Monday, February 28, 2011

To Tweet or Not To Tweet

That is the question. 

Or is it ‘to twit’? Is there a verb tense I should be aware of, and is it really a verb? These boring questions don’t, in fact, matter but posting them here helps to empty the bucket of useless questions and random (often made up) trivia that bounce around my brain on a daily basis. Hence, the blog, as stated in my first post. Your participation in this is appreciated even though, as a particularly cruel blogging-overlord, I rarely say thanks. I guess this is the perfect opportunity, then, to remember you, the reader, and say- Quiet you! You knew the risks coming in, now keep reading!

Although I may be slow to adapt to changes with regards to life in general, I am not adverse to using technology and the new gadgets it brings us. When I say things like “I don’t watch television” or “I don’t use Facebook”, or “I don’t have a mobile (cell phone)”, I realize that I sound like an ancient dinosaur (sans all the roaring, foraging for vegetation, and the thunderous crashing of the trees being knocked down, which I am sure happened as I saw this both in Jurassic Park, and in Ice Age). I was among the first wave of people to embrace Facebook (and yes I do imagining the scene from Saving Private Ryan when they are all in the landing boat about to get shot up when I say "wave") and I thought it was, well.......a bit pointless.

That’s not to say all you wonderful people using it are wasting your time- She Who Is To Be Named Later uses it regularly and I fully realize how it can, in fact, bring people together and promote communication. With her family living in a rural, civilization-starved, sheep-filled wilderness (or Wales as they fondly call it) these  new-fangled, modern contraptions like Facebook are very useful.

Just the other day we were provided (subjected to) the photos of some pink, squishy-looking, new-born babes, still hot from the oven, who were born to her brother (who incidentally escaped Wales, only to end up in another god-forsaken, barbarian-filled, untamed wilderness called Australia). It was a wonderful family moment that made you happy to be alive, I was told, in between battles in World of Tanks. What? Insensitive? Me? I’m leveling my Tank Destroyer which has more immediacy, and a greater impact on my life than a set of twins ever will. By the time they are old enough to help me I won’t even be playing World of Tanks anymore, so really, what’s the point......

Right. So now that you’ve experienced a bit of the living hell that is She Who Will Be Named Later’s daily life, we’ll move on.

I never really took Facebook all that seriously. I created a profile as my dog and posted as if I was him talking which was actually good fun. I wouldn’t answer people directly but instead would force them to talk as if they were speaking to my dog. Hilarious on so many levels but likely only to me, in retrospect. In the end I gave it up and deleted it because:

  1. I had absolutely no interest in people from my past. Hated them then, hate them now, don’t care what they are up to.
  2.  My alleged ‘friends’ continued to post things on my wall which true friends would know I had no interest in: Save the Dolphins? No, thank you, I like tuna. Violence Against Women? I’m against, so no, thank you. Cruelty to Cats? For, actually, so again, no thank you. New Nickleback song? Automatic de-friending offence.
  3.  I’d rather just call someone if I was interested in talking to them because I’m old school like that.

I am a bit chuffed that my group Lurchers For The Domination Of Mankind is still accessible, er that is to say my dog is chuffed that the group he started is still accessible. Most of my dissatisfaction with Facebook simply stems from my avoidance of most things labeled ‘social’. In my capacity as His Majesty’s Chief Torturer I don’t meet a lot of people (more than once) so my real-life social network is fairly small.

Fast forward to present day where I am blogging (how very public, and dogging!), and I’ve also created a Raptr profile to track my game time for the Sandbox Challenge. I am looking at Twitter, which I always though of as an extremely condensed version of Facebook (status update: I'm drunk!), as the next step in my online-evolution. I see the advantages of it but I am wondering if I can really be bothered. I see some people with three thousand tweets and I wonder: does anyone really want that many random thoughts from my head? I realize it is more than that. It is also a way of connecting with like-minded individuals and discussing topics of interest.

On the more self-serving side it would be a good way to promote the blog but to what end? Do I need a lot of readers to make this ‘worthwhile’. The answer, of course, is no. My intention was never to amass a large following but if I did, you can be sure I would use them specifically for evil and never good. At the end of the day, however, we all want some readers and/or input or we’d simply write in a diary, hide it under our bed, and wear the key around our neck.

Dear Diary,

Today I met a wonderful boy by the name of Twitter. He’s so dreamy. He lets me talk all the time and he seems so understanding. Whenever I look into his starry, blue eyes my heart skips a beat, and I wonder what it would feel like to hold him in my arms.....but I mustn’t! I have promised my love to Facebook. How could I betray him with the likes of Twitter? Oh Diary, whatever shall I do? I thought I loved Myspace once but that was so fleeting. If only my one true love, the Bulletin Board System, would come back to me, but he is gone and I have to move on.

So back to the question: To Tweet or not to Tweet. I see the advantages but do I really need to worry about followers, and listings, and who’s twitting me? Do I need to expose myself the to possibility of virtual social rejection through friend invites and networking? Isn’t there enough rejection and social awkwardness in real life? Is there nowhere to hide? I am fairly resistant to social situations (and applications) so perhaps my procrastination is rather silly, and like Hamlet I should just get on with it and kill my Uncle.....or at least threaten him over Twitter.

My first post could be:

@Gankalicious:  I’m pissed I haven’t killed my stupid incestuous uncle yet. I’m going to get at that right now dammit! Oh bugger, my World of Tanks battle just popped. Jagdpanther, thy name is frailty! But holy jeebus you’ve got a big gun.

A Passage from William Tweetspeare:

To tweet, or not to tweet: that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The textual silence of a virtual world
Or to take arms against a sea of Tweets.
And by opposing end them? To Tweet: To Text;
No more; and by a Tweet to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That Tweeting is heir to, ‘tis a consummation
Devoutly to be read. To Tweet, to post;
To Tweet: perchance to communicate: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that Tweet of death what words may come
When we have shuffled off this real-life coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That may give us new readers
Who would bear the whips and scorns of my blog.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Sandbox Challenge: Istaria

The Sandbox Challenge is not off to a great start. Ultima Online defeated me with its dated graphics and top-down 2-d play and now I've run into a slight problem with Istaria. I'm not sure what I read that allowed this game on to my initial list, but after 10 hours of game time I can confidently stay that this is not a sandbox themed MMO.

I could be wrong. Maybe, in fact, it's the ultimate sandbox MMO which has disguised itself in order to infiltrate the theme-park MMO world where it's going to pull off a massive heist after getting access to the corporate hanger ala Paul Clavete. Probably not.

Ten hours, in MMO terms, isn't a lot of game time so there is the chance that sandbox elements do creep in later. EVE online had an introductory tutorial that lasted a good few hours, and consisted (mainly) of running missions (quests) which did resemble (in a way) the beginning of a traditional theme-park MMO. I knew getting into EVE, however, that this story arc was brief.

Although it will not be scored as part of my Sandbox Challenge I have spent ten hours of my (precious) life playing it so I am going to subject you to a short review. If anyone has played Istaria and can tell me that I'm wrong, and it evolves into the most wonderful sand-box ever, please speak up before I delete it to make room for the others!

There are some elements in Istaria that I really like. The game boasts about the option of playing as a Dragon and rightfully so- it's a brilliant feature! After playing countless dwarves, a smattering of elves, more than a handful of humans, and most recently a Tank, the ability to roll a non-humanoid character is pretty damn refreshing. My choice of Dragon as starting race (species?) was never in doubt but I have to say the altoholic in me was dying to try a few of the others (Half Giant being among them). Why are 'fantasy' games, which by definition should allow for anything, always based on the same old boring model of elves, dwarves, humans, and other? It's a tired theme. Yes, yes, I know we often have orcs to choose from, and sometimes cat-like people, but a full on Dragon? That's just cool no matter how old or game-savy you may be. It's almost as cool as being a tank! But I digress....

That's not a monster, that's me!

So Gankalicious the black dragon (with gold highlights) was born and off she quest. I know that introductory quests are part and parcel of almost all games in some form but I really do hate them. Istaria's quests are of the type I especially dislike in that they involve a lot of running for no apparent (game related) purpose. It drives me crazy. Go here, go there, do this, get that. I can't stand it and I never see the point (other than the time-sink of course). Starting quests should be about allowing you to get used to the interface and immersing you in the world, not providing you with a virtual-workout in case your virtual-cholesterol is high.

Istaria sends you half way across an island to kill 5 of this, and then (after running back to the quest giver) sends you off to kill 5 of that....just a little further from where you were. I finally broke when I was given this quest:

Really? You need to test my swiftness? Is this the army physical all over again? Shall I cough?

The game has been out since 2003 and yet the game-play is very buggy. Animations were off, skills became stuck, characters would disappear into the ground during weird graphical-glitches. For a game that has been out for so long (and has had recent patches) these small but annoying problems should be long-gone.

Despite these annoyances I could see how the game could be a lot of fun. The crafting seemed very in-depth and allowed for you to make anything you would need. Playing a Dragon, as I said, is a great selling point. Your Dragon's Hoard is featured in your inventory and using certain powers would cost a small portion of it. Just amassing a massive hoard would be incentive enough for me, but tying it to your power use is rather unique I thought. The fact that you start as a small hatchling and physically grow as you gain in power is also a nice touch.

My Hoard

The player base seemed very, very small (but I was in the starter area) and everyone I encountered was friendly. Random buffs were quite common and groups of higher ranking players (massive dragons compared to me!) were sitting around talking.

I wouldn't say my time in Istaria was wasted, but it certainly isn't a game I could stick with for very long. The unique features are interesting but I found Istaria to be typical of a theme-park game which relies on questing to grant experience which allows you to level up and distribute points across your skills. I may have been hampered by being the starting area but I didn't see how the game would provide a lot of freedom of action outside of crafting and questing. I am not going to rate Istaria because I didn't reach the 20-hour minimum play time, and it doesn't actually seem to be a sandbox game.

Player Dragons = Cool. And yes Regis, that's my final answer.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

For Better or Worse Includes Game Addiction I'm Pretty Sure

So I'm back after taking a few days out to celebrate the one yearly event that really matters: my wedding anniversary. We have never taken valentines day seriously (even whilst 'dating') but we always make an effort for the 'big one' even if its a simple dinner and a bottle (keg) of wine. Despite having to wait in a pub all day (I know, it sounds good, but wait for it) while my truck was being fixed by a kindly mechanic (who took pity on some stranded travelers) we made it back intact, and happy, if not a little broke.

Before I lose you here with tales of romance and other such boring personal matters I will say there is a gaming point to be made. Other than the occasional obsession with the Tomb Raider series She Who Will Be Named Later doesn't play computer or console games of any kind. Her forays into Tomb Raider usually end up with her getting stuck and asking if I could (despite not playing console games very much and not actually liking puzzle games) get her past that particular level. Ya, sure, if you wouldn't mind healing this warband while I duck out for a bio break......... Next time I'll send her to Van Hemlock and co. as I'm sure they could help.

A few days ago, however, I came across something I thought, just possibly, could hook her. Like any good addict my goal is to ensure others become addicted to my vice so I seem more normal. Like crack-cocaine. You can't be about smoking crack if no one around you is into it- it just won't work:

Hey guys, instead of going to Starbucks for some java, how about we head over to this flop house I know, smoke some crack, grab a sexual favor off some toothless twenty-year old for ten bucks, score some heroin to come down with, and pass out in a pool of our own filth for 12 hours?

You see? Wouldn't work....or would it......bah, never mind. I don't have the ten bucks now after the city-break and car-repair and quite frankly if there's no sexual favors from toothless addicts to be had I'm not even interested.

In any case a few days before we left I saw this, and then found this, and then loaded up this, and called her in to take a look. Similar to Dr. Frankenstein I have now created a monster. 'Just one more turn' is something I have uttered untold numbers of times to her, but now.......Normally I would, at this point, state I have succeeded in my mission to get her into computer games and proudly proclaim: Winner- Me! Huzzah!

The only problem is (which I should have totally anticipated) is that we only have one computer internet-capable at the moment. Do you see the flaw in my dastardly plan? I haven't even played the game myself and now I'm in danger of losing game time to it. The only way forward is to get the old laptop up and running so we can retreat into the silence of marital bliss until next year when we venture forth to celebrate- likely with said laptop so she can continue to play Echo Bazzar and I can update my blog.

I hope you had a Happy Friday and managed to survive without my Fortuitous Friday Post which, had I been able to post would have read:

Fortuitous Friday: Truck Breaks Down = Bad. Pub Has My Favorite Ale on Tap= Good.

In any case I'm assuming everyone is neck deep into RIFT at the moment and likely hasn't a clue that I was away, or that I'm back, or that I'm now ending this post.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ultima Online: 1 Gankalicious: 0

The way I see it, we can do this one of two ways.

I can use all of my skills, all of  my influence, and all of my power, which isn’t something you should underestimate, mind you, to make Ultima Online simply disappear. Poof. Like it never existed. I see you’re smiling. You think I can’t make that happen? No? Think again, my friend, because I can. One snap of these fingers and its gone.

Still unconvinced?

Alright, well, fair play to you for calling my bluff.  Since my powers of persuasion have failed to convince you perhaps it’s time to tape up the phone book and grab a long-handled, black  flashlight. You’ll soon come around I think......what? I’m where? My blog post? Ah, crap, I thought I was a police detective in a 70's crime drama there for a minute. Bugger. Nothing says cool like beating a confession out of a skell while your partner tries unsuccessfully to hold you back. Come to think of it, in the 70's no one would be holding me back! Winner: Expedited Justice. Huzzah!

Alright then, failing that, what I can do, is use my power to erase every mention of it from my blog. Every post, every sign it ever existed in the Sandbox Challenge, gone in an instant. That I can do, and I will, if I must. Alternatively we can be mature about all this and I can step up to the plate, be a man, come clean, drop the dime, ‘fess up, and admit that Ultima Online has defeated me.

I just can’t do it. I gave it 5 hours of my life and it just felt like an enormous chore slogging through that dated, 2-d world. I really didn’t want my Sandbox Challenge to start with an incomplete but there we go. As 32ndlaw stated there is no point in torturing myself. I do wish I had tried this game ‘back in the day’. I can tell that I would have absolutely loved it, but updated graphics have spoiled me I’m afraid, so it’s time to move on!

And to that end, in case you think I am easily put off, or that I am not ‘up to the challenge’, I have downloaded and started the next game on my list: Istaria. As you can see by my Raptr profile I’m just getting started. I’m going to save my specific comments for an Istaria-only post to avoid clouding it with the failure of my time in Ultima which from now on will be known as the Game That Defeated Me.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Xsyon: World News! The Sky is Falling!

I did predict it but I'm not feeling smug. I stated that I like Xsyon and want it to succeed so I take no joy in this weekends prelude-launch problems. The trend these days seems to be to launch no matter how unfinished the game may be. I think the Earthrise debacle may take the prize for biggest flop this year. Xsyon isn't finished, and the developers have made that clear. This launch is actually not the official release but a headstart for whoever pre-ordered.

And that's what knocked them to their knees. The hype I mentioned last week has managed to turn into a tidal wave of interest that swamped the servers. Too many last-minute pre-orders overloaded the system (3 gig client download) and it all came crashing down.....sort of.

If you're interested in Xsyon, or have pre-ordered, you know what I'm talking about, and if you haven't you likely don't care. In short: there was some corruption to the database, and lag which saw up to 45 seconds between button-press and action. Of course the Chicken-Littles would have you believe the lag lasted up to 5 minutes and the game is utterly finished.

The point of my post (my PMP if you will) is not that a small game, by an independent developer hit a bump on launch- it happens and that's hardly news- but on how the developer has handled it all:

For those that will say why didn't we implement this before... good question. I should have thought of this system before, but I didn't. I'm not perfect. ;-)
There is a lot of speculation about what could have been done to prevent this. I did try to get our bandwidth upgraded and servers moved two weeks ago, but as various options were offered, changed and delayed, we ended up stuck with the current configuration.

Ultimately it's my responsibility so here's what we're going to do:

All players will get two weeks additional free play time. Effectively that makes March 15th our 'official launch' start. The actual start and final wipe will be as soon as possible once we have the new servers set up.

Again, I apologize for this rough start. We'll get over this bump soon!

Very nice. Very mature. I made a mistake, sorry about that, let's move on shall we? How refreshing. I spent some time online and for the most part the mood was good. Well, to be fair, the mood was mixed when I logged in during the day- there was no shortage of complainers. The lag was bad, there is no denying that, and there was some data-loss which translated into some items going missing but they're starter items so I don't see the big deal. There was some type of exploit discovered around Tribe placement as well but the exploiters themselves reported it. Can we even call them exploiters in that case? Seems to me like they just found a bug and reported it like good testers are supposed to do.

I re-logged at 01:00 am to run about and test some ideas and there was a good vibe in general chat. The lag was completely gone and there were more people playing at that time than I had expected. I would assume those who rage-logged were gone and what was left was a nice group of people intent on trying out the game (sans lag and sans moaners in chat). I was jumped by a crazy-looking, half-naked, pot-bellied, black dude who sliced me up with a pair of primitive blades (it's fair to say he went all Mesolithic on my ass).

After I re-spawned we sat on the grass and talked about the game, combat, pvp, and how our battle went. In the end he gave me an open-invite to his guild and we went on our way. It was, now that I think of it, some of the most meaningful player-interaction I've had in an MMO in quite some time. It's really nice to be able to talk to everyone, even your enemies. It's a feature I really like. that I re-read that it rather sounds like a date, doesn't it? Me and a half naked man...lying on the grass....talking after a sweaty me his number's like the gay-experience I never had. Note that I said never, dammit, and I meant it! (College and road trips to Las Vegas don't count, of course, and then there was that time in Guatemala.....oh never mind. Next time I'll just bring wine.) 

With so much talk about community in the blogosphere (is that one word or two I wonder) lately I have to say Xsyon so far is looking good on that front. I know Spinks has been talking about this a lot (as has Tobold) and there was a very good post by Wolfshead which I commented on earlier.

Xsyon is a game that absolutely requires some co-operation by the nature of its economic interdependence. Unless you (like I have done in testing) roll a toon for every crafting profession, drop your tool bag, and re-roll (which can take up to 10 minutes and you best hope no one wanders by and takes that bag as the game is FFA pvp and  full loot) you will likely need something which someone else can make for you. There are no NPC's, and no Auction House to run to. You make it, trade for it, or take it by force, or you will have to do without. If someone takes your fishing rod and you can't make another you'd better start getting used to the taste of grass. Food and water is not optional in Xsyon.

There will be another full wipe prior to preludes re-launch once the new servers are up and running and we will all begin again. I think it's a good sign that there is enough interest to both warrant a bigger, better server and provide the developers with the cash to do so. Patience isn't always a virtue that we gamers possess in great quantities. The developers have handled this quickly and professionally, and I am confident the game will continue as it was intended. A bit of lag due to massive interest doesn't make the game unplayable overall, just unplayable for the moment. In fact I will make another Xsyon prediction: the game will be fine. It will attract a small but loyal following and evolve and grow.

My advice? Well if you started playing prior to the hype machine you probably don't need any advice. You are probably invested in the idea of the game and are anxious to play. Anxious is okay. Obnoxious is not, however, so if you're one of the doomsayers and/or whingers I currently see on the forums, and in general chat, do us a favor and:

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Sandbox Challenge: Ultima Online

Time played: 4 hours

It seems like I started the Sandbox Challenge ages ago and I’ve felt, for some reason, a bit under pressure to get going on the project. That’s mostly down to my nature, however, but also due to some feedback I’ve received from people who think this is a good idea and are interested in following my progress. Well, welcome aboard, and here we go!

My history with Ultima is both brief, and old. Ancient almost. I have never played any of the Ultima games, online or otherwise. I first encountered Ultima in its fourth incarnation, the Quest of the Avatar (1985). For those of you who may have missed my earlier posts (with all that boring background stuff on me) I only have one real-life friend who games, and I have known him for over 26-years. I grew up in a small, small, small, rural town, while he lived in the magical, faraway land of......the city (que drums).

I was able to escape the puritanical shackles of my small-minded home town on those special weekends in which I would visit him. I don’t know if you had this friend, but he was “the guy” with everything (or so it seemed to me). He got a Nintendo on release, for instance (while I was stuck with an Intellivision), and I spent many hours watching him play. He wasn’t a cruel, console hog, but the very fact that he had the system and I didn’t ensured he was good, and I, of course, sucked. We would play 2P on Mario Brothers which would consist of me playing for 5 minutes and dying (bloody mushrooms), and then him playing for an hour or more.

He was, then, the first to get a computer, and it was in his basement bedroom (I know, how terribly stereotypical of a teen-aged gamer, but these stereotypes have to start somewhere) that I remember watching him play Ultima. It was cool. That’s what I remember most. We were avid role-playing gamers before we really knew what that meant. We played Dungeons and Dragons (of course) and would eventually go on to try a staggering amount of computer role-playing games.

Sadly, he is lost to me now. No, no, he’s not dead- he does, however, stubbornly refuse to embrace pvp, and sticks mainly to pve-based games such as City of Heroes, and, oddly when you think about it- he prefers RTS while I prefer turn based that works (with my love of pvp and his of pve) I haven’t quite figured out. The result? We haven’t gamed together since we did multi-player battles in Heroes of Might and Magic IV (by modem no less) in about 2003-ish.

I don’t remember much about Ultima, but I did watch him play for quite some time. I remember Moon Gates, and Virtues, and spell components mainly. I have come to Ultima Online a little blind, really, about what the game entails which is just as well because that fits nicely with my goal of the Sandbox Challenge: to try it without being influenced or helped by forums.

So far, I have to admit, I am really struggling to log in and play. I just don’t fancy it, and it’s because of the 2d, dated graphics. I have to admit that I am a bit of a game snob, and I do find it quite difficult to go back to the ‘classics’ due to the low-quality graphics. Does that make me a bad person? Should I love these games so much I overlook their disheveled, grubby state? Maybe- love is blind and all that (or so they say...whoever these blind fools are).

I have been able to go back to some great games that I have loved- XCOM: UFO Defense, Pirates!, Rome: Total War (not exactly old, I know) to name a few, but for the most part I’d rather remember the good times in my mind than re-live it on screen. The hidden pitfall level in the newer pitfall (now actually quite old) was pretty cool though I must admit. Most of the time however, it is the warm, happy, nostalgic feelings that we crave, and not the actual game play.

Wait a minute...wasn’t I talking about something else just a minute ago.......oh yes, Ultima Online.....

I downloaded and installed the client with no problems and was up and playing in no time. I have always had a soft spot for Necromancers (both in game and out) so my choice of classes was easily made. I decided that as my role-playing element I would be a Necromancer interested in power (gasp) and riches (shocking) intent on enslaving a small village with her demonic minions. Ya, not really an original slant on the whole necromancer thing, but I did say ‘light’ role-playing elements. Just enough to keep me on track and prevent me from wasting too much time, say, baking cookies (which I spent a half hour doing at the start of the game).

I’ve obviously just begun, and as stated, am struggling to find the motivation to play through this one. I still haven’t completed the first class-based quest to get my necromancy skill up to 50. To be honest I may strike this game from the list and move on. I do want the challenge but in the end I shouldn’t dread logging in to play. I’ll give it a bit more of a chance and see what happens.
I suppose I could alter my role-playing goal and see if I can make some undead cookies, or have my undead minions make my cookies! Mmmmm..........Necrookies. After having slaved away under the tyrannical yolk of that real-life friend in his Michelin-Starred Restaurant* for what seemed like an eternity, I can honestly say I kind of know what it feels like to be a zombie, hunched over a hot stove, for (practically) no pay- unless you count the enormous amounts of gin I guzzled while ‘cleaning up’ at the end of the shift as pay, and then, by god, I was wealthy beyond imagination!

*Michelin stars mentioned in this blog may not be real Michelin stars, but may actually be complete figments of the author’s imagination (though if any restaurant in this land-locked, culinary hell-hole deserves one, it really and truly is his).

Friday, February 18, 2011

Fortuitous Friday: Enter The Killing

Well here we are- another Fortuitous Friday is upon us- and you are to be subjected to whatever non-gaming topic is currently on my mind......

It isn't often that I recommend a television program. There are several reasons for this but the primary one is that I don't own a television. I know, I know, it kind of stops the heart for a bit there doesn't it? The television has become the luxury-turned-necessity can't-do-without item in the modern household. We design entire rooms around this box and then spend days on end worshipping in its neon light. It screams at us non-stop: We're too fat, not fat enough, too old, too young, too poor, too rich, too lazy- but for god sake don't turn off that tele!

I'm not preaching, really I'm not. I hide in a virtual world of games during my free-time so each to their own. I do watch television, of a sort, on the BBC I-player which we stream in via a proxy. She Who Will Be Named Later misses the programs from her distant home-land (Wales), and uses it to keep in touch with her culture. I completely understand that as I used to love watching hockey and such when I lived away just to hear a familiar accent. The bonus with the BBC is there are no ads.

There are very few shows that I have recommended to others throughout the years. Personal taste accounts for a lot when selecting what to watch, and whereas I would love to see a 2-hour documentary on the evolutionary ecology of ant-plant mutualisms as evidenced by the Myrmecophilia orchid in Central America others, sadly, would not.

When I first moved to Ireland (2003) I was in the middle of The Wire season 3 and  recommended it to everyone. It was a tough sell, I have to admit. Another 'american' cop show? With a maverick? Groaaaaan. It was hard to explain why The Wire was different, but it was. As I was moving back to Canada the Guardian and other UK papers were finally realizing how good this HBO series was and it's popularity soared.

I am once again staking my (not so) precious reputation on 'another cop show', and am highly recommending The Killing.

This is another tough sell based on the fact that it is a familiar story (cops- and yes one is a maverick- investigating a murder) and, unless you're Danish, it's in a foreign language. Subtitles are not my particular forte. I always moan that I don't want to read a bloody movie. I spend all day working as an Intake Officer in Gulag 52 reading the files of those sent to us for re-education: confessions, life stories, KGB's an endless wall of text, let me tell you. One of the last things I want to do, when I want to relax and 'watch' something is to read it.

That said this series is really worth a look. The story is, indeed, familiar- I've already managed to pick out who did it- but it is very well done. A slow-burner some may say, although I liked it from the start. It follows the 20-day investigation of a murder with each episode being a single day. It is a unique format especially when you consider most 'cop shows' tend to have the murder, investigation, trial, incarceration, and the death of the offender by old age- all in one hour (45 minutes without ads).

It is also well-acted (which is sometimes hard to tell when it's a foreign language) and the lead is a very strong female- also somewhat rare in television drama's. I don't mean strong, as in tough-talking, and butch, but well acted, well-scripted, and believable. The series is just picking up steam, and I think it's starting to get some pretty good critical reviews (I could be wrong about that since I don't actually read reviews lol). The characters are human, believable, and talk like real people do which is always a plus.

If you don't have access to the BBC I'm not sure how you might get a hold of this one. I, of course, wouldn't recommend Isohunt or any such illegal program for exchanging copyrighted material with other like minded individuals but I'm sure you'll think of something.

And do ignore the fact that I have stated I know who did it. I could be wrong (not likely) but it isn't for any flaw in the program- I'm just pretty damn good at guessing these things. I will, at the end, proudly reveal who I thought it was- right or wrong- and we'll see. In the meantime they are currently on Day 9 so if you can grab the back episodes you'll have 9-hours of viewing bliss.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Why You Don't Like RIFT

I hate how I began my previous review of RIFT.

I actually have a bit of a confession to make. I don’t actually hate RIFT, but don’t feel let down. I don’t like it a whole lot. To be honest, I led with an ant-rift theme in an attempt to see how many extra blog hits I could pull in.

I know, I know. You feel duped. Angry. Maybe you’re hovering over the ‘back’ button on your browser. Stop! Bear with me, gentle reader, and hear me out. I do sincerely apologize for the ruse.*

I did previously review RIFT, and stated, quite honestly, that I hated it. I also said it looked like shit. I also noted that post was one of my most viewed blogs (at the time). Reading SynCaine’s post yesterday reminded me of that. I have been in the RIFT Alpha, under a Non Disclosure Agreement, since shortly after that post and have remained silent on the game ever since.

Well, the tongue-gloves are off, because now I’m talking! I’m not too worried, since the game is now in open beta, and I am not revealing any Alpha secrets (get away from the back button damn you!) so I am not, in fact, betraying my sacred agreement.

The other main motivation for this particular article was a post I ran into on The author was asking what he had to do to like RIFT. He stated that he had tried various builds, quests, and warfronts, but just didn’t seem to be liking the game. Responses included different builds to try, and suggestions he simply move on. If he didn’t like playing RIFT, maybe he simply didn’t like playing RIFT. Seems simple, doesn’t it?

My intention is not to make fun of the original poster (and that's why I haven't linked to it), and in fact I really do empathise with him. When the RIFT hype started I was sucked into that great swirling vortex and pre-ordered: boldly choosing thee 6-month founders subscription rate. I joined the beta, and then, for reasons of chance and luck, got an invite into the alpha testing. And got muzzled.

I’ve read a lot of reviews about the game since then. Many of the authors on my blog-roll have talked about it, and quite a few of them are quite excited about it. I have sat on the sidelines wondering the same thing as that original poster on the forum: why don’t I like this game? And I think I have the answer.

Let me tell you a real-life story (stop groaning, it won’t be so bad). Where I grew up, 19 years old was the legal drinking age, so at 19, I did what everyone else did and went to the bars.

Now I have to explain to the UK readers that North America as a whole doesn’t really have a Pub Culture. It is starting to change but The Pub, as you know it didn’t exist for me back then. The bars weren’t exactly clubs, as you know them, either. They were just bars that played whatever rock/dance music that was radio-popular at the time (or country and western in the case of the country bars). The ‘DJ’ was just a dude playing a single song off a tape, or eventually, a cd (yes, I did say tape). The only alternative were lounges attached to restaurants (yuck) or sports bars which are the same world over and we are all familiar with (televisions all tuned to some yawn-fest, or worse, multiple yawn-fests).

I tried them all, and for the most part, I hated them. I especially hated those loud, testosterone-fuelled bars where the test of your ‘manhood’ was how many drinks you could consume and how many chicks you could pick up. I was quite good at the first, but not so good at the second. I hated going, but all my friends went and I always felt conflicted. I didn’t like going and when I went I didn’t have fun, but I always felt that I should like it, and that I should be having fun.

Fast forward a couple decades and I can tell you that I know myself a lot better now (wisdom of the ancients and all that). I know why I hated those places. There are two reasons.

1. They actually, in all fairness, fucking sucked.
2. They weren’t my scene.

The first of my reasons is very subjective (and pardon my language). I am sure some of the people there genuinely had a good time, and enjoyed that social format. I don’t begrudge them that (now.....).

My second reason is very objective, however. Those bars, no matter how full, or how many of my friends were there, just weren’t what I was (or am) into. After extensive traveling, living abroad, and experiencing ‘other’ ways to socialize, I now realize that I’m a pub guy. I like a nice, somewhat dirty, wooden pub, with real ale, a blazing fire (God I miss Ireland sometimes), and a few good friends. No friends? No problem, I’ll read the paper. No paper? Whatever, I can drink in silence or chat with the barman (silence preferred in most cases).

We all have, both in real-life and in-game, zones of comfort. I am comfortable in a slightly quieter setting with fewer people, and I am at my most amiable in this situation. I have fun, and enjoy the people I’m with. All those years I ‘failed’ to pull (pick someone up) in those bars wasn’t because  there was something wrong with me, it was because I wasn’t comfortable in that roll or setting. Given the fact that She Who Will Be Named Later and I had our first kiss in a pub, it seems like that particular setting works best for me on a lot of levels (errrrrr, that’s not to say, darling, if you should be reading this, that you have anything to worry about when I go to the pub tonight to read the paper.......).

Love blooms in the most unlikely of places....not much to look at but this, is, in fact, one of Dublin's best pubs (for those in the know) and where my wife and I shared our first kiss (I know, sappy and gross, but it's our anniversary next week  so I'm scoring points!)

RIFT, for me, is much like those bars of old I described earlier. I don’t mean to say, “it sucks”, but rather that it just isn’t for me. And that’s okay. I felt the pull of RIFT. I want to like it, and it really is a decent game. I think Trion is doing an amazing job- they seem to be responding to player needs, providing quality customer service, and genuinely trying to ensure their game is as good as it can be. That is commendable. After years of abuse at the hands of EA/Mythic in Warhammer it’s so nice I want to cry. At the very least they deserve some support and I do not regret my pre-purchase in any way.

If I could travel back in time and visit my young self, suffering through a socially-torturous Friday night at a crappy bar, hoping to God he could go home soon, I’d simply say: Take off mate. This isn’t for you, and that’s okay. I’d also, of course, pass on some sporting results he could drop off at the bookies which, conveniently is usually near a pub-or is actually in the pub as was the case in one of my locals. (God bless you, Ireland, for providing me with both the dole, and a bookie/pub right across from my sign-in spot. Your kindness will not soon be forgotten!).

My point then (finally)? If you don’t like RIFT, that’s okay. The reasons why you don’t like it might not even matter, and the fact that loads of people are going to play and enjoy it, doesn’t really matter one way or another, now does it?

*Sincere apologies offered by the author may not, in fact, be apologies, nor sincere, and the author would like to sincerely apologize for any misunderstandings arising from said apologies. Sincerely.