Monthly Archives: November 2009

November in Review

The Site

The site remains… basically unchanged after three years.  I change the header now and again and things on the side bar come and go, but the look remains about the same.

Every time WordPress.com introduces a new template, I try it out with the test version of the blog (not available to the public) and decide to stick with the current template.  Only once have I actually changed the template, and that only lasted a 20 minutes or so.

Does that mean this is the best template ever, that the others all suck, or that I have a very specific vision for the blog?

I have been tempted to look into some of the places where you can essentially put out an RFP for a blog design, but that would require me to be able to articulate a vision for the site.  Haven’t quite gotten there yet. (Plus they appear to have upped the price since I last looked.)

WordPress.com did introduce a new feature that allows people to subscribe to the blog via email.  You can get an immediate, daily, or weekly email with the posts from the blog.  I have been testing it out and am not sure if I like it or not.  If you use an ancient, text-biased email program like I do (Eudora 6.2) then the content looks like crap and you get no pictures.  If you use web based email, it looks okay, though the formatting can still slip, though at least you still get the screen shots.

This is perhaps an indication that I have a specific vision for how things should be presented.  But then RSS readers muck up the content too, so I probably shouldn’t worry.  If this email feature is of interest to you, let me know.

One Year Ago

A year ago we were all excited about expansions.

For EverQuest II, there was The Shadow Odyssey that showed up around the four year anniversary and which gave us the bear mount.  If you bought retail you also got the pewter bear which went on to feature in so many Tipa cartoons and my own parody thereof.

In EVE Online, the Quantum Rise expansion was available, granting those of us in New Eden certificates, among other things.

While it wasn’t out yet, Turbine was warming people up for the Mines of Moria expansion for Lord of the Rings Online.  It sounded great.  I just haven’t been there yet to confirm it.  At least I got the T-shirt… erm… the cloak.

And then there was a little thing called Wrath of the Lich King.  Yeah, that.  Sort of a big deal for some, setting sales records and all that.

The instance group did its last Outlands instance (well, the last one at level) and then began poking our noses into Northrend to start the grand tour of the new expansion.

Finally, I was keeping the nostalgia ball rolling with a look back at how information used to be regarded back in the days of MUDs, a notable MUD NPC, and a hazy recollection of a GEnie game called Stellar Warrior.

New Linking Sites

The following sites have been kind enough to link here.  Please take a moment to visit them in return!

Most Viewed Posts in November

Torchlight and Pokemon actually pushed the guild name generator down to 4th place this month.

  1. Arceus Event Annouced!
  2. Torchlight Patch Ready This Weekend
  3. Torchlight Troubles
  4. Play On: Guild Name Generator
  5. Swimming to Silvermoon
  6. How To Find An Agent in EVE Online
  7. Pilgrim’s Bounty – Cooking Catch Up
  8. Lawsuit – WoW Isn’t Easy Enough
  9. Hulkapocalypse?
  10. And We Were Upset About a $10 Horse…
  11. A Theory of Fishing
  12. The Joy of PLEX

Search Terms of the Month

eve online wtf
[not an uncommon reaction to EVE…]

“holy avenger”+victory
[One would hope…]

lego deathknight
[Don’t you have to be a certain level or buy an expansion for that?]

Dungeons and Dragons Online

We had set out to scout DDO to see if that might be the next game for the Saturday night group.  Certainly it has much to recommend it, including being free to play.  However, we ended up staying in WoW on the horde side and having fun, so DDO has fallen off the radar for now.

It is an interesting game and I do want to go back and get a better feel for it.  As has been noted elsewhere, the combat does feel a bit fast, almost Torchlight fast at times for me.  On the other hand, I’ve played so little of the game so far, making the pronouncement that combat is too fast in DDO would be like be getting to Elwynn Forest in WoW and declaring raiding is too easy.

Anyway, DDO is off the active list for now.

EVE Online

Gaff has been back in EVE so we have been chatting about the game some.  I’ve gotten out a run a couple of missions and started minding the store a bit more on the market front.  But other than that, I have been pretty quiet on EVE, living it vicariously by talking to Gaff and reading EVE Monkey.

Of course, we have Dominion coming along… um… tomorrow.  Lots of new stuff, though I have to figure out what might apply to me.  If nothing else, I’ll have some screen shot missions to undertake to document the upgraded planet and star field graphics.

I did notice that, if I canceled my EVE account during the current billing cycle, it would lapse on February 2nd.

Could that be a sign?

Finally, side question of the month: Is Ryan Verniere visible when they show the Atlanta office in that CCP HTFU – Permaband video?

Star Trek Online

The buzz is starting.  I am torn between averting my eyes to keep everything fresh for day one and devouring all possible content about it.  It is supposed to go live on February 2nd… unless Jack Emmert sees his shadow, in which case there will be six more weeks of beta.

Torchlight

Finally got it patched to the updated version.  Direct2Drive clearly wasn’t ready for the patch to be a new installer.  They simply replaced the old installer in your accounts download page without bothering to indicate that there was anything new.  Same name.  Same date.  Same everything.

It took a couple of passes through their support team to get the right answer out of them.  Again, the front line just saw the word “patch” and sent me to the patch page where I had already indicated was lacking in Torchlight updates.  Ah well, worse things happen at sea.

Since then I have blasted through the game with my vanquisher, literally, wielding a pair of pistols that make things go dead in the night.  I have been back since with my destroyer and have toyed with making an alchemist, but after one pass through I’m not so enthusiastic.

Well worth the $20 all the same, and I am waiting for some good mods to come along to spice things up.

World of Warcraft

We thought we would be moving on to something else, but we’re still having fun playing in Azeroth, so why mess with a good thing?  It still suits our play budget and going with a new set of classes on the horde side on a PvP server has changed up just enough that we don’t feel like we’re on the exact same ride in Blizzard’s theme park.

Wii

With the arrival of Rockband 2 there has been a resurgence of activity on the Wii, and not just with small plastic play guitars.  We’re actually gotten out Mario Party 8, Pokemon Battle Revolution, and the LEGO games.  Console games have their time and place.

Coming Up

More WoW.  There will always be more WoW it seems.

But it is also December, which usually means a month of nostalgia and reflection.

I have already activated Station Access so I can go revisit EverQuest, EverQuest II, and Pirates of the Burning Sea.  I think I am almost done patching them at this point!

I also need to go back and look at predictions I made for 2009, remind myself what else happened this year, and think about what may come in 2010.

And will I have a Christmas story this year?

EverQuest II – 5 Good, 5 Bad, 5 So-So

Syp over at Biobreak asked for EverQuest II players to celebrate the EQ2 5th anniversary in something of a confrontational way, by listing out five ways that EQ2 is better than World of Warcraft.  I just resubscribed to EQ2, so I guess I count as an EQ2 player yet again.

Though it isn’t like we haven’t been there before on this topic. (There Hudson, now you don’t have to comment how you posted on this topic two years ago and I don’t have to remind you I did it three years ago, so nobody is claiming originality.)

I have long been an EQ2 partisan and was quite anti-WoW for a while.  However, I have played both games quite a bit in the last five years so I see good and bad aspects of both.

Because of that, and because I simply cannot follow directions, I am making three lists, one where EQ2 rules, one where EQ2 drools, and one where EQ2 has managed to mix both greatness and crap into a mediocre mix.

Five Places EverQuest II Wins

1) Personal Space – Having your own little home in the world, even if it is just an instanced space identical to thousands of others, is a huge differentiator for EQ2.  Even if you never go beyond the basic cheap one room apartment, you have a place of your own that you can decorate and display your trophies then invite your friends over to take a look. In WoW, if you can’t wear it, it has to be stowed away where nobody can see it.

2) Storage – I have never had so much crap in EQ2 that I couldn’t solve my storage problems by saving up to buy some bigger storage boxes for my bank slots… or the storage slots I get with my home!  And believe me, I am a pack rat.  But I have always been able to buy my way out of storage woes in EQ2.

Not so in WoW.  WoW needs the concept of storage boxes that can only be used in your bank bag slots.  I am constantly out of space in WoW.

And don’t get me started on shared storage.  We’d better get shared storage for accounts in Cataclysm.

3) Guilds – I don’t think anybody will argue with the statement that guilds have had more options and more depth in EQ2 since day one.  Guild banks, guild halls, guild levels, WoW is slowly copying these things, but EQ2 has always been way ahead here.

4) Heritage Quests – I have yet to find anything in WoW that has given me the same feeling as a heritage quest in EQ2.  Certainly WoW has enough lore in the Warcraft line of games to come up with some special treats.

Of course, part of the joy of HQs is that you get status points that you can spend, plus status points that help your guild level, plus when you outgrow the quest reward, you can put it on display in your home.  WoW just can’t match that.

5) Fae Glide – Sure, WoW has flying mounts, which are very cool.  But I got used to having a flying mount pretty quickly.

Fae (and Arasai I guess) glide is hugely enjoyable to this day.  I run across the landscape looking for small rises to launch myself, streams to cross in a single bound, and cliffs to jump off of just to see how far I can go.

Special Bonus Praise: Quest Log – A quest log with room for more than 25 quests is pure win.  Showing all your completed quests as well, double win.  Being able to open it with a single key stroke… okay, we’re only talking about WoW and EQ2 here.

Five Places EverQuest II Loses

1) Home Cities – The original pair, Qeynos and Freeport, seemed to be designed to annoy the crap out of people.  How many zones should a home town have?  I have to think that if you’ve hit four zones, you’ve probably gone too far.  I know there was a desire to have two factions and yet give races their own home starter town within the cities, but it ended up being a royal chaotic pain.

Kelethin reversed this trend, but only for a couple of races.  And then Gorowyn came along with the apparent purpose of proving SOE could make a home town more confusing than the Undercity in WoW.

2) Zones & Travel – It is really tough to play in a seamless world like Azeroth and then have to face all the loading screens that come with Norrath.  I suppose it gives us a chance to read all the help tips.

And travel in Norrath keeps one from getting a feel that this is all one world.  Ring the bell and appear in another zone?  Yes, I know the story is that the cataclysm broke the lands apart, but that feels like somebody used lore to justify a zone based architecture.

3) Factions – Players from Freeport and Qeynos can group, be in the same guild, trade in person, sell to each other via the broker… so why are there two factions at all?  In five years I have yet to read a convincing argument for having two factions.

4) Skills – While it is neat that my characters all have literally dozens of skills, many more than any of my characters in WoW, it can be really tough to remember what does what when you’ve been away for a bit… or even when you change to another character.  This is compounded by SOE outsmarting itself and giving all the skills in a chain of upgrades different names.  WoW, with one skill name and different ranks of that skill, rules the roost for understandability.

This skill problem is compounded by the fact that skills in the same path do not always have the same icon, while similar sounding skills that are not in that same skill upgrade path do have the same icon.

And while we’re on skills, I’m still not all that happy about having apprentice I through master versions of skills.  This goes double when I read that everything after Faydwer was tuned to be challenging for those with master skills, because only raiders get into expansion betas, so unless you’ve been investing in masters, there might not be any high level solo content for you.

5) Instanced Content – Or why the instance group has never gotten into EQ2.

I know a lot of people are big fans of the open world dungeon thing.  In general I am not against the idea and like the option to be available.  But when you’re with a group that has a very specific play budget, you do tend to want to know what you’re going to be able to do on a given night.  In EQ2, you might be able to go delve into that open world dungeon and accomplish something.  Then again you might have to with another group for the same objective. Or, more likely you’ll end up competing with farmers camping the named mobs hoping for master chest drops to sell on the broker.

So while EQ2 does have some instanced content, it is pretty rare unless you’re raiding.  I haven’t been paying attention, has anybody been clamoring for open world raiding?

Anyway, if you want to do the dungeon crawl thing with just your group, EQ2 is not for you.

Special Bonus Gripe: Character Slots – Who at SOE hates people who make alts?

Four slots total at launch?  In a game with 24 classes?

Seriously, I am still mad about that five years later.

Now the character total has been raised to seven slots over all servers, unless you want to more than double your subscription fee.

Sorry, WoW, which pretty much followed the EverQuest model… you know, the game for which EQ2 is supposed to be the sequel… owns EQ2 completely in this regard.  10 characters per server, 50 characters total and I have never felt constrained.

Five Place Where EverQuest II Has Compromised Potential Greatness

1) UI Mods – On the one hand, relative to WoW, the UI in EQ2 is extremely customizable.  You can move and resize most any window and can find a huge number of mods to change the look and feel of just about everything.

On the other hand, it is possible to screw things up and lose essential windows without knowing how to get them back. Plus, the number of parameters associated with each aspect of the interface can be confusing.  Then there is the whole process by which you can apply mods, which is about as clear as mud five years into the game.  Seriously, it is easier to apply mods in EQ still.  How does that happen?

And, finally, while I gripe about my WoW addons being declared obsolete by Blizz with every major patch, UI changes actually break about as often in EQ2, but you don’t find out until you try to open that particular part of the UI and get told it is no longer supported.  Then you have to figure out which XML file to remove from the UI folder you had to create and point to by editing a .ini file.

2) Trade Skills – The “Whack-a-mole” implementation of trade skills made you feel like you were doing more than pressing a button and having an item dispensed, but it becomes a grind pretty quickly.  And where we find a repetitive grind, we find rampant botting.  I am convinced that SOE turns a blind eye to trade skill botting (because it isn’t hard to spot the bots in the trade skill instances) the way they turn a blind eye towards buying platinum.  To enforce either rigorously would ban too many paying customers and kill the already precarious in-game market.

Still, SOE has revised trade skills over time so they are not as onerous as they were on day one.  You no longer have to “Whack-a-mole” for half an hour to get an actual end product item, you now mercifully cut straight to the chase, putting raws in and getting finished goods out without couple of semi-finished states.  I do not miss making chemicals to refine other raws, to make parts, to then make final goods.

Meanwhile, harvesting has been something of a joke at times.  I’ve already ranted about fishing, but the other harvest nodes, spread at seeming random throughout the original zones in the game were just crazy.  There are places in Thundering Steppes where it looks like the resource factory exploded and the contents rained down across the fields.

In WoW, harvestables are always in areas you expect to find them.  Herbs are especially specific, with peacebloom always in open sun, silverleaf always in the shade of a tree, earthroot always in some extruding ground, and so on.  EQ2 got better at that with later expansions, which is why this isn’t in the “bad” category, but the old world still looks like resource chaos.

3) Equipment – This goes with trade skills.  I like that the trade skills allow you to make useful equipment.  However, that equipment is so good that I generally never replace anything with drops or quest rewards.

This means that every 10 levels I have to replace every single piece of equipment I am wearing.  But, I suppose, at least it all matches.  Of course, with appearance slots, that isn’t important any more.

So while WoW’s system is chaotic and I sometimes forget to keep equipment up to date, I often get drops that are upgrades so my equipment is usually being upgraded slowly over time rather than in a once-every-10-levels spending and crafting spree.

4) Lore – This rose up from “bad” to “so-so” after the Echoes of Faydwer expansion, but it will never achieve the level of “good” as long as I still see flying carpets from the Desert of Flames flying around.  How the SOE plan for an sequel to EQ could include avoiding so much of the EQ lore boggles the mind.  I’m glad they changed their minds on the subject.

5) Collection Quests – I have always liked these and I have always been especially satisfied to finish a collection quest without resorting to the broker.  But I think SOE has gone a bit overboard on them, thinking that if some is good, more is better.

And so, like my harvesting gripe above, you can go to zones and it looks like somebody’s loose leaf binder broke open and the papers were blown everywhere.  You see those and sparklies to excess.

Special Bonus Blah: The Broker – The broker, the EQ2 version of the WoW auction house, has never thrilled me.  It doesn’t have the simplicity of WoWs auction house, but does not seem to gain much by being more complex.  I suppose it is good that you have one auction house for all factions, something I have wished for in WoW, but then it goes back to why have factions in any case.

LEGO Harry Potter – Getting What You Ask For

Almost two years ago I wrote a piece titled Five LEGO Video Game Titles I Want.

As is the standard with my lists of five, it was mostly silly.  But the third item on the list of five, the item that actually started me thinking about the list in the first place, was a LEGO Harry Potter game.  I called it a “gimme” and wondered why it hadn’t already been announced.

Then, last weekend, while digging through Wii items on Amazon.com, I came across a pre-order page linked off of LEGO Rock Band.

It was for LEGO Harry Potter – Years 1-4.


Travller’s Tales is back with a new installment for the LEGO video game franchise.

Apparently the information about this started rolling out back in June, but we were on a Wii hiatus around our house at that point.

Now though, we’ve been back and playing with the Wii a bit more and I’ve started paying attention to this sort of thing again.

LEGO Harry Potter Years 1-4 is slated to ship some time in 2010.  Something to look forward to.

And while we’re waiting for that, there is always LEGO Indiana Jones 2, which came out last week.

This installment, which features new levels based on the original movies plus The Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls (which GameTrailers called “the worst movie in the series” so we don’t have to) includes a level editor so you can create your own adventures, as well as a split-screen mode so when you are playing co-op and go in different directions you don’t end up with the inevitable tug-of-war for the screen.

Something to put on my list for Santa.

The Deadmines – Enemy Territory

80 > 22+22+22+22+22

-Essential WoW PvP Math

We decided that for our weekly instance group run last week we would leave the Barrens and its colorful chat channel behind and venture into the dangerous world and perhaps experience the PvP side of our RP-PvP server, Lightninghoof.

I have not really played on a PvP server in WoW before, so the whole situation was not clear to me when we rolled up on Lightninghoof.  I expected to be flagged PvP at all times.  But that turned out not to be the case.  While you can flag yourself PvP at any time, the zone you are in determines what else flags you PvP.

For each player, there are three flavors of zones.

There is what is considered the home territory of your faction.  This is sort of like the PvE servers, in that you only get flagged if you actually attack a player of the other faction.  however, players of the other faction are always flagged PvP when they enter your home territory.  So they other side cannot come in and stomp noobs but are exposed themselves.

Then there is contested territory, which is most of the world I gather.  When in contested territory, everybody is flagged for PvP.

Then there is enemy territory, which is the other factions home territory.  There you are flagged PvP but the other side is not, so you cannot go stomp their noobs but they can choose to come get you whenever they please.

We were off to do the Deadmines, and it turns out that Westfall is enemy territory for the Horde.  So we would be flagged for PvP the whole time, but couldn’t go a-ganking unless somebody obliged us by flagging themselves.  Of course, if a high level came along, we would be in trouble.  The equation at the top of the post also applies to level 50 and above in the ability to slaughter a group in the low 20s.

As part of the plan to get ourselves into Westfall with the minimum of deaths, Azawak and Hurmoo both went into the druid cat form and used prowl to sneak into the vicinity of the Deadmines summoning stone.  We flew into Stranglethorn Vale first, then swam around to the shores of Westfall.

Summoning Stone Under Observation

As the hour approached, we started assembling the team for the night:

22 Undead Mage – Bigbutt (Bungholio)
22 Tauren Druid – Hurmoo (Vikund)
22 Tauren Druid – Azawak (Skronk)
22 Orc Shaman – Earlthebat (Earlthecat)
22 Blood Elf Paladin – Enaldie (Ula)
80 Tauren Druid – Fayli (Gaff)

Gaff came over from New Eden to give us some covering fire if we needed it getting to the instance.  And it turned out we needed it.

Even as people were getting ready, Hurmoo got caught by a high level Alliance paladin near the summoning stone and was insta-killed.  Fortunately I had seen him coming and was trying to escape and evade while in prowl, so I managed to put my corpse close to a building.  This let me revive on the other side of the building, out of sight, and head for the hills.

Azawak and Hurmoo laid low for a while as the other troops got themselves in position and Fayli traveled out to join him.

When everybody was ready, we summoned in Enaldie, Bigbutt, and Earlthebat, then started quickly towards the instance.

However, in the tunnels, we found the paladin again.  He turned out to be level 80 and he killed us all pretty rapidly.  Fayli showed up, but we hadn’t told him it was a paladin, just that a high level Alliance player was on us.  It seems that a paladin is a tough target for a feral druid of the same level unless the druid gets the drop on him, so Fayli and the pally ran around the mines a bit while we revived and got killed once or twice more.

Eventually though, we all made it to the instance.

The Deadmines itself wasn’t much of a challenge.  As a group of level 22 players, we were a bit above level for the instance.  The instance is listed as being for levels 15 through 23, but by 22 you’re not really being challenged.  The NPCs at the start of the instance were grey to us.

Running Through Familiar Places

While familiar with the instance, we managed to get surprised now and again.  We had forgotten that patrols show up to sweep the room when you finish a couple of the bosses, so you can get take unaware, especially by that group that shows up after you finish the foundry.

Looking Out Over The Foundry

It seems odd though that Blizzard established this patrol thing pretty strongly in the Deadmines, then didn’t use it again.  At least I cannot think of an instance off-hand where something like that occurs.

We still showed care and did not get in over our heads… not very often anyway… even though everything was below our level.  Things got a little more challenging once we got to Smite.

Facing Smite

You have to love VanCleef’s ship.  Can you say “Top Heavy?”

We made our was along the decks and up the scaffolding, making it to VanCleef at last.

We though perhaps we could form an alliance with the Defias.  These guys are fighting against Stormwinds, why are they aggro to us?  But it wasn’t to be.  He fought, we won, the achievement was ours.

Victory Over VanCleef

Hurmoo is wearing the puffy shirt that dropped from VanCleef.  Nobody wanted it, so it went to Hurmoo to disenchant.

While the Deadmines was fun, it was something of a nostalgia ride, and as such, did not last very long.  We still had some energy left in us.  So we decided to terrorize Westfall.

We first went to the flight point to see what we could slay there, but everything showed up as “??” to us, so we gave that a wide berth.  No slaying the flight master for us.

We then headed to the Saldean Farm where all the NPCs were low level.  We killed them all in front of a couple of lower level Alliance players.

Death To The Humans!

Then we ran over and tried to free Old Blanchy from his oppressors, the Furlbrows, who regularly give away his blanket and feed pouch.  We slew them, but Blanchy was too brainwashed to accept his freedom, join us, and fight against the tyranny of Stormwind.

Free Old Blanchy

Then we headed into Elwynn Forest, where we slew guards until a pair of “??” Alliance players saw us and one-shotted us.

The Invasion Crushed

We went back, revived, found that at least our corpses were not being camped, declared a moral victory, and recalled for home.  We decided to do a bit on the Pilgrim’s Bounty end of things.

All in all, it was quite a fun run.  The Deadmines is still an awesome instance and I look forward to the heroic version that is promised for Cataclysm.  Then perhaps Sneed and his shredder will be a challenge.

Sneed And His Shredder

The instance is also very good looking.  Every time I go through it I am always struck by the lighting and how well it sets the mood.  Somebody spent a lot of time on this instance.

After figuring out how the tables at Pilgrim’s Bounty worked and getting the first achievement or two, we started calling it a night one by one.

If we stay on our instance trajectory, Shadowfang Keep will be the next on the list.  We are not dedicated to running all the instances again, the way we did with the original instance group, so maybe we’ll just go raid Westfall again.

Lawsuit – WoW Isn’t Easy Enough

Pointed out to me by a co-worker, a story over at GameSpot reports that one of my former neighbors (though San Jose is a big city) is suing Activision Blizzard over issues he has with World of Warcraft.  From the story:

He first takes exception to the game’s $14.99 monthly subscription fee, calling it the highest of any MMORPG. He contends the fee is aggravated by the game requiring players to travel great distances at a slow walking or running pace, with fast travel options like teleportation stones and mounts only available to gamers who rise to an advanced level or purchase the game’s expansion packs.

He also cited the game’s resurrection process, in which players travel in spirit from cemeteries back to the spots where they died in order to revive themselves, as an unnecessary part of the game designed to cost gamers money. Other fees at issue include the charges (up to $25) Blizzard levies to change their characters’ names, races, factions, or servers.

(Somebody find an MMORPG that charges more than $14.99 a month please.)

According to the story this guy recently had a case against the Sony Playstation Network dismissed and is currently suing Microsoft and Nintendo because:

…he alleged that a broken Xbox 360 caused him undue stress, and that a Wii system update blocking access to the Homebrew Channel third-party program interfered with his inalienable right to pursue happiness.

The rational behind his WoW suit:

…the suit also references the 2001 suicide of an EverQuest player, attributing it to a sense of alienation related to the game and mental health problems. The suit goes on to say the plaintiff has suffered from similar problems including major depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and Crohn’s disease, and he “doesn’t want to end up like [the EverQuest player] did as he relies on video games heavily for the little ongoing happiness he can achieve in this life, via the gaming medium.”

In addition to the suit, the plaintiff also wants a pair of celebrities to attest to the effects of alienation. The gamer is subpoenaing Depeche Mode’s Martin Lee Gore “since he himself has been known to be sad, lonely, and alienated, as can be seen in the songs he writes.” He is also calling Winona Ryder to testify, saying the actress’ appreciation for Catcher in the Rye will make her a relevant witness “to how alienation in the book can tie to alienation in real live [sic] / video games such as World of Warcraft.”

For all of this he wants (say it with me) ONE MILLION DOLLARS!

And he wants Blizzard to fix all the issues he brought up.  Good luck on that.

As My Guitar Gently Clicks

My wife asked, “Can we get something better than that crappy Wii Music?”

We’re still down on Wii Music around our house.

But this time, my wife was planning out how to keep 20+ people entertained at either end of Thanksgiving dinner this coming Thursday.  She was wondering if there was some Wii game we could get that would help out.

I pondered the new Wii Resort, but decided that the reference to Wii Music ought to focus the search.  So I went about looking into the Wii versions of the popular toy guitar games.

The first step last Monday was to walk over to the tech support department at the office, which is where most of the console gamers reside, and loudly ask the question, “Guitar Hero or Rock Band?”

They looked at me for about two beats and pretty much unanimously said, “Rock Band.”

I am going to guess that there was a certain amount of “pity the old guy and his Wii” in that recommendation because they followed up the response with a lot about Rock Band being easier, having “no fail mode” and such.

Which was the correct reasoning for a recommendation, since what I know about Rock Band and Guitar Hero wouldn’t have filled a thimble at that point.

I left to go look up reviews on Rock Band while they were still talking about sound/screen synchronization and the merits of the stage kit fog machine. (XBox 360 only I’m afraid.)

Some leafing through reviews showed that people thought the instruments with the original Rock Band were “teh suxor,” but most reviews seemed to really like the instruments that came with Rock Band 2.

Rock Band 2 was the choice.

The Choice

(Pictures for this post were all snatched from a Google Images search because, frankly, it wouldn’t have any pictures otherwise.)

So I went over to Amazon.com, forgetting to go through anybody’s web store front yet again, and ordered Rock Band 2. I opted for second day delivery despite the free delivery option being available.  I wanted to make sure we had it by Friday night so we could figure it out before Thanksgiving and I was afraid it might go via UPS, which has a habit of holding packages in their local warehouse until the delivery date has arrived.

Wednesday I got a call at work from my wife.  She told me that Rock Band had arrived, but that this giant box had also been delivered.  In her mind, a Wii game is about the size of a DVD, which she assumed was in the small box we got from Amazon.com.  I explained that the big box was Rock Band because it comes with a guitar and a drum kit.

I think this came as something of a surprise, but she was enthusiastic about it.

The box, about the size of Herve Villechaize‘s coffin, was deposited on the floor at one end of our family room, where it sat for over 24 hours without so much as a remark from my daughter, a level of obliviousness that I did not think we would see until the teenage years.  I finally had to ask her, “What’s in the box?” before she looked at it, looked at me, then asked back, “What’s in the box?”

Then I told her she would have to wait until I got home from work on Friday to find out.  That built a level of anticipation in her that lasted for about 2 minutes, then she was off doing something else.  Spoiled child indeed.

Friday night finally rolled around, I got home from work, pizza was ordered, and my wife went off to some girl gathering leaving my daughter and I to unpack and setup of Rock Band 2.

I opened up the outer, then the inner box, and dumped all the bits and pieces onto the family room floor.  Then the impatience began as my daughter wanted to get in there and play right away while I had to do the Christmas Eve parental assembly routine.

This is what you get in the box:

Microphone, Drums, and Guitar

(annotated picture swiped from here just to make sure you knew which was the microphone)

About 30 minutes later, we had just about everything together and were ready to try it out.

The Guitar

The guitar… or the guitar controller, rather… is actually very nicely done.  It does not look or feel quite as much like a toy as other similar controllers I have seen.  It feels solid, if not as heavy as an actual electric guitar, and the buttons on the fret board are nicely colored only on the top of the neck, where you can see them when you’re holding the controller, as opposed to on the face of the fret board, where everybody except you can see them unless you tilt the guitar up.

The strap adjusted enough to accommodate both myself and my daughter at need and we were both able to at least get through the tutorial and an easy song or two right away without screwing up too badly.

The Drums

The drums controller is also reasonably solid.  It stood up to both of us beating on it for a few minutes.  Unfortunately, it only had to endure a few minutes until we gave up in frustration.

The drums are hard.

Or, rather, the drums are not as easy, even on easy mode, as the guitar.  When you select easy mode on the guitar, you only have to deal with three of the five possible buttons.  With the drums, even in easy mode, you have all four pads to beat on and the pedal to mash.  That was more than either of us were ready for on a Friday night.  Add in the fact that hitting the drums was somewhat loud yet unsatisfying and we went anti-drum pretty fast.

So the drums got placed over in the corner of the room, where they have remained untouched.

Mr. Microphone

With two of us playing the game, that left the microphone as the only other option.  My daughter wanted to play with the guitar still, so that left me on vocals, the front man for the group.

So where the drums are hard, even on easy mode, the vocals seemed very easy.  On easy mode I was belting out extremely high percentages and pretty much holding the act together while the audience was booing my daughter off stage.  Show biz is tough.

After having gone through a couple of songs though, I became pretty sure that one of those multi-tone car alarms would score moderately well in easy mode.

Still, it was nice to not be completely out of my depth for a little bit.  I did find that my own natural range (which runs from F-flat to C-you later) was so limited that I had to move straight to a low falsetto in order to keep my pitch on track with the little meter at the top of the screen.

That worked, but I have my usual problem of singing just as badly compounded by doing so while trying to sound like I am in one of the Monty Python “pepperpot” sketches.

The Songs

Rock Band 2 comes with 84 songs.  You can only play a few of them in Quick Play mode it seems, even after entering the alleged “unlock all” cheat code, so I am probably missing something.  Of the list we were allowed to choose from, we favored:

We Got The Beat – A song I chose because I knew the words.  Or I thought I did, anyway.  It can be amazing to find out you’ve been singing along WRONG for 25 years.

Hungry Like The Wolf – Again, thought I knew the words… I didn’t.  Even my wife was surprised at how much the lyrics varied from her own imagination.  Still, manageable on easy mode as long as we leave the drums out of the picture.

Cool for Cats – My daughter’s favorite, the one we have to play over and over.  This is where my daughter and I are of different minds.  She likes to pick a song and, you know, practice and get better, while I just want to turn on “No Fail” mode, crank through the whole play list, shout, “Thank You San Jose!” and call it a night.

We are getting better at it.  I think my daughter likes the song because it implies that cats are cool.  I am certain that she doesn’t understand the actual lyrics.  Hell, I’ve sung it more than a dozen times now and *I* don’t understand the lyrics.  But it is rock and roll, and it is better to sound good than to be good… or something.

Eye of the Tiger – The only other song on the Quick Play list that I knew.  My daughter wasn’t keen on it, despite having “Tiger” in the title.

We did try a few other items on the list, but few were familiar to me at all, so we seem to always end up back at “Cool for Cats.”

Downloadable Content

We went and explored the list of downloadable content for Rock Band 2.  There is quite a long list available.  Since we had some Wii points available, we grabbed Pretty Fly (for a White Guy) because it is the basis for the parody Pretty Fly (for a Dranei).  I was up for it, but it was quickly pulled from our rotation by my daughter because it contains a bad word.

I also threatend to download White Rabbit until I let my daughter listen to it on iTunes first.  That got the axe, which was probably just as well, since the downloadable content uses up a big chunk of the memory on the Wii and we seem to have filled up our SD Card with pictures from Pokemon Ranch.

So I have to figure that out before we can spend any more Wii Points on downloads.

Second Guitar?

After a few days fooling around, what I really want to get is a second guitar.  The guitar controller is the obvious cool aspect of the game.  I would go by Fry’s on the way home and buy one today, if I could find something somewhere online or in the written instructions with a simple title like, “How to add a Second Guitar to Rock Band 2.”

I have yet to find that, and the guitars look to be expensive enough that I’m not going there unless I know it will work.

Overall

So far we are having fun.  We have woken the Wii up from what has been a long summer sleep and we jump around in the family room in front of the TV for 30-45 minutes at a stretch, usually right before bed time.

We’ll see how things play out on Thanksgiving.  Maybe we can get somebody to play the drums.  As for songs I know, my backup plan was in that small box that arrived at the same time Rock Band 2 did.

Five Years of WoW – Onyxian Whelpling

Blizzard is celebrating an anniversary.   Tomorrow, November 23rd, it will have been five years since World of Warcraft went live.  And this year’s anniversary gift is an Onyxian Whelpling.

The Whelpling

As usual, Blizzard is including the nearest weekend day as part of the anniversary celebration, so when we were on last night and the server close rolled over to midnight, we all go the message.


And that meant that in all of our mailboxes there was a surprise waiting.


We were a little busy to go check our mail at that moment, being five low level horde players in Alliance territory, but mail keeps and we were eventually able to pick up our new pets.

Like other recent special pets (Mr. Chilly, Grunty the Murloc), the Onyxian Whelpling does not go away when you train it on your character.  It is a bind on account item that you can send to your future alts (on the same server/faction).

However, the feat-of-strength achievement is not tied to the pet, so you have to log on a character today or tomorrow in order to get that.  I’ve been through all my key characters this morning.  They have all been logged in, gotten the achievement, and claimed their pet.  Several still had Mr. Chilly waiting for them as well.

So now you’ll be seeing this guy all over Azeroth.

Onyxian Whelpline

Onyxian Whelpling

Fortunately, the whelpling is pretty small, so it won’t be too obnoxious with hundreds about.

My own five year anniversary with WoW is still a few months off.  I wasn’t there on day one, but showed up about four months later.

Update from the WoW community site:

The World of Warcraft five-year anniversary celebration is now officially underway! To mark this special occasion, any character that logs into the game between now and Sunday, December 6 at 11:59 p.m. (realm time) will receive their very own Onyxian Whelpling non-combat pet, along with a special message from the development team. We have more World of Warcraft 5-year and Warcraft 15-year anniversary festivities coming soon, so be sure to keep your eye on the official website. Thanks for being part of the adventure, and we look forward to many more whelps and great memories in the years ahead.

So you have some more time to get the whelpling.