Friday, August 31, 2007

Hail To the Victors?

The Michigan college football season kicks off tomorrow. As I've said before, thanks to the impass between the Big Ten Network and Comcast, I won't be able to see it. Unless I go to a bar. Seeing as how the opponent is Appalachian State, I'm not exactly rushing out to do that. They're not a complete cupcake, being a long time contender for the Division I-AA crown (or whatever it is they're calling it these days ), capturing it the past three years. But Michigan is expected to contend for the BCS championship so while it might not be a complete blowout, I'd be stunned if the Wolverines dropped this game.

Michigan is expected to contend for the title heading into the season because they've returned their triplets, the big three offensive players. Manningham, the star receiver from last year even though he missed a few games due to injury. Henee, the four year starter since his days as a true freshman following the Henson/Navarre years. And Hart, the engine that makes it all run. They're ranked #5 heading into the season. And as any Michigan fan will tell you, that's a recipe for disaster.

Unlike last year, this team is expected to do well. Michigan is expected to do well every year but this one, the tenth anniversary since their last national championship, the hopes are sky high. They won't be a surprise, they won't sneak up on anyone, and they're going to be under a lot of pressure to live up to those expectations. I'm taking the standard pessimistic view in hopes of being pleasantly surprised instead of ruefully despondent at season's end.

But, as I see it, they're going to need every point that gaudy offense is expected to provide. Because while they've returned a raft of starters, including the key trio, from last year's offense, the defense is new and untested. The secondary, in particular, looks like tissue paper early on. I have bad memories of the defensive schemes of my collegiate years which we affectionately termed, “Keystone Cops” cropping up whenever I think about this defense. Especially after the way they were exposed against teams that could actually play last year.

There are a lot of rookies on the defensive side of the ball but what really concerns me is the rookies on the bench. There's a distinct lack of quarterback depth behind Chad Henee. He's been so rock-solid and consistent throughout the years, but his backup is only a freshman. A stud recruit freshman, granted, but one who's had the playbook scaled way back because he won't be able to do everything Henne does. Should Henne go down with an injury, the team could be in for trouble.

Another issue of concern is the schedule. Appalachian State might be the first lamb to the slaughter upon the altar of the refurbished Big House, but the season gets underway in earnest next week when Oregon comes to town. They kick off a brutal three week stretch where UofM will play a group of scrappy, underrated teams. Oregon is the first, and they're a second tier team from the stacked Pac-10 who've been consistently good the past several years. Then comes the traditional rivalry game against Notre Dame, soon to be dropping off the books for a few years. The Irish are going to be breaking in a new quarterback but itching to avenge last year's blow-out. Then there's Penn State, who were going to be my sleeper choice for the Big 10 title but then everyone started making that pick so I'm going to have to go with Indiana or something. Fortunately, all three of those games are home dates for the Wolverines. Part of a schedule that's loaded with home dates (They also get something of a break, missing out on games against Big 10 also-rans Iowa and Indiana in favor of some doormats like Illinois and Northwestern.).

Unfortunately, they close out the season on the road. The season ending tilt against OSU is in Ann Arbor this year. Which would be great except the Wolverines haven't beaten them since 2003. Henne's never beaten them at all (Nor has he won a bowl game, for that matter). But to get there, they face a game, on the road, at Madison, in the November cold, against a Wisconsin team that's as good a bet as any to take the Big 10 title outside of the Big 2. And, if they pass through that unscathed, there's a match looming against a Michigan State that would just love to play spoiler and upset an undefeated season.

It looks scary. And I'm not sure the hype is warranted. Not at the moment, anyway. Get back to me after the Notre Dame or Wisconsin games. But it's been ten years since the magical season of '97. And heading into the 13th year of the Lloyd Carr regime, there's definitely a sentiment of “what have you done for me lately?” Last year was the closest they've come to matching that success and that was a season they overachieved. Realistically, I think I'll be happy if they manage to beat the Buckeyes this year. Which is always a daunting prospect but it's a home game, the Troy Smith era is over, and OSU is in the middle of a reloading year, so the chances are better than they have been in a while.

Vacation, Got To Get Away

Hey, it's Labor Day weekend. Wish I could have finished off my backlog of GW:EN posts first but I could use the break. I'm going to use the opportunity to take one last swing at my stubborn script. Until then, don't expect much from me. See you on the other side.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

GW:EN Sneak Peak: The Realization

I think it's finally hit me just what bothers me so about the expansion. Why I spend so much time going “Well, that's great, that's awesome, but...”. It's the same thing I always worried about, the same fear that drove so many of my suggestions and activities. And that's the game's various facets becoming unglued. The separation of the game into one piece for PvE, one piece for PvP, and dozens of shards and splinters beyond. That's not the Guild Wars I was promised. That's not the Guild Wars I spent so long wanting to play. And it's certainly not the one I worked so hard to build interest in.

GW:EN is a PvE expansion, there's really no other way to look at it. The PvP changes are said to be coming, but they're coming through changes independent of that box. They'll fix the Arenas, the Comp Missions, tweak the skills, and give everyone a +40AL mount with perma-Sprint. One of these days. But they're finally gone and separated the two halves, not just in experience and purpose, but execution as well.

The game I signed up for was one perfectly suited to a casual player, like myself. Someone who might have an hour to spend with the game or a day. Who might want to plunge headfirst into competitive play on the weekends while sneaking in a few minutes here and there while they should be working. And the game was supposed to support that with a variety of things, of gameplay methods to play and try and sample and become enthralled or disenchanted with. But there would always be something else to do when you got bored. A quick way to get your fix when you didn't have the time to really invest in your preferred activities. If you liked to run missions and became stuck at a certain plot point, you could always head to the Arenas and blow off some steam. If you were waiting for your guild to get it together, you could always go farm in some EA. It was a world of possibilities. Connected, interwoven with one another into a grand tapestry of enjoyment. Not everyone had to play the same way, not everyone would want to. There'd be something for everyone and always something to lead them out of their box and into someplace new.

But now? The sides have been drawn up. People have long picked one side or the other and the developers have responded in kind. Instead of facilitating, encouraging them to come out of their shells and embrace the frightening new, they've only been given what they've wanted. Not what they've needed to keep the factions from hardening. Guild Wars: Eye of the North is the last expansion. The last game that will ever be released to hold the line. It should be a celebration, a relevation, a breath of fresh air into a game that's become stale with age. But one that has all its old charms even as it fades away to make room for something better. Instead, it's an offkey dirge. A eulogy told by a passing stranger who had no connection to the deceased. Only a passing sense, a brief understanding, of just what it was that made the dead so worthy of being lauded in the first place.

GW:EN Sneak Peak: The Sad State of PvP

I'm still struck by how little has changed in my absence. Lots of tweaks and improvements on the PvE side of things, but I'm talking about the PvP scene at the moment. There were the usual score of new teams and tags that I'd never seen before when I pulled up obs mode. But no new builds. Nothing truly amazing or interesting that I saw in my admittedly brief voyeurism. A change here, an improvement there – CripSlash Warriors now carry Conjures by default instead of merely trending that way – but there's nothing I saw being run today that would surprise me if I had encountered in April. And I don't think any of the new GW:EN skills are really going to change that. It's just...sad, really. Makes me wonder what happened to all the vibrancy, all the energy we were hoped would come from the tournaments and the rebalances and more. And looking around the community, scoping out the forums and the wikis and the chats and more, makes me wonder just where all the players have gone.

But, when I thought about it, it's really not so hard to understand. Imagine, if you will, that someone's just picked up the game. Just plucked a copy off the shelf, at a discount, with no knowledge, no understanding of all the history she held in her hands. That player runs through the game, completes the campaign and is standing around wondering what to do next. If she wants to continue to PvE there's plenty of options. A new campaign, rerunning the old campaign to complete all the bonuses, hard mode, the endgames of the Fissure or the Domain, titles to grind, fancy armor to buy. A wealth of possibilities stretching out before her to explore, depending on her tastes. But for PvP?

Well, she could go to the Arena. And if she can put up with everyone leaving because they won't get to 10 wins and people moping the floor with her because she's using strats optimized for the completed campaign, lacking the skills and special abilities to put together something competitive, she might just persevere and find out she likes to PvP. Might develop enough to play in other game types. But who's going to play with her? A random, unadorned player? One who hardly understands what she's doing? Who needs her hand held the entire way? Who's going to pick her for their Halls team? Who's going to look past the fact that she doesn't have a rank, needs to unlock a skill or three, and is going to ask the annoying, basic questions to see that she has potential?

Who's going to pick her for her AB team, for that matter? Even for TA? I don't even want to talk about what she'll go through trying to find a guild to play with in GvG. All the struggle and hardship she'll endure just to land a spot on a mediocre team. What, exactly, is supposed to lead her into the wider world of competitive play? There aren't fun, consequence free formats that aren't bogged down by problems with leechers and leavers. There aren't even pre-mades anymore (Which would be so easy to implement with the template system, streaming, and the new, official wiki.) giving her a starting point, a place to build from, a glimpse, an explanation of what works and what doesn't in PvP. There's nothing for her. Except to slam her head against the wall in the Random Arenas or spamming for a group, a guild, someone to play with in one lobby or another.

That, right there, is why the PvP scene is dead. Why the game feels hollow. And why I'm not going to be playing again for a while.

GW:EN Sneak Peak: Sins Still Suck

From my brief excursions into PvP, I see that Shadow Prison Sins are still the order of the day. They rule the field in the Hero Battles, for one, but that one elite is still being used to the exclusion of every other one. And that template of Sin is still being played to the detriment of the game itself.

What surprises me is how little they've changed in the months I've been away – I quit playing some time in March, maybe May?, and there have been at least a few rebalancing attempts since then. BoA having been nerfed into oblivion, Tiger's Stance seems to be the order of the day. Nerf that and it'll become Flurry (Which, if I remember correctly, only affects the base damage of an attack, not the bonus damage. Which means with those wimpy 7~17 daggers that it does absolutely nothing while letting you go ginsu.), maybe. Nerf that and something else will be found to power out those attacks. No, the heart of the Shadow Prison template is pernicious and it's two-fold.

The first is Shadow Prison itself which is a comb enabling snare and a prot-foiling teleport. You don't have to run to your target, giving the defenders a chance to outguess you, only click a button and you're there ready to deal damage. And the snare means your target won't be able to kite away while you uncan your combo. An IAS like BoA or Tiger's Stance just helps them crack open that window of opportunity.

Second, is the sick synergy with a skill like Black Lotus Strike. Which is worse than Golden Lotus ever was. At least with Lotus you weren't feeding off of debuffing the enemy and making your job easier. But Lotus Strike not only allows you to skip right to the duals and off-hands you really want to lay down, it gives you all the energy you need to do so. Assassins, more than any other class, are limited by their maximum energy. For most characters what you care about is your recharge or your regeneration but for Sins it's all about spending their store in one, fantastic burst – they always have enough energy it's just a question of when they have it which is important in a class that revolves around timing and precision so much. And the energy gain from a Lotus skill lets them ignore that restriction. Using Black Lotus they throw not one, but two limiting mechanics out the window. Both the chaining of their combos and the peculiar shape of their energy pool.

The sick thing about this is how degenerative it becomes. Early Sin builds focused on compressing those chains to the absolute minimum to pack in some utility. The cool stuff, the interesting skills from Shadows and Deadly which allowed you to get off that shortened chain and broadened the game's horizons, that was the focus. These days? Lotus Strike means you can chain together four, five attacks easily. And the design fight is to squeeze those few bits of utility on your bar that fuel your mega-combo. What should be a class of skill, of clock-work certainty, and rewarding to play has become about mashing your buttons best.

Then, of course, you throw in things like Expose Defenses and the IASes which superpower those effects and you have a beast. Able to split, able to withstand punishment, able to dish it out. And one that crowds out every other way of playing the Assassin. Competitively, anyway.

But it all comes back to Shadow Prison and Black Lotus Strike. Those are what you need to fix in order to fix the archetype. It doesn't have to cease being viable, it just has to cease being the only way to play. And, guess what? In all the time I've been away they hardly been touched. A minor tweak to the duration on Prison, mostly, it seems, to dissuade its use in secondaries. But Black Lotus? What I'd argue is the root cause of much of this silliness (I mean, I'd set SP to 15en and give it a 33% snare but that's only because I want it out of the damn game. If you want it playable, then it's pretty fine where it is. Strong, but acceptable.)? As far as I can tell, hasn't been changed at all.

Instead, we get improvements to lead attacks and new off-hands seemingly designed to lure players into using them. As I said in during my liveblogging, bluntly, it's not going to work. It doesn't matter how good the lead attacks are. Not when the duals are the class of the line. As long as players can skip straight to the duals whether it's through Black, Golden, Fallen, or anything else, then they're going to ignore those off-hands that require a lead in favor of those that don't. They need to make the most of that small, limited window of opportunity they have to deal damage. They need to get as much use out of every skill slot as they can. Dinking around with lead attacks when you could be hitting harder, with more impressive effects, is not as desirable, not as effective. Not when there are ways around that speed bump.

If I Made GW:EN, Part 2

Now that's what I'm talking about. A mini-game that takes some real, hardcore Warrioration. Just picture it. You're flying along, bashing through your foes, when all of a sudden the signal is made and, then, whoever can frensig themselves to death first, wins.

File This Under Like I Need Another Game

Huh, GR's involved with Fury. Among others. Perhaps it's time to give it another look. Weird payment system, though – like they've intentionally combined the worst features of micropayment and subscriptions models.

Frenzied Scripting: Yeah, it's Not Going Well

This afternoon, I sat down to hack out a scene and I froze. I completely froze. Couldn't think of anything to type that would be utter dribble. I never freeze! I'm famously immune to writer's block. I can write about almost anything, almost anytime, almost anywhere and still do it well. But I froze! Froze.

I'm not sure I can get the script done by the end of the month at this pace.

SMS in Games

The other day, while I was in the middle of losing too much sleep to play a game I had no intention of buying, GW:EN, I was running through an Explorable Zone when a thought struck me. Trying to switch between steering my characters in game and tabbing out to jot down a few thoughts to stoke the furnace I like to think of as my blog and contemplating whether it would be worth it to play with a laptop for writing balanced on my lap, it occurred to me that it would be so much easier if I could just text message my writings from ingame to myself. I know that I can blog, say, from my phone if need be. Although my verbose style does make that a rather daunting prospect. Though, with devices like the iPhone making it cheaper and easier to do so, it will become an ever more enticing prospect. As these videogame makers are often on the cutting edge of technology, I don't see why they couldn't provide me with a similar mechanism. After all, I'm already online, already connected to a network, I'm already using a program that can handle the sending and receiving of text messages...why not? Why can't I send text messages from within a game? To IM, to IRC, and beyond. Sending SMS messages in a video game seems like it should be a natural outgrowth of the technologies we're already using.

But, in my scant researching into the matter, I haven't found anyone who's done so. It's bound to, sooner or later, as wireless communications and virtual worlds become ever more closely woven into our societies. At some point, I imagine we'll all have tiny devices we can carry on our persons – I think I'll go for the wrist model myself, or maybe a pair of glasses – combined the functions of all the devices we take for granted today. The cellphones, the messengers, the players, even the laptop, the browser, the feed aggregator, and more as our circuitry gets smaller and our programs smarter. We'll be able to hold in our palms what I keep on my desktop today. As our lives become ever more integrated, ever more concentrated into these devices descended from the bluetooth marvels we posses today, then our various methods of communication will become ever more connected. There won't be a difference between sending someone a text and an e-mail or a picture or anything else. Just different ways of passing along data, suited to the task at hand, and accessed from one convenient device.

We're not at that point yet, of course, even though we're rushing headlong to this informational singularity. But, surely there's some design company, some telecom enterprise, willing to work together to make this gaming texting happen and reap untold streams of revenue along the way? Imagine, you could send messages not just to yourself but to other people. If you were playing a tournament and you were running late, stuck on the freeway on your way home, you could pop open your cell and text your teammates letting them know to stall and avoid the forfeit. You could do that right now, of course, but only by knowing their phone numbers and other, out of game information. I'm talking about sending them a tell in the game itself. From your character, from your account, paid for by the same credit card which pays for the wireless service you're using. Bundled, marketed together. Causing people who'd bought the one to be interested in the other. Every call made, every time the feature is used in game, making those companies involved just a little bit richer. You could text people from inside the game, too, without having to leave the keyboard, without having to leave the program. Send them a message that they should hurry up before your match is canceled. Or that you've just found that rare item they wanted and to ask if they're interested in trading for it. Even just to post a message to a place like Flicker that you're looking for a few more people to begin your raid.

Dozens of uses, boundless possibilities, and it shouldn't be too hard to put together. I mean, you used to be able to order a pizza from certain games. Surely sending out a few bits of encoded text onto a wireless network can't be that much more complex? Or VoIP? the technology to make it happen is just lying there waiting to be put together. I mean, I have no idea how these things work or even how to put it together. Much less come up with anything detailed enough to submit to the patent office. But there have to be people out there who could make this happen. The technology to make it happen is just lying there waiting to be put together. And when they do, then I could sit back in my gaming chair and blog while happily playing my game. Just imagine.

I've Said It Before, But...

September never ends.

Neither does the kabuki dance.

Kristol Method

Bill Kristol is a very serious person. Watch what happens when someone tries to shame him:

He's seriously something, alright...


I think I need help. Serious, mental care help. It's a thought I often have and dismiss but, today, I'm just not sure. I'm just so exhausted. And I haven't done anything. In weeks. The act of trying, of caring, is just so hard. And I'm sinking into that deep, dark place where I start to question everything I do – starting with waking up in the morning.

It's not a healthy place, in other words. And I'm really worried that one of these days I won't be able to snap out of it in time. But, unfortunately, a very productive place. At least until the dark thoughts take over.

Because, at this moment, I'm swirling in a cloud of information. Questions, answers, thoughts, ideas, buzzing around my head unspoken, unvoiced, but informing every action. If I could speak in a thousand voices, I would, because that's the only way I could ever get every thread being woven through my mind out into the world. A thousand voices, arguing, bickering, flickering from concept to concept. Speaking in loops and riddles as I mull over an idea. It's like I'm overclocked. Like my brain is running at a higher level of efficiency as I try so hard to get things done before I'm drained.

So, yeah, the script writing is going well. I'm about ready to stick a gun in my mouth but I think I can do this.

If I Made GW:EN

GW:EN Sneak Peak: Livebloggy Index

Since I threw up the liveblogging threads without really caring about things like order or, you know, making sense, this here is an index to help guide those curious about the advanced stages of my madness through my journey through the preview weekend. All aboard the crazy train because we're stopping at all points in the Far Shiverpeaks.

Live Thread the First: The Skills. Wherein I fire up the game and immediately stare at the new skills for several hours. More entertaining than you might think, since it led to this epic post of skill descriptions and commentary.

Live Thread the Second: Getting' There. In which I sample all three quests to reach the Far Shiverpeaks. And began my epic battle with the electric company and the forces of nature, attempting to ward off a blackout through sheer force of will.

Live Thread the Third: Onward! Having gone through the preliminary motions, it was time to start playing the game in earnest and discover that I'm slightly underdressed for the ocassion.

Live Thread the Forth: Mini-Game Ahoy! My first day of liveblogging closes with me sampling the mini-games available in Gunnar's Hold and the Eye of the North and developing an uncomfortable attachment to the sweet science of one Killroy Stoneskin. Along the way, I manage to pick up several new, PvE only skills.

Live Thread the Fifth: The Break. The next morning, I pause from blogging and playing to reflect on how things are going while planning for the rest of the day.

Live Thread the Sixth: Tracking Down the Nornbear. I continue along the path of the primary mission, travelling from Gunnar's to Sif's, playing through my first instanced storyline quest, the Curse of the Nornbear. And also having my first encounter with Nornforming and the Wolf Spirit.

Live Thread the Seventh: Hunting For A Mission. My quixotic quest for a mission (Little did I realize at the time that I had just played the GW:EN equivalent.) is put on hold while I backtrack and complete some quests. I then attempt to follow the thread of the plot and am rudely interrupted by a disconnect.

Live Thread the Eighth: Back in the Saddle. As the night wears on and my lack of sleep begins to mount, I pick up where I left off and finish off the primary quests. For the Norn, anyway, as the other two were unavailable in the sneak peak.

Live Thread the Ninth: Lazy Morning. The morning of the final day finds me being, what else, lazy. I check out the championships of the monthly tournament and check in with a write-up. And then promptly resolve to spend the remaining time grinding away in PvE, rerunning a quest I'd previously failed, emerging victorious, and heading off to see a Dwarf about a rug.

Live Thread the Tenth: Hall of Disappointment. I discover my basement has flooded. Sense of priorities firmly in place, I continue to game. I decorate the Hall of Monuments, go off on a little rant, and then it's off to my first, real dungeon crawl in Frostmaw Burrows. And a barely mentioned diversion to grab an awful elite skill from a quest I'd already finished.

Live Thread the Eleventh: The Failure. Hooked on the dungeon raiding experience, I set out to find more, locating the Sepulchre of Dragimmar. I meet with crushing defeat at the hands of the dungeon's endboss and the massive reward I get from another quest finished in that dungeon is small comfort.

Live Thread the Twelfth: One Big Giant. After sulking at my lack of PvE godhood, with the preview weekend winding down, and my consciousness fading, I have time left for one more dungeon run. Locating the Darkrime Delves in a zone I hadn't explored previously and plunging into its depths.

Live Thread the Thirteenth: Into the Wee Hours. The anticlimactic finale.

Plenty of other material from the weekend can be found under the GW:EN category. Which will no doubt be added to as I'm continuing to wrap things up.

GW:EN Sneak Peak: Dungeon Reviews

In Guild Wars: Eye of the North, the designers have done away with the traditional mission structure. Instead, replacing it with a mix of repeatable, instanced storyline quests and mostly optional, underground areas to raid, called dungeons. While some have quests or reasons to exist in the overall plot, most are just there for players to crawl through, hunting for rewards and a memorable boss fight. I think it's an excellent change, one which allows for a lot more freedom on both sides of the player/creator divide.

Once the game is released there are going to be a promised 18 dungeons. Of the ones available during the preview, I saw five. Battledepths is home of the Dwarven Low King, an apparent hub the storyline will revolve around. Raven's Point contains another of the warp gates used to travel to the Far Shiverpeaks as well as the Shrine of the Raven and its associated blessing. Frostmaw's Burrows is the lair of the giant Wurm, Frostmaw. Darkrime Delves, the den of a fierce group of Jotun giant. And the Sepulchre of Dragimmar which houses the Anvil of the Great Dwarf and a tough fight past the Remnant of Antiquities to get to it.

When I ran the Raven, it was instanced. Part of the primary quest cycle, with a repeatable quest making it seem a lot like the missions of old. You had to fight your way to a shrine, gain the form that let you use the skills of the Raven, and then use that to travel further into the dungeon and shut down a monster spewing gate – it was a mission in everything but name. From Factions on, those places have been explorable even without the benefit of running a mission and although I didn't go back to check, I believe the same would hold true of the Raven dungeon as well. Battledepths, I only entered to turn in a quest reward to advance the primary plot. While it wasn't labeled as such on the map, it had all the hallmarks of every other dungeon – underground, mini-map on the world view, Dwarf rep bonuses instead of Norn. There was a master quest to defend the place that I passed on which would no doubt have led me further into its depth and transformed it into a full fledged dungeon the way some quests would transform outposts into missions in Nightfall. The other three were standalone dungeons, you'd be given a quest nearby to explore the various levels of the place, all of which led to a final boss encounter on the final floor. Dungeons being multi-leveled places, like a string of EAs, each connected by a portal. Traveling through is a one-way trip which doesn't remove DP but will remove all your buffs and blessings, as well as recharge your rezsigs. And although you'll carry your DP through the various levels, each dungeon offer the Dwarven title track blessing, which would give you a bonus for every 25th kill. With each bonus was a small morale boost, something like 8% each time, that along with the plentiful killed would allow you to wipe out some of the DP you'd accrue.

Those bosses weren't strictly “bosses” in the game's terms. Like the highend foes at the end of each campaign or a place like the Deeps, they lacked the auras and you couldn't cap from them. But defeating them would spawn a chest with some goodies inside, complete with a nifty graphic, transforming the icon on your map (And giving you some points towards a title track, too.). I was mostly underwhelmed with the rewards that sprung from my chest which were a handful of Diamonds instead of some nifty gold or green items. In the end, that's probably more valuable – I don't know what Diamonds, a crafting material, go for these days but I figure it's a k or two – because of the random nature of those weapons but given how hard they were to get, it was a letdown. The healthy rewards from the associated quests, though, more than made up for it. And the rewards are probably randomized, so trying again or with someone else might yield better results.

A more serious complaint is that although the dungeons showed up on my map with a special icon, I couldn't instant travel to them. Instead, whenever I wanted to visit one, I had to hike across a zone to get there. Which makes a bit of sense, but if I was going to make these dungeon raids a habit would get to be old, fast. A small lobby or some nearby stagging point – a vestibule at the first level of each dungeon, free from harm, like the lobby of a mission - where I could map to and then start my crawl would be much appreciated. That convenience is the biggest loss of doing away with the mission structure, I think.

I spent some time delving into the three optional dungeons, raiding them not only for treasure but to sample the experience. Since each was but a mere dungeon crawl leading up to a final boss, it makes it easy to compare them.

Of the three, the Frostmaw one was probably the best designed. Getting there was a bit too long but the fight at the end was a worthy one. You had to hunt down smaller worms, which were hidden in the ground and would pop up, slaughtering enough of them to cause the Worm to appear, surrounded by a pack of large, nasty worms to rain down pain on your party. It's surprising, it's novel, it's epic, and it really feels like it deserves to be at the end of a five level trip to get there. My criticism that the trip to get there was a bit too repetitive for my tastes. Other dungeons had puzzles or tricks to solve, giving you something else to do besides flood the place with corpses. But with Frostmaw, you had to go through four levels, killing the difficult monsters while dealing with the occasional pop-up from the dungeon's worm infestation. In a not exactly thrilling reversal, on the last floor you have to hunt down those pop-ups and then kill the difficult monsters. And although there's some variation in the layout and the monster types between levels, I feel like one or two floors could have been eliminated without losing anything from the experience – you enter the dungeon, get surprised by the worms, and slog your way to the bottom, and have that huge boss fight, you don't need to keep repeating the middle steps over and over. But, then, my preference in the design of such things is towards smaller, faster, and more convenient packages of experience. I like my dungeons, apparently, how I like my missions, able to be done within the space of an hour or so, when I have the free time. A prepared group who knew the way might well have made better time but I went in blind, clueless, and by myself. There should be a mix of large and small dungeons, though, to provide a variety of experiences to choose from. Some people will enjoy a crawl that will take up their entire evening, after all, that's just not for me. Frostmaw's at the upper limits of what I can comfortably tolerate and, even then, by the end I was getting bored with it and constantly hoping that the next fight would be the last one.

The Sepulchre was short and sweet, although I was stymied by the end boss. Getting there only takes going through one level but it's one you'll have to backtrack across as you try to find the levers to open different gates in the correct order, a bit of a clich̩ but it didn't feel too long or too forced, to me. Not that I was in a hurry to run through it again after failing, but that's a different story. Compared with the overly long Frostmaw, which the Sepulchre is probably only slightly less lengthy overall, it just felt right. And, like Frostmaw, it's a nicely designed boss battle. The Remnant of Antiquities is an Elementalist boss, one who packs a lot of water spells like Deep Freeze and Frozen Burst and Shatterstone. He also has a special ability which causes an environmental snare, and one that will create a ward-wide area of death every so often, dealing 140 damage and causing bleeding good for another 40. And he's located on a small island area, across a narrow bridge, perfectly designed for his snares and AoEs to cause the most problems. The difficulty, though, is pitched just a little too high for my tastes. It's a bit too hard for someone with a DPed pack straight off the AI short bus. Running out of the death wards that pop up and positioning to avoid clumping up are important against a boss like that. Henchies don't do positioning well (And I was too busy scrambling trying to keep everyone alive and micro-controlling their knockdowns to chain them together to bother with the flags. Wouldn't have helped with the non-Heroes, anyway.). But even if I was with a group that knew how to spread out to avoid the AoE, it would still have been tough. It's the environmental constraints, that channel you into that AoE kill zone in that small area and the suicide run across the bridge to get there (The range on the death wards is insane.). And the Remnants stats and level are really high, making him do immense amounts of damage and wipe out a party. I feel the damage knob just needs to be cranked down from a 9 - dude can one-hit even a fully morale boosted caster with 60AL if he lands both hits from a Shatterstone, meaning I was constantly scrambling for the hex removal or a RoF to throw up, and instant-death if you're DPed, forcing me to keep up PS on myself and the other Monk constantly Рto an 8 or a 7, that's all. A full team headed into the party prepared to deal with him Рcarrying elemental defenses and a load of caster shutdown, say Рare probably going to find him a walkover, though. It's a careful balancing act. However, the problem with a tough boss at the end like that is that players can get through all the easier bits leading up to him and then run into a brick wall. Which is exactly what I did. With no way of recovering my DP, I got weaker with every wipe. With that DP, the boss hits even harder and your team can't last long enough to deal damage to him before being finished off. With the boss regenerating away any damage, I had no choice but to just run from the nearby rezshrine to get right back into the fight and preserve the small sliver of his health I'd managed to chip off, hopefully to add to it, but mostly to prevent him from getting back to full health. Imagine doing that ten or fifteen times before realizing it's a fight you just can't win, because that's about what I did. It's a frustrating moment and one the designers need to work to avoid.

The worst dungeon of the three was probably the last one I tried, the Jotun one. The puzzle involved to get to the boss wasn't much interesting at all. You had to blow up some clearly marked walls, kill a boss, hunt down a few keys, and then you were on to the boss battle. The quest description was a bit misleading, as well. Heading to the boss's lair, it was all too easy and I was expecting something more. So when the quest log told me I need to “find a way to kill the (boss)”, I took it as a clue that there was some other objective I needed to fulfill before taking on the boss. That my foe would be invulnerable or something until I found the switch or the blessing or the MacGuffin elsewhere on the map. But, nope, there's nothing to the fight but walking in there and paving the ground with your enemy's blood, although you can spend a lot of time running around figuring that out. The Jotun boss itself, Havok Soulwail, is also pretty unmemorable. It's nothing but a high-level Jotun Warrior. No special abilities, no unique tricks. And considering how many Jotun you'll slay getting to that point, it's almost a letdown how easy that fight is. Especially if you can pull the roaming guards in that room away, which is exactly what I did. If the Remnant was too hard, then the Soulwail was too easy. I just expected more from a fight that took so much to get to. Again, it might have been that I was particularly well set-up to deal with that fight, though, since I'd come to loathe the Jotun and consider them the worst foe to encounter and build my team accordingly. And there should definitely be a scale of toughness for these dungeons, just as there should be a spectrum of lengths to suit individual tastes. There need to be introductory dungeons, ones that inexperience and tentative players can enjoy just as much as the hardcore will consider them beneath them while moving on to something bigger and better. This dungeon, though, fell on the weak side of that curve for me and could easily be made a bit better.

Overall, I was impressed by the various dungeons. Not only the design of the encounters, which is by and large well done, but the visual design itself is impressive. All of them are cold, underground caves, but each has its own distinct look and flavor. Along with its own unique pattern of monsters and threats to overcome. There's some commonality, some similarities, but you could be blindfolded and lead into a random dungeon and immediately tell which one it is.

My worry, though, is whether or not these dungeons are really worth it. The same problem happens with the missions, of course, because there's very little reason to rerun them once the plot is done. With dungeons you can always head back for another shot at the chest at the end. It seems a lot more likely to create ongoing opportunities for groups and players to play them through. But with so many dungeons available, I'm sure that eventually players will figure out which dungeons are the most lucrative – the right combination of length and difficulty balanced against the rewards which makes plowing through them again and again an efficient way to spend ones time. Which would leave a few dungeons as the place to be while the rest languish, unattended. Instead of a better situation where the players interested in the raiding are evenly distributed amongst the dungeons and it's a matter of personal preference.

Link Bloggy Never Ends

So much to say, so many tears to shed, so many stories to tell, but I can't find the time. So, instead, I rely on the time-honored secret of the blogger's trade - the link.

I keep meaning to say something about this post at Seven Hells but I can never find the right words. It's been far too long in the petri dish of the intranet's memory, though, and I give up. So, let me just say that I think Mr. Sanders pretty accurately puts a finger on what bothers me so much about what happened with Impulse - how they killed him long before they buried him. And the passing of Mr. Wieringo. It's always sad when hope dies.

This is possibly the coolest web-gadget since LoLFeeds. I've already dashed off about forty featuring the greatest in-joke of all times, Mr. Lloyd “Substance Abuse” Bridges – don't judge, it's funny to me. Like so:

Have your own fun, if you haven't already.

Speaking of video games, this is either the most insidious or clever idea I've ever heard. Asia, by the way, is way ahead of us Westerners when it comes to dealing with the sort of issues raised by a virtual world. I'm just saying.

Shifting gears, entirely, I don't think people realize just how much damage has been done by the current administration. It's even worse than they think. Historically, nothing lasts forever. Even something as grand as America can fade away, ground down by the dusts of time. Because we're not exceptional, just different. Not that we'll feel the effects now, it's what's going to happen in years to come as the world realizes that America is no longer indispensable. That they can and will work around the “crazy uncle” sitting on top of a pile of nuclear weapons and shouting at people until he gets his way. And the real danger is what happens when the US realizes it, too.

To illustrate my last point, here's a link to a view of American politics from someone outside the country. Someone who knows how to make a point well and twist the dagger. In passing, of course, because the post is about the Manufacturing Dissent, a film about Michael Moore than anything else. But when you have someone living in one of my country's greatest allies off-handedly saying that our political system is fundamentally broken and dishonest as if discussing how the grass is green, then we have a problem.

Speaking of the lies we tell ourselves to feel free, yeah, Opus disappeared from my Sunday paper. Now I know why, I guess. You can read the first of two censored strips here (And the other when it's posted). Just...sigh.

And to close on a hopeful note. It's pretty sad that it's come to this, Brownie's Law (scroll down). That the idea that elected officials need to be actually competent and qualified needs to be explicitly stated is just a sign of how far down the drain we've swirled, isn't it? As always, the progressive complaint isn't that we need more things, be that media or regulation or government itself, but that we need more effective things.

Looks like the call to arms on behalf of Mrs. Burner worked. I'd like to think my small contribution helped. And considering that the average donor gave something like $40, I'd have to say it did.

Craig's List

The ship of Sen. Craig's life appears to be sinking. Driven into the rocks by his own admissions, and ruined by his own denials, true, but I won't be joining in the scavenging over the wreckage. Although, of course, I don't think grown men should be fucking each other in a public restroom, asking another person for consensual sex isn't illegal. Neither is hypocrisy. Mr. Craig is a sad man, brought low by his own refusal to admit his true self. I don't take any joy from that. And certainly no one else should, either. Because the story of Mr. Craig isn't a scandal, it's a tragedy. This isn't a time to revel in his excesses, his faults, and to condemn someone so torn and conflicted as to speak out against the very acts he engaged in. It's a time to remember that we're all weak, all human, and can all be ruined by our own failings.

Monday, August 27, 2007

My Bed Is Calling To Me Invitingly

Today, I was charging hard on my script. I'm hoping to be done with the first draft by the end of the month. Since I've got four days left, I'd better get cracking. It's sort of like a more sedate, more personal Frenzy. And like the close to that month, I think my best chances are to stop thinking about the thing, to throw out all I've done so far, and to just start fresh from scratch. Lots of other things to take care of, also, so I don't know if that'll work, but it's what I've done. I think I have the kinds worked out, I think I have the problems solved, and, if not, I'll figure them out along the way.

I'm still decompressing after my voyage into the heart of the Guild Wars experience. Mostly, I spent the day venturing out into the world outside my computer room with its bright glowing orb in the sky, attempting to connect with humanity once more. So many thoughts and feelings about the event that I want to express and, though I've been working on it, I have had the time to yet. So, plenty in the works, but no GW:EN wrap-ups for today. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe not. At the moment, I'm bone tired. I've apparently forgotten how to spell and I'm not going to keep working at them in the hopes I write something other than drivel.

Four and a Half Minutes

So, Vick after his court appearance to plea out his case, steps up to the microphones, delivering an apology for a good four and a half minutes. And now he's getting lauded because he did it without any notes? I call bullshit. Not just on his extremely incredulous plea agreement but on the fact he should be praised for “speaking from the heart”. This guy has been giving quotes and interviews since college, he's no doubt had plenty of training in speaking and handling the media. There's no way he wasn't rehearsing that speech or the gist of those comments in the hours and days beforehand. A few minutes of well-spoken, even sincere contrition don't wipe away what's been done.

Next In Line

Now that we don't have Mr. Gonzales to kick around anymore (Except for the subpeonas and indictments that are still chasing him around, of course.), speculation swirls about who's going to replace him. When talk doesn't swirl about the arrest of Senator Craig, that is. And while I'd like to think that the conventional wisdom is right, and the President will display some contrite, rational humility here and nominate someone with integrity, someone uncontroversial and unconfrontational to restore some of the DoJ's tarnished reputation, who'll be wise and charismatic and make everything better, I wouldn't bet money on it. If there's one thing Mr. Bush is good at, it's being stubborn. And if there's a second thing he's good at it's abusing the goodwill of others. He's long since used up any benefit of the doubt, whatsoever, that he's going to do anything but deliver an enormous “fuck you”.

And the rumors are that it's Mr. Chertoff, from DHS Katrina infamy, who's the pick would seem to confirm that suspicion.

Whoever the nominee is, I believe we're headed for a nasty confirmation battle. At least, I hope we are. It's a golden opportunity for the Congress (Not just the Democrats) to hold the Bush administration to the flames. To hold them to account for the policies and practices they've so unrepentantly pursued. Someone has to, after all. And while they might not be able to block the eventual nomination, this is the kind of fight it pays to have. Let the Republicans go on television and scream about how the President should have his way, how Congress needs to concede to his executive privileges. Let them try to make the argument that they need to rubberstamp the President's choice. Because that's worked so well with Iraq and Gonzales and dozens of other examples.

Now, the President could always make a recess appointment. Just as he did before with Mr. Bolton. But, as I understand it, there's a deal in place with the Senate. Mr. Bush kindly abstains from making any recess appointments. And the Senators refrain from doing everything in their power to prevent it and to abolish the practice. Frankly, as with the “nuclear option”, it's a fight I wish they'd have instead. Recess appointments are just another undemocratic loophole in the Constitution, abuse of which has only grown over time, and I wouldn't mind seeing the practice abolished. Doesn't look like that will come to pass this time around, though.

The best we can hope for is an honest airing of the grievances against the overreaches of the Bush administration. To extract promises from the new AG that, this time, things will be different. Because this might be the opportunity to start turning things around and towards a saner place.


Fredo resigns. I'm looking towards the sky for a glimpse of the pigs passing overhead.

I just finished listening to the press conference and the statement that was smaller than this post. But, wow, I guess the pre-Labor Day sweep of the administration continues. Now, of course, the battle is over holding him accountable for his actions - especially his broad view of executive power. And making sure his successor isn't equally objectionable.

Update: Here's the "don't blink or you'll miss it" video.

GW:EN SNeak Peak: Live Thread 13, Into the Wee Hours

Lucky number 13. And the last liveblogging of the Sneak Peak for Eye of the North because the Sneak Peak is almost over.

Whew, almost fell asleep there. Almost screwed up on my time zone conversions, too, my alarm was set after the final curtain. Would suck to stay up all this time and then miss out at the very end, wouldn't it?

I went by the district list and it seems like the party's at Gunnar's instead of the Eye of the North. Lots of folks dancing by the fire. Plenty of minipets and collector's item bonuses on display. Seems there's a big trade in map pieces. I actually have all four, although I never found the guy to give them to, and a few extras besides. No copies of the ones people seem to most be looking for, though. People are talking about GW2 and meeting back up on release and varoius and sundry things. It's a festive atmosphere. The other big topic of conversation is bragging about how many consumables - the Grail of Might, of course, being the big one - they've crafted.

Bored with the chat, I check out a few obs matches - nothing too notable and I'm too tired to jot more than that down. Then, make sure I get into district one.

Before the night's over, I check over my progress one last time. I started the weekend with a mere 150odd XP. Just enough to get to lv20. Only 35 skill points. And AL 30 armor. Now that the weekend's over, I'm up to 300k XP even with 44 skill points. And bought myself a brand new suit of armor - no runes yet except for a few Vitae but I did buy up a lot of the new skills. 60 of them, in fact. I found 10 of the PvE only skills during the weekend, as well. Didn't manage to get all the skills the way I wanted to, but only because I got picky about how I was going to buy them.

Racked up 11.2k Norn title track points, good enough for the third rank. Just missed the second rank of the Dwarves with 3.6k. For the Vanguard I have but a palty 600 points. I also got 35 Mastery points towards the Eye of the North mastery track, whatever that is. Not quite sure of what those are but looks like a way of doing the whole Protector/Defender track without having to count up missions.

I completed one of the main primary quests. A whole bunch of quests. Ran through three mission quests. And three dungeons, as well. Got my butt handed to me in the Norn tournaments. But handed that butt back in spades during the Dwarven boxing.

Didn't get to do much PvPing, though. Not a big deal since getting geared up for PvP would have taken a while and I'd really would have needed much better grounding before playing around with the new skill. Didn't get to watch all that much PvP, either. Just a few obs mode matches.

Talked to some folks. Caught up with some old friends. Couldn't connect with some others. To all the ones I missed, sorry. You know where I am if you want to get in touch. And just becase I'm not talking doesn't mean anything's wrong.

All in all, I have to say I'm pretty pleased with the way the weekend went. I got a lot done. Got a good sample of all the things I wanted to sample. A feel for the expansion.

As I've said before, I think my initial impulse stands. GW:EN is a great game but I just don't have the time for it. I'll probably pick it up some time or another. But not right away. Although, I'm going to sleep on it and see how I feel about it tomorrow. I doubt my opinion will change much, though.

And that's it. The weekend's over. Kinda a letdown, really. One minute everyone's dancing by the fire. The next, the game hangs and disconnects. I'm dumped unceremoniously to the login screen. Trying to go back in initially loads me to Gunar's again but then switches me to the Monestary and the Factions tutorial. That's that, then. I was kinda hoping for an event like Gwen coming to roast us all or the devs showing up. If they did, I missed them.

Well, the Sneak Peak's over. And so's my brief sojourn back into the wonderful world of Guild Wars. I'll have some thoughts and conclusion which I'll hopefully get around to posting tomorrow. But for now, I'm exhausted. It was a fun ride, but I'm glad it's over and I can move on to other things. I've uninstalled the game for good measure. And, now, I'm going to wrap this up and get some much needed sleep.

So, yeah, I'm probably not going to be playing much again. Little busy at the moment. This weekend was something like a vacation, a gift from me to me. I've promised myself if I finish my script before the month is over that I can reinstall it again and maybe run a mission or something every now and again. If not, I'll be back in time for Wintersday and the snowball fights.

I'll see you then.

GW:EN Sneak Peak: Live Thread 12, One Big Giant

Once more unto the breach. I'm still annoyed at that boss fight. Spent all that time marching through that dungeon only to fail at the very end with absolutely no way to prevent that failure (Except, of course, for not dying in the march to the boss, of course, but you try keeping all your suicidal henchies alive in that dungeon and see how well you do. The Remnant's frost attack hit everyone for 140 and bleeding every ten or so seconds, and his Shatterstone hit people with 60AL for 300+ on each hit. And I don't even want to talk about what his Deep Freeze does when you're all bunched up.). No one to blame for myself but I'd have liked a chance.

Well, to cool off for a bit, I marched some other characters to the Eye of the North and bought up as many skills as I could. If you'll recall, one of my goals heading into this weekend was to grab all 100 of the new skills. I didn't quite make it there. But not because I lack the gold. I managed to scrounge up enough to, just barely, afford them all. And not because of a lack of skill points, I have more than enough to plunk down on all of them. No, I left a few proffession unlocked because I want specific character to have them. And they need to get there, get a few more points, and so forth. So, I'm left missing the Necromancer, Warrior, Dervish, and Assassin skills for now. But if and when I pick up the box, it won't be too hard to get them.

Next, I headed to the Nameless Isle to work with some of my new skills. Mostly worked with the Sin stuff since I had one already rolled up.

I was intrigued by the Signet of ?. Which lets you get an early Deep Wound. Tried out the various lead attacks and didn't find any all that appealing to start off that chain. But dropping Impale would be worth it. I also took the revamped Shadow Prison/Expose Defenses for a spin and found it to be still perfectly serviceable. Used Tiger Stance, too, and that worked as well as advertised.

After that, I spent some time Dwarven Boxing. Just to let off some steam.

Now? Well, there are about six hours left until 12PST when the event should end. I'm hoping to run at least one more dungeon. Maybe catch an obs match or two. And then find out if there's any sort of event or party as the event closes. This'll be the last release for GW, so I'm hoping to be there for something cool. I'm also pretty exhausted at this point, so I don't know if I'll be able to make it.

So, I want to find another dungeon. There's Raven's Point near Olaf's where I did the Gate Too Far quest. I'm going to assume there's something in there even without that quest. But I've already seen that place. But there is another place where I entered an instance that might be obscuring some content. Bjora Marches, where I used the Bear form for Blood Washes Blood. I haven't explored in there and there's no place else to explore, so I'm gong to see if I can't find a dungeon there.

I could go from Gunnar's or I could go from Sif's. I pick Sif's since I know the way already.

The trip to Bjora is pretty uneventful. I'm trying out a mad idea with my henchies here. I've switched out one of my SF Ele for something a little different. An E/N set up with a bunch of AoE Necro hexes. Mostly anit-melee stuff like Shadow of Fear and Enfeebling Blood and the like. Why not go with a primary Necro you ask? Well, I don't have any runes so there's no advantage there. And with the Elementalist, I should have a better energy pool and management to power out those expensive hexes. I don't know if it'll work but I'm sick of the Fire Eles and looking for a change. It's not doing horribly so far.

Up in the top left corner of the zone are some green dots. I investigate and, sure enough, there's a quest pointing me to a nearby dungeon. A dungeon that promises Jotun. This...could get interesting. The quest has greater rewards than the one leading to the annoying Remnant of Antiquities which means it's probably considered harder - as short as that place was and as near the main plotline, I figure it's a starter dungeon. But, then again, the rewards for the Wurm dungeon were greater yet and the place was larger and I did that just fine. So, what the hell. Why not? Into the Darkrime Delves.

I seem to be on the trail of a great Jotun. I can live with that.

Aw, hell. Bats again.

In the next chamber are some Jotun fighting some Stone Summit Dwarves. I'm not sure who to hate more, so I decide to hate on everyone.

The watchwords here are avoiding early deaths. There's going to be a boss. It's going to be a Jotun. It's going to be fierce. I want to avoid picking up a lot of DP that will put me in a hole. Mhenlo is not cooperatingwith me, though.

Found the level map. Looks like some powder keg action. Along with some locked doors.

Big Jotun Warrior is guarding the boss key in a room with Dryders. He goes down easily enough, though.

Now I have to find the Dungeon key.

DP check. I'm at +9. One of my Heroes is at +2. The others are at under one death's worth in the hole. I suspect Mhenlo is heavily DPed, though. It's like the enemies know he's the LoD/Infuse. Except he doesn't infuse. And he's pretty shitty with the LoD, too. So, he's perma ProtSpirited now.

Chasing down the dungeon key takes me to a far-off corner of the map. It's behind some ice jets but it's really not a challenge to get.

Neither is getting to the door to the next level. Took a few more deaths so my DP is a bit higher than I'd like. I'm at full morale myself but no one else is.

Completely lost now. What the heck am I supposed to be doing here?

Oh, missing the portal somehow - no pip on the mini-map to guide me, however. It was right there in the locked room but I ran past it a few times. On to level 2.

Which is huge. This is, again, going to take awhile. Still taking the kind of chippy incidental deaths I'd like to avoid. Haven't come close to wiping but the DPs slowly but surely building up.

Only a couple hours to go in the sneak peak now. I'm getting really sleepy.

Finally made it to the portal, but it's locked. I need the key held by a boss to the south, I guess. And, of course, he's surrounded by Jotun. Tough fight. Lots of deaths on my part which is bad. But once the boss is alone, he's dead meat.

With my wonderful new key, it's on to the next level and, apparently, that boss's mother. *wimper*

It's a pretty easy path to the boss, though. Unfortunately, I'm well DPed up by the time I get there.

But, apparently, walking up and smashing face isn't good enough to her. Quest log says I need to find some way to kill her, so after a wipe, I head south looking for one. There's a room with a mini-boss and a level map. And that's it. Huh. Oh well, back to clearing out the minions.

The end boss is Havok Soulwail and when they say giant, they aren't kidding. Topless so I hope it's a he instead of a giantess. Doesn't seem to have any special tricks, though. At least none I've seen so far. Just big and hits like a ton of bricks.

That was a lot easier than the last boss battle, that's for sure. I get another Diamond for my troubles.

Well, sir, that's about all the dungeon running I think I can stand for one night. I think it's time for a quick caffine break and then we'll be back to close this sucker out.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

GW:EN Sneak Peak: Live Thread 11, The Failure

Back after a little trip into the real world to check on things. You'll forgive me for getting political with it , I hope, but when something's important to you, it needs saying.

Dinner was an unremarkable noodle bowl from a Japanese place. Desert, on the other hand, was the last of my mother's white peach cobble which I had forgotten I still had. Delicious, of course.

Anyhow, back to the game. There are only a few more hours left in the weekend and, well, I could spend it watching PvP stuff or grinding out some more plat to get all the skills. But, at the moment, I want to play for myself.

My options at the moment include running some more quests. I've collected quite a few, especially around Olaf's place that, if follow, I believe would reward me with permanent versions of the Bear/Wolf/Raven forms I was exposed to. On the other hand, I could head back to the Dwarves and that defense master quest and see if there's anything more there. But, really, I have a hankering for another dungeon crawl or three. I know there's one nearby Sif's thanks to that boss hunting quest, so I'm going for that one.

I picked up the first rank of the Dwarf title track, Delver, while hunting down that Wurm, by the way. It gives me the global blessing/enchantment Stout-Hearted. Whenever I use a skill against a Destroyer, you steal 6 health or something. That's pretty nice actually. Not so much for me, but it also applies to all my Heroes. Still, I'm not expecting to run into any destroyers so I'm flying the Slayer flag.

Checking the boss quest's green arrow, it's pointing me into the one corner of Drakkar Lake I've yet to explore. How much you want to bet there's a portal to the dungeon there?

And, yep, it's a sucker's bet because there it is. With some helpful NPCs outside to give me a quest. Talking to them also reveals some info about the dungeon. Looks like there's going to be a door/key quest of some kind.

Inside. Well, it's a cave. And there are Dryders trying to kill me.

Yep, it's a gate puzzle. I hate those. But I just found a map which should make it pretty easy to solve.

Ah, more of those Stalagmites that look like crystal devourers with their heads in the ground. Stupid Frozen Soil. Also, they have those towers that throw snowballs and spout ice jets. Annoying.

Still hunting for the right switches to open the right doors. Found the last boss in my quest, though.

There's a giant floating spectral face in the wall. It's freaking me out.

Okay, for the record, here's how I went. First, open the red doors of Strength. Head right into the eastern door and grab the area map. Then backtrack and head north through the other door. At the top of the map, just past a rezshrine you can open the green doors of Fellowship. Head west, and open up the blue doors, then backtrack, go through the rightmost red door again, and hit the other blue switch - the blue doors will be open but there'll be an enchantment or something stopping you until you get all the switches. The last green switch is to the north, just past the blue doors of Duty and the ramp to the next level.

Down, down, down, into the next level of this dungeon lair. I hope this place doesn't have too many because, yeesch, crisscrossing that map took a while.

This level has a big red Skull. I guess I know where I'm headed. Now to figure out how to get there. Labled Remnant of Antiquities.

Just a little dogleg it is. The Remnant is a big nasty elemental. Lv29. He has a special ability Called Diamondshard Mist, creates an environmental affect that's a snare. There's also some nasty effect that just causes bleeding and 140 damage in a ward sized area, Diamondshard Grave (Pretty rough when you have some DP). Makes crossing the bridge murder. But the recharge on Diamonshard? 5 seconds. synced with with the Power Return my AI is packing. Now if I could just survive all the Ice Spikes and Deep Freezes. They hit hard enough to one shot my DPed henchies.

Man, I just can't put a dent in him. Even if I wasn't DPed to high heaven by now, I'm not doing enough damage to be anywhere close to finishing him off before I'm wiped. He's perma regening, too. I don't think I've gotten more than 5% off his health. This is ridiculous.

Yeah, I give up. There's no way I can beat this guy with what I have. I'd need to bring some kind of shutdown, caster-hate, that sort of thing. But, as for right now? I'm fucking pissed and I need a break.

More and Better Fundraising

I don't know much about Darcy Burner. But I know what I like:

That's good stuff to hear. She was saying it at the right time, too. And the right people seem to be genuinely fond of her. For what it's worth, I think she sounds like exactly the kind of Democrat that the party and the country needs. And it seems as though the progressive blogosphere is trying to make that happen. Well, when called upon by my ideological overlords, let it not be said that I didn't answer the call. My own corner of the web might be small and unimportant, my contribution insignificant, but along with thousands of others is the beauty of it all.

Here's the deal. Mrs. Burner, a former executive at Microsoft, is running for Congress from Washington. In 2006 she narrowly lost in what was considered a rotten burough for the Republicans. She's running again this year. Her opponent is holding a fundraiser on the 27th with President Bush. And, well, here's the response:

The goal is to raise $100k off the net to blunt that $10k a plate fundraiser, to show the netroots are a force in fundraising, and to force the Republicans to waste time and effort defending their seat in an expensive battle. I'm not exactly rolling in money at the moment, but I've sent in what I can. If you'd like, you can, too.

GW:EN Sneak Preview: Live Thread 10, Hall of Disappointment

Well, I'm pissed. Not about anything with the game at the moment, but I just went downstair to check on some laundry and it seems my basement's been flooded. It has, by the way, been raining almost all week so it's not surprising. And it's not a big flood just seems some water has gotten in there - from where, I can't tell. So a few things got wet. But among them are the carpets and rugs I just put down there for safekeeping for my recently moved brother. At least one of them is a ruined mass of wet, smelly fibers. So, yeah, my break turned into mucking out the basement, mopping up the floor, and trying to dry everything as best I can. So, I'm ready to have some fun.

Checking the obs mode, still nobody I recognize and/or is around the top 25 so we'll give it a pass again. I suppose I could check out the Hero Battles but, uh, no.

So, looks like it's back to the PvE for me. I've said it before but, at this point, I'm not rushing out to buy this game at release. That said, the campaign looks to be a pretty good one so far. Only seeing a little bit of it but it promises to be interesing and mildly engaging. And the dungeon structure promises some interesting twists as well. Doing away with the mission structure leaves me wondering just what I'm supposed to do with myself because I'd become so accustomed to being led by the hand, but this way, the quests are even more integrated into the game and it's a lot more freewheeling. At the moment, there's only one real path to follow but if this were the actual game and, say, I got dropped right as I was starting Blood Washes Blood, instead of having to retrace my steps I could go bash Charr or make rude comments about the Asura. Or follow a sidequest. Or explore a dungeon. Or play some mini-games. Lots of options. Lots of promise. But given how quickly I blasted through the Norn path, I'm a little worried about how much there is to do here. I realize it's a preview weekend and content is limited but there don't seem to be too many quests and things to do, really, besides follow the plot along. What's there is well designed but it's the old complaint about Prophesies, when I get done with it, what then? If the other paths are of similar length, then, well, it's not long before you're on to the endgame and thinking about running through on hard mode and that's just not my kind of game.

Anyhow, when we left off, I'd tracked the Dwarf King to his layer and he gave me a tapestry. Since I just was hauling rugs around, that thing has to weigh a ton and I don't know how it takes up just as much space in my pack as a pair of brass knuckles but that's video game physics for you. The game was also telling me ever so politely to get my butt back to the Eye of the North.

So, I go there and check out the Hall of the Monument. It's something I've been avoiding except for plot purposes because if you think I'm down on GW:EN, you should hear the bile I have to spew about GW2. But if only to free up the valuable inventory space, I'm going to check it out.

Okay, so I've looked around the place and here's the deal. The Hall of the Monuments is a place where you can store your achievements and pass them along to your account in GW2. There are five different kind of achievements that you can send into the future. You start off with the one for title tracks and the like. And the other four take a tapestry to unlock - one from the Norn track, presumably one from the Dwarf and Vanguard, too, and one mystery one that's probably for beating the game. So what are the other kinds of achievements? Pets and armor and heroes and maxed titles and just about everything else I don't care about. Let's put it up front. I'm a casual player who doesn't know when to quit. An Achiever/Explorer. I'm in the game to experience it, not to beat it. And I'd rather spend a few hours in the Tombs getting my ass handed to me with a bunch of friends because we'd be laughing and cracking jokes and talking about what was working and what wasn't, instead of grinding out a couple hundred fame with people I couldn't stand. That's me. That's how I like to play the game. I could care less about whether my titles or maxed or my heroes have bitching armor or I've wasted enough time to craft obsidian armor. I just. Don't. Care. It does not appeal to me and I don't really like the people it does seem geared to appeal to.

Talking to Gwen gets me another tapestry. That solves that mystery. Yeah, I could still care less about the Hall of Monuments, game.

But the Scrying Pool has a quest sign but there's nothing new there. Looks like it lets you see all the old cutscenes which is a nice feature. Wish there was an option so your could string them all together and watch a little GW movie. And you can also regain the quests for all the old, plot important instanced missions like A Gate Too Far, Curse of the Nornbear, and Blood Washes Blood. Presumably others in the future, too. That's let you replay those quasi-missions whenver you want. Nice touch.

Well, my choices at the moment are to head back to the Dwarves for their defense master quest. Or to head up north and into a dungeon for the Wurm killing master quest. Since I want to replay Blood Washes Blood - I want to cap Healing Light because....I really don't know why but I'm doing it - I think the choice is obvious. I grab that quest and put on my worm killing boots (Which, since I'm a Monk look suspiciously like sandals and will no doubt leave my feet all gross and covered with worm guts.). To Sif's!

I have a quest to turn in which gets me a new skill.

Don't Trip! Shout. 10en, 20recharge. For 3 seconds, party members within earshot cannot be knocked down. Dwarf.

As I thought, the skill prompting me back to the Eye of the North is gone now that I've hung the tapestries (I went with pets and heroes for the simple reason that they were the ones on the left.). seems odd that an ancient mystical force cares about my decorating, though.

Oops, I was wrong, once I stepped outside it came back. I checked all over the place,
there was nothing there to interest me. Must be about something that the preview doesn't include.

I have 9k Norn points, so I'm not going to waste much time fighting. It's straight to the north and the portal for me. I will, of course, stomp anything in my way but I am feeling strangely mercifuL today.

Has ZB always been a 3/4 cast? I don't remember it like that. I thought it was feeling slow but I figured it was just me.

Now arriving at Frostmaw Burrows. First level, plenty of stuff to kill. Another cool name, by the way. It's a snwy place, very ice and cold and blue. And I just saw a snowball roll past. Eep.

Looks l;ike I've got a Norn escort although they don't show up as allies. First Frost Seige Worm encounter (cool looking skin, by the way.) and they don't last so it doesn't much matter. except, huh, they auto rezzed and ran right back to me. Interesting.

Second level, lady's hosiery and deadly wurms. The quest NPC tells me I need to do something with rats, but the log says I need to kill baby wurms to get the big one to appear. Glitch somewhere.

One of my Norn followers is a Bearagon. And he's using Crip Anthem. While we're fighitng a wurm which doesn't move. Gee fing gee.

Now, when I said baby wurms earlier. I didn't know it mean lv28 freaking giant fucking baby wurms of death! Ouch. And now there's Jotun in the next room. And, holy crap, bats. KD master, enchantment stripping, Daze causing bats. They're not tough, really, but they swung down from the ceiling in a group of, like, 20.

Floor three, childrens department and implements of doom. My DP is really high right now. Well, not mine because I know how to stay out of AoE but my henchies are hurting. If it wasn't for the Dwarf bounty bonuses, they'd be 60ed. And there are a lot of those Deep Freezing elementals around here, red bars going down everywhere. Fortunately, my undying Norn helpers are being awesome for me.

Forth floor and I'm out of jokes. Just how many floors does this place have, anyway?

Damn I hate Mhenlo. Whole damn team is degening to death so what does he do? Cast Healing Touch on himself. Then, after everyone's dead? LoD. Brilliant.

And now I'm 60ed, too. Great. This level has a bunch of those degen Mandragore and Seige Worms. It's a tough slog since I'm so DPed up. Just too many bars flying down at once. Almost to the next level, though.

Now there's a bunch of Jotun standing in my way. Perfect. And afterwards, another lv28 Frostmaw spawn. He's a boss so I get a morale boost but I'm still hurting bad.

Another map piece. I've got four now, but unfortunately two of them are the same piece. Still don't know where the guy is, either.

5th level now. If this isn't the last one, I quit.

And this level is, uh, empty. I guess I have to hunt down worm poppers and skill them to get the boss.

Found the sucker. He's the biggest worm yet. lv29 and surround by a couple of his lv28 spawn and Seige Worms. This could get ugly. Uses Dark Apostacy, too.

Cleared out all the minions around Frosty though it took a few wipe to get here. Fortunately, Frostmaw doesn't seem to regenerate at all. Unfortunately, his spawn do.

Whew. That was tough. There's a little chest opening graphic and then I can turn the quest in. 10kXP, 2plat, and 750 Norn. A chest pops up afterwards and I get a pair of Diamonds for the trouble of opening it. The countdown to the next mission is long enough to run back to the door, which is locked. So guess I can't fight my way back out.

Boy, that was a slog. Dungeon was just a little too long, if you ask me. Could easily have done without floor 3 or 4. The fight against the boss was nicely done but having to go through four floors of the same thing was torturous. If there'd been a bit more variety or something else to do on those floors, then, sure. But it was just a long dungeon crawl to get to that boss, beating up variations on the same packs of mobs over and over again.

I'm warped back outside next to the Norn outside. You can pick up the quest again, making the whole thing repeatable.

Walking South to the Blood Washes Blood area, there's a herd of White Moa birds running around.

Bum rushed through the mission, grabbed my crappy elite. Now, I need to grab some food. Be back later.

GW:EN Sneak Peak: Live Thread 9, Lazy Morning

Commence to jiggling people, we're back. I had some thoughts jotted down to flesh out into full fledged posts but, eh, I'm feeling lazy. There's only one day left in the preview and I want to get rolling on it. I'll save those for tomorrow - or never - when I intened to post on the aftermath.

So, today, I wanted to check out some PvP action. Not play it myself because I'm horribly rusty, but scope out some obs mode. See what people were doing with the new skills. Looks like last night while I was in PvE heaven, there was a Monthly Championship. Rebel Rising vs some Korean team I'm going to call #12 because that's what they're ranked, on the Isle of the Dead. As I understand it, the new GW:EN skills were disallowed so I'm only going to check out the championship. Let's give her a watch.

Rebel Rising [rawr]
W/E - Eviscerate, Conjure Axe
D/A - Melandru's Derv with Disrupting Dagger?
P/W - Defensive Anthem, Spear attacks, WY, and I'm going to guess Shield's Up.
Me/Rt - Hex Eater Vortex, and a lot of Dom stuff - Diversion, interrupts, etc.
E/Mo - BSurge air
Mo/E - Shield of Deflection prot
Mo/E - LoD/Infuse
E/Mo - Shield of Regen water runner

Korean [Korean]
A/W - Shadow Prison
D/W - Melandru's derv
N/E - Corrupt Enchantments?!? Seriously? Wards with.
Me/Rt - Migraine hexer with Humsig
A/W - Shadow Prison
E/Mo - Sheield of Regen, water with a lot of Monk stuff
Mo/E - Shield of Defelection with...Divine Spirit? Seriously?
Mo/A - LoD/Infuse

I guess Tiger's Stance is the new BoA? Makes sense. The Korean meta has to be really screwed up because that is some janky shit #12 is running. [rawr] on the other hand look to be in a pretty sweet setup. I'd guess it's the latest version of a balanced build. The only thing I don't like, really, is the Parapants. I'd sub it out for a Ranger with some interrupts, but that's just me.

Came into the room a few minutes into the match. [rawr] is taking it to them. They're getting a lot of kills and pushing #12 back to their base. Secured a morale boost with #12 on the defensive, trying to break out of their base. Looks like this could be a slaughter but, no, the Koreans are going to split.

8~9 minutes in they've worked off a lot of the base NPCs, all [rawr] has left is the core guarding the Lord. And they're got a pair of Sins in their base to harrass the Rebel runner. Meanwhile, at #12's base, they've been stuck defending it but they haven't lost many NPCs. The split is really paying off for them. [rawr] has to respond and the now the main team can't kill anything, #12 is just running them around on the many paths of the Isle of the Dead, while their Sins go to work.

Nearing VoD, which is at 18 minutes now, making for quicker matches. Not sure how I feel about that. By this point, #12 has gone full out split. They've got a four person team with the Sins and their E/Mo and the Mes, I think, constantly trying to slip into [rawr]'s base. They can't get to the Lord but they are really killing off the people [rawr]'s sending back.

I'm still not so sure about the new VoD mechanic but, I'm seeing it in action. [rawr] seems to be able to pound #12 whenever they get them in a fight. But #12's splitting has taken out a lot of [rawr]'s NPCs. I'd have to say it's even heading into VoD and the score chart, for what it's worth, agrees with me.

[rawr]'s able to take out the NPCs and #12 is crumbling. Yeah, this one's over. Just a matter of a time before they kill off enough to take out the Lord. Congratulations to [rawr]. Good match.

Yea, no new skills there. And I'm itching to get some playing in myself. Nobody on the list for the GvG is ranked above 70 and I don't rankSo, we'll close the obs mode for now

Ran Defending the Eye of the North again. Mostly on a whim. This time, though, I beat it hands down. And I attribute this to three factors. First, I switched all my Eles to pack Meteor Shower. I had to go micro and tell them when to cast it, but it was a big help. Second, I had them pack wards as well. Especially Ward of Stability. The centaur around the Eye of the North have this Trample ability which is an AoE touch range knockdown. It was really giving me fits last night on the narrow confines of the ramp. With Stability up, nothing got interrupted at a crucial time. Like the long casting of a Meteor Shower, say. And finally, I decided not to fight on the ramp at all. As soon as the map loaded, I ran off to the side onto the ice. Picking off the groups cost me the NPC allies because they ignore the henchie flags and would rush right in to aggro everythign but I was able to just roam around the perimiter and handle the groups one at a time instead of altogether as I'd had to on the ramp. Also, fighting on the ice slowed me down, but it snared the centaurs, too. And since my plan was to sit in my wards and hammer them with SF and Meteor Shower, that didn't exactly bother me. So, for that I get some funny money, a Powerstone, and a new skill.

Ebon Escape. Spell. 5en, 1/4cast, 10recharge. Shadow Step to target other ally. you and that ally are healed for 40 health. Vanguard.

You can apparently rerun the Gate Too Far semi mission as many times as you like. It's only 2.5k XP and 500 Norn points so it's not really worth it.
Nope, I was wrong. You can. If you go to the Scrying Pool in the Eye of the North you can look at all the old cuscenes and you can also add any of the mission quests to your log. If I have the time, I'll run Blood Washing again because I want that Healing Light, dammit. Not because it's a useful skill or anything but I'm going to get at least one elite capped this weekend or so help me...

Then, I hunted down the Low King of the dwarves to turn in my primary quest. He was in a place called Battledepths which, aside from beign a cool name was off to the west from the Eye of the North. It's an underground cave place. Looks very cool, different from Sorrow's Furnace but still reminiscent. But being underground it means my map is all screwed up which sucks.

Although I'm still getting my Norn rep bonus (which is +63hp now. I guess it's 54+(3xNorn) health. Which is weird.) but the bounties here are for Dwarf points. Work just like the Norn bounties except you don't have to fight a Norn to get them and, hopefully, there'll be some different bonuses. I'm pretty close to my first rank so I smell cookies.

On second thought, I just ran the numbers and I'm not getting my Norn bonus in here. Must not be "Norn lands". Forgot I had installed a few Vitae runes I'd salvaged.

Annnnd, that sucks. If you wipe in the Battledepths you get returned to outpost. How'd I wipe? Deep Freeze spike along with hardhitting Dervishes, combined with the henchies tendency to cluster up. I didn't get killed but there's not much I can do by myself. I really need to slot a rez here. The Dervs use Vow of Silence, too, which is really screwing up my offense.

New enemy. Chromatic Drakes. A reskin of the old Drake model, of course, but the interesting thing is their special ability. They're eles but they have somethign called "Elemental Shift" which attunes them to a different element. Interesting. They, of course, die before it becomes important.

I investigate a barrel and an ooze monster pops out. This really is a dungeon crawl.

And there's the King. He's holding a cutscene for me which I gratefully accept. My Dwarf hero, sadly bereft of a nickname, is called on the carpet by his leige. The game forces me to stick up for him and say he was invaluable. Just one problem. He's never been in my party. He's about as useless as Norgu to me.

Not much else to see here, I guess. There's a quest to get Destroyer Cores, so I guess there's a reason to rerun a Gate Too Far, after all. And a master instanced quest with another eye-popping reward. A nearby portal leads to....Varajar Falls. That's by Olaf's bungalo and there's a Dwarven merchant and material crafter nearby but I've no real reason to be here.

I see a little skill icon has popped up. Looks like a big eye. Sadly, it's not the Eye of Sauron casting its baleful gaze upon me, but a little reminder that I should head to the Eye of the North and do something with the tapestry I just got, I suppose.

Sounds like as good a point to break as any.