Monday, March 31, 2008

Commence Silent Running

I mention this not because I think it's all that important but because, typically, when I decide to stop blogging for a while, I don't and I'm trying to get better at it.

In order to focus on my script(s) I'm not going to be posting much here for the next week. Maybe longer. I have built up a small backlog of posts which I'll try to burn through but no promises. Enjoy yourself, leave a comment, drop me an e-mail, I'll still be around. Just, for the moment, silently watching and biding my time.

Script Frenzy: The Die is Cast

This is no joke.

The time is almost upon us.

The destined hour draws nigh.

In distant shores where clocks are set to times strange and unknown to this man, it has already begun.

The wordening is upon us. And soon my keyboard shall echo with the sound of my furious typing.

Ever so soon.

I've cleared my throat, I've thought some thoughts, I've flexed my mental muscles and, now, I'm ready to spike my page count up. I've set up a schedule, budgeted my time, tried to work myself into a routine of steady writing even in the midst of everything else I've got going on. And, now, I'm convinced that I can churn out enough dreck to fill those pages with words. I've taken care of things around here, cleaned out my backlog of some points I've been wanting to make for a while, set aside a few posts to make in the days ahead in case I run out of time and energy while I prepare to shutter the doors, at least temporarily. And, now, I'm sure that I can focus my boundless energy to the task at hand. I've settled on a script, an idea, and a plan for going forward. And, now, I'm positive that I can not only just do this thing, that I can do it the kind of justice I'll need to feel good about it in the end.

So, yes, I'm one of the few, the frantic, the 6,000 strong. I'm feeling rather amped up about this year's Frenzy. Unlike last year's NaNo, I'm not beset by personal tragedy, haunted by bad luck and the loss of close loved ones. Unlike last year's Frenzy I actually know what I'm getting into. For this April, my adrenaline is pumping and I'm chomping at the bit to begin.

The script I've settled on is the comic book one. I still don't have a good title for it - although I've got the title of the trade I hope to finish, "Freshman Fifteen" - but I've got about eighteen issues planned. Full of plots and subplots and characters. It's not exactly Watchmen but I think there's something to it. But what really won me over to this project as opposed to the others was the compartmentalized nature of it. I can work at one issue at a time, I can work on several at once, and still get closer to completion, stage by stage.

Now, a comic book is around 22 pages long. I'm going to cheat a bit by having a main story and a back-up 4 pager in each issue so that means each is only 18 pages long. The goal for the Frenzy is 100 pages. If I want to get through the entire epic I have in mind, I'll need to get about 325 pages done. Plus another @75 for the back-ups. That's a blistering 10+ page a day pace. Not entirely out of bounds but sure to be taxing.

But just to cross the finish line is about 6 issues. About the size of a typical trade paper back, too, and I've cleverly constructed my story to play out in a series of six-issue arcs. Discrete units I can work on one at a time until they're done but which only serve to set up the next. So, while I might not be able to get to it all, if I can credibly claim victory that means I'm going to have at least a good third of it done.

Right, so I've got a plan, I've got a drive, and now I've just got to wait the few short hours for the countdown to tick down and the fun to begin.

See you on the other side.

Kongai: I Love the Smell of New Game In The Morning

I know I planned on putting up some content over the weekend. And, well, I didn't. It's not my fault. You see, there's this new game. I really like her. She's pretty and she smells of soft things.
In other words, I've fallen heads over heels for Kongai. It's been sucking up a lot of time and, now that I've gotten a few matches under my belt I'm confident it's going to be sucking up even more (Which is the last thing I need right now but, hey, that's just the way it goes.). I've still yet to rope someone in authority and ask them about the rules regarding what I can and can't say so I'll try and keep from getting all crunchy with it. I know that they don't want people posting screenshots because the "press" doesn't want to be deprived of their exclusives (I use the scare quotes because the gaming press in no way resembles actual journalism and is more like a subsidized echo chamber for hype and press releases. Also, some game companies consider bloggers as part of the press. Kept some folks I know out of some closed tests.). And, instead, I'll try and stick to the basic impressions.

Basically, the game is dead simple. It's like a fighting game. In card form. Online. It's weird but it works. You have a set number of cars and so does your opponent. These cards battle it out. Cards each have a special ability and can snap on another card, an item card, to gain another one. And each card has four different skills. Which can be anything from "You poke your opponent in the eye with a sharp stick, they take damage and are quite annoyed" to intricately complex buffs that pry open the game's system and insert interesting new wrinkles. There's a large mix of cards and skills already with the promise of more sets to come in the future. Cards have the standard health and armor and the energy to use their special skills and you set them out and have them fight each other to the death, one by one, until someone runs out of cards.

But that's just where the game is getting started. Because you don't have to stick with the card you've set out at all. You can, instead of attacking, switch it for any card still in your hand avoiding any attacks made against you in the process. Your old card goes into your hand to rest up for the next go-around and you set out another card to fight on.

But, at the same time, instead of attacking your opponent can choose to intercept. A move that does nothing except deliver a crushing blow to any card trying to escape and keeps them in play - if they're not already dead.

It becomes a complicated puzzle of trying to guess when your opponent is going to bug out and avoid your attacks. Or when they're going to stay because they know you're itching to catch them slipping away. All added on top of the game's already deep system of card fighting.

Even beyond that, there's a range system where before you can spend some energy to stay close or step away. Since some moves are restricted to certain ranges it becomes a question of whether you want to play keep away and blow your pool or save your energy to attack with.

The game's not without its problems. The matches can drag on a little long for my tastes. I'm a little worried about the way unlocks will be handled. And the balance is a little lacking (It's not awful but it's not as good as it could be. Trust me, I'm working on it.). Probably the most troubling is how it relies on random luck generators at precisely the wrong moments. But for a game that's still in development, it's strong and surprisingly engaging. For my tastes, anyways.

And although it's not perfect, it does seem perfectly suited to my tastes. Just the right combination of knowledge and preparation required to crunch numbers on the fly sprinkled through with elements that reward the unquantifiable elements. Because you can delve into the numbers and the stats and the descriptions and come up with a perfect strategy but since it's not all about the numbers, it still might not matter if you don't have nerves of steel. Brass ones help, too.

Honestly, I haven't been this thrilled about a game since Guild Wars. And I can't help but compare my experience these past few days with my early time with that game. That heady time when everything was fresh and new and exciting. There were stats to unravel and strats to uncover. No one knew what they were doing. No one would know for months just what they were wrong about just that they were. But, flush with the joy of a game we'd fallen for, we couldn't help but talk and chat and discuss and try to understand the game. On boards, in chats, and everywhere else we picked apart at the things we understood and guessed at the things we didn't. I'd like to think I helped that process along, somewhat.

Just as I'd like to think I have somehting to offer to the people playing and making Kongai. I might not be the best player. I might not be the smartest. But I am one of the wordiest. And when I'm engaged, when I'm involved, when my interest has been piqued and I'm aroused form the daily slumber that is my waking life, I'm not exactly shy about making my opinion known. It's fun. And, I think, in a lot of ways, I've been looking for a way back to that feeling of enjoyment I had, way back when. For other games, for other things, that so captivated me.

So, you'll forgive me if I've been a bit absent around here. It just takes time to play those games and make those posts and have those conversations. With the Frenzy starting - gulp - tomorrow, I'll likely have even less. Which is why I'm going to be posting a lot less around here. At least until I can get someone to tell me it's okay to post my twelve-part treatise on why Higashi is the best card ever where everyone can see.

Mythos: Newsletter

Yeah, just like I've stopped playing Guild Wars, I've pretty much stopped playtesting Mythos, too. Can't exactly put my finger on why. Except that, maybe I got tired of the leveling grind exceptionally fast.

More likely, though, it has to do with some fundamental disagreements with the designer's vision. There's something about the overall picture that I don't like but I can't put my finger on exactly what.

Anyhow, the other day I got a newsletter in my e-mail and I thought I'd pass along the news. Not only has the Mythos website undergone a slick overhaul but the game's been patched. Releasing a new zone along with a new race, crafting, and PvP options and a host of other options that you'd be better off reading in the patch notes, really.

But, I think, the PvP option illustrates where the game and I part ways. Although it's an opt-in system which means you don't have to take part in it, the idea of a world where eveything and everyone is out to get you is not one that appeals to me. Especially not if you're penalized for being ganked by the blood-thirsty maniacs to whom that type of place will appeal. But that's just not the kind of game I want to play even though I'm not entirely sure why.

It just seems like such an obsolete way of gaming. Something straight out of the Ultima Online era that's better left in the past. A way of designing games so they punish players, make things harder for them, rather than making things easier and simpler and more forgiving.

In a casual game - one that's free to download and play - that just seems like the wrong way to go. And, I don't know, maybe I just don't feel like pounding my head against that wall for too long.

It's still worth trying, though. And if it's released, I'd definitely get an account especially since it'll cost me nothing. But with everything else going on I just can't work up the enthusiasm to play.

Random Thought of the Day

You know, I've heard a lot of my friends and, more so, my relatives (especially the female ones) say they want to vote for Hillary Clinton because it would be such a victory for feminism. That they'd vote for her because it would be such a boost to feminism to have a female president, regardless of whether they agree with her policies or politics. But, if you ask me and I know no one did, wouldn't it be a bigger victory if it didn't matter whether she was female or not when you voted for her? Or, more importantly, when you didn't? Otherwise, it's not ending the system of gender discrimination, it's reinforcing it by playing into the idea that there's something special about having a vagina.

MLB Blogging: Bush Booed at Opening Day

There's a reason the baseball loving President who used to be a part owner of the Rangers ducked out of throwing an opening pitch last year.

Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

MLB Blogging: Opening Day

The season kicked off yesterday but this not-so-fine, rainy, dreary, overcast day is when it begins in earnest. In Motown, at least. Where Comerica Park is going to be jumping and the seats are going to be packed when the new model Tigers take the field. Unlike last year when it was a thrill just to have a competitive team again, when it was a treat just to see winning baseball after a decade of futility, there's not going to be any settling this year.

After the Willis trade and the Cabrera deal, the goal isn't just to hit the playoffs. It's not even to make it back to the fall classic. This team wins a World Series or it's a disappointment.

That sounds like a bold statement but with the lineup the Tigers front office has put together, it's not so far fetched. The batting order is a murderer's row. Not of high-priced veterans who are past their prime. But one of proven plays entering their primes, young players on the rise, and cagey veterans to temper the whole process. There are four or five players there who are locks for the All-Star squad and another three or four who might be. The bats should be cracking and the scoreboard should be flying.

The concern, opposite of last year is with the pitching. There are questions with the starting rotation. Rogers is another year older and might not have any more of that magic pixie dust he's been sprinkling himself with (And, yes, that's a veiled reference towards the suspicion, as with any player who's extended their career as long as he has and seen a late revival, that he's juicing somehow.). And although Willis promises to be better with a better team around him he still had an awful year last season. Robinson is a solid starter in the 5th spot but no better than league average. Bonderman might break through this year or he might continue to tantalize. And even Verlander might not live up to the potential he showed last year as he struggled late in the season. A bigger concern is what happens when, as is likely, one of the starters goes down to injury and someone has to step up and fill in.

The closer spot is also a headache. Since the Todd Jones roller coaster ride (As in, "I will make the fans swear a Blue Streak") will continue. He's also aging and looked even more shakey that usual during the preseason. He's been riding the edge between being awful and just good enough to get it done for so long now. It won't take much to tip him over - and all pitchers have a hidden expiration date on their arms.

But the biggest worry is the bullpen. Where, thanks to former stand-outs Zumaya and Fernado Rodney being not just injured but injury prone. They can't be counted on to stick in the roster for long even if they do come back in full form. That leaves the rest of a weak crew and trading for some relief will be difficult since other teams will know Detroit is in the market.

If things go bad, even making the playoffs could be difficult. Basically, it comes down to this. You have Cleveland, Detroit, Boston, and New York and one of them isn't going to make the playoffs. Only the three division winners and one wildcard make it to the postseason. That leaves four elite teams fighting over three spots. Winning their division is the best way to get in, of course, because if they don't, they have to be better than #2 in the other two divisions. But even winning the Central could be difficult. The Indians look tough but so do the (other) Sox. Today's opponents, the Royals, look strong, too. Even lowly Minnesota looks scary with a strong pitching crew. If things go wrong, if the injury bug strikes then it could lead to a tight race that, again, leave the Tigers on the outside looking in, wondering about their squandered potential.

But today is Opening Day. It's a time for thinking about what could happen if things go oh so right. This team has a shot. It has potential. And while it doesn't have quite the ring to it, this year could be their chance to roar again.

Update: Aw, they dropped the opening 5-4 in 11. And people laughed when I said the Royals could be trouble. But, really, that game perfectly illustrates both the potential and the problems with this years Tigers. Great early innings - both at the plate and on the mound - but it all fell apart as the game wore on.

Wolverine Blogging: And Guess Where He's Headed...

The Rich Rodriguez Experience continues to be troublesome. One that's bending the limits of my sanity even as it tries the boundaries of my patience. The latest disaster to befall under the new coaching regime is that, after a few practices, one of the few returning linesman has decided that he'd rather join several of his fellows and the quarterback in bolting for greener pastures. Word is he might be considering a transfer to Ohio State. Which would be just the ultimate kick in the pants.

Now, I'm not one to say that dissent is not featured in the Michigan Man. I think it's great that people like Harbaugh and Boren not only can speak out about what they perceive has gone wrong with the program, the culture, but that they care enough to actually do it. So, you won't hear me screeching about how Justin Boren has betrayed the University or squandered the sacred trust of the football family.

Nor do I find it all that odd that a player would be upset over the way a new coach handles things. I'd imagine that whatever the change, there are plenty who grumble at the way practices have changed or how the new staff treats them. It's a jarring change to their familiar setting, after all. And if you can't deal with that then you need to remove yourself from the situation. So you also won't hear me accusing Boren of being soft or afraid of getting his hands dirty.

What I will say is that next year looks increasingly like a rebuilding year. The team might be lucky to eke out the 8 wins that looked so pathetic last season. Because the line is incredibly slip-shod now. That's three penciled-in starters gone from the offensive line. Starters who'll need to be replaced by inexperienced freshmen in the depth charts and in need of seasoning second stringers unused to working together in the line. It's a recipe for a lot of missed blocks and getting blown off the line. Of course, you need to have an actual quarterback to block for in order for that to be a problem. Which Michigan doesn't, at the moment, by the way.

This is of concern to me because if there's been one thing you could rely on with Michigan it's been good linesman. With the way scholarships are structured now, there are plenty of skilled players spread around the country. They're not difficult to find and any halfway decent program can come up with a stud running back or receiver. What separates the elite team from the also-rans, the Michigans of the world from the Michigan States, is that the top programs have a monopoly on the blue-chippers on the line. It's those big slobber-knockers, the ones who make all of the plays and get little of the glory, that turn good players at the skilled positions into great ones. And the strength of a first-tier organization is how well it manages to find and recruit them.

At the moment, Michigan isn't doing so well at that. It's not ruin and damnation yet but the experiences of the basketball team should teach us that it's a short step from being a powerhouse program, a perennial contender, to being a mediocre one. And it's a long, arduous step to get back to those heights. All it takes is a few bad seasons to tarnish a reputation. And once that reputations is gone so is the edge it brings to recruiting and retaining players.

Perhaps next year will be the aberration. A necessary step in a long-overdue cleansing, initiated by Rodriguez, that will lead to greater success down the line. But, at the moment, having lost a quarterback, having lost a line, having lost a surefire recruit, and showing no sense of decorum or dignity with the whole contract/lawsuit situation, I have my doubts that the man can pull it off.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

NCAA Blogging: How Pedestrian

So, all four seeds are going to the Final Four. That's the first time in....ever, right?

At least I got to see the most entertaining game of the weekend. The games on Friday were alright, too, (Well, maybe not the Kansas sleepwalk win.) but they paled in comparison to the Regional final this afternoon. Davidson came so close and everyone in the building who wasn't a Jayhawk fan was hoping to push them to victory. When they went up with only minutes left, it was electric. What a blast.

Sadly, they couldn't close the deal. But, hey, that's the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. Still, I think it showed that, in spite of the nay-saying, the was a good venue after all. The court was a bit small and the action looked to be taking place in another county from my shit-ass seats. But it wasn't all that bad - I think I'm just used to watching on television these days instead of in person. And while I was worried that cavernous Ford Field was going to be a noise-dampening vacuum that would make the mausoleum like Cristler sound like a monster truck rally, it was pretty jumping. Especially on Sunday. But even on Friday the Wisconsin fans made the place a lot warmer - as I expected, they're always a nice crowd to hang around with.

It makes me pretty confident that, next year, when the Final Four comes to town it's going to be a great time. Hopefully, I can score some tickets for them again. This year's, however, with the four top seeds competing to see which favorite is the best? Not so much.

Guild Wars: I Choose Death

Alright, so I've established that, like 911, VoD is a joke. What I left unanswered was the question of how it might be fixed. That might have been because I'm trying to be more humble and less of an armchair designer. And the problem is a deep and complex one to which I don't have a good answer. That doesn't really sound like me so it's more likely that I ran out of time and/or burned up another keyboard with my lightning fast typing and decided to come back to it later with another post.

Like this one. Which is about how I'd fix VoD.

As I said, I think the problem with VoD is that it's too derivative. It focuses the long, complex, and downright beautiful chess match of a GvG match into the narrow corridor of that final scrum by the flagstand. The chaos and confusion when the normal rules are suspended and the game's mechanics take a sharp turn.

To me, a GvG match should be centered more on the time spent getting to VoD if not outright trying to avoid it entirely. It's the skirimishes and combat in the intervening 10~15 minutes that should determine the outcome. Not who's best at getting up Splinter to mow down hordes of NPCs.

I want, in other words, GvG to be much more tactical with players having to deal with threats and come up with proper responses on the fly - or risk losing the match well before the Lords come ambling down for a stroll and a little slaughter. A fluid, moving affair that's about gaining and losing momentary advantages. With VoD lurking in the background as incentive to hurry up and do something.

Now, how to do that?

I think the answer is to make the advantages gained in the middle of the game (As opposed to the beginning of the game that's setting up your team and strategy - slotting your skills and equipment. And the end of the game that is VoD.) more important. Longer lasting, more decisive, and better able to swing a game in your favor.

Which the Victory is Ours shout does (Or did. You know, I'm not playing and I'm probably talking about things that have already been dealt with in the community. Chewed and rehashed and abandoned as the game's moved on. I might as well give up and hit the backspace button now. But, screw it, this is my blog and I'll talk about what interests me.). It just does so in an incredibly stupid way. Not by making those advantages count in the middle game but by making a super advantage that comes into play in the endgame I'd want to de-emphasize.

Instead, I think the advantages you want to create to reward players for taking risks during the lead-up to VoD have to be relevant at that moment. You make a nice play, you get your team in an advantageous position, and you should be able to capitalize. To turn that momentary edge into another advantage and another and another in a cascade effect that leads to your opponent collapsing.

Just like a wipe should be the result not of random luck - the Monk miscasting or missing a save - but of a string of smaller victories that result in a team's backline collapsing with dire consequences for their morale. Whether that's because you've spiked until their energy engines are seizing up and they've run short of healing juice or because you've disabled and disrupted them at a key moment or simply because you've built better and they can't handle your pressure, it doesn't matter. What matters is that a backline failing is grown and nurtured from a dozen tiny, discrete decisions. Windows of opportunity for failure that are opening and shutting all the time as a battle rages. Good teams, skilled players, know how to find them, how to use them, how to crack them open, slip through, and start with the smash and grab. But instead of a stereo system or your mother's pearl necklace what they're grabbing is victory.

So, yes, I think if you play well you should be rewarded. Innovative, I know. What this means for a GvG match, though, is that we need to get a little more swingy.

This means games are going to seesaw back and forth a bit more, that there'll be lucky wins and improbable come-backs. Because we're going to have to create more stress points where teams can possibly fail in order to create more times when they can possibly succeed.

If I could totally redesign the experience, I'd redraw all the maps. Alter the playing field. Reposition the NPC guards around the base. Tweak their skills and AI until they were effective (And maybe not so lemming-like at VoD). But that's an extremely difficult (And no doubt costly) undertaking. So for starters what I'd do is make two or three simple changes with, I hope, wide-reaching implications.

First, I'd do away with the whole "added damage, lowered healing" of Victory of Death. Instead of it cranking up your team's lethality I'd make it so it helped you fulfil the victory condition. Normally, the Guild Lord has a ton of health and armor. That makes him hard to kill under the best of circumstances (And is necessary, along with his Medallion thingy, to prevent quick ganking from ending matches before they even start. Ah, for the days of Necrotic Traversal and Grenth's Balance. I think the devs might actually have been a bit quick to put the hammer down on that one. Quick-gank splits could have been the game's version of a Zerg Rush, forcing teams to think about defending their bases and punishing those who went heavy towards the stand. But the tricky bit is how you allow for that but dissuade teams from going for the all-out gank. You don't want it to turn into a DPS race at the Lords, in other words.) and means you need several uninterrupted seconds of pounding away before you can finish him off and check your new K-value. I'd keep that during normal play but when VoD hits, I'd dramatically lower the Lord's survivability. Cut his health and armor to something like what a player has, maybe a bit more.

What this should do is make it a lot easier to spike out the Lord. Makes splitting for your opponent's base when the NPCs leave much more attractive - especially if you've cleared the way by eliminating them from one gate or the other (This is part of why I'd want to look at the Footmen and Archers and, perhaps, change their behavior a bit.). But does so without up-ending the way your team works. You still do the same damage, you still have the same healing potential, the Lord is now a fat juicy target and you can either go for the insta-win with a spike or work down your opponents so they can't save him.

Second, I'd alter the way the rez shrines work. At the moment, someone dies and, as long as they don't have 60% DP, they come back at the shrine on every even minute mark. This puts them out of the fight and they have to run back to the fight but it's not a terrible drawback since it's about a :45~1minute transit time and they can push up a flag or defend the base. The morale penalty they'll take is more troubling as they'll be down a bit of resources and closer to being out of the match but it's not a terrible drawback. With kills as hard to score as they are and rez skills as powerful as they are, it's really hard to DP someone out.

What I'd like to see is kills turning into real powerplay situations. If a team is lucky or good enough to down one of their opponents, that gives them a numerical advantage they can use to press. But, at the moment, I think the autorez happens too quickly and the matches are too short to really take advantage once you've managed to burn off their sigs and knock out their hardrezzer. So, what I'd do is increase the autorez timer. Say, from two minutes to three. Creating more time to work with. If that wasn't enough then I'd switch the timer from being tied to the game's clock to being individual. In other words, if you died you wouldn't be resurrected on a three minute mark regardless of when that is relative to your demise but three minutes from when you died, period. Unless your team manages to rez you, of course.

Overall, the changes should normalize gameplay while still creating an overtime situation with an easy win condition. It might take a bit more but if I were given the reigns tomorrow (Which, you know, I shouldn't be), those are the first steps I'd take.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

NCAA Blogging: I'm Tired But Happy

So, the Elite Eight is set. In the East it's #1 UNC versus #3 Louisville, in the South #1 Memphis versus #2 Texas, and in the West #1 UCLA versus #3 Xavier.

How boring.

Over in the Midwest, I had a blast at the games last night and, come Sunday will be watching the lone underdog, #10 Davidson (Who threshed Wisconsin. Sorry, cheeseheads.) try to take out #1 Kansas. Should be fun.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Guild Wars: Why I'm Not Playing, Again

I mentioned the other day that 'm not interested in playing in a metagame that sees corner blocking as a crucial GvG tactic. But, in a fit of atypical subtlety, I failed to explain why. Allow me to correct this oversight.

People like Ensign and JR and the like discussing the most effective ways to abuse the AI in GvG is a bad sign because it means that VoD is fundamentally broken. It's become, in part, an exercise in who can farm NPCs the most effectively. If I wanted a competition about killing mobs, I'd challenge someone in a race to see who could clear the Salt Flats the quickest. Because that'd probably be more difficult than beating up on the shortbus squad that defends your guild hall.

But VoD time being busted open like an overripe melon is bad because it was already pretty lousy.

Now, having been involved with the game before the Victory or Death mechanic went in and having endured the hour long matches of attrition that were GvG contests in those days, I'm not saying that VoD is, in and of itself, a bad concept.

It's, in fact, a necessary one by acting as sudden death overtime. Tightening everything up, stressing certain points harder, and shortening a game that might otherwise extend indefinitely. The way it does that - or did that before they started tinkering around with it - was by tilting the balance between offense and defense. With the simple change of more damage and less health kills become a lot easier and keeping red bars up becomes a lot more difficult.

But, at some point, VoD changed from being the end of the game to being the game itself. It was, in all likelihood, when the time VoD hit was lowered to eighteen minutes. But I like to think it was one august day when some old friends of mine managed to shock the world with glyphsacs and a shower of fiery doom from the heavens.
[iQ] beating [Te] through turtling up until the Lords walked and then crunching them with chains of Meteor Showers showed that all you had to care about was the final few minutes of the match. You could concede everything else, play as passively as possible, and still wind up winning. The same way that if you were in the old Hall of Heroes (The king of the dias one we had before the rotating format change) all you had to worry about was getting your Lord to cap before the gong sounded zero and, so, could stand in the doorway blinking at your opponent as the clock wound down.

GvG is a little more complicated than, of course. But understanding that you won the game not before VoD but in VoD and, therefore, VoD was the critical environment you had to prepare for was like realizing that in playing the HA game you design for the Hall, not for getting to the Hall.

Strategies, tactics, shifted to the point where the GvG game is about setting yourself up for VoD when your damage goes nuts and your spikes actually work. Defenses responded by getting massive and harder to punch through. Making them extremely stout without the VoD boost.

As it is now, you either win in a few minutes because it's a noobstomping party that you'd win under any circumstances. Or the game is going the distance. There's very little middle ground. There are few ten minute wins or fifteen minute comebacks as the wacky time approaches and that, I think, is a real structural problem.

In a game that's focused on heading towards VoD not on preventing VoD (Because it's feasible to win without it) then what you do to get there isn't as important, as valuable. What you'll do is run around and try to gain an advantage. To set yourself up to be in a better position once you can actually hammer it home. More realistically, what you're doing is trying to keep your opponent from gaining those advantages. You'll trade flags, you'll defend your base, but what you won't be doing is pressing the fleeting advantages you gain from playing well.

After all, what's the point if you can't win then? It's better to play it safe, play it conservatively, and keep from making the blunder that's going to cost you that edge when it actually comes time to make your move.

There's another way of putting that and it's playing a boring game. A game that relies on a very slender window, a single point of failure in which you win or lose. When you could be playing a fast-paced, exciting one where failure points lurk around every corner right behind the chance to swing a game in your favor.

So, I've long thought that VoD could use some tweaking. And there's a lot of merit to the Victory is Ours approach. In other words, making the NPC advantage count for something which force more decisive fighting in the stage where you're trying for that edge. But I think the initial implementations of ViO were disastrous since they placed too much emphasis not on working up that advantage by outthinking and outmaneuvering your opponents. But, instead, made it even more important to plan and prepare not for the run-up but the launching pad that is VoD.

The format needs some tweaking but ViO wasn't the right direction. It's hard, though, to see what is the correct path to travel without the kind of massive changes that would be difficult at this late stage of development.

A Very Special Blog Entry

Saw this in class. Thought to myself, "Self, you have a blog. You should post this. It contains valuable information that people - especially those young and impressionable who are contemplating narcotic substance use - should have. You owe it to your readers, if not yourself to make use of that little space you've carved out in the world."

Thank you, Canada!

NCAA Blogging: Ante Up

So, it turns out ticket packages were available for the weekend, three games, for only $75. Actually, they come even cheaper but my friends didn't want to sit in the nose bleeds. Add in stadium snacks, restaurant fees, parking, and beer money and it's probably going to cost even more. I'm guessing at least double, more likely to a few hundred, which is why I don't mind splurging a bit on the tickets - it's only a small portion of the overall budget I came up and even less than I figured.

I almost decided not to go but, then, I've never actually seen the NCAAs in person. Haven't been to a college ball game in some time, actually. And you never know when opportunities are going to come around again so I'm going for it. I'll get to see the funky raised floor and everything. They've built a platform a few feet high that the court will be on in the middle of the stadium. Makes for more seating and better vantage points, I gather. It's also eerily similar to what they have in Kohl Arena where the Badgers play. I predict this will be the secret X factor that results in their winning. Much more so than their ability to slow the game to the sort of crawl that a nine-month old would be proud of. With the shotclock....I'm thinking it'll be a 11-10 game. That Curry is a hot scorer, after all, and he's probably going to make the Wisconsin defense pay.

The games start tonight in...oh, under an hour. Benefits of living close to downtown and all, should make it in plenty of time if I head out the door...oh, now.

So, enjoy the weekend, I'll be busy. Hopefully I'll get a chance to post some more stuff up before Monday but, if not, I'll see you then.

Snow Daze

Seriously, I had to bust out the ice scraper tonight. I might be snowed in tomorrow. I'm not happy about this.

Anyway, in case you hadn't noticed, my output (here) has slipped in the past few days. There are any number of reasons for this, of course. Among them new games to play, tough tests to study for, harsh deadlines to meet, vermin infestations in my larder, and I've decided that, you know, I've never been to an NCAA regional before so I'm going to get those tickets after all. But they all boil down to "I'm doing way too much and something has to give."

This, by the way, is not a bad thing but a good thing since I like to keep myself busy. But it's not exactly a situation that's conducive to sitting around and typing a lot of my thoughts out. You know, blogging. But, it's going to continue for at least a little while. And with the Frenzy coming up in, gulp, less than a week, it's likely to get worse.

I'm going to try and clean out my backlog of partial posts over the weekend, if I have the time. But, for now, I'm going to go ahead and declare a state of light posting.

Script Frenzy: Stretching Exercises

So, I've been working on a practice script lately. Nothing too fancy or complicated or even all that well planned out. I just took a random idea and jumped in. It's been going fairly well so far. Writing a half an hour a day or so - which is about all I've had the time/energy for lately - I've been averaging 3+ pages. It's not exactly what I'd call "good writing" and it's meandered a lot. But that's 150 pages over a full month. And a movie that's about two and a half hours long.

If I can write more than that, structured perhaps, by a vague outline, I should have this thing in the bag.

More worrisome, though, I still haven't settled on a script idea. My three choices remain locked in a dead heat. Considering I've got until next Tuesday to decide, I'd better hurry up.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Worthy Speech

Yesterday morning, the local paper was full of the Kilpatrick indictments. Page after page of explanation and reaction and commentary. Which was a bit of a problem for me since i've long passed the point of caring about the details of this case and have been cheerfully trying to tune out all but the most major developments. Still, I sucked it up and delved into the coverage.

My eye kept being drawn to the full text of Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy's speech. I'd caught the big Kwam's broadcast response which was splashed all over the cable networks and the local twelve o' clocks. But I'd managed to miss the announcement to which the Mayor was responding. You know, this one:

Which is a shame because reading those remarks a day later, I found them to be extremely powerful. Read them for yourself here (PDF Warning. Of course, if you have this nifty Firefox plugin like I do, that's no longer a big deal.) and you really should because they're a scathing rebuttal to all of the Mayor's antics.

One of the things that's really bothered me about this whole thing has been the rampant race baiting that Kilpatrick has engaged in. It's exactly the kind of politics that Senator Obama spoke out against in that speech of his I was so taken with. Which only ferments the same divisiveness that has torn a formerly great city, my city, apart. But it's not only the go-to move in Hizzoner's playbook, it's also the only play he's got left at this point (Hack Emeritus Mitch Albom made a point today that instead of being the hip-hop Mayor, a more apt analogy for Kilpatrick is that of a jock. Think Pac-Man Jones or Michael Vick or even Barry Bonds. And, you know, I don't agree with a lot of what Albom writes but I think there's definitely something there.).

Worthy, though, takes him to task. Not only for trying to shift blame onto the media, the white devils in their suburb enclaves, and anyone else. But also just for attempting to avoid responsibility. For attempting to shirk his responsibility, for so casually throwing away his integrity, for corrupting our system of justice when he's the very one supposedly upholding it.

As she quotes Teddy Roosevelt, "Obedience to the law is demanded as a right; not asked as a favor." No man is above the law. But, then, Kwame Kilpatrick isn't much of a man at all.

Appropriate Thought of the Moment

It should not be snowing after Easter.

Worky Work Busy Bee!

While I haven't been playing certain games which shall remain nameless, I haven't quit gaming entirely.

Even though I probably should what with trying to gear up for the Frenzy and increasingly heavy coursework.

Still, there's the demo for Sins of a Solar Empire out that I haven't gotten around to trying yet.

PMOG, which I still have no idea what to make of.

And I've been playtesting Kongai, the flash-based card game designed by David Sirlin. Yes, that Sirlin. Got in a few days ago and spent a good deal of time getting crunchy with the numbers yesterday.

Short review: Looks like an interesting little diversion, gorgeious artwork, but it's a bit too slow-paced and swingy for my tastes. And the balance just isn't there yet. Although, it's not like I've signed an NDA or anything, I'll have to see if it's okay to say more, maybe.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Irony Is Dead

Hopping on the bandwagon! I'm half convinced this is wickedly cutting satire with a dedication to selling its internal conviction that would do Stephan Colbert proud. Either/or, I think the surest way to convince people NOT to vote for McCain is to expose them to his supporters.

"Are you being sarcastic?"

"I don't even know anymore."

Guild Wars: Why I Really Stopped Playing

Any meta that has top players talking about corner-blocking as a high-level GvG strategy is one in which I want no part. Because it's one that means VoD is fundamentally broken.

Always Polymock, though!

Hilary's Hope

Hildog's plan, back when she was the inevitable candidate awaiting her eventual coronation, was to wrap up the nomination on Super Tuesday.

Hilary's problem, right now when she's reduced to throwing a kitchen sink, is that it didn't work.

Thanks to the same proportional delegation that keep him from finishing this race off, Obama slipped through that Tuesday holding her margins of victory down enough to be within striking distance. Since, he's piled up an near unassailable lead in delegates and voters. Clinton would have to win the remaining primaries with nearly a 2:1 voter ratio just to pull even with him.

Hilary's strategy now is to throw the convention into chaos.

Her only hope is to damage Obama so much that some slip, some gaffe, some controversy will strike and his candidacy will be fundamentally crippled. Then, on the floor of the convention, with neither her nor her opponent having managed to amass the magical 50%+1 number of delegates (Which shifts depending on what happens with the MI and FL delegates, of course.). Then, she can convince enough superdelegates (Scare, really. Just looking at the message she's sending with Richardson. "You broke my heart." Cross her and it's the kiss of death.) to break for her that she'll win the nomination.

That's it, that's the only plausible route to the presidency for her now. All the complaining about revotes in Michigan and the prevarication about Bosnian snipers. It's all about keeping the process in doubt long enough for that chaos to reign and the Clintonian arm-twisting machine to have its day.

Which is exactly why this bullshit about Clinton

More to the point, though, that's
not what the rules say. You don't get to throw out the rulebook and propose your own system because you don't like the way the game's unfolded. The Democratic nominee is not decided under electoral college rules but under a proportional system that's weighted towards areas that have been consistently Democratic in the past. You can argue that's not the way it should be, that perhaps we could deal with some reform, but that doesn't change the results in this race. It's only clouding the issue. Under the rules, Obama is winning. He hasn't won yet but I don't think the Clinton campaign would be touting this kind of spin if they were in a similarly commanding position.

Anyway, in the interest of fairness here's a Clinton supporter making a counterpoint :

Random Thought of the Evening

Teaching to the test, focusing lessons and plan not on providing illumination of the course's material but making sure that a class's scores don't slip too far below the median is a road to mediocrity. One that begins by trying to derive metrics from the unquantifiable. The purpose of education isn't knowledge but teaching the ability to learn for oneself. Focusing on assessments of factual retention ignores that.

Four Thousand Dead

It's been five years and 4,000 dead now.

Picture's from the Huffington Post, by the way. Only wish I could make something as poignant myself.

Instead, I can only link to what's awesome in some vain hope of some of those bountiful smarts rubbing off on me.

In all seriousness (Not that Mr. Henley was speaking with anything but tongue firmly in cheek. I just, you know, want to say something substantive instead of linkbloggy here.), I'm as sickened as anyone outside of the Brookings Institute that anti-war voices have been so consistently and effectively shut out of the conversation. We can't go anywhere as a country unless we hold ourselves accountable for our own mistakes. We can only continue to spin our wheels in the same morass.

And, no, hawkish voices bleating in the op-ed pages about how they were so misguided or mislead but "right to be so wrong" is not the way forward.

But I think we could use a lot less thinking about who thought what when and who was right about what. Instead, what we need to think about why people thought one way or another. Because, in the final accounting, what matters is not whose soul is cleansed or who is still screaming out damn spot but that we all, together, drove our country off the side of a cliff. What's important is that the complaints weren't heard, the dissent wasn't headed, and the wrong decision was made.

What's critical is making sure that doesn't happen again.

Mr. Bush (When he wasn't rattling his sabre towards Iran. Again.) assured us all today that the legions of dead we've stacked up in the desert won't have died in vain. I can't think of any better way to honor their sacrifice than to make sure that the next batch of young men and women who stand in harm's way won't have to endure similar treatment.

Hizzoner Charged

Right, so Mayor Kwame (Who, yes, is a Democrat.) and his paramour Christine Beatty (pictured) are facing a laundry list of charges stemming from trying to conceal evidence of their affair. Perjury for lying under oath about it, obstruction of justice for firing investigating police officers, even governmental misconduct for negotiating a deal with the police officers behind the City Council's back, so to speak.

Throwing the proverbial book at the pair is important because if the Mayor is actually convicted of a felony then the Council (Which, let's be perfectly honest is far from being on the side of angels here. The Detroit City Council is a mess, too, but we'll leave that for another day. Essentially, though, it uses a system that's nearly unique among the nation's major cities and there's a reason that others don't.) can stop issuing nonbinding proclamations and, instead, actually remove Kilpatrick from office. Since the Kilpatrick administration seems determined to fight any recall effort tooth and nail, it means there's another avenue by which he can be ousted. Because, at this point, there's little chance the man is going to, well, be a man and step aside here. So, at least the Kwame Legal All-Stars will have to wage courtroom battles on two fronts.

Again, the Governor could end all this tomorrow with the stroke of the proverbial pen but Granholm, after a string of unpopular decisions is unwilling to inflame sentiment in Detroit. Because, again, the Hip Hop Mayor still has a lot of people in his corner - thanks to rampant race baiting, of course, which just makes the image of a white woman removing a black man from office that much more politically unpalatable - even my mother who think that even though he needs to go he's still been a "good mayor". But the Governor is term limited so it's not like she can run for another term so I don't get why, exactly, she's being so timid.

Like a lot of other people, I didn't think the prosecutor, Worthy, would have the guts to act here. That she'd be hamstrung by the same political concerns that have held the governor's hand. Needless to say, I'm surprised but pleasantly so.

NCAA Blogging: The Tournament After Two Rounds

And we're back. After a very Hoppy Easter (Good god, now I'm doing it...) with more big meals than should be legally allowed, I have gorged myself on honey-glazed ham, hard boiled eggs, marshmellowy confections, and lepus-formed chocolates. And wondered if it is indeed possible to overdose on college basketball.

I pretty much watched a portion of every game over the weekend in between stuffing myself. Good times.

My bracket, of course, is a complete and utter mess. In my defense, I did manage to pick a #12 vs. #13 match-up. Which did occur (Twice.). I just managed to pick an entirely wrong regional for it to take place in. I'd also banked big on Clemson and Drake. Ah well.

If you're looking for in-depth coverage of the games - beyond "Mmm, that was some good ball" - you'll have to look elsewhere. My basketball analyzing skills are evidently poor so I'll not subject you to them further.

What I am concerned with right now is whether I should accept a friend's offer and plunk down some cash on tickets to the Midwest finals. They're taking place in Ford Field this year. In addition to being a huge venue for college basketball (Seriously, they're probably going to set attendance records. Which is good. Sounds like the weather is going to be piss poor, though, which is not.) the football stadium right in my backyard. And, now, I'm wondering if it's worth my time to go or not.

Well, alright, I'm wondering if I should spend good money I probably don't have on shitty seats to watch a game take place half a mile away. But, then, I'm both cheap and poor.

Four teams that have made it to the Round of Sixteen in scenic Detroit Top seed Kansas has been on cruise control so far. Unsexy but consistently successful Wisconsin from the three seed - seriously, every year they win ugly but they still win. Everybody's favorite underdog story this year, Davidson. But Vilanova is an even lower seed, having battled from the #13 spot (Meaning they were pretty much among the last teams to make the field since the lower seeds are typically passed out to the automatic qualifiers from mini-major conferences with names that sound like Athletic Mad-Libs.) past fellow upstart Siena and, sigh, mighty Clemson.

Thanks to Davidson, we've managed to avoid the apocalyptic showdown between Wisconsin and Georgetown that would feature two teams trying to slow the tempo down so much that time would warp back upon itself and so destabilize physical laws in the localized vacinity that it might actually be an entertaining game. So that's good. But, really, none of the teams really set my light on fire.

Sure, Kansas might be headed to the Championship (If they can get past UNC, of course. If they manage to make it out of their region, of course. I'm completely out of the predicting game here.) but who cares about who wins the tournament? I can't even tell you who was champion last year. I can, however, tell you about George Mason. It's all about the upsets and the last-second buzzer beaters. The up one second and down the next. Fans flooding the floor for some team that no one's ever heard of before that's just strutted their stuff for all the nation to see. Compared to that, the calm inevitability of Kansas is boring.

Also, I'm still convinced they're going to choke.

Could be worse, could be in Charlotte where the top four seeds all held court. Not a single unexpected upset (Unless you count a 9 beating an 8, which I don't.) the whole weekend. Not even any last-second buzzer beaters. Unreal.

And, I know, Davidson is hot right now and Curry is everyone's darling. Might be nice to see him in person. He seems like a special player. And, looking deeper at the team, Davidson might be for real.

Ah well, there should be plenty of Wisconsin fans there. The Madison crowd is usually pretty fun to hang out with.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Snow From the Last Storm Had Just Melted, Too

Good Friday, everyone. Had the day off work so I caught a bunch of games and I'm about to head out to catch the late ones. I almost decided to stay in because we're in the middle of yet another blizzard (Seriously, the hell? I thought we were done with those already.) but I am called to inaction and I must respond.

Before I go, though, just a warning to expect light blogging this weekend. What with Easter and all, I'll likely be too busy traveling and/or overdosing on Peeps to write much. Of course, there's nothing like time spent with the family to inspire me to do anything but spend time with the family so there might just be a flurry of activity after all.

Guild Wars: Why I Stopped Playing

The other day I mentioned, in a fit of uncharacteristic brevity that I will now try to overcompensate for, that I had quit playing thanks to Sacnoth Valley. Really, the whole Charr Homelands region. Because when I'm finding reasons not to log on instead of hunting through there to track down yet another copy of Tryptophan Signet or reporting to the Ooze Pit, well, that's about when I need to give up the ghost.

You see, I think we can all agree that Sacnoth Valley is an evily brutal place but my ennui goes so much further than that. I hate the Charr Homelands. I don't simply not like them. I don't sigh and shrug my shoulders as I grind my way through them the way I can with the Crystal Desert or the Frozen Sea of Jade. It's not just a zone that doesn't work for me. It's a zone that bothers me. And fills me with a deep weariness in my bones whenever I have the misfortune to venture there. The place irks me.

Which I find really odd because if I had set out to design a Guild Wars region it would look terribly not unlike the Homelands. It's all right there.

There's a connection to past chapters, past stories, a deep immersion in the game's lore. An attempt to build on that lore, to use it as a springboard for new stories, new adventures, rather than simply retreading the same old ground. Familiar faces, old friends, past enemies, taking another turn on the stage and not just for old time's sake. Creating a sense that I'm part of a living, breathing world.

More than that, a world that changes, that grows and adapts. A place that relies on the power of instancing to alter itself in response to my actions. Where my past impacts my present and unfolds into potential futures. It's a mutable place. One that constantly surprises you with a new spawn or quest.

And those quests are strung together, pearl-like, on a string stretching from start to finish. Together composing a cycle, an adventure. One completely optional, but one that draws you into the setting that's been established.

You even get to ally with and explore the experience of one of your former foes. I always thought it should be the Centaur but you get a chance to see what the Charr are really like when they're not trying to chop you into little bits. Either way, it broadens and expands the scope of the game, casts everything in a new light, folds in needed moral ambiguity while opening up fertile new story ground.

And in a mechanical sense, it's a region that forces you to adapt to it, even as it adapts to you. One where you'll need to slot new skills, perhaps for the first time in a long time, to struggle and try and fail to understand it. Because it's also a place that cranks the difficulty up and does away with some old familiar strategies - those SF spammers I'd been rocking since NF just wouldn't cut it against the fire immune critters of the burning woods, after all. I needed to come up with something else. And that means maybe coming up with something better.

It reads like a laundry list of the features that I've long asked for and even longer wanted. But those very features are what bother me about the place so much.

I don't know, maybe it's because I'm overly sentimental about the past to which this new zone ahas attached itself. I'll cheerfully admit that I spent so long caring so hard about Ascalon that I have huge rose-tinted glasses when it comes to Pre-Searing. Even though, perhaps because, I haven't played there in years - I devoured the place during the beta and the months both before and after release. And that's what the Charr Homelands are, for me, Bizzaro Pre.

The monsters are similar, you have the Charr and Elementals and even the pathetic Grawl, just amped up, tougher versions, suited for a high-level zone. Those mobs have, well, character. A pedigree born from having been there from the very start. A familiarity that buys a certain fondness even in the scripted things like the Charr rank flashing you after they score a kill.

The NPCs are similar, familiar characters from Ascalon now years past the cataclysm and settled into new lives. Lives that you get to catch up with and, once again, improve. Even the music is straight out of Prophesies.

But that's just it, I think, I'm too invested in that forgotten region of the game's primordial past that I wander around this new zone, this continuation of what came before, going, "Wait, that's not right. That character wouldn't do that. This one wouldn't say that. This is all wrong."
While the story of the ragtag Ascalonian resistance that is the Ebon Vanguard and the Charr rebellion war you help them ferment is many things, for me, it's not interesting. It doesn't mesh with what came before.

The Ascalonian refugees, the people left behind when I scaled the Shiverpeaks and lost Rurik to cutscene permadeath all those long years ago, a group that I've wanted to catch up with for so long, well, they become nothing more than a footnote. Shoved to the side, passive and unimpressive.

And the Charr were the enemy. The great other. The destroyers. The defilers of the unspoiled Eden that was Old Ascalon. Enslaved its people, slaughtered them for sport, conspired with the dark forces that nearly ruined the world. I don't want to reconcile with them. I don't care what the plans are for GW2 or how many furry fans there are out there. There can be no reproachment with that. There can be no forgiveness. There never should have been. Instead, the game has me wandering around a Charr settlement in relative peace when I should be showering myself in heart's blood or unleashing fiery waves of destruction from my fingertips.

Which is really disappointing, that the game doesn't at least try to rectify that dissonance (Outside, I know, of a few cutscenes and some angsty posturing from Gwenny Bear, the World's Saddest Mesmer. I'm talking about me. I'm talking about the hatred, the fear, the game built up in me, personally for those promising early level foes that it then so quickly abandoned.) especially in a zone that's built around interactive feedback.

I was amazed the first time I retraveled the zone after having completed a mission to find that the towers I'd blown to itty bitty pieces were still burning husks. And would always remain so. In a game that's built around the instance, that promised to let you tear down bridges and change the course of rivers because you could, in your game, that's shockingly rare. And it's not just cosmetic either as the NPCs you quest for also float and shift around depending on what you've done and how much of their quest cycle you've completed.

But rather than being the awesome I expected, it turns out that such heavy use of instancing to personalize your gameplay isn't enriching. Instead, it's just annoying. Because it means I can never tell where, exactly, anything will be. I have to remember which NPC is where for each of my different characters. Worse, on the first go around, when I haven't dealt with them before, I have to hunt them. Trekking all over the zone, popping in and out of outposts, sniffing in obscure corners, when all I want to do is turn in a quest and get started on the next one. The fluidity, rather than serving to draw me deeper into the story, only serves to take me out of it by making me focus on the mechanics of the game and not the flow of the story.

As for those mechanics, in Scanoth, the game deals you a wild card, forces you, perhaps, to shuffle your formerly successful strategy back into your deck, by fiat. Not because the monsters in the valley are tougher or smarter or utilize a few key skills intelligently. But because they've simply had the "immune to fire/burning" switch turned on. And the "Increased health and attribute levels" toggle set. It pushes you but not to find a better strategy simply the broken one that works for that area as opposed to every place else.

Which wouldn't be so bad except it's the rare exception because those broken strategies - like SF spam or the old-school dual echoed Meteor Showers - work everywhere else. If the Sacnoth was one of a string of areas that forced you to deal with their gimmick, one of a series of places that had the mechanics and systems in place to thwart a single focused strategy rather than just a vague ambition towards difficulty it would be different. But it's not. It's one of the few places where you have to respecc to get past - and most of the rest of those are missions where you're already investing some time in preparation. So it becomes an annoyance because you have to remember to switch your stuff up instead of barreling forward the way you usually do. Not because it's doing something wrong but because, for once, by forcing you to delve - however lightly - into the wonderful depths of the game's flexibility it's doing something right.

Which goes to show, I suppose, that players often know how to ask for what they want but not what it is they need.

That I know very little about game design and should leave it up to the professionals rather than continue my armchair diatribes is, I should think, well established at this point.

Still, why does that place so drain away my precious bodily essence? It could be just that all I've long asked for was a mistake born of my misunderstanding. A colossal, fundamental failing to understand the principles of design and the ramifications of their implementation.

Or it could be that I've built the zone that turned in the Charr Homelands so many times, in my mind, that the actual product could never live up to my expectations. And by coming so close it manages to fall all that much farther. But, in my head, where I've written the story so many times, erasing and refining it to suit my own personal tastes, all I can hear is, "That's not how it should have been. That's not how it played out. This isn't right."

That, and Blisterbark and his pack of high-speed spike artists are a bunch of grade-A asshats.


If you're not from Detroit you might be wondering where the outrage is over Kwame Kilpatrick. Why people seem to be shrugging their shoulders and saying, "There he goes again." Instead of pounding their fists on the table and demanding his head on a silver platter. Where the anger is instead of what seems to be routine but meaninglessly rote condemnation.

Well, that's because he's been our Mayor now for years and we're, frankly, used to this sort of shit by now. Kwamdog's weathered storms of controversy and criticism before. He's mastered the art of cheap pandering and the exploitation of the city's racial divide to survive.

Take, for example, this anecdote from when the Mayor and Senator Obama tried to arrange a campaign appearence together:

Word is it went like this: In advance of his speech today to a sold-out Detroit Economic Club, Obama calls Kilpatrick to touch base, ask for his support, get to know him a little.

Kilpatrick, not yet committed to any presidential candidate, challenges the senator with a pinch of bluster about the nature of Obama’s broad, cross-racial campaign. He asks Obama whether he’d be comfortable standing in public next to a 6-foot-4 black guy from Detroit.

Obama, no shrinking violet, then fires back, saying he thinks he could handle it just fine — as long as Kilpatrick loses the earring.

Classy! That's our Kwame!

Script Frenzy: Script Ideas

Since I've decided that I'm doing the Frenzy this year after all, I rather need something to write about. I've done some thinking, in accordance with historical precident, I've come up with three solid ideas. All of which, I think, I can reasonably expect to finish 100 pages on in the space of a month and all of which, I think, are ideas I can reasonably do justice to. Hopefully, over the next week, one will capture my imagination and jump to the front of the pack. But, at the moment, each has its strengths and weaknesses, each interests me, and I could be happy working on any (Or all. Yes, I'm just that crazy.) of them.

The first is a reworking of last year's script (Well, one of them.), Unbound. Didn't manage to finish it last June but I did polish it up - like a turd - later on. In case you don't remember, the simple synopsis is that it's about a young mage who escapes enslavement and attempts to fight her way to freedom with the help of a guard whom she's ensorcelled to aid her. Which is, you know, irony. There's a bit about a kingdom invaded by a foreign empire and the wedding of a princess to the head of the occupation but, boiled down to the basics, it's about that mage trying to escape her fate. And that's what I'd hope to do with this rewrite: boil the script down to its essential bits, toss out what wasn't working the last half dozen go arounds, and focus on its core components. Pare down the cast list, eliminate unnecessary scenes and locales. I've done a preliminary outline and it's a completely different movie from start to finish, about the only thing I'd be reusing are the characters and that basic plot.

The pluses of this script? I've worked on versions of it before, I know the characters, I know the problems, and I have reams of background material fleshing them out to fall back on. The cons? I've done it before and I might get bored with it.

The second is also an idea I've had in the past that I'd like t develop into something more. And that would be a comic book that I call (At the moment) Small Timers. My one-line pitch is that it's like Tenchi Muyo crossed with Spider-Man with more than a bit of Invincible tossed in for good measure. Basically, it's about this guy who gains super-powers, decides to become a super-hero, and is working his way toward he "Big Time", to becoming a major hero in a major city (One of the major themes would be that, initially, he's in it for the wrong reasons. That he's out for fame and fortune instead of "doing the right thing".). Along the way, he's surrounded by a supporting cast of heroes and villains, the vast majority of whom happen to be smoking hot love interests - like the superstrong mercenary he keeps crossing paths with or his old high school flame. I'd see this as an ongoing series but I think, for the Frenzy, I could get rough script done for the first trade. What I like to think of as the Revnant Cycle, the first major story arc featuring the first major villain and the birth of a new hero who'll quickly become an important ally (I'm working on the Buffy model of having one big bad per season/arc which revolves around them.) which should cover six to twelve 22 page issues (Well, 14~18 since I want to have a back-up feature about the main character when he was first starting out or showcasing interesting characters who aren't getting screentime in the current storyline.).

The pluses? I've always wanted to write a comic book. Again, I have a pretty good idea of what I want to do and sketches and outlines for it stretching back a couple years. There's a structural advantage here, too. Since comic books are episodic, I can focus on writing one twenty-odd page book at a time. Write just a few of them and I'll have hit the magic 100 page mark. The cons? Formatting for comic books isn't quite as set as that for a script. A minor complaint but it means I'll have to hunt down a template for Celtx or figure out a workaround. Also, although I have a lot of background material a lot of it is contradictory and none of it is anywhere near even a skeletal outline. It's more like a vague sense of characters and what I want to do with them (Although, since I'm not trying to overly prepare this go around, that might not actually be a bad thing.).

The third is a new movie that I'm having troubles coming up with a title for. So, in lieu of anything better, the working title is Between the Stars. It's a sci-fi story set in a world where humanity made contact with a spacefaring alien species who stopped in the solar system to refuel (At Jupiter. None of that siphoning off the oceans nonsense or anything like that.) and then left, peacefully. A short time later, they came back unexpectedly announcing that they'd found a third sentient species (Humanity being the first they'd encountered, of course), a pre-industrial race on a nearby star, and proposing that they and humanity establish an outpost for scientific observation. We agree and set up a space station in orbit - the first joint venture between us and our newfound allies. The movie would take place on that station and begin with the hiring of its newest security chief, its top cop, and his family, as part of a new wave of workers for an increasingly stable station starting to admit whole families hoping to settle instead of the young and unmarried transients. Shortly after he arrives, however, there's a murder, the station's first (Unless you count industrial accidents and the occasional bar room brawl misfortune as a premeditated killing. Which I don't.). His chief suspect? One of the aliens. There's more to the story, of course, but it's a murder mystery, a police procedural, set in outer space.

The pluses? It plays on my pet themes of communication and bridging cultural gaps. I already have some really strong - thematically, visually, if not dramatically - scenes in mind. The cons? I've never written a mystery before and I'm not really sure how it's done or if it's something that's right for me. But the biggest problem is that I don't know how I want the story to end yet. You'd think that would be a deal breaker when it comes to something like a script where you need to know A to B fairly well but it's not.

So, that's a fantasy script, a sci-fi script, and a superhero comic book. Why, yes, I am a nerd!

At the moment, I'm leaning towards the third, my sci-fi script. If only because it's novel and new and a challenge. I'm not sure how it plays out but I have a few more days to figure that out so I'm not overly worried.

I think, then, that I'll make that script my primary plan. Try to mull it over work out the kinks. While keeping the others around as back-up plans.

Hanging Up the Red Phone

Now that the MI and FL re-primaries (secondaries?) are off the table, it's increasingly clear that Hilldog has no chance to survive and is only making time. And the poll numbers of one Mr. John McCain rise, of course.

Personally, this doesn't bother me so much although I'll agree that there's becoming less and less difference between the Clinton campaign and the Huckabee one that dragged out well past any realistic chance of conceivable victory. It's still months until the general election and there's plenty of time for the eventual nominee to turn things around. Even with the complicit, fingers-stained-ith-BBQ-sauce media we're talking about John "Those jobs are not coming back, my friends" McCain. He's wrong on Iraq, he's clueless bout the economy, and whatever appeal he has is going to fade once people get a chance to actually look at him closely. And the John McCain for More of the Same message can get repeated over and over until it sticks.

And that's, admittedly, hard to do when your nominees are beating up on each other (But the nominees aren't the only forces that can act in the best interest of the party. This is why I'm disappointed that Dean and other national leaders haven't taken more of an initiative to hammer McCain every chance they get.) but, still, I'm not too worried. What we're witnessing, hanky waving and chest clutching aside, is all part of a healthy election process. And one of the chief complaints about Obama is that he hasn't been through the thresher just yet. That he hasn't shown he can handle the sort of attacks and dirty tricks that are going to be arrayed against him. With the Rev. Wright flap and his impressive response, I think he is. More time battling against the Clintonistas and their Republican-lite tactics is only going to season him for the general.

But the important thing to remember is that most of the public isn't even paying attention yet. Forget all the blog posts and shouting back and forth in the comments and the talking heads on TV raising their blood pressure at each other. No one's paying attention to politics. Not outside the insular group of political junkies who think this stuff actually matters. Inside that bubble it's armageddon, it's chaos, cats and dogs are sleeping with each other and the seventh seal is unlocking, it's an unimaginable nightmare of unprecedented proportion. Outside? It's March. There's college basketball on. There's American Idol or Top Chef. And on and on, a hundred, a million other things that the general public is paying attention to. Only the barest amount of the process - the highlights on the evening news or the tidbits around the watercooller - are filtering through.

That'd be nice to control, of course, and in a perfect world Democratic leaders would be doing a better job of it. But it's not the most important thing in the world. Take a deep breath, relax, and remember that in spite it all it's still the Democrats race to lose.

Before I go, though, remember that red phone commercial? The one that supposedly won Ohio, cured cancer, or is the new starting quarterback for the Buckeyes or whatever it was? Well, the little sleeping girl in that video was from some stock footage recorded some years ago. That girl? Now all grown up and an Obama supporter who's just released the following video:

Guild Wars: Skill Update 03/20/08

I haven't really been playing or paying much attention to the game so I'm well out of it. Nonetheless, yesterday's skill update seems to be the sort where a bunch of problematic stuff is scaled back by an overgentle application of foam technology. And by overgentle I mean a full exchange of intercontinental ballistic nerfs. Rather than the kind of update that brings a revitalizing helping of the awesome sauce like the one that revamped blood costs and gave us the Whale of Doom. However, not really knowing what the game's like right now it's hard to say which abuses, exactly, they're trying to massage away. Still, it's not like that's ever stopped me before.

What jumps out at me is that Anagodron's Gaze finally took it on the chin. Considering that's been a problematic skill for months so that's good. It was a passably decent nuke (For a Necro, anyway.) that whose cost was negligible and, at the same time, sat in the inherently tricky Blood line for armor-ignoring spikes. It's now a cut-rate version of Mind Blast. Low damage you won't care about and a little bit of conditional energy management for the class with the best energy engine in the game. Yeah, it's pretty much trash now.

The new Magehunter's Smash was a bit of an adrenal bargain before (It's a guaranteed knockdown that doesn't eat up all your other adrenal pools. That's huge for knocklock chains. Not that those are really king anymore thanks to Aura of Stability but, still...). At 8, I'm not sure I want it over Dev Hammer - but, then, I'm not sure I wanted it even at 7 - but I think it's more fairly priced. Moekele Smash, however, getting its adrenaline boost toned down, though, makes Hammer Warriors and their chains much less viable. I'm guessing, on the evidence of the results, that there was a problem with those Hammer Warriors, though.

Likewise, the dramatic downturn to those Ranger bow skills makes me think somebody was getting cute with R-spike again. That or the latest variation on the old Dual Shot and Kindle high DPS template.

And the changes to Fox's Promise and Guided Hands makes me think there was some trickery involving non-primaries and unblockable hits. With Fox's Promise now affecting only dagger attacks, it's pretty much dead. While Guided Hands will take some actual attribute investment to be useful. But even after sinking a lot of points you're not going to get many free swings witha long recharge so it's likewise back in the reject pile. Must have been a lot of A/Ds running around with scythes or something.

I'm a bit less sure about the Mesmer, though. Enchanter's Conundrum looked to be a strong spike skill after its latest change. Making it conditional for both hexes and conditions makes it much harder to trigger for any clever tricks like Shatter Enchants followed up by a Conundrum or Conundrum and Shatter Delusions or whatever else people have dreamed up to instagib someone. And the increased recharge and lower duration on Mantra of Concentration makes some sense, too, as that makes it harder to prevent interrupts by just picking up a Mesmer secondary. But I can't see the point of the change to Hex Breaker. With only Dom 2 it's back up to having a duration that outlasts its recharge. So you can still keep it going with only a few points on your slash Mes, it's just going to be slightly more costly. Hex Breaker, though, is one of those safety valve skills where if everyone is running it that menas there's something wrong with hexes. By nerfing it, I don't know, are they trying to get more hexing back in the meta? That seems like a huge mistake given how problematic it was last time.

Like the rating loss for early round forfeits, though.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

NCAA Blogging: Bracket Apology

I belatedly realized I haven't posted up my own picks yet. I've filled out so many brackets at this point that my head is spinning and, combined, I'm pretty sure I've made just about every permutation of selections up to and including the surely inevitable Mississippi Valley State-Portland State Finals match-up. Which is to say, I've spent so much time looking at RPIs and point-differentials and average shoe sizes that I've lost all sense of perspective. I'm no longer sure of the outcome of any game save that one team - or the other - will win. Still, here's what I'd have picked as of yesterday, before the games started.


  • 1North Carolina over 16Mount St. Mary
  • 2Tennessee over 15American University
  • 3Louisville over 14Boise State
  • 13Winthrop over 4Washington State
  • 12George Mason over 5Notre Dame
  • 6Oklahoma over 11St. Joseph's
  • 7Butler over 10South Alabama
  • 9Arkansas over 8Indiana

Round of 32
  • 1North Carolina over 9Arkansas
  • 2Tennesse over 7Butler
  • 3Louisville over 6Oklahoma
  • 13Winthrop over 12George Mason

Sweet 16
  • 1North Carolina over 13Winthrop
  • 2Tennesse over 3Louisville

Elite 8
  • 2Tennesse over 1North Carolina

  • 1Kansas over 16Portland State
  • 2Georgetown over 15Maryland-Baltimore County
  • 3Wisconsin over 14Cal State-Fulterton
  • 4Vanderbilt over 13Siena
  • 5Clemson over 12Villanova
  • 6USC over Kansas State
  • 10Davidson over 7Gonzaga
  • 9Kent State over 8UNLV

Round of 32
  • 1Kansas over 9Kent State
  • 2Georgetown over 10Davidson
  • 6USC over 3Wisconsin
  • 5Clemson over 4Vanderbilt

Sweet 16
  • 5Clemson over 1Kansas
  • 6USC over 2Georgetown

Elite 8
  • 5Clemson over 6USC

  • 1Memphis over 16Texas-Arlington
  • 2Texas over 15Austin Peay
  • 3Stanford over 14Cornell
  • 4Pittsburg over 13Oral Roberts
  • 12Temple over 5Michigan State
  • 6Marquette over 11Kentucky
  • 10St. Mary's over 7Miami
  • 8Mississippi State over 9Oregon

Round of 32
  • 1Memphis over 8Mississippi State
  • 10St.Mary's over 2Texas
  • 6Marquette over 3Stanford
  • 4Pitt over 12Temple

Sweet 16
  • 1Memphis over 4Pitt
  • 6Marquette over 10St.Mary's

Elite 8
  • 1Memphis over 6Marquette

  • 1UCLA over 16Mississippi Valley State
  • 2Duke over 15Belmont
  • 3Xavier over 14UGA
  • 4UConn over 13San Diego
  • 5Drake over 12Western Kentucky
  • 11Baylor over 6Purdue
  • 7WVU over 10Arizona
  • 8BYU 9Texas A&M

Round of 32
  • 1UCLA over 8BYU
  • 2Duke over 7WVU
  • 3Xavier over 11Baylor
  • 5Drake over 4UConn

Sweet 16
  • 1UCLA over 5Drake
  • 3Xavier over 2Duke

Elite 8
  • 1UCLA over 3Xavier

  • Tennessee over Clemson
  • Memphis over UCLA

  • Tennesse over Memphis

As you can see, my picks are already hopeless failures. I bet heavily against the Big Ten - I mean I had to pick against MSU, no other way I could have gone (See also: Notre Dame) - and they've proved flawless so far. While a lot of my upset specials have been recalled by the manufacturer.

The Midwest was my upset bracket where the top seeds would crumble leaving the field open for my favorite underdog, Clemson, to advance. But so far, I've picked the wrong upsets - I figured USC would go deep after Mayo finished off Beasely and his inferior supporting cast. Whoops.

On the other hand, I played it conservatively in the East except in my wacky bracket. Where I had both George Mason and Winthrop advancing. An idea that has turned out to be, in fact, wacky.

Have the South right so far. I'm expecting that to be the bracket where some weaker teams get the fluke wins and advance to the sweet sixteen paving the way for a heavy favorite - Memphis in my case although I could see Texas or Pitt pulling through, too - to make it to the finals.

And I'm doing okay in the West although I had BYU breaking their streak against A&M but I still had that winner going out in the next round against Pitt (A lot of people like them, I take it. I don't see it personally.) so it should be alright. That region looks like it could be the one that get upset wacky, though, as both Georgia and Belmont gave me a scare yesterday.

Overall, although I tried to stick to the maxim that at least a few upsets would shatter some brackets, as you can see, I played it safe with two #1 seeds reaching the finals.