So This Is Christmas. . .

… and what have you done?

When I was a child, Christmas was just like this ultra fun super party time of year. School let out, the holiday TV specials would crank up, and the excitement would just build and build until Christmas Eve causing me to have a rough time getting to sleep, and then Christmas morning the bubble would burst and it was just awesome. Of course, these days I’m not in school and work doesn’t really “let out”, although one day I vow to run my own company that closes up shop before Thanksgiving and returns after New Year’s. Also, very few shows do a Christmas episode, and with all the money grubbing companies exercising their rights on their properties, most Christmas movies and specials only air once (I’ve written before about my disappointment that “It’s a Wonderful Life” only airs once a season now, instead of eleventy-billion times like when I was growing up). And with political retardedness… I mean, correctness at an all-time high, its getting to be where “Christmas” is a bad word and everyone is wishing everyone else a non-descript “Holiday” for fear of offending someone. What ever happened to wishing someone what YOU celebrate and if they celebrate something else they wish that back to you? Why must I change my well wishing based on the target?

Lastly, Christmas morning just isn’t the same old Christmas morning anymore… First of all, my family doesn’t all live under the same roof anymore, which is to be expected as people grow up, but we don’t even take vacation and move in together for a few days like in the movies. Second, since Jodi works Christmas day (5 am to 11 am) we won’t be congregating at the house until around 1 pm… Christmas Afternoon just doesn’t have the magic that Christmas Morning does. Third, well, everything is a little less special this time of year without my mom.

But I think what really does it for me, what really does in the Christmas spirit, is that Christmas morning means that the year is drawing to a close, and I start thinking about all the things I meant to do, wanted to do, and didn’t do throughout the year… So, in an attempt to get out of that funk, I’m going to list all the crap that I DID do this year, and how cool it is.

1. This year, for the first time since 2000, I worked full time the entire year, and therefore my salary will actually be “roughly my hourly rate times 2000” like I always pretend it is.

2. Thanks in part to working full time all year, and a bit of decent money management, I’ve gotten my monsterous pile of debt under control and by this time next year I might even be saying that my debt is all gone.

3. I went to a writer’s workshop and learned definatively that I am not alone. Struggling writers are everywhere. I feel better about it, and as a result I’ve actually written more.

4. I started reading books for fun again. Switching to public transportation this year has been the best kick in the pants for my flagging reading habit, and I’ve read fifty books… that is more than one a week (didn’t start until about April), and that is awesome.

I’m sure there is alot more stuff, but that’s enough for me as I’m already in a much happier mood. So, in closing I’d just like to say…

Merry Christmas!

Harry Potter

One thing I do that has remained a constant practice in my life has been to avoid situations where I am guaranteed my expectations have exceeded reality. Mostly this comes in with movies and books. Should I happen to not see a movie just as it comes out, or read a book within a couple months of release, and that thing takes off with reports of it being “The best ever!” there is a narrow window of opportunity to see or read it before I’m forced to put it off until the hype blows over. The reason for this is simple… people talk it up so much that it can’t possibly stand up to it.

Harry Potter is one of those things. People were telling me for years that they were simply the best books ever written, utterly fantastic, it would blow me away. So, I didn’t read them. There was so much build up, that I knew it couldn’t possibly be as good as the hype. And it wasn’t. I finally started reading the Harry Potter books a couple months ago. I’ve been reading one of them, then another book or two, then the next Potter book, and so on. I’m almost finished with ‘Goblet of Fire’ now, that’s why I’m writing. The first book… ehh… it was good, no doubt, and for young readers its an excellent book for interesting non-readers. Its short, its light, full of fluff and fun, and to any person over the age of about 18 or so, completely and utterly transparent. The plot, while not bad, was predictable. Yeah, I’d seen the movies, but that didn’t matter, even the things left out of the movie I saw coming. It was not a complicated book. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing, as I said… good for young readers or new readers, bad for anyone who has heard all the hype.

The second book was better. Still a bit predictable, and more fluff than substance, but it was a fun read that I enjoyed. However, still far from being ‘the best ever’.

The third book, moreso… the story growing up as the boy does, becoming more complicated and involved, relationships becoming less simplistic, and overall a much better book.

As I move through the fourth book, I can see it continuing to grow. The story is more complex, more textured, the characters breathe on the page and display more traits like those you find in our own world, and its beginning to lose its predictability.

I look forward to the fifth book. And the sixth, the seventh, and more, if she decides to continue on.

Now that the books are out of the way… lets talk about the fans. I’m reading the UK versions of the books. One, because those are the ones my fiancee owns. And two, because reading the book with the authentic English (or Brittish) vernacular just appeals to me more than having them all sound like a bunch of Americans despite the fact that they are in England. As such, the books I read have covers that most of the people I pass on the street have never seen. Constantly, I am berated by people yelling at me or even grabbing me or my book forcibly, demanding to know how I got ahold of the as of yet unreleased sixth book. Once I explain to them that its an old book, most of them just stomp away, not even apologizing for my sprained wrist or nearly tackling me. Few ask why the book is different, and to those that do, when I try to explain that its the original UK versions, their eyes glaze over like I’ve just tried to explain in depth quantum mechanical theory to them, and they stumble away, dumbfounded by the knowledge that Brittish English and American English aren’t the same, and that people actually write in languages other than American English. Only one person so far has actually carried on a conversation of intelligence and cared about the differences in the books (simple things like that people in the UK call a ‘flashlight’ a ‘torch’ and so on).

I’ve met numerous people who are going to go out Friday night and stay up at book release parties until 12:01am Saturday to buy their copy of the book. Because, obviously, the books bought at that time will be better than the ones the store will be selling all day the next day, at reasonable hours, like after the sun comes up, or even after a lazy brunch.

As it is, my fiancee, a huge Potter fan, but not an insane Potter fan, is actually going to wait until sometime the following week to read it. Her UK copy is being shipped overseas, and while most who order through Amazon will get their books on Saturday if they specified the next day shipping, next day from England means Monday or Tuesday.

Anyway, back to work, or something… Harry and Cedric have just… nah, not going to tell you. Read it yourself. I do recommend the Potter books… but I do not recommend becoming a Potter fanatic.

A Return to the Trenches

Long ago, before the dawn of Everquest, in Quakeworld, in a land of two forts, a soldier stood. Logan5. His rockets fired true, his grenades landed squarely, his shotgun shells littered the ground, and his enemies laid dying at his feet. First of the proud Disciples of Syrinx, later of nobody’s heroes, and finally fading away to nothing…

Three nights ago, he returned.

I bought a video card a while back, and in the box was a coupon for a free copy of Half-Life 2. The coupon shuffled in with the other papers on the computer desk, and was almost lost. The release delays of HL2 seemed endless, but finally the game is here… and… Wow.

When I first played the original Half-Life, I’d been gaming for years. I’d battled my way through Doom 1 and 2, Quake 1 and 2, and dozens of other first person shooters. They all had one thing in common… sucky AI. In every game, you could exploit the AI flaws to trivialize the game. All the monsters reacted in certain ways, and you could predict their movement to the point of boredom. That’s why on-line play, the Quakeworld servers, were such a wonderful draw. It was on those servers that I found what would be the longest running game of my life (yes, it even beats EQ, which lasted 5 years)… Team Fortress for Quake.

Playing through the early versions, I saw John, Robin and Ian’s vision of the game develop. And when it solidified, it was awesome. The maps they made, and the ones players made, lead to a level of clan and tournament play that simple deathmatch just never got me excited enough for. I’d come home from work and play TF for hours, hopping server to server, hanging out with teammates and rivals. And in a game that ultimately lacked ‘tangible’ goals, any animosity was fleeting, friends were friends, enemies were friends, and for 30 minutes at a time, from map to map, the adreneline flowed.

When Team Fortress Software was purchased by Valve, I knew I needed to keep an eye on them. And when I met Robin and some of the Valve guys at E3 and they showed me Half-Life and the Team Fortress Classic mod for it, I was hooked. I bought the game when it came out, and something odd happened… I played the single player game, and I sucked… or rather, the AI didn’t. Soldiers flanked, drew fire, fled and laid traps. The tried and true methods of getting monsters stuck on corners or behind halfwalls didn’t work any more. Even Deathmatch for HL was fun and not like the rocketfest that Quake DM was.

TFC came out, and I played it for a while. But as much as I loved HL and TFC, I stopped playing after a while… EQ had come into my life, and that was it.

Now, EQ is done. I don’t think I will, ever again, play a game that requires that level of investment, or requires you to play a certain way to avoid that investment (when only some classes can solo, you have to play them to avoid getting stuck looking for a group). I play City of Heroes, and I love it… its very low key, I can solo as any character, groups are fun and easy to find, and while it does take some planning and game knowledge to pick powers and place slots, there is no gear hunting to keep up with the Joneses and the ever expanding difficulty of the game. I also play Eve Online, which is another low key game… I train my skills while I’m offline, and I hop on now and then to fly missions or kill pirates. I’m looking into World of Warcraft… still not totally sold on it, but my time in beta did show me that it could be played solo or duo without much difficulty, and that my game could remain fun even if I didn’t “raid” the “high end”, it holds promise for the low key gamer.

When I redeemed my coupon online for Half-Life 2, it came with a bundle… HL, TFC, Day of Defeat, Counter Strike, Counter Strike: Source (CS using the new HL2 game engine), and more. So after I loaded up HL2 and was blown away by the graphics and how well they ran on my years old PC (Doom3 runs like shit, and this game looks better than Doom3), I loaded up TFC and hopped on a server… It took about 15 minutes before my fingers were finding the right keys again, before I stopped kicking my own ass in sacrifice and started putting some of my foes in the dirt, but then it all came flooding back… The reason I loved TF, and it wasn’t just the classes and team fighting, it was that a game was 30 minutes or so… you jump on a server, dive in, play, then when the map recycles you can leave and no one says anything bad about you… the map was done.

Logan5 is back, sort of… turns out while I’ve been gone from the FPS world, someone has been using the name, so I’ll use something else… I’ll think up something while I play the original Half-Life through again.

How to Truly Listen

If you know City of Heroes, and you frequent the message boards, you might be familiar with the battle cry, “Repeal the Purple Patch!” and you might even know what they are referring to…

First off, what is the Purple Patch?

When City of Heroes first opened, it was possible for a player to fight and defeat a foe that was 8 to 10 levels higher than he was. These battles were usually fierce and hard fought, but with the way experience was given turned out to be well worth the effort. See, exp in CoH is done on a scale.. a mob is worth X exp, and then a bonus or subtraction is made based on other factors. The major factor is your level. If you are the same level as the mob, you get X. If you are higher level, you get less than X, and the scale works quickly down so that once you are 4 or 5 levels over it (and the mob is easy to defeat) you get nothing. On the other end, there is no limit… if the mob is 10 levels higher than you and you do 100% of the damage to defeat it, you wind up getting something crazy like 4 or 5 times the exp, so a mob worth 50 exp becomes worth 200-250 exp to a lower level. The issue is, the game is largely balanced around you fighting mobs your level. So, at level 10, you might get 20 exp for defeating a level 10 mob, which is 2% of your exp for level. 50 level 10 mobs, and you level. If, however, you can fight a mob and get 200 exp, then you only need to defeat 5 of them. Problem is, they didn’t expect people to be able to defeat a mob 10 levels above them, and didn’t expect people to level quite so quickly.

As a result, the Purple Patch came into play. What they did was once a mob goes purple (4 levels above you), your chance to hit begins to decline very steeply… VERY steeply. So steep that once a mob is 8 levels above you, realistically you have 0 chance to win the fight because you will be simply unable to do more damage than he will be able to regenerate due to missing. (Originally, it was harsher than this even, the decline started sooner and a mob 5 levels above you was impossible, but they eased up, so the original patch is not important anymore, only the existing situation).

The effect this had on players, was that now that they were relegated to fighting mobs 4 levels above and lower, the exp rewards were not as ludacris as they had been. Leading to the inevitable “they nerfed all the fun out of the game” cries because people couldn’t earn mad exp while fighting impossible odds. To a degree, the players ARE correct. However, as often is the case, they are single minded.

This can be tied in with my MMORPG Project (link over on the right)… See, the players are focused on “repeal the purple patch”, but what they don’t realize is that the purple patch isn’t the issue… its that the mobs they “should” be fighting (according to the developers) are too easy and not rewarding enough. Would they still be asking for the repeal if the fights with orange (level +2) and red (level +3) mobs were more harrowing and yielded a better reward?

I don’t think they would. And this is where the developers should focus. They were right with the purple patch… players should be fighting things 8 and 10 levels above them… but players should regularly seek challenge, even level to red con, and they should find it fun and rewarding.

The devs are on the right track… now its just a wait and see to see if they follow through.


Yesterday I got back from 4 days at Dragon*Con.

If you don’t know what it is, go here. Short version, its a convension for Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Comics, Horror… Books, Film, Games, etc… Everything.

I had fun as usual. I managed to go through a few panels and seminar things on gaming, writing, publishing, short films, and more… Plus I got to see tons of people in various costumes, and meet people from all over who have some of the same interests that I do.

We snapped a few pictures and those are up in the Pictorials section. Not alot, but.. well, check it out and see the reason.

Next year I’ll be more prepared.

And then…

Its a typical pattern, I find something cool in EQ, and then I’m reminded about all the stupid stuff.

Xegony was a fun, great fight… Lord Mithaniel Marr was just stupid. The hardest part was getting him into the corner… then with the tank standing the corner, LMM in front/on top of him, the rest of the raid stood at maximum melee range behind him and basically went AFK for the fight.

*sigh* I guess all wins can’t be glorious.

And sometimes they do it right.

The Weekend before Halloween, Verant make a change on the servers for what they called “Adventure Weekend”. They sped up the spawn times for the large contested monsters in the game. The dragons, Venril Sathir and others. Lots of guilds got to do alot of the high end game.

“But what about the little guys?” you ask.

Well, they also patched the server on Halloween morning to introduce a bunch of scripted events. In several zones werewolves and undead roamed where they previously hadn’t. And these monsters dropped very nice equipment. A few pieces were even good by the high end gamers’ standards, but most were aimed at people around levels 10 to 40. Each of these zones had a story, and completing the story ended the event… but… it would start over again in 2 hours to give more people a chance to participate.

This is exactly what Verant needs to do more often. Not always dropping loot and other things, but to have a zone be unpredictable. The spawns more random. Get the players involved. Like having 2 quests in a zone, if the good guys win evil is vanquished, if the bad guys win good is sent heading for the hills. These events, when followed and not farmed, were engaging, interesting, and fun.

Now, on to my next comment…

Those were scripted events. Today however, I ran into what is usually referred to as “a_GM_event00”. Usually these events are nothing but people getting killed and crappy loot.

(in character)
I head to Karnor’s Castle for some hunting. We build a group and get ready. Kill a few things and I run in deep to pull something out to play. As I round the staircase in the Left Courtyard toward the Well, I see “Sentry of Sathir”. “Cool”, I think to myself. I’ll pull him out and have some fun. Then a dwarf flies by. His name is “Knight of Brell” and he says only one word: “RUN!”

I round the corner and I see him.. Venril Sathir. Immediately I take the dwarf’s advice and run. At the front of the Castle now I see them all coming: Venril Sathir, Knight of Sathir, Sentry of Sathir, and Drolvarg Captain. They charge us and we brace for it.

Things did not go well. We were beaten out of the zone. We collected ourselves and then once more into the breach. We stand longer this time, and a few of us fall in combat. Our clerics revive us and we rejoin the fray.

The word has gone out, and the army gathers. The Drolvarg Captain falls. I begin shouting orders and the adventurers begin to listen. The Sentry of Sathir falls. Collected more fully know we charge. The Knight of Sathir falls.

And we fail. Venril Sathir lays the Knight of Brell to rest.

Now enraged we charge at last Venril Sathir himself. I call out to rally the forces assembled. We battle. Each of us tired, weary, but we continue. And finally, Venril Sathir falls.

We collect the spoils of our fight: Cleric Greeves, Magician Staff, Wizard Staff. I allot the loot to those who helped.

From deep within the bowels of Karnor’s Castle, a voice echoes, “I will return!” Venril Sathir is far from done with Norrath.
(end in character)

See.. now THAT was fun. I wish more people could see the game like this. And I hope that Verant does things like this more often.

There`s nothing like a good scare to get the blood pumping.

It’s October. This means two things: Oktoberfest and Halloween.

Since I haven’t made the jaunt up to Helen, GA for the beer sloshing fun of Oktoberfest yet, that means I’m talking about Halloween.

Last night, some friends and I made the trip out to Tom Savini’s Nightmare Haunted House and Crypt of Terror. Both of these places are well done within the constraints of the law.

Yep, as the woman outside will inform you, “The monsters inside WILL jump out at you, but they WILL NOT touch you.” And with that in mind, there was really nothing left to be scared about.

For me anyway… For one of our group, everything was scary. She must have screamed or skittered away from every shadow and ghoul from entrance to exit.

In any event, haunted houses are cool. Even though you know you can’t be touched since the owners fear lawsuits more than they fear the undead (lawyers are much more frightening than flesh eating zombies anyway), a well done haunted house will use suspense to build up your expectations of a man leaping out from the next corner… then NOT having him leap out and putting him at the turn after that. You know, the one right after you relaxed… Good stuff.

So, if you happen to be in the Atlanta, GA area and want to spend an hour or so and $22, go visit these two places. It was worth my hard earned dollar.