A Mind Lost

Anything and everything.

Category Archives: Entertainment

Back to World of Warcraft

A while back my brother sent me a Scroll of Resurrection for World of Warcraft, which gives a week of free gameplay in an effort to lure back players.  I’ve had my account since February of ’05, a few months after launch, though I’ve taken intermittent breaks here and there.  My last, and longest, break began shortly after Cataclysm’s launch, around March of 2011.  Before cancelling, did I manage to get two of my characters to 85, and a few to 81/82.

I’ve never really had good luck with finding guilds.  I’m not a hopper, I try to stay fairly loyal.  But I’m also the kind of person who tries to help out whenever I can, and in the end I usually get crapped on.

During The Burning Crusade, when Karazhan was the raid to do, I watched as the guild I’d been in for a year and a half swelled with new members.  Gradually, these new members pushed me out of my raiding position, even those raids I had explicitly signed up for and was expecting to do.  Needless to say, it happened once too many times and I /gquit.  I found out a month later that three of the people who “got geared” via those Kara runs jumped ship to another guild as soon as their gear was good enough.

With Mists of Pandaria’s launch drawing ever closer, the pre-expansion lull is definitely noticeable.  While I’ll probably be one of the many people who line up outside the local Future Shop for the midnight launch with the intention of scoring a Collector’s Edition, I can’t really say that I’m all that excited.  My biggest complaint with WoW, and this has been true for the last four years, is that the “endgame” experience is lacking.  It’s a never ending cycle that goes like this:

1. Collect gear to do more difficult content.
2. Collect gear from difficult content.
3. Wait for new content, while doing increasingly less-difficult content.
4. Go to 2.

For me, there’s no longer much satisfaction in the endless gear upgrade circle.  I want more than just replacing blue items with purple items while waiting for the next expansion.  I want to continue to develop my character when the maximum level has been reached, rather than just changing his clothing!

EverQuest addressed this with its Alternate Advancement system.  Introduced with the Shadows of Luclin expansion, AA (as it was shortened to) allowed the player to allocate a portion of their earned experience to a separate leveling mechanic upon reaching level 51.  If I remember right, it required the same amount of experience to go from 50 to 51 to gain an AA “level”.  Gaining AA levels granted the character points that could be allocated to Generic, Archetypical and Class-specific abilities.

The basic bonuses one could assign AA points to included increasing base stats, protection stats, movement speed, and regeneration.  Archetypical AA abilities fell in to four categories: Fighter, Priest, Caster and Hybrid.  They included increasing damage done, reducing damage taken (avoidance and mitigation), spell effectiveness and a host of other abilities.  Finally, the Class-specific abilities included, as one might well guess, a variety of class-specific buffs such as improved dual-wielding hit chance, mass group buffing, transformations (into an elemental, for example), cooldown reductions, and far too many other abilities to mention.

This gave the player much more customization, and in my opinion was an amazing addition.  It also allowed a lot of differentiation between two characters of the same class.  Two tanking type characters could spend their AA points in different ways.  One could be a soak tank, with a larger HP pool, while the other might instead opt for a mitigation tank, reducing damage taken.

World of Warcraft, on the other hand, has given us a seven year and counting endless gear grind.  Really, they haven’t innovated very much at all.  The Glyph system, while a nice addition, doesn’t offer much in the way of variety.  For each class and spec combination, the number crunchers have long advised the players on which glyphs to use and which to avoid.

With the redesigned (or excised, if you prefer) talent system of MoP, World of Warcraft is losing the only real feeling of customization it had.  Sure, there has always been the cookie-cutter specs that one had to use if they wanted to remain competetive, but at least there was the illusion of choice.  And by max-level, there was usually a few talent points left that could be allocated where the player wanted after all the core requirements were met.

After playing the recently released Diablo III (and being sadly underwhelmed by the game as a whole), I can only say that I wish the D3 and MoP developers worked on different continents from one another, with no communications between them.  World of Warcraft is shaping up to be Diablo III, only on a different world and with a monthly subscription fee.

I continue to hope that Blizzard will add some sort of secondary leveling system that will allow players to customize their characters beyond just the “gotta get the new ilvl 9000 item from that raid” we’ve had for so long, but I shall not be holding my breath for it.  They continue to dumb the game down to appeal to more subscribers, and it seems like ample choices in character customization are #1 on the chopping block.

Oh, and then there’s the Transmogrification system.  Compared to Lord of the Rings: Online, Warcraft’s implementation is a joke.  In LotRO, one can opt to display a costume rather than their equipped gear, and it’s no more difficult to use than equipping the costume item to the appropriate slot and clicking a “Show This Outfit” button.  In true Blizzard fashion, the Transmog system is little more than another gold sink, where each wardrobe change requires spending in-game money to change the appearance of a worn item.  Disappointing, to say the least.  Every time a piece of gear is upgraded, the player must pull the piece they want their gear to look like out of the bank (or the other new gold sink, Void Storage), and again pay to apply the appearance transformation to the new item.

I really don’t know why I keep going back to WoW.  I have missed out on about 95% of the raiding content over the course of the game’s lifetime, have only made two lasting friends who no longer play very much anyway, and on the whole don’t find the game to be very compelling any more.  Sure, leveling characters is fun for me, and I do enjoy a lot of the quests and their dialog, and the story as a whole is interesting enough.  Yet once I reach the level cap, I just move on to the next character and plow through it all again.  Every expansion leaves me feeling less satisfied than the previous, and I know this feeling is going to reach critical mass eventually.

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Star Wars and The Old Republic

Lately I’ve been playing Bioware’s recently released “Star Wars: The Old Republic”, to the exclusion of everything else (except a few hours sunk in to Batman Arkham City).  The game (TOR) is pretty darned fun, and they’ve obviously put a considerable effort into telling an interesting story for each of the playable classes, as well as the non-class-specific questlines that everyone can complete.

As much as it’s a World of Warcraft “clone”, there’s a lot of good things that can be said about TOR.  In addition to the storyline, the graphics aren’t too shabby, although some textures are pretty muddy.  A high-res texture pack would have been a nice option.

The game mechanics are fairly straight-forward, as well.  Each class has a main and secondary stat important to it.  There’s no ambiguity over what’s better, and gear selection comes down to main stat and Endurance.  Companions are another nice feature.  Since I tend to run solo a lot (yes, obviating the whole idea of an MMOG, I know), being able to complete quests that would otherwise be impossible is a pleasant change from WoW’s “if you don’t have a group/friends you’re screwed” method.

The downs to the game are few.  I’ve experienced a handful of graphical glitches, all of them easily reproduced.  The user interface has no scaling or customization options, and sometimes behaves in ways that are counter-intuitive.  For example, most companion abilities can be disabled so the ally will not use them.  However, any time the companion is resummoned (for example, mounting and dismounting from a speeder bike) these abilities are mysteriously reactivated.

The lack of scaling is a small annoyance, as the UI takes up a significant amount of space.  Future updates are supposed to address this, but I won’t hold my breath.  I’ve waited for an overhaul to LoTRO’s UI for years; aside from some cosmetic changes, that hasn’t happened.

The bottom line when it comes to TOR, and the previous KoTOR games, is this is Star Wars done right! 

Speaking of doing it right, I just rewatched the original trilogy for the billionth time.  I’ve been a fan for long and long, I watched A New Hope on VHS over and over back in the day, and was just old enough to catch Return of the Jedi in the theatre back in the early 80’s.  I’m not a hardcore fan like some of the folks out there, but I’m a big enough fan that I know  most of the dialog from all three films by heart.

Watching the original trilogy, I am struck by just how well they have stood the test of time.  No digital effects, no fancy acrobatic lightsaber fights or overly dense space battles.  Just great characters, great acting, great action and the right amounts of romance and humour.  All these years later, I’m still astounded by how… great… the original movies are.

Which leaves me wondering how the hell George Lucas could so thoroughly butcher the franchise with the triple abomination that is the prequels!  They’re just such unbelievably terrible films with few redeeming qualities.  Flat characters, an utterly boring storyline, and many inconsistencies with the original films have rendered them practically unwatchable.

For an hilarious but 100% accurate review of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, I recommend any fan check out the Plinkett Star Wars reviews on RedLetterMedia.  You do need a sense of humour and a tolerance for profanity, but with bits like:

If you’re someone who’s under the age of like 20, who says his least favourite film in the series is the Empire Strikes Back because it was “the most boringest one”, then I suggest you shut this review off right now, before I carefully explain how much of a fucking idiot you are.

I’d intended to post a more thorough review of The Old Republic, but my Smuggler’s luring me back.  I’m still not sure if I’ll continue my subscription throughout the year, but for the storylines alone I’ll definitely be keeping it for a few more months at least.

DTP – Deconstruction & Ghost

I’ve now had a week and a half with the Devin Townsend Project’s “Deconstruction” and “Ghost” albums.  I’ve been a fan of Devin’s since I first heard his vocal work in 1994 on Steve Vai’s “Sex & Religion”.  While I’m a fan of guitar “wanking”, it was Dev’s singing that really stood out on that album.  I had no idea who he was at the time, and it wasn’t until 1999 that I heard him again when my (long since ex-) wife bought me a heavy metal magazine that included a CD with “All Hail the New Flesh” off of “No Sleep ‘Til Bedtime – Live in Australia”.  I didn’t put 2 + 2 together at the time, and it would be a few more years before I came across a couple Strapping Young Lad albums and it finally clicked that the vocal style was very similar to the singer I’d enjoyed so much on Vai’s album almost 10 years before.

As far as metal goes, SYL quickly tied with Megadeth as my favourite band (I’ve been a fan of theirs since 1992 when I was gifted a copy of “Rust in Peace”, and later “Countdown to Extinction”).  At the time the only metal band I was familiar with was Metallica, with  “… And Justice for All” being the last album of theirs that I enjoyed (everything after that, including the much lauded “Black” album was just crap).

But I digress.  I had downloaded (yes, tsk tsk shame on me) SYL’s “City”, and loved it so much I bought it.  Take that RIAA!  In fact I prefer being able to listen to an album before I decide to purchase it.  In the general case, it’s a group or musician I enjoy and will buy it anyway at the first opportunity.  Some of the stuff I enjoy is pretty out there, making legal acquisition of their works difficult, if not impossible.  In fact, on one occasion, the law has worked against my buying an album – Freekbass’s “The Air is Fresher Underground”.  I only wanted one track, “Minute to Forever”, but was willing to buy the album anyway.  Amazon refused to sell me a digital copy as I’m Canadian, and the Canuck Amazon doesn’t have an MP3 option.  While the CD was (and still is) listed as out of stock, a used copy was going to cost me $32!  I’m not paying that for a used CD, sorry.

Anyway, I digress again.  I do that a lot.

Fortunately, ordering Dev’s stuff has been a pretty painless experience.  When “Addicted” and “Ki” came out, I bought them in addition to “Ocean Machine Biomech”, “Accelerated Evolution”, “Ziltoid the Omniscient” and “Alien”.  More recently I also purchased his newest two (“Deconstruction” and “Ghost”) as well as “Synchestra” (the special edition of course, I wanted the DVD).  I also ordered, via e-Bay, an Ocean Machine Biomech long sleeve shirt.

I’m a little miffed because the CDs and the shirt were ordered through independent channels, and shipping was paid individually for both orders, but the items were all shipped together in one package.  The shipping on the shirt was the more expensive of the two, but it looks like the lesser of the two amounts ($13 for the CD’s) was what was actually paid to get the items to me.

Not that I mind too much.  While the cheap part of me balks at having had to pay an extra $20 or so, the money has gone to a musician (yes, I prefer to call him a musician rather than the more pretentious artist most of them call themselves these days) whose work I thoroughly enjoy.  Besides, I’ve still got a few digital copies of his albums I haven’t got around to purchasing yet.  It’s easier if I think of that 20 bucks as a rental fee for items as yet unbought.  Of course, we in Canada already pay a tax on media, supposedly to offset “illegal” copying of copyrighted works; the Private copying levy, which is bullshit in my opinion, but it does grant us one important privilege – “Some argue that CRIA wanted to limit the scope of the private copying levy, given that it legalizes copying for the private use of the person making the copy, possibly regardless of whether the source is non-infringing or not.”

Unfortunately, due to the way the funds collected by the PCL are distributed, Devin likely wouldn’t receive a cent of it.  The proceeds are distributed based on commercial radio airplay and sales samples.  Devin, in spite of his large fanbase, is a fringe musician.  I’ve never heard one of his songs on the radio, and would be surprised if anything he’s done has received any airplay at all.  Anyway, I don’t mind Dev getting that extra whopping 20 bucks at all in the end.  I just wish he’d be bothered to come out and perform in Toronto so I could see that bald bastard live.  C’MON DEV, MAKE IT HAPPEN YOU YELLOW TOOTHED, SAGGY FACED JOWL MAN!

Wow, I’ve blabbed this much and haven’t actually said anything about the albums this post is supposed to be about.

Ghost is the mellow album of the pair.  Lots of soft guitar work, a flute motif that runs throughout the entire album, and very subdued vocals (especially in Devin’s case).  It’s a pleasant listening experience from start to finish, the kind of album that one puts on and just floats along with it.  A few songs really caught my ear – “Fly”, “Feather”, “Ghost”, “Blackberry” and “Texada” are my favourites, but the songs all blend together so well that each track flows into the next.

Deconstruction is Strapping Young Lad on LSD with a bit of crack-cocaine thrown into the mix.  It starts soft, gets heavy quick, and doesn’t let up until the disc stops spinning.  Much as I enjoy Ghost, Deconstruction is my clear favourite of the pair.  Many of the riffs are just so awesome sounding, heavy Devy at his finest.  My fave tracks include “Juular”, “Planet of the Apes”, “The Mighty Masturbator”, and the title track “Deconstruction”.  The orchestral work, performed by Prague Philharmonic Orchestra is wonderful as well.

What began as a post about these two wonderful albums turned into a long blurb and two scant paragraphs actually about the albums.  How disappointing.  Really, beyond saying they’re great listening, I can’t really think of anything else.  So instead I’ll leave a pair of YouTube links to one song from each album.

First, a live recording of “Feather”, from Ghost.

And second,  “The Mighty Masturbator”, from Deconstruction.

Oh and one more, “Ocean Machines”, from Ass-Sordid Demos.  Love this track.

 

The Rapture and Malware

Supposedly today marks the End of Days for the world, with weeping and wailing and, presumably, much gnashing of teeth.

I’m not holding my breath. I seem to recall it being said somewhere in the Bible that no man would know the date of Christ’s return, although I could be mistaken.  I was raised Christian, and I’m now Agnostic with Christian tendencies (the good ones, not the bad like the pedophile clergy).

Aside from that, I had to spend a few hours fixing my son’s computer this morning.  Infected with malware and a rootkit, everything had been “hijacked”, rendering the system unusable.  Fake security and anti-virus warnings popped up at every turn, and every resulting link from a Google search was redirecting to a handful of harmful sites.

HijackThis showed nothing out of the ordinary, but MalwareBytes managed to locate and clean several items, including registry keys, task scheduler entries, and several binaries.  The programs were located in the temp subdirectory of the user profile, as well as in the Windows directory.  It had commandeered the .exe file association, as well, making it difficult to clean properly.

After running MWB, Firefox was still plagued with the hijacked search results. A bit of reading, and playing with many registry entries (as well as uninstalling Firefox, Java, Flash, and several other plugins) and I was left with the conclusion that there was a rootkit involved.  I downloaded Kaspersky’s tdsskiller, and sure enough it detected a variant of the rootkit.  One scan and reboot later and everything appeared to be working as it should.

Hopefully I managed to completely disinfect the computer, but one can never be sure that it’s entirely gone.  These things can be pretty tenacious.  I’m not even sure where my son picked it up from, but I believe it may have come from the software/driver CD that accompanied the Hip Street “Kids Camera” his grandmother got him for Christmas.  I cautioned her against it, recommending it be returned for a refund as Hip Street’s products are pretty flimsy and, to be honest, shitty.  I might give it a test in a virtual machine to see if that was the source.  The problems only started today, and my son installed the software yesterday.

I’ve a friend who has repeatedly stated his belief that hackers (the bad ones, not the good ones) and virus/malware/rootkit authors should be shot (literally), a punishment I believe to be too harsh by far.  Right now, though, I wouldn’t be adverse to knocking a few teeth loose.

Game of Thrones

So I’ve been watching the HBO adaptation of G. R. R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones”, and I have to say that, 3 episodes in I am really impressed!  I love the books, and started re-reading them a little while back (almost done with “A Feast for Crows”) in anticipation of “A Dance with Dragons” (two months to go!), and having a tv series to watch is just gravy on the ice cream cake that is A Song of Ice and Fire.

Although there are some deviations from the book, all-in-all it seems fairly accurate.  More importantly, the series retains the feel of the novels, at least for me.  Much can be forgiven when it “just feels right”.  The raised ages of just about all the more youthful characters is a bit irksome, but with the sex, nudity and profanity it was to be expected.

As far as casting goes, nothing is amiss thus far aside from a few small things.  Robert Baratheon’s not nearly fat enough, and Ser Ilyn Payne seems altogether too short from how I imagined him.  Jon Snow and Robb Stark look a little too old, as do Daenerys and Viserys.

The only other niggling detail is the Lannister twins.  Jaime and Cersei just aren’t quite twinnish enough, and while the actors portraying them are certainly handsome and beautiful, respectively, they least match the mental image I had of them.  I think it’s something wrong with their hair; where’s the golden curls?

Stealing the show, however, is my absolute favourite character of the series: Tyrion Lannister, the Imp.  While the actor portraying him, Peter Dinklage, isn’t nearly as deformed as I pictured Tyrion, he has thus far not disappointed me one bit.  In fact as I watch the show I look forward to his appearances with great anticipation.  I just love the character so much, and I doff my cap to Mr. Dinklage… dude’s just awesome, from the voice and accent to the body language, he has nailed Tyrion in a way that I didn’t think would be possible.  The Wikipedia page mentions several quotes of people suggesting he get an Emmy for this role, and I’d wholeheartedly agree if I didn’t think all the awards (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Dopey, Sleepy, and all the others) were little more than popularity contests.

The series has already been picked up for a second season, which is great news and brings me some small joy in the wake of Stargate: Universe‘s cancellation, and the upcoming ending of both Supernatural and Smallville.

It’s also pretty cool to see Sean Bean again.  I am not familiar with his work before and beyond The Lord of the Rings, but really did like his portrayal of Boromir.  And then there’s Jason Momoa, aka Ronon from Stargate: Atlantis, as Khal Drogo; he pulls of the stoic look perfectly for the character.  The makeup’s a bit much, though.  Makes him look like a nancy boy.

So Long, Sarah Jane

Read about this a few days back – Elisabeth Sladen passed away on April 19th at the age of 65.  I’m still a bit shocked, she was still so youngSarah Jane Smith was my most favourite companion of the original series, without a doubt, and her comeback in the revived series quite literally brought a tear to my eye.

She dearly will be missed.

Winning

Is Sheen a comedic genius or a whacked out cracker?

schmoyoho:

theparodyfactor1:

For the lulz.

There’s a ton of mash-ups and music “videos” on YouTube, but imho these two are the best by far.

R.I.P. Brigadier

I just found out that Nicholas Courtney, the beloved Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart of Doctor Who, passed away February 22nd at 81 years of age.

I’m late by nearly a month, but unfortunately I find the news these days to be so utterly disheartening and depressing that the only news outlet I pay any attention to with regularity is Slashdot (surprisingly they failed to make any mention of Courtney’s passing).

One of my favourite characters going all the way back to the Pertwee era (I missed most of Troughton’s (and Hartnell’s) run, and thanks to the BBC’s shortsightedness will probably never see most of them), his passing is a sad thing indeed for fans the world around.

A Who Fan

“You don’t score much poon, when you’re a fan of Doctor Who.”  I’m not quite the obsessed fan as the gent in this vid, but I have considered building a small scale TARDIS.

VH1 Doesn’t Know Shit

I recently caught VH1’s “All Time Top 10 Metal” on Much Music.  If this list is anything to go by, these guys know jack shit about metal.

  1. Metallica – Enter Sandman
  2. AC/DC – Back in Black
  3. Iron Maiden – Run to the Hills
  4. Black Sabbath – Paranoid
  5. Judas Priest – You’ve Got Another Thing Coming
  6. Ozzy Osbourne – Crazy Train
  7. Kiss – Rock and Roll All Night
  8. Dio – Rainbow in the Night
  9. Motley Crue – Dr Feelgood
  10. Poison – Talk Dirty To Me

Putting aside my dislike for most of these bands, I’m still left wondering how anyone could possibly have their head shoved so deep into their arses.  Poison?  Motley Crue?  AC/DC?  Fucking Kiss?!?!  I thought this was a list of METAL bands…here’s a tip: long hair, leather, metal spikes, and fake blood doesn’t make a band metal.  It’s the music that makes a band metal.  For as relevant as this list is, they may as well have the likes of the New Kids on the Block, Justin Bieber and Michael Buble on it.

Where’s Megadeth, Slayer, and Strapping Young Lad?  Holy Wars is a bajillion times better than Enter Sandman, which isn’t even Metallicrap’s best song.  Pick anything off the first two albums, it’s better (basically the stuff Mustaine contributed to).

A Top 10 Metal list where only half the names on the list are actually metal.