Author Archives: Carla Harker

I have a tumblr

I think I’ll be there for a while. There are cat gifs I haven’t yet seen.

http://www.tumblr.com/blog/phaedrajohnsonlives

 


Neverwinter Online

It’s been a while since I made a post. I could have talked about my short stint in Age of Wushu (wonderful game; needs better account security measures), or how awesome the Guild Wars 2 Living Story has been (still loving this game like you wouldn’t believe), or how amazing the TV show, Revenge, is. Instead I’m going to talk about my newest–and most surprising–addiction: Neverwinter.

Neverwinter is a new free-to-play MMO from Cryptic and Perfect World. It uses the D&D 4th Edition ruleset; it’s set in the Forgotten Realms city of Neverwinter (obviously); and it even has my non-MMO-playing friends playing it.

Combat is aim-based. Sort of. It’s more of a soft-lock targeting. You only have to be facing the general direction of the target. But it’s not tab-targeting, and if you turn in a different direction, you’ll attack a new target without having to tab off the first one. There’s also dodging and a limited hot bar, so you can spend more time watching the fights than your cooldown timers.

Crafting is done by “hiring resources.” Instead of you, the adventurer, standing at a crafting table and turning out chainmail, you’ll hire someone to do it for you. Crafting works on a timed system, anywhere from 5 seconds to hours. It can even be done through an Internet gateway, so you can keep up with it even when you’re not logged into the game.

There’s an auction house, mounts, five-man dungeons, NPC companions, instanced PvP, and the usual assortment of “kill 10 rats” style filler quests. But the game also has instanced quests that are reminiscent of D&D adventures. Inside you’ll find traps, treasures, lore, rooms full of monsters, secret doorways. Everything you expect from a D&D dungeon crawl.

And that brings us to the real heart of the game: the Foundry. The Foundry allows players to generate their own quests and campaigns. The system is easy to figure out with a simple tutorial, but it allows for some powerful storytelling. This is where the game will flourish. This is what will keep me coming back. As people get more familiar with the tools, the quests and campaigns in the Foundry will rival anything you’ve seen from the greatest single-player RPGs you’ve ever played. Even now, just a few weeks into release, there are already some terrific quests out there.

Unless you hate fantasy settings, hate D&D, or hate action combat, you should definitely give Neverwinter a try. It’s completely free; there are a ton of people playing; and the Foundry can keep you busy for ages.


Safe Space

This is the story of John.

When John goes out, he gets spat upon. Not every day, and not by every person, but in many of the stores he enters, someone will spit on him. Sometimes it’s only 10% of the customers. Sometimes it’s more. None of the other customers say anything. They may not spit, but they aren’t willing to say something to the ones who do.

For years he puts up with it because he doesn’t think he has a choice. That’s the way it’s always been; he just has to accept it. But then he starts to realize that the spitters themselves never get spat upon. Why does it have to happen to him?

So he starts speaking up about it. Sometimes he tells the customer he doesn’t appreciate being spat upon. Sometimes he tells the managers. It’s exhausting spending all his time confronting people, but sometimes they stop, and sometimes the manager kicks the spitter out. But more often than not, instead of getting people to stop, he hears the same things over and over:

“That’s the way it’s always been.”

“What’s the big deal? It’s just spit. It’s not like anyone’s hurting you.”

“I have a friend who doesn’t mind being spat upon, so it’s not really a problem.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t see any spitters.”

It’s disheartening, and he becomes nervous and uncomfortable any time he has to go out.

But then something happens. He started to find places that don’t allow spitters. Oh sure, the occasional spitter will walk in the door, but the manager is quick to show them the exit. The store makes it very clear they don’t tolerate spitters, and they have to go some place else. John starts spending more time at those stores, but the other stores have things he likes, so he keeps hoping they, too, will take an anti-spitter stance.

When it becomes clear the other stores will not, he knows it’s no longer worth going to them for the few things he likes. Sure, he can confront the spitters again and again and report them to the managers, but sometimes he just wants to go shopping without fear of being spat upon. After yet another person spits on him, he tells the manager of his favorite store why he will no longer return. The manager’s responds, “Why didn’t you tell me? I would’ve kicked the spitter out.”

The manager doesn’t get it. It isn’t that the one spitter chased him off; it’s that the manager doesn’t deem it worthy to discourage spitters to begin with. Why should John have to be responsible for keeping the store spit-free?

Saddened, John leaves, never to return. Sure, he’ll still fight the spitting when it happens, but he’s no longer willing to patron those places that don’t discourage spitters, and he now knows he has places he can go where he can feel safe.

——

[Update: I wanted to direct you to a post my friend, Mikey, made on the subject. Go read it; it's powerful stuff.]


The SimCity debacle — it’s your fault

I’m going to make this short and sweet:

If you bought SimCity knowing it had always-on DRM, you’re contributing to the continued decline of gaming and the erosion of your rights as a consumer.

You’re telling the publishers that you don’t mind them treating you like a criminal with a potentially unlimited wallet they can suck dry with DLC.

Consumer protection laws in the US don’t protect software purchases. Someone did the math and realized that at release, SimCity worked about 10% of the time. 10%. If your vacuum cleaner only turned on 1 out of every 10 times, would you deal with it, or would you return it and get one that worked? Well, software developers don’t have to let you do that. They can tell you to go fuck yourself. Dispute the charge on your credit card, and you risk having your entire account banned.

Software developers are in an unusual position of being able to treat their products as both products and services. You can’t share your games, even within your own household, because they claim you need one copy per computer, just as you would a physical product. And yet, they also want to act as if their games are services, subject to their whims regarding usage. If EA shuts down the SimCity servers, you can’t play the game any more (without hacks, at least, and that assumes EA doesn’t patch those out). If they only want to ship half a game and make you buy the other half via DLC, they can do that, too. Hell, they could leave off key elements, liking saving the game, or the UI, or the ending, and you can’t do a damn thing about it. No refunds, not even for a digital download.

There is only one way to fight it: VOTE WITH YOUR WALLET. Don’t buy games from companies that have anti-consumer DRM. Don’t let them treat you like a criminal. Make them make games that are fun, not just money-generators. That means:

Don’t preorder, especially if you haven’t tried a demo or seen gameplay footage, and especially if you don’t agree with the DRM.

Boycott companies that have always-online DRM for single-player games. Yes, the entire company. Ubisoft backed off their DRM because it was hurting their bottom line. I haven’t bought an Ubisoft game in years, and I know a lot of other people who haven’t done so, either. If they ever fix the DRM for Anno 2070, I’ll be glad to purchase it, but a three-activation limit and signing in through Uplay (despite already signing in to Steam) makes it still a no-purchase.

Don’t buy DLC before its released. Those Season Passes are becoming a popular way to pre-buy DLC, but you’re buying something without even knowing what you’re going to get. Wait until you actually know what you’re buying. Make them have to earn your money.

We can return to the days when AAA meant a truly fun game, not a console port with pretty graphics, loads of DLC, and not much else. We can make publishers stop treating their paying customers like criminals. But we can’t do this if people do nothing but bitch-and-buy. Because if you do that, don’t be surprised to find that someone keeps feeding you shit; you’ve proven you’re willing to eat it.


DC Universe Online

In my apparent quest to make it impossible to figure out what game I’m playing at any one time, right after I wrote my last blog post, I saw a livestream of DC Universe Online (DCUO) and decided to try it out. I’d played for a very brief (as in minutes) time when it was in beta, but I wasn’t impressed. The livestream made me reconsider. I’ve been playing nonstop since I installed it, and I’m enjoying every minute of it.

I made a cyborg supervillain with bow skills and acrobatic movement. That means I climb walls, do somersaults, vault long distances. There’s no falling damage. When you fall from a great height, you crash into a three-point landing that cracks the ground beneath you and then hop back up. Combat is exciting. There are combo attacks, people flying across the screen, flips, etc.

Most of the quests follow the basic kill [x] of something or collect [y], but they have a lot of style. Most have voiceovers, and the Joker, my mentor, is appropriately evil.

I’ve even done PvP and PUG dungeons, neither of which I normally have anything to do with. I also subscribed so I could get a hideout when I hit level 12, and I’ve been very slowly accumulating housing objects to fill it.

In some ways, DCUO is an action RPG single player game. The only time I’ve grouped with other players was in the dungeons. It offers a ton of things to do, from quests, PvP, and dungeons, to obstacle courses based on your movement style (super speed, acrobatics, or flight)  to crafting, which I still haven’t quite gotten the hang of, and collectibles that offer rewards when you complete them. Stats are separate from wardrobe, so you can have the exact look you want without having to sacrifice abilities, and the game offers tons of clothing options that are straight-up wardrobe-only.

This game probably won’t hold my interest for more than a month, but I’m enjoying the hell out of it at the moment. If you want to try out a game that simply remembers that games are supposed to be fun, I really recommend this. Who knows, maybe after I’m done with my villain, I’ll try out the good guys’ side.

And because I will never have a character with as cool a name in any game ever again, allow me to introduce my supervillain, Certifiably Insane.

Certifiably Insane


How does life get so busy?

No, really, how is it I can fill up every spare minute of my day and still feel like I’m running backward on a treadmill? I know I’m not alone in this. Hell, I don’t even have children, so I don’t have the added stress of also adding in kids’ schedules. I can’t even imagine.

Anyway, busy life has meant not quite as much game time lately. I still try to squeeze in some Guild Wars 2. My main is level 60 now. I’m slowly creeping up to 80. Maybe I’ll even get there before the first official expansion and requisite level cap increase.

I’ve also been keeping my eye on another NCSoft game, Wildstar. If you haven’t heard about it, I highly advise you to go to that link and watch all their videos. If you are or were a fan of World of Warcraft, you’ll recognize similarities in the art and humor. That’s because Carbine Studios was started by, among others, a bunch of former World of Warcraft developers.

Besides a little GW2, I’m also playing Two Worlds II with Joe on occasion. This game is not all that good. The AI often gets stuck. The UI varies between okay and laughably bad (the President could probably launch nuclear weapons with fewer button presses than is required to join a multiplayer game). The world graphics are fine, but the character graphics are fugly. I would not have liked the game if I’d paid full price for it, but since it was a Steam sale game and I probably only paid about $10, it’s acceptable.

I also reinstalled Mortal Online after discovering it went F2P. Or more accurately, it has a no-time-limit trial. Skill level limits, no housing, some limitations on thieving and the like, but overall, it’s a pretty good way to get into the game and have time to figure out if I want–and have the time–to subscribe. Mortal is the ultimate fantasy sandbox PvP game. Territory battles between guilds, player murderers, open world PvP, full loot. It’s my kind of game.

Guess that’s about it, unless you want to hear all about my dental quest to get a broken crown fixed.

Yeah, me neither.


New year, more games

So 2013, eh? Guess that’s okay. Lots of stuff going on lately. I finished my book and turned it over to my beta reader. I’m hopeful the plot is more cohesive now. I’ve been trying to squeeze what gaming time I can around holiday stuff. Yesterday was my birthday, so I took the whole day off and gamed. It was bliss.

So what’s worth your gaming dollars lately? Well, Steam is still having its wallet-breaking sales, and I’ve been grabbing a few things here and there. Not as much as last summer, but I’d grabbed so many games then it’s not even easy to find something I don’t already own. Other than that, I’ve been playing Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World.

GW2 just ended its Wintersday event, and it’s just as good as the Halloween event. These guys really know how to do a seasonal activities. Snowball fights, a five-man instance, several other unique instanced events, and another jumping puzzle, which I didn’t do, because I can’t do timed jumping puzzles very well. Oh well, maybe it’ll return for next year, and I can give it another go.

GW2 was in several top 10 sales lists this holiday season, despite still being nearly $60 to buy. I’m so happy to know the game seems to be doing well. I know I still get put into overflow servers every time I go into Lion’s Arch. That’s kind of crazy.

gw019

The Secret World recently went to a buy-to-play model, making subscriptions optional. I’d said before I would have bought the game had it been B2P, so I was happy to see it did, and I bought it right away. Not only can you find it for a good price (it’s currently $22.49 on Steam and Amazon), but sometimes you can catch it even cheaper than that). All current content is available for that price, but future content will be available as mission packs in the store. I don’t particularly care for content locks, but since you get a lot of initial content for the price and no limits on bags, bank slots, or the trading post, it works.

Oh, and the game is fun, too. I played in the closed beta and thought it was pretty good, but not good enough to justify the price (full box price + subscription + cash shop). Now though, it’s quite worth it. The investigation missions are real brain-stumpers and are easily the best part of the game. Not all missions are top-notch, unfortunately. There are still too many “kill 10 rats” style quests. The crafting system is rather weird and could really use some refinements for ease-of-use. Combat is fun once you’ve gained plenty of skills so you can mix-and-match to make multiple builds but at first it’s rather dull. I do like that they provide “starter decks,” which are example builds you can follow. If you get all the skills, you can also collect the specialized outfit that goes along with the build.

Overall, if you like MMOs, want a setting that’s different from the usual fantasy/steampunk fantasy, and enjoy solving puzzles, there’s no reason not to get The Secret World. You’ll find hours of entertainment for one low price.


Nothing to say and saying it anyway

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

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

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

Guess that’s it for now.


Quick update and some brief movie reviews

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

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

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

Looper

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

ARGO

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

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

Seven Pyschopaths

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


“Weekly” blogging update

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

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

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

Photobucket

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

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

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


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 487 other followers