Addon Trolling

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I am having one of those mornings that I am simply struggling to find any inspiration to write.  It’s been one of those weeks, namely because I am juggling a huge meeting load and feeling like I am accomplishing nothing in the process.  When you have a few 30 minute blocks between the rest of your schedule being in meetings, it becomes really hard to make any headway in anything.  However I guess that is what happens when you move up to management.  The problem being that when I finally do get home I sort of revert to a gelatinous state and struggle to find any forward momentum in games either.  As predicted my forward momentum in World of Warcraft has stalled quite a bit upon getting the flight unlock.  I could in theory alt all the things…  but instead I am largely just logging in each day and doing whatever faction based world quest there is for a shot at fury friendly legendary items.

A few days ago I had installed an addon called Leatrix Plus, which adds a bunch of quality of life improvements for World of Warcraft.  Among the tweaks were a few settings that I figured were largely good ideas.  The first being to accept invites to groups from the guild/friends, and the second being to accept summons from the guild/friends.  Last night however I learned that maybe this is not the best idea to run with enabled.  Now in my head I had completely forgotten that Wednesday was raid night.  I mean it was one of those things that I was aware of, but not completely cognizant of.  So I found myself after eating dinner logging in to do my daily run at legendaries, and like I often do alt tabbed to do something else while the game finished loading in.  When I finally tabbed back I found myself in a raid and sitting at the Nighthold summoning stone.  While afk I had apparently been invited to the raid group and summoned… and my handy little addon absolutely allowed myself to get trolled.  I bowed out once I realized what had happened because honestly I am not ready for “serious mode” raiding.

After doing my nightly bombing run on a legendary, I wound up logging and digging into Star Wars the Old Republic.  When I started the night I was sitting on Chapter XIII and managed to play my way through to a good ways into Chapter XVI.  The whole chapter thing feels odd considering I am functionally doing the same thing as Netflix binge watching.  Its hard for me to see where the seams normally would have been between chapters, but I guess the content is naturally released in a format that feels akin to how Final Fantasy XIV does.  Looking at the Wiki page it seems like originally the content was released roughly a chapter a month between February and August of 2016, with the initial content providing the first nine chapters at release.  The only negative about binging the content like this is that I am not really spending much time with any of my newly acquired companions, since for the most part each mission requires me to use a specific combination.  Also the reveals are probably less dramatic than they would have been if I was being drip fed the content.  Whatever the case I am still very much enjoying it, and some of the shit is getting weird.  Going to be interesting to see what it is like to roll into the Eternal Throne content.

 

Two Years Behind

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Yesterday I had zero intent to sit down in the morning and start writing about level scaling systems.  Sometimes posts just happen.  However after writing it one of my friends mentioned a key point.  There should functionally be a way to flip off level scaling if you absolutely positively want to just go wreck things.  The prime example of this would be if you just want to farm up a bunch of low level materials quickly.  I remember when I was leveling any of my various tailors up in World of Warcraft, I would simply find a dungeon in the level range and mercilessly wreck it for the sole purpose of getting as much cloth in as short of a time as I could.  This would have been completely maddening were I not greatly over leveling the content.  Once again I think we can look to Final Fantasy XIV as a good example here because some time ago they added in the ability to queue for content “undersized”, which functionally turns off the level synchronization process allowing you to just wreck the content if you so choose.  However I still think I would prefer it if MMO worlds scaled by default, and then simply allowed folks to disable that option if they so choose.

I’ve said recently that I really love returning to an MMO after some time has passed and be confronted with potentially years of content to go off and experience.  The thing is this also has an extremely negative side to it.  Right now I am in this weird place where I am super into content that happened two years ago.  There is something to be said about experiencing things at the same time as your friends, because it allows you to have conversations about what is going on.  This has been one of the best parts of Final Fantasy XIV is that each time they give us a slow drip of story content we all consume it then can talk about the revelations that are contained within.  This allows us to have moments of theory crafting and speculation…  knowing that at some point in the future we will be able to resolve what is actually going on.  With Star Wars the Old Republic and the Knights of the Fallen Empire content… generally speaking either folks played through this content two years ago when it released…  or will likely never play through it.

That puts me in such a weird places because I have all these thoughts and feelings about the game and what it is doing…  but I don’t exactly feel right talking about them on my blog.  Knights of the Fallen Empire has some pretty big revelations that would be better experienced than told about.  This is one of those times when everything about it is extremely heavy on the spoiler front.  Each time new revelations come to light…  I wish there was a group of people that I could talk through them with.  Basically this is one of those times when I wish I had played through the chapter based content as it was being released rather than this current Netflix style binge sequence that I am going through.  I have a feeling that Guild Wars 2 and its living story content is much the same…  likely best experienced as it is being released a little bit at a time.  This also makes me really want to get caught up so that I can at least join the discussion happening with the Eternal Throne content.  However I am also extremely cautious of looking up too much information for fear of getting these plot twists completely ruined for me.

On the positive front I have stumbled across a really awesome YouTube channel that has helped me get back into the game and the modern concepts.  Swtorista has this awesome Star Wars the Academy series that breaks down a bunch of topics like “What to do at Level 70” or how the Galactic Command system works.  The best videos though are a sequence on the best looking craftable armors for each class, since we all know the true end game of an MMO is looking awesome.  Through her videos thought I have been able to catch up pretty easily without risking spoilers too badly.  Side note… there is a special place in hell for folks who put obvious spoilers in YouTube video titles… as I already have apparently one of the Iokath revelations spoiled because of this.  For those interested I am largely playing Belghast my Jedi Knight on Ebon Hawk at least while I do all of the chapter based content.  I have a large stable of character spread between the two factions and they are either in House Stalwart on Sith side, or Einherjar on Republic side.  If you are also playing feel free to ping me and say hi.

Level Scaling Tech

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I am in this place with SWTOR Knights of the Fallen Empire where I am honestly not sure what more I can say without my blog turning into a massive spoiler fest.  There are a lot of events going on and many of them have surprised me.  This is a little shocking given that I consume a lot of gaming media and that KotFE has been technically out since October 2015.  I am not sure if I purposefully ignored SWTOR articles… or if I just didn’t come across that many.  Whatever the case essentially everything from Shadows of Revan onward has been a completely new story experience for me without me knowing any of the elements ahead of time.  So while I recognized characters like Theron Shan or Lana Beniko…  I knew nothing about them going into this recent binge of playing the game.  We’ve talked about this on the podcast before, but returning to an MMO and seeing years worth of content laid out in front of you is a pretty great thing.  Especially in a situation like SWTOR where they have a reasonable level scaling system.

Yesterday Syp posted something over on his personal blog Bio Break talking about level scaling systems.  His specific discussion centered around whether or not level scaling systems were good for games, which was brought on by his recent journeys in LOTRO.  Over time my own feelings about the systems have changed.  You can scan through the backlog of this blog and find me talking about Mentoring systems, where games allow high level player A to drop down to the level of player B and run content with them.  This seemed to me like the most elegant solution to the problem of being able to run content with your friends.  That was until I encountered Guild Wars 2, and the fact that no matter where you go your character is scaled down to the level of the world.  The concept of evergreen content is a big one for me… because I like when a game expands over time rather than contracts.  While Guild Wars 2 is not the best example of this… because of the fact that there is plenty of content that you will never be able to play again in that game…  it did make me appreciate level scaling as a replacement for mentoring.

The only problem there is that when the world is constantly the same level as you, it robs you of one of the quintessential MMO experiences of leveling up and becoming more powerful.  The world always feels the same to you, because you are functionally always the same relative ability levels to it as you level.  In situations like that the levels themselves feel like a completely extraneous concept.  Why even have a number that goes up if the world is always going to be functionally the same difficulty.  When we started playing Final Fantasy XIV they had an extremely elegant solution for this in the form of their dungeon finder.  Each dungeon had a functional level range from the moment you first were able to zone in… to the moment that it considered was the upper bound of levels.  So if the average mob level in an area was 35, then functionally the maximum level the game would allow you to be was 40, scaling everyone over that level down to that point.  The only negative here is that this ONLY applies to dungeons, and in truth it would have been interesting to see this same sort of system just work out in the world as a whole.

That I guess is functionally what is going on in Star Wars the Old Republic, and I am loving it.  Each piece of content be it planet, flashpoint, or something else… has a functional level range attached to it.  Once again it is functionally along the lines of being five or so levels over whatever the maximum level of encounter for that area.  Then the game rewards you as though you were fighting something your own level in terms of both experience and loot drops.  This means that you can go anywhere and do anything without feeling like you are getting nothing from it.  At launch this was absolutely a problem with SWTOR and it was extremely easy to out level an area, and reach a point where the experience gain was no longer worth the time you spent on a planet.  This was especially true as I remember on Tatooine which in itself was a huge planet with lots of side content.  By the time I “did everything” I ended up several levels ahead of the curve and functionally kept getting more and more over-leveled as I went through the rest of the planets.

Now there is a certain measure of freedom in being able to just go and do the content without having to worry about level… and in many cases gear.  While leveling my Imperial Agent, there were a few points where I went 10 levels without upgrading any of my gear… and really did not notice a significant amount of power drop off.  Then again I did exit the class storyline at level 58… so there was some significant over-leveling going on there that might have been easing the transition.  The thing with this system is however that while you are gaining power and you FEEL powerful… there is never a point where you are just waltzing through  field of enemies gently tapping them and watching them explode.  When you run someone through a low level dungeon in World of Warcraft for example on your level capped main… you can functionally breathe on mobs and they impale themselves in a shower of loot.  SWTOR feels like a happy medium, of letting your power level increase without completely trivializing the game.  Sure most of the time I am not actually afraid of death, but I still feel heroic doing content…  because I am having to use my abilities to take things down rather than a single auto swing.  As a result I have somewhat shifted my focus from user driven mentoring systems…  to seeing more games adopt this sort of level scaling.  The best part about Legion honestly was the way that content has scaled to the player while leveling through it, and if only Blizzard had applied this tech to the world as a whole… it would be a much more enjoyable experience.  I like knowing that I can revisit those areas that I enjoyed so much in the past, and still having an interesting time.

 

Empires Fall

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This is going to be one of those “Bel is very late to the party” sort of posts but bear with me.  Additional upfront warnings…  I am entering a territory with this post that might have some minor spoilers.  For a long while I have avoided Knights of the Fallen Empire because I knew it made some significant changes that you simply could not step back.  As a result in my best Mass Effect fashion… I attempted to wring as much joy from the “old world” as I could and made sure that I saw all of the story content before moving forward.  Last night however I finally reached that point where I was at least reasonably comfortable taking the plunge and moving forward into the modern era of SWTOR.  Having said that…  there are a bunch of things I am extremely glad that I completed before doing so.  Firstly I am happy that I managed to see the main story arc for each of the classes.  Secondly I am happy that I took the time to progress every single companion and see all of their personal story before moving forward.  Additionally as far as I am concerned it is extremely important to do both Shadows of Revan and Rise of the Emperor (Ziost) before starting the Fallen Empire content.  I mean in theory you can just jump ahead to the modern era at any point you like, but if you want to have completed all of your story elements…  you need to do class story to completion, Revan and Ziost.

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Functionally Shadows of Revan and Rise of the Emperor are the unlabeled opening acts of the Fallen Empire campaign, and as a result I am extremely glad that I completed both of them.  Now the other big piece of warning that I had been given was that anything you want to do with your companions… you need to do before entering “chapters” mode.  This is because in truth you may or may not ever see them again.  I personally don’t have a list of which companions are findable in the game, and which are just gone indefinitely… but I have heard that some fan favorites are absolutely missing in action.  Once you enter Chapters the game is functionally changed, and you are sort of along for the ride.  It was that point that really concerned me and kept me from taking the leap for a very long time.  I had built up this comfortable stable of characters that I liked using, and enjoyed my jetting around the galaxy life style.  Once I started Chapter 1… literally all of that changed and I began playing a very different game.  That said…  I think it might be a better game.

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If Star Wars the Old Republic was functionally World of Warcraft in space…  then Fallen Empire is Knights of the Old Republic 3.  The game feels like it shifts from being a traditional check all of the boxes MMORPG… to being a much more story focused RPG that just happens to have other people playing it at the same time.  At this point I am still wrapping things up in Chapter VI and hope to keep moving forward tonight, but I’ve found myself in a situation that feels very familiar to anyone who has played KOTOR 1 or 2.  In that fashion I think its best to think of Fallen Empire and I assumed Eternal Throne as a sequel to Star Wars the Old Republic.  You are playing the same character, and you have all of the items you have built up along your first journey, but you are functionally playing a completely different game.  Maybe it is more of a new game plus mode than anything, as you shift your focus from the traditional tropes of an MMO, to starting over again.  It feels much the same as Mass Effect 2 did after the original, where you are set down in a world that is familiar, but the cast of characters has changed slightly… and you have to rebuild your legacy.

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I will likely continue to report in as I travel through the new content, but so far I have to say I am hooked.  There are a lot of events that happen in rapid succession, but functionally when you regain full control of your character five years have passed and the future is uncertain.  You are presented with a new cast of characters… some of which are familiar and others brand new.  That said the cast of characters are interesting and I immediately felt right at home…  in spite of no longer having my original team of companions.  I can see the potential for setting forth in a matter that cuts across the various class stories and potentially introduces me to characters from them all.  The other weird thing about this setting is that I am finding myself turning from pure Jedi…  to more of a balanced user.  I am giving myself permission to take more dark side choices when I feel like it suits my purpose better.  I am going to save the people that need saving… and I am absolutely going to take a lightsaber to the folks who deserve killing.  I am no longer the Jedi Battlemaster and am now instead known as the Outlander, and with that comes a change in focus.  Belghast is going to be a lot darker than before… and that is going to be okay.  I feel like this character is the vanguard of all of the characters I have played, and as a result sort of adopting my favorite traits from each of the class storylines.  In wild space, Sith and Jedi don’t matter anymore… but instead what matters is freeing the galaxy of this new threat.

Legacy Complete

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This weekend was yet another almost entirely devoted to playing Star Wars the Old Republic.  I tend to exist in one of two modes, either I am playing a bunch of different games casually or in “maintenance mode” or I imprint super hard on a single game and I clamp down on it until I run out of stuff that I want to be doing.  SWTOR seems to be in one of those clamp down modes, because I am playing it with an almost single minded focus.  I set out with a goal of finishing off the eight original storylines, and this weekend I managed to push the agent across the finish line.  As you can see I now have all eight icons lit up on the left side of the character select screen.  What is interesting is just how much overlap there are between the different classes.  You might hear a name mentioned in one class briefly that ends up being a central focus character in another.  With the Agent especially it felt like we were getting the secret story of the world being played out through our actions, and it was all the more real when I slid from that story into Shadows of Revan.  This is a minor spoiler but functionally the events foretold in the Agent sequence are coming to fruition by the Revanites…  which makes me feel like the Star Cabal was just one of so many other puppets in the setting.

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Makeb was largely interesting content, but it also felt like content added in a minor story patch in other games.  It was this side mission that didn’t really move the overall story forward by much.  Sure it was another chance to dust off your team mates and go on one more adventure… but it largely felt like one completely disconnected to everything else in the game.  While enjoyable I stalled out in part because I had the other goal to worry about and lots of class storylines to play before that twelve times bonus went away.  I wish however two years ago I had stuck around long enough to play through the Shadow of Revan campaign because I think the game as a whole would have had a good deal more traction for me.  Shadow of Revan and now Ziost feels more like what I had been wanting.  While it is taking part in a corner of the Galaxy and involves a brand new cast of characters…  there is continuity happening and all of my actions seem to actually matter once again.  Again you can absolutely see that it was design in a way so that it is stand alone DLC, but it feels like it integrates into the theme considerably better.

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I am wondering if I might be attached to Star Wars the Old Republic until the release of Stormblood at this point.  I have all of Ziost, which I am assuming is a fairly small addendum to the Revanite story.  Then I have the entire Fallen Empire campaign and finally the Eternal Throne campaign to keep me tied up for awhile.  I am figuring one of two things is going to happen when I start Fallen Empire, and in part that is why I have been avoiding actually starting it.  Either I am going to love it and tear through it hungrily until I catch up completely.  The other option is that I am going to bounce hard in Galaxy 2.0.  Either case I can only delay the inevitably so long, but I will be doing like I did in Mass Effect Andromeda… and trying to finish everything up completely before flipping the switch.  Side note… while staring at the above image I never noticed that my starship looks like it has a bubble level on the front.  Mostly I want to experience the world as it exists… before changing it completely.

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Some other side notes from the weekend.  The experience boost is absolutely insane because I was roughly 1/3rd of the way through Shadows of Revan when I hit the modern level cap of 70.  That means I have been getting functionally end game gear as I level through the content.  With Knights of the Eternal Throne they added in a new Galactic Command system… that in truth I don’t fully understand.  However it appears to be an alternate leveling system, and each time you kill something or complete a quest… you earn command points.  Every so often you go up a level, and this process includes earning a command chest.  These so far have been an excellent source of orange mod gear, and also occasionally a blue or purple item that blows away anything I have been capable of getting thusfar.  Another thing that I am digging heavily is that it seems like I can enter every flashpoint in “story mode” which allows me to complete the flashpoint solo with the help of an extremely overpowered robot buddy.  These flashpoints however also seem to drop current gear instead of the level of the encounter which surprised me just a little bit.  Whatever the case it feels like I am getting to chase down all these story bits, and at the same time be rewarded with lots and lots of gear.  Thusfar I am pretty happy with the way the systems all seem to be working.

Unlikely Agent

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This is absolutely one of those mornings where I am staring blankly at WordPress sort of hoping that a blog post materializes in front of my eyes.  I have this fitful relationship with sleep.  It is something I crave but something I can never quite get at normal levels.  I mean I have my own normal, which is four to six hours of sleep a night.  If I get over that I tend to get groggy…  which is what happens to be going on this morning.  Sunday night I had a horrid bout of insomnia, which when combined with the fact that our middle cat was being insane…  meant I probably got two hours of real sleep.  So by the time I hit 9 pm last night I was conking out at the keyboard, and decided to put the house to bed and crash.  That means I managed to get roughly eight hours of sleep… and my body is confused as hell.  Its like… what was this thing, I think I like it…  lets do nothing but that from now on!  Hence the sitting in my office chair in a dark room, with a cat laying on the desk beside me…  staring blankly into oblivion.

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Before the impending crash however I spent a good deal more time with Star Wars the Old Republic working through the Imperial Agent story.  I mean there is a good reason why I saved this one for last… because in truth this has always been the class that I had zero interest in.  I am not a stealthy person…  nor am I necessarily a normally deceitful person.  So the idea of flying around the galaxy and crushing rebellions through unsavory means did not exactly sound that fun to me.  In true Bioware style however…  it is allowing me to play a fairly atypical Agent that regularly talks back to his handlers.  In truth I am trying to play it much like a smuggler that somehow got drafted into imperial service, and and for this reason I am not using any of the traditional imperial garb, but instead decided it was a great time to break out the Nico Okarr duster.

I am occasionally breaking out the HK-55 helm when I want to feel more bounty hunter than smuggler.  I did most of Hutta in this fashion because I felt like anyone called the “Red Blade” simply would not do to be wearing Imperial Garb.  All of these mental adjustments are helping me to enjoy the story as I am sort of re-purposing what is happening into the narrative that I would rather be playing.  The positive is that apparently Kaliyo is eating it all up, given that she apparently likes violence against those who deserve it… and general smartassery the rest of the time.  Because of my general stance of only harming the wicked…  I am playing a fairly “grey” character, sitting on straight up neutral currently.  This is an interesting departure from the “did you say force lightning” options of the Sith Inquisitor.  At the point I crashed for the night I had just started Imperial Balmorra, which is probably my least favorite planet.  However just focusing on the class and planetary stories means I tend to get off the various planets pretty quickly, but at the same time feel like I see the entire place through the new classes eyes.

DAW2016: Bioware

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Developer Appreciation Week is here!  For the uninitiated the concept of Developer Appreciation week dates back to 2010 and was started by Couture Gaming the Blogger formerly known as Scarybooster.  The idea was simple, spend a week talking about all of the things you love about various game development companies and studios.  As a blogger we spend plenty of time pointing out what is wrong in the games we love, and talking about ways that they could be better.  That said it is important to understand that for most of us this critique comes from being a huge fan of the games and genres as a whole.  So during this week we point out the things that are going right and make a point of mentioning all the things we really appreciate out there.  If you too are a blogger please feel free to join in by posting your own Developer Appreciation Week ideas.

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This is going to be a difficult one to tackle, especially since I didn’t get a ton of sleep thanks to the tornado warnings.  However I am going to give it to good college try, and hope that the end result turns out at least not too shabby.  I first became aware as Bioware as a company with the release of Baldur’s Gate, or more so the existence of what I later came to know as the “Infinity Engine”.  I have been a fan of Dungeons and Dragons since I first found a players manual abandoned in a locker on the last day of school in second grade.  Finding that book spawned a lot of things, not the least of which was trying to hungrily gobble up anything TSR related.  I played the “gold box” series of games, namely because I had read the novels behind a lot of the stories.  There was just something missing with the game, and while I enjoyed them at the time they never really felt that good.  The story that was being told felt limited by the meager technology, and while I was happy enough with the end product…  that only lasted until I had played my first Final Fantasy game.  Baldur’s Gate was the title that brought me back from my console days into once again believing that the PC was a great platform for role-playing games.

Subsequent games were released…  Icewind Dale, Baldurs Gate II and even one of my all time favorites… Planescape Torment… all using this “Infinity Engine” I have to admit I got a bit of the wrong idea behind what exactly the company Bioware really was.  In my mind it seemed like Bioware was the tools company, and Interplay, Black Isle, or later the reboot Obsidian were the game creator.  It wasn’t until Neverwinter Nights was released that I really started to understand that Bioware was both the tools division and a lot of great storytelling wrapped into one package.  Neverwinter Nights was one of those revolutionary games for me personally.  While the original campaign was awesome… it was the inclusion of the aurora toolset that set my mind on fire.  At this time I was playing a lot of Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot so I tried to replicate some of my favorite features of those games using the Neverwinter engine.  I learned the C Script language and figured out how to code things like randomly generated loot from tables when you opened chests or killed mobs.  I also eventually figured out how to create a token based system along the lines of the one that allowed you to purchase armor in the Darkness Falls dungeon.  The end result was this amalgam of the EQ Plane of Hate and DAoC Darkness Falls that I called the “Plane of Spite”.  While I never did anything really interesting with it, I loved every single moment of working on it and figuring out the inner machinations of this engine.

It was not really until Knights of the Old Republic that I hopped back on the Bioware fandom, and I remember being crushingly disappointed when I learned that the title was going to be Xbox Exclusive.  Thankfully later that year it came out for the PC and I was absolutely thrilled to be dissecting that game world as well.  I loved Neverwinter Nights for its technical precision, and the Aurora and Infinity engines for giving me this awesome framework to go out and explore worlds in.  However KOTOR was the first time from Bioware that I was completely stunned by the storyline.  Last week we went into a discussion on AggroChat about the best Star Wars stories, and by the end of that show all of us pretty much came to the consensus that Knights of the Old Republic was if not the absolute best story, it was at least among them.  There are moments in this game that had shocking revelations that I have never quite recovered from.  Even though the engine is dated, and the graphics look like crap compared to what I am used to… I can still play this game happily over and over just because it was so damned well crafted.  I’ve bought it for others, and even own the mobile port of the game.  I feel like this game more than any set the tone for the modern incarnation of Bioware.

I ultimately for one reason or another skilled Mass Effect at launch, and instead picked up the Bioware banner once again with the release of Dragon Age: Origins.  During this period of time I was raiding in World of Warcraft rabidly… but there were a few weeks where I completely dropped off the face of the planet, and it was thanks to this game.  I was just completely enthralled with the world and the setting, and the concept of the dark spawn and deep roads.  I am a Dwarf at heart, so I loved every single moment of Orzammar.  My first play through was as a Dwarven Noble, and I have to say after all of the subsequent play sessions that is still the one I cherish the most.  Much the same as KOTOR, it was ultimately the characters that set this game apart from the others I had played.  They felt so fleshed out and three dimensional, and I actually cared about interacting with them.  I am a huge proponent of smashing things with a big weapon, and games that allow me to slaughter by the hundreds… but it is significantly harder to find a game that makes me feel.  Dragon Age made me feel so much, and during this time I had a really interesting encounter.  One of my guildies invited me to tank for some friends of his, and when I popped onto voice chat we had some of the usual getting to know a new person discussion.  I mentioned that I had been playing a ton of Dragon Age… and it was at this point that they started grilling me about this character or that, or what decision I made where.  It turns out that I was ultimately raiding that night with a bunch of the writers, and you could almost hear them beaming as they proudly chimed in that they wrote this or that as I gushed about various details.

With the release of Mass Effect 2, I later went back and became an addict of that series as well.  I still wish that someone would make that into a Walking Dead style serialized television show, because the story that is being told is among the best science fiction tales ever.  It just seems a crime that the only folks that will ever see the story, are the ones who have played through the game.  Then you of course have the release of Star Wars the Old Republic, that my friends and I tore through rabidly when it launched.  I burnt myself out on that game but recently a bunch of us ended up going back and remembering just how damned well written all of the story arcs really are.  At some point soon I want to go back and finish where I left off which is the start of the Revan content, and try out the new experience fallen empire content that I have heard so much about.  For sake of time though I am going to wrap things up, because otherwise I could probably carry on for a dozen more paragraphs talking about all of the things from Bioware games that I love.  It is a great studio, and while I was scared that EA would destroy its spirit… I have been pleasantly surprised that the core values of the company and the creative might seem to keep trucking along happily.  I look forward to more adventures be it with Andromedia or the next great IP that we have yet to experience.

Best Gift Ever

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Star Wars Christmas

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There are times when the best gift at Christmas…  you are not quite sure if it was intentional or not.  I’ve talked about our relatively chill Christmas day plans for the better part of a week, and I have to say after going through it yesterday it was far better than I could have imagined.  First off we have all this amazing food…  that we will be eating for a week.  On the menu….

  • Chilli-Cheese Rotel Dip
  • Sausage Cheese Balls
  • Pulled BBQ Beef
  • White Chocolate Cranberry Clusters
  • Chocolate Cashew Clusters
  • Snickerdoodles
  • Ranch Pretzels
  • White and Milk Chocolate dipped Pretzels
  • Flakey Biscuits to heap the BBQ Beef on

It was not exactly the most conventional meal, but we grazed happily throughout the course of the original three Star Wars movies.  You cannot have read my blog over the last few months and somehow missed the fact that Star Wars was a major part of my childhood.  I went to see the original when I was roughly 2 years old in the local drive in… and was hooked from that point on.  So for Christmas it was a given that I would end up getting a bunch of Star Wars merchandise from my parents.  The best gift however was this marathon and the effect it seems to have had on my wife.  I am trying to keep my expectations tempered, but maybe just maybe we have another Star Wars fan in the family.

Granted she has always been amazing about my Star Wars thing… and has brought me home various artifacts like Star Wars Legos, or just the other night a cool set of Kylo Ren playing cards.  So even though she didn’t get why the movie was important to me… she was always super awesome about putting up with my thing.  I remember in college she even used to get into the hunt for new action figures, helping me crawl through the racks of figures to find the one or two that I didn’t already have.  The prequels pretty much killed my desire to be surrounded by action figures on my walls…  but I do pick up the occasional figure every now and then and on the wall between my monitors I have Dark Jedi Luke, Jedi Leia, Clone Emperor, Mara Jade, Admiral Thrawn, a snow gear Plo Koon, and a badass Savage Opress figure.  So yesterday I half expected the desire to watch the three originals and then go see the new one… was at least in part a gift for me.  That is until she invited one of her friends along for the journey.  After watching the originals and seeing the new one…. she came home with all of these questions that I can’t really answer before she watches the prequels.  So right now the plan is to spend today marathoning through those as well…  and I am happy as a clam when I say… it was not MY idea to do this.

Keeping it Chill

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There are a lot of things I am into that I think she would also like.  I mean she was a huge fan of the Harry Potter series and got into it long before I did, and is also a fan of the Star Trek series and has been amped to see the newer movies.  So the raw DNA of a Science Fiction and Fantasy fan is there, and I think if I could ever get her interested in say the modern Joss Whedeon Marvel films she would really enjoy them as well.  However with those… we would need to start at the very beginning chronologically and do another Marathon since each movie at least in part fleshes out another corner of the Avengers universe.  All of this said….  I am trying to keep it super chill and not put any pressure on her to like things more than she actually does.  However just having my wife ask me questions about Star Wars…  might be quite possibly the best Christmas gift I have ever received.  I mean I guess it was impossible to live with me for the last two decades and not have SOME of the Star Wars franchise to imprint on her.  She has always liked R2-D2, Chewbacca, The Jawas and the Ewoks…  and she used to laugh when I would throw a blanket over my head and say Utini.

One of the awesome things about our marriage has always been that we could have completely different likes…  but each of us would be supportive over whatever the other person was into.  She has been awesome about the daily blog thing… and the podcast… and this game or that…  because I know they really do put dents in our schedule that are theoretically “untouchable” where I need to be at a keyboard.  Similarly I am cool with the fact that there are many nights where she works in her classroom until 8pm or has this or that church activity that needs attention.  It has always amazed me at just how well we work together, when in truth we don’t have that many shared interests.  At the core has always been this willingness to go along with whatever the other person wants to do… because I think we enjoy seeing the other half excited even if we aren’t that excited ourselves.  All of this said…  I am not expecting a Christmas Miracle… and all of the sudden my wife will be as obsessed with Star Wars as I have been all of these years.  I still think its amazing however for her to be asking the same sorts of questions that I pondered all throughout my childhood and even now have nothing more than vague guesses at.  I think without a doubt though, there will be no question as to whether or not we will be going to the next several movies because if nothing else… she seems hooked on the new generation of films after watching Force Awakens last night.

 

 

 

Santa and Grumplings

Santa Lives

I’ve been going through this strange set of emotions since getting out of the movies on Thursday night.  One of the things I am learning about myself is that I am in fact deeply susceptible to nostalgia.  Growing up I honestly thought I was not nostalgic at all, because the things I cared about never seemed to align with the things I was supposed to care about.  Photos for example are just not one of the things I care about that much, and the only time I take a photo of something is when I want to show it to someone else.  I have a pretty good memory when it comes to visual images, and I can always summon up images from the past when I want them… and as such I never placed much value in having a physical representation.  My mother on the other hand…  that is the thing she finds most important in the world and has taken volumes of photos that the world will likely never see… because she never does anything with them.  My nostalgia… seems to be firmly rooted in the things and places that gave me the most joy in the world.  The king of all of this will always be Star Wars, because it truly was my first love.  For so many years I doubted my memories, or at least doubted that I had as much fun with Star Wars as I seemed to remember.

Then Thursday night I watched Force Awakens and remembered just what it was like to experience that level of joy again.  Now I am just riding the giddy contact high of the experience, and looking forward to talking about it with anyone that has already been indoctrinated into the club.  Yesterday there was a sequence of tweets trying to decide when it was time to talk about the movie, and I guess personally… I am going to wait until January 18th.  I am going to give the world a full month to watch it before I start openly talking about spoilers and spreading the world with my theory crafting.  Spoilers are such a weird thing…. because for me personally they do not adversely effect my enjoyment of the movie.  I personally guessed at four or five of the plot points from the movie, and it was in no way tarnished for me when I saw them coming.  In fact there was a bit of strange excitement coursing through me when I realized that things were playing out in one of the ways I had imagined them.  For others though… once something is spoiled it ruins the experience, and as a result I am going to try my best not to ruin anyone else’s.

The “A” Team

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I love the Star Wars universe, and while I was greatly disappointed for years…  shows like the Clone Wars and the current Rebels made me remember just how awesome the setting COULD be.  I think they were essentially the gateway to allowing myself to indulge in the hype leading up to Force Awakens.  The problem with Rebels is that as good as it is…  it isn’t the team of characters that I wanted to be engaged with.  Shows like it or Agents of Shield… no matter how amazing they might be… will always be stuck in the rut of being the “B” Team.  These are the characters that are ALSO in the universe…. but aren’t really the characters that you really want to be watching.  While shows like that might raise the excitement level a bit every now and then with a “special guest appearance” you know at the end of the day… you are never really going to get back the characters you care the most about.  While to some extent the new movie is setting up a brand new cast of heroes to take over the throne… in the form of Finn, Rey, Poe and Ren, it still very much feels that we are going on another adventure with the characters we grew up loving: Han, Luke, Leia, Chewie, R2, and C-3PO.

There is a continuity that other derivative products lack, and in a way I am more okay knowing the cast of the original trilogy will always play a secondary role in this new trilogy of movies.  The Avengers are still an active team… and while they exist… Agents of Shield will always be the lesser product.  Similarly no matter how cool Rebels is… and how awesome it is for filling in the gap between the prequels and rebellion era movies…  it will always be the story of people we didn’t know existed until Disney told us they did.  So in the meantime I am going to embrace the joy I am feeling, because there were points yesterday where I wanted to take my hot-wheels Millennium Falcon and go running around the office making “space” noises.  There is a kid inside me that has woken up, that has not been awake since the 80s… and I am perfectly okay with hanging out with him again.  Part of my whole mission to limit the negativity in my life, and to be less cynical…  was to be able to truly feel unbridled joy again… and this movie has paid off in spades.  Sure I am almost forty years old… and sure I probably shouldn’t be enraptured by Star Wars.  To that I say “fuck it” I get to decide what sort of Adult I am going to be, and I choose to be the one that never really grew up inside.

Grumplings

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The most annoying part of any in game holiday event… are the things you have to fight other players for to get spawns.  In the new Winter Veil garrison event, you have to fight players for patches of snow on the ground, in the hopes that instead of getting a snowball of various kids…  you get a Grumpling pet.  Last night after looting many piles of snow I managed to get one… and now I am done touching those piles of snow.  I am not going to be one of these players that tries to profit off this event, because it is my hope that by removing myself from the picture others will have an easier time getting their own Grumplings.  Now however I am still going to be completing the daily event… until I get the damned mount.  I’ve decided to send all of my packages to Belgrace my MooCowAdin, because he seems to be the closest to getting all of the appropriate factions for the flying mount.  So among the four characters I have that can do the daily, I am hoping ONE of them gets the stupid mount.

 

Spoiler Free Review

Doing Silly Things

So the other day I said I would be doing a spoiler free review today, since I was in theory seeing it ahead of a good deal of the potential folks that will eventually see it.  As a result I am leading off my post with the single line tweet that I sent out last night after getting home.  Now I am going to talk about the day and night itself for a bit.  I was not one of those first day ticket scroungers, in fact I ended up waiting at least a week before trying to find any.  We have a smallish theater in town within walking distance of the house…  however last night it fell in the “too damned cold” territory to even consider walking.  For Lord of the Rings I was able to simply walk in on opening night and get tickets, without any pre-order…  so I had no real doubt that I would be able to see the movie this weekend without much fuss.  The original plan was to eat dinner at Plaza De Toros  a Mexican place that I like quite a bit that just happens to conveniently border the parking lot of the movie theater.  Just to make life easier… so we could meet up at 5pm and then walk over and start standing in line around 6pm for the 7pm show.  This at least was our plan…  our plan changed.

I went home over lunch yesterday to pick my tickets up, since pre-orders still need to be printed at the theater in our setup.  I ended up having a lengthy conversation with the worker that was manning the booth, and he told me that they were seating for the 7pm show… aka the first showing as early as 4:30 so that we could go ahead and get seats.  So when I went back and talked it through with my boss, we agreed that we would simply meet at the theater around 5ish instead and either eat at the theater… or like I did and grab something really quickly on the way home.  The positive of both options is our theater has unlimited refills on both soda and popcorn, so my boss went with that option.  The only negative is that I didn’t think to warn him not to take one of the Highways that is notoriously hell to travel on during the evening rush hour… so this meant it was running about 30 minutes later than planned.  Luckily about this time another friend popped her head out of the theater and hollered at me, and saved us some seats near her, her husband that I work with, and their son who was completely amped about the experience and wearing and Ezra Bridger costume.  So there we sat in the theater for an hour and a half ahead of the start time… chatting away and killing the time.

The Movie

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I had a lot of hope riding on this movie… but at the same time I kept trying to prepare myself for the potential of it being just as disappointing as the prequels.  In fact a good deal of my conversation with my friend was that both remember how excited we were for Phantom Menace and how disappointed we were immediately after.  I have to admit… I was not immediately in love with this movie.  Not saying I was disappointed in any fashion… but the movie has a look that is significantly different than the traditional “star wars look” for lack of a better term.  JJ Abrams simply has a different design ethic than George Lucas did… and this is perfectly okay… but I spent the first few moments of the movie “adjusting” to the style.  However at about the twenty minute mark… I was hooked and from that point through the end I was completely drawn into the world and believed that I was in fact watching a new Star Wars epic.  The characters are all excellent, and more importantly than that… their interactions…  are also awesome. There are jokes and quips… and not in a way that takes you outside of the picture.  Much of this movie had to be about passing the torch from one generation to the next… and feel like we are now firmly introduced to the conflict through the eyes of Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron, and Kylo Ren.  Not really going to delve into characters outside of the group, because those are the ones we already know quite a bit about thanks to the trailers.

What I like the most is that each of these characters is their own “new” character… and not “The New Vader” or “The New Luke”.  They are each their own person and don’t really fit any predetermined molds in the Star Wars universe.  The conflict that is set up… is one that I cannot wait to see resolved over the course of the next few movies.  In fact I am hungry to see what happens next…. which is something that never happened during the prequels.  This is the first “new” story that we have had from Star Wars on the big screen in a very long while, because the prequels had a fixed beginning and a fixed end point… and we were simply seeing how the details worked themselves out between.  This time with Force Awakens… we have no clue what is going to happen in the beginning, middle or end… and in spite of all of our machinations and predictions… we know that we know next to nothing.  There are certain aspects that I think seasoned veterans of Star Wars and the Expanded Universe might guess at…. but those guesses are never justified with a firm answer.  This movie feels very much in the tradition of A New Hope, and also feels like this grand Star Wars pen and paper adventure… played out on the screen.  The critics are more than likely not going to like it… because this is absolutely a “Star Wars” movie… and not something that is trying to get an Oscar.  That said… the costuming and use of practical effects absolutely SHOULD get an Oscar.

The little kid in me is alive and happy.  There was a period of time after the prequels where I doubted if my memories of Star Wars were really genuine.  I wondered if the universe really was as cool as I remembered it.  I am happy to say that yes…  this setting still has amazing things to show us.  Now stop reading this shit and go get tickets to see Force Awakens.