Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Raid Kills Bugs Dead #Blaugust2016

Last night was our regular raid night once again in Final Fantasy XIV. We had made some attempts on Ravana last week, but didn't quite take him down. It's a fairly complicated and movement intensive fights with a number of mechanics where you have to get hit once and only once by a particular attack. There are two different attacks Ravana has where he flys around diving on members of the raid. The attack is unavoidable when he's targeting you, but it applies a debuff that makes you extremely vulnerable to damage so you have to move quickly after being hit so that you aren't struck when he dives at the next person. Even being overgeared a bit for this content, the damage that does will kill anybody easily.

After a few tries we managed to get the dancing mostly figured out and made it all the way to the enrage mechanic. Our next try we took him down, though it was a close thing. Belghast managed to fall off the platform with Ravana at about 7% health, leaving us with only one tank in a fight that requires tank swapping. Ravana started charging one of his liberation maneuvers, and we knew we knew that we had to take him down before he finished or we would quickly lose our remaining tank and wipe. The cast bar was over 90% full when the achievement for a successful kill popped up.

Tamrielo got a book that looks like a butterfly

After that we headed off to the Final Coil of Bahamut since two of our raid members hadn't been with us when we beat it shortly after Heavensward launched (no, we never completed the Final Coil when it was current content. We're neither that good or that crazy.) It's been over a year since we'd been in there and I didn't remember the first couple of fights at all. The mechanics came back to us once we engaged though, and thanks to severely outgearing and outleveling the fights, we made it through. It still took a few wipes though. Mechanics in FFXIV are serious business.

Apart from that, I've played a little more Diablo 3, finishing up the Slayer portion of the season journey. The next stage, Champion, will require a good bit of grinding as it asks you to level up multiple Legendary gems. I'm successfully soloing level 40 Greater Rifts at this point, which is better than I made it up to last season on a Crusader, so I don't feel like that should be much of a trouble. What would really help would be to get lucky and find some Ancient legendaries. Last season I found three pretty early on and they made a big difference. Failing that, I need to push up my gems, find a better quiver and ring, and get to where I can comfortably handle Torment X. Should be doable.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Extra Spicy #Blaugust 2016

I'm intending to start my examination of my D&D collection up again for Mondays, but that requires some research and such that I haven't been able to do yet for the upcoming item. So instead, a little more talk about Diablo 3.

I've wrapped up the 4th chapter of the season now, so I've got all 6 pieces of the free set. The 6 piece bonus gives a very large bonus to Multi-shot (which I've already been using) and Vengeance based on how much Discipline you currently have. I also came across a crossbow that reduces the cooldown on Vengeance by a whole lot, so I threw that in the Kanai Cube and replaced the Rapid Fire buff I had been using. Rapid Fire didn't seem to be scaling very well in any case, and I was already mostly using Evading Shot and Multi-shot as my main damaging abilities in any case.

Such lovely crits

With just that boost from my set and those couple of new legendaries my damage output went up by more than a factor of 10. I went from running at Torment IV straight to Torment VIII without stopping in between, and I might have been able to go to IX and still be okay. Now it's time to get down to the business of running more Greater Rifts to level my legendary gems and continuing on through the next stage of the journey.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Seasoned #Blaugust2016

First off, it seems like something went wonky with my feed so my post yesterday didn't get picked up by my Twitter account. The twitterfeed integration is kind of slow at the best of times, but this time it just didn't work at all. No idea why, hopefully it'll work today. In any case, if you're coming here via Twitter, yes there was post yesterday, it's over here.

What time I got to spend gaming this weekend was mostly spent in Diablo 3, since the latest season started the other day. Season 6 was the first one I'd participated in (apart from a sad Barbarian back in Season 4 that made it all the way to level 4). I tried out Crusader that time, so this time around I decided to give Demon Hunter a try. Pretty early on I found a legendary quiver that removes the chaneling cost from the Rapid Fire ability, so that became my main damage dealer supported with turrets and Multi-shot.

Fighting giant spiders, like you do

By the time I logged off Saturday night I had made it through the the first chapter of the season journey and was just shy of level 70. Today I've finished that level off and completed the second and third chapters, getting me 4 of the 6 pieces of the Unhallowed Essence set armor. That means I've got a set bonus that gives me a damage boost as long as I don't let things get too close, which works just fine with my typical method of play for ranged classes. I've gone heavy on the cold damage runes for my chosen skills, which means most of them slow or freeze enemies, plus I found a legendary ring that applies a fear debuff reasonably often. I'm up to Torment III difficulty at this point, and it's working fairly well.

I did get reminded this evening of one of the things that really annoys me about Diablo 3, latency. For most of the weekend everything's been fine, but tonight while running a rift I started getting some terrible latency. In a game that's predominantly about avoiding various ground effects and pink murder balls that's not good at all.

In any case, I've made a decent bit of progress and will hopefully be able to finish up the initial season journey pretty soon. It'd be nice if I could make it far enough to unlock the stash tab this time around; we'll see if I can stick with that long.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Thalen Reads Lord Valentine's Castle #Blaugust2016

You are very peculiar. You speak no lies, yet nothing you say sounds right.I think you yourself have little knowledge of your own soul. - Carabella
This week, it's a return to older science fiction with the first book of Robert Silverberg's Majipoor series, Lord Valentine's Castle.

 I've read quite a few short story collections edited by Robert Silverberg over the years, but this is the first book actually written by him that I've read. Obviously I knew going on that he's a Grand Master of Science Fiction, so I expected great things. Happily I wasn't disappointed.

Lord Valentine's Castle is set on the world of Majipoor and is one of those novels that could easily be classified as science fiction or as fantasy depending on what your definitions are and how hard-nosed you want to be about it. It certainly feels like fantasy in a lot of ways; magic exists and wizards are common enough to be hired by caravans, dreams are sources of knowledge or dread punishments, and there are many non-human races. But on the other hand, space travel exists and spaceships come to Majipoor (though very rarely), vehicles float via technological means and are pulled by genetically modified herd beasts, and both the human and non-human races are immigrants from other planets, apart from a native race that is not very well treated.

We learn about this setting through the eyes of Valentine, a man who finds himself on a hill outside a city with no real memory of his past (take a drink). The new Coronal of Majipoor (one of the rulers of the planet) is visiting this very city, and just happens also be named Valentine. It's not hard to see that the Valentine we're following is somehow the real Lord Valentine and has been replaced by an impostor. Happily, Silverberg didn't try to stage this as some big reveal; both the replacement and who is behind it are verified about a quarter of the way into the book.

The main conflict of the book then centers around Valentine's quest to regain his title, although he does question whether really wants to do so. Even once he knows what has been done to him he doesn't really remember the person he was. He's fallen in with a troupe of traveling jugglers and has discovered he has a talent for the art. Does he really want to give up this new life for a title he doesn't truly miss?

The majority of the book is taken up by travels across Majipoor, first as a juggler with his new troupe and then as the deposed Coronal attempting to first prove his story and then amass a force with which to assault the castle of the Coronal and reclaim his title. Silverberg uses this to give us a sort of travelogue. Valentine and his companions pass through a reservation where some of Majipoor's distrusted and downtrodden natives live, take ship with a crew of sea-dragon hunters, fall afoul of some of Majipoor's carnivorous plant life, and so forth.

I enjoyed Lord Valentine's Castle quite a bit, certainly enough to seek out and read more of the books in the series. Apparently there are a number of them and quite a few short stories and novelettes, most of which take place prior to this book. I'm not sure if any of them go more into how Majipoor was colonized and how it's system of government came to be, but I'd certainly be interested to learn more about that.

Friday, August 5, 2016

My Backpack's Got Jets #Blaugust2016

I've been trying to think of what to write about without a whole lot of luck. I've got some things to say about Stellaris, but I don't really have my thoughts totally organized on that. I don't feel like I've done anything else in Final Fantasy that warrants more discussion of that. And that's really all the gaming I've been doing recently. I suppose there are a couple of mobile games, but I don't have a lot to say about them at the moment.

So I'm going to share with you today a couple of videos that I was reminded of thanks to a conversation about Star Wars Galaxies. SWG was unique in a lot of ways when it came out, one of which was the entertainer system. There were whole skill trees for dancing and music that unlocked dance moves and the ability to play different instruments as you advanced. The moves could be chained together and even synchronized with other players to let you perform as part of a band. Nowadays, Lord of the Rings Online is probably the game best known for its music system, but when it was new SWG had something different that I had never seen before.

Using those systems a player going by Balgosa Windspire recorded some of the first machinima I ever saw; a number of music videos using the Star Wars setting. The graphics look a bit dated now, of course, but you have to remember this was around 2004, so well over 10 years ago. At the time these were all very impressive, and they're still pretty entertaining.  Bringing them up in conversation got me wondering if perhaps they were on YouTube. As it turns out, Balgosa has a channel and all of his old work has been uploaded to it. So that's what I'm bringing to your attention today. I hope you enjoy them!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Jo-Jo the Man Faced Dog #Blaugust2016

Now that I'm back playing Final Fantasy XIV, I will of course be participating in any limited time game events that come along. Of course there are the holiday events that we get every year, the next one of which starts tomorrow and has a Super Sentai theme this time around. But right now, there is a collaboration event going on with Yo-kai Watch. And I love it.

Okay, so the event itself is pretty much just a long FATE grind. Earn new Yo-kai minions by grinding FATES wearing a Yo-kai Watch, then earn weapons to use for glamouring by grinding more FATES with those minions summoned. The event runs a little over two months, and that's good because it'll take a lot of FATES to earn weapons for every class. So far I've got the Bard, Summoner, Scholar, and Paladin ones and am working on Machinist.

Each minion is a character from the Yo-kai Watch games; there are a number of cat spirits, a couple that I believe are bears, a nine-tailed fox spirit, and so forth.

And then there's Manjimutt.

Gaze upon his awesome countenance and be humbled

Yokai are Japanese spirits, some of which were once living beings. For instance Jibanyan, one of the mascot Yokai, was a normal cat that got run over by a truck. Manjimutt was a salaryman who died alongside a poodle, resulting in the two being merged into a single Yokai. He's actually based on a Japanese urban legend, the jinmenken. This is the kind of fascinatingly weird Japanese mythology I just love.

So that's what I've been up to in FFXIV when not raiding. Collecting weird ghost pets and weapons associated with them. Manjimutt is probably going to my go-to pet summon for the near future, because he's just hilarious. And as I discovered when learning more about him to write this post, he's also quite the dancer.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Thalen Reads The Rhesus Chart #Blaugust2016

Don't be silly Bob. Everybody knows vampires don't exist - Dominique O'Brien
Today, we're going to catch up with a review of a book that I read most of a year ago, but wanted to talk about here. Let's check out The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross.

For this one, we're going to need to lay down a little ground work as it is the 5th book in a series which started in 2004. A lot has happened over those years which I'm not going to go super deep into, but I at least want to talk about the setting and the state of the world and the main character when this book starts.

Charles Stross, for those not aware, is the gentleman who created the Dungeons & Dragons monsters known as the slaadi. These frog-like devotees of true chaos would not be terribly out of place in the Laundry Files, which are set in a world mostly identical to our own apart from the fact that magic exists as a branch of applied mathematics. The protagonist, Bob Howard, is a computer scientist who was recruited into the British organization (The Laundry) that deals with the supernatural after his master's thesis "nearly summoned up an undead alien god in Wolverhamption."  Many of the supernatural beings of myth exist, though often in a form rather different (and more disturbing) than popularly imagined.

Over the years Bob has faced zombies, unicorns, Santa Claus, an evangelical church dedicated to resurrecting a being from beyond, and more. He works under a manager who is in fact a being called the Eater of Souls summoned into human form. His wife also works within the Laundry as a "combat epistemologist" and violinist with a company-provided instrument with utterly terrifying offensive capabilities.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend reading The Rhesus Chart on its own; a lot of what makes this series work so well is seeing Bob develop over time from a fairly typical IT guy in a government bureaucracy into a guy who's seen and done some terrifying things (and is now middle management in a government bureaucracy). In many cases dealing with that bureaucracy is more challenging than the explicitly supernatural aspects of the series and is what grounds the series solidly in the real world. This is a setting where, after facing and driving off a horror from beyond, Bob then has to justify the expenses incurred in doing so to his manager.  That said, the important stuff is explained as you go, so you don't have to know anything from the previous books to pick this one up.

This is also a series not afraid to get very dark. Bob has seen some shit over the years, and in the background since the first book is the specter of CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN. As technology advances and Earth's population increases magic becomes easier to perform, on purpose or entirely by accident. Eventually, a critical point will be reached and the stars will come right. It can't be stopped, only prepared for. Quite a lot of Bob's development over the series has come with more knowledge of what the world's governments are doing to try to be prepared and it is, in Stross's own words, 'deeply scary'.

So why, with all of the other strange things that the Laundry has dealt with over the years, is everyone so adamant that vampires don't exist? Especially since, as we quickly discover, they do. Vampirism spreads via a fractal data visualization rather than a bite in this case, but the effects are pretty much what we're used to: burned by sunlight, craving for blood, increased strength, mind control abilities, and so forth. And a group of bank IT professionals have contracted it.

From there, Bob becomes involved thanks to a decision on the part of the Laundry's management that the organization needs to get creative and innovative by imitating Google's 20 percent time, but with vetted projects and without any working hours allocated to it. Bob's chosen project is to develop a data mining system to prove that vampires don't exist. Instead, it turns up a rash of odd deaths that lead straight to the aforementioned newly minted vampires, one of whom is in fact his ex-girlfriend from many years back. If this seems to be a very unlikely coincidence, there's a reason for that.

Part of the reason nobody believes vampires exist is because vampires are both extremely territorial and very serious about remaining hidden from the rest of the world. Think the Masquerade, but instead of vampires poncing around being Princes and Sheriffs and such, they murder each other at the earliest convenience. Bob has been drawn into a complicated conflict between a pair of very old vampires which is finally coming to a head.

As I said before, I recommend starting at the beginning with The Atrocity Archives and working your way through the series to get to this book, but if you like urban fantasy and want to see a more British and more Cthulhoid take on it than, say, the Dresden Files, this is definitely a book worth checking out.