Thursday, March 31, 2011

SW:TOR: Expectations Shaped By Experience

For all the weeks I walked this particular path to
school, every day there would be a platter
with a steak under this bridge.

When I was younger and more impressionable there were a few things I took for granted and never even considered to question. The bumpy pothole-ridden part of the street was for people and the smooth even part was for cars.

I once talked to someone who had visited here and he was quite appaled by the service he'd received at a restaurant. You see, as soon as he had sat down the waiter had brought him the menu, a basket of bread and a small plate with butter, cheese and paté. He felt so insulted by him trying to force things he hadn't ordered on to his bill that he got up and left. I, in turn, was appaled that he left. It was then I discovered that not all the world shared this custom of making hors-d'oeuvres available to customers whether they asked for them or not. It was something so familiar and mundane to me, something so deeply rooted in my way of life that it shocked me that life could exist differently.

Today I browsed the SW:TOR website, trying to get a feel for the game. I talked earlier how I'd like the concept of not being alone in a MMO and I somehow feared that was the single-player gamer in me talking. SW:TOR boasts about having companions that follow you through the game, that change their behavior depending on your choices and actions. I smiled at this.
While traveling the galaxy, your Companion Characters will provide commentary, information on plots and directions to points of interest-- all from their own unique perspectives. Companion Characters may act as your conscience, and try to influence your decisions. In turn, you will influence them, and change how they develop as the story progresses. Based on your choices, some Companions will become your closest friends, others may become your lovers, and a few may even become your enemies!
Yes, that sounded cool. A few of the consequences of being a girl is that I'm a sucker for romantic options in games. It's the main reason why I played The Sims for so long. I once tried to make an entire city green by breeding this one green guy with multiple women. Ok, maybe that's not very romantic but there you go.

Like the vehicle?
However, I soon realized that these companions they're talking about are fixed. Everybody gets the same companions (or it might depend on your class or something). That's not quite what I wanted. I'm not sure if my expectations are lowered because I've never seen it implemented but I'm not compeltely convinced. I dream of an immense range of characters to be able to add to my posse and live with the consequences of possibly putting together a completely dysfunctional family.
Jack, is that you?
Every day that passes, Rift seems more and more lackluster. I might try out SW:TOR eventually but I'm not jumping on another hype bandwagon, lest it topples over. Given my experience with MMOs I'm holding my breath.

Scary lobster is scary!
Picture unrelated.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Avoiding The Plot

Yesterday, after reaching the final battle of Dragon Age 2, I realised I had somehow sidestepped the romantical conclusion of my love interest. I have no idea how. I found myself slaughtering innocent mages for no good reason at all. I was downright peeved.

I've always been an expert at avoiding plot hooks.

Once, a few years ago, we were playing Vampire: The Masquerade. For those of you not in the know, V:TM is a writing utensils roleplaying game set in White Wolf's World of Darkness (old). I was never actually a GM (Game Master, read storyteller) but I was an avid player. I still am, if the occasion presents itself.

So. I don't really remember what we were doing or what was going on but I do remember I was playing a Malkavian cab driver. If you know what a Malkavian is you might even think I was completely in character. Or maybe, knowing it, you might think I completely wasn't. I was driving around and this man in a black suit and a briefcase jumped on the hood of my car and yelled 'PLZ HALP!' or something to that effect. If you were in a game where you're a deranged vampire with PTSD that owned a cab and the game was pretty much just begging for something to happen, what would you do?

I floored it and GTFO out of there, that's what I did. You should've seen the face of the GM when I said 'That's my final answer.' He had to try hard to advance the story from there. Him and every GM I've played with since. That single event marked me in my circle of friends as The One Who Will Flee From Plot even if it was just that one time (I've been told it wasn't just that one time and I'm inclined to agree for I remember hearing 'this isn't going to be like the man with the suitcase again is it?')

My point is, I have a very short attention span. For instance, I was sure there was a point to this post that had something to do with blaming Canada and that there is finally a Facebook game I'm not ashamed to be playing. But somewhere along the way the plot twisted and I failed to notice. It's a wonder I can even finish games at all.

Monday, March 28, 2011

MMO, What Are You Good For?

It's in everybody's mind, lately. What exactly do we want out of these games? What would make us all line up across the block to purchase a game, makes us antsy at work to play it, make us laugh manically to see happen? Ok, maybe that last one is just me.

I've been thinking about and discussing this a lot (I care about this alot *snicker*). You can blame this fellow. It's been a common topic at the dinner table and that's where my mind wanders on the daily commute.

I've spent a lot of time playing Bioware RPGs lately and I've enjoyed them. A lot of what they did there is what I needed to spend my time with. The battle and progression systems are just challenging enough to keep me playing but not so easy that I just don't care. But what really makes me play them is the story. And not the story in itself but the protagonists of such story. It's the connection I've made with them.

I was watching Mike finish up DA:O during the weekend. 'I can't believe you just told that poor woman to kill her own baby!' I said all flustered. He sneered and, without turning to meet my gaze, he answered: 'You do realize that there is no baby. There is no woman. There's just code.' Of course, he would say that. He's a software developer by trade. But, to me, there was a woman and she did have a baby and he had just killed it by proxy. Ultimately, I know it's just code but what they did with it made me love and hate, happy and sad.

Humans are drama whores by design. We crave emotional connections to things. It is how we find our mates and subsequently reproduce. We need to feel something. And this feeling thing releases endorphins that make us giddy. It is what we live for. Ok, it might not be the meaning of life itself but it's a pretty good thing. It is, if nothing else, a driving force.

I was in the shower thinking "how can I feel this emotional connection with an MMO?" Although I do not doubt that one day the entire spectrum and complexity of human emotion can be expressed in a coding language to then be reproduced by any common household computer, we're still a bit of a ways to go yet. So how can a setting that is massive by definition and must cater to the needs and desires of a multitude of players make me feel connected to it?

I then started thinking what could be taken out of a single-player RPG and be applied to an MMO. Like the concept of party. Although there usually is a main character in a s-p, they usually throw a few more controlable characters in the mix. 'What if you could control a whole bunch of characters and you went out like a mercenary bunch?' I said, jumping out the shower. 'The koreans did it,' was the answer I got. 'Ok but, what if you could, you know, start a business, like a gambling house! And then you could take your mercenary bunch and hunt down people who didn't pay!' Oh, I was on a roll! 'I did it,' he said. 'In Ultima Online. It was called Head Hunting. There was a player run gambling hall callled Salty Dog and they'd post bounties on people who didn't pay.' I then got lectured on how UO was the best game ever, with the possible exception of DAOC. 'If they revamped DAOC,' he went on to say, 'as in, gave it a complete makeover, that's what I'd be playing right now'.

As for me, I don't know. I never played either of those two games when they were hip, I can't see myself playing them now. Anyways, my idea with the mercenary bunch was along the lines of having characters you got to know and love/hate that didn't necessarily have to be other players. Lord knows there must've been many marriages concocted and ruined over MMOs and even in roleplaying servers it must be kind of awkward for, say, two straight men, one playing a girl char the other a boy char, to be all lovey-dovey to each other.

There once was this JRPG called Suikoden, the main focus of which was to gather 108 possible party members. Yes, that's right. You went around the world recruiting people to put in your castle to build your army. Each of them had a story (even if not a very deep one) as each of them was a "Star of Destiny". What if you could do something like that? And then you could pit your forces agains other people's recruits and friends and maybe even kill their love interest Oh, the drama. Nowadays, nothing in an MMO is lasting. No end-game redefines the game itself. And what's the point of getting to the end of the game if your efforts are worth jack shit? I wish we could change these worlds.

Or maybe not, I don't know. Sometimes I think I'm not very good at making things up. But the fact remains that I don't feel a connection with that guy that tells me to go kill five Goblins and then return to him with their trinkets. I feel, at best, annoyed. Get your own fucking trinkets. Why would anyone need creepy Goblin trinkets anyway? What sick dark rituals are you trying to make me an accomplice of?? Maybe I would know if I deigned to read the quests but I don't because I don't like you. I don't even know you. Why do I "grow as a person" (read gain experience) by collecting Goblin body parts and accessories for you? The more I think about it, the more all of this seems weird to me. I don't yet know what I really want from an MMO but what they are today is not it.

Friday, March 25, 2011

DAW: It still is, right?

Maybe it isn't but who gives a shit.

I just thought I'd take this opportunity, as so many other have, to show my apreciation (is that spelled right I wonder qithout caring too much) for a few developers that have changed my life.

First I thought I'd give a shout out to foley artists everywhere. But then I thought "nah, they're still getting paid." So I'll leave that for another day. I'll thank our dearly departed ones, instead. I don't mean they're dead, precisely (although I wouldn't know either way) just that, even if they still develop, they don't in the same way as I met them. So to speak.


From the bowels of Westwood came the Command & Conquer series and other precious gems like the PC game adaptation of Blade Runner. I loved that game. Eventually they became part of EA, much like almost everything else in the world. One day I'll get home and find out they bought us out too.


My admiration for Bullfrog is known. They were the creative minds behind Theme Hospital, Theme Park and Dungeon Keeper. One of its founders went on to create a little-known software house that goes by the name of Lionhead Studios. But my love for the frog that dared to bull lingers on and I miss its spirit dearly.


Surprisingly enough, Maxis was bought by EA a few years back. They were the makers of SimCity and The Sims. Simulating things was their... thing, to be sure. And they were very good at it. And I miss them. They're the only reason why I tolerate Electronic Arts. You are what you eat, right? So EA can't be that bad with Maxis in the belly.

Now excuse me while I go get drunk at game night.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Nostalgia and Death

Today is a good day. The sun shines. The temperature is mild. Birds chirp. Governments topple. (Go here if interested on saying his name right. Or mine. I'm yet to find an english native speaker that can say "Diogo" properly. Or "prateleira". They always make it sound like some kind of disease.)

Yesterday we were voted to be the new building administrators.

Yesterday, after much hard work on my part to make him like me, I still lost Carver forever. No matter what I do, Dragon Age, you really won't let me have any siblings. I left Bethany behind, she got recruited to the Circle. I take Carver along, I have to kill him. Honestly, I just wanted to build a relationship with these things.  (屮゚Д゚)屮 Y U NO LET ME?

And what's worse (or maybe exactly what the devs intended in the first place) the minute I understood what was about to happen I was hit with this sudden dread: how was I going to explain this to my in-game mother? She had begged me not to take him but I, being cock-sure about my ability to protect him and eager to spend more time with him and show him that our sibling rivalry was uncalled for, took him along. Luckily, she cried more than she blamed me. I kind of don't want to go back to my mansion though, I know how she'll look at me.

I was hit by a sudden wave of nostalgia and found myself listening to a loop about the story of a man who just wants to go back to the woman he loves. Can you guess what her name is?

I guess something good did come out of the '80s after all.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Game Nights

Warhammer: Chaos in the Old World
The Boss: It Was Not I

Usually, every Friday we have a game night at our house. This involves a board/videogame, enough cigarettes, something to drink and VH1.

We've developed quite the selection of things to play but, ultimately, it falls to Cat, my best friend and a rising star in the field of lawyering, as she's the most picky of the four. I don't care what we play, I never win. The boys will usually be too busy screwing each other over to pay us any attention and the both of us cheat her way to victory. Once in a while I'll say "can I check the rules" and everybody groans because I'll find something they missed. Good times are had by all.

We started out simple, when we first moved in together. Catan was our first big addiction. Mike even made his own out of notebook covers once. I wonder where that went... Eventually we started buying more and more board games. We're now at the point where we're at a loss as to where to store it all. From Risk to Zargos, we've got an abundance of boxes filled with little plastic pieces, all of which deserve a post and will probably get one in time.

Ultimately, our choice of what to play depends highly on how drunk we intend to get. Tipsy means we can go for some Chaos In The Old World or Arkham Horror (not to be confused with Arkham Asylum). If we intend to end the night under the table we'll probably go for Pictionary or, idealy, Rock Band. I can proud myself of having finished Rock Band (the first) on Expert difficulty mode. Singing, of course. I can only finish it in Hard when it comes to the guitar. We, as most players surely do, have a nemesis; several, in fact, but there's always a song we go back to, thinking enough time has passed that we are now somehow magically able to beat it. Deep Purple's Highway Star has, imho, the trickiest Expert guitar solo in the game. It's not the only one I can't do but it's the most frustrating one. Every once in a while I guird my loins and have at it again to no avail. I have a wonderful time until 0:45. Then I die and someone needs to rez me up.

Bur I digress. Lately we've succumbed to the lusty charms of Citadels, a card based game. The point of the game is simple: have eight districts before anyone else. The one with the most valuable districts when someone builds the eighth one wins. Along the turns you pick a different characer that gives you a certain right: either you earn more money or you "kill" another player or get to be the first to chose characters in the next round. It's more fun than it sounds.

We've been meaning to pick up Twilight Imperium again as well. We call it "the game to be finished the day after tomorrow" and that fact alone keeps us away from it. People with cats are wary of leaving small game pieces out for it to play with during the night. But the game is so worth it that I have to step on a few toes to get us to play it again. And the box is big enough for me to feel bad about never playing it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Dragon Age II: "I Told You I'd Break Your Heart"

Mike's currently on his 18 hour plane trip which means that, by tonight, I can stop relying on DA2 for my daily dose of romance and drama.

There might be a few spoilers ahead.

I started my first play-through with a Rogue femHawke (femShep just sounds better doesn't it). As a direct consequence I lost Carver early on and was stuck with Bethany. I felt no connection to this thing whatsoever so I indulged my in-game mother and let her keep it while I went on to explore the bowels of the Earth with my friends. Upon my return I learned that it was recruited into the Circle of Magi and I would never see it again. 'Oh... Is that so?' was my reaction. I could've been more concerned, what with reports of mages being killed left and right just for leaving the toilet seat up. I wasn't though.

In all recent Bioware games, not counting mmos I guess, a special emphasis has been put into the relationships you develop with your party members or companions. Their lives influence the game and the way you percieve them affects your decisions towards them and the plot. The pinnacle of these relationships are love interests. Love Interests (LIs) in Dragon Age 2 are along the lines of "see something you like, take it", meaning, either be you boy or girl, you can romance practically anything.

Varric, the dwarf that's actually telling the story, is an exception. I believe this is due to the fact that dwarves are really picky with their relationships, what with dwarf sex being kind of awkward and reproduction rates being subpar. The fact that he needed to become an impartial part in the telling of the story and needed to remain free to be interrogated by the Seeker can also have something to do with it.

One other exception is Sebastian, the DLC Prince. You can only get down and dirty with him if you're a girl. I wanted to, at first. But him going on and on about the Maker and how cool the old bat running the Chantry was kind of put me off the whole thing.

So I did the second best thing and went for Anders. Anders is an apostate (rogue) mage that has very strong beliefs about how the world works. He doesn't like anything. Yes, that's pretty much it. Anders doesn't like the Circle of Mages, doesn't like the Chantry, doesn't like the Templars, doesn't like the whorehouse. What does Anders like? You, if you lead him on a bit. And kittens. He's a bit too whiny for me, a bit reminiscent of Carth only to the tenth degree. But I went for it. The voice acting wasn't half bad and I wasn't getting anywhere romancing Fenris and his sexy Balthier voice. It's like every single thing I did made him more of a rival.

I'll give Anders one thing though: he was always honest. From the beginning he told me "don't do this. I'll end up breaking your heart." Just another bad boy, trying to be cool and warning off the girl to spare her from a dizzying swirl of emotions. Yeah, not quite.

Anders did break my heart. I loved the moment when he said "I love you" and I replied with "Would you like a sandwich?" That really got us closer. But then he turned into a homicidal terrorist. He sat down, looked at me and said "I told you I'd break your heart." How right you were, Anders. How right you were.

And I did feel a bit heart broken. I had invested my time into liking this fictional character, feathery coat and all. I had asked his pixels to merge with my pixels, I had given him a virtual drawer in my virtual mansion and after all of this he still... stayed true to his ideals and wouldn't change, even for me. I might not have liked it but it was powerful. I literally stood up and yelled "NO! ANDERS, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!" I think that's all the person who wrote him can wish for, isn't it? That what they did had such an impact on me, even though I was well aware it was just a game.

Speaking of writing Anders, I found out that you can change his background by your own choice of gender. Meaning, as a girl, Anders told me he had never even considered love because it was just one other thing that the Templars could use to control him. As a maleHawke, Anders is all like "nah, bitch, I've tamed the one-eyed snake years ago. You Jelly?"

This time around I'm going as a Mage maleHawke and I'm going to try and romance Fenris. Which is a bit contradictory as he hates mages and I am one. It must be noted that you can have a romance with an ally wether they like you or not. Shocking, isn't it? Either you're friends or rivals a romance is possible, or so I have gathered. They'll be like "oh we don't always agree but I can't get you out of my head" and "Maker, I hate every single thing you do and stand for but damn you HAWT!"

I still got a bit more to say about this game before I'm done but the woman by the whiteboard is eyeing me menacingly as it is.

Monday, March 21, 2011



Why so many sounds for the same four-letter combination? Makes us non-native speakers all confused in the head.

Friday, March 18, 2011


Yesterday I volunteered to represent this Techical Specialization Centre (loosely translated there) at a show of several similar schools and universities. Basically, what it was for was introducing people, old and young alike, to the opportunities the country has available for their betterment and pursuit of career. It got me wishing they'd done something similar 10 years ago and saved me a lot of grief.

So I get there and they hand me a white t-shirt with the school's logo on it. Logo might be an over-statement. It was a blotch of ink about the half the length of my pinky. 'Ok,' I thought, 'at least we'll have balloons.

View from our stall
We didn't have balloons. Well, we did but there were three of them and they were all icky with something. We had no pens, no paper roses, no nothing. Except plastic calendar cards. I made do.

Got to see the backstage of something

I put on my least frightening face and decided to make the least interesting booth the Calendar Booth. I soon realized many people were strolling past us and eyeing them calendars so I decided to use them as bait. At a certain point this circa 14 year old geek/nerd-ish boy passed by, on the rear of his circle of friends. He made the mistake of making eye contact. I beckoned him and he shyly approach. 'Take one,' I said. 'You know you want to.' You should've seen the look on his face.

Eventually we got to leave the stall to cruise around the pavillions. I must say, Portugal has a wide variety of choices to pursue other than colleges. I never knew. The college pavillion was desolate and depressing. There were few booths and fewer people in them. College people will always have fun however and whenever they can, especially if you leave them alone to their own devices with a sound system (meaning, fat guys dancing topless to speaker cheering). A small note about academic dress in Portugal. It's hot. That doublet-like thingy just gets me all flustered. Must convince Mike to wear his again.

Massages and men in leotards
But our pavillion had the people from clown school, from robot school, from lifeguard school, from the army, from the navy, from beauty school, fashion school, cooking school, you get the picture. We had cocktails and fruit kebabs; we wad mimes (shudder) and models; we had free massages and free waxings; we had people interviewing each other and we had robots; we had an Adidas booth where you could kick a ball and we had consoles with FPSs and PES. It was fun. And I had calendars.

There were also representatives from several radio stations and paper merchants. Two stages provided the setting for some interesting cultural displays. Apart from the occasional fashion show and contemporary dancing display, the radio stations cooked up a few dance-offs. Dancing in Portugal, as in every other country, can take a variety of forms. Having been a colonialist country until recently, we've always had a great influx of african immigrants, of which I am a direct consequence. This has inevitably led to a massive cultural influence from all things african, be it music, dance or food. You'll hear about mainstream international musicians talking of going back to their roots but none do so quite like ours (<- oh please do click). Not to say that I enjoy it - because I don't - but it's still true. So, to the sound of these african derived sounds they had a dance-off with one of the afore mentioned academically atired men and the sons of immigrants. 'Twas awesomely fun.

Most of my time was spent cruising the other booths trying to smooch off pens and organizers and, in the end, I was sad that it was over. It wasn't a task that anyone that knows me would guess I was comfortable with, what with me having to actually interact with people, but I quite enjoyed it. It was a change of pace. It reminded me that I'm still young and that there is life beyond boredom and videogames. And balloons.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

New Quest: Balloon Handout

First of all Disqus and my lack of coding skills clashed. Hm. I miss my computer geek. I'm sure he could've fixed it. Oh well.

Secondly, I'm on balloon handout duty today. I was recruited to work as a representative for this training facility and so the rest of my afternoon will be spent standing up among a sea of people looking bored and unfriendly. Also, I've been told that I'll have to inflate the balloons myself. And I can't steal any pens...

FIL: Feira Internacional de Lisboa
I'll be in there. Come visit.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dragon Age II: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

I got home the other day to find a brown package protruding obscenely from my mailbox. The mailman was kind enough to leave our pre-ordered copy of DA2 out for anyone to grab to save me from a trip to the nearest post-office. That was sweet of him. I grabbed, echoed a "yay" through the stairwell and rushed up the stairs.

"Oh look," I told the kitty "it's from the Queen! God bless Her." I'm from a republican country (in the sense that Republic is our government style, nothing to do with that whole republicans/democrats thing that I completely fail and refuse to understand) so anything that says "Royal" in it is instinctively associated with the good old bag o' bones. So, Royal Mail is mail ether from or to the Queen and since I know I'm not the Queen, I like to think that she knew I was anxiously looking forward to getting my hands on the game and made it her personal mission to cheer me up on this most desolate week.

At first I was a little taken aback by the differences from the first one, as usually happens with sequels. But then I wrapped my mind around the concept that, even though it is a sequel, it's a different game and the concept of different is not the same as. However, what was disturbing was how certain things were exactly like... Mass Effect. Yes, they were all made by the same people or at least the bulk of them were but, for example, the dialogue wheel was copied from ME2 and they completely ditched the more Baldurs Gate approach of dialogue line choosing. Which is understandable since Hawke (you) is completely voiced unlike the Warden in the first one.

After a while I kind of forgot this was a Dragon Age game and wondered where the space and the Turians and Joker had gone. What's more, in Dragon Age II you have an entire city where your party is camped about. It kind of reminds me of, shock horror, ME2, where you had everyone in different sections of the ship. This made a bit more sense, however. Though these people are your friends and can tell which one is the business end of a sword, which makes them useful in battle, they continue about their old lives of binge drinking, casual sexing and mansion squating instead of leaving everything behind to ride around the world with you with just a few breaks to contemplate their own impending demise while you clear out old armor from your inventory. It's not like you're saving the world or anything. I mean this. I am currently not saving the world. From what I can tell, at most, I'm helping ruin it.

One other thing has influenced my appraisal of the game. Having been struck by this sudden nostalgia about the 90s, I recently took it upon myself to watch all the 8 seasons of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer. I'd never done so before. I did this also because, according to some sources, many of the characters in Dragon Age were inspired by characters from the show. The same can be said about the ones in DA2, for better or for worse. Anders is a brooding Angel, Fenris is as charming as Spike (and for that matter so was Zevran), and Merrill is a rambler like Willow. This is not just my girly mind talking, this is fact. Ok, maybe in a few months when I've completely forgotten about the show I won't see it but now it's as clear as day.

But the game is good, I'll give it that. I missed Ferelden, sure (the continent/country where Origins takes place) and I miss the king I chose for it and all his little buddies. I miss going to camp and having all of the party laying about being stoic or cooking gray soup in what I thought was a convenient way for me to get all my interaction (read flirting) done with in one fell swoop. Swooping isn't always bad. Yet, these new concepts of killing Dragons - which, btw, is way easier to do now; level 20 and I've killed 2 already, - are kind of cool. I like the game, honestly. The worst thing about it, by far, are the loading screens. That and the fact that after 6+ hours of playing, my 360 started forgetting about a few tectures. First all of the flames turned to white rectangles. In an pre-industrial revolution age, this meant that every indoor space was crowded with them. Pretty soon it forgot to render the city's textures as well and the world was one big gray mess. So I decided to give it a rest.

Oh but I forgot to talk about the one step back, didn't I. The voice acting. No, no it's not bad. It just isn't... great. Marian Hawke, or FemHawke if you will, reminds me of Morrigan and I hated Morrigan with a fiery passion. Some other characters seem to be slurring a bit, taking their time to enunciate certain phrases in fear that I might not understand them. I miss Mr. Valentine and Mr. Green. Those guys know what they're doing.

An interesting moment was when I first heard Fenris. Something in my chest tightened and I thought 'I know this voice. I know it intimately. Dear God, I've been in love with this voice before!' I paused the game and I swear I stared at the screen for minutes before I remembered. That was Balthier I was hearing! That explained it. Some men are God's gift to women's ears. I'm partial to a good Vin Diesel myself but Gideon Emery (much like Raphael Sbarge) just does something to me, stirs up something primal (Mr. Hildreth isn't too shabby himself). It's as intoxicating as listening to Sammy L. swear.

I haven't played much of the game yet, just bailed on responsabilities for one day but I'm enjoying it, I look forward to playing more of it. In fact, I think I might just go do that right now, going to "cup my joining", "shank my Jori", "get my dwarf in the Deep Roads", that sort of thing.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Rift: Arrested Chicken

Do you not get it?
I might.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Last Remnant: Shake it Baby... Or Don't

This weekend, Dragon Age 2 not having arrived in the mail as expected and me still waiting for Rift to dazzle me into loving it (though how it is supposed to do that without me logging in is beyond me) I looked up at my shelf of 360/PS3/Wii(lol) games looking for something to get me through these lonely hours. I came across an RPG I had once purchased, tried but never finished.

I purchased The Last Remnant at exactly the same time I got Infinite Undiscovery (where do they come up with these names, seriously). I tried them both but Infinite Undiscovery finally took the cake. By cake read all my intention and devotion for a few weeks. Cake was tasty. But more on that some other time.

I tried The Last Remnant, whimpering "I'm playing it, I'm playing it" looking puppy-dog-eyed over my shoulder as Mike shot patronizing glances at me. I knew I shouldn't have bought them both and most surely not at the same time. I tried it but not for long, had some 10 hours of playtime that, for a J-RPG with 2 discs, proved to be quite insuficient to get far enough in the game to actually understand what was going on. I had barely unlocked the full menu.

I like how they do that, how they don't tell you all there is to do in the game but rather surprise you as you go along. I think part of it is to prevent you becoming terribly confused with all the menus and functions and possibly ruining your gaming experience by tweaking with things you do not yet understand. Learning curve and all that.

Yes. That is a sword.
It is also a Remnant.

The Last Remnant doesn't have a good story at least not to me and not so far. Main guy is this kid that has a sister and for some reason he's looking for her with what a single-child like me can only describe as a seemingly not very healthy eagerness and he stumbles onto a battlefield. On this battlefield which is some 500 metres away (screeewww the kings feet, metric ftw) he sees a woman. He can tell it's a woman because the indistinct figure in the horizon is wearing a skirt. He decides to dash down the cliff and into the battlefield as he shouts his sister's name. When he reaches her he realises he mistook a 30/40 something year old woman for his 15-ish year old sister. Shock. So they thrust you into a sure-win battle to get you a feel of how battles will proceed 30 hours of playtime later when you can finally use all the menus and then the commander decides to blow everything up so, yeah, everyone should gtfo and hide. You don't, of course, because you're just a kid, shaking the shoulders of an old soldier and crying about your sister. Long story short, soon you find yourself leading the blonde commander guy with the gargantuan gun and all his generals around the world as you try and find your sister.

Oh and tere are remnants which can be anything from boss monsters to treasure chests. These things are relics from a bygone era that must be bound to souls and if they are not hell is unleashed upon an unsuspecting world and... you get the picture. Oh and you also obviously have a pendant left by your sister that makes you very special in some way and everybody wants to help you and get to know you and make sweet love to you because of this.

Throw in some political wannabee-intrigue, an unending chase after the shallowest character in the game and a mysterious villain with a mysterious plot and you've got... this game.

I don't mean to say the game is bad. I don't mean to say the game is good. The game is entertaining enough, at least at times. The music is bareable, excluding the heavy ?rock? tunes they seasoned the battles with. The graphics are decent enough, but you wouldn't expect less from a Square game. The battle system is innovative; I, for one, had never experienced anything similar. But one thing about it completely turns me off.

I'm not sure this has anything to do with it but the game runs on Unreal Engine. Loading times are somewhat excessive but hey, I'm used to WAR's loading times so that I can handle. The battles, however, stutter along and the fps rate is horrid. Textures take a while to load but, again, used to WAR's texture issues. But that's not even the worse of it. What really makes me want to never pick this game up again is the way they walk.


See, the way that male humans (or Mitras as they call them, which, personally, I found hillarious because "mitra" can be used to refer to several different types of hat, the spiritual power of the pope or a really unsavoury character) move their abdominal muscles when they walk is simply... pathetic. More than pathetic, it's annoying, it's revolting, it pisses me off to no end. Like their bodies evolved so they were born with accordion bellies. sfrgasdadjGAAAAARGH!

After they sent me on a quest to find some poles in a VERY large desert and then activate them in a specific sequence and then chase ghost boy through the sand dunes and receive my reward of rock (which even the quest comissioner did not want) I decided to take yet another break of a few years from the game.

But Rift wasn't speaking to me. So I snuggled in bed with cookies, coke (the drinking kind), smokes and kitteh to watch girly shows. That made me feel a lot better.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

We All Have Dreams

When I was a kid, about 3rd grade, we went to see a play. It was a Pinnochio play. When we got back to school we were tasked in groups of three or four of writing a small essay on what he'd seen at the show.

Now, I don't remember why but I remember it happening. I picked up my pen, looked intently at the rest of the group and said "don't worry, guys. I got this." I'm sure it was quite less epic and awe inspiring and they almost surely did not just stare at me slack-jawed but instead hastened to find something to entertain themselves with.

I set about the task like a kid possessed. The words poured from my hand to the paper in that illegible script I call cursive handwriting. I'm pretty sure my hair was all over the place and the sweat trickled down the side of my face when I was finished. I handed the paper to our teacher and returned to my seat, a smile of absolute fulfilment and bliss slashing my face from ear to ear.

A few days later, after she had graded the essays, my mother went to the school for some reason or other and the teacher called her aside.

She explained about the play and the assignment. 'Your daughter,' and she pointed at me 'wrote it all herself. I have no definite proof but I know this. This is all her. And it's good.' I don't much remember what she said next other from the fact that I was labeled as very lazy, tardy and violent towards other kids (hey, I bet they were asking for it).

Maybe that influenced me but, from that day on, I've written. You ever seen a strange kid scribbling frantically on a piece of paper on the subway/bus, any piece of paper, in fact, from ATM tickets to napkins, writing so frantically that you think his hands might burst into flames at any minute? I was that kid once. But, then again, who wasn't?

I've created so many worlds, fell in love with so many fictional people. I've filled pages and pages with crappy ideas and some pretty good ones. Most of them were crap, granted. If all ideas were good the world would implode from its own awesomeness. Still, I never tried to be a writer for a living. I guess the media influenced this decision of mine. I always got the impression that being a writer wasn't a real job, that it wasn't a viable career choice, that being a published author was something that happened to you, not something you strived to be.

For that reason alone I've stumbled down the road of higher education, dabbling in linguistics, translation and, more recently, office skills. None of them were really my dream. I never woke up really wanting to go do those things, I never went to bed grinning about a job well done. It's more about doing what is expected of me, of doing something, anything, the responsability of being a productive member of...

You know what? It's ok. I mean, one can't complain if one has never done anything about it anyways. I've stomped my feet a few times, yelling "no, this is not what I want for me" but I've never did it to say "this is exactly what I want". I guess I was afraid; afraid of rejection, of not being as interesting or as amusing as I think I am. Like all (or most) level-headed people, I love myself. I'm as interesting as I think anyone could be and damn, I'm funny. In my own honest opinion.

I've just came to the realisation that there is no real conclusion to this train of thought. Am I seeking aproval? A pat on the back? At this point I'd settle for a "it's ok Sara, you can be a no-lifer. I don't mind" from the world. Oh, yes, we all have to find our path in life and it's not always easy and all that. I am lazy. Is there a job specifically designed for the lazy? I wants it. I'm phisically incapable of being anywhere on time. The stars align to make me late, I swear and everyone that has met me can testify to this. I'd love to have a routine that dragged me head first out of this intellectual stupor.

Or it could well be the case that I'm just depressed that Mike's on the other side of the globe and I'm left to clean up after the cat by myself for two weeks.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Rift: The Cleric in Me

When I first reluctantly purchased Rift I knew I'd be rolling a healer. I wasn't sure how similar healing in Rift and in WAR would be but, when having to decide between roles, I'm more comfortable as a hit point restorer than as a damage dealer. Which is not to say I completely suck at dealing damage but, when I do, I keep thinking about the ones dying around me that I could be helping instead. So I rolled a Cleric, the most obvious (but not exclusive) option for those of us with a mother-hen complex.

For my main role I went "Pure Healer" as I called it. My main soul (20 or so points spent at level 28) is Sentinel. It's focus is long cast instant heals which appealed to me after two years spent playing a Zealot. My secondary soul is Warden which focuses on instant cast heal-over-time abilities. The third slot I filled with the PvP soul  (Templar) but I haven't really studied it properly so I dared not spend many points in it.
Soulkilla: Found his farming spot
How I mainly operate is by deploying HoTs around and casting my AoE heal (2sec cast time) when battle starts and when AoE is dealt from the opposing side. This I do for 2 reasons: firstly, to restore hit points (la-dee-daa) and the second is because I finally specced it to reduce incoming damage by a certain percentage (I forget how much). This isn't a very interesting role, to be honest. I just stand there and apply health where needed. I have an ability to increase the next heal's effectiveness by 50% and another to reduce the next one's cast time to nothing. Oh and another to reduce a target's damage input (read how much damage is done to him/her/it) by some.. 40% was it? That's about it. Not terribly exciting even if enjoyable when you're in the mood.

So if you decrease it twice
do you end up increasing it instead?

Now my second role, the one I use mainly for PvE, has proven to be much more interesting. I went for Justicar as a main soul, Shaman and Druid for other small benefits. If you played WAR you might understand when I say that a Justicar plays a lot like a DoK/WP in that the damage you deal can be reverted back to health to your allies. There are many differences though. First off, I usually walk around with an increased armor, endurance and threat buff but I can switch to a decreased threat and increased healing output one if needed. Also, I recently acquired this one-target buff that increases all of my healing effects on another player by some 100% or more. I'm terrible with numbers really, I just know it's cool. Also, whenever you use a Justicar ability you gain a Conviction (if you remember to activate the buff) and with each Conviction you can cast healing spells for your party, yourself and your prefered "defensive target". And you can actually rarely run out of Conviction, unless you're being focus fired. Your cookie cutter isn't that expensive plus you get an ability to restore 10% of your mana for each of your melee swings and it has a manageable cooldown.
Healing as Justicar in optimal conditions
I'm quite stricken with it. It worked better than I expected in PvP as well, as seen above. I have some points in Druid for... actually I don't know what for; a few other points I invested in Shaman to increase my damage and critical ratings. It must be said that all your magical stats convert to melee stats when you're using these close combat Cleric souls. So you can keep investing in Wisdom and Spell Power to boost the effectiveness of whatever soul you desire.

Which is... pretty cool,  right? I thought so. It also keeps me from lugging around two sets of gear.

I'll probably expand more on these souls and my love for them when I start actually memorising their names and learning what they do exactly and for sure and was this even a sentence anymore because it's so long I can't tell what it is with any degree of certainty anymore.

I'm not the only one gagging for more Dragon Age

Phew... One problem I found though: I always end my playing sessions crafting in Sanctum. I arrive on my mighty Rhino-like mount with my purse filled with about 1plat every night. When I'm ready to log out im down to 20 silver. I need help finding a scam in AH to make easy money. PLS HALP!

Friday, March 11, 2011

You Should've Met Me In The '90s

Remember the '90s? I do. I had the best time in the '90s. They were my thing. It was a time of baggy clothes and ludicrously large shoelaces. Mike will tell you how he loved the '80s, how all the best music came from the time of pink spandex overalls and big frizzy hair. I'll say the exact same thing about the nineties. Because I heart them and I want them back.

As with all decades, the '90s can only be said to have oficially taken off circa 1994. It is a well known fact that the first few years of a decade actually belong to the one that preceded it. It's like an acclimation period, when people and trends interiorize that the calendar has changed and that some major change is, in fact, required for evolution to proceed.

Having been born in 1985, I remember most of the nineties. Just the other day we were surfing the youtubes for old favourites we used to watch as kids. Bear in mind that these things reached us with a slight delay, rights having to be purchased and some things needing to be dubbed.

I remembered spending hours in front of my second parent, my old Sony Black Trinitron, delighting at the sight of this magical shows from foreign lands. Some lands were even more foreign than I could ever imagine.
One of the shows that made an impact on me was Gargoyles. I can't believe how I'd forgotten that show existed. It was so emotionally charged. These creatures, these stone-made-flesh men had been betrayed but they still believed, they endured and, every day at dawn, after toiling anonymously for our safety, they would return to their perch on top of that tower. Everything about this was totally completely fucking epic! Shows like this shaped our generation, shaped what we play and watch and listen to. You can't deny that. Well, maybe you can and you could even have a point but hey, I liked it. 'Twas awesome.

Other awesome things included several anime I didn't even know was anime until I sat down and actually thought about it a few years back. I also remember the music. It defines a decade, doesn't it? What young people listen to.

I wasn't very picky when it came to music, I'll admit. I'd usually just endure what everyone else was listening to and I won't bore you with the musical torture I endured growing up. But I did grow to like Simon & Garfunkel and Cat Stevens a lot during this period. My mom was upgrading her vinyl (or as I saw a young hipster say the other day "a vinyl CD". I stared at him, slack-jawed in horror) collection and when she brought these new CDs home I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. And I liked it. A lot. Pair that with my obssession with videogame music, a mild taste for Nirvana and my unbeknonwst passion for Smashing Pumpkins and a Sara had been reborn. People will ask me what kind of music I like. I tend to cringe because I can honestly say I love Ryuichi Sakamoto or Madredeus but also adore The Strokes and some Placebo. I will dance David Fonseca on my way home or drum my fingers on my legs to Iwasaki Taku. I'm all over the place when it comes to music and I have my experiences in the '90s to thank for that.

Also, I couldn't dance but, let's face it: nobody could dance in the '90s. Nobody. Just check the first season of Buffy, you'll see what I mean.

I could go on forever. But I better not.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Biobreak Games

I wrote earlier how I'm not feeling the whole new "arcade" concept (nice try with that Game Room thing Microsoft; was an interesting idea but I'm not paying real money to spend in my friends' fake arcade). That's not to say I disregard the whole genre of the so-called "shallow" games. Quite the opposite.

I call them my guilty pleasures. Mike would come home to find me wrapped in a ball of cloth in the couch, a controller and a remote hidden somewhere under the layers, an overflowing ashtray on the arm of the couch. I would grin mischeviously at him and he'd ask "have you been sitting there all day playing that instead of going to school?" to which I would reply with a sound "YESH!" and proceeded to throw my head back, stomp my feet and laugh manically.

They were (and still are) my guilty pleasures. Hours of my life were shamefully spent on both handhelds, consoles and desktops on games with -3 story depth, -1 learning curve, +9 replayability. Some of those I promoted to legends among our group, us eventually taking weekends off just to finish them and play them together.

I played Lumines first on the PSP. I loved it so much I ended up buying it for the 360 as well. I played Lumines on the subway, I played Lumines at school. I played Lumines in bed, I played Lumines on a stool. Which reminds me: Mike likes to tell people that he once found me in the bathroom with a blanket over my knees and an ice cream bowl playing Lumines. I keep telling them the ice cream part is a lie. I'm not winning. I would play Lumines so often and for so long I'd have to pause the game to rub my eyes so I could see again. I would talk his ear off how there was this one stage that actually said "Ray Liotta" when you made a square and he'd roll his eyes at me disapprovingly. I conquered all the achievements for the 360 version in 2 hours.

I first discovered Puzzle Quest when my PSP's battery died and I turned to one of our DSs. I was immediately hooked. Here was an RPG game that took pity of me and my lack of combat skills. "Here, have Bejewelled instead!" I finished it three times and renegated all other games for around a month or so. Mike would point and laugh at me for my poor taste in RPGs. I glared at him with that specific glare that whispers:

I proceeded to prove him wrong. "Try it," I said simply. One of our friends had too and he had become a slave to the gems just as I had. Reluctantly he accepted and he ended up finishing the game too. Puzzle Quest has a pathetic excuse of a story (there is bad guy trying to rule world! You have sword and kill things with puzzles kthxbye) but who the hell gives a shit. You had a little citadel to upgrade, minigames (which were nothing but variants of the battle system) to unlock new spells, train mounts and forge items. You could even make a few choices that affected how the game played out. It was a great bathroom game. It still is.

Honeycomb Beat, Polarium, Soukoban 2

The first two we went through as a threesome (sounds kinkier than it actually was), using our combined intellect to get through the puzzle modes. Soukoban 2 was played in bed, when we'd exhausted cat videos on youtube and were up to date on fails. We were going through a revival of games I had been dumbfound as a young girl by one of those Super 108 in One cartridges for the Game Boy. There were, in all honesty, only about 20 games in that thing and even those who featured a saving feature didn'te because, well, the cartridge was full with the other 107 copies of games. It has close to 10 versions of Battle City (my mom was the real Battle City player. Man did she go at it...) the only difference between them being the name of the file and how many lives you started with.
There were a lot of those games we tried, including Heiankyo Alien, but Soukoban 2 was a lost gem. Man, did we have fun back then, just pushing boxes on top of dots. It doesn't take much to entertain us, us or anyone for that matter, if you're in the right mindset. If your mind's legs are spread right open, ready to be entertained. Which ours were.

Nowadays I just play Governor of Poker. Not as exciting as Lumines or Phoenix Wright, but its just enough to keep me entertained while not addictive enough that I'll take dessert with me.

And while I've definitely played enough Rift lately to have a level 28 Cleric and a level 15 Mage, I don't have much to say about it, or maybe not just yet. Or maybe I just don't have enough screenshots to make me feel comfortable about the subject.