Archive for November, 2010

h1

Read Lately: World Of Warcraft – The Shattering: Prelude To Cataclysm

November 17, 2010

With the World of Warcraft expansion looming on the horizon, I thought it prudent to give this one a read before the cataclysm descends upon us all. As it turns out, my timing couldn’t have been better. Elemental invasions and other pre-Cataclysm events are unfolding on the live servers even as we speak. Since the novel deals with important WoW characters and their struggle to understand the increasingly unruly behavior of Azeroth’s elements, I felt it complemented my in-game experience nicely.

That said, if you’ve been following the pre-expansion coverage closely, nothing in this book should surprise you. Still, it’s worth the read especially if you’re a lore buff and wouldn’t mind further insight into the events of the game. For instance — Thrall in Nagrand. The quest line that went active recently will send you to see him and give you a general idea of what’s going on, but for more details and a deeper understanding of his role in Cataclysm, you absolutely have to read The Shattering. As for me, I don’t follow WoW news or play the game as much as I used to, so I only have a vague sense of why things are happening the way they are. Well, this novel was able to answer a lot of my questions.

The writing isn’t bad either…surprisingly. I say this because when it comes video game tie-ins, 4 out of 5 books are likely to give me a headache. These kinds of novels are often written for a wide age range, and are meant to be quick and easy reads — and I accept that. Still, generally when I pick up any gaming franchise novel, it’s for the story and not much else. I was also a little wary of Christie Golden’s writing after reading her last WoW book Arthas: Rise of the Lich King, because I found it too rushed and unconvincing.

But I have to say, as Warcraft books go, The Shattering was excellent. Some sections still felt rushed, but for the most part the book was well-paced. The quality of the writing wasn’t as consistent as I’d hoped, but there were a few parts that completely blew me away. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so let me just say towards the end of the novel is a chapter where Thrall goes on a vision quest, and I felt that it was one of the best characterizations of a video game protagonist I have ever read. Christie Golden has succeeded tremendously in fleshing out his character and story.

In the end, ultra-casual WoW players or folks who don’t have a Warcraft background probably won’t find The Shattering too compelling. It’s not a bad book, but it was clearly written for existing fans of the game with prior knowledge of its lore and characters. Without that background, I’m afraid the book may seem shallow and confusing. On the other hand, this book will serve as decent support material to anyone curious about what the Horde and Alliance are up to in the events leading up to Deathwing’s return. I would not hesitate to recommend The Shattering to anyone who has an interest in Cataclysm, or Warcraft lore in general.

h1

Art Post: Rer The Blood Elf Death Knight

November 16, 2010

I don’t normally post artwork that has been commissioned, but this time I had the pleasure of working with Rer of Multiplaying.net, who is such a cool guy and gave me his permission!

Rer the Blood Elf Death Knight

The request came soon after I posted the full version of my old banner, when he asked for a portrait of his World of Warcraft Blood Elf Death Knight done in a similar style. Here are a few excerpts from the awesomely detailed description with which I was provided (again, with special thanks to Rer):

…the motif of the picture is Frost/Ice.  My Death Knight, Rer, should end up with a very stoic posture and demeanor, almost statue-like…

Helmet off, arms crossed, and otherwise standing stoic…if possible I’d rather not have the legs right next to each other…yet not slacking off either.

The great-sword would be implanted in the snow next to me, past the point of where it opens at the end. So only the solid “shaft” if you will of the sword, and then up to the hilt, would show.  Height-wise I would say somewhere to at least Rer’s belt would be preferred…

To add to the effect of being a “Frost” Death Knight…it might be cool to have icicles forming on both the weapon, the armor…

As you can see, I was given ample room to play around with this, but thanks to Rer’s descriptions I was also able to approach this drawing with a very clear and strong sense of what was required. I would have loved to do more, especially with the background, until it dawned on me how impossible it would have been to pull it off without making the entire thing look like a cluttered mess. And that’s why I can always appreciate detailed guidelines!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the drawing as much as I enjoyed working on it! This project was quite an unexpected treat as I hadn’t had the chance to go back to penciling in a while, so it was a wonderful feeling to get to do it again.
h1

STO: Night Of The Comet

November 15, 2010

Note: Major spoilers!

Even the screenies!

Avert your eyes!

I hope that’s adequate warning for this week’s coverage of the latest Star Trek Online feature episode, “Night of the Comet,” because I want to talk about some of the challenges it presented. In my opinion, this finale to the Devidian arc was probably the toughest of all the weeklies we’ve had so far.

Looking back, having my husband with me on this week’s mission helped a lot, but I’ll get to that later.

The episode began with a hail from Section 31 agent Franklin Drake, who revealed his plans to send us back to the past in order to destroy the pesky comet that’s been the cause of all this trouble with the Devidians. To travel back in time in our ships, we first had to disguise ourselves as Klingon cruisers using holo-emitters. Then we had to make our way to a secret system to utilize the series of gates there that would essentially catapult us back to the 23rd century.

I didn’t realize this at first, but based on what I saw in general chat, a lot of people had trouble with this first part of the mission. Getting through the rings can be a bit tricky, but it’s completely doable if you steer using a combination of the keyboard with the mouse, or just using the two mouse buttons by itself. I’m more of a mouse-maneuvering captain myself, so the rings posed little problem. Also, there is no need to follow the highlighted trajectory; I found that passing through the gates at any angle from the front side will suffice. Lag would probably be the biggest enemy here. The good news, however, is that when I passed through all the rings on my run, my husband got the prompt to travel to the next map as well. So if all else fails, my last advice is to grab a friend.

Now we engage in a little ground combat with the Devidians at Drozana station, 150 years in the past. There is a wicked Phantasm to deal with here, but we brought strong healers and killed his buddies first, so he fell to our ghostbusting guns like all the rest before him. Hey, we even got to break up a bar fight.

Afterward, another legend graces us with his presence!!! Pleased to meet you, Lieutenant Commander Montgomery Scott.

Here, we encountered another challenge. Well, more of an annoyance, really. To help Scotty with repairs to the station, we first had to get a part from Cassidy — his useless blubbering colleague who has literally been frightened out of her wits. Luckily, Scotty figured a nerve tonic should bring her out of it.

Kill me now. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone so picky with their alcohol. I was so glad to have someone else with me on this part of the mission; we had my husband put together the drink at the bartender while I stood with Scotty and called out the preferences. Much easier with two people. Otherwise, be prepared to memorize details or take a lot of notes on how the little damsel likes her drinks.

And then we were on our way to destroy the comet. I didn’t think the episode would end so mundanely though, and sure enough, we had the Klingons to deal with once we beamed back into space. Silly Franklin Drake, he could have chosen a disguise that didn’t make everyone in the 23rd century hate us.

Not going to deny it — this final battle was hell for me. Between zapping the comet and having to fight the waves of Klingon ships coming to intercept us, I found it nigh impossible to stay alive. For some reason, those D7 Battle Cruisers seemed to find me no matter where I went, ignoring my husband completely even though in many cases he was closer. My little escort isn’t built to handle the kind of abuse that comes with being focus-fired on by multiple enemies, and I must have blown up after every single pass of the comet.

In the ugly mess that ensued, I accidentally destroyed the named Klingon enemy ship that we were supposed to keep alive, thus failing my orders to preserve the timeline. I thought I botched the mission then, since my tactical officer even told me that we had to go back to the beginning to attempt it again. I was all prepared to start over when…nothing happened. I was hailed by Franklin Drake when the last piece of comet was destroyed, but instead of a good tongue-lashing, all he gave me was a congratulations for a job well done, plus my mission rewards. I’m not sure that was how things were supposed to pan out, but I was thankful not to have to do the mission over again.

Despite the glitches, I thought “Night of the Comet” was a decent episode and a good ending to the Devidian arc. Story-wise, it was a winner, and I felt it gave players a bit of everything to do. Believe it or not, as pathetic as my performance was, I have to say that last battle was probably one of my favorite STO space combat encounters of all time.

h1

*Digs Through Old Screenshot Folders*

November 13, 2010

Wow, this brings back memories…

This is what happens when a guildie has too much to drink and challenges you to a Make An Ugly Dwarf Contest.

The guild had a poll and I lost…though I can’t for the life of me remember which one I was.

h1

Why Don’t You Handle This?

November 12, 2010

Today’s Star Wars: The Old Republic update is a closer look at the inner workings of the crew skill system. After last week’s announcement about crafting, I have to say I was anticipating an update like this. But what I didn’t expect was how informative this update is. Pardon me, I’m too used to SWTOR information trickling out to us week-by-week at a slug-like pace, so it came at a bit of a shock when almost all of my questions about the crafting system were answered in a single update.

What I understand is that we have 3 main categories of crafting skills: Gathering Skills, Crafting Skills, and Mission Skills. 3 Crew Skills slots are also available to your team to train in from among these categories. You can fill all three up with Gathering Skills if you wish, but that would also mean no more slots available for anything else from the other categories. Crafting Skills, on the other hand, are very specialized so you’ll be able to devote only one slot to crafting. Finally, any number of your Crew Skills can be a Mission skill.

First time playing, the most reasonable choice would probably be to go 1 Gathering Skill, 1 Crafting Skill, and 1 Mission Skill. But if making a ton of credits is your desire, the choice of taking three gathering skills and making a “raw materials mule” is there. If you wish to master all the crafting skills available, however, just be prepared to make as many alts.

Elegantly simple, yet I can appreciate its little intricacies as well. Describing this system as “World of Warcraft with a twist” doesn’t even begin to do it justice.

Companion’s backgrounds will also determine how effective they are with certain skills, as will their opinions of you (so I guess whipping my crew into submission is out then?) As for the concerns about whether or not your own character can participate in crafting, we now know you can gather or scavenge yourself if you wish. Participating in crafting or missions, however, I’m not so clear on. But if crafting ends up taking up real time…mayhaps you won’t want to stand around waiting 6 hours for something to finish. By the way, who else smells that mobile app coming a mile away?

Anyway, I know I’m going to sound like a raving fangirl here, but the crew skill system is the best crafting system I could ever ask for. It’s true. It’s perfect…for me.

Just this morning, I was writing a comment to someone explaining how crafting feels like a chore to me, and how much I’d rather focus on leveling instead. The truth is, when I’m online, I want to quest. Not craft. So when I heard Dallas Dickinson say in the video “We want you to be able to enjoy crafting, without having to take time out from your adventures”, it was like the clouds separated in the heavens and the birds started singing sweet songs in the trees. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again — I’m not big on crafting. So that’s why I’m excited. Oh, the irony.

h1

Read Lately: A Song Of Ice And Fire

November 11, 2010

When it comes to fiction, I have a pretty eclectic taste. My interests come and go like the wind and every once in a while I’ll latch on to a new topic or genre and devour anything I can get my hands on. Lately, I appear to have been bitten by the epic fantasy bug, because I can’t seem to get enough of it. And it was this new obsession that led me to A Song of Ice and Fire, a series of novels written by George R. R. Martin.

Indeed, the first book A Game of Thrones appeared enough times on “Best Fantasy” lists to warrant my attention as I was doing my research and contemplating what to read. Recommendations from people who are more knowledgeable than me on the topic of epic fantasy also came in droves. SoIaF is definitely a great series, I gathered from all the opinions. The only thing I should be wary of, however, is that it is as of yet unfinished. That normally doesn’t faze me, so I went ahead and loaded the four existing novels into my reader.

Now that a month has passed and I’ve finished reading them all, I’m finally starting to realize why people sought to warn me about holding back from reading the series until it is complete. When I first began A Game of Thrones, I think I expected each book to be a self-contained tale in a larger, overarching story, the way I’ve seen many other authors handle their long, multi-novel projects. I quickly learned that this was not the case here. Looking back, it would be difficult if not impossible to discern a clear beginning, middle, and end to each novel, as the events from one seem to flow seamlessly into the next.

Because of this, I couldn’t stop reading. I’d originally planned to take my time with this series, spacing out the four installments between other books I had in my to-read list, but the story was so good I just had to know what happened next. So, slave to immediate gratification that I am, I ended up reading them all back-to-back. Now here I am, all caught up and hungering for more, sharing in the despair of a legion of SoIaF fans waiting impatiently for the next book to come out. But the series was worth the read though, and I was warned, so I really can’t complain that much. I also determined early on that talking about each novel by itself would not be easy, so I decided to wait until I had read all four before weighing in with my thoughts.

No danger of any spoilers here. In any case, the plot is so convoluted and involves enough key players to fill a small town that I’m not even going to attempt a real summary. Suffice to say the story is as epic as epic gets. No fewer than three main storylines unfold across a gritty world heavily inspired by Medieval history and Feudalism, each rife with tales of royal scandal, political intrigue and grisly battle scenes as principal families across the land of Westeros wage bloody war over a throne.

Make no mistake; these novels are written for adults and not for the faint of heart. Personally, that’s the way I like it. I don’t mind dark themes or a little conflict in my books, and I won’t shy away from excessive violence especially when it’s done for the sake of realism. Pick up any book about the customs and traditions of war in the Middle Ages and you will see that for all the talk of chivalry, Medieval warfare was brutal. I’ve also come across reviews from people who were turned off by the sex, but I actually thought it was pretty tame. Certainly nowhere near as explicit or gratuitous than anything I’ve ever pulled off the shelves from the romance section.

I also remember recently watching an HBO featurette for the upcoming Game of Thrones TV series (based on these novels) and seeing George R. R. Martin say that too much magic can ruin fantasy, and I have to say I wholeheartedly agree. I’m not a fan of excessive magic, and for this reason I usually prefer fantasies that are heavier on the realistic elements and decline to read anything that deals too much with wizards, elves or magic spells, etc. Admittedly, I got a little worried at the first mention of dragons, but overall I found that magic is well handled in SoIaF — just a touch, and not too much.

Possibly the  best part about these books, however, is the character development. Martin tells the story through multiple viewpoints, with each chapter switching back and forth between various characters. I found this format kept me on my toes. A few characters endeared themselves to me immediately; I found I could hardly wait to proceed with the the story so I could catch up with them again. Others I wasn’t so very fond of. Still, one thing that still amazes me is how my opinions of the characters kept constantly changing — and I mean this in a good way. One moment I would be rooting against some vile, malicious brute, and the next I’d be cheering them on. Each character has their own strengths and flaws and over time they are shaped by the events happening around them, but when they evolve it’s done naturally and more importantly, very realistically.

Which is why it’s such a shock whenever someone dies. Without a doubt, death is all over these books. Love them or hate them, it’s always a shame when it happens to a key character. Whether you perceive them as hero or villain, I felt that each character’s presence made the story that much richer. Martin can spend the better part of a novel painstakingly crafting each facet of a character’s personality in order to bring them to life in the reader’s mind, only to strike them down later on in the story, sometimes in the most horrific of ways. It’s no easier even when you see it coming. Honestly, I feel like no one is truly safe in this series, which is particularly surprising when I consider how much time and effort is invested into developing each character.

Still, there are plenty other characters to keep track of and more seem to be added with each book, and the sheer size of the ensemble cast might be a turn off for some. I don’t mind books with a lot of characters, but at some point even I had to wonder if all the characters we had to keep up with was why I felt parts of A Storm of Swords and A Feast for Crows (the third and fourth book, respectively) started to drag. I only hope that when the next volume A Dance with Dragons finally releases, all the complexities of the plot and relationships between characters will still be somewhat fresh in my mind. I understand it’s been quite a few years.

h1

STO: Everything Old Is New Again

November 10, 2010

Note: Major spoilers!

Even the screenies!

Avert your eyes!

In this week’s feature episode of Star Trek Online, T’Androma and the gang must battle the Devidians in the past by traveling back in time to an era of legendary heroes and gaudy colors. Section 31 agent Franklin Drake has informed us that our blue ethereal friends have infested the 23rd century and turned the Starfleet presence at Drozana station into their own private buffet! We can’t have that now, can’t we?

What a treat for TOS fans. The nerdgasm upon seeing the old interior designs must have near put my husband into a coma.

No sooner had he recovered from that, a legend shows up to ask us for our help.

Working alongside him was a real treat. I could practically hear his voice in my head while doing this mission.

As a side note, I never thought what I learned from my human physiology course in college would ever come in handy in an MMO. Let’s just say I’m glad I was paying attention during that lecture on neurons and the nervous system because it made his puzzle that much less confusing.

You're the doc, Doc.

The mission itself was a ground-based affair with a handful of mini-games and puzzles sprinkled about. Despite the 23rd century setting, I felt that it would have been wholly unremarkable experience if  it wasn’t for a couple interesting twists that Cryptic implemented for this episode.

The first twist was a realization that every fight except for the final showdown with the Devidians can be avoided in one way or another. Like it or not, the 23rd century personnel you encounter on Drozana station are still the good men and women of Starfleet. Hmm, to phaser or not to phaser?

Think the worst of T’Andy if you must, but I did actually try to avoid conflict. As a matter of fact, the idea of zapping someone in a Starfleet uniform does kind of make me feel bad. There were also rumors of an accolade to be had, so I did my best to move around unnoticed. I hid, ran away, or talked my way out of a fight whenever I could. However, I failed to sneak away fast enough during one of the later encounters (was too slow to get into the Jefferies tube, dammit) and ended up having to set my phasers to stun after all.

Sorry, sweetcheeks, I just had to borrow that tool for a second.

But the fact of the matter remains — Cryptic has given us an important choice in this episode: fight your way through the mission, or find a more diplomatic solution. I’m hoping to see more like this in future updates or episodes.

The other thing I noticed were the small differences in dialogue options with McCoy, depending on your profession or whether or not you have reached Ambassador status. If you ask me, STO can do with a lot more of that. Meaningful dialogue is always welcome, and I’ve always felt that the game needed more ways to give me a sense of my own character’s uniqueness, or something that sets her apart from her science or engineer counterparts.

A few other screenshots from the mission:

The final battle with the Devidians.

Bathed in radiation.

A little help from our "new" friend.