A Wander Through Skyrim, part one of too many

| Saturday, December 31, 2011
Rather than try to rehash my half-formed and half-forgotten thoughts after the fact, I'm going to do what I did with my WoW starter posts, that is, constantly interrupt myself to write down what I'm thinking of the action at the time. I suppose if someone read deeply enough into these posts they'd be like a walkthrough of a sort. A really useless walkthrough.

I don't like "action" at the start of games. I'm in a new world with a new game and having to run around at the start tends to disorient me. Oblivion had a much better first start, sticking me in a small cage for a while while Captain Picard talked about stars. And I couldn't quite hear the dialogue early on ad had to put my system volume much higher, with the game already maxed out. I expect to be deafened if I play anything else (take note of the use of if vs. when and consider it part of the review). It feels a bit like Oblivion with prettier graphics and an inexplicably worse interface. That's an impressive feat, given that Oblivion already had a pretty bad interface, particularly for spells. At least now it seems to break them up better into restoration vs. destruction (Are there no other types? Don't answer) whereas Oblivion seemed to have "all powers" "active effects" and "random assortment of some of the powers".

The continuous casting is pretty nice so far. I can't explain why, but I like the feel up of it more than the magical quanta of Oblivion. On the other hand, holding up my glowing hands constantly makes me wonder when I'm going to hear a crackling voice over the radio, "Hit em with the combo! Zap em and whack em!"

My first death came early on, when I was picking up a cabbage. I couldn't quite get the other, so I tried to jump onto the cart for a better angle. Then the physics engine woke up on the wrong side of the bed, stuck me through the cart, and threw us both against the wall until I was dead. Thankfully, I quicksave compulsively after even the most minor of events (excluding death by cart), so I wasn't set back very far.

So stuff happens and I kill a bear with an arrow in the knee and next thing I'm being told we should split up but meet him at such as such place where his father works or something and I'm thinking:
1) We just met and you think we need to break up?
2) Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I'm not into men.
3) We just met and you want me to meet your father? Woah, slow down there!

So I did the logical thing and wandered off aimlessly. I caught some flowers and killed a couple bandits. Then I met some hit woman living in the mountains where I was searching for a dragon. She taught me to shoot a bow and I didn't kill her. Then I wandered some more and died a few times to a Sprig monster that seemed to kill me with magical floating bugs. But eventually I wandered into a town and did my first alchemy and got annoyed that it gives the option to randomly combine ingredients when none have known effects, failing to carefully explain to the noob that you're supposed to eat the ingredients raw and if they don't kill you, use them for potions. So I ate a bunch of stuff and then needed some healing. Then I went off to kill a great beast and wandered into a cave that I should have guessed was a bad place to be, based on the large quantities of blood. Shriekwind Bastion isn't exactly an inviting name either.

Things were going quite well until I found myself incapable of seeing the chain to opena door. Eventually I googled it and got through, but this annoyed me, to be searching outside for information. Then I ran into a master vampire who demonstrated a remarkable ability to kill me in three hits on the middle difficulty while also being faster. I searched again and didn't find anything special beside him supposedly being vulnerable to fire, and yet he was still taking a long while to die to my double-casted fire, or at least a long while relative to the three seconds needed to kill me. Even after putting the difficulty at the lowest I found myself chugging potions to get him down. I guess that's a boss? Maybe I'm not supposed to be here at level 3.

More later, but that's enough of this round of rambling.


| Wednesday, December 28, 2011
I'd heard good things about this game, so I finally gave it a try. Hm.

Let's start from the beginning. So, a screen is here with some grey and some black and maybe it is trees. Right. Is this a loading screen? Some sort of credits? An intro? Nothing seems to be going on. I did have to press any key to continue, so I'll do that again. Nothing. A? No. D! Nope. Space bar must do it.

Oh, arrow keys, gotcha. Neat. So let's run along now. Let's run along as demonstrate one problem with puzzle-solving games.

I don't think the same way you do. Sometimes I think this is because I am smarter than everyone else. Other times I think this is because of some undiagnosed mental illness. Usually I figured everyone has their brain wired a little bit differently (but mine is still wired better :P).

So what do we do when we see a giant spider? Well let's see, I saw a trap in that tree back there. That must be significant. The spider seems to be pretty tall, so maybe I can lure it back to the trap. Huh. It doesn't move. Well, maybe I can climb it! Nope, can't climb it. Maybe there was something else back there that I missed, like that previous puzzle that I tried to do the wrong way (we'll get to that one). Oh. Yes, of course, the trap fell on the ground. Well let's just drag that right back here and okay, problem solved.

Rewinding a little bit, let's see right here we have some water and a box. Hm. Well let's see, my swimming isn't so great. So I drown. Maybe I can float on the box. Nope. Maybe I can hang on to the box and sort of have-swim, half-float, then climb up at the end. Nope. Uh... shove box out farther and do a jump-jump maneuver. Also nope. Oh well of course! This time the usually background nothing trees are in fact the solution, I just need to climb a bit and push over the conveniently rotten one and walk across.

It's not all bad. There were at least two occasions where I was running or rolling right along and saw something come on the screen and instantly understood: "yep, that is going to crush me" or "yep, I gotta keep hopping and keep this rolling before a spider eats me" or "yep, I say yep a lot in my fake dialogue, despite it rarely being a word I use while gaming." So that was good. I liked that. It felt like it had some of the flow going like in Mirror's Edge.

But I'd guess I only played for 10 or 15 minutes (or I have no sense of time and Steam says 23 minutes). That's not very long for me when I'm on break from anything remotely like work or school for at least a couple weeks. I ended up quitting, frustrated, thinking "this stupid game." Maybe I'll come back to it later, possibly with a better impression. In the meantime, I can watch Firefly and wonder why I only get around 200-500kb/s at home.

Passive Patricide

| Tuesday, December 27, 2011
If Luke had just learned to heal Vader might have lived.
That's what happens when you don't learn to heal: your dad dies

I'm stealing that.

Is it plugged in? Idiot.

| Monday, December 26, 2011
If you're the sort of person who remembers this sort of thing, you might remember that a bit back I had some random crashing issues related to Civilization V. Fun stuff. I decided it was due to the RAM. So I did the logical thing:

No of course I didn't run a RAM test. That takes too long! Instead I pulled one one of the sticks and replaced it with two older ones. Yea, wrap your head around that. I'm just that good. At first things seemed better. And then not. This suggested that it was either the other stick or something entirely different.

I went with the third option: ignore it and just start playing Civ IV again.

Then one day I went poking around again and noticed something odd: one of my replacement RAM chip wasn't fully seated. Huh. So I gave it a good shove back in, checked all the others, and for good measure, stuck back in the "bad" stick.

No more crashes.

So no, it was not plugged in.

At least that's not quite as dumb as my headset with the non-functional microphone. I mean, duh, of course I want "mute" set to off. Months later I flipped that switch and have not stopped talking since.

Apparently there was a Christmas yesterday, which would explain why people kept giving my boxes wrapped in strangely flimsy paper and why I had a strange compulsion to put perfectly usable items in similarly oddly-wrapped boxes. Short version: I have Firefly and Serenity DVDs, a lot of tea, and some nice dress shirts, as if I were not classy enough already. Next to me, Trump looks like a barbaric pig, and not just because that's because what he is.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have ten thousand cookies to eat.

I Hate Christmas

| Friday, December 23, 2011
I used to enjoy Christmas. I'd eat cookies and get legos and it was a lot of fun.

These days Christmas isn't any fun at all. In terms of school it means a major crunch as everyone stuffs finals and projects into the last week. That week is, of course, right before Christmas, leaving me little time to shop. Oh sure, in magical fantasy land I could do my shopping before then. But no one writes lists until around then anyway. Maybe other people can get by without lists, but that requires a level of social connection that I do not achieve. I pride myself on remembering the names of family.

Of course it doesn't help that people mostly just talk about work. Why not hobbies? Anyone can work any job (take this in context), but hobbies actually tell you about who a person is. Without them, I am left wondering without the slightest clue. It's on par with St. Valentine's Day for holidays dedicated to making introverts feel bad.

It's also just plain too much socializing. A gathering now and then is nice. I wrote this on Thursday after spending too much time trying in vain to find gifts, wondering why stores exist if they don't sell anything worth buying. Then the evening was spent watching Christmas movies. The next day (today) will be occupied with a trip downtown to the German market, which was a lot of fun in high school when I went with my German class, but now it's likely to involve a lot of walking in the cold and making fun of stuff for no good reason, before heading back home. That night my brothers and I will go to dinner with my uncle, a Christmas tradition that bucks the trend by always being a lot of fun.

The next day is of course Christmas Eve, a name which makes no sense if you actually break it down. The day will be spent rushing around to make food to take to my brother's house where I will spend far too many hours being bored by talking to people with whom I share no common interests. One of these days I should retaliate and subject them to a mob by mob description of grinding for Insane in the Membrane.

But hey, next day is Christmas, when I can cringe when I see that I have, as usual, given relatively few gifts, and am not certain whether anyone will want them. Then I can, rather than enjoying the gifts I've received, spend even more time in excessively large groups. For context, I don't much like any more than five people, and even then, it has to be of a composition that doesn't cause two pairs and an extra sitting around awkwardly (me).

None of this results in me getting enough sleep either.

Merry Christmas, from all of us (just me) here at Troll Racials are Overpowered.

Did Trion get hacked or is this a marketing scheme?

| Thursday, December 22, 2011
I got this legitimate-appearing email regarding Rift, which says scary things backed up by their own website, among them,

We recently discovered that unauthorized intruders gained access to a Trion Worlds account database. The database in question contained information including user names, encrypted passwords, dates of birth, email addresses, billing addresses, and the first and last four digits and expiration dates of customer credit cards.

You should have continued, uninterrupted access to RIFT, and we do not anticipate any disruptions to your playing time.

Nevertheless, if you own the RIFT game, you will be granted three (3) days of complimentary RIFT game time once you update your password and security questions.

I don't own it, so nothing for me here just yet.

Additionally, once you update your account and set a new password, your account will be granted a Moneybags’ Purse, which increases your looted coin by 10%, even if you have not yet purchased RIFT.

Wait, what?

I can see giving some gift to subscribers for all their mental anguish (ma epics might possibly be gone!), but "even if you have not yet purchased RIFT"...

"Hey guys, we got hacked and your information might or might not have been compromised, but you know what? Here's some free gold if you start playing!"


In defense of insanity

Blizzard's writers have a standard way of making new bad guys: take some good guys and make them go insane. Violin: bad guys. This method is criticized for being lazy and formulaic. I disagree. The nature of the Warcraft universe requires that any true enemies be either innately evil or have been corrupted/gone insane.

Look at it in context. Within the real world greed is a powerful driver. It pushes people to do stupid or evil things. But how powerful can greed really be, in the Warcraft universe? In the real world, greed can get you killed. That's nothing in Warcraft. In that universe, greed can get you tortured for all eternity, and I don't mean "I read in a book that if I am greedy I'll get tortured for all eternity", I mean that you have literally seen demons and magic and know quite well that eternal torture is a strong possibility.

When there are forces that seek to unmake reality itself, everyone is on the same side. This idea first came to me from the Alvin Maker series by Orson Scott Card, my number one writer for veiled homophobic writing. In the series the hero is in a fight against the Unmaker, a being who seeks to unmake everything, somewhat reminiscent of the Burning Legion. A wise old man tells Alvin that even Satan, the obvious enemy of God, would on his side in this, because Satan wants to rule something. Even evil hates chaos.

From this perspective, we can see how it makes no sense at all to ally with the Burning Legion. There is no reason to trust the demons. Given their propensity for cruelty, it is not hard to imagine them turning on all their allies and destroying them as well. Any alliance is merely putting off the day of personal horribleness while increasing the chances of it coming. It would be like guaranteeing you won't get cancer today by taking a drug that doubles you risk of cancer tomorrow.

One cannot ally with chaos, one can only join chaos. Think of when you see a protest. The protestors are thinking of a cause, a reason. You may disagree with them, but odds are, they are sane. Now contrast that with a riot, of broken windows and arson and police being attacked. Are those people thinking or considering the costs and benefits of throwing a rock through a window? No. They are chaotic. They are, temporarily, uncontrolled, inhuman, and insane.

Think of Kael'thas, who had once sacrificed everything to protect his people, and who then joined the Legion. It could be nothing less than corruption of his very nature, insanity. There is no future for his people in the Legion. Similarly, the Lich King could not be just an angry prince who went a bit too far. He had to be corrupted because only that would allow him to turn against his father, kingdom, and the very world. Merely being a little less empathetic and a little more fanatical would not do the trick. The Scarlet Crusade is another group which is not merely extremist, but entirely out-of-touch with reality. They would not otherwise attack anyone on sight as Scourge (note that I did not say "possible" or "suspected").

Beside the enemies, think of our own actions. When the world is at risk of ceasing to exist, are we going to quibble over small matters? We may argue strategy or tactics, but when there is a demonic army coming, it's not so important whether there is a troll standing over there. We're not going to go raid Stormwind just because Varian talked some smack while Deathwing is cataclysmizing the world.

On the other hand, there is also the "really stupid, short-minded idiot" method, of making someone a threat to the world not because they are evil or in league with evil, but because their sheer stupidity is threatening survival: for example, Garrosh and other orcs who kept picking fights during the campaign in Icecrown. I wouldn't call them evil, but we'd definitely have been better off killing them before they could do any more damage.

Either way, we're not likely to be flying off to a raid against a reasonable person with whom we have a legitimate disagreement.

A philospher walked into a bar

| Wednesday, December 21, 2011
And said "Which sort of bar are you refering to? The ambiguity makes it impossible to offer anything close to an accurate prediction, particularly given the impossibility of prediction unless we assume cause and effect, but maybe that's just me assuming the assuming cause and effect allows us to make predictions and oh god I've gone cross-eyed."

The theist and atheist look at him, puzzled. Then they went back to shouting.

"How can you possibly have anything to look forward to without knowing the wonderful things behind this door? The room is filled with possibilities!"

"So is the rest of the house. It's filled with the possibility of all the stuff I bought when I moved in. What's the big deal about this one room?"

"You inherited this house from your grandfather and clearly this room was important. Thing of all he means to you, all you owe to him, and you cannot even accept that he gave you this wonderful room?"

"He gave me a house, that's pretty wonderful enough."

"Aha, so you acknowledge the existence of your grandfather!"

"Uh, yes."

At this point the philosopher chimes in.

"We cannot actually prove his existence, as he is no longer capable of direct interaction with this world, existing only as a memory, a memory which could be false, making any actions based on it illogical."

"What the fuck?"

"In fact, I'm not sure either of you exist."

By now the scientist has returned and overheard much of the conversation. He pondered the mysteries of the universe, such as why he only brought two bullets.

A voice drifts in...

"Hi! I'm a psychologist and I can explain to you why people often fail to anticipate future problems. Furthermore, you are referred to as a generic scientist, which given that psychology is a science, means that I should be redundant. However I understand why this oversight occurred and have developed a series of exercises we can use to work on this social issue..."



The scientist was found innocent of killing the philosopher because we cannot prove that the philosopher ever existed and he'd have wanted it that way.

An atheist, a theist, and a scientist walk into a bar...

| Tuesday, December 20, 2011
By "bar" I mean "door", and by "walk into" I mean "stand in front of".

They try the knob, but it's locked. There is a weather strip at the bottom so they can't see in at all. The scientist sets about tapping on the door and attempting to move it around in its frame.

Meanwhile the atheist and theist begin to argue.

"What wonderful thing musts be in this room."

"It's empty."

"Of course it's not empty. Why would someone lock an empty room? Why would there be a room for nothing in it? No, it is logical that there would be something in there."

"We had no proof at all of anything in there. It's illogical to assume anything at all, especially that the imaginary items are 'wonderful'".

"You're just being blind. The room is clearly there. It is clearly artificial. It must have a purpose."

"It must have been built. We cannot assume it has a purpose. We definitely cannot assume that purpose is to store 'wonderful things'".

"You're being ridiculous, you cannot even see inside. Anything could be in there!"

"Also, nothing could be in there."

At this point the scientist is thoroughly annoyed with their attempts at philosophy based on poor logic and zero evidence. Thankfully, he carries a gun for these situations, but with one bullet; he's almost a pacifist, but not quite. But what should he do with it? He sees only one way to silence both of them.

He shoots the door, blasting a small hole in it.

Immediately the two combatants switch to physical methods, shoving each other to try to peer inside. It's a small hole and they block the light every time they look, not that they can concentrate, since they keep pushing each other away before they can focus on the dim conditions. But they are at least certain of one thing: the room is dark.

Finally the atheist has come to the conclusion he already had.

"See, I told you it's empty!"

"But it's dark, it could be in that shadow right there."

"The entire room is shadows!"

"Exactly, just imagine all the wonderful things!"

The scientist wanders off to ponder uncertainty and whether a coin flip would determine if God plays dice, musing that the true answer to Schrödinger's cat was to think inside the box.

Bosses are too small

| Monday, December 19, 2011
Shintar did not seem to enjoy fighting Deathwing much because he is too big to see. The sense of scale gets all thrown off and things just get confusing and disorienting.

The solution is obvious: Make him even bigger.

If Deathwing were even bigger, we could have the fight on him.

Phase one: Dodging claws as you run toward him with the goal of everyone being securely hanging onto a claw before he takes flight.

Phase two: Stab his ankles. Gnomes do 50% extra damage due to having a higher ankle-stabbing skill. Much of this phase is "dance" as you have to move to avoid him smashing you against walls.

Phase three: Climb onto his back and attack the plates. As they are broken, fire blasts out, breaking LoS and being an instant kill. It is important to kill them in something like a reasonable pattern. Black dragons are the main opponents, swooping in to grab people and fly them away. You must kill them before they can fly too high, somewhat like valkyr and LK in ICC.

Phase four: Deathwing is spewing fire from everywhere and clawing like mad. The goal is to run away and hide, fighting through waves of enemies while he slowly drags himself along after you (remember, his ankles are a mess). The phase ends with the escape ship flying away, a 30 second timer which begins when the first person is fully on board.

Phase five: You fly away and Deathwing explodes in the background, showering the deck with loot.

Eliminating Test Anxiety

| Saturday, December 17, 2011
I have my last final of the semester in a bit under four hours. So test anxiety and stress are right on my mind. Some people deal with these with studying. Psh. It's a stats exam, so of course I spent last night teaching someone the basics of energy in chemical bonds. This morning I'm writing this and I can't imagine missing "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me", the NPR news quiz which is in less than an hour.

Most importantly though, I deal with tests with creativity, with applications of my vast knowledge, some of which is psychological. See where I'm going with this? Yep, I have my own way to deal with stresss based on proven psychology. We all know the "flight or fight" response. But have we ever truly applied it? We get all worked up over an intellectual challenge, but prepared for a physical challenge. So why not fix that so we can focus on thinking?

The general idea is to allow the flight or fight response to manifest itself fully, activate, and then go away. In specific applications this means I release a couple tigers into the building before exams and then we can all fight them or run like wimps. Once that's done, we're in the perfect mental state to tackle t-tests, z-tests, and of course, f-tests, which make a great stats exam pun. It makes sense, what is a bit of over-hyped algebra compared to tigers trying to kill you?

I'm still left with one nagging thought about regression. We (our classes) describe them as taking four general forms: level-level, ln-level, level-ln, and ln-ln, but no cow-level.

It's like social loafing, but the opposite

| Wednesday, December 14, 2011
What was supposed to be a three-month project is being done in about three weeks. So we're working our asses off. All the other groups think we're crazy. Maybe we are, and were, even before this.

The final bit of the project is a paper. A mere 20 pages, a trivial length for 5 people, and perhaps too short for the scope of the topic. But that's what we have to work with. The main idea is that there is a paper to write, with grades going to 5 people.

Some people would be social loafers. They'd know that 4 other people are there to do it. If I don't edit, they will. If I don't write enough, they will. If I disperse profanity throughout the paper, they'll catch it. To some extent this is true, that I am allowing them to pick up some slack, because that's what teams are for, distributing the load, playing to strengths.

But I cannot just sit back and let them do it all. I know it won't be as good as it could be. So here I am now thinking that the paper is good enough. I'd turn it in for myself. But it isn't a grade for 1 person; it's for 5 people. Any problem is multiplied. Maybe I'd accept an imperfect grade, but I cannot impose that on 4 other people. That's the wrong thing to do.

So I end up inversely socially loafing, doing more because of others, rather than less.

It reminds me a bit of raiding. When I solo I don't mind the deaths because it's entirely my own risk, my own cost, my own failure. But in a raid, if I screw up, I screw up for 9 or 24 other people. Or 39 once upon a time. That's not a good feeling. Early on, when everyone is making mistakes and raids aren't quite so difficult, it's manageable. But eventually it gets to me, it stresses me and angers me, that my mistake is hurting others, and I don't want to be that person.

But what is my benefit from working twice as hard at the raiding and preparation? It's a terrible scenario where the cost of not preparing is massive, hurting me a little and added up over everyone, a lot. But the extra work to fail less? Minor benefit to me, and also to the raid, because then someone else does it wrong and I cannot fix it for them. It's like Tobold would say now and then, with a raid testing the weakest member, rather than the strongest, or the average.

I like tests of strongest or of average. In the former, one weak member may cause no harm at all. In the latter, one weak member may have little overall negative impact. Not none, but little enough that it can be compensated for. But when the weakest member decides the outcome, then it's a race to remove the lowest, and then there is a new lowest, and in theory you remove all the low ones and have a core of high ones and then everything is good, but that's a chaotic process, a disruptive process, a particularly unfun process when everyone is under attack.

So that's that. And I really hate doing citations. I wish I could just paste in the source link. Here, professor, you want my sources, here is the agency budget and newspaper articles investigating it. Alas, I cannot do that.

In unrelated news, I think I'm going to hold off on buying Skyrim, as I've just started playing Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl again, with the excellent Oblivion Lost mod, and this time I plan to explore a bit more. Last time I had played a bit, hated the UI, and eventually rushed off because I wanted to see Chernobyl after I watched one too many documentaries on it. I'm looking forward to giving the Zone a better look. I'm not looking forward to the next leg of my journey, which is going to the underground X-18 laboratory, which is filled with mutants and dead babies in jars. It's a terrifying place. I might have gone there sooner, but during the day I don't have time and there is no way I am going there at night, not if I plan to sleep. It's a remarkably good game, which you should definitely buy. If you saw my review many months back I'd been less kind to it, but I think the mod, which is free and easy to install, improves it a great deal. Despite already having a reputation as a frightening and unforgiving world, the mod makes it even harsher. Because what we really needed were mind-controlling hostile mutants taking over the few safe areas. I take that back, two. There were two safe areas. Unless the military got aggressive, then only one. Or with the mod, none.

WoW has definitely moved away from world toward better gameplay. Stalker manages to have solid gameplay but without sacrificing the world. And what a world it is.

Students, good luck with finals. Parents, good luck with offspring with finals. Teachers, good luck with students with finals. Everyone else, you better be buying the rest of us some great Christmas gifts.


| Monday, December 12, 2011
As part of an aggressive campaign of procrastination, I finally played Crysis. Thankfully, despite also featuring a conflict between America (good guys) and North Korea (like China, but not a major trading partner, so okay to portray as universally evil), it was not a huge pile of crap.

If you remember my review of Halo, which you shouldn't, because I never wrote one, I was a bit annoyed that the game starts off by firmly establishing the Covenant aliens as the Threat to Humanity and just as you're in the habit of sticking grenades to elites and meleeing hunters to death, suddenly the flood comes and you're spending all your time shooting popcorn. A twist is cool and all, but it felt like too much, too soon.

Thankfully, Crysis avoids that. There are several solid hours of using advanced technology to kill North Koreans in a variety of imaginative ways, such as shooting them with guns, shooting them with other guns, beating them to death with guns, and using guns to shoot nearby things which then explode and kill them. And this one time I ran over a guy with a humvee, but that was only because I missed with my gun. In all seriousness, the physics do offer some neat options beyond just shooting them, such as explosions and making roofs collapse on them. Or, use strength mode and one punch will send them flying.

Along the way the game gives fairly open areas to work in. It's not quite a sandbox, but you're given more than just "use this route if you like to get shot or this route if you are smart". Rather than walled-in levels, you get bits of map in which you can freely move about. Not everyone needs to be killed to complete the objectives, but since killing is half the fun (the other half is their screaming), I almost always did a sweep to make sure I didn't miss anyone.

The open areas give you options, as well as your enemies. You might think you're so sneaky to stealth over to the ledge and then use strength to jump over and hit them from the other side, but it turns out they were already going that way to try to sneak around and flank you. Yep, the ol' double-switcheroo. You can attack from all sides and get attacked from all sides.

I actually found myself getting a little antsy, when were the aliens going to really show up? I wanted to shoot some! Sadly, I had to continue to make do shooting North Koreans. Oh the drudgery of mindless human slaughter. But finally, after a few attacks by aliens who somehow always knew when it was a cutscene so we couldn't shoot back, finally I got to get stuck in a mountain and wander into their cave temple base thing. Yea.

The game ends up making Marines look like total pussies, not because they are, since earlier one takes on the giant scary monster that is the second to last boss single-handed to buy time, but because they are contrasted with the super-human guy. Oh what's that, a little rock fall has me stuck half a mile under a mountain? You guys go, I'll just find some more guns and shoot a hole out if I need to. What's that, gravity just went away? No problem, I'll just float right along and shoot anything else that flies. The carrier is getting blown up? Hang on, I need to go get my nuclear grenade launcher, but not before I go into the nuclear reactor and sheer strength to push down the malfunctioning control rods.

Sadly, the game gets a bit less awesome toward the end. Due to the necessity of having a bajillion aliens attack rather than just a few at a time, the player is given various unlimited ammo weapons, such as an alien gun and a humvee machine gun. Even though the game was never stingy with ammo, it was something to at least pay some attention to, making this a strange contrast which I didn't much enjoy. The flying part was even worse, until I realized that while the gun was an ilose button, the missiles were an iwin button. The last level on the aircraft carrier suffered from some major bugs. The game didn't seem to be certain whether I should or should not fall through the floor, so I had to keep going back a few save points to find one where the floor was properly defined as being impenetrable to feet. The really bit aliens were also at times unsure of whether they should be on the flight deck or a hundred feet up.

The ending might have been really cool, but it ended up being more of a relief that I had finally gotten past the physics bugs and could now play again, just in time to realize that the game was over. And that they definitely wanted me to buy a sequel.

My suggestion is to buy it; it's only $20 on Steam. Maybe in a few years I can give you an outdated review of Crysis 2. And in a few weeks, Crysis Warhead.

He was no dragon, fire cannot kill a dragon

| Saturday, December 10, 2011
A concerned reader sent me this distressing news: Nefarian is no longer immune to fire damage. Shocking, I know.

Gameplay vs. Simulation
Using wording shamelessly stolen from Nils we can see that what is happening here is a weakening of simulation in favor of gameplay. It is easier to balance the encounter, and gives classes more options in their talents, if one tree of magic is not blocked. It also doesn't make much sense that a powerful black dragon is vulnerable to fire. These are the same dragons who come from eggs stored in a cave where lava is all over the place and whose mother, and/or wife, and/or sister, since dragons are weird like that, breathes fire all over the damn place, including on the eggs. His distant cousins under Wyrmrest have a tendency to throw waves of lava around with no damage to themselves. Fire just is not their main problem.

At an extreme I could see it. I'm sure if Deathwing started spewing fire they'd get toasted. Just like we can imagine that a sufficiently powerful mage could damage Malygos with arcane damage, but that bridge has been crossed, burned, and washed away. Not as if that fight demonstrated much gameplay-simulation tradeoff since it didn't do either very well.

I replied with this line from Game of Thrones: "He was no dragon, Dany thought, curiously calm. Fire cannot kill a dragon."

Not at all a waste of time
I'm being sarcastic. Changing the fire-immune status of a boss who has been old news for three expansions was a waste of time. It is an attempt to balance content that doesn't need to be balanced because it's already trivial.

It's all connected and I can prove it because I'm saying it very loudly
Dragon Soul comes out or came out or something, I've not been paying much attention, and people say it is too easy. Dragon. And at the same time, another dragon is retuned. Don't you see? The devs wasted all their time testing Nefarian to make sure he's balanced for level 85s soloing him for hats rather than testing the new raid. Normally I'd make a chalkboard drawing some dragons and an arrow or two, maybe with an exclamation point, but this is far too serious for mere chalkboards. Instead, I'm going to just leave you with this chilling thought:

P.S. Someone please leave a chilling thought in a comment; I'm coming up blank.

Ignorance Recognition Week is Coming

| Friday, December 9, 2011
AKA: Finals week.

I'm not sure I'll have much to post. This isn't due to lack of time, but due to brain damage caused by excessive thinking.

At least my final project is going well. So far what I've taken away from it is that avoiding regulatory capture is hard, but working for a captured agency is pretty damn fun! Look up the Bush-era MMS Royalty in Kind offices and tell me you'd not want to have a job filled with sex, drugs, money, more money, drugs, and in all likelihood if you quit, a higher-paying job in the industry you were supposed to be regulating. Sure the IRS brought in more money, but I bet they didn't have half as much fun.

In unrelated news, it is getting cold. This causes my bike-riding to be a little uncomfortable. At least my face freezes quickly enough that I never really feel it.

Ability Dance vs. Movement Dance

| Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Yesterday I talked about a great game that you might enjoy if you enjoy that sort of think (my apologies to President Lincoln for the butchering). I also talked about the interruptions of raiding, in particular, about how many boss abilities break the flow of abilities. At first glance this may seem inevitable, that if the encounter is going to be dynamic we must be interrupted. I disagree, with that vague strawman that I just created.

Sticking with the boss AoE, how can we deal with this without running away? Well obviously there is the "make the healer's deal with it" approach. I'm not a fan of that one. Let's backtrack: why are we running away? To avoid the damage. We can do that other ways, and in dynamic, reactive ways, which do not break the flow of play.

Anti-magic shell is one approach: have the DK drop it in time and it will negate enough damage to make running out pointless. This has the downside of placing the burden on one class, though it does add some coordination skill opportunities.

Let's imagine remaking the boss special so that rather than an AoE, it is a single-target, instant-kill, on a random play. Everyone is going to run out still, especially the tanks! Or, we could drop grounding totem. Now players can keep playing but the shamans will be reacting.

Fights could include some sort of added player ability, such as temporary immunity to a spell tree. Incoming AoE? Trigger the ability, but don't go running around and breaking your flow.

With these suggestions, players will still be reacting to the fight, paying attention, but without running all over like headless chickens.

Even with movement, it can have better or worse implementation. Grobbulus was a fight which I did not much enjoy. The constant movement was a physical problem, of actually pressing the right buttons while maintaining movement. It wasn't that it broke flow so much as it never allowed it in the first place. In contrast, I enjoyed being a slime kite on Rotface, where while I was moving and therefore my abilities were limited, it all fit together into a coherent set of actions, much like my vague example the other day where I enjoyed picking up streams of adds; in this case I am using fewer abilities in favor of more movement.

I don't mean to suggest that movement itself is bad. As I just said, it can be enjoyable, but it seems that devs often take "dynamic fight" to mean "players run around a lot" rather than "there are events for players to react to", with reactions including more than just standing somewhere else.

Mental Momentum and the Dances

| Tuesday, December 6, 2011
I recently started playing Mirror's Edge in some ways it reminds me of raiding in WoW. There is often a single set of correct moves, with only slight variation. Though not always; I've sometimes surprised myself by finding new paths on the fly.

Here's the trailer from EA, which has game footage, so you have some context. The clip isn't perfect, since what it shows is a pretty linear path, as well as one where most of the movement points are highlighted. That's what all the red is: objectives, particularly points to jump or doors to get through, are highlighted red.

There are other levels which are around on themselves. in which you cannot clearly see where you are going next. Think of it like going into a boss fight blind. What do you do next? There's no good way to know, beside looking up the fight, of course. But that's cheating!

Mirror's Edge is a game of momentum. You will spend most of your time not just moving, but moving based on how you were before: a jump into a roll, straightening up for a jump and climb followed by a sprint for the speed to get over a bigger gap, halfway along which there may be a bar to grab and quickly release, using it just for a second to avoid plummeting to your death.

The result of that, and of course good level design, is that you don't need to know what is next. Instead it tends to be what makes sense. Not always, but in general I have not had to stop and stare around wondering what to do, nor do I need to reload to know what to do. It all flows.

Contrast this with raiding, in which nothing flows. Play and now stop. Phase two: play and now stop. Phase three: play and now stop. Even worse than the major interruptions of the phases are the special abilities, with the generic "boss is going to AoE, run away" being the easiest to picture. There is a flow to the DPS or tanking, with one ability coming after the other in a chain that you can learn and master and in my experience, it can feel pretty damn good to get a good run going. But then it's time to run away, and all the flow is gone. Start over again, interrupted, mentally disrupted.

This doesn't mean that a target switch is itself a problem. When tanking I loved steady streams of adds, for the flow of finding, targeting, grabbing, juggling the rest of the mobs meanwhile. It was a smooth process, uninterrupted by more adds because they were part of the process.

Some of this is due to the mix of challenge and practice. Long-learned practice can feel like intuition. The third add is dead? Well of course we all run to the other corner! This is an illusion. There is no logical process that says that "third add dead means we should stand over there", not unless we add another step of "third add dead which we know from previous attempts triggers phase two which starts with an AoE over the rest of the room". Going back to the clip, I've done that particular run, successfully, but less smoothly. I had stops here and there, interruptions, not because of any flaw in the level, but from my own lack of familiarity with the game. With more play I've gotten smoother. Though wall running still causes problems.

Can raiding be more intuitive? Can it have more flow, with one action logically following the other, not because of what we've been told to do, but from what we can figure out along the way? This would be much harder to design, but I'm sure it is possible.

Trivial task experts are annoying

| Monday, December 5, 2011
"So that's what I sounded like..."

Between classes I work at a grill on campus, making burgers and fries. Note that these are much better than McDonald's burgers and fries. But that's beside the point. Recently, a more senior employee returned, someone who has worked there longer than I have and may have worked in food service before. In other words, someone who knows more than me.

I'm not slow or incompetent and I follow the food safety standards in both letter and spirit. But there are things that she knows that I don't, such as slightly better technique for burgers to make them a little bit better. Nothing dramatic, but worth knowing. So it's not as if she's nitpicking every damn little pointless detail. There's someone else who does that, who I do not believe has ever smiled.

It's annoying to me. The thought process is something along the lines of this: I'm doing an adequate job and have little incentive to improve beyond that, please stop bothering me.

Which brings me to my opening line: "So that's what I sounded like..." That's me. Or was me. I was the person telling people who were doing well enough that they weren't doing this little thing right. Change this thing or that thing. It's not that I was wrong or that all of it was trivial and pointless, but damn, it's annoying being on the other side!

The real kicker may be the triviality of it all: a burger joint, a trivialized heroic. In the context, performance improvements just don't mean much. But some people just cannot keep their damn mouths shut and have to point out everything. It's mentally painful for us to not point out the deficiencies of others and sometimes we're lucky enough to be in an area where we are the experts of the trivial task. For her it is food. For me it was WoW. And damn are we annoying.

4% Is Exciting

| Sunday, December 4, 2011
You, person whining about how passive talents are boring, please shut up. About that specific subject, not in general. Passive talents are exciting. EXCITING!

Let's walk through things a bit. Here is a level 51 rogue. What does he have going for the next level? Well let's see... nothing. Next? Nothing. Only at level 54 does he get envenom. Woo! Excitement! In... three levels.

Now let's give him a Terribly Boring Passive Talents-Filled Talent Tree (TBPTFTT). Next level he can... well actually I'm not sure what talent he'd take at level 42 because the trees already got butchered. So let's say he's combat and will get Improved Sinister Strike for 4% damage to sinister strike, a terribly boring passive talent that I just made up and which he took after having picked up the 31 point talent which was exciting: Super Sinister Strike, which is like Sinister Strike, but it does more damage and adds a buff to increase his Sinister Strike damage by 25% for 20 seconds, with a three minute cooldown, which because it is a button makes it Fun & Exciting. In time he can get an entire 5 points for a total of +20% damage to Sinister Strike which leads into Even Better Sinister Strike which causes his Sinister Strike to have a chance (Ooh, no stated chance! I bet it's a PPM! Quick, theorycraft the slow weapons! Or maybe fast! What is the poison mechanic this week?) to reset the cooldown on Super Sinister Strike and also Improve Sinister Strike will now apply to Super Sinister Strike.

In other words, he hits level 42 and presses another button. Wee. WEE! INDEED!

That added button makes level 42 just a little bit more rewarding and eagerly anticipated. And level 44 too! With this boring passive talent he now has something to look forward to for level 42. It's not a big thing, but it is something. Contrast this with the typical nothing. Now what is boring? Yea, NOTHING. Nothing, outside of philosophy, is pretty fucking boring.

The boring passive talent isn't just a button. It's also a tantalizing possibility. Now there is that box that says 1/5 Improved Sinister Strike increases the damage of Sinister Strike by 4% and if you mouse over it also says that 2/5 would increase it by 10%. Right there, that is room for growth. Oh man, 2/5 is on its way. And then 46, that's 3/5! 48 gives 4/5. And then... oh shit, it's level 50! Ooh, side-track time to get that sweet 40 point talent (note that there may not actually be a sweet level 40 talent, if not, shift things up or down by 10 levels and you'll find one). But level 52, bam, box is filled up with a 5/5 and now he can see that Even Better Sinister Strike is at an empty 0/2. Looks like he has a plan for level 54 and 56. Sweet. Who knows what 58 will be, but damn, it's only going to be one point before level 60 and we know level 60 is going to ROCK.

But leveling ends and now... Now he's just a level 85. Or 97, whatever the level cap is for MoP. Now he's filled up his tree and there's nothing left. He can respec. And now, well now those passive abilities are pretty damn boring. Woop-dee-doo, 4% damage to Sinister Strike. Who fucking cares? On the other hand, Super Sinister Strike... also, who fucking cares? He's now making exciting choices anymore. He's picking the talents that he's supposed to have. There aren't going to be any exciting talents because there is no more advancement and no choice. Blame the level cap and excessive optimization, not the TBPTFTT. You thought I wasn't going to get to use that. Idiot.

"But," you say, "we have MoP now and we don't have all those silly talents. We have Fun & Exciting choices." Like hell you do.

Science in the News

| Friday, December 2, 2011
It's been an exciting week for science, just like last week, except last week was too hard for me to understand, so I ignored it, just like global warming.

New Hope for Hypochondria sufferers
Researchers have found a multi-stage program which could dramatically ease the symptoms of hypochondria for those who suffer due to the previously untreatable condition. One major problem is that those who have the condition refuse to accept that they have it, in favor of hundreds or thousands of often-obscure diagnoses. The first stage involved dramatically broadening the list of symptoms, thereby causing any given person to fit the new criteria for hypochondria. New symptoms include: shortness of breath, lack of desire to increase the rate of breathing, sleepiness during late hours of the day, and a desire to stay awake during later hours of the day. The second stage involved planting claims on websites and non-peer-reviewed medical journals, suggesting that hypochondria is under-diagnosed and that doctors are intentionally refusing to diagnose or treat it. Doctors believe the new program will encourage those with the condition to seek a diagnosis for hypochondria, thereby relieving the suffering of the doctors.

Chinese Cyberwar Plot Goes Unnoticed for Decades
A series of high-level defections within the People's Liberation Army have brought startling information to light. It turns out that as far back as the 1970s, China had sought to infiltrate the World Wide Web and Internet and destroy them from within. Plots included the spread of disinformation and personal attacks, a technique they branded "trolling". Individual elements included spreading conspiracy theories regarding government plots and the creation of wikipedia in the hopes of destroying all other sources of information. American cyber-war specialists and sociologists were shocked: "We figured people were just assholes, we never suspected that we were all decent people and it was the Chinese all along."

Government Denies Adding Paranoia-Causing Chemical to Water Supply

Lucas Wins NASA Deal to Create Next 'Moon Landing'

Taser Releases 'Solid-State' Variant

Bipartisan Vote Approves Funding to Create 10,000 New Jobs Based on Arguing About Global Warming

Nature Magazine Warns Readers About Possible Extinction of "Letters to the Editor" Page.

Reporter: Laser Was the Brightest Thing I Ever Saw

Civ IV: Part IV: Cities

| Thursday, December 1, 2011
Cities are the foundation of any civilization. In fact, the world civilization comes from the word "civilopedia" which was an ancient text tradition of storing information about cities, which has since split into the worlds "city" and "wikipedia".

Civ V uses the next generation of city management interface, and in this case, the next generation is really fucking stupid. Kids these days... In Civ IV it is easy to queue up production; just shift-click the next thing you want in line. Civ V added the ever so slightly useful ability to rearrange the queue items, but did it by shifting the queue to a different menu, so for 99% of use, it is less convenient by a lot. In Civ IV I would regularly queue up units and buildings, no longer in Civ V. To top off the bad production management system, in Civ IV if a producton item has any progress, clicking another item will put the new item at the front of an automatically-created queue, so that a temporary shift in production is a one-click affair, such as if you find yourself needing a jail for anti-war protestors while building a bank. At times Civilization is disturbingly realistic.

Population management has been made less convenient as well. To rearrange the tiles being worked you must open a submenu which is usually minimized, a small issue, and perhaps nice to avoid accidentally clicking and screwing up all the tiles. Specialists have been given a pointlessly less convenient interface. It used to be that adding a specialist meant clicking the up or down arrow for the specialist. Now they are manually assigned to specific buildings. Why? I do not know. They don't have any different production. So rather than a simple click, you must instead find the correct building, which is in alphabetical order, so library and research lab aren't right after each other as would be convenient for someone trying to assign more scientists.

On the plus side, conquered cities no longer have zero culture. Culture is now based on the city rather than the civilization, so conquest doesn't result in a bunch of culturally-dead cities which revolt and join a nearby third party at the first possible opportunity.

When you're sick of micromanaging and don't trust the AI to not fuck it up and spam great people points, both games offer ways to indirectly control cities. Civ IV offers the vassal system, in which a foe who has finally realized that he is utterly defeated will capitulate and must then pay tribute and join you in future wars. This has the downside of making everyone else mad, but also more scared, so they capitulate more quickly, thus proving the domino effect and making Nixon not seem so bad after all. Civ V instead uses the puppet system, where you still conquer every damn city, but by puppeting them rather than taking direct control, you can gain the benefit of their science and gold and suffer less unhappiness, but cannot tell them to make anything in particular and they will never make units (or at least I've never seen one).

If I had to choose one or the other, I'd go with the vassal system. It reduced the repetition of conquering city after city of a defeated foe. But I like the puppet idea. Could these be mixed? Puppets seem like a good system for conquered city states. For larger territories, looks ridiculous to have half the planet consisting of puppet cities. A city here and there makes sense, but at such a larger scale there must be some overall government. For this, vassal states seem like the simple solution: allow large groups of culturally-related cities to be collected into a new civilization which would be a vassal to the larger civilization.

In the area of rapidly building up new cities, Civilization V is far better. Hurrying production in IV required either huge piles of gold or mass murder and neither of those are practical since you can only murder people in the one city. Horribly unrealistic. This meant that starting a new city meant a very long time slowly building up population and buildings. Contrast that with Civ V which has turned gold into a significant mechanic (that's another post right there) and allows you to quickly build up population and production, for a price. With a granary, watermill, and hospital, a city can have a production of 9 food right away, with aqueducts and medical labs speeding up growth indirectly, and there are multiple buildings which add production, all of which mean that a brand new city can quickly get the food and production to build itself.

Looking only at the city management itself, I think Civ IV was superior, since the purchasing of buildings is part of the great change to gold (oops, just spoiled that post).
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