Monday, December 31, 2007

The Ball and Its Dropping

Long time no blog. I know, I know. Consider me duly castigated. Had to take my brother to the west in order to make the flight which saved him a non-Geico bundle. And once I was done, I decided to visit some friends in Chicagoland and you know how it goes.

I'm back home now, left-overs from the family get-to-gether still safe and sound in the crisper. I look forward to endless days of turkey sandwiches and turkey nachos and, by the end, turkey ice cream and no doubt other gastronomic abortions visited upon my digestive tract in the name of frugality. Hate throwing that stuff out, you know?

Anyhow, we managed to have a white Christmas. Barely, thanks to the lingering piles of snow not quiet managing to melt before the day of some people's savior's birth. But I seem to have returns to a world of mud and muck. The sky is gray. The land is brown. Just cold enough to melt. Just warm enough not to freeze. A storm threatens to upset this uneasy equilibrium but, for now, it's dreary and dire and, fortunately, I have plenty of new books to get warm and cozy with.

I have, for the past few days, been working on a guide, of sorts, to the Snowball Fights. Why, I'm not really sure except a lingering desire to help others. Instead of, you know, writing off the rest of the human race as a loss. Just one of those goals I set out to meet by the year's end.

Of course, another goal was to get my next Gamer rank. And my past few days of idle meant I've slid well behind my pace. So, we're in the classic "write about the game or play the game instead of writing about it" dilemma here and I think you know which way this is going here.

I'm something like 600 points away from my admittedly meaningless title. But, hey, when you think about it like that, what's ever really worth anything? It's all memories of fleeting light. And, if you'll excuse me, with over half a hundred victories to pound out before the close of the year, I've got some memories to make.

Until next year everyone. Stay safe, stay sound, and stay happy.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Yule Tidings

Once again, I hope your holiday was as pleasant as mine. Things went rather well around here. From our annual tradition, the petards de fete, I managed to land an aquatic Derringer; the smallest water pistol known to man. At first, I dared not part with it. One never knows when one will find oneself in a heated water gun battle, after all, in these troubled days. But I wound up trading for a pair of round dice that will take up a position of honor in my Crown Royal bag. I could tell you more stories, like the search for the elusive Oxygen Bomb or how my sister made my mother cry. But for now, though an emergency trip to Chicago has been called in order to get my brother to his (incredibly cheap) there on time for his connecting flight to a place where the temperature doesn't hover around freezing. And I have not the time nor the inclination for more. Not sure if I'll be able to get much up for the next few days but, hey, it's the holidays.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Holidays

Here's hoping you're warm and toasty on this merry Christmas.

Photo by Flickr user wili_hybrid and used under a Creative Commons license.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Before I Go...

Quick update on the neighbor situation. Talked with a detective today and unless the idiot next door wants to pursue it further or do something else moronic then that will probably be the last of it. I've moved from being upset, from losing sleep over the thought of someone waking me or my loved ones up in the middle of the night, to just being angry about it all. But as much as I'd like to, I think it's best just not to make a big deal of this. Keep it from escalating. Let cooler heads prevail and be the better man by being generous and forgiving. The reports have been filed, the authorities notified and, if it happens again, the hammer will come down. But, for now, time to put it behind me.

I'm about to head off to the annual Christmas Eve party. There's a small gathering of the immediate family before the much larger event tomorrow. With all the festivities I'm not sure I'll be around much. And what with having new toys to play around with or new books to read, I'm not sure that I'll be up to writing much if I am. So, if I don't have a chance to tomorrow, let me just wish anyone fortunate to be reading this the happiest of holidays. Enjoy yourself, your friends, your family, or whatever it is that makes you happy in peace.

Snowball Fights: Fire Is the Only Way To Be Sure

If Saturday was lagtastic then tonight was drop-a-rific. I've begun to suspect that my mother's connection to the network is made from tin cans and a long string and said network is powered by narcoleptic hamsters. Although, I'm probably fortunate as thousands of people in the area lost power last night because of the high winds. I tend to blame my connectivity problems on the poor network but it's conceivable that wires whipping around in the breeze could have been the cause. Either way, it was unplayable as I'd get maybe five, ten minutes of everything seeming fine, then a few more minutes of connecting and reconnecting when I wasn't rubberbanding all over the place, my skill icons activated but not casting. Then I'd drop entirely only to have the connection come back, safe and apparently perfectly fine after only a few minutes. Eked out a few wins that way but felt like a total asshole for all the teammates I was stranding at random intervals so I quit early. Also why I didn't bother to blog yesterday, by the way.

A few matches early this morning brought my combined win total up to 20. Which puts me at around 100 since Friday or right at my daily goal of 25. With 5.6k Gamer points it's only 140 wins to go until my next rank and it's looking increasingly possible that I'll get there before the end of the holiday season. Stacks of candy canes and a fistful of keys to show for my efforts, too. Haven't managed to use any of those keys yet. I'm pretty much saving them up for one blow-out event of chest drop charting fun.

I doubt I'll get much playtime in tonight, though, although I might sneak in some matches late. Don't feel I've had a decent enough test just yet of the Warrior. At least, not compared with the Ele and Monk I've tried so far so I'll probably be sticking with that. Am itching to make a change, though. By now, I want to give every prof - even the poor, neglected Paragon - a whirl. It might seem otherwise because I'm making a big deal of noting my win totals but that's just a way of marking my progress and giving myself a reason to quit for the night. I'm past the point ofcaring, overmuch, about my victory total and I just want to have some fun with it. And, you know, sampling how each character plays and seeing if I can't figure out how to use them effectively is fun. To me.

Even sharpening my skills has become of secondary importance. Because, really, I know the level of competition is a concern but I feel like they're pretty sharp already. I'm definitely a strong player, definitely tough to play against (Still having a bit of trouble winning the scenario where I'm running the present and I'm running two attackers when I'm on Grenth's side. Just can't deal well with the snares without some support where, on the other side, I feel like, more often than not, I'm going to put that point on the board. Might take a while, might take some take-away cycles but it's a fight I can win. Not so when I have Shitball instead of Avalanche. And I don't have a good, go-to strategy for dealing with it and nothing I pull out of my bag of tricks really works well. But I suspect that's more of a structural problem - the inequality between Grenth and Dwayna's skills cropping up - instead of any personal failings.), and while I'm not going to single-handedly win the game, I'm making a solid contribution and I win the vast majority of matches I'm in.

In fact, I'm so confident in my skill(z) that I've entered into the newb hating phase of thinking I'm far better than I actually am. You know, the point where I look at my teammates and think the world could use a nice cleansing dip in a lake of molten fire because there's no hope for humanity. Sure, I've been on good teams with decent players but some of the randoms I get stuck with make me want to ragequit more than just the game. You know, like the ones who'll focus on running a present, valiantly holding off a single attacks like they should - if we weren't down 4 to something and the other teams has a runner moving down the pike while I'm trying to fight off half their team and desperately prevent the score. It doesn't matter if we cap ten seconds after they do because at that point, we've lost.

It's not things like the Warriors who don't use their shout at the beginning of the match in order to charge up their heavy snowballs or the teammates who run around the map, apparently exploring the place, who bother me. Those are hopeless causes, people who don't know what they're doing. But it's the people who are close to getting it but make those minor to middling tactical errors that just set my teeth on edge. The kind of mistakes that it takes to long to explain through the chat buffer, in other words. I'm sure it's because I've overestimated my mastery of the snowball arena and I think I know what I'm doing better than I actually do. But they just don't get it. And they could if they cared enough to get better.

Of course, when I started in the Snowball Fights last year, completely unsure of what to do, I'm sure I was much, much worse. The sort of mistakes that bother me are the ones that can be corrected, that you can learn to avoid, but the way I did it was to play through them. So, I think the sad fact is, that if I played with my self of a year ago I'd probably be just as frustrated.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Timely Music

Like I need to get more amped up tonight, but now that I'm back on 8-Mile it's angry disaffected youth music time.

You know, what ever happened to Fred Durst? Oh, that's right, he had no discernible talent and had no reason being anything like successful in the first place. I imagine he's gone back to giving out handjobs for nickles again.

Anyhow, I stumbled on that oddly appropriate duet between Marshall and Fred while looking for "Who Knew":

It's that "fight music" line that I was looking for, by the way. And I couldn't put up that first vid without also posting this epic dis track, too:

That Thing That Happened

Yeah, okay, so I'm back from talking with the police now. The end of the story is that nothing actually illegal happened so no charges to press or anything like that.

The beginning of the story is that I was wrapping up my nightly Snowball run in Guild Wars, definitely starting to feel the diminishing results as sleep beckoned, putting down some thoughts, preparing to fire off a blog entry or two and call it a night. Half-awake, in other words, and just waiting until my latest winning streak came to a close before I logged off and got ready for bed. Everyone else in the house was already asleep except for my brother, the other one, who was out and about.

Then, I heard this loud pounding that I, at first, dismissed as a figment of my imagination. An auditory hallucination caused by too much speed metal blaring through my headphones and listening to the game's sound effects too closely for too long. But it continued long enough to get my attention. Once I realized I should do something about it, I figured it was my brother. That he'd forgotten his key and how we can get into the house when that happens. So I wasn't in any big rush as I made sure I had pants and a shirt on (This is a very important thing to do before opening the door as I've learned the hard way.) and sleepily clomped down the stairs to fumble with the door. But when I opened it, I found not my younger brother but a strange car idling at the bottom of the driveway.

I paused, in the door, in my pajamas, expecting that it was some friend of my brother's that I didn't recognize and he was going to hop out, abashed at forgetting his key, now that he'd stomped back to the car after waiting for so long. And I could get in some big brotherly needling before getting back to my run.

But, no, it wasn't my brother or anyone he knew because, by that point, someone I didn't recognize had stepped out of the car and was, well, bellowing is the only word I think apt. Not quite shouting, not quite yelling, but not exactly talking in a normal tone of voice either. Nearly screaming at me, in the dead of the night, in the middle of my mother's quiet, peaceful neighborhood, demanding that I step outside.

Which, right, I don't know about you but when a random stranger pounds on my door in the middle of the night and begins yelling at me to step out of the door my first impulse is not "Okay, this sounds perfectly reasonable." But is more along the lines of "Oh shit, who the fuck did I piss off now and why do they want to beat the shit out of me this time?" And, so, forget about the fact that I had no shoes on and it was minus something or other beyond the door, there was absolutely no way I was setting one foot outside.

It went on like that for sometime. "Get the fuck out here!" "No." "Come out on the fucking porch!" "What do you want?" "For you to step outside!" "No." And so on until I finally realized I was talking to the son of my mother's next door neighbors. He's about my age or a year or two older and, well, I hadn't seen him let along spoken with him for years. Even though our families have been living side by side for over twenty at this point.

And, well, I'll be honest here, our family and his have never gotten along. Not to the point of angrily threatening each other in the middle of the night or anything but the sort of quiet tension between neighbors who just plain don't like each other which occasionaly boils over into the odd bush trimmed that shouldn't have been or that fence a foot past where it should be and the tense words that follow when you unexpectedly bump into each other at church, at the store. Wouldn't call it a feed but let's just say my mother thinks they've been planning on moving away ever since the wife died and she's not exactly going to feel sorry to see them go. Myself, I don't know, but, then, I don't live there and I don't have to think about it most of the time.

Anyhow, in my defense I'm awful with remembering faces and not only was I tired it was dark out but about the time I was recognizing who I was talking to the realization was dawning that he was incredibly drunk. Or high. Eyes definitely a little red and hazy and he wasn't exactly making coherent sense. If I wasn't stepping outside before, I certainly wasn't going to do it then because not only was he being threatening he was inebriated and there was no telling what he was going to do. At this point I was pretty much just shouting back at him since he'd been steadily and profanely insulting me the whole time. And, in retrospect, I probably could have handled it better up to and including just shutting the door and walking away. At the time, though, the adrenaline was pumping and the stupid macho juice was flowing, it was fight or flight time, and I wanted to win.

Not by getting into a fist fight or anything but, I think, by then I was just hoping to goad him into something illegal so I could get his stupid ass arrested. Sadly, pissing me off isn't illegal. Yet. But I definitely wanted him to pay for disturbing me. Eventually, what I got out of him was that he'd found some dog shit on his porch and had, apparently, decided that was the last straw. That's, at least, what he was yelling at me about beside my being fat, retarded, and unwilling to step outside and "handle things like men" (Seriously, I wish I'd been calm enough to remember exactly what he said because some of his "insults" were classics. Nothing like a drunkard's logic, after all. I mean, it's funny now but I was pretty shaken up at the time.).

Now, again, to be perfectly honest it's entirely possible that he found some canine droppings on his porch. His family has this ultra-annoying, huge German Shepard things that barks and growl every time it's outside (Which is, where my mother lives, technically illegal. Not that we've ever complained. Now, our dog, who like most would bark on occasion, they managed to call the cops on more than once. It's been that kind of petty crap for years with these people, basically.) especially if you happen to be outside at the same time. They let it run around, unleashed on the front lawn (Again, technically illegal) and it has the nasty habit of crapping all over the place. Including on our lawn - as I tend to find out when I've mown the lawn - and, from talking to the folks down the block, on theirs as well. Personally, I don't give a shit, for lack of a better term but it annoys my mother and, if she finds it on our property and she's in the right mood she'll get a shovel or something and flip it onto theirs. And sometimes it's landed on their porch, sure. But, for one, she hasn't done that it months, according to her (As you can well imagine, we've done some talking about this by now.). And, for another, there's about a foot of snow on the ground and I'm not sure you could find a lump of dog shit in there even if you wanted to.

In short, I think he got rip-roaring drunk and the dark memory of finding the same disgusting lumps of shit his dog leaves all over our yard on his front porch flashed through his mind and he decided to make a big deal out of it. And that meant pounding on our door around midnight and whatever he was planning to do if anyone bothered to come outside to play.

Finally, he'd had enough and stomped off into his car with his friend and sped off into the night. But not before he'd managed to tear half the Christmas lights off our bushes. I mean, it's not exactly the most extravagant display ever but I'd put some time and care into putting them up and it's the kind of dick move that really typifies what sort of person I was dealing with, I think. "Oh noes, I can't trick this person into stepping outside, well, screw it I'm just going to smash something now." Again, if it wasn't for the fact that this was the middle of the night and he was completely out of his fucking mind and, therefore, scarily threatening, it would be hilarious.

By this time, the rest of the household had woken up. Except my mother who managed somehow to sleep through it. Anyhow, we managed to wake her up shouting amongst ourselves about what to do. Personally, I just wanted to forget it and move on with my life although I was definitely feeling my heart pound in my chest a bit. I mean, sorry if this makes me less of a man or something but that's as close as I've come to a fistfight in a while. And, having been in some real serious scrapes in the past and been incredibly lucky to have, well, survived them, I was feeling pretty scared. And I think everyone else realized that even as I was trying to affect my typical cool, calm detachment. My brother, the one I picked up at the airport, wanted to march over and have some words of our own. My sister wanted to sue them about one of the many things we've argued about over the years. But my mother was adamant and insisted we call the police. And before we could stop her she was on the phone with 911 - this is, I think, the sort of case where you just want to call up their front desk or whatever instead of tying up emergency resources.

Anyhow, to recap, again, nothing much happened. It gets marked down somewhere as "neighborly tension" or something. Some report that they'll drag out the next time this happens or if this gets worse. A record that things aren't so cordial between us so that no one can be surprised when it comes down to the Hattfield and McCoys thing. But as threatening and nasty as the guy was he didn't do anything illegal. All he did was pull the lights off the trees and, since they didn't even break, it's not even like he destroyed our property or anything. He didn't even really threaten me. Never said anything like, "Come outside so I can beat your ass." Whatever menace I felt was implied, certainly, but largely in my own head. Can't even get him on a potential DUI since his friend was driving and I couldn't see if he was as shitfaced as our neighbor before they drove off. The officers took down our information and made a few notes about the whole thing (Brief ones, I saw the notepad as he was writing. Not that I blame him or anything since this is all probably nothing but, you know, no one likes to be dismissed.)

As you can probably tell, I'm still a bit shaken up by it. Mostly, trying to understand what happened. To go over the events and get my story straight in case some detective decides to follow-up as the officers feebly pledged might happen. Just amped up by the surge of uncertainty. The rush of emotions about what did and might happen. Which sucks since I'm still bone tired and more than ready to go to bed. But my mind's racing and I just know I'm not going to be able to sleep until I get this straight, if only in my own mind. Because, although I think I could have handled things better - mostly by just walking away - I think I did about as well as I could. I didn't escalate things, didn't step outside, didn't try to function on his base level, and, instead, tried to keep calm and rational and did the right thing by reporting a potential problem to the authorities. I mean, it's probably nothing but if he's going to make a habit of pounding on my mother's door in the middle of the night and making veiled threats then you can be damn sure I'm going to get the police, the courts, and everyone else I can on his sad, sorry ass. Because what scares me isn't what happened but what could have. What if this guy had a gun? Or if he'd snapped on another night when it was just my mother home, alone? What if I had actually met his demands and stepped outside? The possibilities of what could have happened are going to haunt me. And there are so many because whatever he was on, it meant that he was capable of pretty much anything.

Snowball Fights: One of Those 5-4 Nights

The night started out lagtastic for me and didn't get much better from there. On the wrong side of a lot of seven minute 5~4 matches, the majority of present I picked up were traps, that sort of thing. Even the one decent streak I put together was marred by our fourth member loading about a minute late into every single match of our 20+ wins. Managed to eke out my daily 25 wins but it was a grind. Actually a little more. Unfortunate events that I'll get to in a little bit meant I had to abandon my night even though I had a little more free time with which to play. Up to about 5.4k Gamer point, another 100 or so candycanes and a handful more Zaishen keys in the bank, so call it a good 30~35 wins today om a few hours of playtime. Not bad considering that

Maybe it was that I rerolled as a Monk. Want to try out different classes each day (Tomorrow I shall be....a Warrior) and not get stuck in a rut. Monks are amazing and really help out running the presents and that's what it's all about really. Mesmer seems pretty hot, too, but I don't think I have the reflexes for it. I also figured out that the duration reducing runes on your armor are non-stacking so there's no point in having those and a condition mod shield at the same time and I wanted to redo my weaponry. +Dazed Axe of Enchanting and a HCR focus is what I'm rocking right now although And maybe that threw me off, but, personally, I think my play has been fairly strong. I mean, I can't singlehandedly win matches by myself and I'm having problems winning the running battles when I'm not a Dwaynite but I'm rarely getting outplayed one on one and definitely making some key plays here and there.

It was just my teammates were, by and large, a liability. Like that one match where I ran in each and every present while my teammates were busying playing the faction farming game and killing everything in sight. And I don't mean that I was quick on the button and lucky in guessing the spawns and I trotted in the gifts while they rode herd, mowing down our foes along the way. I mean they rushed the opponent's base and didn't budge a single inch towards any present drop once. We won that fight but it caught up to us the next. There was the aforementioned individual apparently attempting to play through tins cans and a lengthy string. And a slew of other late loaders and disconnects. The leechers seem to be gone but people dropping inexplicably or never loading in the first half are still with us and no less aggravating.

It got so bad that I got my first Dishonorable today just because I had to leave those two and three person teams that looked to have absolutely no clue so often. I, obviously, am not a big fan of arbitrary mechanics that keep me from playing and, instead, force me to team with the slack-jawed idiots I'd rather avoid with deft map spiking. But, really, putting aside the fact that I'm pissed, if a team is down a member or two then there shouldn't be a penalty for leaving, especially if your teammates won't resign out because they're too busy asking what happened to their skill bars and if there's a level differential and, sigh, in that case it's pretty much all you can do unless you want to just sit there and get pounded in the ass.

Anyhow, I'll cut the ranting short since I have to go to the police station now and swear out a complaint against the neighbor who pounded on the door in the middle of the night, three sheets to the win, and nearly punched my lights out. I so love being home.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Snowball Fights: A Good First Day

Going to call it 45 victories today. I figure I need to average 25 a day for the next 10 days if I want to reach my goal of the next Gamer rank. So that actually puts me a bit ahead of pace. I'm now at 5.05k gamer points which means only 195 wins to go. Also earned about 135 candy shards that I have absolutely no idea what to do with. They've now joined the three and a half stacks I had left over from last year to clog up inventory space but at least they give me a good way of counting how many wins I've had. And I picked up enough faction to buy 5 Zaishen keys to go along with the one I bought for some faction I'd been leaving around for emergencies - at this point, I'm not exactly sure what those emergencies could possibly be but I always feel a bit weird completely emptying my faction, need to have that little reserve left in order to feel good about myself.

Considering I haven't PvPed in months now, I'm relatively pleased with how I've been playing. Definitely winning more than I'm losing although I only had the one win streak push past 20. More importantly, a lot of the little tricks I picked up last year like putting up an Ice Fort just before a Hidden Rock lands when I'm holding the present so I don't lose it or pysching out Mesmers with the cancel dance I'm managing not just to remember but to put to good use. Still making a lot of boneheaded plays but my starting point is a lot better than it was last year. I'm feeling much more comfortable and it's only a matter of time before I shake the rust off.

Pleased to report, by the way, that the hordes of leavers and leechers that so plagued last years event seem to be largely missing. A couple leavers have spoiled matches fo me but only because of a non-load and someone not wanting to fight an uphill battle or a late attempt to map out of a run because of pressing engagements elsewhere, like on your mattress and those are perfectly understandable as far as I'm concerned. I noticed the same thing in the Costume Brawl so it seems like the anti-leaving measures that have been put in place are actually working. It's early yet and we'll have to see how things go but so far so good. Haven't seen many sync teams around, though, although there was one memorable squad with a couple of obs mode All-Stars running a 3xMonks and a Warrior build that just crushed me. Otherwise, if they were syncing, I just didn't notice. And if there are any differences between this year's battle and the last, I haven't noticed them.

Anyhow, off to pick up my brother at the airport. More to come, eventually.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Snowball Fights: It's Time

The hour draws near. The magic NPC who will usher me into a world of wintery and competitive fun should soon be strategically placed within easy reach. And I am more than ready to get my snowball on. I've got my character all rolled up, stack after stack of the candy shards and frozen ectos that I never bothered to use last year sitting in my inventory along with my pimp candy cane weapons and festival hats along with the weapons I'll actually use to fight with. It's all about getting into the holiday spirit and looking good when you load in, after all. But I'm going to be rocking a shield with reduced crippling duration and a halved casting and recharge one-hander. Armor studded out with runes and dyed a festive, seasonal blue. All I need is for the format to go live again. I will hopefully have a more detailed guide up some time soon or, at the very least, assembled from various posts as the event wears on but, for now, some basic snowball tips.

  • Classes to use: Ritualist, Elementalist, Monk
  • Classes to avoid: Ranger, Paragon, Necromancer
  • My favored class: Assassin
  • Your equipment matters. Not fort mods or armor bonuses or anything like but things like the reduced duration from condition runes and HCR (Although you want the ones that say "x% chance to halve skill recharge" not the ones that are attribute specific.)
  • Mouse move is faster than the keyboard.
  • DODGE!!!
  • Don't focus on the kill.
  • Don't focus on the present.
  • Focus on being able to run the present.
  • Running presents well is the best way to win.
  • Avalanche is better than Yellow Snow but not by enough that it really matters, you can win with both sides.
  • Don't rely on Snowcone to save you.
  • Don't overlook the power of Snow Down the Shirt and Ice Fort.
  • Don't forget to put up Hidden Rock when you rez in.
  • Split off the starting bell. I prefer a buddy system - loose two person teams with each watching a pass that can collapse on the nearest present and support each other - but you can go with a 1/1/1/1, too, if you want.
  • There are four locations where presents spawn along the central axis of the map. In the wooded areas up the hills and at both ends of the frozen river. Know them. Know how to get to them. Know how to get from them back to your base.
  • Presents spawn every 30 seconds on the :15 and :45 marks.
  • Don't pick up a fresh present unless you can survive it being a trap bomb and blowing up in your face.
  • This should be obvious but you talk to the god's avatar to turn in your present and score points.
  • Don't try to take on more than one opponent at a time. But don't be afraid to, either. Unlike the Costume Brawl your death doesn't put points on the enemy's scorecard so it's relatively painless. At times, you will need to man up and get into an unfair fight if only to stall your opponent and keep them from capping. It is perfectly acceptable to go down in flames in such a situation but it's just as acceptable to turn tail and run if you have to.
  • You'll get better the more you play.
  • Have fun.

And if you get stomped into the ground by "Dessert Topping", that's me. See you in game.

Guild Wars: Like a Kid on Christmas Morning

Logged in today for the first time in a while on the off chance that Wintersday had kicked off in earnest. Sadly, while it seems the reskinning bunnies have torn through the old, familiar place that the reasons I actually care (ie the Snowball fights. Although I suppose I'll check out the Lair of the Snowmen to see what's up there as well.) have not yet made their way to where I can click on them yet.

The season, though, is in the pregnant air. Decorations have been hung, by the villages, with care. The santa hats are on the Lions' heads, while visions of candy canes dance in the heads of those strange little players who should be on meds.

Right, I will stop that now before we get to the "On Shock Wars, on B-Surge! Now, Crip Shot, now Poison!" bit...

In other words, the event is tantalizingly close. But the good stuff won't go live until some time later this afternoon. My time, anyway. Noon-ish Guild Wars Standard. Although it'll probably run a bit late, following the usual pattern. As of now, it's just the chirstmassy decorations that are up in LA and Nightfall-LA, none of the quest givers.
Interestingly enough, although I didn't stop in at each and every GW:EN outpost none of them seem to have been redecorated. I mean, I suppose at least the ones in the Far Shiverpeaks are already appropriately themed. But, well, at least even Drok's gets a bit of eyecandy around this time of year. I would have thought at least Olaf would be down for the party, if nothing else. Granted, it would take some workhours to create the new artwork instead of simply reusing the old ones but it still seems like a bit of a waste.

Anyhow, before I go, I thought I'd mention this gem that showed the lat time I checked my guild's battle history. Did I mention I'm in a guild yet? No, probably not since it happened over the November that time remembered. But, yes, I'm guilded again. Except that I'm not. It's rather complicatedly simple but it's actually a fairly good one. Good enough that I worry I should quit and drop the tag before I suck it up Snowballin' and make them look bad by association. And I hesitate to mention it lest it seem like, you know, bragging. Eh, I worry too much about these things. I think I'll keep the tag, save my friends the eventual reinvite cost, and see how it goes today . Whether or not it gets me a lot of unwarranted attention and unwelcomed focus of fire, in other words.

Why did I get off on this tangent in the first place? Oh right, I saw this great guild name under the status tab which has since presumably been nuked by the censors and I just have to preserve it for posterity's sake: Your Mom Is My Epic Mount.

Sometimes, I really love the people who play this game.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Of Doors and Dogs Now Gone

Oh man, exhausted. Been run ragged the past few days with chores as we get the old homestead ready for the relatives' visit. Things have been polished and buffed, ornaments have been hung by the stockings. At this point, I really don't care if that makes sense or not just so long as it's done. Not to mention that I've also had to buffet myself in the vast seas of unwashed humanity as I bravely venture into the retail experience because I still don't have all my holiday shopping done - just have my mother to go but she's annoyingly difficult to shop for.

Anyhow, I'm not just drained physically but emotionally as well. Today, as part of the repairs I've been making around mother's home, the small to middling maintenance things that she needs her big strapping son to provide, I put up some insulation over the big glass door that leads to the backyard. The one that we don't use much anymore now that the dog's gone. So to save a few dollars and to keep a bit warmer, it's now been sealed up. Won't make much of a difference since no one's likely to want to go outside much and there are plenty of other ways to get there but, yeah, it made me think about my deceased pet yet again. And that wound is still fresh enoughto put me in a black mood.

It's hard to escape it, though, because it's the holidays. Her name was Prancer. And, as you might imagine, she was a Christmas present from a time when me and my many siblings still cared about what was under the tree or about when, exactly, it would be permissible to wake our parents up instead of how late we could sleep in and still stumble to the family dinner in time for the gorging. And we didn't just name her because of the song but because of the way she used to walk. How when she was small and little she'd, well, prance around the backyard. Lifting her paws up proud and high to make her bouncy way through the snow. We thought it was hilarious. Thought everything she did was cute and precious. Back when she was just a puppy, of course. But this time of year was always her time. She was the sort of dog who loved the snow. Loved to run and play and toss it up in the air and snap at it - eternally surprised at the cold. In that same backyard that I've now closed off. In that same backyard where I spent those painful moments in the warm sun realizing that, just like the day, her time was drawing to a close. The sun was warm and golden that day. The breeze full of the gentle promise of fall. You couldn't have asked for a nicer day. But I would have liked for her to have lived long enough to see the backyard full, once more, of snow. She always liked it and I think she would have enjoyed one last walk with the ground frozen beneath her paws.

So, yeah, that's the kind of thoughts that have been buzzing around my mind today whenever I've had time enough to stop and let them brood. Which, fortunately, hasn't been very often. Just busy and with a last weekend to go before the Christmas we've been preparing for it doesn't promise to get any less hectic. Always something to do at the last minute, some last errand I'll have to run. Have to pick up my brother at the airport tomorrow, for example, and his flight supposedly lands in the middle of the night, at time even the airport calls "Officially Too Fucking Early". I suspect it might be a bit hit or miss around here until after that's all over with.

Also, Wintersday unfolds tomorrow and that's sure to suck up some of my free time as well. I am fully prepared to spend a lot of time enjoying myself. Which I am going to do even if I'm not having any fun doing it, dammit! But I do plan to get in as many rounds as I can. Make a good push on my gamer track in the next few weeks. Blow off some steam. That sort of thing. Since I never got around to putting up a guide last year I should have some things to put up about it, too. But, until then.

Tigers Blogging: Belated Reaction to The TRADE

Since the wheels in my head have apparently landed on sports today, about those Tigers....

I feel like Patriots fans must have when they heard about the Moss signing.

Usual fears about the lingering spectre of John Smoltz and the future of the farm system aside (In short, it'll be fine. Yah, they gave up a lot and the cupboard is now bare of prospects. But that's why you have a farm system in the first place. They found the blue chippers you've just spent, there's no reason to think they can't go out and do it again.) the question is no longer whether the Tigers will make the playoffs but how many games they'll win. I'm not going to be so bold as to predict a Serie victory months before the season starts because not only can other teams make moves of their own, baseball is a funny game and, sometimes, the best team doesn't win even in a seven game series. Too much luck involved and the probabilities can play out the wrong way for one club or the other. But the Tigers are now one of the top teams in baseball.

I think this simulated footage from spring training pretty much sums it up.

They're Grr-reat!

NHL Blogging: Interesting Tidbit

You know who's the number one team in the league right now?

That's right, the Detroit Red Wings. Three One Three, motherfuckers. We ride the Winged Wheel all night long. Just like your mother.

Which reminds me, I forgot to pay her last time. You got change for a quarter?

Sorry to remind you that your mother is, in fact, a disease ridden whore who, literally, works for pennies on the dollar but having banished all thoughts of the Lions from my mind, the professional sports scene in Detroit is giving me reason to boast.

The Pistons are headed for another epic postseason run studded with great series even if they don't make it back to the Finals this year, again. Likewise for the Tigers whose amazing trade has been unfairly overshadowed by the fallout from the Mitchell report (About which, all I have to say is, you're surprised? Maybe now all the reporters who've been telling us for years how this isn't a problem can stop talking about how it isn't a problem and, you know, actually investigate the problem and bring their findings to light so it won't be as much of a problem any more? Ha! Oh man, what the hell have I been smoking, huh? Besides your momm--ah, shit, um, that didn't come out right. Like you. When you slid out of that roast beef sandwich between your mom's---okay, you know what? I'm putting a stop to this image because I'd like to have sex again some time this decade. Instead, let me just express relief that it seems to have largely passed by the Tigers. Now, that just means none of them got caught in the witchhunt, not that any of them weren't cheating but at least we get things like this now instead of articles about what Sheffield knew and when.). Even the Wolverines (And, yes, don't kid yourself, they're at least as professional as the Lions.) are on the right track, having landed the kind of coach to make you forget about what a mess that job search was.

But, of all the teams around town, it's the Red Wings who are doing the best. It's the Red Wings who've done the best, year in and year out, for more than a decade now. There really is no overstating just what a remarkable accomplishment their continued excellence has been. Different players, changing rules, a completely altered competitive landscape, nothing has stopped the big red machine from rolling.

Except, apparently, St. Louis. Dammit, I was watching tonight's game and they just lost it on a late goal in the third. Was really looking good after they went ahead in the span of thirty seconds in the second and even as the Blues pulled even. Osgood was playing out of his mind.

But this is exactly what I'm talking about. This is only Osgood's second loss. This season. He went more than a month, since a game against Nashville, without losing. And even splitting time with Hasek, that's impressive.

In that time, they've opened up a 17 point lead against the number two team in their division. Which is St. Louis, actually. They'd better be careful, drop nine more games and now the Blues might have the edge in a tiebreaker scenario. They've also got a 10 point lead over the closest teams - Dallas and Minnesota, in the conference. And they've vaulted past the same Ottawa team which started the year so well. With two games in the bank, the Senators are a full 6 points in the Wings dust. In other words, they've got some catching up to do if they want that President's Trophy back.

So, you might well ask, why is the Joe half-empty? Why has the sellout streak that dates back to the end of the Dead Wings years been snapped to be replaced by apathy and inattention? The Wings are doing great, their displaced fans still pack the bleachers on road games, like tonight where I had a hard time telling if the game was in St. Louis or Detroit (Until, you know, I looked at the uniforms. Colors on the road, guys.), but where have the hometown crowds gone? Has the city somehow finally cooled on its beloved Wings?

I don't think so. At least, not as much as the pundits and barstool philosophers would have it. The sell-out streak is over and there are more empty seats at Joe Louis than there have been in a while but we're not at the point where they need to start giving away cars to get people in the door (Sigh, I miss those days... You'd get maybe two, three thousand a night. When my father worked downtown we had season tickets and my first hockey memories involve watching a bad team play worse in church-like quiet.). So a few less people are walking up to buy tickets on gameday. So it's a bit harder to move your tickets in the secondary market when you can't come to the game yourself. It's not exactly at crisis point. But, still, there's no denying that something is keeping people away. I think there's a lot of elements at work here and while none of them is precisely to blame, it all adds up to the semblance of fatigue.

One thought is that the team just isn't interesting any more. That because there's no Yzerman, there's no Shanahan, there's no McCarty, and the other names and faces that people like me remember. The players we grew up alongside, whose heartache and suffering and trials we shared alongside as the team went from worst to the first, in oh so long, to bring that Cup home. Now that they're gone it's just not the same. And the team lacks a face, a personality of its own beyond, you know, having been so good for so long. But that rings a little false to me because while Stevie Wonder is gone there's still some links to the past. Players like Lidstrom, the lynchpin of the defense for years now and every bit as much a part of those titles, and Draper, the catalyst of the whole feud with Colorado, and even Holmstrom, the plucky grinder to resonate with the blue-collar ethic of the city, they're all still there. Their stories are still playing out, their accomplishments to the city's lore still incomplete, and while they might not be personalities as large, as commanding, as the ones the teams have lost, they're still captivating.

The other is that the city and, indeed, the entire region, is mired in an economic slump that threatens - if it isn't already - to become an irreversible decline. Newspapers full of page after page of foreclosure notices, constant fears of yet another round of layoffs, the ever-stumbling fortunes of the auto-industry, the list of woes goes on and on. The number of reasons that people might decide to save their money, to stay home, rather than spend it on a frivolous expense like a night at the game grows daily. But that, too, rings slightly wrong in my ear. For one thing, the Red Wings haven't raised their ticket prices in years now. Oh, sure, they'll gouge you when the playoffs roll around - that's when they make their money anyway - but since well before the lockout the regular season costs have been kept at the same amount. Meaning, with inflation and all, it's actually cheaper to go to the rink than ever before. And if money's so tight and sporting events are where people are cutting back then why are Tigers and Pistons games selling out, too? Lions games are always jam packed and the Universities are always big draws. And the sidesports and minor teams in the region aren't really feeling much of a pinch either, as far as I know. But if people were really cutting back on their sports dollar wouldn't it be more of a widespread phenomenon and not relegated to people trying to pawn off their season hockey tickets?

No, I think the reason people have lost a slight amount of interest is exactly the same as why I've, admittedly, not been paying as much attention this year as I have in the past. It's the regular season. And we're spoiled.

The team has made the playoffs so many times, we've been through the march through a winning so many times before and learned, the hard way, that making a lot of hay night in and night out doesn't always translate into postseason success. In short, it's hard to care about the regular season because I've learned that it doesn't matter. I won't actually start paying real attention until the playoffs start because, the way the team is playing, it's not even like their seeding is in doubt. And, frankly, I might not even be too enthused even then. Because, I'll tell you right now, although the team is playing well now, I've seen them win President's Trophies before and felt the bitter sting of disappointment as they've flamed out in the first few rounds. I'm not expecting much different this year. I, sadly, don't have the benefit of a prediction written down somewhere around here to prove it but, in person, in private, I've been saying all along that the team's headed for a second round defeat. And I won't change my mind until I actually see it not happening. And, even then, anything short of the Cup is going to be terribly disatisfying. It's going to take, in other words, the kind of memorable playoff run that I remember from the days of my youth - one full of drama as legends are made before my very eyes - to recharge not just my interests, I think, but that of the entire fanbase.

It may sound spoiled, it may sound like a problem than a dozen other clubs would like to have, but there it is. We're so used to winning that, now, we take it for ranted. And we need something we can rally around to remind us just how special it truly is.

Wolverines Blogging: Oh, For the Love of...

Drew Sharp pisses me off sometimes. Case in point, this article in the local paper the other day about how the hiring of Coach "Bender" Rodriguez was a disappointment. A betrayal of their high ideals and old-school ethics. A trembling step into the swirling eddy of filth and corruption that it, apparently, takes to compete in today's collegiate sports. And Mr. Sharp, for one, is not going to take it lying down. No, he's going to come down with a furious case of the vapors and clutch his chest as sternly as he can in the general direction of everyone involved.


This is the same paper and, I'm pretty sure, the same person saying that Michigan needed to abandon those same ideas as antiquated and unnecessary. That they needed to hurry up and get a coach before they became an embarrassment, a laughingstock. That they needed to go out and grab someone, anyone, before the store was fresh out of coaches. And now he's slamming them for doing just that?

Now, far be it from me to say that the university doesn't deserve criticism. That there are, in point of fact, many things wrong both with the culture of the program and how they conduct themselves. Because, really, when you get right down to it I'm about as much of a Michigan Man as Harbaugh (Which is to say I'm so far off the reservation, I've wandered into the Five Points and I'm being directed towards Ellis Island by the strange and pointing natives.). But at least be consistent about it.

What Sharp's doing here is what I hate most about sports columnists and that's being a dick about things for the sake of being a dick. Because staking out an unpopular opinion and arguing it into the ground is a good way of drawing attention, of feedback, of getting the letters sent to the editor that let him know that people are, at the very least, reading you. Whether the position is actually logical or sensible is a secondary concern. Having something incendiary to fill column inches is all that matters.

Pisses me off even more that I fell for it. Instead of, you know, dismissing his comments as more whining bloviation. I seem to be doing that a lot lately. But rather than hand-wringing about how Michigan is, well, not whatever crazy idealized vision of perfection it would take in order to escape criticism that Mr. Sharp has in mind (Which, you know, since he has to push papers he'd still probably find something to nit pick about, of course.) I'd much rather read something insightful about news like this.

Namely, that Rodriguez just went and fired all the UofM assistants. Now, I knew some of them weren't long for their positions but, from what I'd heard, at least a few of them were going to stick around. Not just to provide continuity with the old regime but because some of them are damned good recruiters who don't need to hold a clipboard or stalk the sidelines to add value to the program. The people who've been landing big recruits for years and would help teach the new coach with tenuous connections the ins and outs of the arcanery of recruiting at Michigan. Of course, I have no idea which of the legion of assistants and assistants to assistants is important - whose presence isn't exactly going to be missed and whose was vital to making sure that the new regime got off to the best start possible. I know the now gone defensive co-ordinator is named English or something but it's not like I go around keeping detailed information about the coaching staff on hand. For that, I rely on the professional who have the time and the access to get inside. The men and women who talk to these coaches, who get to know them, who's job, as far as I'm concerned, is to keep me informed. Not inflamed.


Yeah, so, the whole Jamie Spears thing. I have to say don't really understand the big deal here.

Firstly, that deciding to keep the child and the ownership of one's decisions that entails is some sort of bad example to the rest of us. Granted, I'd rather the coded words to the "family values" crowd weren't there along with the casual misogyny. But that language is easy and acceptable and isn't going to touch off the firestorm of controversy that even tacitly approving of abortion would. I think the problem isn't what was said but the climate that makes it possible to say those things instead of another and that's not going to change unless people make that point and hammer it into the ground but, not my fight. We are at the Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream point here - I can understand why it's important to some people but I just can't see it myself.

Secondly, that it's even an issue that a sixteen year old girl has gotten pregnant. I mean, it's going to make it hard to keep filming her series but so does the writer's strike (I hope), it happens, you work around it or she takes a few years off from the arduous task of acting to raise the child before getting back to her career. And maybe you make a note of that for the fans who are concerned about the future of their favorite show. And this is, I believe, the Hannah Montana crowd so it's especially rapid and covered in sparkles and cloyingly pinkness so maybe, to those youngster it is, in fact, the end of the world. But Anything beyond that is just...creepy. Look, she's sixteen. Last I checked, it's biologically possible for her to get pregnant and, assuming everything is working fine, it probably has been for a while. You don't, after all, hit the legal age of consent and look down to suddenly discover you've sprouted genitalia. She's a reasonable attractive girl if you're into that sort of thing (I personally don't go for the twin balloons on a stick with bleach-blond hair look but that's just me.) so I'm sure she's had the opportunity.

I'm sure a lot of parents are shocked, shocked to find out that their sons and daughters think about wet, hot monkey sex all the time completely unlike how things were when they were young. Kids have sex. More to the point, kids should have sex because it's a wonderful, life affirming activity that's part of our natural, perfectly healthy urges. Not just for procreation but the ones that lead us to one another for love and companionship and everything that makes life worth living. And, wonder of wonders, sometimes when you have sex you get pregnant. Especially if you don't have any birth control because you're afraid to ask your parents about it and it's more expensive than ever and schools are increasingly teaching the abstinence which leads directly to more unwanted pregnancies than providing information about safe and responsible sexual practices. And why? Because we're the sort of sick, sad society that's at once obsessed with sex and repulsed by it at the same time. Controlled, driven by the same puerile tongue wagers who've made a big issue about this, of all things. But even if there was, as I hope, birth control being used then it's not 100% effective. Condoms rip, the pill doesn't work, it happens.

Like I said, beyond the idea that sometimes stuff happens and you deal with them, I just don't get it. But, then, as always, my belief is that we need to teach our children how to be responsible with the dilemmas they'll face, not to protect them from every last little harm. It's about allowing them to grow and make their own choices and to deal with their own mistakes, not trying to impose your exact way of living your life onto them. Try going on the editorial page and screaming until you're red-faced about that, though.

Am really looking forward to Juno, though, so who knows?

Pistons Blogging: You Must Watch the Embed

The Pistons beat the Celitcs in their holiday showdown between the beasts of the East yesterday. And you know what that means:

Remix! Your life is not complete until you've watched that through to the end, by the way.

Usual caveats apply here. Only one game out of however of the too many they play in the regular season. Doesn't mean much, doesn't portend anything for the post-season where, if there are gods in the basketball heaven, these two teams will surely meet. But, it does confirm a few of my suspicions.

First, that Boston is slightly - and I must stress slightly - overrated. They've had a soft schedule in the first quarter of the year. This is the first time they've met up with Detroit and they haven't faced an extended road trip out West yet either. In other words, they haven't played the best competition. So while their stats are eye-popping they're somewhat lessened by the fact they've been beating up on creampuffs to start the year and running up their record, just like the national title contenders do in college football. You play the games you're given and all but you can count me as one of the non-believers of the theory that the Celtics are the most awesomest team ever and Garnett is the second coming of Basketball Jesus and the rest that comes with a sparkling regular season record that doesn't mean anything. Good team, they have some flaws, and they're beatable. Say the same about everyone in the East right now. Should make for a hell of a series in the playoffs, though. And nice to see the rekindling of the old Detroit/Boston rivalry. Still can't believe Zeke threw that pass away...

Second, that in a potential series, I happen to like the Pistons chances. This is not only because I am a huge homer and would pick them no matter what and then attempt to twist logic and reality to explain just why they're destined to win. But also because I think the Pistons will be better at controlling tempo. They're also a much more experience, playoff hardened team (I think, a little too hardened and the window is swinging shut, mind and I'm still puzzled why Dumars didn't blow the team up over the summer since they couldn't win last year and they've now brought everyone back a year older to try to do it all over again while a lot of teams have only improved? Right, that's going to end well.) but forget the calm, clutch behavior that comes with having been in those tense closing moments before. What really won that game for the Pistons was how they slowed the game down and dominated defensively, especially in the second half. I expect, if they can do that in an energized Boston arena, they can do it again.

Third, that just because he has a good team it hasn't magically made Doc Rivers into a good coach. I'd prefer to believe that my Pistons won the game but I'll also concede that Rivers did a lot to give it away with some really boneheaded playcalling down the stretch. Again, I like that potential match-up when it comes to a playoff series.

ClotH: A Closer Look at the Skills and, No Doubt, My Growing Madness

Okay, so, the skills. Each class has its own set of special skills in CloTH. There are five classes as I think I've not mentioned before. It's a nice round number that encompasses all the different archetypes and stereotypes for RPG classes that I want to include that doesn't clog up the page with a lot of useless detail. There's the Fighter who's, well, the big meatshield who stands around yelling at people to hit him a lot or, in other words, the melee tank. There's the Cleric who's the desperately needed box of bandaids, the required healer who keeps everyone else alive. The Sorcerer who's the glass cannon, the fragile spell caster who hurls around the big, costly damage dealing spells and nukes. The Hunter who's the guaranteed overpower class who's, in this case, the ranged, solo friendly class. And then there's the Mentalist who's the weird class that no one really understands because it's just so strange and completely, utterly different than all the other classes that have tried to get outside the healer/tank/damage dealer box in all the other games before and, seriously, is absolutely nothing like a Mesmer or an Enchanter or anything like that, the fictional developers have really, really shown off their creativity with this one, is what I'm saying. They're all classes that should, hopefully, look familiar to anyone who has any passing familiarity with the MMO genre. Maybe not every single detail or specific but enough that they have a basic idea of what they can and will do and the type of player who'd be drawn to that sort of character. Again, I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel here or to build, in so many words, a better mousetrap but using common tropes and elements to deal with the issues and themes of people who play these sorts of games. I hope I'm doing more than just cutting and pasting but, as I understand it, making these things familiar and comfortable is a plus because it makes it easier for the reader to swallow the rest of the story.

Anyhow, although the game is based heavily on Guild Wars the skills, the special abilities that every character uses to do, well, almost everything are one place where I've diverged from the model a bit, I think. Each of the five classes has 50 skills, in total that are, like GW purchases with skill points. But they can only use 10 of them at a time. Every character gets a primary and secondary class, too, so that's something like 100 skills each character can potentially use (In case you hadn't noticed, I like to keep the numbers nice and simple for the same reason I'm keeping the class roles nice and basic.). Not quite but we'll get to that in a bit. The skills are divided into lines. Groups of similar skills that a player can invest in with their stats that further separate and distinguish their character from every other one of the same type. But here's where we go off the rails because while it's not as simple as spending attribute points like in GW. Instead, each skill has five ranks and players spend their skill points in improving them which also happens to raise their associate attribute.

Let's say, for example, you're a Sorcerer who has five skill lines tied to each of the five elements (We're using the oriental model of Air, Earth, Fire, Metal, and Water here, instead of the western version of four elements. That way we have an element for each class and the number five becomes a thematic design motif with deep significance to the game's lore instead of just a random figure that I've pulled out of my ass because it works. I love it when things work out like that.) and is, therefore, the oddball because the other four classes have but four skill lines each. The Sorcerer gets five, though, and if you went to your non-existent page of statistics you'd see that you have an attribute to go along with each (Along with an attribute for each line from your secondary and five "general" attributes that every character gets - things like Strength, Dexterity, and the like - but never mind that now.). But there won't be any way to adjust them at all. Just a flat figure which, if you're a starting character would be 0. If you want to increase, say, your Pyromancy attribute - which you might want to do since the game tells you it would provide some resistance to fire damage and let you meet the requirements of the items you want your sweet wizard dude to be using, like that starting wand you've got in your pack - what you'll need to do is leave the stat page and head to the skills page.

There, you'll see that you have a skill point or two to spend and several tabs which correspond to the various elements. If that sounds familiar, yes, that's because I stole the idea from somewhere. Spend a skill point to "buy" a new skill from the Pyromancy tab - for example, the simple damage dealing skill Flame Whip which is, well, Flare, it'll do a little bit of damage, has a short cooldown, and doesn't cost a lot of mana so you can cast it over and over again if, you know you're dumb like that (Seriously, don't use Flame whip. It's awful. The Sorcerer, in general, is just a design trainwreck. But an intentional one. It's the class that's been nerfed into oblivion and I have so much fun putting it together and adding new and ever more cruel ways of destroying the class that I'm sure it's not healthy.) - , and you'll not only have a new ability to slot in your bar you'll also raise your Pyromancy attribute by 1. The more skill points you spend in that tab and the higher your Pyromancy will climb.

Now, as I said, each skill has five ranks, each one of which costs a skill point to buy and will improve the skill's variables. They're not tied to the associated attribute, in other words, but to the rank. So let's say your Flame Whip does 5 fire damage per rank. So, at level 1 it does 5 damage and, then, you can spend more skill points to improve it until it does 25. (I'm just making up numbers here. This is the sort of thing I haven't bother to figure out exactly because - I can stress this enough - I'm not that crazy. Close, but not that bad. Yet.). Durations, even cooldowns and casting costs can be affected, too. And each rank you improve Flame Whip also improves your Pyromancy stat. When you run out of ranks or decide that you can live with a Flame Whip that only deals 15 damage when you're out killing five sewer rats on newbie island, you can invest your skill points in another skill. Like, say, Salamander Skin which is sitting right next to Flame Whip on your Pyromancy tab and tempting you with its description of adding burning damage to your weapon hits (If you play Guild Wars think Conjure.). Every skill point you sink into that is added to your Pyromancy title, too.

Your skill attributes, in other words, are the total of all the skill points that you've spent on the related skill line. And where that's important is not just in the secondary effect that, in this case, lets you equip better flame wands and off-hand power items that increase your mana stores or other attributes. Or even the minor bonus that you've become more resilient to the type of damage you're dealing - namely, burnination - yourself (This, by the way, is one of those "This is an example of what your game shouldn't do" mechanics that are litered throughout.). But also to fill out the requirements for getting more and better tiers of skills.

That's right, in our Sorcerer example Flame Whip and Salamander Skin are beginner skills. Anyone who's a Sorcerer - primary or secondary - can spend a skill point to use them at any time. But there are more advanced skills that require you to have a certain level in Pyromancy (Or, potentially, a certain rank in a previous tier's skill or even a specific level in a general attribute. Again, this is the kind of specific detail I haven't really thought out because I'm not insane.). There are four tiers for each line and if you want to use skills from the second tier of Pyromancy, say, you need to spend, say, five skill points total. Any way, any combination you want whether you max out Flame Whip or Salamander Skin or spread your points between them and other skills I haven't mentioned yet, but once you've sunk enough points into them then, and only then, does the next tier of skills open up so you can pick up things like Fireball and Inner Flame for your character to use.

As I mentioned there are four tiers for most skill lines and, although it varies, in general the higher the tier the more skills you have to pick from. They go from an average of two at the beginning tier, to four at the intermediate and, then, six at the advanced. And on the fourth and final, expert tier you have the line's ultimate skills. Literally. They're a take-off on the elite skills of GW in that they're obscenely powerful and you can only use one at a time. These ultimate skills are supposed to be what you'll build your character around, the reason why you want to sink a majority of your skill points into a particular line and most skill lines have two to choose from.

The Sorcerer, again, is a bit of an oddball since it has five lines (And again, it's a wretched class so those lines have fewer skills than the ideal and a lot of them are simple replacement operations where fire damage gets swapped out for, say, cold or lightning attacks.) and each line only has but one Ultimate for a total of five. But take the Fighter, for example, who has a line of attack skills for martial weapons (Rather than follow the Guild Wars model of a skill line for each type of weapon, I just have one. That way I don't have to worry aout coming up with dozens of attack skills or having to redesign every time I decide to add or remove a weapon type.) called Arms which has the standard two to pick from. The first is a skill that delivers a big packet of damage. The other, less damage but more often. One's for +dmg, the other for damage compression so it's the difference between, say, Eviscerate and Cleave. Well, actually, it's more like the difference between Executioner's Strike and an unconditional Protector's Strike sicne there's nothing as crazy as a Deep Wound in this game so the big damage skill is all about the eye-popping numbers and the damage compression skill is more about the reduced swing time than it is about the bonus damage. You can imagine the fictional theorycrafters of the game's fans have filled imaginary message boards with rants about the superiority of one over the other and I'll leave it up to you to imagine which one's going to be more valuable (Here's a hint: I'd run Frenzy if it was elite.) but, the idea is that not only do you have several skill lines to play with you have multiple ways of using the skills within those lines so the ultimates are there to reinforce and guide players along those different paths. Doesn't always work out since the developers are trying to judge how the game's going to develop in that case and, again, it's a trainwreck not a good game. But that's the idea.

Case in point, getting Ultimates to use is a bit more involved than simply opening up your character menu and spending unused skill points once you meet a req. You have to do all that but, first, you have to unlock them those a quest or even a series of quests (And, you can imagine, not every Ultimate is as easy to get to as the next and this is the sort of thing that makes the PvPers of the game gnash their teeth and wail about imbalance.). Afterwards, you can buy and slot it normally. You unlock your other skills, too, the first time you buy them. While respeccing isn't as easy as it is in GW it is possible and the cost is reduced for switching back to skills you've already learned before rather than trying out something new (Trainwreck!!!). But players at least have a way of trying out different builds and forgetting about the skills they never used which is important since there's a finite supply of skill points each character can learn and the fall well short of letting them learn all the skills they have avaiable to pick from. Which, again, is about 100 from 50 from each of two classes.

Now, if you've been following along, you've probably realized something is off. I've said each skill line contains, on average, 12 regular skills and 2 super-special Ultimates for a total of 14. And that the classes have four skill lines except for the Sorcerer who has five. If you do the math that's 56 skills for each class so what gives? Well, each class gets a primary line. A group of skills and an associated attribute that only primary members of that class can use. For Sorcerers it's the one tied to Metal or the element of knowledge and intelligence and technology, it gives them bonus mana/energy. For Fighters it's Durability which gives them bonus hitpoints/health. And so on. The primary lines lack an Ultimate (Meaning that everyone gets six or so to pick from. Sorcerers, being weird and, also, lame, have only five one of which is tied to their primary. Build diversity not exactly a big concern with them, in other words.) and have, generally, fewer skills more of which are found on their lower tiers. They average 8 or so, which combined with the 42 from the other three lines adds up to 50 (Sorcerers have only 6 primary skills and 11 in each of their four main lines, by the way.).

Which means that, unless you're combining with a Sorcerer, each character has 92, not 100 skills, right? Well, no. Because there's also a limited selection of "general" skills. These, like the Resurrection Signet, can be used by any character and they're things like self-heals and rezes and simple attacks that every character needs to function. They're largely forgettable since each profession has some way of dealing with those things with their own skills but they're there and although I have quite bothered to care enough about them to sketch them out, there's enough to push the number to around 100 or so.

With a limited skill bar and Ultimate power and its restrictions, most characters concentrate on one or two lines plus their primary. Depending, of course, on what they're doing. But, in general, you have to sink a lot of points into a line to get to the good stuff and a ton to use the Ultimate you really want to and that generally means you have a significant number of skills you're either going to slot or leave behind uselessly. Say an Ultimate requires an attribute level of 25, that means you need to max out 5 skills (Or more, if you don't) just to use your big stick and that's half your bar already (Assuming everything below is useful which, trainwreck warning again, isn't always the case.). There's a case to be made for going "off-line" and spending a lot of points just to get one powerful skill but most players see skill points they don't slot as being wasted. What's left over is used to splash into a line here and there to pick up the rare low-tier skill that can be still good - Salamander Skin, for example, is much prized by Fighters and Hunters because it's a long duration buff that doesn't cost a lot and adds a decent amount of damage ot their already considerable abilities so it's not rare to see a Fighter/Sorcerer or Hunter/Sorcerer just because they want to use that one skill.

I realize I've just gone on for a horrifyingly long amount of words about the very system I'm trying not to get too detailed about. But I can't help it, it's all so clear in my head but it takes some space to let it all out. And I've definitely been working this sort of things out. Although I haven't gone so far as to work out every last detail I have, at least, the grand sweep of what's possible and what's not with the skills in mind. At the time of this writing, I've fairly well fleshed out the various lines for the Sorcerer, Hunter, and Fighter, and I have a pretty good idea of the others, too. Not, as I said, the costs and exact cooldowns and effects, but at least a general description of what they all do along with the number and kind of skills that you'd find where. Because, sadly, this kind of thing is incredibly fun to me. Next up, attributes. Or maybe a closer look at the classes. I'm sure you'll find out eventually.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

It's All About the Metaphors, Baby!

The much promised blogging renaissance which Brinstar has cleverly deduced is sadly going to be delayed once again. Although, I like to think you can already see some hints of it already. Don't know if taking some time of has resulting in renewed spirits or a pent up need for bloviation but I think I'm churning out some solid stuff lately. More importantly, for me - at least - I seem to be, well, thinking again. It's hard to explain because, you know, try to express your inner thought processes sometimes, but I can tell when my mind's active and engaged and when I'm, for lack of a better term, just praying at the altar of inspiration like cargo cultists at a bamboo airport. Still, ch-ch-changes in the works once I actually figure out exactly what they are.

But not today because not only did I get wrapped up in planning for my latest novel project I also got wrapped up in playing Mythos. Or, rather, not playing. There's been a new patch with a bunch of promising features (Including respeccs. Yes! I mean, so much for the lengthy rant I have on my harddrive comparing respeccs in Mythos to refund points in Guild Wars and attempting to prove the benefits of beginner friendly mechanics to erase mistakes in games aimed at the casual market. There's, you know, no need to finish that off now but it's worth it to no longer be trapped by past choices.) that I'd like to talk about. But, I don't know, I feel this strange need to actually play a game before I discuss it. At least once or twice, you know?

And, try as I might, I'm still stuck on the outside. Same error as before 8-2449 or whatever it is that means there's some problem with my non-existent firewall. Because I've disabled everything, scrubbed my computer clean, followed every suggestion and bit of advice I could find in the wide net I've cast through the interwebs and, basically, exposed myself - however briefly - like a flasher at a nudist colony, to all manner of hackers, viruses, and computer related boogymen. And all for nothing. I don't get it. I feel really annoyed that I don't get it. And I'm about one step away from forswearing all technology and moving to a shed in the woods with a manual typewriter to see if I can't get into the Kaczynski wing of almni at my alma mater. But, no, I'm sad to say I'm not going to become the Unicode Bomber just yet. Just that I wasted a bunch of precious time banging my head against the wall when I could have been writing. Or drawing. Or dancing. Or singing the songs that I like to sing. Watching Scarface about fifty times. Something, anything, other than proving the depths of my ignorance, in other words.

Not giving up on the game just yet because, man, I really want to play and not being able to is whetting my appetite more than any number of previews or testimonials. Which is probably a bad thing as the game I'm building up in my mind is going to cure dandruff and pop into the kitchen to make me a sandwich afterwards by the time I'm done. Setting myself up for disappointment since it can never live up to my self-induced hype, in other words.

Trey day until the Snowballs get rolling, too. I will be standing in line, anxiously awaiting the hour. But much to do before then.

Holy crap, I actually spelled Kaczynski right first go.

I Make Fight Musings

It's true what Atrios says with such brilliant succinctness. And, I suppose, I've been guilty of a similar attitude myself at times. Although when the bleakness of despair washes over me I'm more inclined to pull the figurative covers over my head and let the world pass me by rather than try to drag everyone else down through the looking glass and into the mire beneath the thin veneer of civility and optimism that I and I alone have seen. But that's because my initial impulse when the going gets hard is always to opt out. Of the problemm, of the solution, of the whole thing. Which is exactly my problem with Atrios's post because he encourages exactly that kind of behavior. We don't need the pessimists to opt out and disenfranchise themselves. The progressive, the liberal message should be one of empowerment through inclusion. We need to find a way to encourage those who look around and see the ashes instead of the sprouts starting to rise through the blackened old growth. To get them involved, to get them motivated, and to get them doing the something that will make them feel like differences can be made and they are, in fact, helping to make one. To do otherwise is to buy into the 50%+1 strategy, the model of politics as endless warfare pushing ever downwards towards the margins.

After all, I'm as defeatest as they come. I'm so far mired in despair and depression that I'm defeated. That's exactly why I read political sites and follow the news and everything else besides just go out and have some hedonistic fun. Things are wrong and something needs to be done. And I pay attention because I'm hoping to find out what to do. And, I think, I'm not the only one who wants to engage but can't figure out how or where to go about it. Just that I and a lot of other people really need to.

Cup Those Hands 'Gainst The Ill Blown Winds

You know, ever time I think the world has gone insane. That we're burning and burning ever dowards to a pile of cinders. And there are so many problems and so few solutions that I don't even know where to start let alone if I should. There's always that little ray of hope that shines through the storm of doubt and uncertainty that clouds my thoughts. Well, here's yesterday's. The FISA bill killed.

For now. As a wise man once said, "Let's not start sucking each others' dicks quite yet."

But let me jus echo the points already made so excellently (As usual) by Mr. Greenwald here.

It's not always about winning. It's about not losing badly sometimes, too. But, sometimes, it's really nice to have a win or two to point to as the reason behind the struggles. The wind of hope in your sails as you tack head on into the sea of troubles opposing you. It's the last, slender flicker of heat and warmth dancing on the candle that you craddle so carefully in your hands, protecting it from going out completely, that gives you the strength, the courage to keep fanning it back to life. The world is going to hell, true, ruin surrounds us on all sides and dire consequences await our failure. And it would be easy, oh so easy, to give up and slip away into the long, cold night rather than try to fight that good fight. But that's always been true. Always will be true. As long as there's history. As long as there's been civilization. Men and women will struggle to keep whatever they think is right and important seen safely into the hands ot the generations that follow. And rather be ground down by that constant and ceaseless ordeal, frightened by the ease of defeat and the paucity of victory, instead we have to feel proud. Have to horde and treasure the few examples of success that we can find, no matter how small and fleeting they may be. Because those are what will give us comfort in the darkest times that lay ahead.

It's not self-congratulation to bask in the wan glow of this win. It's a stepping stone. A building block to bolster our defenses and stiffen our resolve. Bigger, better, stronger, faster we'll be back to fight this battle and more.

I Have Just the Machine For That

Harry Reid, majority leader of the Democratic Senate says says that pulling the Free the Telecoms Bill has nothing to do with "Chris Dodd and his allies".

There's only one way to respond to that. Juvenilely.

/b/-tard photoshop powers activate! Form of....propaganda!

I think you know which side I'm on. The question, Mr. Reid, isn't which side you're on but why?

Updated to add:

Forgot to include this at first but better late than never. As with any political campaign, the Senator could use some help financially. And if for no other reason than to encourage him to continue his defense of our liberties, here's a link so you can make a donation. And another to his campaign site in case you want to find out more about the man and his platform.

ClotH: State of the Project

Okay, so I've been working on the novel or, really, the short story I'm hoping to tell in order to gear up for the novel and to explore a few stylistic tics first. A dry run, if you will, to see if how I'm planning to handle the game/player boundary actually works or if I need to come up with a better way of telling a story about a bunch of people sitting around making small muscle movements in front of their computers for hours on end. Writing about gaming is a logistical nightmare, let me tell you, and I want to make sure I'm not going to run halfway down a false path when it comes to the in-game action.

The short story is, itself, nothing particularly inspiring or, even, meaningful, which means I'm going ot have a hard time ending it. But it's set post-release as opposed to the novel which is set, largely, within the confines of the closed test before hand. And I'm hoping to focus on a group of players going about their normal routine. Or as normal as a routine gets in a world where people summon spectral monsters from thin air and grip bolts of lightning in their bare hands. Which is to say that, really, when you think about it, the things you do when you're playing an MMO day in and day out make absolutely no sense to the objective observer. They're only understood by those who you play alongside, aren't they? And it's that kind of disconnect that I want to grapple with and play around with in the main novel. Right now, I just want to make sure the world and its mechanics make sense and I can describe it well enough while still making it interesting.

Which is a lengthy way of saying, by introduction, that I've fallen into the trap of thinking about the crunchy elements of the outline. The real nitty gritty of how my fictional game works. I'm increasingly afraid it's a bit of a trap because, the truth is, not everything has to be entirely thought out of 100% consistent. The game isn't exactly the world I want to write about but it's almost another character. And the more fleshed out, the better realized it is, the stronger the story will be as a whole. But I need to remember that my fabricated game is, ultimately, a flawed one. I'm not trying to make an example of the kind of game I'd actually want to make or play but, instead, a collection of good ideas surrounded by horrid mistakes (Which is, after all, a lot easier to make and a whole bunch more fun.). So, I don't have to worry about balance and fun factor and everything else that goes into making a successful MMO. Instead, I have to establish enough elements that it passes the sniff test among those who know what about the subject without letting it get in the way of the story. The game I'm dreaming up has to, in so many words, help reinforce the story, not restrict it.

But, well, I played this one flash game which I was foolish enough not to bookmark and, now, can't remember exactly where it was or what it's called so I can't pass along the link. It probably comes as no surprise that I'm a big fan of the old school gold box games and things like Ultima and the like where you're given a bunch of nearly faceless characters and a wide sandbox to play around in with lots of tactical encounters strung together by a loose plot. And that's what this little flash game was. Basically, a dungeon crawler. You assembled a little group from a few different classes and picked up loot and advanced in levels and you could learn new special skills. And it's one of those flash games where you're surprised just how much they managed to cram into that small little file because it was huge. And it got me thinking that, you know, if someone(s) could make a game like that then, well, I could turn ClotH into a similar flash game. With enough time and enough work, of course, I could have a workable platform. A way of telling these stories interactively, something like Dot Hack where the lines between the games layers are blurred and played with. Of course, I'd have to learn how to use flash first and a ton of other things. So, put it on the pile of really cool ideas that I'd love to do but don't have the time or knowledge to pull off.

Thinking about it, though, is useful, because in the transition from a modern MMO to a simple turn based flash RPG, you'd have to strip out a lot of things and focus on the core mechanics. And to do that, you'd need to understand those mechanics. So, I think, at the very least, the flash game works as a useful mental model for thinking about things like combat and skills and how they'd actually work. Which is exactly what I want to be doing. So, although I'm not getting much done in the way of prose or character bios it's not exactly wasted effort either.

Fly My Pretties! Fly My Pretties!

Some behind the scenes work going on as you may or may not have noticed. New widget installed on the site. As I've added the ap from add this that everyone seems so taken with. In order to provide an easy way for people to link and share my posts with the wider world, drive traffic, collect underpants, profit. I feel an overwhelming urge to shout about web 2.0 and the importance of viral marketing and something about my will being done without even having to ask by a swarm of flying monkeys right now. But, frankly, even I'm puzzled by that line of thought.

I opted for the new fangled drop down model over the traditional staid button. Fewer clicks and loads theory and all. Think I'm happy with it for now although I've noticed that mousing over tends to obscure the comment link for an aggravatingly long period of microseconds before it fades. This doesn't bother me as that's not how I get to the comments section and given the staggering lack of volume it's not like anyone else is using them much either. But let me know if it gets annoying and I'll see what I can do about placement and replacement with options better.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I Hate Shoveling Snow

I'm home, again, for the holidays. It's not much of a change for me. But it does mean that I'm in the old family house where I grew for the first time since my childhood dog died. And it's, well, it's strange. With the cat also gone from earlier in the year, it's the first time in as long as I've been alive that my mother has absolutely no pets at all to call her own. There's an emptiness to it. Like a hole. A stillness, a silence, like the noise you've only noticed because it's stopped. Doors open that would have been closed. Bowls, beds, that had held their place for years gone and, knowing my mother, stored away. And, yeah, I kinda wish she was around because it's a lonely place without that presence of another living thing.

Going to be a sucky Christmas this year, I think. But preparations are well underway. Furniture has been polished, carpets steamed, walls washed as we ready for the rest of our family to descend on us like a swarm of locusts hungry for appetizers. It's just going to be weird because we've finally gotten to the point where we've split to the winds. Enough having moved on, moved elsewhere, or otherwise gone through life changing events that what I think of as the whole family just isn't going to be there. But my brother will be, having hopefully made the flight from the coast if the weather permits, so there's that at least.

As for how things went in-game last night, I think I did alright. Got all four of the characters I was trying to get through GW:EN through most of the Asuran cycle. Didn't quite manage to get it done before exhaustion and a cranky internet connection made me quit for the night but everyone's through Gadd's and Oola's and a few are up to the annoying GOLEM mission where you have to defend two points from a Destroyer assault (There is, of course, a trick to it if you're trying to hench it. If you skip talking to the quest guy at the start you scan slip out the side and take on the Destroyers who are standing around waiting politely to start tearing into your flesh with their molten claws and wipe them out before the starting bell rings. You have to deal with a few more charging into your base afterwards but it's not as hard as it is otherwise. Beats how I wound up doing it with my Monk, anyway. Which was, namely, to bring two Paras, a Monk Hero, three offensive henchies - I forget which but I'm guessing Talon and Zho, and, uh, someone who isn't Cynn, I hope, along with another Monk. Flagging the Heroes in one spot and the henchies in the other and then running back and forth between the two as needed. Post LoD-nerf, too, so I think I was doing some kind of prot/heal thing that wasn't really very effective.). They've all got all the Charr and Norn stuff out of the way and that just least a few quests and the Heart of the Shiverpeaks and the final confrontation with the Great Destroyer. Considering I only got a few hours, stolen in bits and pieces over the course of the event, I'll live with it.

I'm not in any great hurry to continue and get it done, either. I think, instead, that it's time to work on tracking down some of those PvE skills - the Ebon Vanguard wards look promising for my Ele, for one, and I must have Pain Inverter on everything or I feel like less of a man. Or I could go back and work on some other things like hard mode or protector tracks or rep grinding or what have you. At the moment, though, I think I'm going to take a break and rest up in advance of what's sure to be a ton of playtime during Wintersday.

In news of other projects that, very likely, only I really care about, here's how things are going on the next novel. I'll admit I've been slacking off the past week or so thanks to everything going on. And since we're on the slow to glacial pace I move at on my own, that means I'd been pretty well stalled out. But it's never been very far from my thoughts. I want to do this and I'm building up to it. I'm going to jot down some thoughts once I get done here, in fact, and that should put preproduction back on track.

I've also discovered that the Script Frenzy is scheduled this year for April instead of June. Which is just awful for me as I anticipate being insanely busy then instead of being in the lull of a summer vacation with nothing better to do than crank up the AC and write my brains out. But with only four months to plan, I need to start generating something like an idea of what to write.

Also, I was talking to my aunt the other day. She's one of those people who volunteers to help out with elections. The staff at the poling places whatever it is the staff at those places do when they're not, in my experience, standing around looking disinterested and passing out stickers like you gave blood or something (Which is not, I repeat, not to say that I think those people are doing something less than a necessary and important bit of civic duty. Just that it's governmental work and, as usual, it features a lot of inefficiency.). Once it became a trainwreck I pretty much stopped paying attention to it.

Long story short, the Democratic side of things doesn't matter because the national committee are being a bunch of pricks, half the candidates have pulled out, and the in-state members of the party are split about what, exactly, they're trying to accomplish here. So, you know, politics as usual and actually going out and voting in it will be even more inconsequential than usual because your vote, literally, won't really count. The Republicans are motoring on and thanks to the peculiarities of the Michigan system, it's an open primary and practically anyone can vote in the one of their choice. Meaning, I think, that a lot of Dems are going to forget about their own contest to muddy the water for their opponents (It's how we wound up going for McCain in 2000, after all.) rendering that decision pointless as well. I'm tempted to do it myself but, honestly, at this point I can't stomach the idea of approving any of the Republican candidates even as a "least objectionable" choice. I think I'd go to pull the lever and it would melt away from my hand or something.

But she reminded me that, hey, Michigan's holding its primary in, like, four weeks. And I should probably start paying attention. she says the big thing now is absentee ballots. Namely, that because the date was moved up the election officials might not be able to get all the ballots out and back in time for them to be properly counted. Lots of scrambling and CYA going on, in other words. And it's just one more big mess in what's increasingly become a series of mistakes. But, hey, our primary system is broken and we need to fix it and if this helps then I'm all for it.