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Feb. 19th, 2008

Frostshocked

Well, I finally did it. After three years of active play, I have canceled my World of Warcraft account, and I'm still feeling a little numb. Frostshocked, as it were.

I had considered doing so previously on quite a number of occasions. Though my interest in the game has waxed and waned many times, I never had the conviction to bother with actually canceling my account, until today.

Why now? A lot of it has to do with the new computer and my Nintendo DS, I suspect. I've been playing World of Warcraft so little as of late, that I finally decided it wasn't worth keeping the account active. Better to spend the money elsewhere. I just have so many other great games to play at the moment that I'm not at all interested in World of Warcraft.

I'll be back, I'm sure. Probably not until the next expansion, however.

Currently Playing: Mask of the Betrayer, Bioshock, Black and White 2, Advance Wars: Days of Ruin



Jan. 28th, 2008

It's Alive!

My new PC has been up and running for a little over a week now after receiving the replacement PSU, and it seems pretty stable so far. Occasionally (about once every 3 hours or so) it's been freezing while playing intensive 3D graphics (I suspect this is a driver issue, though it could be heat related), and it's having a few annoying issues identifying the internet connection on startup (easily remedied when it happens but still irritating), but otherwise it's running fine.

With regard to games I've thus far only installed World of Warcraft, F.E.A.R, and Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer, all of which it's running like a ball fire, unsurprisingly. The real test will come with games like Bioshock, World in Conflict, Call of Duty 4, and Crysis. Crysis in particular is a notorious computer killer:
 
http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/editorials/zeropunctuation/2808-Zero-Punctuation-Crysis

Jan. 4th, 2008

RMA Redux

So, I managed to pick up a nice, new, shiny video card last weekend. I'm happy to report that the card appears to be fine.

Unfortunately, there is some sort of weird compatibility issue between my power supply and the card, and so the card is unable to draw sufficient power in order to operate properly.

So, it seems I'll have to send my power supply back to Antec so they can replace it with an updated version that will hopefully communicate with the card correctly so it will run games at more than single digit frames per second frame rates.

Fortunately, my  wonderful mother bought me a Nintendo DS for Christmas, which I adore.

 Thanks mom, you're the best.

Currently Playing: Front Mission, Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass, & Puzzle Quest

Dec. 7th, 2007

Adventures in RMA

Hmm, looks like my eVGA 8800GT may be pretty much DOA.  It looks like it's video memory is bricked.

OS starts up ok, but when I try to run a program that uses 3D (a game, or a graphics testing program), once the program loads or the test starts the textures immediately get smeared and the system seizes up.

I suppose it could be the drivers, but no one else seems to be having these particular problems with the drivers I'm using. I'll do a reinstall of Vista tonight just to make sure it's not a driver issue, but past experience suggests a hardware problem, probably one of the video card's ram chips. So I'll probably game get an RMA for it and ship it back to the reseller on Monday.

Too bad. I was hoping to play some new games on it over the holidays, but I doubt I'll get a replacement by then.

Dec. 6th, 2007

Boys and their Toys

Finally finished stage one of an ongoing project, my new computer gaming rig. I'm been gathering up and assembling it since July:

CM Stacker 832 Case
Antec TruePower Quattro 850W Power Supply
eVGA 8800GT SSC nVidia video card
ASUS P5N32-E SLI Motherboard
500 GB SATA3 WD hard drive
2GB OCZ SLI PC-6400 800MHZ DD2 RAM
Pentium Dual Core E6850 @3.0 GHZ
Vista Home Premium 64-bit

Installed Vista on Wednesday evening, took less than half an hour. Last night I did the Windows Updates, tweaked Vista settings, and installed, Firefox, Thunderbird, Comodo firewall and Avast  anti-virus.

Having fun thus far. Next come the games. Oddly enough, looking forward to installing the games seems almost bittersweet in a way. I've enjoyed putting it together quite a bit, actually. Much more than I expected. I guess I'm just a Regular Guy at heart, after all.

Although since I still have the old computer, I can still look forward putting in additional time on it without worrying about not having a computer up and running.

Over the next year I'm hoping to pick up some more hardware: a second 8800 GT, a second hard drive, another 2 GB ram, a Zalman CNPS9500 AM2 CPU Cooler Fan and Thermaltake CL-C0034 Extreme Spirit II so I can over clock my CPU to about ~3.7 GHZ, a UPS, and the new Nostromo n52te.

I have the earlier Nostromo n52e, and I can't imagine playing World of Warcraft without it. The new one apparently has better Vista support, and glows blue too!

Oct. 31st, 2007

Fin (The End)


Though I finished Neverwinter Nights 2 several weeks ago, I've been having a bit of difficulty herding all my thoughts and finishing up something suitable about endings in RPGs. I suppose this is suitably ironic, given how hard it is come up with good endings, but it's a right pain in the ass, to be sure.  Part of the difficulty is I don't really want to spoil the plot, and so I am forced to resort to speaking in generalities. On the other hand, there really isn't that much of significance to spoil, sadly. Certainly, the interaction of the main character with his companions before the final climax is sort of novel, but ultimately The End was fairly generic and dull, with the added insult that the voice acting and stills of the final monologue were of quite low technical quality. The denouement would have been utterly infuriating if I hadn't know it was really just setting up for the expansion pack sequel, Mask of the Betrayer. Oh the irony.

I wasn't really all that surprised. Obsidian's first offering, Knights of the Old Republic II, suffered from similar problems. It's ending also seemed like a rushed and incomplete setup for another sequel, though in the case of KOTR II that sequel never surfaced. It's a trend I'm noticing more and more in mass media storytelling. Once upon a time, long long ago, I could find a story with a strong beginning, middle and ending, and live happily ever after. Of course, there is a certain bittersweetness to finishing such a tale, because I know that I may never see it's like again, but for me this is part of the appeal. I prefer this bittersweet heartbreak to the sickly saccahrine aftertaste most modern stories have left me with of late.

This isn't a new phenonmenon. It's been festering for a while I suspect. I'm simply more attuned to flim flam as I get old and crotchety, and I no longer have much patience for this obligatory wink wink, nudge nudge, guess what crap is coming next garbage that seems to show up at end of most movies, novels and computer games. I have nothing against episodic content with overarching plot, when it's done right. In fact I enjoy it quite a lot. It just seems really, really hard to do well, particularly with the complex interwoven plots that seem all the rage these days.

A marketing tie in for an ultimately disappointing sequel should not substitute for a real ending. Each episode should to have its own story to tell. Some types of media do not lend themselves to this type of storytelling. CRPGs that can take forty plus hours to play should stand on their own, especially when the sequel is expected to take many years to complete, if it even sees the light. Give me a story with an ending I can enjoy now, darn sarnit! I'm not getting any younger!

Maybe I should be more forgiving. I was willing to overlook a weak beginning to a certain extent, why not an ending? Well, with any begining there is the allure of hidden promise to grab hold of. With an ending, everything is laid bare. It's much easier, and more profitable, to pander to your audience and string them along than to actually give them an ending that they won't appreciate anyway, after all. Truthfully, I think I'm probably about as forgiving with endings as I am with beginnings, as long as there is actually an ending to the story. I'm just tired of being strung along.

I had originally hoped to write more about how to write good endings, but let's be honest, I'm not really all that qualified to comment on this. No one needs me to recite fortune cookie advice about revolvers in the first act being fired by the third. It's much more enjoyable to rant about something I have no real power to change, am I right?

Insert obligatory sneak peak of upcoming features here, e.g. "Maybe I'll try and write about what I think makes a good ending some other time, but right now I'm far too irritable and lazy.".

Roll credits along with final musical montage (heavy metal preferred), including a signature consisting of one or more philosophical quotations taken out context. I'm partial to Nietzsche. For example:

"A good writer possesses not only his own spirit but also the spirit of his friends."

"And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."

"To the United Steel Workers of America, keep reaching for that rainbow!"

(Ominous sound of maniacal laughter)

Fin  (The End?)

Oct. 11th, 2007

Some call him Tim

Found some interesting news over at Gamespot regarding NCSoft and their new development house, Carbine Studios.

NCSoft Loads Carbine

Looks like Tim Cain, co-founder of the now defunct Troika, has landed on his feet running.

Which is funny, because I've been playing Temple of Elemental Evil over the past month or so, and just started up Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines the other day, and was wondering idly last night where he ended up.

Though I'm glad to hear he's still in the industry, I'm somewhat saddened to hear he's at a studio working on an MMO game rather than a traditional CRPG.

One day I'll have to sit down and compose my thoughts a bit more eloquently, but  current MMORPG story and interaction is for the most part still rather nascent and unsophisticated. On the other hand, maybe it's time for a revolution in this area, and maybe Tim will be an important part of it. 

Anyway, I'll finish off with a couple more related links.

Q&A with Carbine which paints Tim as an uber game developer. 

Tim Cain is a pretty good pulp action hero name,actually.

Carbine Studios webpage


Including this nifty looking concept piece

Oct. 5th, 2007

In the Beginning

I've been thinking of the beginnings of role-playing games lately, both traditional table top campaigns as well as the computer game variety. This is probably due to the recent kick off of the Expedition to the Ruins of Castle Greyhawk game I'm playing in, as well my approaching completion of Neverwinter Nights 2, for which I'll probably pick up the upcoming expansion, Mask of the Betrayer.

The beginning of any role-playing game is a tough nut. Not only does the storyteller have the usual concerns when spinning the beginning of any good tale, but somehow it has to make sense given that the primary characters are being played by his audience, and he has somewhat limited control over the creation of these characters. Player's want to play characters they find interesting. Hopefully they'll fit in with the chosen setting and evolving story.

This difficulty applies to both traditional table top RPGs and well as modern CRPGs to varying degrees, and depends heavily on how much the storyteller straight-jackets his players. At the one extreme, a player is given no choice in the character he plays, such as in the upcoming CRPG The Witcher, based on the stories of Andrej Sapkowski. Everyone who plays the game will play the protagonist Geralt, a sort of witch-bred monster hunter for hire. The individual experiences of the player's will vary based upon how they customize the character's abilities, and the choices made that take the story in different directions, but a player will have no input upon the creation of the well established character he plays.

At the other end of the spectrum we have games where you plunk the players down in a detailed fantasy world with a long standing history, such as the Forgotten Realms, and let them go to town. A player is presented with a huge number of options with regard to how they customize their character during it's creation. Without some constraints you could end up with some really wacky characters. I certainly understand the temptation such choices present to a player. I have to admit I'm rather guilty of creating quite a number of weird and wacky characters for RPGs. I'd like to think most of them turned out alright, but I can only imagine what the game master was thinking at the time of their conception, and I was only one player of many.

With multiple player's around the tabletop, you then have to somehow plausibly get their characters together and interested in what is going on around them. Is it any wonder that many a campaign has started with some old guy in tavern handing out a quest to a motley crew adventurers who are suspicious of each others motivations? Quickly transmogrify that picture into it's real life counterpart, with some old guy in his basement laying down back story to a motley crew of gamers who are suspicious of each others motivations. It's hard enough getting real normal people (well relatively speaking) with something in common together and focused on the task at hand. Try doing it with a Fafhrd inspired neutral good Wolf Nomad ranger/druid, a chaotic neutral Grey Mouser-esque rogue/sorcerer expatriate of Greyhawk, and a lawful evil pure blood Suel warlock from whom Elric could learn a thing or two from, all of which popped into existence inside their creator's heads but a short time ago. Ill met indeed!

In a single player computer role-playing game, the players and storytellers don't even get to talk to one another. The interaction is done completely through the hard coded game. Typically all the players play through the same overarching story line, with varying degrees of freedom as to how the final ending is reached, which itself may vary to some small degree based on branching plot and dialog.  With most games set in grand fantasy settings, permitting a players to create characters from a cornucopia overflowing with choices, is it any wonder that many an CRPG story has started off with a protagonist who was orphaned at a young age, raised by a foster parent in somewhat remote location that is somehow ripe with possibility?

To be fair, from my own experiences many an exceptional story has started from such humble beginnings. The Hobbit, a very fine story indeed I would say, began with some old guy pushing a reluctant little fellow out his front door and onto a Road that goes ever on. As much as my niggling inner critic would like the beginnings of these stories to be somehow deeply personal and immediately engrossing, it's oft best to take what is given and run like the wind quickly into the depths unknown. Hopefully those devilish little details will all sort out in the end.

Sep. 13th, 2007

Unlimited Power!

I wish whatever weird energy that possessed me a couple of months ago would make a come back.

Though a little distracting it was quite entertaining.

Oh well.

It's probably for the best. I doubt the universe could handle the insane tempest that is Darth Furious.

Playing:  Lego Star Wars
Reading:  Living Greyhawk Gazetteer
Watching:  Doctor Who Season 3

Jul. 31st, 2007

Shaman Interface Device Part II


I've been lazy of late, and it took me a while to finish composing this.

With all the hardware in place, I have to decide which spells I'm going to bind to the various buttons.

In the game itself I'm going to be using the Bongos2 bar mod. Bongos2 is a very simple low frills bar replacement mod with easy to use GUI. It allows me to create any number of bars of varying dimensions, up to a maximum of a 120 buttons in total. To begin with I'm going to have all the active buttons visible on the screen, in order to help me re-learn how to play after I've finished configuring. Eventually I'm going to modify the bars so that only those that are active based on a shift state are visible. I'm not entirely certain at this point how this is done, but it appears to be fully supported by the current version of Bongos2.

First I need to list which spells I need, organizing this with regard to both how often they are used and how quickly they need to be accessed. I won't bother reproducing the entire list here, as I will be displaying the final results of this organization eventually anyway. Once this list is finished, I can start organizing and binding the spells.

Before I setup the spells, though, I really should make sure that I can move around without any trouble. To do this, I bind the n52 direction thumb pad to the appropriate default movement keys (QWES), allowing me to easily move forward or backward, and strafe left or right, using only my thumb. For turning I use the mouse in conjunction with the right Mouse 2 button. I can also drive and steer with the mouse by pressing and holding both the Mouse 1 and Mouse 2 buttons simultaneously if I wish. 

Unfortunately with this setup I don't have anyway to easily jump while moving. To solve this I bind the n52  space bar below the thumb pad to the keyboard space bar, which is the default jump in the game. I also bind the Mouse Page button, which sits on the top of the mouse, to the space bar jump action. This way, whether I'm using the mouse or n52 thumb pad to move, I'll be able to jump when I need to without requiring any digital gymnastics. This setup should also permit me to easily perform jump and spin frost shocks while on the move for effective kiting. I also decided to bind autorun to the CTRL+space bar, since I use auto run quite a bit and it's nice to have this in a handy spot.

Now I can start binding specific spells. To begin, I'll finish off binding the remaining buttons on the mouse. I leave the Mouse 1, Mouse 2 and Scroll Wheel to their game default settings, which leaves the Mouse 4 and Mouse 5, and the Cruise Up and Cruise Down (above and below the Scroll Wheel) . I've decided to bind to my most used defensive totems to these mouse buttons: Grounding Totem, Tremor Totem, Earthbind Totem, and Poison Cleansing Totem. To do this I simply create a 4 x 1 bar in Bongos, and bind the appropriate mouse button presses. For now I leave it visible on the screen, but will eventually set it to invisible after I get used to using the mouse buttons for these spells.

With the mouse bindings complete, I can move onto the n52 pad. First I map the keys on the n52 to actual keyboard button presses using the n52 profile software. The two right most buttons on the keypad I set to the Left ALT and Left CTRL keys. These two buttons will be used to set the shift state between multiple bar pages. The remaining twelve n52 keypad buttons I map to the keyboard 1 through =. These are the standard action buttons for the game. I then create three 4 x 3 bars in the game using Bongos, and map them to the 1 through = buttons with an appropriate shift state. The big orange button on the n52 I map to the grave button `, beside the number 1 key, and create a 1 x 3 bar for it's bindings through Bongos. The n52 scroll wheel up and down I set to the Tab and Alt+Tab keyboard presses, which corresponds to the enemy targeting buttons in the game. Using the CTRL bound n52 key in conjunction with this permits ally targeting as well. The scroll wheel is itself a button as well, so I bind it to the G key to allow me to quickly target the last enemy. I also add additional game key bindings to permit me to use CTRL and ALT with this in order to quickly target myself and assist my current target .

Finally, since I'm thinking of using my keyboard game pad as a tertiary device, I bind it's buttons to the number pad keys, and create three 3x3 bars in bongos that map to this, each with a different shift state.

With all the key bindings setup, all that's left is to drag the appropriate spells on the appropriate Bongos bars. Basically, I want to bind those spells that are most used and/or important to have quickly accessible onto easy to reach and remember keys. This is the current setup I've come up with.

The Extra Four Mouse Button Bindings



Macros Bound to the Grave / Orange Button



The Primary n52 Key Pad Bindings



The Secondary Keyboard Key Pad Bindings




I was going to list out all the spells, but it's a bit tedious. If you play a shaman in World of Warcraft, you'll know what most of these are. The basic idea is to organize the spells so that the most used spells and/or spells that must be quickly accessed are easy to find and use.

I've been using the above setup for a little over a week, and though it's been tough to relearn it's turning out fairly well. I may have to tweak a few around, as some of the spells with long cool downs are a bit too easy to activate accidentally, but other than that it's good.

The next step is to rake a look at improving my versatility through the use of macros. Currently I only really use one macro of note, my Nature's Swiftness + Healing macro. There's still some improvements to be made with the right macros, I think. I'll post this in Part III.

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