so we kept an eye on it for while and he eventually took it back out and released it.

What is your favorite type of environment/biome in-game and IRL?
Forest, definitely. Preferably nice open forest without too much undergrowth so it's easy to walk through.

And now I'm supposed to tag some people.  Finding people who haven't already been tagged for this is not easy.  If I pick someone whose already been Liebstered, I apologize.  My tags:


And my 11 questions:

  1. What movie, game, or book do you love that noone else seems to?
  2. Birds: Fine feathered friends or freaky tiny dinosaurs?
  3. What's a place you've never traveled to and would like to?
  4. Mac or PC?
  5. What's the first video game you remember playing?
  6. How quickly do you tend to adopt new technology?
  7. What video game character can you just not stand, and why?
  8. What's your favorite non-gaming hobby?
  9. How many cars have you owned over the course of your life?
  10. Would you rather live in an urban, suburban, or rural area?
  11. Do spiders and insects bother you?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

#Blaugust Day 9: Books

I've always identified as a reader. Reading books isn't just something I do when I have to to learn something, or even as occasional recreation; it's a major element of who I am. I've taken some pride in the fact that I'm always reading; whenever I finish a book, I always have another to start on and I make a point of reading at least a few pages so I'm never in between books.

Recently I've not been reading as much and I've been a bit disappointed in myself because of it. Between work, gaming, family time and so on, I haven't been carving out time to read like I used to. Where I would normally be reading at least a book a week on average, I've only read two in the past month, and one of those was a reread of a book I had already read once.

I'm going to try to make an effort to change this, to take more time to read again. It's always been one of my favorite pastimes and there are so many books I want to read that I would hate to not get to. As such, I'm setting a short term goal for myself. For the remainder of Blaugust I'm going to read at least one new book each week, and I'll review each one here once I've finished it.  If I get back up to speed and read more than one in a week, then I'll review multiple books that week.

First up is a science fiction classic that I've been wanting to read for years and finally got ahold of at a recent library sale; The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison. Hopefully I'll be reporting back next weekend with a glowing review.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

#Blaugust Day 8: Legion

So the news that everyone who's still playing or at least following World of Warcraft was revealed a couple days ago. The new expansion will be titled Legion, and will presumably be chock-ful-o-demons. I don't think this came as much of a surprise to anyone; it's been clear for a while that the player base has tired of orcs, orcs, and more orcs and the Burning Legion are the go-to bad guys that haven't been focused on in a while.

He's still out there
(As an aside, I considered doing a joke post where I pretended to misunderstand all the talk about Legion as being about the X-Men character. Really though, I think I have one reader who would find it hilarious, a few more who would actually get the joke, and everyone else would just be confused. I still may write something about that character in the future though, because he's amazing.)

I think the hair is his secondary mutation
It's been interesting watching the reaction. It seems pretty muted on the whole, but that may just be because of the section of the Internet I hang out in. Most of my gaming friends aren't playing WoW anymore either, so I think for a lot of them their interest is just a matter of curiosity and nostalgia. I'm sure if the excitement is higher than I think and subscription numbers go back up or even level off, Activision/Blizzard will let us know.

On the whole, I think this mostly just drives home to me that my time with WoW is truly done. I played for 9 years and enjoyed it for most of that time, but after nearly 2 years out I don't really feel any desire to log back in. I don't hate the game, and I have no desire for it to get shut down or anything like that. The World of Warcraft has moved on without me, and I without it.  And really, that's a good thing.

Friday, August 7, 2015

#Blaugust Day 7: Endings

All Bette's stories have happy endings. That's because she knows when to stop. She's realized the real problem with stories -- if you keep them going long enough, they always end in death. - Sandman #6 - Neil Gaiman
I've been thinking about endings recently. About how much we dread and resist them, but how joyous and cathartic they can be when they finally come. At least they can when handled well. A bad ending can retroactively taint everything that came before and turn something you enjoyed into something to be forgotten or even actively railed against. The way something ends is the last impression it makes, and often becomes the most powerful.

So much of what separates a good ending from a bad one is timing; leaving before the welcome is overstayed. It's more complex than that of course; even a well-timed end can fall flat if badly handled, but dragging things out too long seems to be the surest way to ensure a bad end.

Also, not bringing a friend
MMOs by their nature are not good at ending. They're created with the intent of continuing on as long as possible. When they do end, it's often after a decline in studio support that leads to a sort of stumbling half-life leading up to the end. Is it any wonder that so many players, when they do finally cut ties with a game, seem to be filled with hatred for the game they presumably once enjoyed? When the end did come for them, it had taken too long and was no longer satisfying.

It falls to the players to ensure a good end in these situations, by accepting when the time has come. Don't fall into the trap of forcing yourself to keep going when a game is no longer entertaining. Be willing to accept when the time to move on has come. That way, at least the memories can still be pleasant. And you might even decide to return at a later date. After all, the other thing about endings is that the best ones always leave you wanting more.