Browsing the blog archives for August, 2007

I Know the Feeling…

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Miscellaneous, Personal

PennyArcade1

I just saw this comic over at Penny Arcade, and all I can say is that I know the feeling. A friend of mine bought Guitar Hero awhile back and I love the game, but I’m just utterly bad at it. I can play hyperspeed on Easy mode and that’s about it. Once you throw in that fourth button on medium difficulty it’s all over for me. But bring out the Photoshop Hero and I’ll go to town.

Defense of the Ancients

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Games

I finally did it. I reinstalled Warcraft III.

Lately I’ve been having a craving to play some Defense of the Ancients, but going through the hassle of reinstalling the game just to scratch that itch seemed a little much. A few years ago I used to be a second-tier Defense of the Ancients player, better than pretty much any public players (although, honestly, this doesn’t say much) but not dedicated enough to the competitive community to bother with clans and leagues. This, of course, was the original Defense of the Ancients by Eul, not the Frozen Throne Version Defense of the Ancients: Allstars, which was actually a rip-off of the original by a guy named Guinsoo.

Anyway, once I got the WC3 expansion I moved over to DotA: Allstars, since it was basically impossible to find a game of the original anymore. Although the hero balance is out the window, with many characters having ultimate skills that are essentially – “Kill one opponent, then insult his sexual orientation,” and [in public matches, anyway] the game rewards what I consider poor playing — Sitting in your base, waiting for your opponents to attack you and gaining money by killing their creeps while your opponents must worry about your base defenses attacking them, or overextending themselves if they are to gain any money. It’s also pretty easy on penalizing character deaths, and over the top on rewarding killing other heroes.

It’s a fun little diversion, though, and it’s been so long since I played it that I’m getting at least some sense of freshness. Playing Guild Wars and Unreal Tournament has gotten a little stale for me lately, so it’s probably good for a break. The one major thing I wasn’t prepared for was going back to Battle.Net … Somehow, Battle.Net manages to be like the cesspool of the internet. Not only are the custom game lists now riddled with spam (people create “games” with titles like “Visit my website.com !!!” and use auto-refreshing programs to keep their games listed), but the general demeanor of people on Warcraft 3 is just shockingly harsh. From being kicked from games because the host is a jerk, to being insulted in every way imaginable for your play choices, it’s kind of shocking — Particularly because I play FPS games regularly, and I’d expect to get more harshly insulted in those.

Good for building up your iSkin, though. Guess mine had gotten a little thin.

Selling My P&P Account

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Games, Personal, RPGs, Tabletop

Currently I’m involved in a pretty mediocre pen and paper D&D game run by one of our group hangers-on, the guy who shows up every few weeks unannounced and doesn’t even bother to try and contact anyone if he’s coming or if he’s not coming. It’s not great, but, still, someone stepping in as DM keeps pressure off of me as I’m still too busy to do serious DM prep. In our first session it was decided one of our other players, whose character is a Paladin, was going to be the prince of a country. Everyone else would just be hangers on.

This is a pretty typical newbie DM mistake, but it doesn’t stop there … The first NPC we encountered was a ghost of a woman (we don’t know who) who gave our Paladin Prince a rather serious magical item. At the time we were all equipped with 7,500gp worth of equipment, and the first thing that happens is the Prince gets an amulet worth 36,000gp, at sixth level no less.

Our next session has us going to a mausoleum in the city. The Prince is selected to under a series of trials while the rest of us sit on our thumbs. Then after he defeated a giant skeleton he was rewarding with a dancing holy avenger flaming burst sword of brokenness +5. And, yes, that is not rules legal. He was also given an artifact-level amulet that basically makes him immune to death.

The session after that one we were attacked by a Cleric in the forest who was wandering around with his retinue of skeletons and death knights (Encounter table entry #3 — I kept pressing him to throw Nazi Zombie Bugbears at us, but I guess he thought they were too difficult of an encounter for us.) So we defeat this group of undead, and then slay an bronze dragon (ECL 17. Party average level: 8.) At this point we all decided to just give all the equipment, including a suit of armor with DR 15/good to the Paladin. As a friend said, we’re just going to twink his Paladin out with epic gear and sell his account.

I thought this was a pretty funny idea, and I bet’d actually be something you could make [some] money off of. I mean, in a world where someone sells a pixel on a webpage, or sells stuff on eBay by claiming it’s “haunted” a precreated Pencil & Paper D&D character sheet is downright utilitarian. One of these days I’ll get around to trying this out.

BioShocked

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Games, Technology

BioShocked1

Two days ago half the gamers in the world were expecting the Second Coming, but by now a huge number of them are realizing they’ll have to wait it out on Earth. I talked to no less than five of my friends two evenings ago, and all of whom reported that they’d downloaded the BioShock demo … only to find out that it only runs on cards that support Shader Model 3. Whoops.

I haven’t been following BioShock too closely, but my general expectations have been along the lines of, “This game is going to be amazing. Too bad my computer won’t be able to handle it until I upgrade.” By then everyone who cares what games I’m playing will have stopped caring about BioShock and be obsessed with the latest game du jour and I’ll be content to play a game that’s a little old, as usual.

Anyway, I only know one person who’s managed to get it working. On their XBox360. I actually had a lengthy conversation with one of my friends as he browsed the developer’s website looking for information on the required specifications for the game and failed to find them entirely. He had to resort to going to an online retailer to find the recommended specifications.

It’s kind of disappointing to me not to be able to play the game right now, but I’m patient. I wonder how many of the game’s impulsive, game-of-the-moment fans are going to bother with it now after realizing their cards can’t even run the game? And what was Irrational Games thinking only supporting Shader Model 3? Sure, the graphics are a draw. But the gameplay and story are what should be taking precedence. Right now, the bar for the graphics is just so high that many people can’t even get to that.

4DVENTURE

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Games, RPGs, Tabletop

4DVENTURE1

Yesterday I was talking to one of my Pen and Paper gaming friends and he, for whatever reason, loaded up the Wizards of the Coast website. When he did, he was greeted with a little countdown to 4DVENTURE, which we immediately guessed was an announcement for 4th Edition.

I’m not entirely sure yet, but there are a few articles so far claiming that Wizards is coming out with 4th Edition next year. Although I’ve been expecting 4th Edition for awhile, I’m kind of surprised at how this announcement is being done. I’d actually expect to hear about playtesting accounts or design goals from the designers before we get a deadline for release.

I already outlined what’d make me buy the new system, but after looking over Star Wars Saga Edition a few weeks ago, I don’t think it’s going to live up to my expectations. Well, either way, we both agreed that we’d probably be sticking with 3.5 for some time to come (or move to something homebrew / true20 / etc.).

Thunderburned

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Technology

Thunderburned1

About two years ago when I first got my hands on what is now my primary development machine, I attempted to set up Thunderbird using POP to access my GMail account(s). I recall that this wasn’t all that long after Google had first begun offering POP access to GMail, so it was a bit of an arcane process still. I’d done it on my backup machine with Mail, though, so I didn’t expect any problems.

As can be expected in “Computer Stories” things didn’t go exactly as I’d hoped. To make a long story short, I was told that Norton AntiVirus/Firewall would prevent me from ever using Thunderbird with GMail (even if I had them disabled). I found this a little ridiculous, but I eventually grew used to accessing GMail solely via the web interface.

Now about a month or two ago, I uninstalled Norton as I had gotten other AV/Firewall products that I liked more. Today I decided I’d try out Thunderbird again to see if I could access my GMail account now that I wasn’t using Norton. As you might be able to guess from the title, things didn’t exactly work out as planned. Even after setting up rules that basically allowed Thunderbird to do whatever it damn well pleases, I still couldn’t get it to access GMail, or seemingly do anything. Updating to the latest version of Thunderbird and associated extensions? Nada.

It’s really a shame, because I do find programs like Thunderbird very convenient. I think, though, I’ll just have to give up on getting it to work and stick with the web interface. It’s not that important to me, and considering the hoops I jumped through last time, with no success, I think I’ve put in enough effort to just let it go.

On Fantasy

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Culture, Literature

A couple days ago when I was jotting down my thoughts on The Hobbit I came across this interesting post by Andrea on Fantasy as a genre. I really wanted to incorporate it somehow into my Hobbit post, but I couldn’t think of a direct way to link it in and still discuss my reading experiences and impressions.

I’m refraining from endorsing Andrea’s perspective — I honestly don’t think I’ve read enough fantasy lately to have an opinion one way or the other — but I do find her demolition of a lot of modern fantasy books interesting and entertaining. She tears into David Eddings, a writer who I haven’t read but who I’ve heard about secondhand and seems pretty mediocre from everything I’ve heard:

Edding’s is the kind of writer who would have Frodo say to Gandalf when he was safe in Minas Tirath, “You used me, you bastard. You knew I’d claim the ring, and so you told Sam to kill me and toss me in the Pit of Doom when I did. You didn’t have the balls you needed to do what you and your masters needed to do ages ago, so you arranged for a poor dumb schlub like me to take the fall for you. If it weren’t for Gollum I’d be a dead hero and nobody would be the wiser.”

If this is the impression Eddings gives his fans, he’s even worse at writing fantasy than I remember.

I find this little bit pretty interesting on a couple of levels. I’ve never really looked at what happened to Frodo in the context of Gandalf “using” him, but that’s actually a pretty valid possible interpretation. Now, we know Gandalf is a good guy, so that doesn’t work in any sensible reading of the books as a whole, but kind of curious nonetheless.

I do see Andrea’s point in rejecting that interpretation as being valid for “Fantasy” — Gandalf isn’t a character who inhabits a grey moral area. He’s white. He’s good. That’s all quite clear without needing any explanation. If we had a Frodo that came back to us after the events on Mt. Doom embittered with Gandalf for being “used” then we’d feel very confused indeed, because the majority of three books would have been cast in doubt with such a turn.

On the other hand, I’m not entirely convinced that Fantasy must inhabit a world of stark moral choice between good and evil. The one fantasy series I have been reading recently, A Song of Fire and Ice by George R. R. Martin, is pretty much the opposite of this. One could argue that the lines of moral choice haven’t been drawn yet — There seems to be a gathering storm in Martin’s universe, but it’s not quite clear what the sides will look like or who will be on what side. I’m not even convinced that the series will have a fulfilling ending, as the series does give the impression it could go on in a soap-operatic neverending series.

Now, even though I’m sort of vacillating between agreement and disagreement, I do think Andrea’s observation on the end result of all this is spot on:

I could go on and on. (In fact, I have.) But I’ll end with the effect all of this downgrading, flattening out, and fluffing has on the fantasy story: it breaks the wall. It jolts the reader awake from the dream. It reveals the gold and scarlet gems to be tinsel and plastic.

A lot of modern fantasy does really give me a cheap feeling. I read about a page or two of Eragon before I had to put it down. Any modern game or videogame in a fantasy setting is pretty much just an excuse to collect hundreds of magical items and get caught up in gee-whiz spell effects. I like spectacle, but I need substance as well. The last fantasy series I tried to read, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, gave me the same feeling. I enjoyed Dragonball Z in a sort of guilty pleasure sort of way, but I find it depressing that Rand, Jordan’s main character, kept giving me flashbacks to Goku as I was reading. It seems ridiculous to look at the Mary Sue/ power trip nature of a lot of this sort of writing with any sort of objectivity.

(I suppose one might argue for a distinction between Fantasy as a thematic genre, and Fantasy / pseudo-Medievalism as a setting. But that’d probably be pointless, as people in general aren’t going to bother making that distinction.)

Defining “Web 3.0”

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Technology

Today on Digg/Reddit/EveryWeb2.0site.com there’s an article near the top about Eric Schmidt’s definition of Web 3.0. Apparently, he defines Web 3.0 as moving towards a computer architecture where applications are web-based, personalized, etc.

I don’t really know if that’s where we’re heading — Personally I hope not, as that model strikes me as being pretty poor for the end user unless you like having your personal information traded amongst corporations for profit. Either way, before we get to Web 3.0 I hope we can at least get to some semblance of order in the current state of affairs on the web. What do I mean by that?

Current Web 2.0 sites are plagued by a variety of ills:

-Spam (99%+ spam, guaranteed)
-Organized mobs manipulating the system(s) to their own benefit
-Politics (Every other story is about Impeaching Bush! or some other conspiracy-theory like story)
-Religion (Every other-other story is about Impending Theocracy!, creationism, Richard Dawkins, or Fred Phelps)
-Ron Paul (Every story is about Ron Paul, Lord and Savior of Mankind, or at least until the Democratic primaries)
-Scaremongering (Everything is URGENT! And if you weren’t so evil, you’d care just as much as the submitter!)
-Frequent negative value to users (ie, a waste of time)

A web without these problems would be a true Web 3.0. Anything else is just an incremental version upgrade.

The Hobbit

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Culture, Literature, Personal

TheHobbit1

I mentioned awhile ago that I’d been meaning to go back to Tolkein and give him a re-read. Shamus‘ web-comic has been a constant dose of exposure, and it’s made me really want to revisit that world.

So the past week or so I’ve been spending my downtime going through The Hobbit. I’m about halfway through right now and enjoying it, though I’m struck by a couple of things.

1. How self-conscious the writing is. Well, perhaps self-conscious isn’t the right term for it, as it strikes me at once as self-conscious, but also naturalistic. The style seems to be that you’d encounter from an oral storyteller, interjecting himself, observations, and references to the world outside of the story into the tale.
2. How episodic a structure the story has. It kind of makes me want to start drafting up my own plot outlines, given the easiness which Tolkein seems to display in filling out a segment of the plot, then moving on to the next event. This is kind of expected, as reading something good always makes me want to write. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to pick up more writing these days.
3. Style. These days I can’t help but notice style, though I suppose this dovetails with #1. It’s odd to me to see sentence fragments, internal dialogue, and all sorts of things. In my own writing I’m constantly analyzing whether I want to use these techniques (and usually saying no, for the prototypical writer’s advice being “Show, don’t tell”). A lot of people have criticised Tolkein’s writing for being stodgy, but I really don’t see any of that here.
4. Prevalence of magic. Trolls turning to stone at sunlight, Gandalf’s voices, magical swords, … It’s a lot more prevalent than I remember. Of course, half of what we see is only apparent magic. Gandalf fries some goblins and wolves with, presumably, magic… But one could make a convincing argument that he was using chemical fires as well. The character of the Elves in Rivendell in particular, was very much “faerie” elf and not what I expect from Tolkein Elves. I’m not a Tolkein-ologist, so I can’t say how developed Middle Earth was at the time he wrote The Hobbit, but it seems like he altered much by the time he sat down to write the Lord of the Rings.
5. Characters. The only real characters in the book so far seem to be Bilbo, and maybe Gandalf. Since the thought of a Peter Jackson Hobbit movie is lingering in the back of my mind, I wonder how a film would handle a travelling party as big as Thorin & Company, most of whom are Dwarves and probably indistinguishable except for clothing. Tolkein hasn’t really given any of the Dwarves a big part yet, they’re pretty much along for the ride acting as foils to show Bilbo’s growth in courage and confidence.

More later, probably. I’m just barely getting into the meat of it.