#496 – Satellite Down – Part 5

Here is today’s Modem Problems from Matthew McAndrews:
Matthew McAndrews’ Modem Problems #496 – Satellite Down – Part 5 – September 29th, 2008

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Going Nuts…

That’s what’s happening to me right now. I am going nuts. Work is being crazy with things pulling my skills in many directions at once. And I am NOT good with that sort of stress. Especially if I get interrupted while I am dealing with it. Add to that a real life pain in the neck making it hard for my head to turn left, and you have real issues.

In any case, other than the neck/back issues and STRESS, I am doing fine. Mhari is doing well this week, as well. We’re just looking VERY MUCH forward to seeing Dr. James this Sunday.


MMOs:
City of Heroes: There is interesting news this week. Looks like they are pushing back the Mission Architect part of Issue 13 into Issue 14. And adding more into it. And they have renamed Issue 13 to ‘Power and Responsibility’ and have revealed a bunch of additional things including:

Leveling Pact: In this feature two players build characters at the same time and link them together ‘forever’. Each character earns only HALF the XP they would otherwise, with the other HALF of the XP earned going to the other character in the Pact. So, if you are both playing together, things are all normal. But if ONE of you is playing and the other is not, the one that is NOT playing STILL GETS HIS HALF OF THE XP. So… this means that if Mhari and I make characters in a Leveling Pact with each other, and Mhari plays her character all day while I am at work and goes up a level or two – When I get home and connect to my character, that character will have ALSO gone up a level or two!

Multi-Builds: Each character can have, starting at somewhere between level 10 or 15, a SECOND build of themselves. The build will be the same archetype, with the same primary and secondary powersets. But all the choices about WHAT powers to select and how to slot them and what enhancements you put in the slots can be totally different from how your first build is done. So you could have one build for solo’ing and the other for grouping, or one for PvP and the other for PvE.

No More Base Salvage: Base Salvage is going away. It will no longer be required for building anything for bases whatsoever. And all prestige costs of things for bases are going to decrease. Apparently the goal of this is to make more of the cool things in Bases available to all.

More

If you are really curious, go over to the City of Heroes Website and read the information there.

Perfect World International: I played this some more. I still love the music, and I am sort of enjoying playing my big tiger of a Barbarian. I took him into his first instanced dungeon, alone, and suffered his first defeat. The monsters in there are ones I need for an important quest in my queue. But they are ‘Elites’ and you can’t pull just one. They pull in twos. My defeat was swift. I left.

In general, PWI is a nice change from City of Heroes when I just want to let off steam and don’t want to get too wrapped up in things. It would be WAY better if I wasn’t solo’ing. But It’s not something I am worrying about. I can live with or without the game. And at the moment, from amongst the games other than City of Heroes that I play, it’s on the ‘interesting’ list above Lord of the Rings Online right now. Most of these games on this list are there because they are both good to look at and FREE (for me, anyways) to play.


Books this week:

Up Till Now: The Autobiography by William Shatner with David Fisher
I first mentioned this book in a partial review last week. It’s a rather entertaining look at William Shatner’s life. It goes from his earliest days as an actor in Canada, to his work on Boson Legal and everything in between. Naturally there’s a lot here related to his time playing Captain Kirk for Star Trek on TV and in the Movies.

What I found most interesting wasn’t so much his Star Trek related information, but rather the look at the early days of Television, and his workaholic nature. This man has worked, and worked, and WORKED all his life. And he really seems to have kept a love of life over all the years. He’s rolled with the ‘punches’ that have come his way and he’s STILL working. And he is totally willing to poke fun at himself and has a good time doing so. He’s been through good times and bad.

So, I will broil it down to this: If you want an interesting look at how William Shatner has seen the world over the last 60 years, and don’t mind him going off on tangents or promoting his website(s) or one or another thing along the way, then read this book. It’s a good read.

Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi
I only just really got started with this one, so I am not going to review it until next week. This book is a sort of companion piece to ‘The Last Colony’ which was the most recent book in the ‘Old Man’s War’ series. It’s not really a sequel, prequel or anything like that. It’s sort of a retelling from a different point of view and seems to be told for a slightly different audience.


Okay, I’m done for now. I’m tired and Friday has only just begun. It’s going to be a long day at work. I WANT MY WEEKEND!

Just another busy Friday

Hello! Here we are at another busy Friday. This week has been a rather good one, over all, even if there was a crap load of stress in my work life. Out side of that, it was a good week. Our City of Heroes games went well on Monday and Wednesday, and Mhari had her birthday yesterday and I took her to Benihana for her birthday dinner. Then when I got home, I crashed out and slept fairly well. Not sure what Mhari did with her evening. I -needed- that sleep. I feel the better for it, today.

Our plans for the weekend involve a Further Confusion 2009 Staff meeting at the convention hotel Saturday at 1pm, after which I will take Mhari home and then head out for a PnP Champions game at Patriot’s place. Hopefully I will get to say hi to War Witch, but she might be too busy with Issue 13 stuff to come greet us game players in her breakfast nook/dining room.

My Sunday is firmly filled with doing nearly next to nothing. I look forward to a relaxing day of it.


MMOs:
City of Heroes: As mentioned above we had good sessions Monday and Wednesday with the whole of the group hitting level 22 on Wednesday. We plan to do some work playing our high-level characters tonight in an effort to get Avenging Flame and BronzeBlade closer to 50.

The other thing of note in The City was the release of ‘Booster Packs’ for the City. As some folks know, the parent of City of Heroes, NCSoft, is one of those pushing for the ‘micro transaction’ model of MMO play. In this sort of Model there are little extras for MMOs beyond that which one can get from your monthly fee for the game. In face, some MMOs make the there be ZERO monthly fee and just depend on the micro transactions for income.

These Boosters that City of Heroes released this week come in two forms. The first is a 30-day Flight Pack for $4.99 (plus taxes). This particular item is more properly a ‘perk’ that comes with buying one of the new timecard/game packs that NCSoft has put in Walmart, Target and other locations. For $20 the purchaser gets to download the game client, and play the game for one month. The perk is the Flight Pack. Since the game is normally around $15 a month, that means the flight pack is $5 of the cost. And players started to ask if they could somehow get the flight pack, despite it being limited to 30 real days of use, without getting the time card. So that’s why this Booster was born.

The second Booster is called the Cyborg Pack. And it’s a LOT more bang for it’s $9.99 (plus taxes) price. You get a full set of additional costume parts that you can put on your character even in character creation, 3 new emotes (/em powerdown, /em powerup, and /em robotdance) and a set of what they call ‘combat auras’. These last are the first in a new concept for auras in the game, as these auras only appear when you are in ‘combat mode’. One of them is a Holographic HUD. I have yet to see these.

Lastly with this Cyborg Booster Pack, there is a new Power called Self Destruct. It has a good 10-second countdown with full animation and then you blow up, dealing damage in a 40′ radius. At the end you are ready to go to the hospital and there is no body for anyone to target to use rez or other ‘defeated ally’ powers on. You CAN, however, if you have one, self-rez. And you incur NO Debt from this ‘death’. There are some little bugs in the code for this new power, some of which can mean that you can’t go to the hospital (for example, don’t use it in the tutorial zone… I did, and couldn’t go to the hospital) and all you can do to correct the problem is log out and back in. And the power doesn’t save you from debt if you take your ‘death blow’ from a enemy before you deal the final damage to yourself.

Lastly, the new power and the emotes and auras are NOT tied in to only being used for a character using some or all of the new costume pieces. So your existing characters can get use of them. So there’s a LOT of value from this second Booster Pack. Lots of bang for the bucks.

Perfect World International: Life goes on. My Barbarian character, Rogar, is doing well in the game. He’s level 20 and soon to be 21. But the game, itself, doesn’t look like it is going to last for me very much longer. This game is very, very full of Grind, Grind, Grind. Every single quest is of the ‘Kill X’ sort. Be it killing X for the purpose of killing them because they killed and ate the Blacksmith’s piggy, or to collect 20 saltpeter from killing 20 giant spiders or hedgehogs. Most of the time you are killing the 20 whatevers because the evil wraiths have corrupted them and they are attacking peaceful farmers. But just as much of the time it is for no good reason. How in the world is killing 30 wolves in the next county going to teach me how to meditate better?

Now, don’t get me wrong, there ARE collection quests. But those usually also involve killing enough of various different critters to get the items from them as drops, or because those same critters are swarming around the only locations where that particular harvestable resource can be found.

There ARE the VERY RARE ‘fed ex’ quests, but often they lead into more ‘Kill X’ ones. Or the item you have to deliver seems to have been stolen by those damned Charming Stalkers over in the north fields. And it take killing somewhere like 5-30 of those before one drops that item. And there DO appear to be some ‘Instances’ or ‘Dungeons’, but I have only been near the entrance to ONE of those in my 20 levels, and have yet to step inside.

As a solo hunter I have gotten rather good in watching the way critters move about the field and waiting for just the right time to dash in there and engage the one I wanted without agro’ing the one(s) I didn’t want. Except when, just as I am about to engage, someone with a RANGED attack, or even another Melee person, shoots my long-stalked target and takes them away from me. And often I will admit to chuckling as those same kill-stealers find themselves in over their head because they were only paying attention to that one critter and not taking care about who else is going to get upset when they do so. Alas, often they have taken out my target before they get taken down themselves by the three other critters that swarmed them.

The game has a different feel, however, the moment you form a ‘squad’. Mobs are a LOT easier to take down when more than one person is beating on them. And the ‘adds’ are a lot more manageable. Even a group of 3 can have a hugely better survival rate without having to be as picky about their targets and the area around them. I’ve met a couple folks that really have a good game-head on their shoulders, and are not berserker players that dive into things uncaringly. It made for some good game play in an otherwise never-ending grind. Maybe if I had others to play with, I might enjoy this game for longer.

Well, it’s not my last word or post about this game. Just I suspect that I’m going to be playing a LOT less of it now. Sort of like Lord of the Rings Online, it’s a joy to see the graphics, and it’s a half-way decent game, but there’s nothing there to hold me to it, especially as it’s ‘free’ for me.


Books of the week:
Cry Wolf by Patrica Briggs.
Cry Wolf is the story of Anna, a Omega WereWolf, and her new mate, Charles, an Alpha Werewolf and one of the sons of the leader of all of the nation’s werewolves. This novel spins off of Patrica Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series of books. The character of Charles first appeared in Moon Called, he’s a really old wolf, as in a couple of hundred years, who’s mother was an American Indian. He’s a good rich character and is his father’s ‘enforcer’ within the werewolf ‘families’.

The first Alpha and Omega Wolf story was Alpha and Omega in the story collection On the Prowl. In that story Charles goes to Chicago to deal with an out-of-control alpha and discovers Anna there being abused and used under direction of the crazy alpha. It’s love at first sight between Charles’ and Anna’s wolves, but that doesn’t mean their human sides are compatible, but it sure helps.

Cry Wolf starts where Alpha and Omega left off, moving Anna to Montana to live with Charles, taking her away from everything and everyone she knows. She was a severely abused woman and wolf for 3 years with her old pack, and that’s a heavy thing to come out from under. Charles, for his part, has never dealt with a Omega before, and while he is thoroughly in love with her, protecting her triggers troublesome reactions in Anna. So it’s a story of a abused woman and a man that loves her, almost more than he can understand. And on top of that there is the effect that Omega wolves can have upon others. They bring out the protective streak in an Alpha, yet they are ANYTHING but submissive. It makes for some really good characterization. Especially when another Alpha Wolf’s long-dead mate (who happened to be an Omega wolf, too) starts haunting his dreams causing him to go more and more crazy.

All in all, Cry Wolf was a very good book, just not -quite- as good as Patricia’s Mercy Thompson books. But it does promise to be the start of a series, and the character growth started in this book could lead to really, really good stories down the line in this series.

Up Till Now: The Autobiography by William Shatner and David Fisher.
Well, what can I really say. This is William Shatner’s Autobiography. And believe it or not, I am really enjoying it. I’ve only just gotten past Chapter 5, so far, which is where he talked about his time doing the role of Captain Kirk on Star Trek. Yes. I am reading this book because I am a Trekkie. So much of my own life was shaped by the show that Bill Shatner played Captain Kirk in. Those original 79 episodes inspired me as a child to become even more interested in space, and from that, in computers, than any single other thing in my life. So, that is where my interest in reading this book comes from.

The book starts out telling of his early life, how he got into acting, and where acting took him and all the little things that have lead out of that. It’s told in a sort of rambling style that is not too inflated with ego. In fact, any time it seems that he’s praising himself, he will switch gears and show how very much the words "It seemed like a good idea at the time" apply. There are also times in the interesting narrative when he will suddenly interrupt himself and refer to his website at www.williamshatner.com and promote things or give some divergent comments on something only loosely related to what he was talking about, before going back to the main narrative right where he left off. This may seem annoying some of the time, but it actually breaks up things in a manner that makes it more readable.

Like I said above, I’m not even half way through this book, but I am pleasantly surprised by it. And finding myself thoroughly interested in all the non-Star Trek things I am learning. And I am looking forward to the rest of the book.


That’s all for me, this week. See you here next week… same bat-time, same Bat-URL.

Discovering authors too late…

You’ll see why I named this entry that way further down. Originally I had it sort of blank. Until something I discovered. Keep reading, and you will find out what it is.

Anyway, it is Friday… and I really am glad. It’s not that this week has been bad or anything, it’s just that I really want to catch up on some sleep and generally not have to get up tomorrow… so making it to – and through – Friday is important.

Mhari and I are doing okay. Our backs are bothering us, but no more than really is sort of ‘normal’. Part of my issues come from the fact that my ‘new’ desk is not yet fully ergonomic. Got the keyboard ‘tray’ Thursday, and it’s already helping. But things still are not all laid out right for good posture or comfort.

Thursday nights are usually TV night, but Mhari went right upstairs last night, so I did too and played Perfect World International until time for bed. I’ll give my views of that game below someplace. Or not. We’ll see.

Books of the week:
Looks like I got two books read this week. The first was Jumper: Griffin’s Story by Steven Gould.

Jumper: Griffin’s Story is set in the same ‘world’ as the Jumper movie, where there is more than just one Jumper, and they are hunted by a group that call themselves Paladins. Griffin is the ‘other jumper’ that appears in the film version of the story.

While I feel that the novel version of Jumper is a LOT better than the movie version, Griffin’s Story is quite good and follows the life of Griffin from BEFORE the happenings in the film. It starts with him as a boy, with his parents teaching him to be careful about his jumping and not do it where people can see and to not let people point anything at him. It then follows him through repeated times of ‘them’ chasing after him, and his growing up some and his continuing attempts to keep away from ‘them’. He discovers little of who these people are, less of why they are chasing him, but he does TRY to have a life. But again, the Paladins never stop trying to hunt him down.

There’s a lot of good writing here, with good times and bad times, living and loving, and a lot of character development. But the biggest thing it does is explain why Griffin is the way he is when David meets him in the film. There’s nothing new, really, about the Paladins here, and it leaves lots of room for the film, and other possible sequels. But also stands well on it’s own. It’s a quick read, and by the end you don’t blame Griffin for being the way he is in the film.

The other book I read this week (actually, I’m still reading it, but I expect to finish before I get home) is Confessions of a Werewolf Supermodel by Ronda Thompson. This is one of the books I picked up at Powell’s City of Books in Portland, OR back in August and its turned out to be really, really good.

It is about Supermodel Lou Kinipski, who is, as you can tell from the title, a werewolf. She’s smart, beautiful, and really doesn’t know about the supernatural world as this novel starts. She found out she was a werewolf on prom night when she killed her date who had taken her to the prom and all that just on a dare from someone else. He tried to force himself on her, and she reacted, killing him. Turning into a werewolf for the first time also resulted in turning her from a homely girl into a beautiful woman. She ran away from that horrible night seven years ago, ending up in New York and became a model, then a supermodel. And that’s where the novel starts, with her in the middle of all her success in her new life. But she’s been having nightmares and ‘outbreaks’ of fur, and it’s all getting a little crazy.

The characterizations are wonderful, and the main character is one you really want to cheer for. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this book. In just two days I am nearly done with it, and that’s rare for me. It takes the really GOOD books for me to go through them so fast.

So, in researching the links for this little blog part on this book, I discovered something that makes me really sad… It would appear that Ronda Thompson, author of more than 16 published books, died July 11th, 2007 of pancreatic and ovarian cancer. She was 51. One of the blogs of her passing I could find is by krysta-3 and can be found Here. Mrs Thompson’s obit can be found Here.

*sigh* This is the first of her books I have read. It was also the last novel of hers published, as it came out after she passed away. It was to be the first in a new series. She was diagnosed with her cancer only a week before she died… so I doubt there will be more. I do plan to read her ‘Wild Wulfs of London’ series, The Dark One, The Cursed One and The Untamed One even though the covers obviously aim them at the more at the Romance market than the Paranormal Romance market.


MMOs:
City of Heroes: Yup. Still playing. Still enjoying it. Our ‘Delta Squad’ or whatever we’ll call it, that we’re playing on Mondays and Wednesdays now are at level 20 as of Wednesday. Wow… we’re really moving along. And all this for the group that was supposed to not be worried about leveling or anything. *chuckle*

Perfect World International: Just started playing this one this week. It’s in ‘Open Beta’ in it’s english language incarnation. It’s been around elsewhere in the world (as Perfect World 2) for a while. I’m not sure if anything other than the internationalization is really new. Or if some of the game play dynamic is, too.

The reason I say that is that I got pointed to it by an article on Massively.com in which they mention that this game, while it is a micro-transaction based MMO, was originally planned to be subscription based and was geared to appeal to western players more than the Chinese version is. This got me wondering. So I followed the link and grabbed the downloader.

Yikes! While the downloader is small, the actual download isn’t. And it goes through hoops to install on your machine. FIRST, you download the 2.2 Gigabyte EXE file, which turns out to be a self-extracting 7-zip file. Running this unzips just over 2.2 Gigabytes of Installer! And running the install.exe from there, finally installs around 3 Gigabytes of game… So, if you don’t delete any of it along the way, that’s EIGHT GIGABYTES on your hard drive!!! Five of that you don’t need after you are done. Sure glad that hard drives are starting to come out in Terabyte sizes now!

So, after an hour or so on good broadband connection, you have downloaded the self-extracting zip file… good… Now you click on that and away it goes. Sure hope you changed the file path before you let it unzip… it defaults to unzipping into one of your hidden folders in your Documents and Settings folder (on XP) or Users (on Vista). And unless you know how to unhide those folders, it’s just vanished into the void…

Okay, installer found, and clicked on. And away we go, with anywhere from 5-20 minutes as that puppy first validates the files (though you can tell it to skip that part) and copies out all that data. At least in this case the default destination is someplace you can find it, and gives you some good artwork to stare at.

So, then the game launches, and of course it’s a launcher and a patcher. The patcher needs you to tell it where to look, but there’s only one selection… guess they plan to have more than one place, maybe this will be where access to a ‘test’ server/patch will be later on after it goes live.

And what do you have… well, first the patcher needs to update itself. Then the game files have to be updated. You know how these things are. You just installed a MMO, of course you need to be updated to the latest version before you play. It wasn’t too long a download and install. Maybe a good bio break is in order here. If you have a slower connection, dinner or lunch might be in order, or an episode of your favorite anime.

Okay, the game’s ready to go. Well, I have a very good video card and a large monitor, so I go looking for the graphics settings… there they are… but when I put it in 1650 x 1280 it doesn’t seem to really do anything. And clicking the Optimize button just sets everything back to minimum… hmmmm. I shrug, it’s beta, right?! Right.

So, into the game and WHAM… account creation. Oh, right… hmmm… gotta go to the website for that. No problem… off I go.

Okay… account name (good, the name is not taken), nickname (also not taken), email address (ok, never been used to make an account before… ), Name, and all that other stuff like password and the weird character thing to make sure I’m not a robot doing this. Got it… Oh, need to do that email validation thing like many forum boards… okay, that fine. Time to head over to my comcast email… and wait… and wait… and wait… Hurph.

I’ve run out of time for that day (Sunday). Next day the email still hasn’t come through, so I go through the steps again, with a back up account name, a backup nickname (as they are both already taken… Yeah, by ME!) and a different email address (gmail this time). Check the gmail account. Boom, it’s there, things are activated! I’ll be able to try the game… Tuesday, when next I have the time. (And the email to my comcast email STILL had not arrived).

Tuesday comes around and I finally can log in. I make characters. They let you make Humans (*shrug*) which can be Blademasters or Wizards. Blademasters default as Male, but CAN be female, and Wizards default to female but CAN be male. Then there are Winged Elves, which can be Archers (default Male, but can be female) and Clerics (default female, but can be male).

Then there is the Race that got me more interested in the games: The Untamed. They can be Barbarians – ALWAYS MALE, and Venomancer – ALWAYS FEMALE. What’s with this genderlock thing?!! They didn’t genderlock the Humans or the Winged Elves!! Anyway, the Barbarians can be Lion, Tiger, Panda or Wolf. The Venomancers are Foxes, Cats or Bunnies. The Untamed get to shapeshift into an set animal form (Barbarians get to be White Tigers, Venomancers get to be Foxes) around level 9. The Barbarians are your standard ‘Tank’ or ‘Stongarm Melee’ class. Venomancers are a magic-user/Pet class.

I designed a few characters. Their character customization tool is quite good. Sort of like City of Heroes once they added the scaling for all the parts of your character’s appearance physically. There’s a LOT of variance, yet its still somewhat limited. Some of the options are only available later after you have used the micro-transaction system to BUY those abilities. But you get a LOT of control with the free controls.

I decided that I would play a Barbarian first, and took the name ‘Rogar’ (I’m sort of staying away from naming characters Jethric any more… gotten too diluted in my mind, from the original). And into the game I went.

Remember that thing about graphics back before loading into the game… I went to the settings IN the game, and while Optimize still sets things all back to minimum, the game DOES support the high resolution my card and monitor combination supports, and it does it well. Things are REALLY good eye candy in the game. REALLY good at the higher resolutions. And very smooth. The music is REALLY good, too!

The game itself starts out very, very standard for a fantasy MMO. You get the typical instructions to see the first NPC who gives you your first ‘Kill X’ quest and away you go to kill 10 of those critters. (It’s the same for the Human starting area… I haven’t seen the Winged Elf starting area yet.) Then you get sent to town and to the ‘Elder’ and start getting introduced to all the sorts of vendors and NPCs you are going to be interacting with in play of the game. There’s the usual special icon above the heads of NPC’s that have quests for you, with a different one over their head if you need to turn in a completed quest to some one. There’s a quest tracker that displays the current goals (items you need to get, or monsters you need to kill) and all the other usual things you find in the modern MMO. There’s even a direct coordinate system which they refer to as a GPS that you can use and it will point you to any coordinates you enter, with a arrow on screen guiding you directly towards it. The usual inventory, the usual bank, the usual crafting systems. Remember, I’ve only scratched the surface of this game.

I’ve only started to see where they are going to be using the micro-transactions… it’s for buying pets that are different from the ones you get in questing, for the ‘mount’ you can get at level 30 (or is it 40?). For different sets of clothing that you can have your character wear rather than the look you get from the items you get from quests and drops and buy with in-game funds. The micro-transactions will give you more inventory space quicker than the collection quest for it will, and will give you access to a wardrobe for all your outfits you buy, and a cabinet to store things you make with the crafting system. Lots of things can be bought, but it doesn’t look like you are crippled or out-classed just because you don’t want to use the micro-transaction system. But the cool mounts… that looks like it requires using the micro-transactions. I’m going to hold off as long as I can. 😉

I’ve gotten my Barbarian to level 11 or 13. I forget. My Venomancer is level 5 or 6. My Blademaster is level 4 and I’m not interested in playing her any further at this time. I like using the swords, but I don’t like the starting area and low number of quests there. Maybe more just haven’t been implemented yet or I missed something.

I’m an alt’aholic as many people know. So I like playing multiple characters through the starting areas to learn the game and see what I like and what I don’t like. And so far this game feels sort of like I expect a ‘open beta’ to feel… not quite all there, and in need of growth and maturity. It shows promise, and I am very, very likely to play it for a while…

After all… it’s got furry races! Even with the stupid gender-lock!

Oh… and the account validation mail sent to my comcast account? It showed up Thursday morning. Looking at the headers comcast’s system held it in a que for 4 days for no good reason, before delivering it. Of course, the validation code is only good for 24-hours, so clicking on the validation link took me to a ‘sorry, request has expired, please try creating your account again, sorry for the inconvenience’. Comcast’s fault, not PWI’s.


I’ll be back next week. Where I might review the new S.M. Stirling novel, The Scourge of God: A Novel of the Change, which I picked up at the bookstore yesterday. But Mhari might beat me to reading it… or another book may catch my eyes first. We’ll see.