Monday, May 31

Not much of a post



As soon as the plane landed in Mumbai I realized I had forgotten something. My camera. So not much of a travel post to make. Only a few crappy iPhone pictures taken from the car.



Of course there is a lot more to tell about one crazy week in Pune, but I'll spare you all that till the time we'll meet up again.

Wednesday, May 26

The Problem of Too Many Skills

Maybe I'm the only one that has this problem. I'll be playing along, tossin out some heals or whatnot and then it happens. The big whammo. The smack that is layethed down. The big wipe. It's frustrating at times (stupid nub) because of the various reasons (Leeeeeroooooy Jeeeenkins!) that it comes about (just a sec and CHARGE! are not synonymous, contrary to popular opinion).

But then there's the reason that no one really knows about. Or maybe they do and just don't mention it as much. It's the problem of having too many skills. Inevitably, I'll be playing along (and mostly it's by myself) and some kobold protecting his candle will manage stick his knife in my back causing my premature demise. As I'm laying there, eating virtual dirt, I realize my Super-Duper Mega Invincibility skill is sitting happily on my skillbar gathering dust. Why is that, you might ask? I forgot. I forgot I had it. I've only got 5 fingers you know, and only 4 are really useable to activate skills.

So what's realy the problem? Am I just a special case in my mental capacity? Or could it be that having 10 (or more) slots for skills assigned to the 0-9 keys not ideal? Or maybe it's just that we've got way too many skills in games to begin with?

I could probably write a small essay examining all the different points, but right now, I don't want to. So gimme just a sec (that's MMO speak for CHARGE! btw). In other words, Ok Go...

Sunday, May 23

A quickie

This is funny at 06:38 after a long boring night shift:
A mechanical engineer, an electrical engineer, and a civil engineer are discussing God. They all agree He must be an engineer, but what kind? The mechanical engineer says, look at the human body, its skeleton, joints and musculature, mechanical genius! God must be a mechanical engineer. The electrical engineer says, Nonsense! Look at the brain, the nerves, God is an electrical engineer. The civil engineer says, "Nope. God is a civil engineer, who else would put the sewer outflow in the middle of the entertainment district?
I'll check if it's still funny at any other time after a morning's sleep.

Saturday, May 22

Where the Wild Things were

This review will contain spoilers!

I think it was Tesh who, in a thread where I mentioned my excitement about this reimagination of one of my earliest happy memories, mentioned that he didn't altogether enjoy seeing the movie "Where the Wild Things Are". I've had the movie DVD in house for a few weeks now and finally got around to seeing it last Thursday. I have to say my own experiences of the movie are also ambivalent. I can't quite determine why I can't wholeheartedly like- or dislike it. Probably because I can't tell if the movie's made for children or adults. It probably tries to do both but that's where the shoe starts to rub I guess.

First a note on the Wild Things, the 'monsters'. They're all very well done and their 'acting' is great as well as that of Max who's rock solid throughout the movie. As a blend of both animatronics and CGI it's some very impressive work. As can be expected of Jim Henson's Creature Shop. But that does point to something I kinda missed. It felt like there should have been a Hensonesque music/dance scene in there somewhere. Maybe that's just me showing my age but something along the lines of Sarah meeting those reddish muppets with the loosely attached extremeties in Labyrinth? It might even have mitigated my prime issue with the movie.

ACT 1: Setting the background.
Well, this first part I have absolutely no problems with. Max, his sister and his mother are introduced in a very well directed manner, all from Max's perspective. Not only is the wolf-suit instantly recognizable and gets you into things immediately, but Max's character is set down very well in a series of scenes that give a good insight into the loneliness and disconnectedness that make him the enfant terrible that he is.

The relationship with Big Sister (who gets about 90 seconds of screentime) is done very well and I really wanted to hug Max upon seeing him ready to burst into tears after being buried alive in his snow iglo by his elder sister's friends. The whole snowball fight scene between ambusher Max and Claire's friends is a very succinct method of showing how Max craves attention and will settle even for the negative type while at the same time driving home the problems with a younger kid trying to play with older kids. That Big Sis had a better relationship with Max but outgrew him is nicely portrayed in the following scenes. A lot of this is very recognizable for everyone who's had an imperfect childhood or has taken the time to interact with a lonely child and should be good vieweing for any parent with a troublesome child just to get perspective.

The relationship with Mom is set up equally well and is used to show Max's imagination at the same time. The first hints of the somehwat heavy handed symbolism start to show up here. Still, the first act is by far the most subtle, for example in the way it's obvious Max misses a father figure even though Max's dad is barely referred to in the movie at all. As you can tell I really liked the first act. Script, directing and acting comes together superbly here.

The act ends with Max running away after having bitten his Mom in a fit of anger and jealousy over his Mom's new love interest. He runs of and sails to the island where the Wild Things Are.

ACT2 Cutting loose.
The second act has Max meeting the monsters who are the Wild Things. A group of monsters living on an island, each representing a part of Max or of the people and forces around him, with a lot of Freudian and Jungian elements thrown in. There's Carol, who's an obvious representation of Max's own id or wilder side who wants everything and doesn't get why people don't always agree with them. There's Judith who's always complaining and pointing out the fallacies in any plan like either the SuperEgo or possibly Mom, as Mom's tend to fill that role while a child still "developess" that part of themselves, but Mom really never shows that side in Act 1. But I'm describing what she was probably meant to portray, not how she came across to me. More on that later.
There's also KW who's a more obvious representation of Max's Sister. Slightly more mature than Carol she's at first absent from the group and likes to spend time with other friends outside the monsters, two owls of all things. Yeah that's the kind of symbolic subtlety you can apply with a two by four. We could probably find the Ego amongst some of the other Wild Things and find other representations, like Goat Boy (Alexander) who's a clear representation of the misunderstood, shy sensitive e.t.c. All the Wild Things each have a purpose and depth to them.

Anyway, in this Act Max meets all the Wild Things and manages to get them to make him their King. What bothered me here was not so much the kind of blunt subtlety with the Owls, it's supposedly a kid's movie so a bit of obviousness is ok right but that from my perspective this would be the 'happy time' for Max. It is really, but each moment of joy in the movies is 'poisoned' by foreshadowing of things to come in some form or other or not so subtle 'it will not last' signs. The sole exlcusion to this is maybe the 'pile up' where all the Wild Things pile on top of Max in order to go sleep that way. The juxtaposition and contrast with being buried in the pile of snow from Act 1 is obviuous, but in a good way for Max as he manages to connect with KW (Big Sister) who protects him from the worst of the avalanche.

ACT 3: Everything Changes:
ACT 3 has Max organizing the Wild Things into accomplishing Carol's dreams, creating a place where only the things you want happen. It's actually in this Act that Max meets KW's Owl friends who are liked by everybody except Carol and Max who don't understand them while eveyrone else does. Max now tries to mollify Carol into accepting the owls as a price for not losing KW again. We see some growth in max that way. During Act 3 Max has an encounter with most of the Wild Things that teaches him a little something about himself, meanwhile the big dream is starting to unravel with ever increasing foreboding and inevitability.

ACT4: the house of cards comes tumbling down:
ACT 4 has everything breaking down and Max realizing he has no future here amongst the Wild Things. He incurs the jealousy of some by being to close to Carol then begins to lose that conenction when he begins to become aware that some of the things Carol wants just aren't reasonable or feasible even. He has to own up to not being as all powerfull as he claimed (in order to keep them from eating him but make him their King) and he ends up shattering Carol's dreams and desires even while he does manage to reintegrate KW with the group. In the end he sets of in his boat to return home and the Wild Things 'howl him off' including Carol.

ACT5: it was all just a dream.
Probably the Act which satisfied me the least. Max returns home and reunites with his Mom who'd naturally been worried sick and eats his dinner. It's all very sweet without becoming too cloying but I really really missed max saying 'sorry' to his mother just once. Maybe that's implied by him eating his dinner including the frozen corn he doesn't like while Mom watches over him smiling happily but maybe it was actually dinner sans corn. I missed Max saying sorry and Mom not being a wet hen to be honest. Well, if Mom remains a wet hen that's her problem. But with Max effectively abandonning the Wild Things to their lot after he failed to actually lead them the lack of that 'sorry' tells me Max didn't really gain a sense of responsibility for his actions, which is kind of the whole central premise of the book you know. And in Act 3+4 there's some building blocks for that bridge, but he never seems to actually reach the other shore there.
Maybe they were trying to be subtle about it, I'm not sure in retrospect if Max is is or isn't eating the frozen corn he refused to eat in Act1, that bit I will have to check back on the DVD. If he is eating them, he did learn his lesson, but that's maybe a bit too subtle for me.

Overall experience:
A very well directed movie which nonetheless had me feeling vaguely dissatisfied. Mostly I can't tell if this is a kid's movie or a grown ups movie. There's not a single moment of unmitigated joy that isn't spoiled to some extend by some not so subtle foreboding of doom and gloom. This is so strong it really doesn't fit well with a kid's movie. It's more appropriate for an adult movie on a serious subject. Not that a kid's loneliness isn't serious business of course. It's that jarring that spoils an otherwise great movie for me. It's not that I have problems with the concept of each success carrying within the seeds of its destruction. That's Life for you. But that's a bit to adult a concept for this type of movie. Even as a kid's movie for grown ups.
That and the no-sorry ending.


There's a couple of jewels in the dialogue:

Judith: Are you good to eat? You better be good to eat! Did you even consider you ought to be good to eat?


Max: Small is good. My powers are able to slip right through the cracks.
Judith: But what if the cracks are closed up?
Max: Then I have a re-cracker, which goes right through that.
Judith: But what if they have some sort of material that re-crackers can't get through?
Max: Then I have a double re-cracker, which can get through anything in this whole universe. And that's the end, and there's nothing more powerful after that, ever. Period.
Alexander: He has a double re-cracker.
Ira: He does sound powerful.


Carol: This is all yours. You're the owner of this world. Everything you see is yours. Oh, except that hole over there, that's Ira's. The tree's yours, but the hole is Ira's. But everything else is yours.

Friday, May 21

A beautiful Islay

My vacation is over. It was short, but sweet. Together with my brother and his wife the four of us went to visit an island in the Atlantic. Well, maybe it is not really considered the Atlantic yet. It was just a short but lovely ferry ride from the Scottish mainland to the island of Islay.


The island was beautful! Rugged Scottish slopes, misty moors, plenty of sheep, and, to my surprise, loads of sunshine. I actually managed to get some sunburn. The picture below is from north west shore overlooking nearby island Jura.


Although it is worth visiting for its own beauty it is actually known for only one thing. It is home to some of the best Single Malt Whiskeys. Caol Ila, Bruichladdich, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Ardbeg, Bowmore and Bunnahabhain are all made there. And even a few more I didn't know about yet. I was sort of expecting these distilleries to be big-ish efficient factories. But they are small hidden away gems in the landscape. All of them are very welcoming to visitors, and we sampled quite a bit.


But in Bowmore, the administrative and shopping capital of Islay, is a pub called Duffies. It is not that hard to find. There are only two pubs, and it is not that other one. Duffies has the most impressive collection of Whiskeys. The ones on the picture are all from Islay. Other than two pubs the town had a restaurant, a Spar, and Co-op, and a bank. It was the ultimate in laid back island life. It got only disturbed when a tour bus with 20 clueless tourists came bursting through the bar.


Besides debating which Whiskey was better we had time to explore the island on foot and other random wanderings before heading to the next distillery. The whole vacation got triggered by a bottle of Laphroig we bought a year or two ago. It comes with a certificate of ownership of a square foot of land outside their distillery. The next picture is on the way there. We claimed our square foot, and received a bottle of whiskey as payment for the rent.


Yesterday we drove back home again. It was quite far, but I would love to go back again some day.

Friday, May 14

Rising to slay a God

I've been playing Age of Conan again for the last two days. Well, part of the time anyway.
You know you're playing a Funcom MMO when they launch an expansion on the 11th followed by a 6 hour maintenance downtime smack in the middle of European Prime Time.
No-one manages to miss the barn like Funcom in matters of well timed actions...

I really wanted to start the Kithan content as low in level as possible so I first tried getting through Tortage again for a day. I'd rolled a new Kithan Ranger, Osprey, to explore the world with.
It was good to walk the streets of Tortage again. Especially with the DirectX 10 Test stuff running at full tilt. It's another gaffe imo that at the time of the first expansion DirectX 10 implementation is still visibly marked as ' Test'. Maybe you forgot, but DirectX 10 features were a selling point on the box during the original game's launch.

Unfortunately it took a whole day and 15 levels for me to realize that Ranger isn't my class. Sorry but the way combo's are applied to the Ranger class doesn't work for me. It might have been different if you fired one arrow at the end of a combo, not one for each step, ensuring you will always end up shooting your foes from point blank range. At the end of it I decided not to continue with Osprey.


DX10 Khemi looking good
So today I was going to give it another shot.
I could reroll, but rerolling would be as either an Assassin or a Herald. The Assassin was a no-go based on the sheer number of overly buxxom killer courtesans I'd ran into the day before. The Herald was a possibility but after a whole day of playing through Tortage I didn't really fancy rerolling as something else and go through all that again. I didn't feel like continuing with my Ranger either. Luckily I have more than one bird in my hand.

Kestrel, my Guardian alt, was only 26 and should be able to Roleplay her way through the low twenties quests of the first Kithai zone, Gateway to Kithai. And so I picked up her spear again and donned the woad warpaint and took her into the far East.


75 coppers to boat across 100 yards of water that doesn't even have crocs???

So far I'm liking what I see. The first pleasant surprise for me was that the Gateway to Kithai means lots and lots of Hyrkanians. I'd been missing these mongol hordes in the original campaign and I'm sure glad they at least maken an appearance here. The Quests and storylines of Gateway are interesting and well worked out. I've noticed they've tried to give some quests a rogueish tint (actually using the Hide skill) which probably makes them boring as heck for the classes that actually have that. But for a clumsy cluttering ... Cimerian in the china cabinet they're quite challenging.


The views are as could've been expected, spectacular!

Some other nice things that have been added over the months that I only now came across are the armor shops. Those were added a long time ago and only sell 80's stuff but it all looks splendid. There's fluff pets you can buy in Old Tarantia and a Veterans reward quartermaster. This one sells a lot of fluff and horses and additional Pathway spells for in excahnge for Veteran Tokens (one per month per character or so I believe). It's mostly convenience gear. The stuff you've gotten used to from many similar carrot programs. The nice thing with Funcom is that you get to choose what you want through means of the token currency.
These Veteran Tokens are but one variant of a series of Tokens you can get inside the game, primarily through Raiding I gathered. I suspect you buy the next treadmill with those tokens, or the gear needed to get into the next treadmill maybe?

Another improvement I spotted is that each nation now sports a gaggle of hairdressers/dyers, face-painters and tattooists who in exchange for sinking your money back into the game will give you a makeover. As the makeover costs 15 Silver per part I haven't experimented yet, but I do believe this is now the way to finally get that Aquilonian red hair on your Cimmerian, or Woad painting on your Stygian.

The only downside is that whoever placed these in each city seems to have gotten instructions to under no circumstances have them more than 5 feet apart and in a spot where they not only don't quite fit in the background of the place but actually stikc out so they can't be missed. I suspect he/she was further refrained from tastefully placing them in/around the available stalls by the threat that management would then insist on neon signs or billboards.

Since I for some reason got the CE edition of 'Godslayer' I also have a huge section of stuff under the /claim command. More veteran reward-like stuff. Some interesting, some not so.
Ok, not much of a review really, just felt like mentioning I'm having fun with AoC at the moment.

Oh, if anyone else feels like returning to the world of Hyborea, because of or more likely in spite of my review, do take the time to download the Stonerune GUI. It's very, very good. Not invasive, not breaking with the established look and feel and just plain essential with al the extra abilities that find their way onto your hotbars thanks to the new AA system...



Just what we needed. An AA system adding even more combo's to our hotbars...

Thursday, May 13

Wednesday, May 12

GW2 - Lofty Ambitions?

Dynamic Events Overview

The latest blog entry over on the official GW2 site

One of my favourite quotes:
.... in a traditional MMO, the character who gives you a quest will tell you ogres are coming to destroy the character's home, and you need to kill them. You then get a quest which says, "Kill 0/10 ogres" and you proceed to kill a bunch of ogres standing around in a field picking daisies. Since every player in the game needs to be able to do this quest, the ogres will never actually threaten the character's home - they will just eternally pick daisies in the field. The ogres aren't actually doing what the quest says they are - the game is lying to you!

My concerns about dynamic scaling put to rest:
Everyone works together towards the common goal of the event and everyone is rewarded for doing so. To help ensure there is always enough for everyone to do, our events dynamically scale, so the more players who show up and participate in the event, the more enemies show up to fight them. If a bunch of players leave the event, it will dynamically scale back down so it can be completed by the people who are still there playing it. This careful balance created by our dynamic scaling system helps ensure you have the best and most rewarding play experience.

Rewarding altaholics and explorers:
As an added bonus, we've also hidden hundreds of events all over the world that require interaction with the game world. This helps give an extra sense of reward and discovery for those who seek to explore the entire world.

It's a good read, It's so far removed from GW1 in everything but lore the excitement of a sequel has long gone, now it's whats being unveiled about this new MMO that's getting me excited, this looks like damn good stuff.



Tuesday, May 11

Dark Star: They don't write dialogue like that anymore

Also a cautionairy regarding the sue of SmartBombs....

[Doolittle convinces the bomb not to explode]
Doolittle: Hello, Bomb? Are you with me?
Bomb #20: Of course.
Doolittle: Are you willing to entertain a few concepts?
Bomb #20: I am always receptive to suggestions.
Doolittle: Fine. Think about this then. How do you know you exist?
Bomb #20: Well, of course I exist.
Doolittle: But how do you know you exist?
Bomb #20: It is intuitively obvious.
Doolittle: Intuition is no proof. What concrete evidence do you have that you exist?
Bomb #20: Hmmmm... well... I think, therefore I am.
Doolittle: That's good. That's very good. But how do you know that anything else exists?
Bomb #20: My sensory apparatus reveals it to me. This is fun.

[Pinback wants the bomb to disarm]
Pinback: All right, bomb. Prepare to receive new orders.
Bomb#20: You are false data.
Pinback: Hmmm?
Bomb #20: Therefore I shall ignore you.
Pinback: Hello... bomb?
Bomb #20: False data can act only as a distraction. Therefore, I shall refuse to perceive.
Pinback: Hey, bomb?
Bomb #20: The only thing that exists is myself.
Pinback: Snap out of it, bomb.

The Bomb's final words:
Bomb#20: In the beginning, there was darkness. And the darkness was without form, and void.
Boiler: What the hell is he talking about?
Bomb#20: And in addition to the darkness there was also me. And I moved upon the face of the darkness. And I saw that I was alone. Let there be light.


The movie's a bit long in the tooth (1974) and there was no special effect budget but especially the bomb bits are brilliant.

Somebody is being daft!

I received this email this morning from FunCom:
Dear Customer,

Thank you for your Pre Order of Age of Conan: Rise of the Godslayer!

We are happy to announce that payments are now beginning to process for this exciting upcoming event. Unfortunately it appears that your account is cancelled. Your payment for your pre-order will not be able to process while your account is cancelled and this may result in your account being frozen during the launch period.

To ensure uninterrupted service and a successful purchase of Rise of the Godslayer expansion please log into your account today at https://register.ageofconan.com and reactivate to allow your payment to be processed.

Thank you for your attention,
Funcom
I don't want to play Age of Conan now. So they expect me to pay $15 just to have the privilage to pay them another $30 for something that is not available yet for some time. That is just ...

Wait, let me check the AOC website. Oh wow, Rise of the Godslayer got released today! Hmm, then the email makes some sense. But I still don't want to play today. I'll just have to wait and see what happens when I eventually activate my account.

Monday, May 10

It is still Fallen Earth

It has been a while since I have posted anything, so it is time for some more ramblings. But this I am cheering it up a bit with a few choice screenshots. All the screenshots had to come from Fallen Earth since that is still the only game I am seriously playing.

Pilatus is trying to sit relaxed and comfortable in South Burb.
But her short skirt makes her a bit too self conscience.


But I am not playing it a lot. I find myself often dilly-dallying before actually entering the wastelands. Reading up on FE forums posts, browsing through not too relevant websites, and even solving a silly Sudoku puzzle. I haven't really figured out yet why I do that. The most logic thing would be that I don't really feel like playing it anymore. But then I get on and be enthralled by the wide open world, and love running up and down, crafting complex vehicles, and talk to friends and clan members.

While crossing the plains Chennie is trying shoot some fresh lunch.


I had set myself a goal to explore some of the PvP areas a few weeks ago. I would just finish up my crafting work, and a few loose questing ends, and off I should go. That finishing up stuff took me a week. And I finally made it to New Gallows, the PvP area east of Haven. Only to find out it is actually not a PvP area anymore! Silly me. It had turned into a special Human League town quest-ish kind of place. They had new veteran NPCs. They were a fun challanging bunch. I got a request from a nearby Tech camp to kill some for a nice reward. But then Lani mentioned something about a dune buggy. So I rushed back to New Flasgstaff and locked myself up in the science lab (and went to Chicago for work).

It just learned it won't get shot at anymore.
A quiet life at the stables is awaiting.


I managed to build the buggy, and all the components from the raw materials Lani had send me. But diner parties, and whiskey drinking put a stop to further playing. In stead I read up on Tobold's EVE adventures. It really made me want to play EVE. I even blurred that out somewhere. Maybe I actually will do it.

We just stepped out of a Lifenet bunker talking to Graham.
Life in the wastelands can be very good sometimes.


Saturday I made it back home again, after circling north around Iceland. So I had time to pick up where I left of in Fallen Earth. But I didn't. In stead I went to Paragon City and went shopping for enhancements and a new costume slot for Sylva Varescu. She had turned 32 the last Sunday we played City of Heroes, and needed the upgrade before yesterday's session.

But as it turned out half the COH gang was out. And the other half is also playing Fallen Earth like me. So I ended up in the wastelands after all. And as usual we had a great time. We did some tough group missions at Last Stop, and an instanced fort near Devon. There were two bosses our level. On both bosses we got a team wipe (3 of us), but we got them on the rerun. It was epic fighting. And we got a truly stunning sunrise on top! I still love this game. (Or am I trying to convince myself here?)

No idea when I will have time to play this, but Steam had the entire Civilization IV collection on sale for 6.49 GBP. I just couldn't resist. I do know if I start that up I won't be back anywhere any time soon.