Sunday, January 20, 2008

NFL Blogging: Third Round Playoff Picks

After my disastrous 1-3 outing last week you'd think I'd be ready to change any and everythign to get my mojo working again. But you'd be wrong. And, again, I'm going to try and put my picks up right before the games start.

This week, it's the conference championships with the right to go to the Super Bowl on the line. The first, New England/San Diego is obviously the big one. The winner is the odds-on favorite to win the championship. And it's yet another battle against a tough opponent to see if the Patriots can continue to be perfect. While the second, the Giants at Green Bay is less eyecatching and will prove, no doubt, to be a miserable game for all the cold, I'm still going to be tuning in.

Enough prologue, let's get to the picks.

  • NEW ENGLAND over San Diego

It all comes down to whether you have the stones to pick against New England. I, obouvsly, do not. But it's a close run thing. Even when you toss out the two touchdown spread, as I have. Any time you have a 17-0 team involved, there's just no telling what you're going to get. And I maintain that the Patriots have to lose. That there's just no way that they can pull off a perfect season. And that the bst, the most fitting, the most likely time for their run to collapse is in the playoffs. If they get through this game it's on to the Super Bowl. And they'll get a week off. Time for the bruises and aches they've built up to heal and for their coaching staff to prepare for a game against an inferior opponent from the NFC. If they're goiNG to lose, it's going to happen this week.

But it's the Chargers. I know I wrote them off last week and got burned by it. I know that Norv Turner has morphed into the second coming of Vince Lombardi. And the team managed to weather the loss of both their starting quarterback - Phillip "I think I'll taunt the crowd now" Rivers - and running back to shock the Colts. The Patriots are on a whole 'nother level and have beaten them, soundly both times they've played this season.

But those two games happened early in the season, before the Bolts put it together. The Chargers have played like a different team since then. And that makes this game the third time they've matched up this season. That rubber match can bounce funny, usually in the underdog's favor.

But I don't think that's going to happen here since the Pats hate the Chargers as much as anyone. San Diego, remember, hasn't liked them even before losing to them in the playoffs last year, that first round exit that cost them their coach. And when the early season schenanigans broke, there were a lot of Chargers mouthing off. The Pats remember. And they live to make people pay for those sorts of comments. Just like they did in those first two meetings.

But, in the past few weeks, the Patriots haven't had the same go for the throat mentality they had at the start of the season. As their streak's worn on, they've gone from crushing their opponents to merely surviving them. The pressure, the tension, has been mounting with each win and it's never been higher than it's going to be today. They've never had more distractions.

But they've been dealing with not making that mistake that's going to cost them all season long. They've fought game after tough game. Come back from behind. Survived every scare. Why would they stop doing so now?

There's the weather, which is going to be New England winter cold. That puts a damper on the Pats big weapon: their quick strike passing game. And that slogs the game down, giving the Chargers more of an opportunity for the upset.

But the Chargers are going to be affected by that weather, too. They're a warm weather team making their second crosscounty trip in as many weeks.

It's just, I go back and forth on this. My instincts tell me that this game is going to be weird and there's a huge upset in the wind. But my head tells me not to go against the Patriots, against Bellichek and Brady, and their magical season. So I'm not.

There's just no way.

  • GREEN BAY over New York

This is the JV game but it's still a difficult one to pick. The choices are the Giants who will have to win their third playoff game on the road when they haven't looked overwhelming in either of their previous ones and the Green Bay Packers, the youngest team in the league, who've been holding it together with duct tape and spit the entire season.

It's not so much difficult to see how either team loses as it is to see either team beating the other.

Still, someone has to win and I'm going to go with the home team. Sure, the weather's going to be awful, one of the coldest games ever, especially as the day wears on (Why they didn't move today's games up a bit, I'll never know. They could easily be at 1 and 4PM EST instead of the 3 and 6:30 we're getting. I guess the west coast market's that important. But it means we're getting a night game. In Green Bay. In January.) and that might seem to give the Packers an edge, especially after the romp in the snow they had last week. But the conditions are going to be so bad that, I think, both teams are going to be adversely affected. And it won't really matter.

No, I'm going with the quarterback matchup. I'll take Farve over a Manning any day, especially when it's the younger one. I've long been a Farve doubter but he's done everything he needs to convince me. Meanwhile, Eli manage to outplay the aging Jeff Garcia (Who's a former Lions quarterback and that should tell you all you need to know right there.) and the falling star of Tony Romo. I, needless to say, remain unconvinced that he's got the right stuff.

The winner is no doubt going to be the sacrificial lamb offered up upon the altar of parity in the Super Bowl. But it should still be an exciting game.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Guild Wars: Bringing In the Harvest

No Mythos for me this weekend. Instead, it's all Guild Wars, all the time thanks to yet another weekend event: this weekend, all Sunspear and Lightbringer points are double. The dart throwing monkeys that decide these things having been kind to me since that's something I can actually use.

Sunspear ranks make my PvE skill pew pew harder, after all. And one of these days I'll get around to farming in the DoA again so even the Lightbringer ranks are valuable to me.

To get them, I've been spending quite a bit of time in the Sulfurous Wastes. By combining a few quests and Hard Mode boss bounties you can easily rake in several thousand Lightbringer points an hour. And that's normally, before this weekend's double bonus is taken into account. You can also earn nearly as many Sunspear points along the way so it's ideal for my purposes. Better yet, the whole process takes place in the comfortable confines of a worm so there's virtually no danger of failing as you mow through hordes of enemies. You have to take it a bit slow if you care about your death count but, since I don't, I can pretty much just set a way point, alt-tab out, and get on with other things and still pile up point after point.

It's not exactly a secret and, in fact, there's a handy guide here for the popular farming spot. There's a table there which should list a handful of locations, the time it takes to clear them, the points you're expected to earn, and your expected take each hour. The one you want are the Sulfurous Wastes. Because, if you're like me, you'll be drawn to that "points per hour" that's far higher than anything else out there. Although it's an ideal you're unlikely to reach, it's a fast run that nets 1.3k Lightbringer points each run this weekend. You'll also get about 1k Sunspear points by killing all the undead around the route. Now, you can farm your Sunspear points almost if not more efficiently in other areas (I think boss runs in the Holdings of Chokhin top out better.) but there's no other place that comes close for Lightbringers and there's no area that gathers both quite as well. Add to the fact you'll be cruising around in your Junundu form like a gigantic armored tank trailing a wake of destruction and drops behind you and it's the place to be.

The only real drawback is that it takes a bit of work to set up your runs. There are some quests you have to have and you need to do their prerequisites beforehand, otherwise you won't be able to gather nearly as many points. There are two quests you need to have active before you head out from the Remains of Shalahja. The first is A Show of Force which you can get from an NPC at Shalahja. But first, you'll need to complete the Temple of the Monoliths quest that precedes it. All you need to do for that is head out of Shalahja, hook your worm, and head towards the quest marker. Turn in the quest, grab the follow-up, head to the Bone Palace for the first step, then back to Shalahja to talk to the quest NPC again who'll give you an all-important quest item that needs to be in your inventory before you step out of the gate. The importance of the item is that, with it, the are you just visited to comple the Monoliths' temple quest will be full of shrines that, when pressed, will spawn a bunch of enemies. The one on the very right hand side of the doorway as you walk in will summon a pack which includes three Margonite bosses. Killing them with the Margonite bounty you can grab from a rez shrine along the way will give you 150 Lightbringer points each (300 this weekend.).

The second quest you need to have is what lets you kill enough Margonites to get the full boss bonus. And that's Requiem for a Brain. The tricky part here is finding the quest in the first place since the quest giver is tucked off to the side in the Sulfurous Wastes. To reach him you need to first knock over a pillar on a cliff that overlooks the path you'll take to reach the Monoliths' Temple (There's no marker or icon or anything. You can't target the pillar at all. But it should be fairly obvious.). This can only be accomplished by using your adrenal Junudu Smash when you're passing nearby - there are packs of enemies around where you can build up your adrenaline but none exactly on top of that location so be careful you don't calm down bobbing across the sands. Once that's done you'll have to leave the safety of your worm form and fight your way through a few packs of Margonites to reach the undead soldier guy. It's not exactly something you'll stumble upon, in other words. Once you've done that, an item called the Ancient Tome of Knowledge will spawn just outside of the Monoliths' Temple guarded by some loose packs of Margonites. Picking it up will summon a few more additional groups, giving you enough kills to get to the magic number.

Along the way, you can also grab an Undead bounty from the shrine just outside of Shalahja and kill enough undead creatures along the way that the undead boss - an annoying healer Rit one - just a ways up the road from the Temple will also give you a full bonus. Yopu'll make nearly as many Sunspear points as you will Lightbringer with all the foes you'll kill along the way.

It's a bit of effort, as I said, but well worth it since once it's done, you can make as many runs as you like, collecting massive amounts of points each and every time. The drops generally aren't anything to write home about but you should make a decent profit on each trip. Also note that there's a Treasure Chest in the Monoliths' Temple that'll pop out a bunch of gold and a random item. You can only open it once but it resets every so often and you can grab it again if you wait long enough. Like, say, when you only make the occasional point farming run every month, if then, the way I have.

It's also the kind of play that I hate. The dreaded grind. I'm doing the same thing over and over again for the same exact rewards. With the worm factor it's not even a challenge, it's mindnumbingly dull and easy enough that I can read the paper or surf the web while I direct my AI allies o their designated killing fields. This is why I don't tend to point farm much. But, when it comes to piling up those points there's no better way to do it. You can't earn nearly enough to get close to the max rank just by playing through the game normally - otherwise I would have already had them. The amount required mean that it becomes all about how long it's going to take you to perform your favorite farming technique to get them. Since I'd rather that time be as minimal as it can be, all I care about is efficiency - gathering those points as fast as possible.

It's not fun. It's not challenging. It's utterly and irredeemably boring and I'd much rather be doing something else. But, I need those points so I can make my character better and get into groups and everything else, so I do it anyway. I'm just not very eager to do so otherwise I'd probably have capped out by now already. This weekend gives me an excuse to get some massive farming done since it'll go even faster. And I intend to spend as much time as my schedule will allow doing so. If my eyeballs don't drop out of my head from the unrelenting boredom midway through, that is.

So far, I've managed to get one of my characters up to Spearmarshall or Sunspear rank 9, now. Adding nearly 10k in points to their starting total. I'm not likely to get to the max, Legendary Spearmarshall any time soon, though, since it requires a staggering 50k in points, or more than double what I've already earned so far. Their Lightbringer lags behind at only rank 5 but that's not too bad since that title tops out at rank 8, instead of 10. But, again, it takes 50,000 points to get there. I'll be happy if I can get at least a few more characters up to Sunspear rank 9. And if I can remember to get everyone out there so I can make some quick easy money off that chest.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Random Political Thought of the Day

Random Political Thought of the Day

Man, this primary stuff is exhausting. How do people manage to follow this stuff fulltime without going nuts? Oh, right. They don't.

Mythos: I Drink It Up!

Found some spare time to play again the other day and, again, lost more time than I'd planned to what's shaping up to be an engrossing game. We've entered the "seen this already, done this before" stage of the game. The point where the groove is good and deep as I'm traveling well worn ground. I've settled into a steady diet of gathering quests to kill named monster or collect random drops, heading off to the nearest dungeons to do so, and gathering bigger and better gear to make it easier the next time. Steadily advancing in levels and skills, too, as I grow increasingly powerful in step with the challenges lain before me. Despite the promises of crafting and, possibly, PvP and other activities, regardless of the existence of new zones and towns and quests ahead of me, I don't expect there's going to be much else to do. The quests are pedestrian, monotonous in their uniformity (Although there was an interesting one that had you tracking through the wilderness to find some vanished NPCs that was a welcome break from all the dungeon crawling and fed ex quests. But, still, it involved hacking my way through an instance to a pre-defined encounter. Ended up with me winning over the skeptical law enforcement, an interesting bit of story, I thought, but that hasn't led anywhere. Yet.), and the only difference will be the tileset and monsters I'm slaying by the bucket full.

Which is fine, for me, since this isn't really the kind of game you play for the in-depth moving storyline with its deep exploration of a soul-shattering lore. The quests and characters are just there to hang the hacking and slashing on. And the game succeeds or fails based on whether that fast-paced action is actually fun. So far, it remains so.

Combat is fast and frenzied. Effects flashing all over the screen, creatures dying left and right, piles of gore and streamers of magic filling the screen. And that's just what I'm doing. When my foes get into the mix with their own special abilities then it's wall to wall chaos. And there's always something to do, something to try, as waves of information crash into my vision along with the eye-candy (The game runs even on the shittiest of shitboxes I've tried it on so far, meaning it has very low, very forgiving specs. A bit of frame rate troubles and the occasional graphical lag but considering the Commodore-like equipment I'm running it on, that's understandable. And I've turned down all my settings for performance, too. It's not the most graphically impressive game but it's still nicely done, with a lot of character, especially when you're zoomed into and watching action up close.). Whether it's a potion to chug or a skill I've suddenly realized is going to get me out of a jam, the game slams down the gas and doesn't let up.

Unless you want it to, because you can always break off, open up a portal, head back to town, or creep your way around, trying to pick your way through your enemies. I still have some issues with the game - the limited inventory and the lack of adequate respeccs still being the most pressing - but they're more than outweighed by what the game does well. It's a Diablo clone, in other words, but an exceptionally well-made one. I'm not sure whether I'd actually pay money for it, even on the Guild Wars Buy To Play model, even if it was fully polished with all the many now-absent features implemented. But since they're planning to give it away for free (The current plan, as I understand it, calls for offering a special item - currency really - for real life money at some form of online store. You go in, you buy these bars of gold pressed tokens or Mythos Tokens or whatever they'll wind up being and you can use those, in game, to buy certain prestige services, like changing your appearance or dying your armor and the like. But these items can also be freely traded so if you're unwilling to spend actual cash on those things you can also spend the time needed to get enough in-game money or items to exchange with someone who is. The idea being that the RMT aspect is going to be optional, cosmetic and not something essential to partake in the underlying gameplay. I'm not sure you can support a game on that kind of business model but I do like the sound and the spirit of it.), that's not going to be a dilemma I'll have.

I haven't had as much time to play as I've wanted, though. I'll hopefully have a bit more in the coming days. Lots of things I want to try out, skills and schemes and classes and more. One thing I have learned, though, in the limited amount of time I've spend already: I hate teleporting bosses.

I Am the Third Revelation

You have no idea how tempted I was to add the drainage to the last post. Instead, I feel compelled to create the necessary meta-context here.

It just gets better every time I watch.

Guild Wars: I Drink Your Milkshake

Retarded Forum User:

"Why do you people complain about Ursan Blessing? I don't get what the big deal is. So what if it makes PvE easier? How does that affect you n the slightest? All it does is make it easier to farm and that lowers prices on the stuff I want to buy. Stfu you daycare bears."

You know, I agree.

In fact, I don't think Ursan goes nearly far enough in making PvE as brainlessly uncomplicated as possible.

I rather think the next update needs to include a clearly labled button to press that lets you win the game. None of this running about and having to target things, you just press it down and everything in the world dies. I suppose to keep you from having to run around having to scoop things up before the timer expires that all the drops should be automatically teleported into your inventory and, once that fills up, to your feet so you can more easily sort through them.

After all, the point of the game should be that I can load up the client and sit back in relaxed comfort to watch my net worth continually rise. Numbers racing ever upwards, faster and faster, until they're ticking over so fast they merge together and begin to blur like a broken speedometer on the rocket car setting the world's land speed record.

I mean, if you can't eat a sandwich and push buttons to victory then why the hell do you play?

Guild Wars: Skill Update 1/17/08

Here's the context.

Here's the critical bit: They buffed Vengeance. That, right there, tells you everything you need to know about this skill balance. And if i doesn't, well, Vengeance is one of those skills where if it ever sees anything like play (Without a major mechanic overhaul.) there are serious problems with the game. As long as there's enchantment removal then an enchantment which keeps your resurrected allies alive and causes them to pitch face forward, stone dead, once it expires is going to be a non-starter. So, if it gets to the point where it's actually viable that means either it's stupid crazy broken, having a one-second recharge allowing you to create a horde of kamikaze teamzombies, or there's no longer any efficient enchantment removal to be found. I'm not sure which would be worse for the game's overall health but both would be capital B-A-D.

That they're buffing Vengeance tells you not that Izzy treats these updates like open mic night at the Giggle Pit, that this is update is a colossal joke that betrays the developers' fundamental incomprehension of their own product, but that he's going in for the sort of update where they give the underused, unappreciated stuff a bit of the old shine and polish rather than shaking it up like a malfunctioning Etch-a-sketch. It's not, in other words, the sort of update where the game is turned on its head, the reverberations ringing across every build, every player, as the message boards fill with gloom and elation. Power Attack doesn't do 500 damage now, LoD doesn't cause your .dat file to corrupt, Brambles isn't suddenly on everyone's bar. It's more like a mild whisper, as the designers gently nudge the game. And, perhaps, sneak in a minor twist here and there like expertly placing a board in the stream so the water twists and flows around it, carving out a new path in the slippery, ever changing medium as it surges past.

It's the sort of update, then, that makes me suspicious that there's something bigger in the works and this is just clearing the brush. But that's just me, I'm a paranoid bastard and when the first update in nearly a month is a handful of buffs to skill no one's going to care about and a few, easy to overlook nerfs, well, I start trying to see the hinges on the cagedoor. But, really, although they don't arrive with the same flourish as the last big patch, there are some important developments in the ether here.

Sticking to the skills, two immediately strike me. The first is Hex Eater Vortex. That skill, more than anything else, is responsible for sinking the hex meta. It absolutely punishes anyone who tries to hex up the frontliners. And if you can't disable the groundpounders then what's left is a bunch of degen and shutdown that you don't strictly need (Since you can get the same effects out of a traditional Dom Mesmer or just your Ranger) on the midlines, if you can even withstand the opportunity costs of wading through their unchecked midlines to get there. If HEV goes out of the picture, then it's possible that hex-centric strategies could make a strong comeback, especially in light of other changes - degen's more scary now that party-wide healing is more of a failure point and more. But while I've seen it thrown around that the three second increase to recharge and the loss of two points of damage per attribute point (Or about 20~28 armor ignoring damage at a reasonable spec.) reduces your effectiveness by half, I think it's still quite useful. It loses a hex, it costs whoever's being trained a buff, and it deals damage, too. It still does all of that, it just doesn't do it nearly as well. And the question is whether it's enough to matter.

The second is Coward! which, I have to admit, is rather eye-catching now. I think, at the end of the day, it's still a ranged Bull's Strike when Bull's Strike works perfectly well enough to save your elite slot. But I think this is more of a "hey, look at me!" update than anything else. The developers' way of flagging out an interesting skill, a fruitful mechanic, that's being overlooked. YAA's back, too, so I think the devs are hoping one or the other catches fire. Because if a lot of people start running either then what you have is a return of the old YAA split Warrior templates; perhaps with a different way of going about having your melee working out in space. Those have been out of vogue for some time, I think, but it's a sound concept that could be poised for a comeback.

Let's run through the rest quick to get to the other good stuff. Elsewhere, you get some buffs to useless skills that aren't enough to make me pay attention to them any longer than it takes to dismiss them.

Yes, I was looking at the Elementalist skills when I typed that.

The reduction to the casting times on touch-based rezzes (Along with the uptick to the still-pitiful Vengeance) continue the overall trend of making rezzing much easier. Still, touch rezes went out of style once people figured out that W/Mos weren't the best option for combat rezzing overall (Remind me to tell you how awesome we thought Restore Life was, once upon a time. And don't laugh. I did it. iQ did it. Te did it. KOR did it. Everyone did. Because we thought that's how the game was supposed to work. Imagine how we're going to think the game works this time next year.) and I don't see them coming back any time soon. Ditto We Shall Return, made it nicer but no where near nice enough to actually use.

Patient Spirit still doesn't find room on a skill bar. Not a bad skill, just not good enough to crack the top 8 because it's not working hard enough, fast enough. Getting closer, though.

Aura of Stability needed to be kneecapped. You can still keep it up continously with a reasonable spec and enchanting mods but it's no longer nearly as easy. Which is nice because it leaves it useable - it's undeniably something that should be in game you should just be able to fight through it, if need be, placing it on spot duty not out completely annihilating entire strategies. I would have gone after the casting time but, then, I'd want it completely out of the game. That's just me.

Divine Healing and its Factions twin, Heaven's Delight going to earshot is part of correcting the gaping whole that nuking LoD from orbit left in the game. The recharge is way too long for my tastes for them to be effective party-wide healing but outside of PvE but, now, there's at least another option out there that could be made to work. One day.

Crappy Assassin self-heal/defense bamfs get marginally better by being more under the player's control. You'll excuse me while I stifle my yawn. Scorpion Wire and Caltrops don't look half bad now, though.

The change to Pious Assault is a weird one. It's expensive, sure, and I don't like the recharge. But I still like it. Could lead to a lot of fun with those "effect on end" enchantments that the Derv lines are sprinkled through with. Still, do Dervs really need another way of causing a cheap Deep Wound? They don't get enough of those already, really? I mean, sure, if you don't play a Treeblader and you don't like Wearying Strike. But are they expecting people to run something other than Melandru's now or something?

Another "hey there, I'm a good skill" update for Wail of Doom. Changing it from 15 energy to 10 energy doesn't do anything but flag up that it's there so a bunch of eyeballs give it a looking over. Which, I think is incredibly dangerous. Wail of Doom is one of those skills that can get stupid crazy, stupid fast. You're talking about something that lets you utterly wreck the opposing frontline: no attack skills equals no killing power, period. I'm constantly amazed it isn't being abused into the ground. What holds it back, more than anything, is that it doesn't fit very well into any bars since you need Soul Reaping for it. Doesn't synergize well with anything else you want a Necro (If you want a Necro at all, and that's part of the problem) to be doing.

The lower recharge on Ethereal Burden and clone is actually a big deal since those skills are energy gainers. Making them faster means better energy management. You're talking about nearly 0.2 energy per second difference or about 2/3rds of a pip. Of course, that's still a really, really crappy return since you net only a fraction of that and the time frame is too large. So, they're marginally less crappy but not so much that you'd notice.

And I'll worry about Wastrels and Mind Wrack once e-denial becomes serious again. Which it's not.

The new 1 second activation bow skills are pretty decent since that's half the normal rate, if not more on certain bow models. Shame it only got onto the crappiest ones out there. And, having heard the horrific tales of the R-Spike model, I always get a bit leery at the return of Quick Shot-like damage compression to the Ranger line.

Magebane went to 10 energy. Which is a good change. Skill was crazy spammable at 5. The change isn't knocking it off any bars but now it's a lot more sensible.

As for the Rit, Rejuvenation might actually be useful now. It's still realistically only a mega-Mending but at least it's a mega-Mending that's going to last more than 3 seconds now.

Sight Against Sight got a buff, too. It's now really attractive for a secondary Rit. You can get it to go infinite with only a minimal investment even without an enchanting mod. It's cheap, casts lightning fast, and it's got a low enough recharge that you can fight through removal. Another one of those, "might be big" updates.

I've been using Sundering Weapon a lot on my PvE weapon Rits (I love weapon rits. Make everything better. Razah is my constant companion.) and the only thing I ever wanted from it was for it to last more than a single hit. Nice change, in other words. I maintain that Cracked Armor is less than useful in actual PvP but these days with everyone walking around with damage typed shields and everything it might not actually be so mad.

I've been making heavy use of Warmonger's, too. So, while I'm sad to see it take the nerf, it's definitely something it needed. A constant stream of interrupts that your opponent can't do anything about is brutal. But, again, while it's worse than it was, it's still useful as you can keep it up almost constantly especially if you'r running it with Spawning Power.

But those skill changes pale in comparison to the alteration to the game's mechanics. There are two big ones here, as well.

First, the GvG mechanics. Adding armor ignoring skills to the NPCs is a nice little switch, to be sure, helping to make base infiltration harder and VoD blockwebs less useful. But the big change is the nerf to VoD itself. Lowering the damage buff to 15% is one thing but taking out the health reduction means it's far, far less powerful. VoD should now play out much more like the rest of the match which, I think, is a good change. Should make it more interesting when teams can no longer camp it out and then rely on being supercharged. I'm not sure, though, that matches need to get longer. Games lasting a long time while evenly matched teams seesaw back and forth is what VoD was designed to prevent. It amplified advantages, turned mistakes into wipes, and it's not longer as effective at doing that. I'll live with it, though, for the net benefit this change brings.

The other is the addition of skill binding to Hero skill bars. Herobinds lets you control your Heroes much more effectively, especially if you're used to activating your own skills with your keyboard and found having to mouse them out to be frustrating, like me. Should make things like chaining Defensive Anthem or interrupts much more viable. Now, I just have to find 32 keys with which to bind my Hero bars...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Romney Wins, Undecided Comes Second

Now that the polls are closed, the news programs are making their calls. Looks like Romney's going to win by a solid margin over McCain (It's 37%~31% at the moment but who knows how it'll end up.). And, on the Democratic side, Clinton's going to clean up. Which isn't exactly surprising since her fiercest opponent was "Undecided". Since Obama and Edwards weren't on the ticket and write-ins weren't allowed you could vote for Clinton, Kucinich, Gravel, and Dodd who's already out of the race. Or you could cast your vote for Undecided, essentially giving whatever delegates the state ends up sending to the nominating convention the power to choose whoever they wanted.

Primary Thoughts

Eh, night turned out to be less exciting than I thought. But, still, as I watch the Democratic debate - it's actually pretty interesting now that it's just the big three candidates sitting down and having a conversation, I could do, however, without potato head Russert and his abysmal questioning - here are some of the thoughts I jotted down over the course of my intent watching.

  • Heading in, the latest polls showed McCain and Romney neck and neck with around a quarter of the electorate leaning towards each. Huckabee wasn't far behind with support in the high teens. It looks like, at the end of the day, Romney's going to walk away with 38~40% of the vote, McCain with 30%, and Huckabee around 18%. Huckabee hit his ceiling, I think, in this non-evangelical state, but the question is how did Romney pick up so much support?
  • Romney won. But he won mostly by winning the hardcore Republican vote. There was no massive spoiler effect from hordes of "independent" voters sent by the Great Orange Satan to storm the gates of their arch-rivals. He won the Metro area and the Grand Rapids region by appealing overwhelmingly to the self-identified Republican demographic. Those are the most densely populated, most urban areas in the state.
  • McCain lost. His biggest support came, again, amongst the independents who turned out in big numbers in 2000 to carry him to victory. There just weren't enough of them this time around. That he couldn't draw more support from the self-avowed Republicans is a bad sign for his campaign. He needs to get the faithful to vote for him if he wants to continue to do well. And all the stumping by his BFF Lieberman and his natural constituency, the press, in the world isn't going to change that.
  • Huckabee actually had pretty decent support out in the sticks. He won all the rural, traditionally pretty conservative counties handily. But, again, there just weren't enough of them and, in terms of overall votes, they got steamrolled by the urban zones. Same old, same old for Michigan politics, really, it just doesn't matter here since it's a winner take all primary, not one apportioned by state congressional districts or anything.
  • This is why Huckabee has to be stopped, by the way.
  • It was a pretty snowy last night. The area woke up to a few inches clogging their drives and streets. And, yeah, it was cold. Especially compared to the warm snap of last week. But this is Michigan, this is mild weather for January. I don't think it had much of an effect on turnout. At least, not as much as the Democratic race being inconsequential did. I'm going to be interested to see the final numbers tomorrow but, I think, in stark comparison to New Hampshire and Iowa, voter turnout's going to be pretty depressed overall. Again, there was no big constituency of independents and Dems who crossed over to the Republican primary and I imagine the turnout for the Democratic one is going to be even worse, so it's likely the state did poorly overall. That's a bit disappointing since a big turnout would have helped proved that, dammit, my home state matters, and it's a good idea to give it an early primary. But, then, it was disenfranchised so what do you expect?
  • Lou Dobbs was really hammering away at the ridiculousness of the way this primary went down. How the delegates were taken away and all. Good for him. When you get down to it, Michigan is a high population state that's really suffering from a lot of the issues that are goign to define this campaign - chiefly economic but there's also a lot of environmental issues at play thanks to the auto industry - along with being a swing state for the past few decades, so it should be a good proving ground for the progressive message, at the very least. That the national parties have turned their back on it, that their local leaders have put themselves in a position where their clout is squandered, is a disgrace and the residents of Michigan should be outraged. He's still a douchebag for intolerance, though.
  • And let's not forget that moving up this primary was a huge mess even outside of the delegates issue. There was the whole flap about absentee ballots which almost didn't go out with enough time to return. And, then, there was the whole problem with write-ins on the ballots they did get back in the mail. The ACLU sued over the voter rolls that the political party's were determined to keep secret - they keep track of who shows up to vote in their elections so they can send you no end of mailings, no doubt, and the problem there is that they don't make them a matter of public record. Since the law was written that if one part of the primary was struck down, the whole election was struck down, that nearly sunk the whole thing. There's also the issue of voter IDs, which new laws required for the first time. On the one hand, I agree that we need to safeguard our voting practice and it's a sensible requirement. But, then, I like to see who's advocating for something and play the game of hidden motives. It's mostly the conservatives who wanted the picture IDs and that's because they disproportionately burden the poor who make up the Democrats core constituency. It's part of the voter suppression tactics that the Republicans like to employ.
  • Romney spent big to win the state. He spent something like six times his closest rival on television advertising. It's been buffeting the state, from what I hear, for the past several months. In the last few days Huckabee and McCain have been airing their own ads but Romney's been ramming his message down the collective throats of the Great Lake State for a while now. And, I think, his message that Michigan is in a "one state recession" struck a cord. It really is hard to convey just how dire it is in my homestate and how miserable it's been for years. So, when it comes to Michigan politics it is the economy, stupid.
  • Speaking of the media blitz my mother actually got one of those robocalls where Romney addressed her by name. Freaked her the fuck out. Not the technology - which is, admittedly, really really creepy - but that she'd somehow landed on the leaning or trending Republican rolls.
  • From listening to his victory speech, Romney's new theme is that he's a political outsider, an agent for change. I don't get how someone who's the son of a governor and a former governor in his own right is outside the great political machine but, hey, I don't write the man's speeches. I can't shake the feeling that he's an empty suit, though.
  • Romney's an empty suit like the Witch King was an empty suit of armor. Full of inky, seeping nastiness animated by dark forces and not to be underestimated.
  • Clinton won, as expected. A lot of people still voted Undecided, though. As I mentioned before, if you didn't want to vote for her, it was pretty much your only options since write-ins weren't allowed. And unlike Clinton the other frontrunners had withdrawn their names from the ballot already. But all the racial stuff she kicked up in the past few days is exactly the kind of shit that makes me hate Clinton. There's no proving it but there's also no doubting that it was an organized, co-ordinated effort to drag Obama kicking and screaming down into the muck with here. She'll use the same dirty tricks in the general election and, for some, that's a plus but for me it's a big, big negative. She fights the Republicans on their own ground, on their own terms. And I don't want a candidate who can replicate their strategies, who can build a mudslinging Maginot Line, I want one who can get that one step past them, and beat them on his (Or hers, just not the case here) own terms. In other word, I don't want the Democrats and Republicans to mirror each other, with the only difference being the label. I don't want a politician who's going to use every dirty trick in the book except it's okay because they're doing it in service of the causes that I, by and large, support. I want one who's going to carve out the principled differences between the two parties so they provide real alternatives to one another.
  • Where do we go from here?
  • For the Republicans, it's chaos. That's three big primaries (Wyoming, as the pundits will no doubt remind you, doesn't really count. It held caucuses which went for Romney, by the way.) and three winners. Romney's now got a reason to stay in the race, a solid claim to be the real frontrunning candidate - having placed second at least in the other and now holding the most delegates. McCain's just taken a huge hit to his credibility, it's going to be hard to make him the choice of mainstream Republicans who seemed to flock, overwhelmingly, towards Michigan Mitt. Huckabee's laying in the weeds but he's going to have strong support in the south. Like, say, South Carolina which is coming up. It looks like February 5th, Super Tuesday, is going to be the pivotal moment now. And it might not even be decisive. Especially if Giuliani's late primary strategy pays off and he can pick up steam in Florida and elsewhere.
  • The mess on the Republican side should make liberals happy. I know it does me.
  • For the Democrats, nothing much has changed. The big showdown is where tonight's debate is being held: Nevada. Obama looks likely to win over the black vote in South Carolina so Nevada is what he and Clinton are contesting. It's a southern state, a union state, and one with a heavy hispanic population, it's going to be interesting. I don't think that ends the race, it's likely going to go down to the wire on Super Tuesday but Nevada's going to set the stage for the few weeks of campaigning before all those races get run.

Guild Wars: Year-End Review

Don't know if I posted one of these last year. If I did, it's buried in the pile of hundreds of posts where I can't easily get to it. But, I did a bit of winter cleaning of my characters after the close of the annual Wintersday festivals and, while I was at it, I made a point of jotting down where, exactly they were, progress-wise.

I have seven, at the moment. Well, I actually have eight but my lowbie Rit hasn't done much and isn't even a proper mule. From the expansions, there's Milanus, my Assassin. Oreon, my Dervish. From the original game there's Sausaletus, my original and eponymous Warrior. Reggie, my Ranger. Millie, my Elementalist. And there's also Sausaletta, my Monk, who's made the jump from neglected mule to full-time character by dint of being the first to tromp through the Far North and its many dungeons.

They're all pretty well through the various campaigns with the exception of GW:EN and a stray mission here and there, mostly in Factions and Prophesies. And, again, everyone has almost all their skills with the rare exception here and there. They also have all the Heroes except for two or three in Gw:EN that you need to jump through some hoops for - especially the ones that are in the Norn fighting tournament, I've gotten them once or twice but haven't gotten around to spinning that roulette wheel enough to get them for everyone. What's more important to me, at the moment, is how they're doing equipment-wise. Do they have a good set of armor? Are they fitted out with the latest runes? And how about the weapon swaps? Do they have all the weapons to flip between that I'd want?


Milan (A)

Millie (E)

Oreon (D)

Reggie (R)

Sausa (Mo)

Saus (W)










Skill Points









7.8k (8)

6.2k (7)

7.6k (7)

4.4k (7)

6.5k (7)

7.6k (8)



4.4k (4)

1.0k (3)

1.6k (3)

700 (2)

3.4k (3)

4.2k (4)



13.7k (3)

14.4k (3)


13.0k (3)

42.5k (6)

13.6k (3)



5.8k (2)

4.7k (2)


5.5k (2)

21.4k (4)

5.8k (2)



5.8k (2)

58 (0)


4.4k (2)

15.5k (3)

5.8k (2)



1.1k (1)

5.5k (2)


1k (1)

42.4k (6)

1.3k (1)


























This time last year I had, in total, around 6 million experience and something like 800 skill points, so that's over 3 million XP and 400 new skill points I've gathered over the past twelve months. Not bad considering I stopped playing in, what, April? And only picked it up again around...maybe September? That's at least half the year I haven't been playing and I haven't exactly been playing a lot when I have, recently.

And, as you can see, my Monk has gone from being a sub-20 mule stuck on newbie island to being one of my more played characters. She's the one who's explored the Shiverpeaks the most, the only one to clear any dungeons, and she's got a lot of progress on several title tracks besides the rep ones I've included here.
You can also easily tell my most neglected character, too. That would be Oreon, my Dervish, whom I haven't even bothered to get to the GW:EN content yet. At the moment, he's my big mule, my depository for dozens of weapon upgrades and holiday items that I don't have an immediate use for and can't manage to cram into my storage vault. And he's in danger of becoming my first deletion, too.

Millie the model Elementalist has overtaken Big Saus as my most played character. Barely squeaking ahead both in terms of skill points, XP, and time played. And, yes, that's not a typo, she really has a mere 58 Dwarven love-love points. All gained, no doubt, while running through the Battledepths to zone somewhere else. That should change in a hurry once she turns in a few of the quests she's completed, though. Turning in the primary quests alone should push her well past the first rank and be a big help when fighting against those Destroyers to complete the campaign.

Since we're doing this for the record, here are some account-wide stats, too.

  • Balthazar Faction: 900k
  • Kurzick Faction: 77k
  • Kurzick Allegiance: 34k (0)
  • Luxon Faction: 83k
  • Luxon Allegiance: 14k (0)
  • Fame: 285 (3)
  • Gladiator: 42
  • Gamer: The MAD SKILLZ, baby!

Almost, almost got to a cool million Balth points. Would have, too, if I'd really pressed on in the Snowball Fights. They've all been going to keys lately. I suspect the total is a little low compared to others since, initially, I unlocked a lot of things through PvE. And I've sat at the cap for long stretches of time even as I continued to PvP.

Most of my Factions faction was earned before the allegiance tracks went in. A fact which annoys me greatly, you can be sure, since I probably just pissed it away on now-useless Jade and Amber that I never managed to trade away. If those were retroactively included in the title counts, I'd probably have figured out a way to push at least one of them over the limit by now. As it is, just that first rank is so far away, I can hardly be bothered. No idea why I wound up with more Luxon points, though.

Similar situation with the Fame and Glad points. If all the fame points I amassed during the BWEs were included, I'd have several thousand. As it is, I have a barely respectable rank 3 that I mostly earned in one run shortly after release. I tend to gravitate towards GvG when I come back to the competitive scene and I've never much bothered to get into the HA game. As for Glad points, I had so many long, long runs in the TA at or around release that I surely would have had a rank or two. But once the title went in, it's been a mess of leavers and broken 9-win streaks. I hear the format's better now but I haven't been interested in going back to get a better title.

Mythos: Beating the Drums

Now that my network issues have cleared up as mysteriously as they began, and I can actually play, I managed to squeeze in a little playtime yesterday in the late night/early morning hours.

As far as I know, there's no NDA or similar agreement preventing me from writing about those activities here. I certainly never accepted any such agreement and as I've seen plenty of others blog about Mythos elsewhere, I guess I'm on firm ground here. If I'm wrong, I'm sure someone will let me know.

My in-game name, if you're interested and in case you missed it yesterday is "Sausaletus". I'll probably have several characters, and reroll a bunch, but you can rest assured that I'll have at least one character with that name. It's, you know, my calling card.

Anyhow, I played only a few hours. But it was enough to ding level 5 and explore the area immediately surrounding the starting area pretty thoroughly. Enough, in other words, to get a feel for the game. Taking a crash course in its mechanics and voraciously devouring the offerings at the official, super-secret forum no doubt helped (Still looking for a good unofficial forum, though. A Lurker's Lounge or a Guild Hall. The place where the cool kids and bright boys hang out while they kick around ideas about the upcoming game. There has to be one out there. I'm not starting it myself, this time, that's for sure. If anyone knows of one, be sure to let me know.) but I've always believed that if you can't jump into a game and learn as you go, it's probably not a very good one. So I didn't go too overboard with my research because I'll learn as I go, I'll discover the things that an average player would, as an average player would, and since I'd like to think I'm at least a little above average (Then again, who doesn't?) that should make the testing more useful than otherwise.

I already managed to uncover my first bug although when I went to the official forums to make note of it, I saw that someone had already beaten me to the punch. Basically, it's another issue with skill cooldown. I'm playing, as I touched on last night, a Red Hand Blood Letter. Which means, I'm a big scary weapon swinger who summons a bunch of evil critters from the corpses of my foes. With my levels I've steadily improved my minion summoning skill to improve the bread and butter of my scheme and now I can summon several, one corpse at a time. There's virtually no cooldown on that summoning skill and you can use it to rapidly build up or replenish your small army. As long as there's enough corpses around because summoning a minion uses up that corpse like a fire uses up kindling. All fine and good so far but what I found is that certain enemies have longer than average death scenes. They stumble about, clutching at their chests, milking it for all its worth as they crash to the ground with huge chunks of scenery in their toothsome maws, the great big hams. And if that animation is long enough you have enough time to activate your minion summon multiple times. Summoning creatures as they're toppling over and then again when their corpse is on the ground. Two was the best I could do but, theoretically, you could get as many as you wanted as long as the death throws were protracted enough. This is a problem, a bug, an exploit, because it allows you to break the limiting factor on a skill. It would be like getting to use your mana twice to cast a spell.

Not a huge exploit or anything but, then, I haven't been looking all that long. That aside, I'm enjoying the game so far. It's a Diablo clone, point and click, top-down isometric view, the same sort of inventory and socketing system, and I've even portaled to town to clean out my clogged inventory. I gather it's based on the Hellgate: London engine but I don't really have much experience with that game. Tried the demo or the open beta and didn't really care for it. Mythos, on the other hand, manages to capture that elusive sense of fun and whimsy and adrenaline fueled action that the original Diablo had. Almost note perfect, really. What Diablo would have been with the latest player-friendly features and processing power and a healthy online component, but as I liked the original games that's not exactly a negative feature for me.

There are a few features I don't like or that I'd want to see added before the game's release. The last major patch brought with it respeccs, for example, but you're limited to a lifetime total of three (once you get past level 5, of course, which as I can attest to is an extremely low barrier and not enough time to adequately test out all the different ways you can go.) and that's way, way too low for my tastes. And something that's likely a deal-breaker for me unless it changes by release.

Other issues bother me, I'd like to see an auction house and the old Diablo inventory system is showing its age but I suspect that my first big crusade, on the boards, on this blog, and wherever else I can throw my admittedly limited intellectual weight, is going to be getting unlimited respeccs in game. Not painless or costfree, not a clone of the Guild Wars system I'm so fond of since the game isn't built for that. But some way, some method, where I can erase mistakes and try out new ideas without having to start a new character all over. In a free-to-play game, in one that's going to appeal to a casual audience, it's just mindboggling that you'd force people to grind their characters over, add to the time they have to spend playing along with the strain on the servers, instead of making it as easy as possible for them to explore.

Why are respeccs so important to me, if not to the game? Well, to understand you need to know how characters work. At creation, your first choice is picking between the three different races (3 comes up a lot when it comes to Mythos, by the way.). There are the required Humans. The diminuitive Gremlins who are, well, Gnomes/Dwarves by another name. And there are the fay Satyr who are standing in for the elves here, as well. As far as I can discern there are no advantages or differences to be had by picking one race over the other. No special skills or difference in stats. It's a purely cosmetic choice.

The next choice, your class, does matter, though. There are three different classes: the Blood Letter, the Pyromancer, and the Gadgeteer. Each has their own distinct flavor. The Blood Letter is the melee class, suited to getting in the enemies face and taking the fight to them. Although they have a few tricks up their sleave besides just meat-thuggery - in Guild Wars terms, it's like a Warrior crossed with a Necromancer. The Pyromancer is the caster class, a glass canon with a big boomstick. Again, in GW terms it's like they took the Elementalist and stripped it down to Fire and then remembered to include all the interesting stuff that line's always lacked. And the final class, the Gadgeteer, is the ranged one. They get to stand back and pick the enemy to death in various ways.

Now, each class isn't set in stone since you have control over your stats and your stats determine which equipment you can wear. You want to make a melee Pyromancer? Then pump up your Strength, put on the heavy armor, pick up a close-range weapon, and wail away. Perfectly legit choice. In fact, it's not even all that odd since the Pyromancer has an entire line of skills devoted to weapon-based melee combat. It's those skills that are the real dividing line between the classes. You only get to use the skills of your class and those special abilities make up a large part of what you'll be doing.

They're divided, more or less equally, into three separate lines per class (I told you 3 came up a lot. It's like talents in WoW, basically. The game does a good job of lifting good ideas and by-now familiar concepts like that and applying it to the classic Diablo formula.). They can roughly be divided into a line for weapon fighting, a line for combat through spell-casting, and a line for creating and supporting summons with each class getting its own distinct, flavorful variation. So, for the Blood Letter, you have a line that buffs up your ability to hit with a weapon and add blocks so you'll survive longer in combat. And a line that gives you a bunch of big, splashy special attacks and debuffs to fight with. And, my personal favorite, the minion summoning line. While, for the Pyro, you have the aforementioned melee centered line that lets you buff up and go the Fighter/Mage route. And one line is centered around tossing about the heavy damage nukes while another is about summoning pixies to do your bidding. The Gadgeteer gets a line of ranged special attacks, a line of direct damage (Through items whipped up on the spot that you get to chuck at your foes), and a line where they construct mechanical creatures to swarm their foes.

There's a lot of variety within each line, too. Lots of skills to try and strategies to make use of. Along with prerequisites - certain skills require you to spend at least one point in a previous one before you can make use of them - each line has several tiers of skills and you're required to sink skill points into them in order to unlock bigger and better skills. It's not a big deal as you get 2 skill points per level, and if you unlock a tier, it's unlocked for all your skill lines instead of just the one. But, all in all, you have to spend 30 points to get to the ultimate skills in each line and that makes it prohibitively expensive to spec deep into multiple lines. Instead, it's better to concentrate on one and splash into the others.

As I mentioned before, I'm playing a Red Hand Blood Letter and the Red Hand line is the minion line. There's some other stuff, like the cheap PBAoE nuke with the nice cooldown that I can use while I'm cowering behind my shambling army of death. Works great in tight corridors since it sends out a series of spikes which explode after a few seconds, resulting in massive carnage. Or the skill which lets me paint a target so my creatures focus their attention on it. It's been working pretty good so far although I suspect that as I get further and further into the game those minions are going to go fro a swarm of fast killers to disposable battle fodder that I'm going to have to constantly refresh.

My biggest problem, at the moment, is mana. I just don't have enough especially if I need to build up those undead babies fast once their wiped out. So I've started to invest more of my skill points into the mana stat so I can have more to cast with which means taking htem away from the health stat that lets me hang in a fight longer and the strength stat that lets me equip the stuff I want to wear making me a softer target, overall. Fortunately, I lucked into a magic item that gives me bonus mana regeneration towards the end of my play session. I could really tell the difference. That little doodad also features a Luck bonus, which is really nice. Luck rules everything when it comes to Mythos. It's like Magic Find, it increases the quality of the drops you get, giving them better bonuses and stats and the like. So that little magic item was a quick favorite, replacing the magic sword with a strength/damage bonus and a few gem slots in my heart. Magic items come in various grades of awesomeness (Conveniently color-coded, like WoW although the color scheme is different.) and, at their best, have six enchantments along with a number of sockets for gemstones which can further improve them. There's a way to pay to put enchantments on items that aren't at the max that I haven't found yet but it's a pretty flexible, easy system.

It's a fine build, in other words, and it's working out for me so far. But as I have no idea what I'm doing, I'm sure I could do it better if I had another chance. And I'm sure that, sooner or later, I'm going to want to try something new. That's why respeccs are so important. To me, anyway. With them, I can explore the combinations and options available with ease. Without them, then every choice I make needs to be the "right" one because I'm going to be stuck with it. That makes me much more likely to play it safe and conservative, instead of trying to come up with something new, something interesting, that would make the game more interesting for everyone.

Expect me to keep beating that drum for a while, by the way. But it's not to say that I'm unhappy with everything about the game. Some of the new (Or, at least, new to me. I think there's something similar in LoTRO.) features are pretty nice. One thing I like are the Achievements. Basically, you complete a certain task and you get a title which can be equiped giving your character a passive bonus. I, for example, earned one for completing the starting dungeon which gives me a nice little bonus to my health stat. And while there aren't many, there are enough to mix and match and get some interesting results - there are several slots for achievements but since I have only the one, I haven't been able to make much use of that. You kill a boss, you get a bonus damage resistance. You slaughter so many of a certain type of foe, you get a damage bonus against them. That sort of thing.

The game has instant travel, too, as you're able to warp back to any outpost you've been to before. Having played Guild Wars being able to map around is so easy and intuitive it's always a surprise to me when it's not featured in other games. It's not quite as simple in Mythos as opening up your map and clicking on a map pip, but it's pretty close.

It's certainly come in handy as I've been running around, picking up quests and mowing down my foes (To give you some indication of how fast and furious the combat is, there's one achievement that requires you to kill 1000 of your enemies, any kind. I'm already over halfway there.). Quests are level coded, as they are in WoW - you're restricted to a certain amount in your quest log at any given time, which is annoying - and offer the usual money (Again, the currency system is right out of WoW. You go from coppers to silvers to gold pieces. I've been spending relatively freely, kitting myself out with the best armor available and stocking up on potions, and I've already amassed over up to double digits in silvers. Assuming things keep scaling up, I should get my first gold piece any time now.) along with a choice item or two. I'm at the point now, though, where the drops I'm getting are already better than the quest rewards and that's a bit of a problem. Those should make the quest worth doing, not simply become merchant bait. But, maybe I've just been lucky so far and it'll even out before long. None of the quests have been especially original so far - it's the same old kill so many creatures or recover the MacGuffin from the named boss in that cave over there for me, please - but while they're not sparkling with originality they've got a lot of character, a lot of flavor and charm, that go a long way towards making me not care.

Quests and the snipe hunts they send you on are the best way to level, of course, and that's taken up the bulk of my time. I gather that, since it's a beta and all, that they eventually run out and the only way to continue to advance toward the level cap of 50 is to run through the various instanced dungeons. That's another feature that I like, by the way. Quests will lead you to areas spread around the map where you'll have to slay your way through a dungeon in classic Diablo style. But you'll also encounter maps along the way. These items, dropped by creatures or purchased at an NPC, will list a place and a party size and a recommended level. And using them is like a one-time ticket to enter that dungeon. You can explore it all you want but, once you leave, you can't get back. Using one will lead you to the lobby, a place with a merchant and little else besides the doorway to the dungeon. You can apparently take anyone you're grouped with to any dungeon you have access to and it's a pretty slick way of creating a lot of content to run through.

I managed to explore one myself as the last thing I did before I logged off. It led up to a final encounter with a mother of a named boss which was my toughest fight so far. He was huge and would teleport around the place, crackling with the raw energy of the spells he was chucking around. He managed to wipe out my minions in short order and I was grateful for all the stacks of potions I'd bought up (There's a limit on how many similar items you can group together. I imagine that, come release, there'll be an premium, paid option, where one of the benefits is unlimited or vastly increased item stacks. You can still use all your health pots when they're bound to your quickkey slot, for example, but each stack takes up precious space in your inventory.), as I chugged them down furiously as I raced around trying to find an old pile of corpses to throw at my tenacious foe. In the end, though, I was victorious. And without even losing a life. I'm not playing the Hardcore or Elite options or anything but it's still nice. Hardcore means you have to restart if your character dies while Elite means you face tougher enemies. You can toggle one or the other or both at creation. In the beta, everyone shares the same server but you can't group or trade with people from a different difficulty setting. I will, in all likelihood, get around to playing those but, for my first character, I went with the normal option.

That was about all the playing I had time for. And, as I said, so far, so good. I have a few concerns and issues, and if the game was released today I wouldn't be playing for long (I mean, it's free, so I'd give it a try, at least.) but it's a beta and things are unsettled and up in the air, so there's nothing that's completely soured me on the experience. But we'll have to see what life is like once the quests run out and it's grind out the XP time.

Got My Popcorn Ready and Everything

Decided to take the afternoon off and track the primary results. Polls have been open since 7AM and are set to close at 8PM (And, yes, that's eastern time but parts of the U.P. are CST and the poll hours are local so the last ones won't close until 9PM EST.) . Haven't heard anything much of interest yet but I'm going to keep my ears out. I'm sure something will crop up sooner or later.

Before I leave, though, I've said it before, people, democracy just does not work.

Random Guild Wars Thought of the Day

Air of Superiority really should have been called Elitist Attitude. It also should have been something other than a waste of a skill slot.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Potemkin Primary

Tomorrow is the day when the residents of my home state, Michigan, will be heading to the ballots for the presidential primary. It's going to be an unusual election because, well, it doesn't count. Michigan moved up its primary to tomorrow, the 15th, in defiance of convention and party rules which state that Iowa and New Hampshire must maintain the monopoly on distorting our electoral process they've held for, oh, thirty, forty years now. Those rights to hold the nation's first contest certainly have to be set in stone after all those years. Sorry if I'm coming across a little churlish but that's what happens when you're disenfranchised and there's nothing you can do about it. Because, you see, when Michigan moved its primary up, it got punished for it.

On the Democratic side, the primary might as well not be happening. Half the candidates, especially the currently viable ones, pulled out in response to pressure from the national Democratic Party. Their names aren't on the ballot and you can't even cast a write-in because those are all going to be thrown out. You either get to vote for Hilary or you get to vote undecided. Which means that the state hasn't made up its mind and will decide at the nominating convention. Not that it matters since the DNC also stripped Michigan of all its delegates at the convention. So, the Democratic contest might as well not even take place for all the good it's going to do.

On the Republican side, the election actually matters. Not because of the actual contest - while the Republicans haven't stripped away all the delegates, they've taken away half of them, turning Michigan from one of the largest states in the nation into one with the electoral weight of a Mountain West state - but because of what it signifies. The primary contests, at this point, are all about perception, after all. And since the Republicans are going to hold theirs it means someone will win and can go on camera and have that victory speech and the bounce it comes with it.

Ahead in the current polls in McCain and, again, I think it's going to come down to him and Huckabee in the state. Michigan, remember, was one of the few states McCain won in 2000. But Huckabees message of economic populism should resonate in a state as hard hit with woes as Michigan's been. But, the common wisdom is that if native son Michigan Mitt Romney (His father was governor, once, before his own failed presidential bid.) can't pull out a win here, he's done. Not that he should fade away with his cash and organization but that any pretense of his candidacy being viable would be shattered. McCain wins, continues his upwards momentum. Huckabee pulls off a shocking win, he throws the race into chaos. And if Romney wins, he lives to fight another day. Those are, pretty much, the stakes.

Now, this is where it gets interesting. I've been saying for a while now that the Michigan primary could get a little weird. And that was even before the Dark Lord of Moulitsas cast his baleful gaze upon the proceedings. And the reason for that is Michigan is a pure, open primary. You don't have to be registered with either party to vote. You have to be registered (And there's some nastiness there as the parties get to keep the lists of who comes and votes in their primaries private. The ACLU is suing about it but it's not going to stop things.) and you can only vote in one but that's it. You can be a registered Democrat who votes in the Republican primary and vice versa. And since there's no point to the Democratic primary, there's no reason no to.

I know at least few people who are planning to hop the fence and put a little mud - something brown, at least - into the waters. Apparently, the call has gone out to the progressive community to support Romney here since his win keeps him in the race and that keeps the Republicans from settling on a candidate for that much longer. The more they fight, the more they're divided, the better for the Democrats. Or so the thinking goes. Myself, there's no one on the Republican side I could stomach voting for. All arguments about least bad options notwithstanding, they're still all awful and would, in my humble opinion, drive this country, flaming, into the ground. Just can't even hint at supporting any one of them.

Mythos: Back In It

A helpful person popped up in the comments the other day, bringing some much needed help for those of us trying to play Mythos and suffering from inexplicable errors when trying to connect to the server. And I thought I'd flag it up for your attention.

It's good advice but, sadly, nothing I hadn't already tried before. I'd connected and disconnected components of my network, tried any and all configurations of firewalls and other protections, and was left, in the end, simply waiting for the same port information from the developers that has, as far as I know, not been forthcoming. Never thought to write the devs myself and, whatever thread new pal Bill has thus far escaped my baleful gaze or it was lost in the last wipe. But, evidence suggest if you're having trouble with your network and not getting through that it's a viable route.

Still, that comment did remind me that I hadn't tried to fire up that game in a little while. Busy with other games, with the holidays, with projects of my own, you know how it goes.

Loaded up the client. Entered my password. Grabbed the latest patch. Entered my information again, fully expecting to see the same old crash. But lo and behold, it worked. The character creation screen loaded up. I was finally in.

Only took a few months. But it's been worth the wait. Wish I could say it was something I did, some network feature I've changed or solution I applied. But, nope, worked the first time, before I got around to trying my latest solution. Go figure.

Didn't have much time to play tonight. I did manage to roll up my first character. A Human Blood Letter, named "Sausaletus" in case you're playing yourself and need a name for your buddy list. I spent a few minutes doing the introductory quest which sends you on an assassination mission of a named villain in a ruined church, pretty much confirming its status as a Diablo clone, and then running to the nearest town before I logged out. Earned enough XP to level, and busied myself weaving threads of ruinously arcane power into raising my enemies as shambling abominations, lurching slowly but inexorably off to wreck bloody chaos upon my foes, crackling gleefully all the while. It's the simple pleasures in life, really.

That's all I've done, really. Had some other stuff to get done, wanted to write some stuff since I haven't in a while. Now, I need to refamiliarize myself with the game, figure out what I'm doing, read up on the forums and guides that are available. Since I'm passing along helpful stuff here, I'll also point out this online skill calculator, which lets your preview skills and fiddle with builds to your hearts content. I'm sure it and I are going to be good friends in the coming days.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to jit.

Guild Wars: Where I'm At

Yep, I'm still playing. Wintersday is over, no matter how much some people might protest; and, yes, sucks to be them. And if you ask me, it's all about people wanting to farm the ultra-rare pet that nobody knew about. Didn't get one myself even though I did manage to play though those very quests after collecting my latest Gamer title. Oh, here's a picture of that, by the way.

That's my lovely attired Mesmer. I played a lot of the professions - didn't quite manage to get through all of them like I wanted so no harrowing tales of Paragon suckiness from me but I did manage to get through what I consider the better ones - and, out of all of them, I had the most success on that Mesmer. Not the world's best interrupter but that 10 second recharge was brutal, and, by the end, I was definitely getting to the point where I could take advantage of it. Shame the candy cane weapons aren't there to complete the effect but since I'm functional rather than flavorful, I mostly ran around with actual weapons instead of the stylish I began most rounds with (For the record that was generally a one-handed weapon with a focus. I had two sets. One with increased duration on Crippling for Dwayna, the other with the same for Dazing for Grenth and for what I gleefully call rock-swapping. They both had increased enchantment duration and as much half-casting/recharge as I could squeeze on. Minor effects, I know, but I'll take every advantage I can get.). It's all about style in the Snowball Arenas, after all.

I did stop in for my hats this year. Unlike last, I pretty much just parked on a circle and afked instead of joining in the festivities. I like the hats but, at this point, I've got a bunch of them and I hardly ever use them so it's really not appealing anymore. And after long hours in the Snowball Arena, my tolerance for rubbing shoulders with the unwashed masses of the rest of humanity was at an all-time low. I think I picked a bum circle, though, since I went with the assumption it was like the nine rings of the Dragon Circle and the corner ones would have the highest cost/reward ratio. Instead, it seemed they didn't scale the rewards to match the probabilities and I lost out on some canes I could have gotten by, say, standing in the middle. Since I finished the event with something like seven full stacks of candy cane shards (All those won 3 by damned 3 while getting over 2.5k Gamer points in the Fights and some left over from storage last year), I wasn't exactly disappointed with that. My last act before I logged off that final day was to convert the vast majority to presents. The going rate was 5 canes to a box and that alone saves me some inventory space. And, I figure, at least a few of those presents will convert into something useful, like a DP erasing Candy Cane. Which might come in handy, some day.

At the moment, though, with the holiday activities over, I'm at something of a loose ends, as it's back to the long, slow slog towards...well, that's the problem. I'm not exactly sure what I'm working towards anymore. Having beaten the GW:EN campaign. Having played through the BMP (And, hooo boy, am I sure that Friday's announcement rattled the cages of the chattering masses. I'll hopefully have more to say about it later but, for now, let me just say that it's fully expected and no less depressing.). Having unlcoked all the skills and plunged through - almost - all the dungeons. Having reached the point where my characters are beyond the point of scraping for money and items. There's not much left keeping me playing the game at the moment. Besides my lingering fondness for it and a lack of anything better to grab some relaxation with a few hours at a time. Legally, anyway.

I suppose I could try and get back into PvP. But I don't really have the time. Or the energy, frankly, to invest in it. Not to mention how long it would take to get to anything like competitive and the further erosion of my skills combined with the general mudflation of strategy meaning that I'm going to suck for a long, long time before I learn to get better. And that's assuming, of course, I can find a team and the time to play and nothing else in my fucked up life explodes. There's always casual formats like the Arena or Comp Missions or, lord help me, Alliance Battles, but I'm not too interested in any of those. Put the Costume Brawl back in game and maybe we'll talk. But just having to keep abreast of the current metatrends enough to slap together a build that's not completely atrocious so I don't make a fool of myself during the ocassional hour or two of consequence free romping is work hard enough to disuade me.
And I could try to finish off my nearly full DM guide by conquering Slaver's Exile. That's the hardest dungeon of the lot. The one that's only unlocked after you beat the game and features several interlinked floors that have to be cleared before you fight the big bad. But while I appreciate the modular design, I'm really the type who enjoys a long dungeon slog. I've also - briefly - tried the place and I know it's tough and going to wind up with my Powerstones burnt out and 60DP zerg rushing from the rez pad while hoping I can whittle away one foe at a time. I'd like to get it done one day but, again, ugh.

I could start up another character. I did it recently with a Rit that I've since soured on. I only brought her out of the Shin Jea island so I could test out the low-level access to the Far Shiverpeaks. At this point, creating a new character means deleting an existing one, though. And while I'm normally loathe to do that, I have a few candidates, it's largely all the time I'd have to spend juggling inventories and shifting stuff around that's disuading me. The thought of tromping, again, through content I've already beaten into the ground is likewise off-putting.

There's always Hard Mode. But also really not my thing. Sure the better loot is nice and all. And I really should play it more to optimize my efficiency. But it's "hard", not "challenging". The same missions and areas that I've already seen just brutally more difficult thanks to cranking up the pain dial on the monsters. I'm not exactly the kind of player who goes for things like hours of tracking down every last spawn for Vanquishing. I want the new areas and content that's never going to come again to refresh my interest. I've hit the end of the expansion, I've beaten every other campaign, I've activated the Hard Mode and that icon will sit there, temptingly, from now on, and that's good enough for me.

So, what I'm doing is working on equalizing my stable of characters. Getting them all through every campaign. Unlocking every skill that each character, not my entire account, wants. Hunting down the perfect weapons.

At the moment, that means I'm tracking down the PvE only skills from GW:EN. After a whirlwind tour through the Polymock circuit, I'm done with the Asura ones. I've even done the maddeningly difficult Brave New World defense quest. It's not so bad since the NPC you're supposed to protect has a permanent Divine Intervention and you can be slaughtered time after time by the waves of Destroyers without fearing that he'll die and set the quest to a failure state. It's just a lot of rez rushing. Needless, really. Make it hard to win, make it challenging to complete, don't just make it tedious to slog through. And the skill reward isn't that good. The Pain Inverter you get for the capstone of the Cipher cycle is, though. There's a quest that comes after that which offers yet another opportunity for hunting down the various spirit-god-dragon things. But I'm not going to complete it since the reward is only the useless Air of Superiority (And a green staff that's marginally better than the Hourglass preorder. Yawn.). But the main reason not to turn it in is that you can easily farm it for rep points. Go around, kill enough creatures to get your kill count up, and then slaughter the nicely clustered Ciphers for a few thousand Norn points a run. Sadly, that's the only way I've found to quickly farm points in the frozen North but since the Norn offer the Totemic Blessings getting it nice and high is a good thing.

Next, I think I'll work on the Vanguard skills. My Ele, for example, has plans for that one ward which increases your damage output. Might lead to some fun buildcrafting. And while I have the knowledge for how to get those quests done, I might as well have my other characters pick them up, too. Unlock Anton, the new Assassin Hero, all that stuff. It's not exactly gripping, it's more like maddeningly grinding, but it's something I can get done popping in, an hour here and there, a quest at a time. And that's where I'm at, at the moment.

NBA Blogging: Wha Happened?

Okay, so, last I mentioned the Pistons they were hours away from playing the Boston Celtics. I was, of course, hoping that they'd crush them just as they did in their first meeting. And, with a stellar first quarter where they ran out to a big lead and Garnett got into foul trouble, it looked like they were well on their way. Then, of course, Big Baby Glenn went off and the Pistons cruised to defeat.

The Celtics then proceeded to celebrate as though this meant something. Besides, of course, that the two teams are headed for one spectacular series in the post-season and, hopefully, a renewal of the old 80s Bad Boys/Bird Boys rivalry. I know if they'd won, I'd have been crowing about it. But that's different, I'm a fan. If I can't talk smack about everyone else's team when mine's doing well there's just no point. It's a lot different when you have the profession athletes on said team jumping around and breaking out the champaign on somebody else's home floor.

In other words, the end of that game gets tucked away in a nice, neat mental file which we shall refer to, in a few months time, as "Motivation".

Still, since then it's been downhill. For both teams. The Celtics have dropped another game or two, and to inferior teams like the Bobcats and Wizards. But the Pistons have lost, too, and their recent streak is now but a fond memory. There's no shame in losing to the Celtics and, sure, they managed to beat San Antonio (Although they're as shaky as they have been in a while this year.) and the loss to the Mavericks is understandable, any time you lose to the Knicks by more than 20 you have problems.

The Knicks, after all, are part of Isiah Thomas's continuing efforts to tarnish his own legacy. Zeke's Folly is bad. Historically bad. Matt Millen's Lions bad. And, yeah, end of a long road trip and four games in five days and all but, sheesh.

What carried them during their long win streak was a renewed focus on defense. A return to the lunchpail days of Big Ben and their last championship. A time when shutting down the other team was their calling card. But, lately, it seems their offense has returned to those days as well. Which, since the vintage Pistons offense involves getting bogged down and desperately heaving the ball at the hoop like you're playing horse, that's not exactly a good thing.

Can't worry too much, though. It's a long season and it has its twists and turns. I wouldn't want to be Toronto tomorrow, because they'll likely be having something to prove.

NFL Blogging: Wha Happened?

Okay, well, looks like week two of the playoffs was not as kind to me as week one. Only correctly predicted one outcome and that was the most obvious one. Ouch.

The Green Bay game, my upset special, looked to be going my way. Seattle was getting the early turnovers and were capitalizing. And then the snow started falling. But even without that, I think that game was headed the Packers way. Farve wasn't trying to outgun the Seahawks, he was methodically picking them apart and spreading the ball around. Not forcing the ball into double or tirple coverage and doing, in other words, everything he needed to do to win the game. Combine that with the RB going off and the weather conditions and, well, that's a blowout.

I, like just about every other right thinking individual outside of San Diego, went with the Colts over the Bolts. I said the Chargers needed to knock the champs out, that was the only way they could win this:

I was wrong. Like most monumental upsets, I'm not sure if it was a matter of the Chargers playing well or the Colts playing poorly. The turnovers that took points off the board seem to point towards the latter. Also, I have to check but did Mike Martz get added to the Indianapolis staff lately? Because they all but abandoned the run, good and early, just the way he likes it. Just, I said going in that rust wouldn't hurt the Colts, that they were too veteran, too experienced, too good for that and whether it was lazy play or poor coaching decisions, they got outplayed. Then again, if you told me the Chargers would lose both Thomlinson and Rivers I would never have believed you telling me they'd still win.

Their reward is a trip to face the 17-0 Patriots, of course. Brady was a Michigan Mensch, going 26 for 28, about as close to perfect as you're going to get. Obviously, I like the guy and he's the best quarterback in....ever, probably. But the Patriots must be stopped. And I'm not sure they can be anymore. It's felt like the season was boiling down to a monumental showdown between the Colts and Pats. It's odd that it's not going to happen now. I'm not sure a warm weather team like the Chargers can beat the Pats in the middle of a New England January. Especially if their running back is banged up and they're starting their back-up QB.

The game I'm most boggled by, though, was the Cowboy loss. Still have no idea how it happened. I suspect it had something to do with this:

That's right, it seems there's a sorted triangle of love and desperation lurking within the Cowboy locker room. Was TO too upset at all the attention his beloved Tony was paying to one, Mizz Simpson? Did their frosty stares and awkward silences sap the energy away from their teammates?

All kidding aside, what a bitch. And I still have no idea how Dallas lost that game. They did everything they needed to win. Controlling the ball with clock chewing megadrives. Limiting turnovers. They shot themselves in the foot with penalties. But, in the end, I think it boils down to all the concerns about Romo - if not the Chicken of the Sea, Hollywood Tonight hype - being right. And Eli Manning, of all people, putting in a clutch performance.

That sets up the Chargers at Patriots, as I've said, and the Giants at the Packers next weekend. I have some thoughts about those, but I think I'll save them for the weekend.