Thursday, March 31, 2011

Chocolate Covered Zombies Concludes!

I know I’m late to the party on this one (as it's already been discussed around the blogosphere) but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the (somewhat) recent controversy regarding the Dead Island trailer. This little trailer has managed to disturb and/or offend some and while I can empathize with them, they are all wrong. I know, I know. That’s an inflammatory, and somewhat egotistical statement and I agree. In that, you are right.

First, if you haven’t seen it (where have you been?), take a look.

Now what has put a lot of people off is the death of the little girl, and as Bronte pointed out this is the first time we have really seen zombie children and rarely do we see depictions of violence toward children in zombie films. That is has managed to unnerve some is completely understandable.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Chocolate Covered Zombies

Zombies, like chocolate, are another favourite of mine. Not real-life zombies, of course, which I find to be rather dull and quite bitey, but zombies in movies and games. My love of zombies began when I first saw George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Like a lot of people I was instantly hooked on the genre and have been watching anything zombie-related for the better part of three decades.

There have been many memorable zombie films over the years including classic Romero (Night, Dawn, Day) which were quite serious (at the time) and portrayed mans struggle against the zombies hordes. That’s the thing with zombies, isn’t it? There’s never a zombie, or a couple, or even a few zombies about. It’s always a zombie zerg. It's a lot like Warhammer Online when you think about it: mindless fools shuffling from BO to BO before the eventual attack on the shopping I mean the keep.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ryzom: Wonderful World, Beautiful People

Ooooh, how exciting! Here we are at the first scoring of the first game I have completed for my Sandbox Challenge. The first of the first. It’s a bit long, but I didn’t want to break it up, so here it is.

Ryzom was a last-minute addition to my Sandbox list, and I began knowing absolutely nothing about it. It was recommended by one of my readers and I’m very  glad it was. In the recent Van Hemlock podcast, he talks about his experiences in Ryzom and there are a lot of points he makes that I agree with. We’ll get to that in a bit, but for now on to the review!

Learning curve: 3.5/5

Above average

This category represents the difficulty in learning how to play the game. If it is too difficult, or too easy, it can take away from the enjoyment of play. Ryzom starts all new players in the same zone and provides a series of introductory quests to assist you in acclimatizing to the game mechanics and concepts. They are not mandatory (which is nice considering it’s a sandbox) but will help you to learn the game. You can select quests representing the main groups of skills (crafting, gathering, melee, and magic). You can take multiple quests, or you can leave out the skills you don’t want to upgrade (though all are beneficial in the beginning- crafting points, for example, can be spent on hit point upgrades).

Ryzom’s learning curve lasted approximately nine hours. After that I was comfortable with the UI, and was beginning to understand the fundamental game concepts. By 20 hours I felt I was playing a new game as opposed to learning a new game (if that makes sense). Over all it struck a good balance: not too easy, and not too hard. It provided enough of a challenge to keep you thinking but not so much that it would discourage you.

Online Community: 4.5/5


The people you play with can (and should) have a major impact on your time in an MMO. I found Ryzom’s online community to be helpful, polite, and passionate about the game. They appear to be a mature, tight‑nit bunch who are willing to help newcomers learn and enjoy the
game. A few of the players (and some of the game staff) took note of my blog posts and commented both here, and in‑game.

Overall the Ryzom community is a very nice group to be around. My only criticism is there aren’t enough of them (low player population).

Monday, March 28, 2011

Eve Online: Judged!

I have never talked about my Eve experience. It's not a ‘I’ve been so traumatized I can’t’ kind of silence, it's just never come up which may be inexcusable given my love of the sanbox. I played for approximately six months, and I was a dual-boxing, multiple account holder. I won’t get into what I did, specifically but I did try to sample every aspect of the game except for large fleet wars and faction battles. Remember, too, when I say ‘I played’ I mean it was the only game (mmo or otherwise) that I played for six months straight while I was (mostly) unemployed. I’m no expert but I did rack up a few hours. Right so, let’s get started with baseline Sandbox Scoring exercise!

Eve Online: The Sandbox Challenge Scoring

Learning Curve: 3.5/5

Average +

There is a handy story arc (introductory missions) which ensure you can come to grips with the basics quite quickly. Eve benefits from a plethora of forums which talk about load-outs, mission running, name it- it's there. In-game there is a help channel as well. It does, however, take some time to learn what he hell is really going and you can lose a lot of ships along the way. There is nothing overly hard about learning the basics though prospering will take some time, patience, and research.

Online Community 2.0/5

Below Average

Before the hackles go up on any die-hard Eve-fanatics out there let me just state that I realize Eve allows for, and encourages griefing, scamming, paranoia, corp-thefts, piracy, lying, deception, and ganking. I’m on board with all of that, trust me. It’s one of the reasons I decided to play, but just because I like it, and it’s part of the game doesn’t make it nice. Or right.

The Eve community sucks. Many players view you as content, pure and simple. I’m not bothered by pirates, or even gankers, but the endless spamming of crap-scams in general chat (who falls for that I wonder), and the constant paranoia, and  worry that some jerk is trying to trick you gets a little old after awhile. It can be fun, but you really do have to have a thick skin, or learn to join in. “It’s all part of the game” is very reminiscent of “we were only doing our jobs”. 

It’s not the fact that these thing are allowed, it’s how they are embraced and used by some (I did say some) of the community that drags this score down. Unfortunately the few really nice people I met are overshadowed by the fact I was:

A. Getting scammed/ganked/tricked/robbed/lied to/or bullied by a few jerks OR
B. Trying to scam/grief/gank them myself.

Hey, what did you expect? If you can’t find a solution, become part of the problem, right? You will note I have the Suddenly Ninja’s blog on my roll so you should have seen it coming. Just like in Eve.......things aren’t what they appear to be. Still, the community sucks. My final answer.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Greyhound Revisited.....In Tank Form

Although I've yet to actually team up with them (my bad) I have found a World of Tank Clan in the 116th Panzer Division Windhund which is named after a real Wehrmacht unit that was created late in the war (1944). To be honest I don't know a lot about either the real unit, or my new clan but I will, I am sure, find out in due time.

It's always exciting starting a new gaming venture and I am looking forward to the launch of World Of Tanks and getting started in the Clan Wars aspect of the game. I am currently using all the free beta gold to try out various different options like fully trained crews, better ammo, and heavy tanks. I've also gone back to artillery as of last night but that was mostly due to the fact I had drank so much wine I couldn't actually drive a tank anymore. Drunken tank drivers don't make great decisions I have found, but I did do fairly well in my lowly Tier III Russian artillery unit.

I joined the Windhund clan for sound, well-though out, and pain-painstakingly researched reasons (honest I did) but I have to admit I really fancied the name. Windhund translates to Greyhound and I am a huge fan of Greyhounds- as pets, not the sport of.

When I first moved to Ireland I did what a lot of people there do and I went to the Greyhound Track to watch the dogs race. I have to admit it was exhilarating and I loved watching them run! The dogs obviously love it sooooo much, and god can they move! I even won 40 Euro on the night.

It was, however, the last time I would watch them race as I learned the true cost of Greyhound racing in Ireland. Many countries have banned this sport for the sad reason that the animals are not treated very well. Estimates are that 18,000 Greyhounds per year are killed in Ireland alone each year simply because they are not fast enough, or are too old to race.

The Sultan of Smart (featured in Friday's post) is a Lurcher. He is half Greyhound, and half Border Collie. This breed is common in Ireland where the Travellers use them for hunting rabbits (usually at night with lamps). There is also a yearly coursing championship in which Lurchers do very well. After adopting him I became aware of the Greyhound problem and did some volunteer work for a charity called P.A.W.S. (warning: there are some distressing pictures of animals on this web site). I was eventually called out to pick up an 8-year old ex-racing Greyhound named Larky Lady. The owners called late on Friday and said that her usefulness as a brood bitch was over, and that if we couldn't come and get her they were going to shoot her on the Monday (which was, incidentally Easter Monday).

I picked her up late on Friday and took her home. It was an interesting challenge, I have to say. Imagine a dog that had spent it's entire life being treated as a cow, and you may get an idea what it was like to bring her into our home. She had no idea how to be a pet, but I'm happy to say that after a few months with us she was re-homed in Prague, in the Czech Republic. The last information I had was that she was happy and healthy. I always tend to think of her in the Spring because I picked her up on Good Friday, and now, especially, because of my new Tank Clan......tanks and dogs- who would have though there was a connection?

She loved that Moose so much. She had worn her teeth to nubs by chewing at the mesh on her cages over the years so she was very gentle with it. She carried it wherever she went very gently. It was the first toy she had ever had.

She won a few races in her day (1,482 Euro in Prizes), and so did some of her pups. Most of them, however, likely didn't make it past their first year of life.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fortuitous Friday: Welcome to the Vomitorium

Thank you for calling the gankian hotline. Here are some things that rhyme with gank. Hank, tank, spank, Frank, da bank.......

Confused? Don’t worry, it’s yet another Simpsons quote. I think that the Simpsons could actually be studied as a tool in international communications. Wherever I was in the world I found you could always talk Simpsons. We should likely be beaming episodes of it into space. If it turns out that it’s not a universal language then at least they’ll have something funny to watch on their way over to conquer us. I’d rather have my new overseers in a good mood when the come to enslave us, wouldn’t you?

In any case, that beginning was merely my way of saying I don’t have a lot to talk bout today- and on Fortuitous Friday’s of all days! It’s akin to eating a big fat steak on Friday...mmmmmm sacrilicious. Fortuitous Friday’s actually coincides with Fishy Fridays but not for me, as I’m not Catholic. Well, okay, apparently some Priest-like person (or an actual priest, I didn’t get a good look at him) tried to drown me in some water at a church but I haven’t been back since.

Hey, what can I say, you try to kill me once, and I’m not going back- good thing too considering that I’ve heard a few years after they try and drown you, they start molesting you as well. Fucking hell, that’s a bad deal if you ask me. I’ll go with the other one that offers the 70 Virgins or whatever. Naa, scratch that, who the hell wants to teach that many people how to have sex? And then there’s all that blowing yourself up business as well. Sound grim, and to be honest I don’t have enough anger anymore to be militant. I’ll leave that for the 20-something crowd.

Fishy Fridays is simply the day I feed my dog’s sardines with their dinner. God, how boring is that huh? Useless info you didn’t need (or want) to know. Well, I did say I was struggling for material today though I suppose, if you think about it, it’s always Fortuitous Friday from their point of view. Not as fortuitous, however, as Thursday when I forgot to close the door to the spare room and the Sultan of Smart chewed his way into a 15kg bag of food I had just bought and partook in the Feast To End All Feasts. But definitely not fortuitous for She Who Will Be Named Later who discovered our bed, sofa, and sitting room drapes covered with the chewed, partially digested, and regurgitated remains of said feast.

I may have to change his name from the Sultan of Smart to the Viscount of Vomit as this is, unfortunately a recurring problem. I’ve got the vet on speed dial for special stomach medication to help him through these tough times. Over the years his tally of eaten (and often vomited) items includes:

1. A plastic bag.
2. A dead pigeon (swallowed whole, with feathers) off the road.
3. The same dead pigeon, off the same road, seconds after he regurgitated it.
4. An entire raw pheasant meant for Christmas dinner.
5. One pound of butter, foil included.
6. Ibid, separate occasion.
7. Own faeces following consumption of butter, above.
8. Butter and most of a plastic container, separate occasion.
9. Human faeces encountered in woods on walk (thank you Travellers).
10. Ibid, different woods.
11. 7kg bag dog food (partial).
12. Mouldy loaves of bread thrown on beach for gulls.
13. Perfectly good loaves of bread taken from counter.
14. Human vomit, sidewalk outside pub.
15. Bird food, fallen from feeder in yard.
16. Cat food, unguarded, while visiting family.
17. Mouldy bones in yard buried by previous dog the summer before.
18. 15kg bag, dog food (partial).
19. Plastic lid (partial) off garbage can.
20. Chicken carcass (entire) from garbage can, above.
21. Christmas Cake (documented here).

Yes, these darling, furry little creatures that we open our homes to are, at their very core, ruthless, disgusting scaveners. Why do we love them?

Oh, ya, when he's not eating everything I forget to strap down or hide, he's cool as shit, and has been my constant companion over five years across three countries. Truth be told he could vomit as much as he likes and I'd clean up after him every time- but for god sake don't tell him that!

Happy Friday Everyone!

Youghall Strand, Co. Cork, Ireland

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Is it just me or did he look happier on the beach? Snow sucks, even dogs agree.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

As Ryzom Ends, World of Tanks Begins!

Well, my friends, we have reached the end. After 27 hours of game-play I am closing the chapter on the Ryzom portion of the Sandbox Challenge. I have left the starter area and had a chance to see the world beyond and feel that I am at a crossroads. If you have been reading my posts you’ll realize, by now, that I do like this game. It has charm, depth, immersion, and a wonderful community.

I am stopping now because I can see how deep the game is, and that it would easily engross me for hours, and hours...and hours. I am at the point where I want to know more. I want to look at the forums and learn things about crafting, exploration, and what, exactly, is attainable. A sandbox is great and all, but I need some information, a direction, or at least an idea of what is possible. Should I be in a guild? Am I in the ‘right’ city? How do I move on from here? Where is everyone, and what are they doing?

All these questions would require me to invest time in-game, on forums, and on the game’s wiki page. For the purposes of my Sandbox Challenge I have a good idea what this game has to offer both good and bad. I don’t see a lot of point writing endless reviews of the game, how-to’s, or posting videos to show you what the game is like. I want this series to focus on how I perceive these things and how the game stacks up, over all, to other sandbox style games.

I have thought a lot about the scoring portion of my challenge. I don’t want to get too picky about it because, after all, it’s only for fun. I’m not reviewing this for a major mmo site after all. The fate of these games does not rest on my reviewing shoulders (luckily for them)! The scores for each of the 10 categories I have chosen to look at will be out of 5. I like 5 because 3 is obviously average, and everything above or below is easily compared to that:

1- Crap
2- Below Average
3- Average
4- Above Average
5- Outstanding

Add the 10 categories up, multiply by 2 and we get a handy percentile which is easy to understand (or so I hope). Scores can be quite subjective, of course, so as a way of familiarizing you with how I think about games I thought I’d score Eve Online according to my categories. There are a lot of sandbox fans out there who will have played Eve, or at least know something about it, so I feel it will be a good ‘baseline’. You will, at least, get an idea where I’m coming from with all of this. That’s the good news.....the bad news is you’ll have to wait as I’m not quite finished it yet.

In other news, World of Tanks has announced its release date of April 12th, and by the time you read this the pre-orders will be live. I am curious to see what the prices are, but as I tend to write these posts the night before I post them (yes, how very studious of me) I have no idea what it will cost. It won’t really matter, like I have said previously, because I like the game enough to cough up some cash. Since my extravagant splurge on RIFT (which I haven’t played and have already cancelled my sub) I haven’t paid for any game in ages, so I’m due.

The game is launching just as I’m:

A) Getting better at playing.
B) Getting sick of random groups.

Argggggg! Pugs, are pugs, are pugs- no matter what the game. Random groups suck, big time, and they frustrate the hell out of me. I’m beginning to think I should stay away from pvp games, but we both know that’s crazy. I’m hooked so the reality is I have to push on and find a Tank Clan to join. As I said previously that will entail being significantly more social than I am used to, and force me into buying a headset.

Although I’m taking my time about it (procrastination is my co-pilot) I have been looking for both a clan and a headset and think I have managed to find what I’m looking for. I’ve decided to go with a Razer Carcharias because the reviews are pretty good and the price is right. I also have a Razer Naga mouse which has served me well and I’m brand loyal like that (if JBL made gaming gear I’d be all over that).

After monitoring the recruitment threads on the World of Tanks forums I think I have found a clan which will suit me. I’m not a big ‘guild hopper’ so I tend to take ages picking one but in reality you’ll never really know until you join so we’ll see.

I’m still focusing on the German Hetzer tank destroyer (god I'm sick of hearing 'Hetzers gonna hetz') and the medium Ram II and have manage to get my previously shameful stats up to a post-worthy state which is what I will end this post with due to the fact I want to get some game time in!

Overall stats approaching 50% win.

Ram II stats well above 50%
Hetzer stats up as well. Above 50% for random pug grouping is quite good if I do say so myself.

Edit WoT Costs Posted

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lack of Orbital Rotational Realignment An Outrage: Gankalicious

Lack of Orbital Rotation Realignment An Outrage: Gankalicious
Slap in the Face Narrowly Averted

It began as merely an inconvenience. It quickly became an outrage, and almost turned into a full blown, literal, slap in the face.

“It may seem silly to you,” Gankalicious explained, “but it is of the utmost concern to me, I assure you.”

Gankalicious was born in the North West Territory of Canada, and narrowly escaped the yearly cull when he was dragged from his bed by a baby seal that was subsequently clubbed by a good Samaritan.

“I was terrified, I assure you,” he said, regarding this formative incident. “They are vicious beasts and I can say that if any of these weak-kneed, animal loving protestors had ever been carried off in the night by one of them, they’d certainly reconsider their position.”

There are, in fact, several seal-based abductions yearly in Canada’s northernmost territories. Gankalicious did not, however, spend all of his life in that snow-encrusted, frigid, hell hole, seeking revenge against a nation of baby seals, and this is where the problem began.

“Well, I spent a considerable amount of time away from Canada during my work as a Drug Mule. I eventually found myself living in Ireland, and then the UK, where I grew fond of the tiny European inhabitants and their cute accents. I thought I was simply assimilating, but it got to the point where I started to hate my own accent. By the time I left no one could tell I was Canadian by the way I spoke. I sounded very Irish,” he chuckled. “I remember the soldiers at Heathrow slipping the safety off their machine guns when I went through the departure lounge talking on my mobile.”

“The symptoms started about a month after I moved back. I was lethargic, sweating a lot, and to be honest, very depressed. I was starting to like cheap lager a lot more, and was taking an interest in a lot of really, really bad television shows. My friends thought it was just jet-lag but my doctor ordered a series of extensive testes, and eventually they revealed I had Euroaccentuitis.”

Euroaccentuitis is a little-known disease that affects roughly 2-million people world-wide. It is a physical condition that develops in some people after living in Europe for a significant amount of time. In the affected individuals their lymph-system begins to produce a chemical called Euroitis which is absorbed by their cells. After enough time the body’s cells become dependent upon it. The chemical is released when the brain is bombarded by European accents, usually from the region in which the individual lived, and begins to deplete when they move away.

It is classified as a genetic, congenital disorder, and Euroaccentuitis can have significant physical and psychological effects including lethargy, depression, a desire to shower, a need to be circumcised, and an intense craving for good ale, football, and fish wrapped in paper. Prolonged withdrawal can lead to a love of hotdogs, basketball, and laughter tracks in poorly acted sit-coms which go on for far too many seasons.

Treatment is simple: continuous exposure to the accents-of-origin will cause the production of Euroitis and alleviate the symptoms. Gankalicious summed it up like this:

“So basically, all that I am asking for is that MMO developers take my condition into account because it’s not that I prefer to group with European players, per se, it’s that I actually need to. If they could simply change the orbit and rotation of the Earth, or bend the space-time continuum it would allow me to group with people in the EU time zone on a more regular basis. Failing that I would consider utilizing the transporter system as seen in Star Trek so long as I wasn’t made to wear a red shirt prior to departure.”

According to an anonymous source at the United Nations, companies who fail to take into account the disabilities (such as Euroaccentuitis) of their players can face charges in the International Human Rights Court.

“While I won’t say it’s on par with, say, genocide,” our UN source said “it is at least as important as the fight for a woman’s right to education, or clean water for rural villages.”

Thanks to Melmoth for inspiring this one!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Milk Chocolate Gaming

I absolutely love chocolate. I eat a square (or two) almost daily, and recent data has shown it can help you live longer. They have also shown that having two drinks per day can also decrease your chances of heart disease, and thus increase your life expectancy. Looking at my daily habits we can assume, then, that I’ll easily reach 220 years of age. No problem. If they were to increase that allowable drink total to three or four per day I’d be practically immortal. Mwah-ha-ha: take that teetotallers. Winner: me and my well-used liver! Huzzah!

I ate candy bars growing up but I don’t remember them being an obsession. I enjoyed them, like any kid does, but didn’t overindulge. I likely tried every candy-bar in existence, and though I wasn’t especially fussy I recall liking Crispy Crunch, Eat More, and the now defunct Cuban Lunch. Mmmm..I loved that Cuban Lunch bar and its odd shape. 

Notice I say ‘candy bar’, and not chocolate. I didn’t fall in love with chocolate, real chocolate, until I moved to Ireland and discovered Lidl. I say ‘real’ chocolate because the EU has some strict trade rules and there is a minimum amount of cocoa required in anything to be called ‘chocolate’. They have to label North American imports as ‘chocolate flavoured’ because they don’t meet the minimum. Similarity (random fact time) chocolate milk is labeled as a‘chocolate flavoured milk beverage’. Hardly as catchy as something which refers to liquid chocolate (which was, incidentally, invented by the Maya).

Early cappuccino machine? Blow on the spout for frothy chocolate...or that's a theory anyway. Another is that they put a tube in that pot and blew the concoction elsewhere. Mmmm chocolate enema. Maya Burial Pot, Tomb 5, Belize, Central America. Copyright Maya Research Program.

I sometimes miss Lidl and it’s odd assortment of German goods at low, low prices so much I salivate. My pocketbook yearns for them! For those unfamiliar with Lidl, it is a German chain which sells a little bit of everything you might need on a daily basis: meat, vegetables, alcohol, soda, dry goods, dog food, and whatever crazy impulse items they can fit in that crazy middle aisle: car mats, shovels, hoses, satellite dish, Eastern European name it, they’ll eventually stock it. It’s a weird little store (pun intended) that did offer some quality products at rock bottom prices.

They carried a brand of chocolate by J.D. Gross that remains the best commercially available chocolate I have yet to find. It started out innocently enough. I tried the 60% dark chocolate and eventually developed a taste for it. But that wasn’t enough. Soon I was up to the 70%, and when Christmas came (another fine German invention) I bought the special editions: Mit Coco Nibs and Mit Chili! That was it for me. I was hopelessly hooked (on chocolate, not Germans).

Seriously. My kingdom for the man, or woman, who can supply me with these on a regular basis.

Like any good addict I became steadily unsatisfied with my dosages. I jumped up to 75%, then settled into the 80%, but by now you can see where this is going. I have now settled nicely into the 90% and find anything less than this to be a ‘sweet treat’. I also have, in my stash box, a 99%. That’s right, almost pure coca. Bring it on! It’s a lot like eating a spoonful of plain coca powder from the tin and, dare I say it, it’s actually too much for me (for now). I enjoy it infrequently, but that 90% stuff? Love it. It’s my crack-cocaine. Or is it Ice? I think (know) I'd prefer meth to coke, so make it ice. Whatever the analogy, I’m hooked.

Loving the dark. The small square is the 99%. The Stone Ground 'Mexicano' is made in the USA and is a very different texture from most chocolate you'll encounter.

So I’m a hopeless dark-chocolate junkie. Not a "I’ll suck you for a tenner so I can get some more" kind of junkie. No, not that, but it has to be dark. You know what they say, once you go dark, you never go back (and I do mean chocolate, and they do actually say that because it's true). She Who Will Be Named Later enjoys a  60% with sea salt that Lindt make and I consider it a nice, naughty treat: I don’t actually consider 60% dark anymore. I've gone over to...omg....why didn't I think of this theme's so obvious....are you ready.......The Dark Side!

I'm eating some now while she's at work and can't stop me. When will she learn, silly rabbit, work is for suckers?
I am, however, a sucker (again, not literally) for hazelnuts and chocolate (Nutella thy name is mmmmmmm) and Lidl carried a milk-chocolate bar with hazelnuts that I couldn’t resist. Like any good vice, a friend turned me on to it during one of my darker (residential) periods when I lived in a council estate in Athlone, Ireland.

There were three of us: me, my friend from Essex, and another friend from Cork. It was.....interesting. My friend from Essex was right at home, having grown up in various council flats in some very disadvantaged (and by that I mean crime-ridden cesspools of drugs, poverty and violence) areas of London, but I was a little freaked out, I have to say. In fact he used to mock the council estates in Ireland. He'd say:

There's a bit of green space there, that's not a proper estate. In England we'd put another three or four high rises on that.
In any case my Irish friend was mad for that Lidl hazelnut chocolate. He bought a large sized bar of it everyday, mostly because he had this strange sort of sleep-walking problem where he’d wake up at around 3am and eat the entire thing. I kid you not. It was quite bizarre. I developed a taste, or perhaps a weakness, for that chocolate there, on that estate trying to prevent him from becoming obese due to his binging. I know, I know, in retrospect, just stop buying it right? Well, what can I say, we needed some joy on that estate and chocolate was it (or all that I’ll admit to).

Google maps must have taken this at the crack of dawn otherwise they'd have had their van stolen, or burned, or probably both. We were in the 3rd from the right. What you can't see are the ones behind whoever took this photo which were boarded up....but still inhabited, if you know what I mean.
I would say I love dark chocolate like I enjoy intelligent, challenging games. It is my preference.....but every once in awhile I want to get hold of one of those large, hazelnut, milk-chocolate bars and gorge on it like my mate used to. The gaming equivalent of that? Saint’s Row II.           

I blame Van Hemlock to a certain degree. Or was it Jon Shute? God, why can’t they just be one person? It’s so verbally annoying to try and reference them both! How about Van Shute, or Jon Hemlock. Hey, that sounds quite good, doesn’t it? Ya, lets go with that one.

So, in one of Jon Hemlock’s podcasts they mentioned, in passing, that Saints Row II was quite a good game. I had briefly played it on a friend’s console while my PC was in transit, and again stumbled upon it while researching the Sandbox Challenge. Jon Hemlock’s comment got me thinking I should check it out again, but Gamespot’s review (among others) said it was a poor port to the PC and was buggy as hell.

Oh how I wish that were true. I decided to try it and boy oh boy that milk chocolate game is yummy! I doubt that I’ll stick with it for long (I only ever managed to get 60% complete on GTA) but I have racked up a few hours on it this weekend. It’s sugary, gaming goodness. I enjoy a challenge. I enjoy using my mind and being allowed to create, and even shape the world I’m playing in. I like to think I am a strategically-inclined gamer but sometimes....sometimes I just want to shoot someone in the face. Is that so bad?

I find the port works just fine and there is no struggle with the keyboard/mouse combo like there is in some first-person-shooter types I have tried (are you listening Dead Space 2). Obviously driving a is a bit jerky using the arrow keys, but in the absence of a game pad, it’s not too bad. I’ve rolled a fat dude with loads of tats, and have chosen the ‘Mockney’ accent for my voice. I’m sure Jon Hemlock is to blame for that as well as the ‘Mockney’ accent was commented on in that podcast (sorry, I really can’t remember which one it was...140-something).

My quest for a rewarding, challenging sandbox game continues, as does my search for a good tank clan for the upcoming release of World Of Tanks. Never fear. I have not abandoned the cause. I’m simply sleepwalking at the moment gorging myself on Milk Chocolate Gaming.

What can I say? Haters gonna hate. The resemblance to me is, actually, uncanny. Rawrrr!

Play Me!

I'll be Surprised (Scratch Perverts Fabric Live Mix) by Gankalicious

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Sandbox Challenge: Ryzom III

The combat system in Ryzom definitely won't shock you with its groundbreaking concepts but lets remember it is as old as that quaint little game everyone seems so taken with....what's it called again....oh ya, World Of Warcraft. The combat mechanics are fairly standard, but really, how many ways are there to kill something? Well, I'm glad you asked! By extending my Forest Gump theme from my last post I can tell you that:

You can stab it, bash it, smash it, cut it, flay it, blast it, torch it, mangle it, strangle it, smother it, drown it, electrocute it, gas it, shoot it, stomp it, and finally you can run it off a cliff so that it falls and dies like the stupid bison used to do. Did I miss any?

If all combat is pretty much the same, how should I judge and/or score it? For the purposes of my challenge it is one of the scoring areas but it’s going to be a fairly subjective category. I am looking for the quality of the animations (smoothness and flow), the difficulty, the AI of the mobs, the point of it all, and the general feel of it overall.

Ryzom’s magic-ability combat animations are visually appealing and feel (and look) smooth. There are good character movements and pretty, bright colours to look at. Spells generally take longer than melee abilities which is standard fare for MMO’s so there is always the chance you will be interrupted.

I have to admit the classless system has, at times, led me to forget what ‘my role’ is and it’s been nice. I’ll often be going toe-to-toe with something only to realize that I likely should be at a much greater distance since I am a caster. I have also just realized that my new, heavy helm, affects the cost and length of time it takes to cast magic. I am essentially playing a hybrid at them moment and only just starting to realize the mechanics of armor, spells, and melee ability interaction. 

The funny flicker during any movement in this video is NOT in-game. It is a result of my general noobness with video and the fact I compressed it down to post it.

Melee combat isn’t as visually appealing, and there is just the hint of a delay sometimes in the animations. Its not lag, per se, as the damage gets done, but it just looks a bit off- kind of like a dubbed film that’s slightly out of sync. It doesn’t happen every time, but it is noticeable. I find that the starting melee skills are more powerful than the starting magic spells, but that could be a function of my skill choices and how I’ve put my stanza’s together.

I am now past the 20-hour mark in my play-time and I have, up to this point, been trying a little bit of everything and getting to know the game. Unlike my time in Ultima, or Istaria, the time has really flown by, and I am going to stay a wee bit longer (40-hours is my pre-set max per game). I haven’t really picked a direction for my character or embraced the community. Like any good game there is a lot to absorb, and in the very beginning I seemed to be simply wandering around, shell-shocked, trying to come to grips with it all.

Thus far I have been able to complete all of the starter quests solo but I realize that it would have been a lot easier in a group. My slow casting times would be ideal at range (as they always are), with a tank holding agro, and I would benefit from third-party heals as my own self-healing spell has a two minute cool down. I have yet to see, find, or learn about, any potions or healing items. As far as I know  there is no potion crafting, and nothing at the vendors.

Once I leave Noob Island I am sure a very different game awaits. The starter quests are a good introduction but I am, after all, interested in a Sandbox experience where I get to make my own decisions. I also realize that the player population will be much lower but that, actually, doesn’t deter me as I am quite content to blaze (stumble) forward into the unknown. I am especially interested in finally getting my ranged-melee abilities and the potential to make some guns, because, after all, isn’t the ability to run around screaming ‘Pew-pew’ the goal of any good gamer?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Sitting of the Moose-eslature

Right. Remember how I said I was living in quite a rural place? And you know all those ridiculous stereotypes about Canadians and Moose?

Well this picture won't help my cause any. This photo was taken (not by me) in the middle of my city (150k population) and the building behind it is our provincial legislature where our elected leaders debate the laws of the land. Bloody hell. All that's missing is a Mountie in red (their uniforms are actually a drab brown/green by the way) riding the frigging thing.

Yes, It's actually a Moose and yes we still have freaking snow.

In fairness the legislature backs on to one of the largest (per capita) urban parks in the world so don't be thinking we have Moose roaming the streets holding up traffic. That would be a disaster because Male moose are actually quite vicious and are known to charge approaching cars during mating season (true story) which also, in my humble opinion, make them quite dumb....but they taste nice! Mmmmmmmm......moose meat.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

C Is For Cookie

I was thinking about yesterday's post, or more specifically Sara's response about the M in mmo standing for 'massively'. I was trying to think seriously about the subject, and decide, for me, what does massively mean? How many people does a game need to be massive, and what kind of games are mmo's as far as I'm concerned?

I tried to think about this, really I did, but all I could think about was how Massively Multiplayer Online Games starts with M....then I wondered, what others things start with M? I soon became quite distracted and realized that I didn't care about the other things that started with M, because:

M is for massively,
That's good enough for me,
M is for massively,
That's good enough for me,
M is for massively,
That's good enough for me,
Ohh Massive, Massive, Massive starts with M

Come on, you know you want to sing play on the video below and lets go!

M is for massively,
That's good enough for me,
M is for massively,
That's good enough for me,
M is for massively,
That's good enough for me,
Ohh Massive, Massive, Massive starts with M

You know what, an online game with many people starts with M
And an online game with only male players in it also starts with M
But it is not as good as a game with massively in it
And Warhammer Online used to be Massive, but you can't play that now

OMG, please tell me you're singing along by now, I'll be so embarrassed if I'm the only one:

M is for massively,
That's good enough for me,
M is for massively,
That's good enough for me,
M is for massively,
That's good enough for me,
Ohh Massive, Massive, Massive starts with M


Friday, March 18, 2011

Sandbox Salvation: Pray For Us Gamers In Our Time Of Need

I have traditionally preferred turn-based strategy games but there are few genres I haven’t, at one time, sampled. I’ve never excelled at real-time strategy because I like to be able to step away from the game without worrying that a computer-generated horde is going to come and wipe me out while I grab a drink. I want to be tested on my ability to plan and think rather than how fast I can click the mouse. Warcraft: Orcs and Humans was the first, and last rts game that I enjoyed for any length of time. Funny how that didn’t translate into liking WoW, but then again WoW is....well, it is what it is.

I haven’t played a lot of first person shooters then, as you would imagine. I’ve tried a handful of them but with the notable exception of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare I never complete them. Maybe it would be different if I had a console (the PlayStation 2 gathering dust in the closet doesn't count). I’ve recently started Dead Space 2 but it’s just so awkward trying to play it with a mouse-keyboard I’m not sure there’s much point. I want to fight the monsters, not the controls.I really do want to like them but I find that usually I don't.

I recently jumped into the beta of EA’s Battlefield: Free to Play for instance, and just about pulled a muscle jumping straight back out. Does World of Tanks count as a first-person shooter? If it does then it'll be the only one I’ve fallen for in a big way. I like the look of Arma II (from the demo) but it is quite a system hog and gives me only 15 FPS on medium settings. My evil plans to both take over the world, and upgrade my video card/monitor can’t come to fruition soon enough.

Perhaps this upgrade will provide all the answers I’m looking for, or maybe I should buy a game pad for my PC. Yes, that’s it. It’s not me at all, it’s the stupid computer! If only it were better I’d be having more fun. I’d be better at all these games that everyone finds so wonderful and then I’d have more online friends! I’d be part of that vast, extensive consoling community that seems to be having so much fun without me.Well, maybe not because I'd still have to play them after all.

I think I've always been drawn to sandbox-style games. Isn’t that what a turn-based strategy game like Civilization or the Total War series offer? You could argue not, but games like Sim City, Railway Tycoon, and Silent Service (some of my early favorites) certainly did offer the freedom to build and/or pursue your victory in multiple ways (and at your own pace). Sandbox games provide a freedom of action and a risk/reward/consequence like nothing else.

I enjoy the adrenaline-pump of a good pvp match as my years in Warhammer Online attest, but now that I’ve moved on I don’t miss it in the least. It didn’t offer the ability to really create something lasting, nor did it offer any opportunities for sound strategic thinking to win the day. I am hoping that World of Tanks will provide the opportunity for great pvp fights together with tank-tactics and (soon to come) clan-based wars for control of entire regions. Maybe that will sate my lust for pvp.

The thought has occurred to me that I’m having a mid-life (gaming) crisis. I find myself once again downloading a lot of demos and buying games that I’d normally not think about playing. Variety is the spice of life and all that, but I am very cognizant of the fact that I am turning 28 (for the 13th time) very soon, and I am starting to feel a bit old. I’ve been playing games for 34 years, but I have only been involved in MMO’s for 5 of those years. Guild Wars was my first, and I know there is some debate (due to its instanced form) if it really is an mmo.

I don’t really get into all that- if it’s multi-player it's an mmo as far as I’m concerned. I’m not a connoisseur so when I say mmo I mean anything, really, with other players to add to the challenge, excitement, or general annoyance. Speaking of annoying I’m starting to wonder if I there is a point in all this....

Oh yes, Shadow’s post the other day got me thinking about why the hell I play mmo’s since my life has been dominated primarily by turn-based strategy. I especially liked Mr. Meh’s comment (within that post):

On terms of playing alone: I think you are right. I’m not sure that I or many like me play MMOs to be around people. There is this idea that if you are in an MMO, you clearly must like other people. And that’s just not true.

It made me smile because I remember my 1st year sociology professor explaining to us that being a sociologist has nothing to do with liking people- that’s for social workers. You only have to have an interest in studying them and that doesn't necessarily mean interacting with them either.

Perhaps both Mr. Meh and my professor are right (or maybe they are the same person!): I don’t like people but I did, in the end, complete a sociology degree, and now I play mmo’s.

People (real, live ones) add an element to game play that can’t be planned for and it adds both excitement and, at times,  frustration. I also realize that after a lifetime of playing solitary games I prefer to have people around. Whether that’s to show off my achievements, use them as content (pvp, trading, or corp thefts ala eve), or just to have some company I’m not entirely sure. Likely a mix of all of them.

Like Shadow I am searching for meaning in my games. Not the meaning of life, no, that search continues elsewhere, but gaming for me has always been about accomplishing something by pitting my brain (feeble as it may be sometimes) against the virtual world and coming out on top. This is why I don’t like theme-park style mmo’s. The path is predetermined and you are meant to enjoy the ride, not alter the course.

I also hate being told what to do even if its in a friendly, virtual way, so the sandbox, in the end, may be my only gaming salvation.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fortuitous Friday: St. Patrick's Day Edition

I'm switching things up for today! It's going to be a crazy kind of world where Thursday is Friday and Friday is Thursday!

Today is, of course, St.Patrick's day, and a day when most of the world decides they are a little bit Irish and head out to pack the pubs. In North America we have embraced this tradition with glee and many of us will head out to our favorite Irish-looking chain pub and swill cheap, green lager until we vomit. Nice. St. Patrick would be proud.

In Ireland, of course, it is a national holiday and while I'd like to tell you it is a cultural, or perhaps a religious holiday, it is, for the most part, a day spent in the pub. There is no green beer (thankfully) and very few 'cute' leprechaun-related paraphernalia hanging from the walls. I was surprised to have the day off the first year I was there, but not as surprised as when I still had to turn up for work* the next morning after drinking all day in the pubs. Well, I say morning, but there was some leeway there and our supervisor (a brilliant lad from Essex) took it easy on us (since he too was out all day at the pub). And by us, I mean all the non-Irish. He was still pretty tough on the Irish lads as I recall. But we loved him- all of us. Larger than life, he was like a character out of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, with a back-catalog of stories that would make you laugh till you cried while, at the same time, making you very, very afraid.

I have chosen to keep this blog somewhat a-personal and live through my gaming alter-ego Gankalicious though there is, of course, a great deal of me in these posts. Fortuitous Friday is where I get a bit personal, I guess, and try to simply talk about....whatever.....

I make fun of Ireland in these Friday posts but I of course, loved it, and do really miss it (except for their rugby team who I truly despise). Since leaving in 2008 I have not celebrated St. Patrick's Day. The reason for that is a personal one, and I would find it hard to explain while at the same time, I doubt you'd be very interested.

Today is different. I have managed to convince the Overseers at the Biological Weapons Division to let me leave early so I can go to my local for a cheeky afternoon pint on Paddy's Day. It's a great step forward in reconciling myself with the fact that I am no longer in a place I really loved, nor will I ever return. Oh, sure, I'll visit. I'll be able to visit friends, and to sit in those tiny little, out of the way places, untouched by crowds, that I discovered and love so much. I will once again haunt my favorite pubs, both well-known, and out of the way, and wander though some of the most magnificent, abandoned, historically important churches and ruins, that have long-been forgotten except for the archaeologically-inclined (or impaired depending on how you look at it) like myself.

I have lived in Waterford (up the Deise!), and Cork, Limerick, Athlone, and Galway, and even in Dublin (which isn't' really Irish), and a dozen place in-between. I lived, worked, married, drank (more since I married), and ate, and in between I discovered a lot about the Irish, friendship, and the country, but mostly about myself.

Today I will fight my way past green-clad Canadians pretending to be Irish, and make my way to the bar where the Irish owner (real Irish, not North American Irish) thankfully will NOT have green beer, and actually pours the best pint I have ever had outside Ireland. I shouldn't have to, but I will, explain that when you order 'A Pint' in Ireland it's understood that you mean Guinness. Older, wiser, I have also taken Friday off this time so there will be no terrible hangover (but I'll miss the greasy potato-bake cure I had that first time).

I will toast my friends who, by that time will already be pretty pissed given the time difference, and remember the wise words that one of my best friends (a Cork lad through and through) told me, over a pint of Murphy's of course, very early on in my life in Ireland:

Guinness is the greatest lie ever perpetrated on the Irish people.

Arthur Guinness, you see, was an Englishman. 

Happy Paddy's Day, and Happy Friday everyone!

The last place I lived in Ireland- a converted 19th century barn. Co. Waterford.

The path I walked my dog down twice a day for a over a year. Co. Cork

The view from my favorite spot in the entire country. I used to stop here on my way to/from work to eat my lunch and let my dog roam free. Co. Waterford.

My favorite sign ever! Warning: Lands Poisoned, Stray Dogs Shot. Irish hospitality at its best.  Co. Cork. 

Nothing- do you hear me Wales and Australia- beats the taste of Irish lamb. Nothing. Co. Galway.

Doesn't look like much, does it? Long-forgotten, this is the oldest, still-standing (mostly) church in Ireland. Circa 800 AD. Co. Waterford (of course!)

*If you follow that link I would like to point out that She Who Will Be Named Later excavated, and cleaned that particular skelly (and many more) though others took all the credit for it! Nice work, there, darling.