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Tuesday, August 19th, 2008
4:48 am - Off to Utah.
Off to Utah.

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Sunday, July 8th, 2007
9:09 am - Roll out.
Okay, I've been putting off updating and there's a lot of stuff I need to post, like the pictures of the birdies and stuff, but that's all going to have to wait. I need to make this statement:

The Transformers movie is the best action movie ever. This movie kicks ass. I don't want to hear about your complaints, your whines that it's not true to the source, or that it's too shallow for non-fans, or whatever you wrong people bitch about. This was what every summer popcorn flick should be like, and it has Peter Cullen's voice in it, so anyone who doesn't agree that this movie is awesome is wrong and deserves to be beaten by an angry mob.

Can I be more clear?

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Saturday, May 12th, 2007
11:08 pm - I'm a granddaddy!!!!one
More pictures are on the way, but here's a saved image off my webcam from this afternoon.

That's my hand, and the camera is a wireless digital camera that's sitting in a hanging pot and looking down on a flowerbed.

...And those two little grey blurs in the nest next to my hand are day-old Mourning Doves. More pictures soon. Meanwhile you can go to my webcam and watch the nest at http://draegos.gotdns.com/webcam. Remember I'm on Central Time here; when it's night here the cam will be solid black.

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Saturday, May 5th, 2007
11:37 am - This will only make sense to people following NBC's new scifi series.

Truly, Paragon is a city of Heroes.

current mood: amused

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Thursday, April 26th, 2007
5:22 pm
If this sucker works in Windows as well, like its stanard-issue counterpart supposedly does, I am so getting one.

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Tuesday, April 17th, 2007
8:32 pm - For Guild Wars players (also a breif life-update)
Not much noteworthy's been happening for me. More hastle with lies and misdirection and pushy employers but nothing to write home about. Two weekends ago I went with my family to Fort Worth, saw the Ft. Worth Stockyard and toured the downtown, and took in a show by a country swing group called the Quebe Sisters Band -- good music, even if it's not your usual cup of tea.

So much for the update. I wanted to post some notes for Guild Wars players, about some upcoming events for the game. The latest issue of PC Gamer came packed with a bonus code to get a pet miniature in the game, and about ten pages worth of articles about the new Guild Wars expansion Eye of the North due out this Autumn, and for Guild Wars 2, due out in 2009. For curious GW players, here are the highlights that I haven't seen mentioned on line yet:

Eye of the North notes
  • Intended for L20 characters
  • Hall of Monuments feature, a record of your character's acheivements through Eye of the North, transfers honors and titles across to GW2. Will also transfer mini-pets across to GW2, and some special weapons as well.
  • 10 new Heroes, including non-human ones
  • Antagonist is "The Great Destroyer," the enemy of the Dwarf god "The Great Dwarf."
  • Plot starts with huge earthquakes through all three campaign settings.
  • Asura are driven from their underground homes by the quakes.
  • 18 multilevel dungeons
  • Story is arranged in 3 acts.
  • Four adventuring areas:

    • Far Shiverpeaks - Northern Shiverpeaks area.
    • Charr Homeland - North of Ascalon, it's actually green and temperate
    • Tarnished Coast - borders the Maguuma Jungle and is wet and swampy
    • Depths of Tyria - Underground catacombs inhabitted by Dwarves and Asura

Guild Wars 2 notes
  • Set on same world (Tyria) hundreds of years after GW1.
  • NOT as linear and storyline-based as GW1, more like an MMO setting; mention of story-arcs like in COH.
  • More and larger persistant areas, including areas outside settlements; more like CoH's system of big persistant regions with doorways to small instanced mission areas.
  • Persistant areas will be used for "Events," kind of like the fires in CoH.
  • Event results will permanently change the persistant world.
  • Level cap is 100+ or possibly limitless.
  • Sidekick system similar to CoH's people at different levels teaming up.
  • No click-and-move controls.
  • More movement options; swimming, jumping, and sliding.
  • Skill descriptions will be more vague and will not announce effects like "affects target and adjacent targets."
  • Combat is supposed to be different, but you still lock onto a target RGP-style and select a skill to attack with.
  • Multiple login servers like CoH; servers can actually war with each other in a between-server world called the Mists.
  • Server-vs-server games will be similar to capture-the-flag in GW1, with control points (secondary objectives) and no min or max team size, but grand in scale and players can join and leave at any time; battles will take weeks to complete.
  • Player can enter the Mists and complete a small task towards the main goal; it's "get in and get out at your leisure" PvP.
  • "Traditional" PvP and Guild-vs-Guild will be present with even-matched skills and weapons selection like in GW1.
  • Play will accomodate solo playes and scale upwards for groups.
  • Pets and Companions will be customizable, similar to GW1 heroes, but do not take up a slot in your party.
  • Each player can bring along one Companion on missions; if you choose not to bring one, your character is buffed to compensate.
  • Graphics engine is rebuilt GW1 engine.
  • Goal is to make the game playable on computers made in the last three years.
  • Same payment model as GW1: no monthly fee, server maintenance covered by periodic releasal of content updates for purchase.
  • No new campaigns for GW2 -- all missions will take place in the same world/region.
  • Possibility of smaller and cheaper expansions released more frequently.
  • NCSoft US CEO Richard Garriott says the GW1 pay model was a "failed experiment," mainly because it only works if the company can put out a new title every 6 months like clockwork (and ArenaNet couldn't, Nightfall was about 6 months late). ArenaNet (GW developers) say that they're sticking with the no-monthly-fee model for GW2 just the same.

Some really good ideas in there, though at this point it's really nothing more than the devs' wish list. Here's hoping they get to see all these ideas through. I'll take Guild Wars over City of Heroes, World of Warcraft, or Star Wars Galaxies any day of the week. It's good to know that there are plans for really cool things in the works for the next few years.

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Saturday, March 31st, 2007
10:43 am - i R on th3 interwebs!
I'm on the internet! On my laptop!

...Which is in my lap in the passenger seat of my folks' SUV, currently driving through downtown Dallas.

This mobile internet stuff can be pretty dang cool sometimes. AIM'd with Meagen, played a little Guild Wars. Traffic jams are no stress for me right now. ^^

current mood: amused

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Thursday, March 15th, 2007
10:08 am - Back online
a Draegos joint's back online, and only after abouty 36 hours without internet. Switching out the modem had no effect just like I said it would, though it does mean I have a classier black modem now instead of the bulkier, so-last-week white modem I've been using for the last six years.

The tech guy from Time Warner came out and plugged my cable line into a giant PSP thing and apparently knew exactly what the problem was. Went back outside and played with the line at the junction box on the complex wall, and in ten minutes I was block sync'ing like a crazy person. Downstream's currently almost 7mbps, that's better than it's ever been.

...I'm not fooled.

This has happened before with Time Warner, too. If the pattern holds, my internet will mysteriously break again and this time it'll take weeks to months before they fix it (once it actually took them THREE MONTHS to get a scheduled technician to my door). We'll see. But their obvious effort today deserved mentioning, I figured. We'll see if their track record wins through or if they really have cleaned up their act...

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Wednesday, March 14th, 2007
2:06 am - Cable modem out AGAIN
The idiots at Time Warner have managed to break my broadband service again, and now my only route to the internet is my cell phone. So no "a Draegos joint" services until they can get me fixed up, and God only knows when that'll be.

The story they told me this time is that my old Motorola SB4200 cable modem is "not compatable with Roadrunner." Aparently the modem wasn't aware that it's been working fine with Roadrunner for at least four months now. In a desperate move to get me off the phone so he could return to his porn browsing, "Larry" suggested I exchange my old modem for a new one, which I'll be doing in the morning at the Roadrunner service center down the street. When that doesn't work I'm not sure what I'll do next, aside from call the support number again and inflict my rage on a phone support rep who isn't impowered to do anything about it except log it in a ticket and file it somewhere where it'll never be read or followed up on.

At least with the new cellphone, Time Warner's incompetence no longer leaves me completely cut off from the internet. I can connect at least one of my machines to the internet. But I'm paying a substancial amount of money for this cable broadband account and I can't go two damn months without it breaking. Something has to give.

I've hated Roadrunner ever since I worked for their tech support back in '98. They're all morons who think ideal customer service is finding the perfect blend of incomprehensible phone menus and serice desk transfers to prevent people from reporting their problems but not from leaving for a better broadband service. They're slime, and when they bought out Comcast here and suddenly became my service provider, I was furious. They clearly haven't changed a bit in the last nine years, and while they're all too happy to take my money, they don't seem to think they need to provide any sort of service in return.

current mood: pissed off

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Sunday, March 4th, 2007
9:40 pm - Sickness and Internet Phones
Well, I was planning on posting here this weekend about my new tech-toy, but it was pre-empted by a sudden bout of sick. Sick to my stomach, sick in my bowels, and dehydrating all around. Been miserable all day. Taking medicine for one symptom seems to aggrivate the others, and leave me doubled over. I didn't sleep at all last night.

Today I seemed to be improving until around 6pm; then I suddenly had a relaps. Couldn't even take a shower, my guts hurt so bad. I retreated to the bed and passed out before even realizing it. Right now I feel a lot better, but I still don't feel right, and this problem seems to wax and wan, so I don't know what to think.

Which sucks extra, since I was supposed to be starting a new job tomorrow. I've already put in a call with my placement agent to see about delaying my start date until Tuesday, but I can't imagine this looks good. Granted, the first two appointments I had to come see the place and meet the bosses were cancelled at the last minute due to their poor planning, so you'd think I'd be within my rights. But things don't always work that way. >.< So for now I'm planning on staying in tomorrow and starting my job Tuesday. I hope they don't hold it against me.

In other news, I got a new cellular phone Saturday, a Samsung SGH-I607 Blackjack. These suckers are supposed to be the bee's knees for PDA phones right now, and boy, the reputation is well-earned. It's built for Cingular's new "3G" network, which is a DSL-speed cellular data network. So along with being a cellphone and a Windows Mobile-based PDA, it's also an internet device that's connected anywhere there's cell coverage. It'll browse web pages and check e-mail, and even connect to AIM and MSN.

Best feature, though, is its Internet Sharing ability. Sync it with a computer and turn IS on, and you can connect your computer via the phone, at DSL speeds. It's two things I've been wanting for a long time now: mobile broadband internet, and a backup internet connection for if when my Road Runner cable broadband decides to fail for a few weeks again. This phone is awesome.

Support from Hawk Electronics, where I bought the phone and the data plan, was not awesome. They were helpful and knew all about the phone side of the Blackjack, definately, but they were clueless about the PDA side of the device. I even brought my laptop in for them to play with for an hour and they couldn't figure out how to get the laptop online through the Blackjack. They messed with network settings and virtual dialers and called lots of other stores in search of someone with a clue, to no avail. Dejected, I went home being told that they'd have to get back to me Monday.

...And it only took half an hour of searching online to find out that there's an Internet Sharing utility on the phone you can find in the \Windows directory. No fancy network tunnels or modem dialers need be set up, you just turn this feature on and it's good. Made a shortcut to it on the phone's Start Menu, sync'd the phone, turned IS on, and low and behold my laptop was cruising the 3G network. You'd think someone at Hawk would know this, since they claim to have set up "dozens" of these phones for people for this very use.

From there I worked out how to tether the Blackjack wirelessly using a Bluetooth connection, which is doubly sweet. Don't even need to connect the phone to the laptop with a cable to get it online now. ^_^ (Update: I just tested the speeds on Speakeasy. When connecting to the phone over Bluetooth, downstream is 413kbps and upstream is 257kbps. Just below hi-grade DSL, exactly what they said it'd be. Natch.)

Support issues not withstanding, the phone is amazing. I'll never be bored standing in line or waiting for an appointment again. Later on I'm going to see how well Guild Wars holds up on the 3G network.

After my stomach and bowels stop trying to kill me, of course.

current mood: sick

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Sunday, February 18th, 2007
4:57 pm
There was another post here. A friend of mine -- a real friend -- called me up and convinced me to take it down. but I beleive in documenting these kinds of things for some reason, so at the very least this stays here to mark it.

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Monday, February 5th, 2007
5:27 pm - Your update for this month
Been a bit since my last LJ update and I've earnestly been trying to make myself post at least once a month or so. It's just that there's not much going on. I'm settling into my new job nicely enough and all the repairs and paperwork stemming from the unfortunate car wreck sustained the week before Christmas are finally over and done with. I've discovered the Discworld PC game runs splendidly on Windows XP and that Rincewind sounds exactly like Poythoner Eric Idle.

My birthday's coming up and my folks told me they've chosen that day to tow my grandmother back home; she's been visiting since December and it's time to head back up to Amarillo. I'm a 31-year old man and yet being told by my parents they can't bother with my birthday still stings. What can you say, though? Decision's made; if they change it on my insistance it's not because they want to.

Puts a nice fine point on the loneliness, though. I've been grappling with that ever since Meagen went back home and I don't know if it's gotten better or if I've just gotten used to it. I'm certain next summer isn't getting here fast enough for me, though.

I'm trying to decide if I'm desperate enough for a distraction to install this "Bard's Tale" game I bought last November for five bucks. I hear it's abysmal. And I also hear it's very amusing, though not always for the reasons the designers intended.

My progress in City of Heroes is dragging along more slowly than it has in almost a year, now. The fact is I never play it anymore unless it's with Meagen; my interest in the game for its own sake is wanning. Poor ol' Shockwayv's been stuck in the lower 40's for more than eight months now. It's not for lack of support. There's a whole slew of online buddies (mainly from the Do-Gooders stable) who are always happy to encorporate me into the evening's mission whenever I get up the energy to log in and ask. I just haven't had the energy, in a long while now. It's weird. I always have fun when I play, and yet it never occurs to me to play...

I've had a massive Guild Wars revival, though, and my original character Amadeus and Meagen's original character... Meagen have both seen remarkable progress in the last few months. The original Guild I belonged to, the Peacekeepers, have pretty much fallen apart and crumbled away after their leader turned into a crack addict. Meagen, ever the social butterfly online, discovered a good guild full of helpful players that eventually won me over, so I'm now wearing the colors of the Blade and Rose. I've even started a couple of new solo characters, something I usually never bother with in MMOs. I can't say that GW is somehow more sophisticated or more entertaining an experience, it just seems easier to make progress in, lately. In CoH I never feel like I'm accomplishing anything, despite the fun I always have.

Maybe if I bothered to dust off my old missions and actually follow some plotlines...

Neverwinter Nights 2, in earnest, has not become the center of my evenings, like I was expecting. The toolset's just different enough from NWN1's to put me off, I think. This doesn't particularly worry me; it was over a year after I bought NWN1 that I finally decided to learn to use the toolset. I was just hoping NWN2 would be marginally as easy to edit as NWN1. Instead its editing tools are needlessly complex and laggy. Plus every time Obsidian puts a new patch out, it breaks all the plugins I've found and installed to make the toolset easier to use.

Meanwhile, my Media PC is fully operational at last, thanks to Sheldon's christmas present to me (the crucial gift certificate to buy the crucial TV Tuner). I now have a 3.2ghz Pentium 4 computer hooked up to my TV and stereo system, through which I access all of my media. DVDs, CDs, MP3s, AVIs, and even live television all through a single interface, and a single R/F remote control. HD-ready, if I ever bother burning money on an HD-TV. Man, this is living. It also has a TiVo-like ability to digitally record television programs for me. It's annoying that Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005's built-in interface crashes whenever it tries to initialize the TV-tuner card, but BeyondTV works with it just fine and I prefer it anyway. I've often thought about installing Vista on this system as a test -- Vista has built-in media center extensions and they're supposed to be superior to MCE's.

I will say that despite these musings, Windows Vista isn't tempting me at all. The beta had the opposite effect on me; it showed me how little I need it. It speaks very highly of Windows XP that after five years of operational support life, it's still a solid and relevant OS. It certainly isn't made obsolete by anything I've seen or experienced in Windows Vista, which I'm coming to slowly suspect is really just XP with transparent windows and a bunch of new, more aggressive/invasive DRM tech. So far there's only one game announced for the exclusive-to-Vista DirectX10, and it's Halo 2 -- a game that's already years past its prime and in its original form didn't even use any DirectX10 features. Who cares? Yes, I'll update eventually, but for right now XP is doing absolutely everything I need it to, and doesn't dial home every week to tell MS about my hardware changes and browsing habits, to boot.

I'm actually considering making my main computer for productivity work and web browsing an Ubuntu system, and using an isolated, closed Vista box just for gaming and nothing else. That's the most viable solution I see to the problem when it does finally come time to upgrade. But that's likely technoparanoia talking; I'm willing to bet that once Vista has been in circulation for a while a lot of these fears and concerns over privacy will become non-issues just like with XP.

...And then the online activation cracks will appear and make it all moot anyway. ^^

I'm still upset that my winning streak with the CG images died off so quickly. I keep meaning to try and get back on the horse; I've promised a couple of people CGs of their CoH character. The last character I tried to draw, a humorously exagerated superhero named Thunderpunch, was an excercize in frustration, though, poor Sam Storm came out looking more like a homicidal state prison librarian instead of the shy four-eyed librarian she was meant to, and I was never happy with the face I gave Silver Gale; I think it's discouraged me. Need to kick that and get back to it. Might try revisiting some earlier, easier-to-draw ideas first to loosen the mental muscles first. Or I might just keep procrastinating into the year 2008, you can never tell with me and my drawings. >.>;;

Well, that's what's been on my mind lately. A lot less focussed than my usual posts, but anything beats nothing at all...

current mood: lonely

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Thursday, January 18th, 2007
5:56 pm - Second Life Autopsied
Okay. So.

I decided to give Second Life a shot to see what all the hubub was about. For those unaware, SL is ostensibly an online game, but there are no goals or objectives, or even gameplay to speak of. It's really a big online space where people just log in and walk their avatars around and talk. Sort of a 3D IM client.

On top of that, users can craft and script items and animations and textures and all kinds of things, and distribute (and even sell) them to other users. Many set up shops. Paying users get a monthly stipend of virtual money (L$, they call it), and free account users only get money by making and selling items, or by buying that virtual money with real money. And so the business model of the game becomes clear: virtual money has actual value. I purchased $15 worth of virtual currency just to give 3D virtual shipping a try, and that worked out to almost 4000L$.

In earnest the game designers' goal seems to have been to create a forum where users can create a huge interactive community in any shape and with any level of interactivity they desire. Buildings errected as standing wallpaper galleries, each one downloadable to your hard drive with a click? Doable. Fun games and casinos played through your avatar without even loading a new level or 3D program? Quite possible. The game takes on whatever shape the author of the particular activity has scripted it to take. Think of it as a 3D web browser; instead of just typing in a URL and going to someone's carefully-crafted personal website rife with downloadable pictures and little Java applets and Flash games, you walk your 3D avatar to one of the user-run shops and buy or use something with a scripted interactive display sign, or take part in a paintball game in a user-built arena. It's a great idea in theory.

And theory gets shakey at this point. It should come as a surprise to no one that the game has become predominantly porn-based. The most in-demand items are revealing, exploitive fetish costumes and "nudie-skins," players playing the role of virtual call girls for hire abound at every turn, and everyone seems to have a script for leashing their S&M pet. There seems to be a feeling of status derived from cybering in public, and since every inch of SL is public that's the only type of cybering going on. And there are more areas dedicated just to that than I can comfortably contemplate.

This virtual eroticism has apparently expanded over the game to the extent it's strangling any other social aspects nearly to death. Doing a world location search for establishments or buddy groups dedicated to things like "Discworld" or "Babylon 5" or "Stargate SG1" or "Neverwinter Nights" or "Chevy" or something equally innocuous, and you won't get a single result. Search for "latex" or "bondage," though, and you'll be scrolling through pages upon pages of locations you can teleport to and enjoy the sight of a bunch of female-looking polygons being attended to in decidedly impolite ways.

Don't get me wrong; we all have our little fetishes and fantasies, and there's nothing wrong with exploring them. It's just that exploring fetishes -- in a mainly voyeristic atmousphere, at that -- is pretty much all there is to do in Second Life. I've been trying for five days now to find something nice and fun and clean in this game to do with Meagen this weekend that doesn't involve polygonal phalic symbols or scripts with names like "collar slave" or "spank," and I've come up empty. It's inexplicable. There just doesn't seem to be anything to actively do in this game except put on a rubber suit and pretend you're a master sex feind. And that's creepy.

With all that said, I want to make sure it's also clearly stated there are tons of people who have lots of fun in Second Life without indulging in its more seedy distractions. They find it to be an amusing and expressive 3D IM client, a fun way to chat with online friends that even includes a rudementary body language and capacity for self-expression beyond choice in AIM avatar picture. People build areas just for them and their friends to meet and chat, for hours or days at a time. I know several people who log into SL daily, and they do so to be with friends who they can't be with IRL. SL's good for that.

It just seems like such a waste that these more openly-social possibilities in the game seem to be such a small, rare minority. Like I said, in the world search you can't even find an interest group not related to pony-training submissives. This game has such incredible potential as a client-shaped online world, and that potential's being wasted near exclusively on teenaged bedroom fantasies made 3D. This game could be so much more; it could be a real online social revolution. But it won't ever be, so long as the number-one most visible aspect of it is poorly animated, highly-graphic online cybersex. Second Life has a reputation akin to a seedy bar with strippers in the back lounge, and that reputation is well-earned.

It's a pity, because when I first read Meagen's comments on the game and decided to try it myself, my first reaction was glee. Finally, a way for Meagen and me to meet online and share a little time together that doesn't involve defeating supervillains or slaying Bugbears. We could just chat, pretend we're on a date, see some virtual sites...

And the excitement quickly faded into disappointment when I saw the true state of Second Life. It's obvious that the game was intended to be just what I was hoping it would be, that it was meant to be a place where people could meet and share time together virtually. But it's being co-opted and no one seems to mind. The prevailing attitude is "Yeah, it'd be creepy, but it's in a computer game so it's okay." Kind of like how anime freaks justify their collection of Japanese cartoon porn (I've had a freak try to tell me that Urotsukidouji is "high art..."). I hope some other developer eventually picks up the slack and tries making a "3D chat client" game like this with a more family-friendly slant, because then I think there will be entire dimensions to a user-shaped online world like this that will suddenly appear and be refined to degrees that will rival any professional product.

Second Life could be a true virtual world. Too many of its users decided they didn't want it to be. Maybe I'm being judgemental but I think that's a shame.

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Wednesday, January 10th, 2007
1:57 pm
Well, I have zero voice now, and the Doctor's ordered me home and not to talk until Friday morning. This is not helping my standing at work. January's always a bad month for attendance and they need every body they can get up there.

On the other hand, it'll be nice to be able to ignore the phone, and just veg for a couple of days...

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Monday, January 8th, 2007
3:12 pm - And Christmas comes again.
So, I'm sick, and hoarse-voiced, and so full of medicine that I can hardly move. But I'm still happy as a clam. Know why? Because I got a parcel in the mail today!

pictures!Collapse )

So let me just close by saying, I have the most awesome imouto-chan ever. So there.

Thank you, Silvia!!

current mood: happy

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Sunday, January 7th, 2007
11:03 am
Well, it's been a wretched weekend all around, what with the power failure last night and the lowsy weather, and me apparently contracting a sinus infection of some sort. >.< I've felt half-dead all weekend long, and my throat's so raw it hurts to breathe.

Sorry to anyone who was trying to use my server for anything last night; the power went out around 4am and knocked it offline. If not for the fact that the power failure also messed up my stereo and started it screaming static over its speakers, I would never have known.

I just want it on record, I'm well and truly ready for winter to be the hell over with.

current mood: lethargic

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Monday, December 25th, 2006
4:34 pm - Happy Hogswatch Night!
Holy crap, there's a HogFather TV miniseries?! I only found out a few days ago. Thank goodness Meagen had me start reading the Discworld novels last summer, the show is 500% more awesome if you have.

I've finished watching part one with a little help from Torrentz and the Opera BitTorrent client. Great stuff.

Merry Christmas, Roundworlders. And Happy Hogswatch Night, Discworlders.

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12:36 am - Merry Christmas!
It's been Christmas here in Texas for 35 minutes now. Everybody have a safe and happy holiday. Call an old friend or something.

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Tuesday, December 19th, 2006
6:39 pm - Neverwinter Nights 2
Impresions of Neverwinter Nights 2

I got Neverwinter Nights 2 around November 2nd, and I completed the single-player campaign about December 1st. I figured it was time to share some of my impressions of the game, since I know several of my LJ friends are former NWN players.

The biggest criticism I've seen for the game so far, and the one all the more negative online reviews harp on, is that the game is Neverwinter Nights 2 and not Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. I'm at a bit of a loss to understand their beef, since my box was clearly labelled "Neverwinter Nights 2" and I assume their's was too, but it's clear that several of the online magazines think making the game Neverwinter Nights 2 and not Oblivion is an unforgivable design error. It's easy to see which reviews think this by counting the number of times the word "Oblivion" appears in it. Don't get me wrong, I liked Oblivion, but to demand that every mideval-themed computer game from this point on must be a clone of it? Come on, fanboys. Some of us prefer an RPG-RPG to an FPS-RPG.

The second biggest cirticism I've seen for the game is that it's "broken," or shipped incomplete. And out-of-box the game is more fragile than I'd like, and crashed on me once or twice. At the same time, though, I was able to play through Chapters One and Two completely unpatched, myself, and the subsequent patches have only improved performance and stability, and added new features on top of that. To use Oblivion as a comparison, since that's what most of the detractors seem to hold up as how it "should be done," Oblivion was half-featured, crash-laden, and critically bugged in its initial release state and wasn't completely playable, start to finish, until the second patch. NWN2 scores high above Oblivion on that note: at least NWN2 was feature-complete and playable out-of-box. It bares noting that the game is much more stable with the latest patch though, and some of the added features were out-of-box with NWN1 (like the DM Client, mainly, and also some of the quickbar options). But this game's system requirements are virtually the same as Oblivion's, and yet out-of-box and unpatched it performs much better.

So basically, it's no more or less reliable than just about any other new release. But I wanted to talk more about what I liked in the game.

First, the visuals. At least as good as Oblivion, and at least as much of a resource hog. Even with my GeForce 7900GT card I had to turn the advanced shadow details down several notches, though the latest patch has sped things back up to the point that I'm currently running with everything bumped back up. But man, is it worth the horsepower it demands. Damp swamps, lush forests, sandy beaches, rocky mountains, and dark caves all look great, and definately demonstrate a drastic improvement over (the almost-five-year-old) NWN1. Even with the shading detail turned down to the bare minimum, the evironments all look great. The NPCs and player characters are all very animate, shifting on their feet and looking around. There's lots of detail in the characters and creatures. The effects, like magical glows and flashes, all look great too. Some of the animations are kind of stiff for what is ostensibly a "next generation" game, though. I'd swear sometimes I was seeing the exact same animations used in NWN1 or Knights of the Old Republic. Yes, there's HDR lighting, that new-age graphics buzzword all the Valv fans are always on about. And with the 1.03 patch released this week, there's finally also FSAA settings, which the initial omition of confounded me.

That leads into the camera, which is controlled by the mouse pretty much the same way it was in NWN1. Two nice additions, though, are the tactical view mode and driving cam mode. The tactical cam frees the camera from its usual state of being locked over the party leader, and lets the player scroll the view anywhere in the area (a la Baldur's Gate), which is handy when your party's in a fight because you can switch from character to character to give commands, and the camera perspective doesn't shift and disorient you. The Driving Cam is basically "KOTOR Mode", where the camera follows the party leader as he moves and continuously orients itself behind him for an over-the-shoulder view (holding down the left mouse button in this mode also makes the party leader move forward; basically it's like most MMOs). A great way to fully appriciate some of the detail in the environments in this game, and it makes you feel a part of the world a lot more than NWN1's default 3/4 view (though that 3/4 view is also in NWN2 as well and I found myself using it more than any other camera mode).

The character creation is basically the same as in NWN1, but with better placement of the menus and info windows so that it's not a pain in the rear to see the description for whatever option you're considering. The options for your character's appearance are disappointingly limited, with possibly fewer faces and hair styles to choose from than NWN1. This is the age of roleplaying games like City of Heroes and World of Warcraft: players want a bit more in the way of customization than a half-dozen pre-rendered heads and no variation on height, weight, or build. Slider bars, people, slider bars.

(It should be noted that with a recently-released tool from Obsidian, it's now possible to modify a savegame and tweak your character's appearance, making him taller, shorter, thinner, fatter, all that good stuff. With a slightly modified override file you can even give him wings and/or a tail. It's just a pain in the rump to search the raw number values, and it's something that really could have worked into the game's proper character creation menu. I mean, even NWN1 had options for heavyset characters as well as thin and trim ones.)

Similarly, inexplicably, through the entire game there's no place where the player can buy just buy simple clothes. In NWN1 there were several merchants sprinkled about the city selling simple clothing in one form or another. My Sorcerer's starting outfit isn't to my liking (lace?!), and I've been unable to replace it with something more fashionable without the use of the toolset and a few console cheat commands.

The weapons look great, though. I always thought the weapons in NWN1 -- the swords especially -- looked off, somehow; like they were toys that would snap apart if you tapped them too hard. NWN2's armory consists of sturdy-looking gear, conversely. And some really cool appearance variations, too. Even the simple longswords have a very nice yet not over-the-top design.

Sometimes the cutscenes can drag on, though. I've never played a game before where I've rolled my eyes and fastclicked through the dialogue the first time I see it, but some of these NPCs were apparently paid by the syllable. And several times I ran into a conversation where the NPC launched into a monologue of three paragraphs or more, restating their thoughts several times throughout, when the same amount of information could have been comfortably delivered with a single paragraph or less and still have sounded natural. Don't let that that turn you off, though; the story's right up there with KOTOR AFAIC. Every now and again the conversations can drag on a bit, but when that's not happening it's fun interacting with all your party members. I wish you had more chances to, in fact.

Now, some select thoughts on the plot. This is NOT a detailed plot review, but spoilers do follow.

Spoilers! Spoilers! Spoilers! Spoilers!Collapse )

Some words on character creation.

I went ahead and started a Sorcerer character; they're pretty much my staple. Experimentally I took a class in the new Warlock base class early on to gain the benefit of the class's unexhaustable Eldrich Blast long-range attack and a feat that lets casters wear light armor with no penalties. It was useful at the very early levels (1-6), but at level 16 now I'm really regretting it. Warlock is a bad class to multiclass to; the Eldrich Bolt which is pretty much its one trick pony quickly becomes uselessly weak if you don't keep adding new levels to it. Those levels I wasted on Warlock would be better filled now with Red Dragon Disciple levels...

At the same time, to my surprise, the Sorcerer class does a passable job of standing on its own in this game, and with a few unconventional feats taken my mage was swinging a Bastard Sword and sloughing through melee combat as well as casting major spells. There are still people who insist that caster classes in NWN/D&D are too powerful, and I often wonder what color the sky is in their world; I think it sucks that a caster can only cast a spell once before having to rest. A fighter can keep hacking at the bad guys until the sun burns out, but a mage can only attack a set number of times and then he's screwed...

NWN2 does a lot to mitigate that; its rest restrictions, while still present, are more relaxed than the original game, and deliver a more MMO-feeling system of fight-rest-fight. So basically, I can plan my spell-usage per fight instead of per dungeon. I find this highly agreeable.

So far I'm thoroughly pleased with the game. It's not disappointed me as a sequel/followup to Neverwinter Nights. I completed the entire campaign in just over four weeks of play; that's very rare. Usually it only takes three or four days for me to beat a new game, and to have one occupy me for weeks at a time on the first play-through really is a treat. Fans of the Baldur's Gate franchise might want to take a look at this one; it was made by the Icewind Dale folks, after all. For the most part, it's a good game, well worth the $50 despite some flaws and drawbacks.

Haven't tried the multiplayer yet, but just by peaking into the toolset and the online module archive it's clear that I'll be getting just as much value out of it as I did with NWN1. Just have to play the waiting game until the "Persistant Worlds" and multiplayer modules start to show up.

All in all it's a great game. I highly recommend it to RPG fans. It fixes a lot of the weaknesses in NWN1 and offers a really well-built gaming system and world. Plus, the toolset means that there will soon be lots of nice new missions for us to download. The game's gorgeous to look at and fun to play, and it offers the player tons of options for making their perfect character and roleplaying him properly in the campaign. Really enjoyable game.

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Sunday, December 3rd, 2006
2:22 am - Net Down
Well, Time Warner's cable broadband service has gone down again, and while at the moment I'm connected I've been disconnected at least three dozen times today so far. Just letting everyone know that my web services are likely not to be available for a while. I'll check in again when I can.

Since Time Warner took over my broadband from Comcast my service has been slowly, slowly deteriorating, let it be known...

current mood: pissed off

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