Goodbye July

What is this I don't even...

What is this I don’t even…

I’ve already covered issues about my car yesterday. But the truth is far more sinister. The whole month of July… sucks. 

Besides the vehicle, my cable and internet provider has been unable to assign a decent time to come over and repair my internet. I can get it done on Saturday, but they won’t do it after 5 on the week days, when I’ll be at work. Although they’ve refunded us for the month, Diablo III and Team Fortress 2 are out until it is fixed. 

Thus, with reluctance, I cracked open Mass Effect 3, one of the view recent games in my collection with optional online elements. 

It’s not that I wasn’t looking forward to it. But I wanted to savor the time I had to myself, not playing the game.

Once Mass Effect starts, you can’t really divert time away from it. After playing through the original game twice, once as a “Good” Soldier Shepard and again as an “Evil” Engineer Shepard, I decided to try a femshep (female Shepard). But I stopped, recognizing a very addictive new experience.

Y’see, I barely started and it was already a different experience, as Kaidan Alenko was hitting on me.  “Man,” I tell myself. “I’ve barely started and this is only ME1. Everyone’ll be humping down my door once I hit ME2.” 

It’s true. Play ME as a man and the women will be coy and make you chase them. Play it as a woman and they’ll be after you. In gaming, the choice to play as a woman is often more like choosing your favorite Barbie doll to play an MMORPG or Diablo. But being a woman in an intricate storytelling experience like this? That’s something else. 

But if I’m going to play a woman, I’m going to do it from the ground up. Which means going back to Mass Effect and slugging my way back up. 

My impressions after 20 hours of ME3 are pretty basic. I like how they dropped the obnoxious resource-searching for a game of Reaper tag. The combat is tight as ever. The “explory-telling” is nice, but I keep wishing I could take the story off of the rails: Options to use charm or threaten are rare, the tale doesn’t let you go about things in any order you choose (the first game was great at this) and I get the feeling that, at this point, everything that happens is barely my decision and more the consequences of my actions from the previous 2 games. 

Choice is an illusion once you’re facing the consequences.

My hunt for a new roommate continues, but I’m closing in on a few likely prospects. I also meant to bug the writers of my anthology yesterday night about their progress, but decided to wait until tonight when I had access to Gmail and a regular computer (not my phone).

I’m half through Brunner. I was hoping that the stories would become more simple for movie making purposes, but that is not the case. His arsenal also expanded, with a new Skaven repeating crossbow, a hatchet and Drakesmalice, some kind of magic longsword. Therefore, I’ve picked two prospective stories which would be ideal for a short movie: “What Price Vengence” and “The Money-Lender’s Price”.

Two new horror stories coming out for a different anthology soon. Hope to be done this weekend.

The State of Entertainment

Reading: The Vampire Genevieve by Jack Yeovil (real name Kim Newman)
Playing: Portal by Valve / Diablo III by Blizzard
Watching: Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Sure, I could and have gotten more eclectic mixes of entertainment before. But as far as my current RPW, this is pretty strange. Let’s do it from top to bottom.

So far, I’m well over five hundred pages into The Vampire Genevieve. The anthology is a few short stories and at least three novels (Based on the anthology’s structure, this isn’t exactly clear to me yet). The first two novels were quite good but were started to create a predictable pattern: Stage manager Detlef throws a play. His lover, reasonably good natured vampire Genevieve, happens to be around and lend a hand when some evil rears its head. The third book is a murder mystery that I’ve not finished yet.

One thing of interest is that the name, Genevieve Dieudonne, has been used multiple times by the author in other writing with many traits maintained. This unusual aspect makes Genevieve less of a written character and more a fictional actor.

I admired how Newman dived into the cultural aspects of Warhammer, creating a lot of background fluff amongst the fictional writers and plays in the fantasy universe. The names of plays and artists thrown out create some details that can be mentioned in future work, as to both create a greater sense of connectivity within Warhammer fiction and to “tip one’s hat” at a senior writer.

Diablo III has slowed down for me. I still play, but my Barbarian reached something of a dead end for now. I do not have the cash to purchase the goods he needs to really hack it in Hell difficulty, nor am I having much luck with my drops. My Demon Hunter however, is excelling considerably. So I’ve decided to stick with him for the time being.

Portal has received almost two hours of my time, and I suspect that I’m nearly finished playing. For me, it’s only a matter of catching up with the popular culture I’ve skipped out at. It was available for $5 thanks to Steam’s summer sale, so I grabbed it.

I think the most amusing aspect of Portal is how it challenges the player’s perception of narration. The last few years, many players have been sucked into being “told what to do” at all times by the games themselves. Come here. Do this. Do that. I would imagine dropping $50 to be told what to do is… rather lacking.

Being given an objective is fine. Being told with detailed instructions is not. I think a metric Steam should have captured was how many players failed to act when they saw the fire pit nearing them after the first part of the game. It would have greatly begged the question of just how many players are thinking for themselves. I’m all for breaking the fourth wall to make people think and act, and not just do what they’re told.

I’ll let you know if I finish watched Audrey Hepburn’s flippant mannerisms.

Bet on the Dead

Not Pictured: The compromising position I first met him in. Let's just say it gets a little lonely out in the desert...

Not Pictured: The compromising position I first met him in. Let’s just say it gets a little lonely out in the desert…

There was, apparently, some hub bub about the Necromancer being cut from Diablo III. The fact was that they already had a curse and pet using type with the Witch Doctor. Was there room for two? Maybe… just not at initial release. And there are questions about how the Necromancer can vary against the Witch Doctor.

Having played Diablo II and III, the two classes are indeed similar, coming from the same thematic vein. But there are mentionable differences as well in the game play styles. First off, the Necromancer was capable of raising an army. Besides his golem, he could raise skeletons, magi skeletons and ressurrected monsters. All at the same time. I believe the maximum cap of each kind of pet (besides the single golem) was nine, which meant a possible total of 28 (9 skeletons, 9 magi, 9 monsters and the golem) summonings, discluding the hireling.

Granted, skeletons couldn’t hack it in later levels, but the use of magi skeletons for range and ressurrected monsters for fodder was a common build. 

The Witch Doctor has some summonings, but few are lasting. I got a little excited for a moment when I started spamming corpse spiders all over the place. Then I realized they weren’t really pets but a kind of short lived spell. They had no hit points and didn’t survive long. The summonings of the Witch Doctor include Zombie Dogs, the Zombie Wall, the Gargantuan and Fetishes. The Fetishes are only around for 20 seconds. 

I suspect that the structure of Diablo III‘s gameplay is not conducive to spamming summonings. In II one could hotkey up your skills, switch, summon, switch back. In III, that’s a pain. It takes time to reset the skill and one is limited to six skills available at any time. Not to mention that having 28 monsters on your side during a fight can be a bit murderous for slower machines. Nor is there always that much available screen space. 

The Necromancer and Witch Doctor also greatly differ in the way they focus curses. To be honest, I don’t feel the Witch Doctor has that many curses available to him, but those that he does have focus on crowd control, such as Horrify and Mass Confusion. 

The classic Necromancer curses, Iron Maiden (reflect damage) and the parasitic Life Tap, remain (correct me if I’m wrong) untouched and unused in III. This suggests that they have been reserved for the time being. Thus while the Witch Doctor’s curses strike me as more defensive than the Necromancer’s. 

Finally, there are the differences in the spells themselves. The Witch Doctor has always struck me as being more interested in the spiritual aspect of death, and also more flavorful of his  jungle homeland. Thus he has relied on wild jungle animals like spiders, frogs and bats. His interest in death has been more spiritual. The Necromancer however, feels more inclined towards the physical. Many of his spells actually involve the use of bones, such as the Bone Spear and Bone Armor. 

Perhaps the aspect which can change the Witch Doctor from the Necromancer is the one thing that is the most difficult to compare. Diablo III handles skill ability costs differently, in that each class has its own “thing” from the Barbarian’s fury to the Hatred and Discipline of the Demon Hunter. The Witch Doctor uses mana, but the Necromancer could probably rely on something else. Perhaps a connection to the dead that accelerates whenever he’s near a body. 

Will we see the Necromancer again? Probably. I’ve heard that Blizzard has no intention of releasing an expansion for three years. Given how long Heart of the Swarm is taking, I believe it. But they haven’t forgotten everyone’s second favorite Diablo class. Like Natalya hinting the Assassin in II, the Necromancer shows up at least twice in III, first as the foe Jondar. Then as the friendlier Mehtan, pictured above. 

But personally? I kind of hope we see the Druid first. Come on werewolf form!

Diablo 3

"I want to dip my head in oil, and rub it all over your body." -George Costanza

“I want to dip my head in oil, and rub it all over your body.” -George Costanza

I am pleased.

I’m the guy who remembers Diablo and Diablo II with considerable clarity. And let me tell you, there’s a lot of hype to live up to. It’s not even just the game, but the memories of playing alongside my brother and college buddies. Having a blast, adventuring together.

Thanks to Blizzard’s socially networked system, I got a taste of even that yesterday. My buddy Lincoln and I powered through Act I together. I caught up with an old chum, Paul, for the first time in years. And I teased Lahna about her newfound birth control pants. She pointed out that all pants are technically birth control.

…Touché, Lahna. Well played.

Part of me always worries that a new game based on an old franchise, untouched for a decade, will abandon its roots. But those gaming traditions are alive and intact. The same, simple gameplay. The satisfying murder of mass minions. The looting system that feels like a slot machine. The crafting system offers some interesting depth that I look forward to exploring.

I at first disliked the skill system, prefering the character-design approach of Diablo II. But it won me over when I got to level 10 and recognized some of the complexity of the runes and passive skills. It also eliminates the fear of creating “dead-end” skilled characters who cannot survive the higher difficulties. “Respecing” did not exist back in the day. I liked how each class handled their skill power (not always mana this time) in differing ways. Sometimes it regenerates over time. Sometimes, you build it by using your basic attacks. This gave each class a degree of variety akin to Warhammer Online.

A number of complaints have been made about Diablo III‘s online restrictions, in that it must be online. has already written a great article about the issue (language alert). Not just about the current problems but some likely future ones as well. How obnoxious is this problem going to become? I can’t say. I played for a few hours yesterday before my ISP decided to fail on me during my single player games.

Technically, not Blizzard’s fault. Indirectly, a design failure for sure.

But in Blizzard’s defense, I think people forget how bad cheating and abuse became in the previous games. I assure you, it got horrible. And I’m not talking about the player killing of the original Diablo. Or the ol’ “Gimme 10,000 gold and an item and I’ll imbue it for you” scam of Diablo II. I fell for that once, never again.

What I’m talking about were the mods. The mods that gave characters powerful equipment both immediately and for free. Or even created new, otherwise impossible gear. Or the fully maxed out, level 99 (despite a cap of 20, discluding item boosts) for every skill, and 999 stats. Every reason to even play the game went out the window with these mods.

With one glaring exception (Tommy, I’m talking about you), my college buddies pretty much gave up on playing with strangers for these reasons. And given that Blizzard now gets a cut of any real cash auction trades, they have every incentive to keep players honest.

But there are other reasons for forcing Diablo III to be online.

Part of this really goes back to SOPA and beyond. Tons of people (including yours truly) came out against the bill. I didn’t think about it at that time, but a lot of search results suggested that Blizzard (or at least parent company Activision) supported SOPA

If I’m wrong about this, give me your source and I will correct it. I hate spreading false info.

We wisely rejected SOPA. But this in turn also means that the industry has to find ways on its own to protect their IP. I feel that game piracy ironically threatens to kill its own host, especially given the very high costs of producing these blockbuster games. I’m sure others feel differently, but let’s not lie to ourselves that stolen games don’t hurt the industry. Businesses are not immortal. If you want to know more, you can check out the debate here and decide for yourself.

This is why SOPA got support in the first place.

No matter what, the piracy issue has to be dealt with somehow. Sure, I miss the freedom from the internet as much as the next single player. Make no mistake Blizzard, you are absolutely welcome to come up with a better way that keeps single player offline and protects your stuff. But for now, if it keeps the mod abusers* out and the gaming industry alive, I’ll bare it just to have a good, honest game.

*-I changed this from user to abuser. Technically, not every mod is a full blown abuse of the game system. Some actually fix or improve the game elements. So I’ll give the more honest, non-cheating mod developers a break.

Stay a while and listen…



Just a minor update for those casual Blizzard fans like myself, as opposed to the hard core ones who already know. The Diablo III website has recently gotten a revamp and is now integrated with services. Still no word about the release date, but beta testing is underway. Given Blizzard’s long QA times and the Starcraft expansion, it could still be a long while.

While Warcraft lost me a long while back and Starcraft is entertaining but not something I want to play more than occasionally, Diablo remains my favorite of the Blizzard line up. I have heard rumours of a Diablo MMORPG in the works, but they’re nothing but hearsay.

I have heard that Blizzard is implementing some sort of pay-for-items plan similar to Team Fortress 2 and has partnered with PayPal for that reason.

Although I was initially skeptical of the cartoony graphics, I’m looking forward to it.

10 Musical Selections for Writing

Gary Moore. April 4th, 1952-February 6th, 2011.

Gary Moore. April 4th, 1952 to February 6th, 2011.

Okay, so my eye is feeling a bit better but I’m still going to hold off on the review. So instead, here are 10 more music pieces for writing. 10 more, you may ask? If you have not seen it, then allow me to direct you to the original 20 musical pieces post.

However, this post is a bit melancholy because I had just discovered that Gary Moore, a talented guitarist and singer from the UK, died of a heart attack earlier this year. Many people have not heard of the skilled musician and his amazing blues, but I had been listening to his music since before his death in February, 2011. For a lyrical taste of his work, check out Over the Hills and Far Away.

A quick note. This particular set of songs takes more from games than before. It’s easier to pick music from game sound tracks than it is from movies. The downside is that game sound tracks rarely show up on sites like Pandora.

  1. Cloud’s Theme, Final Fantasy VII Orchestral Soundtrack.
    It’s a strange theme that mixes hope with hopeless, and something on the lighter side with darker undertones. This song could work well for a overture of your piece.
  2. Doom 3 Theme, by Tweaker.
    Explosive piece that threatens something menacing until it just bursts into combative guitar and drumming, mixed with eerie vocal sound effects.
  3. Pandora’s Music Box, by Nox Arcana.
    Nox Arcana is an incredibly reliable source of subtle, creepy music sans vocals. Adding this music to any scene instantly turns it into horror material just because of its gentle yet eldritch nature.
  4. Underworld Domain, by Dargaard.
    A piece that is so pure, it was perfectly named. Unfortunately, this piece breaks the no lyrics rule, but given how well the singer blends her voice with the music, I’m making an exception.
  5. Wilderness, Diablo II OST.
    I love the Diablo series, and despite becoming slightly more cartoonish than it’s previous incarnations, I am still looking forward to Diablo III.  Here’s a piece from the second installment. Stay a while and listen!
  6. Arkham Bridge, Mechwarrior 2 OST.
    I used to be a huge, huge Mechwarrior and Battletech fan. As I got older however, I grew out of it. It wasn’t deep enough for me, just a constant mix of politics and warfare. That and I met one of the authors and wasn’t impressed with their attitude. If you don’t care for your fans, they’ll soon not care about you. Still, good music. You may also want to check out Umber Wall.
  7. Bloody Tears, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night OC Remix.
    Okay, I seriously believe that ‘Bloody Tears’ may just be the single most remixed game music of all time. There are dozens of versions, from classical pieces to piano solos, heavy metal jams to DJ dance mixes. The original piece started from the NES game Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, and was updated in later titles. Here’s an acoustic guitar version, a violin version and the version from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
  8. Theology/Civilization, by Basil Poledorius.
    Straight from the original (as in, 1982) Conan the Barbarian, this ponderous piece is slow and mixes renaissance touches with classical music.  I admit that this is not one of my favorite pieces of music, but I suspect that others will enjoy this for its lighter notations. It can’t rain all the time.

    Explaining exactly what Berserk is about is... you know what? Find out yourself.

    Explaining exactly what Berserk is about is... you know what? I'm not responsible for what will happen to your sanity. Find out yourself.

  9. Murder, by Susumu Hirasawa.
    I honestly don’t watch much anime or read much manga anymore. But there is still one series I go out of my way to read, and that is Berserk by Kentaro Miura. Beautifully animated, beautifully told, I cannot stress how amazing is Berserk. This piece just keeps growing and growing in madness…
  10. The Loner, by Gary Moore.
    A non-lyrical piece by Moore, the original version of The Loner is 6 minutes long and takes a minute to warm up appropriately. However, compared to other versions, the guitar isn’t as distracting, but communicates its sorrowful melody well. To be honest, a chance to apply this to writing would be very difficult because it’s sad but also not slow. It may work well if a character is fondly recalling a person who has passed on. Rest in peace, Mr. Moore. You will be missed.