Archive for April, 2011

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SWTOR: Sith Have No Fear

April 29, 2011

Last month, we got to see a Jedi Knight Character Progression video from Star Wars: The Old Republic. Not to be outdone, the Empire gets a slick Friday update today, featuring a similar sort of video for the Sith Warrior. I like to think of the two classes as light side/dark side counterparts with similar play styles and abilities, but everything from the cinematography to the forboding music shows that they’re clearly different animals. For one thing, the guy in this very “scripted” video evidently does not have the same moral sensibilities.

Did the newbie Sith just run up and cut down that unsuspecting NPC from behind? Wow, that’s just…cool and sort of uncool at the same time. But hey, that Marauder “disappearing act” was impressive!

After viewing this, I can see the Darth Vader inspiration behind the heavy armor sets of the Juggernaut. The Marauder gear, however, is a little more baffling. The hoods and cryptic masks I understand and are even kinda badass, but what’s with the conspicuous shoulder spikes? Gah!

The second part of the update, the dev blog titled “Working on the User Interface” is also of interest to me. Thing is, UI is often a very sticky subject. I admire BioWare’s stance on trying to make an interface that will appeal to veteran and new MMO players alike, but the truth is no single UI is perfect for everyone right out of the box. Even an individual person can have multiple UI setup preferences depending on what it is they’re doing, what role they’re playing, etc.

I like how SWTOR’s interface is sleek, clean, open and discreet yet thorough enough in terms of displaying information players need to know, and I said as much when I had my hands-on experience with the demo. Still, what’s most important to me is modularity, flexibility, and customization. I would trade all the pretty bells and whistles for some adaptability. Simply give me the options, BioWare, and I’ll be okay with pretty much any UI you guys come up with.

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Stunning

April 28, 2011

I’ve been taking in all of today’s news coming out of #SWTOUR (the Star Wars: The Old Republic’s Fan Site Summit) with casual aplomb, until I saw this exclusive screenshot of Nar Shaddaa from Oldrep.de that almost made me wet myself.

Wow. I mean, futuristic sci-fi cities aren’t exactly the easiest game environments to pull off, so shots like these tend to catch my eye. For this reason, for all the scenic beauty of Alderaan or nostalgic charms of Taris, my favorite planet will probably end up being Coruscant or something. I’ve always felt more at home in big cities anyway.

For more general information out of the Fan Site Summit, I’ve been following Darth Hater; nothing too earth shattering thus far, but interesting nonetheless.

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Read Lately…In Fantasy

April 27, 2011

Ever since 2011 rolled about, I’ve been devouring books like a beast. Reading has always been one of my favorite pastimes apart from gaming and art, but in the recent months I’ve been going through books more ardently than usual because I’ve set a challenge for myself — to read 100 novels this year. Yeah, good luck to me!

Anyway, I’ve always admired other bloggers like Syp or Anjin for writing about the books they’ve read lately, and I realized it has been quite a while since I myself wrote a book post on this blog. The last time I considered writing one was late last year, for lack of a better explanation I changed my mind because I didn’t feel like I had enough good books to talk about. Ever since I set my reading challenge, however, there has been an abundance! I’ve been dying to talk about good books lately, and my favorite genre is fantasy, so I hope you won’t mind my sharing some of the better reads I’ve had so far this year:

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Second book in the Kingkiller Chronicle series and follow up to 1997′s The Name of the Wind. Admittedly, I didn’t get what all the fuss was about with these books until about a third of the way through WMF when I changed my attitude and finally stopped trying to make the book conform to my expectations of what should happen in a fantasy novel.

After that, following Kvothe around on his adventures became so much more enjoyable. We’ve all heard how he’s supposedly this badass hero who has done all these amazing things, but now he tells us the true story in his own words. Hopefully at some point, we’ll also get to find out how he came to wind up behind a bar as a simple innkeeper.

The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett

A really cool book about a world where demons rise at sundown from the Core and terrorize the nights. Humanity hides in the shadows, and their only means of protection are their wards that shield their homes and make them impenetrable to the Corelings — but only if their ward symbols hold. As a fan of modern fantasy, I enjoyed this one a lot. It had a character-driven story and just the right amount of action to keep the momentum going. However, I did feel that the second book of this series The Desert Spear was a little weaker, but regardless The Warded Man was still well worth the read.

The Black Prism by Brent Weeks

Weeks is probably better known for his Night Angel trilogy, but when I became curious about his work I decided to pick this one up instead. The book is about Gavin Guile, a powerful man attempting to complete five great purposes before his death in five years, meanwhile guarding a terrible secret that could unravel everything he has accomplished. Then there is Kyp, an orphan boy who suddenly finds himself a father figure in Gavin, and together they are drawn into a war that threatens to shatter their world.

Yeah, the story is kinda hard to explain. It was all right, but in the end it was the unique magic system that really made it memorable. Based on chromaturgy, some people in this world called “drafters” can harness light to create a substance called luxin which can take on different colors of their spectrum. Each color has unique properties, so drafters can construct many different things out of this substance. Interesting magic systems always stand out for me.

The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie

Very rarely do I find a series, especially in a trilogy, where the later books actually outshine the first. I wasn’t sure I was going to like The First Law when I picked up the first installment The Blade Itself, but now I’m really glad I stuck with the series, reading Before They Are Hanged and finally Last Argument of Kings. I love being able to read an epic tale of war and magic, and yet still feel connected to amazingly well-developed characters that breathe and bleed.

And ugh, do they bleed. Joe A’s books are definitely not for the faint-hearted. I have a pretty strong stomach for violence and I don’t really consider myself squeamish, but even I cringed at some of the scenes of torture and bloody battle. The dark grittiness and cynicism in his books can sometimes be a little too much to take, and I had to give myself long breaks between the books instead of reading them back-to-back. I recently realized how tired I was of the dreariness after reading Best Served Cold, a sort of “spin-off” which takes place in the same world as The First Law books but stars a completely new character. Makes me think it will be a while before I’m ready to take on Abercrombie’s latest novel The Heroes.

Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick

I gave this new author and his debut novel a try, and I don’t regret it one bit. His style may still lack a bit of polish, but in the end this book delivered a great story that was full of action and interesting twists and turns. Drothe is a “Nose”, which is like an informer for the underworld. I was immediately thrust into his world of intrigue and betrayal, and the action seriously doesn’t let up. Even though the beginning was a bit confusing, the end managed to come together and all the subplots tied up nicely.

I can see myself reading something by Douglas Hulick again. With more time and experience, I think he can deliver some amazing stories

The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

I confess, I was never big on urban fantasy. To put it mildly, so much of it out there is just utter crap. But I’d heard so many good things about The Dresden Files from so many people, I felt like I was the last person on earth to read this series. I finally took the plunge and picked up the first book Storm Front earlier this year, and was pleasantly surprised with what I read. These books center around the life of Harry Dresden, a wizard who is also a private investigator looking into paranormal disturbances in modern-day Chicago, striking a fine balance between fantasy and hard-boiled detective fiction.

I’m currently on book 5, and am looking forward to reading the rest of the series because apparently these books just get better and better.

And speaking of Jim Butcher, I gave his Codex Alera series a try as well, but after reading Furies of Calderon, I think his Dresden stuff is clearly where his forte is.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

I loved this book. When asked to describe LoLL, I always say it’s like Oliver Twist meets Ocean’s 11 meets The Godfather. It’s fantasy, but also reads like a dark action-adventure thriller, with its tales of thievery, gang wars, subterfuge, and themes of vengeance. I fell in love with the Gentleman Bastards right from the start, which made some parts of the novel hard to take whenever unfortunate events befell them.

Anyway, a great start to what looks to be a very fun series. I currently have the second book, Red Seas Under Red Skies already on my to-read list.

Wolfsangel by M.D. Lachlan

Yeah, this is not your typical werewolf story. If you’re into Vikings and Norse mythology, and are sick of the usual paranormal romance stuff that passes for werewolf fiction these days, then this book is for you. Wolfsangel begins with a Viking raid on a small village, the leader a king who has seen in a prophecy that he was to kidnap a child to be his heir. But what he finds is not one but two infants — twin boys whose origins and fates are entwined with the gods. Vali grows up as a Viking prince, while his twin Feileg is raised in the wilds with wolves to be the protector of a witch.

At times, this book was difficult to follow, but all in all I was impressed by the story and the writing, which invoked some very powerful imagery. A hauntingly decent read, some parts being downright bone-chilling.

Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

Just finished this book earlier this week, actually. A friend of mine who was not a fan of fantasy read it and ended up loving it, which made me curious to take a look.

It started off typically enough, a bastard son (my friend asked me why fantasy novels are always full of bastards…I honestly didn’t know what to say to that) of a prince is raised in the shadow of the royal court, secretly trained to be an assassin by the king. I found most of the novel rather average and predictable, until the end where the many plot twists and turns finally got me hooked. I was a little disappointed that the last chapters wrapped up so quickly, but luckily there is more to this trilogy so I can still follow more of Fitz’s adventures.

I am always on the look out for great books. Much of my to-read list is populated by fantasy, but I am open to all sorts of genres in fiction. So if you look at this list and can think of something you think I might enjoy, feel free to throw some recommendations my way!

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Let’s Go Alt

April 25, 2011

I think I used to consider myself an altoholic…that is, until I realized just how bad I was at being an altoholic.

I create alts, sometimes. But ultimately I always fail at maintaining more than one character at the same time. I’ve always prided myself on being a multi-tasker, but in this regard, I am determinedly single-minded. The only way I seem to be able to stay interested in a game is to concentrate on one character; the emotional investment that comes with it helps me get into the lore and gameplay.

Also, a completionist at heart, being able to do all the “important” stuff with my main, like special events and earn her all the achievements, loot, etc. gives my goal-oriented self something to focus on. I try to make an effort to play my alts, but gaming time is limited; if I have a choice, my preference is often given to improving my main. My alts inevitably fall by the wayside and very rarely make it to levelcap, and even if they do, they still eventually get busted down to either farmers or auction house mules.

I have a few questions to any card-carrying altoholic readers of mine, especially those who level multiple characters in tandem. First of all, kudos! I would have some sort of breakdown if I ever attempted that. Do you find yourself comfortable with switching and playing between your characters? What are your motivations for leveling more than one character at the same time? Is it to try out other classes, crafting, or something else? Do you often find yourself getting any or all your characters to end game?  Or do some get abandoned along the way?

I started thinking about all this when I created my first Defiant alt in Rift last week. A Rogue, by the way. To see what the fuss is all about. I also skipped Moonshade Highlands and Iron Pine Peaks completely on my first time through with my Cleric, and I thought what a shame it would be not to experience those zones properly.

Here’s hoping I even stick with my alt long enough to make it there. Not sure how well this is going to go given my bad track record with alts, but I only did it because my main has reached 50, and I figure now I actually have a realistic chance in hell at leveling a second character.

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SWTOR: OMG I Love Drew Karpyshyn!

April 22, 2011

Why think of a proper title for this post when I can just go with my first reaction at seeing today’s Star Wars: The Old Republic Friday update? I’m a huge fan of Drew Karpyshyn’s work.

Last month Darth Hater posted an article about the possibility of a third SWTOR tie-in novel coming to us later this year, penned by none other than Drew himself. I’m so glad that this has been confirmed today by BioWare — along with a title reveal: Revan.

A whiny and obnoxious hockey-haired pansy!

Yes, that Revan. You can’t imagine how full of squee I am right now.

I think some stories benefit from an open ending, while others suffer from a conspicuous lack of closure. Personally, I’ve always felt Revan’s story falls in the latter category. Whether you agree with me or not, it’s still sort of a moot point –  because I can’t imagine that even the most casual fans of BioWare and their games really didn’t see this one coming. Nothing screamed “To be continued!” louder to me than the ending of Knights of the Old Republic, and I never believed for a second they were going to leave this doozy alone. BioWare’s simply been biding their sweet time and waiting…waiting for something like SWTOR for the perfect chance to finally explore the mystery of Revan.

Drew Karpyshyn says in the Q&A that fans want to know what happened to Revan after KOTOR, and that he’s “ecstatic” that he’s the one who gets to tell the story. You’re not the only one, Mr. Karpyshyn. If anyone is going to continue the story of Revan, I’m so glad it’s you.

Like, sure, I want to find out what happens, but then I don’t want to know just for the sake of knowing, if you know what I mean? For example, I think so many movie sequels these days suck so hard because their creators simply string any old plotline together and rush it out the door so it could coat-tail ride on the success of the original. I really didn’t want to see the same sort of thing happen to Revan’s story.

Knowing that it’s in Karpyshyn’s very capable hands helps a lot, even if Revan’s story has become a canonical quagmire where geeks fear to tread.

For one thing, the man knows his stuff — both the character and the Old Republic era. In his words, “KOTOR was my first creative foray into the Star Wars universe, so writing Revan felt a little bit like I was returning to my roots.” Come to think of it, the subject of the novel should have occurred to me the moment I saw Drew Karpyshyn’s name attached to a new SWTOR book project. He’s probably the best choice (if not the only right choice) of author for a book about Revan, being the one who wrote much of the scenario and dialogue for KOTOR in the first place.

In any case, I’ve been a fan of not only his writing in games like KOTOR and Mass Effect, but I’ve also come to really enjoy his novels as well. His Darth Bane books rank among some of the better Star Wars books I’ve ever read. And in fact, earlier this year, it was reading Mass Effect: Revelation that made me wonder if there’s hope for the video game tie-in genre yet.

Revan will take place about 300 years earlier than the other SWTOR novels, but we are told the events of this book will have a major impact on shaping the game’s universe. However, there is nothing to indicate whether or not Revan will actually make an appearance in the game (personally, I hope not…it’s one thing to provide closure, it’s another to needlessly resurrect a character). But we do know from the Q&A that along with Revan, several of his companions including Canderous, T3-M4, Bastila Shan (yes, might we please put the matter of whether or not they have children to rest once and for all?) and even the Jedi Exile will have major roles to play in the novel.

I can understand how for some a SWTOR Friday update about an upcoming novel can be a disappointment when information about the actual game would be more exciting (actually, “disappointment” is an understatement judging from some of the rage-filled and betimes puerile commentary in the forum thread in which 20 pages had to be unceremoniously deleted). But those who know me know that I love reading, and that I enjoy sitting back with a video game tie-in novel every once in a while. Personally, I’m really looking forward to reading Revan “later this year”.

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STO: There Are Always…Possibilities

April 20, 2011

I think it’s high time for a Star Trek Online post, because yes, I’m still playing. Although, I was THIS close to hitting the cancel sub button when their latest feature episode arc ended last month, but the news of the Foundry going live changed my mind. I figure if I can’t get my hands on a new FE each week, being able to play new user-created content is the next best thing.

I’ve found time to do this recently, now that I’ve reached level 50 in Rift and all the event shenanigans in that game are over. I’ve always touted STO as the best game to have around when you’re in the mood to jump-in-jump-out for some casual online play; when I get the hankering for some action and a quick space battle, the game scratches that itch perfectly. This makes the Foundry almost perfect for my playstyle, serving up what is essentially fresh content in manageable-sized morsels I can enjoy whenever STO calls to me.

What I can’t believe is how amazing some of these missions are. Some of them are just downright impressive.

I noticed a pattern after playing a handful — a lot of my favorites and many of the highest rated missions are those that appear most deeply infused with Star Trek lore and references. It makes me wonder if the Foundry is one of the best things to happen to STO, because it allows fans of a greatly beloved IP to stretch their create muscles and bring to life their own ideas.

A shot from the user-created mission "Conjoined" by Denizen06

In other words — it’s one thing to give a player the ability to make their own content…but it’s quite another to give a Trekker the Foundry. In the past week, I’ve gone back in time to ally with the Klingons in an alternate reality, I’ve gotten the chance to rescue  a planet from a legion of Borg, and I’ve made first contact with an unknown race that’s not even technically in my own universe. These could have been the missions their creators wanted to see from STO.  Heck, these could have been episodes they’d wanted to see on TV! It makes me wish I knew the Star Trek universe a little more intimately. I’d love to take a crack at creating my own mission, but my mind is drawing a blank when it comes to ideas.

And seriously, some of these missions are just soooo good. Should Cryptic be nervous? Because I thought a couple of the ones I did rivaled some of the best developer-created content!

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Rift: So That Was It For River Of Souls

April 18, 2011

River of Souls ended with a fizzle...but at least I got a ghost horsie out of it.

Ah, Rift. I’ve been having a lot of fun with the game, and up until now I think everything has been running rather swimmingly. But as much as I love to stay optimistic, I also gotta call it as I see it. Trion, while the final two phases of the River of Souls were a great idea, looked like a fun time on paper, the execution left a lot to be desired.

Granted, my experience was on Faeblight, one of the most heavily populated US shards; your experience may have differed. If everything went smoothly for you and the worst thing that happened was a bit of bad lag, I am happy for you and I’m glad you had a great time. But I  have to look at the overall quality when I comment on how the entire thing was handled, and one of the major factors that separates a fiasco from a success when you try and launch a world event more or less simultaneously across your entire game is ensuring that all your customers get a relatively uniform experience across the board — especially when one of the major draws of your event is that everyone can participate.

Faeblight, heh, saw a server queue with wait times that were 8 hours or more during this event. At one point, I looked at at the server list and saw that at least 20 other servers had queues too; poor Wolfsbane for example was up close to 700 and counting. Not all of them were so bad, but adding it all up, that’s still hundreds if not a few thousand people who were left out in the cold, helpless to do anything but watch as the wait times to get in only increased.

I say all this as someone who was actually lucky enough to have been online through the whole thing, gotten to participate in killing the bosses and witness the opening of the River of Souls raid instance and the whole shebang. Hey, I even got all the event achievements and was fortunate to loot a Spectral Horse earlier last week — but I still can’t pretend I didn’t see the hiccups. At the same time, I can’t bring myself to be that hard on Trion. They’ve no doubt done their hours and days of testing…but who could have predicted the sheer number of players that showed up for this event?

You might say, “Oh, that’s no excuse, they should have seen it coming.” Perhaps. But even I couldn’t accurately tell how many people were present at some points of the event, the hordes all packed tight in one place at the same time. It was bad, crazy bad. As you can see from the video I took below, it was literally impossible for me to say how many were there, seeing as the game could only handle showing me those who were standing in my proximity.

I’m sorry the video was so long and that nothing really happened in it, but I was hoping I was going to catch the beginning of Phase 3, and the wait was longer than I thought. But it’s a good illustration of what I described above — you can see as I ran around, players who came in and out of my little “island” phased in and out; in a way it’s almost comical. Caer Mathos might have looked empty on my screen, but no doubt every single inch of it was occupied.

The masses were a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you got to experience the full effect of the event, and think “Wow, this is truly epic.” This part they did right. On the other hand, this made the lag intolerable. For my husband who was running Rift on his gaming laptop, it got so bad that his casting bars weren’t coming up and even if they were, the world bosses were appearing unattackable. I’m running Rift on a pretty powerful machine and had it a little better, but even then it could barely handle the event.

I noticed other problems, like area NPCs taking a long time to show up on the screen. This made trying to travel from zone to zone an exercise in hilarity. As players showed up to a hub in droves, the Porticulum Masters took their time to appear, and when they did, dozens found themselves standing on top of the NPC — and given the lag they probably didn’t know it! To their credit, most people moved off when they realized what happened…but of course by then others had arrived, and the cycle started all over again. Getting anywhere was nigh impossible. Doubtful that these little things made themselves apparent as MAJOR problems during testing.

While I admit I may have been more amused than frustrated watching the confusion play out before my eyes, these little hiccups, when compounded, resulted in taking away from the overall experience. And from start of Phase 2 to the end of Phase 3, it all lasted only about 30 minutes. Considering how long Phase 1 ran and how it was all supposedly ramping up to this moment…I hate to say it, but it was kind of anti-climatic. And because it was so short, a lot of people I know who were stuck waiting in queues missed it completely.

I was a little disappointed, but please don’t think I’m holding one botched event against the game and ignoring everything else that Trion has accomplished. Parts of it was poorly planned, especially the decision to make a free weekend coincide with the event, but I’m certainly not going to cancel my sub in a fit of rage or any such nonsense. Despite the complications, let me congratulate Trion for surviving their FIRST major event. It was a learning experience, no doubt. If nothing else, I’ll look to see how they will improve their events in the future.

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