Nothing to say and saying it anyway

I still haven’t gone through my Disney photos. I’m going to forget I even went there before I ever get around to looking at them. “Why the hell is there a giant mouse in my photos? What madness has become of this world?!”

I’m nearing the end of my latest book, which probably means I should think about titling it at some point. This has been a very hard-won project. It’s been around in some form or fashion for at least three years. At this point, I think the only thing that survived is the name of the heroine’s twin brother. They started out as thieves, then became assassins, and now they’re doppelganger assassins. That’s not the career trajectory of the protagonist in the novel. That’s the revision process of the book. The hardest part was nailing down the actual plot. The multiple twists and turns were hard to keep straight, and it took more than a few revisions before I finally got it down. It’s probably the hardest book (for me) I’ve written to date.

Oh, yeah, I was going to do a write-up of the Guild Wars 2 Halloween event. Completely forgot about it and since then they’ve had the Lost Shores event where they opened up a new level 80 area and they’re starting their Wintersday event next week. Lost Shores was neat, but it had quite a few problems on a technical level. The Halloween event was one of, if not the, best holiday-themed events I’ve seen in an MMO. Lots of stuff to do. Lots of atmosphere. New objectives every few days. Good rewards. They’re really trying hard on this game.

Guess that’s it for now.


Quick update and some brief movie reviews

We spent eight days in Orlando visiting Walt Disney World and Universal Studios last month. When I get a chance to go through the pictures, I’ll make a blog post or two about the trip.

I also want to post about the recently completed Guild Wars 2 Halloween events. Consensus: awesome.

We saw three excellent movies while we were on vacation: Looper, ARGO, and Seven Psychopaths. All different, but all excellent in their own way. I could easily rewatch all three of them again. Rather than describe the movies, I’ll just link to their IMDB page and explain why I liked them. Be sure to check out their respective trailers.

Looper

I adore Joseph Gordon-Levitt in everything he’s in (and considering he’s in a lot of stuff lately, I’m not the only one). The dystopian setting for this one could have been fleshed out a little bit more, but overall it presented a world in which violence was common, normal people struggled just to survive, and you could easily see how a looper could end up taking the job. There were some odd stylistic choices, like the Old West-style guns people were using in a society that had anti-grav motorcycles, and the use of silver bars for currency. But overall, a good movie I’d easily watch again.

ARGO

This is another one that’s getting good press for good reason. It’s an amazing, nail-biting thriller based on a real event. I know that being a movie, it was more dramatic than real life usually is, but the actors turned in excellent performances, and Ben Affleck is showing himself to be a very talented director. This show was tense like you wouldn’t believe. You can’t help but fear for their lives. Since I didn’t know anything about the real event, I had no idea who, if any, would survive the escape.

Be sure to stay to through the credits to see how closely the actors looked to the real people. In a couple of photos, I had trouble telling the actor from the real person.

Seven Pyschopaths

I didn’t actually know anything about this one until I was looking for a movie to watch. It’s an odd dark comedy, similar to the director’s other movie, In Bruges, which I didn’t care for. It also reminds me of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, which I absolutely love. It’s a movie with a lot of meta jokes, very quotable, with an ending that manages to surprise you. I laughed a lot through this one. The performances of the entire cast were stellar, but Woody Harrelson absolutely stole every scene he was in. Really. Watch the trailer.


“Weekly” blogging update

I have a reminder each week to blog on Fridays. Once a month is the definition of weekly, right?

I’m still playing Guild Wars 2, though my time is split with Minecraft and Borderlands 2. It’s just as fun as ever. It’s a really strong game. All the hype you heard about it? It’s really justified.

We spun up a 1.2.5 Minecraft world, and once again the Minecraft addiction took hold. We’re running mostly the same mods as before: Redpower 2 (of course; can’t go without this one), Railcraft, Slopes, etc. This time we’re also running Mo’Creatures, but when we update to 1.3.2 we’ll have to ditch it. Unfortunate, but it appears to be a dead mod.

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Borderlands 2 is just as fun and crazy as its predecessor. If you liked the first one, you’ll find its sequel to be just as, if not moreso, excellent.

We’ve been remodeling our master bedroom. We have to buy new carpet tomorrow and have it installed sometime next week. We also ordered a nice bamboo bedroom suite. We’ll finally have a decent dresser for the first time in years.

And finally, we’ll be vacationing in Orlando this fall! So excited. We’re going to Walt Disney World and Universal Studios. Fortunately, remodeling and games have kept me busy, so I haven’t had much time to dwell on it.


Guild Wars 2 headstart weekend

This weekend began the Guild Wars 2 headstart access for pre-purchasers. I’d been waiting for this since the release date was announced, and I’d even scheduled the entire weekend to do nothing but play. So Friday night, after an awesomely fun Livetweeting Terrible Movie event held by my friend, geardrops, the servers opened up around 11:30 pm. I got in when server population on all the servers was low, so I had my pick. (Tarnished Coast, if you’re curious).

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The servers started filling up quickly, which was no surprise. I created an Asuran warrior (though I’ve since switched to an Asuran elementalist as my main) and started the tutorial. I noticed something about the tutorial. Before, the end boss forced you into the downed state. It doesn’t do that any more. After that, you’re thrown into the world, which in my case is Metrica Province, to begin your adventures.

If you’ve been following Guild Wars 2, you know questing is done in a whole new way. There are renown hearts, dynamic events, personal story, and dungeons. Now, the first dungeon is only available at level 30, so that wasn’t something I got into this weekend. Personal story is just what it sounds like. Solo-able (though you can group if you want), instanced stories based around the choices you made at character creation. They have branching paths every so often, full voice, and cut scenes.

Renown hearts are similar to traditional quests, with the exception that you have multiple ways to complete them, and you don’t have to talk to the quest giver to start them. But you’ll be killing creatures, collecting things, or activating/deactivating something. Once you’ve completed a heart task, you can’t do it any more (or rather, you can’t get any more credit for doing it). Completing the task gives you karma points, which is a form of currency you use to buy stuff from karma vendors. The renown heart quest-giver turns into a karma vendor on completion and provides gear that can only be purchased through them, so it’s worth checking their trade list when you’re done.

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Dynamic events are the strength of the game. An event can occur for many reasons, but player choices and random chance are the most likely reasons to start one. When you’re nearby, you’ll see a message pop up to let you know there’s a dynamic event in the area. The events range from escort quests to collection to world bosses to holding off waves of enemies. Events can be chained based on success or failure. Early events tend to be chained less, plus the sheer number of players made them into complete zergfests. Around the teen levels, you’re more likely to see the full chain. (Hint: be sure to stick around and listen to the NPCs. They’re talking about the event, and if there’s more to do, they may continue it). For example, I wandered into a building where the Inquest (the evil Asura), were trying to steal golems. We failed to prevent them from taking them. So the two NPCs in charge of the golems held a conversation to figure out where they might have taken them. They ran off to the other building. When they got there, it kicked off another dynamic event to rescue the golems. That was because of our failure.

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This headstart weekend has had a bit of a rocky start. Not horrible, but there have been some problems. I never experienced any disconnects or login issues, but I know many players, especially in Europe, have. The trading post has been down all weekend. Grouping up with friends in overflow servers is iffy at best. Mail wasn’t working on Friday night or Saturday, but it appears to have been fixed by Sunday. Since mail is the only way to trade with other players (it’s free, instant, and you don’t need to find a mailbox), that meant no trading. But the core game has been running perfectly for me. Dynamic events with dozens of players around have been smooth as silk. I have almost all my graphics settings maxxed. In fact, I only turned one down to cut down on bloom effects, not because it was causing framerate issues.

Another feature that makes the game great is the way everything is shared. There’s no kill-stealing, no ninja-looting, no way to take something from other players. Everyone shares in the XPs of a kill. Everyone can harvest a node. If everyone assists in killing a world boss, everyone gets to access the treasure chest afterward. You’ll be happy to see other players around you instead of thinking they’re going to tag all the mobs you need and force you to wait. You won’t have to stand in line to kill a boss either.

At the end of the day, one question remains: Is it fun? And the answer to that is, oh hell yes. There’s so much to do and everything gives you XPs. A story on Massively just came out about a crafter who hit level 80 this weekend by doing nothing but crafting. (His guild fed him mats). But since the game down-levels you whenever you enter a lower-level zone, if he goes into a level 1 area, he’ll be about the equivalent of a level 4 or 5. He’ll still be tougher than someone who has that level naturally, but he can still be killed, and he won’t be one-shotting everything around him.

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If you’ve been wondering whether the game is worth getting, it absolutely is. It doesn’t completely revamp the genre, but it pushes it forward enough that it’s hard to go back to other games without feeling a bit let down by the dated concepts. Official release is Tuesday, October 28.


The Steam sale extravaganza and finishing games

So if you missed it, Steam recently held their annual summer sale, where each day titles were deeply discounted, often down to a price of $2.49. I let myself go wild, spent around $200 on pretty much anything that caught my fancy. When all was said and done, I had over three dozen games in my Unplayed category, including the games I’d bought from previous Steam sales.

It was a lot of fun, but it also gave me the incentive to finish up several titles I’d let languish in a partial state. Since the sale ended, I’ve now finished Bastion (good story), CostumeQuest (nice dialogue options), LIMBO (fine until the end, when the puzzles started requiring split-second timing), and Metro 2033 (great story and combat). Decided I didn’t care to finish Legend of Grimrock and uninstalled it. And I’m now working my way through finally finishing Fallout: New Vegas (which would be a lot easier if it didn’t keep crashing to desktop).

Of the new games I bought, I’ve already installed Terraria (best $2.49 I’ve ever spent; I’ve already put in 33 hours), and A Valley Without Wind (9 so far). The latter is an odd but intriguing indie title, and I don’t even know how to explain what it’s about, because I still don’t quite get it. I’ve also played about 7 hours of Galactic Civilization II, but I’m not quite sure I’m interested in continuing. For one, it’s not co-op multiplayer. For another, there’s an insane amount of time spent just skipping turn after turn while you wait on something to happen. In Sid Meier’s Civilization V (which Galactic Civ II is similar to), in the early game there’s a lot of that, but later on, you’re doing stuff constantly. I may just move on to something else.

Other than that, also finished the original Dawn of War II campaign (co-op). Not liking Chaos Rising too much, though. I was disappointed to find we were still playing those pretentious douchebag Space Marines for one. For another, it just felt they cranked the, well, chaos, up to eleven for no reason. I’ll probably go for Torchlight next.

The games I bought (some of these were in indie bundles): Alter Ego, A Valley Without Wind, Atom Zombie Smasher, Blocks That Matter, BRINK, The Darkness II, Dead Space 2, Dear Esther, Droplitz, Dungeon Defenders, Evochron Mercenary, FEAR 3, Garry’s Mod, Galactic Civilization II, HOARD, Hunted: The Demon’s Forge, Killing Floor, Magicka, Quantum Conundrum, RAGE, Red Faction: Armageddon, Red Faction: Guerrilla, Sam & Max: Seasons 1-3, Sanctum, SOL: Exodus, Superbrothers: Sword & Sorcery EP, Swords and Soldiers HD, Terraria, Thief: Deadly Shadows, Trine 2, Two Worlds II, Universe Sandbox, Wings of Prey, X3: Albion Prelude, X3: Reunion, X3: Terran Conflict.

With all that, the games I already had (like Skyrim and The Sims 3 with all its xpacks), Guild Wars 2 starting in three weeks, and Borderlands 2 unlocking in six weeks (which I’ve already preordered), I won’t run out of games to play for a long, long time.


Saints Row: The Third (and a couple notes on other games)

First, if you haven’t heard, the release date for Guild Wars 2 has been announced: August 28, 2012. If you pre-purchased, you can begin on August 25. There’s also a final beta weekend July 20-22. Go! Buy! I haven’t been this excited for a theme park game since I played in the World of Warcraft beta back in 2004.

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Next, The Secret World’s early access begins today. I was in the closed beta, but I decided against buying it. It does a lot of good things:

No classes

No levels

A unique crafting system

A modern setting

Investigation quests

Voiced quests

But something about it didn’t quite gel with me. I can’t  put my finger on it, but I figure if I’m on the fence, I shouldn’t spend $60 for a game that also has a subscription and a cash shop. I wish them the best of luck. We need more non-fantasy MMOs.

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Finally, the game that’s had my attention lately is Saints Row: The Third. An open-world sandbox game about a street gang so big they have their own lines of merchandise, their own PR department, and a movie about their life in the works. Of course, when you’re king of the hill, someone’s always gunning for you. In this case, it’s a group called the Syndicate. They knock the 3rd Street Saints to their knees, and now your job is to build the gang back up while going after the people who caused you harm.

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Skimpy clothes to show off the tats. Pedestrians on the street often comment on her choice of clothing (or rather the lack thereof).

If you’ve played any of the Grand Theft Auto series, you’ll recognize similarities. There’s a main storyline, side missions, cars to steal, people to rob. Cause too much trouble and you’ll get the cops on your ass. Keep causing trouble, and it’ll escalate until you’re being chased by the military in tanks and helicopters. You’ll also have to deal with rival gangs much the same way.

The game does a lot of amazing things. You can customize your character in ways that rival The Sims 3. I’m talking sliders for everything from jaw width to eye angle to, uh, package size. You can steal cars, park them in your garage, and then customize them. You can steal everything from little Emus (think SmartCars but uglier) to smooth sports cars to cement mixers and streetsweepers and everything in between. You can buy up property and then get a discount from any of your own stores.

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They see me rollin’
They hatin’
Patrollin They tryin’ to catch me ridin’ dirty

You can also play the entire campaign in two-player co-op. Campaign! Co-op! We see this so rarely, and this game actually handles it quite well.  Co-op missions are varied and often interesting. They aren’t always about just fighting off hordes of enemies.

Did I mention the game is also insane? It throws reality right out the window, does a rolling dive after it, and beats it bloody. You can dive feet first into vehicles (even going through the windshield), body slam people like a WWE wrestler, beat up mascots in crazy uniforms, play your way through a bloody Running Man-style gameshow called Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax, do tank mayhem activities in which you’re tasked with causing a certain dollar amount of damage within a time limit, and my personal favorite, insurance fraud, where your job is to fling yourself in front of moving vehicles in order to collect insurance payouts.

I could go on, but the simple truth is, it’s a fantastic game full of great characters, excellent (if occasionally crude) humor, and gory, insane fun. I caught it for $17 on a Gamestop sale. It’s more than worth every penny.


Random things

I’ve been mostly playing WURM Online, so I don’t have anything new to talk about gaming-wise. Today begins the next Guild Wars 2 beta weekend, and yay, my husband will be joining me.That’s where I’ll be spending most of my weekend.

We started rollerblading again, finally. It’s looking to be a hot summer already. It’s gonna be a while before we can do our entire 12+ mile route again. I wish the city would be more mindful of those of us who aren’t on bikes or walking. They put speed bumps on the sidewalks near the park at the beginning of the trail. They’re bike speed bumps, so we can still skate over them, but bumps and cracks are harder for us to navigate through than they are for cyclists. And for the record, I’ve had far more problems with oblivious pedestrians than I have with cyclists. I swear, some of those people want us to run over their kids. And they still haven’t fixed all the cracks in the sidewalks. They did, however, re-gravel the adjacent bike path, which means gravel flowed onto the concrete path, presenting even more hazards to our skating.

Joe on skates

We started watching Supernatural season one, after a friend highly recommended the show. She did point out that the first couple of seasons are very uneven, which is a good description for it. There’s some truly lazy writing at times (they should’ve just removed the “Bugs” episode from the DVD collection), and whenever I see what appears to be a plot hole, I have no real trust that they’ll close it, but the actors have good chemistry, and I like the setting.