Friday, October 31, 2008

Bark: One last thing...

If you were tempted to see Burn After Reading, the latest film by the Coens, don't bother. It's shite. Easily their worst film, and yes, I've seen Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers.

The film only has one moment of any real note, and that's where George Clooney caps Brad Pitt in the forehead from point blank range. Other than that, it's beyond lame. Go see the new Bond instead.

Bark: The calm before the... more calm.

I am going to apologise in advance: things are probably going to get awfully quiet around here for the next 30 days, because as of midnight tonight, I will officially be writing my book for NaNoWriMo, so I won't really have much time to waste wordage here.

So please bear with me for a little while, should things fall silent or descend into shameless link-blogging for the next month. Normal service (that is, me blithering on incoherently about World of Warcraft) shall be resumed shortly.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Byte: Finally something to commend

Now that my "free"* month with Warhammer Online has expired, I think I finally found something nice to say about it. The uninstaller's fantastic. 16GB dumped straight off the hard drive in three seconds flat. Nice work.

*it's not "free", you pay the first month's subscription as part of buying the game. I do wish people would stop referring it as being the "free" month. It vexes me.

Byte: Easy mode on

Well. Respeccing to Beast Master was one of the best decisions I've made in WoW recently. Yonn has zipped up from level 64 to level 66 in two evenings play (that's nearly ONE MILLION experience points, context-fans!). I can take down Elites my level with impunity and even if a quest says that 2 players are recommended, I can still solo it with ease. Yonn might just make it to 70 in the next fortnight if we keep on going like this. I can barely process the possibility that I might get two characters up to level 70. Just getting one character up to 70 is achievement enough, if only for the sheer amount of time invested, but two? That's getting pretty serious.

I've got nearly ten days logged on Yonn right now, with four levels to go (averaging 4-6 hours, rested, so probably another day's play to 70), though that's nothing compared to Sharéth - I have over 33 days logged on with her, but "only" 10 of those are at level 70, so you can see the massive difference between levelling time for a first and second character. And also how they sped up the levelling time from 1-60 a few patches back, but I digress. A lot of the time saved is simply knowing where you have to go and what to kill to finish the quests. So I reckon, NaNoWriMo notwithstanding, that I should have Yonn up to level 70 before Lich King comes out. Though probably not long before it comes out, which means that I'm not going to have much time to take advantage of quest rewards being money instead of experience at the level cap, so getting Yonn his flappy mount might take a wee while. I suppose it depends how quickly they throw money at you in Northrend.

Which leaves me with a bit of a quandary, really. If I do get Yonn up to 70 in time for Lich King, which character am I going to take to Northrend first? Sharéth is technically my main character, but Yonn has the crappier gear, so he will benefit the most from the first couple of levels in Northrend, in terms of equipment. I guess I'll burn that bridge when I get to it...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Byte: I am the Beast Master!

None of my other characters even got a look-in last night. I was too busy playing with Yonn and his Devilsaur. I haven't gotten around to naming him yet, since I'm struggling to come up with an appropriate name. Damien or (Dan) Quayle are the obvious choices (recall that Bill Hicks always used to say that Dan Quayle was the Devil), but I'm reluctant to use them, because Damien is a) a bit too obvious and b) the name of my lady's Dad, so that might not go down too well, and Quayle... I wouldn't want people to think I was a Republican, since the irony might not be immediately apparent to some people. I could name him after *my* Dad, since that would be appropriate for a big, lumbering dinosaur, and having a Devilsaur called Brian would just be too funny. I don't get the players who call their Hunter pets Killaraptorx or something similarly stupid. I'd go for something utterly banal, incongruous or ironic every time. It's like calling a tortoise Fluffy - the cognitive dissonance makes it interesting.

Anyway, I levelled my net from 59 to 62 during the course of the evening and put on three-quarters of a level on Yonn (64-65) in the space of a few hours, which I thought was pretty impressive. It's the pet that does most of the DPS now, rather than the super-duper damage shots you get with the Marksmanship spec, so you burn through a lot more ammo as a Beast Master, but there are certain advantages. If you stick on Aspect of the Viper, you recover mana as you fight, meaning that as long as you use Mend Pet to top up the health of your pet, you can handle crowds of three or four mobs with no problem at all (Aspect of the Viper means that you never generate more threat than your pet, since the mana recovery is offset by a damage penalty) and taking down Elites (possible, but a struggle with a Marksmanship spec) is absolute child's play, since your pet generates all the threat, takes all the aggro and using Mend Pet means that he can stay there pretty much all day. Even better, Devilsaurs have a Heart of the Phoenix talent, which gives them an instant 100% health resurrection should you be negligent enough to let them be killed. Never mind crowd control, these things could do riot control.

Compared to a Marksmanship spec, playing Beast Master is almost like a different class, since you don't have to worry so much about your threat management. You just send in the pet, point and shoot. Using Aspect of the Viper means that you never run out of mana, meaning your pet never runs out of health, so you can literally keep going until you run out of ammo (or time to play, whichever comes first), so if anything it's a better levelling spec than Marksmanship.

I should get Yonn up to level 65 tonight, plus another level or two for my pet. With a bit of luck, he might make level 70 before Lich King comes out, but I'm not going to hold my breath on that. Still, this seems like a vindication for having stuck with a Hunter for so long. I've always enjoyed playing with one, but the additions for the class in this patch really give Hunters a cool factor they've been missing compared to some other classes.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008



It's quite interesting playing as a Beast Master spec Hunter. Very different from the Marksmanship spec. You don't get the critical hits in four figures like you do with Marksmanship, but boy, does having an exotic pet PWN. I almost died trying to tame the damn thing (a level 55 elite with a fear effect and a knockback attack hits pretty hard when you're utterly defenseless trying to do the tame), but I think it was worth the respec. I think I'm going to be playing with my Hunter a lot more in the next few weeks...

Byte: Attack of the Zombies

I've been playing rather a lot of WoW of late, given the impending arrival of Wrath of the Lich King, and I've also been enjoying the Hallow's End content and the attack of the plague zombies, which herald the resurgence of Arthas's power.

Firstly, Hallow's End - I got Sharéth (I had to add an accent to her name when I moved her to Steamwheedle Cartel a couple of weeks ago - I've invested far too much time in the character over the last four years to even contemplate renaming her to something totally different) to party up for a trip to the Scarlet Monastery in order to really sort out the Headless Horseman, and came out of the deal with three epic rings, one of which is good for tanking in Dire Bear form, the other two being nice little caster rings for when I'm acting as a healer in an instance. So, definitely worth the trip, even if no-one got one of the Harry Potter-style flying broomstick mounts. I've got a couple of the normal "slow and steady" (read "crappy") broomsticks, but sadly they're pretty useless for anything other than screenshot opportunities. The dailies putting out the fires in Goldshire have been quite fun, not to mention an easy source of cash, and the Trick or Treat achievements where you have to visit the inns around the game world is literally money for old rope. I've earned well over 100 gold just from sightseeing for an hour or two. Sharéth is doing pretty well for money right now, actually, despite the fact that I blew 1000 gold on the (totally superfluous) Shattered Sun courtesy title a few days ago, as I've been making hay with the Sunwell Isle dailies now that I don't have to worry about being ganked, and I will probably try and do a bit of rep grinding in Auchindoun over the next couple of weeks so I can finally knock off the final stage of my Epic Flight Form quest chain. Though what I'm really looking forward to is the opening night of Northrend when the new expansion goes live. The opening of the Dark Portal was epic, so I'm expecting a similar kind of party atmosphere to be going on when the boats finally dock in Stormwind Harbour.

I'm trying to get my Hunter, Yonn, up as close to level 70 as I can before Lich King goes live, and last night I got him up to level 64, meaning that he can realistically quest in most of Outland now, especially since being on an RP server means that you only have the NPC mobs to worry about. I've pretty much abandoned Zenedar now and will be forsaking it entirely once Lich King comes out. PvP servers were fun when everyone was just starting out and the playing field was rather more level. Now they're just playgrounds for the small-minded sadists who seem to have nothing better to do than try to spoil other people's fun. I don't have a couple of hundred hours to spend in PvP battlegrounds getting all the top tier PvP armour, and I'm even less inclined to play Capture the Flag in an RPG when there are perfectly good games like Team Fortress 2 or Unreal Tournament which are far better cut out for that kind of thing. Getting all my characters off of PvP servers has undoubtedly been one of the best decisions I've made all year. A costly decision, at £15 a pop, but worth every copper.

I've even made decent progress with my Mage, who I had to rename, post-server jump. The newly-dubbed Kaeleigh is now up to level 44 and is rather enjoying the free re-spec to Frost she got with the latest patch. At level 44, I don't think that a Frost Mage quite packs the same punch as a Fire spec in single combat, but Frost Magi certainly do better in terms of crowd control.

One of the new additions this patch is the Inscription profession, which allows you to create scrolls and glyphs, the latter of which enhance abilities of your spells. Most of them are ludicrously overpriced, meaning that I'm probably going to swap over one of my characters over from Alchemy to Inscription instead (since Herbalism is the feeder profession for both) and create my own glyphs rather than buy the top tier stuff from the auction house. Though I almost did buy the Glyph of the Penguin for my Mage. It makes the Polymorph spell turn things into penguins rather than sheep, so is only really there for the funnies, as far as I can tell, but I was still tempted to get it just for the screenshot opportunities. Even if they were selling for over 10 gold in the auction house...

Some of the glyphs are a lot more useful, though. I got a couple of good ones for my Druid - the Glyph of Rake (which stops people from running off when their health gets low - something that was really missing from a Cat form practitioner's arsenal), the Glyph of the Wild (which halves the mana cost of the main Druid buff) and the Glyph of Thorns (which increases the buff length of the Thorns spell from 10 minutes to 60 minutes). I also got a nice Glyph for my Hunter, which makes the Freezing Trap slow down the movement speed of the trapped mob after it expires. I bought most of them on the cheap (a gold or so each) so I think I'm doing quite well - though obviously not as well as if I'd made them for myself.

Speaking of hunters, I think I may have missed a trick on the respec, because even though the top talent on the Marksmanship spec is awesome (the Chimera shot), I think I may have to respec to Beast Master instead, because there are people tromping around with Devilsaurs from Un'Goro Crater and Core Hounds, for fuck's sake. Barney, my Screecher Owl pet might be pretty cool, BUT IT'S NOT A FECKING DINOSAUR. And I think I mucked up my DPS with the new armour I got at level 64 last night, so I might as well switch over and go Devilsaur hunting.

There's one big addition in the patch that's not playable yet: Death Knights - though you can see the symbol for the class on the character creation screens. I'm not quite sure whether I will jump straight into trying out the class or not, or whether I will be taking Sharéth and Yonn up the level treadmill to 80. I suspect, knowing my lack of concentration skills, that I will undoubtedly do a little of both. So, lots to look forward to, though I am a little concerned that the release of Lich King is right in the middle of NaNoWriMo. This doesn't bode well for my word count...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Byte: Virtual crime, real-world consequences.

I think this deserves a ride on the ROFLcopter.

Byte: The Great DRM Debate

I picked up Far Cry 2 for my PC yesterday (I've only played about 40 minutes worth, so I won't go into the game yet), and when I installed it my anti-virus protection flagged up a warning - it thinks SecuROM is a trojan. The Prosecution rests, mi'lud.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Byte: The calm before the storm

In an hour or two, Videogamer are going to be posting an extended version of my Warhammer Online polemic as a "second opinion" comment piece, since I'm one of the few critics actually willing to call the game out so emphatically for having terrible PvE content (and a few other things besides). If, by chance, you've followed the link from the article to here, before you start with the flames (and be nice - abusive comments will not be moderated kindly) I'd like to state at this point that I knew WAR was PvP/RvR biased before I bought the game. And I'd like to stress that as well. This wasn't a freebie, I paid good money to play the game, so I'm entitled to my opinion. The fact that I knew WAR was heavily balanced towards player-versus-player does nothing to change the fact that the PvE sucks. Anyone who thinks differently is either a) deluded or b) Korean. The PvE in WAR is RUBBISH, bordering on atrocious. WoW's PvE content doesn't just grind it to dust underneath its boot, it sweeps it up into a little box afterward and throws it into the fire.

If you love WAR with all your little black heart, I'm happy for you, really. It's just not the type of MMORPG I like to play, and I think it's the duty of any journalist to put information out there that might stop people who've only read the "WAR makes WoW look shit" stuff from getting the wrong impression about the game and wasting their money. I will be the first to say that WAR does PvP better than WoW. But not all WoW players like to PvP. I know I don't, and out of WoW's 10+ millions of subscribers, I bet a fair percentage of those don't bother with PvP either. So if they were going to buy WAR without knowing that the PvE is not even close to that which you find in WoW in terms of coherence or quality, that's a lot of money being thrown down the toilet that could have better been spent on other games they would enjoy.

Also note that I'm not saying that all the reviews are wrong and only my opinion is right. My opinion of the game is formed based on my innate preference for what I look for in an MMORPG. It's simply that what I looked for did not match what other reviewers were looking for, hence we've drawn different conclusions. I bought the game full well knowing that I probably wasn't going to like it. But I bought it anyway because I was willing to be proved wrong, and also because it's rather unfair to criticise something without actually having experienced it for yourself (a lesson half the internet needs to learn, I think). I just didn't expect the PvP bias to be so pronounced, nor the PvE and game world itself to be so lacklustre. And call me crazy, but I think people need to be told this, because firstly, it's the truth, and secondly, because if people are only seeing the press that says WAR is the only genuine competitor to WoW, they're going to buy it and find out that on at least one very large level, it's not. This can undermine trust in the whole system of games journalism - and even if I don't depend on it for a penny of my income, I don't want that.

I'm going to clad myself in ceramic tiles now and wait for the flames (or crushing indifference) of the internet to descend.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Bark: One good link deserves another

Courtesy of beemoh, Brokers With Hands on their Faces.

It would be funny if it weren't for the fact that our pensions are going down the toilet with their bonuses...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bark: Serendipitous Happenstance

I had a really awesome day today. It started in a very unusual way. Today my lady, her padawan learner Ginnie (long story, don't ask) and I were headed into London, so the girls could do some shopping and I could do a bit of drawing with my buddy Mark and catch up with a couple of other friends. As we're buying our tickets at Woking station, I notice a guy standing quite near us having a cigarette. Normally, I wouldn't even give this kind of thing a second glance, except this time, I'm struck by something familiar...

A closer inspection reveals that this gentleman was, in fact, my old housemate from Leicester University, Neal, whom I haven't seen or heard hide nor hair of for no less than a decade. He didn't recognise me at first, since ten years is a very long time, and I've changed quite radically over the years (I've acquired glasses and put on a fair bit of weight), but after that initial shock of having an old friend you've not seen for years literally walk off the street back into your life, we struck up a conversation, found that we were sharing the same train into London and had a chat about what the heck we'd been up to for the last decade or so.

It turns out that Neal had been living just 20 minutes down the road from me for the last 6 years (also doing IT work, but for a different company) and that I'd probably passed him a hundred times while overtaking the commuter bus on the way into Farnborough and never known it. On the way into London we had a nice chat about the futility of DIY and home ownership, the virtues of old school arcade games like Defender and Robotron, and the corporate treadmill. It's one of the signs of a really strong sense of friendship when you can sit down with someone you've not seen in years and pick up from exactly where you left off as though it was yesterday. I was totally stoked to see Neal again, because he was probably the one person from my university days that I regretted most not keeping in touch with - not just because of our devotion to Sir Clive and his wondrous Spectrum - because we always got on well (not always something guaranteed when you share a student house) and had a lot of fun times at uni. So I give him my email and phone number and head off to do our separate things in London.

The girls head off to Camden while I hook up with Mark and do some terrible drawings of Egyptian and Greek sculptures in the British Museum, including a horrible, mutilated interpretation of a distressed horse's nostril (no, really) from one of the Parthenon sculptures. I really need to work on my proportions and spacial relationships when I'm sketching. As a slightly random aside, I muse to Mark that the British Museum is one of the most ironically named, since virtually nothing inside it is of British origin. It's mostly filled with antiquities from much more ancient cultures, such as the Mesopotamians, Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, which the British stole at the height of their imperial power. It's a museum that should have a subtitle. The British Museum: Stolen in the Name of the Empire.

Unfortunately, Mark has to toddle off to do some work around 4pm, though that nicely dovetails with Paul and Chris turning up, with whom I decamp to a pub in Leicester Square, to have a couple of beers, while discussing the US election, the credit crunch and some of the sheer dunderheadness of modern macro-economics, with its derivatives, credit default swaps, securitisations and short selling. We concluded that economists all needed to be put up against the wall and shot, and that we should abandon money and replace it with leaves from trees, Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy style.

Then when the time came to go home, who should we bump into on the train? Neal again. I think that the statistical probability of this rates up there alongside winning the lottery. Maybe not the jackpot, but one of the top prizes surely. When you think about it, we could have gone ANYWHERE after leaving university. But instead, we both happened to be working in the same town (albeit for different companies), live less than 10 miles from each other and ended up taking two trains going to the same place on the same day, without either of us having foreknowledge that we would be there. As Harry Hill would say, what are the chances of that happening? And as Han Solo would say, don't tell me the odds - I don't care, I'm just glad that it did happen.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Byte: There is only poor

So, mindful that I've only got a few days left on my initial 30 day Warhammer Online subscription, I fire it up, trying to find some possible reason why I'd want to fork out a monthly fee to play it instead of World of Warcraft.

After waiting the inevitable five minutes for it to patch, the game loads, I skip the intro movie and I'm presented with the equally inevitable Terms and Conditions splash screen. I go to click the Yeah, whatever button and... it crashes.


Now, where did I put that uninstall button?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bark: What have I done?

I've signed up for this year's NaNoWriMo. I think I better get to work on my plot outline...

Byte: So much for checking my WoW-mail...

The size of the final Burning Crusade patch to get the client ready for the release of Wrath of the Lich King next month? 1.62GB. This might take some time...

Still, at least this means I get a free respec when I can finally log in again. I'd been meaning to swap Kalandra over to a Frost spec for a while now.

Byte: Evolution, not Revolution

My GTR Evolution review has gone up on today.

I really liked it loads - it's got one of the best virtual Nordschliefe's ever - prettier and even more unforgiving that the version in Forza Motorsport. I set my fastest ever lap time on it a week or so back in an F3000 single-seater: 6 minutes 34.6 seconds. That's pretty darned good, considering the track is 13 miles long (an average speed of near-as-dammit 120mph). And that was with a few scruffy corners, as well. The track's so awesome to drive, it's worth buying the game just for that alone.

Though I hope they upgrade the graphics engine for the next release. It's the only thing holding it back from a 9/10.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bark: Renounciation

I'm temporarily renouncing alcohol, because I seriously need some healthier addictions right now. Left to my own devices on Saturday I got through no less than seven pints of lager and a bottle of wine, which is pretty excessive, even for me. With everything happening right now (the general worldwide capitalist democracy is falling apart thing, work being the dull, but financially remunerating time-sink that it is) I've been getting quite depressed lately and the beer isn't exactly helping. In fact, I'm fairly sure that it's contributing rather significantly to my immune system being in the (metaphorical) toilet, me not being able to sleep (despite being constantly tired), my attention span being around the Planck Time and otherwise feeling generally pretty sorry for myself.

So I'm giving up the sherberts for a couple of weeks to see what difference it will make. The alternative seems to be dyeing my hair green, finding some white face paint and stalking the local neighbourhood with my ninjaken and collection of cooking knives until I find the nearest armed response unit... as fun as that might be, it's a little on the dangerous side for a coward like me. Well, you know the saying: "There are old heroes and bold heroes, but there are no old, bold heroes." Heroes die. Cowards live to run away another day. If that's not a mantra worth living by, I don't know what is...

So, yes. Suggestions for non-chemical, non-habit-forming addictions to the usual address, please. Alternatively, the email of a good psychotherapist will do.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Bark: Compulsory viewing

If you've not been watching Amazon with Bruce Parry lately, (what a) shame on you. Parry is a terrific presenter, like Michael Palin in his self-effacing, mildly whimsical, but insightful style, only rather more macho. You wouldn't get Michael Palin hunting caimans (illegally) on the Amazon or jumping from tree to tree as they float down the mighty river (though Palin did write a song about that).

The series has been terrific so far, with Parry doing just about everything from taking psychotropic drugs in tribal rituals to playing football in drag (and being sent off in the process). Very entertaining, and hugely informative - undoubtedly one of the best things on TV at the moment.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Byte: WAR! Huh? What's all the fuss about?

I've been playing a fair bit of Warhammer Online over the weekend and, well, you know all those Warhammer Online Angry Internet Men who get inordinately annoyed if people call WAR a WoW-clone? They're actually right. It's no World Of Warcraft. It's nowhere near as good.

Firstly, it's laggy as hell - I've not found a server that doesn't feel like wading through three feet of treacle. Secondly, a frame rate would be nice. The game doesn't even look that good: textures are gritty and drab, the polycount hardly rivals Crysis and it's not really going overboard on the special effects, either - so why the hell is the frame rate so poor? Thirdly, the animation is risible. With WoW I'm used to combat animations where staff thrusts don't sync properly with the actual hit rolls, but with WAR it's even laggier, and the less said about the ranged weapon animations the better. The Witch Elves' throwing knives are invariably totally invisible (the animation doesn't fire at all) and the arrow animation for the High Elf Shadow Warrior is beyond hilarious - the arrow arcs twenty feet up into the air before coming back down onto the target, even if he's only standing eight feet away. I know I only have a degree in Physics, but I'm fairly sure that arrows don't fly like that... Fourthly, queues. Server queues, RvR queues... I waited an hour to get into the Khaine's Embrace battleground, only for the whole thing to be over in five minutes, because the team balance was so poor, we (Destruction) had no healers at all and the Order side were roughly 50% healers (on average about 3 or 4 levels above our players, too). How annoying is that?

Beyond that, the game is totally grind-tastic, and the much-vaunted Public Quest system, while fairly neat, has a couple of flaws as well. Namely, unless you want to get totally screwed over by the loot rolls after you finish the third stage of the quest, you have to wait in the PQ area and grind through all three stages. Which, depending on how many players filter through the area, could take an hour or more. Oh, and I really don't like the interface. Surely it won't be long before half of it is modded out of existence.

There are a couple of things I like - the Tome of Knowledge is good, if mostly superfluous, and the way you can mark quest objectives with the general area you need to be in on the map is useful, and if you just want to play something where you can watch a dark elf run around in her bra and knickers, there's surely no finer game - but I'm not convinced by the game world yet. It's too compartmentalised by far - almost reminiscent of RF Online in that way - at least with WoW you have quest mobs intermingling and spreading over a larger general area. I'm also not that keen on the art style, either. It doesn't grab you by the lapels and shake you shouting "this is awesome, look at me!" Most of the opening map areas in WoW have a sense of wonder about them that transcends the polycount. WAR on the other hand isn't that vibrant and feels dull by comparison.

It's still early days, of course, but there hasn't really been anything I've seen so far that would convince me to subscribe. I'm going to stick with it for a while yet - I've still got to see a capital city yet, and I'm told that's where things start to get impressive - but I don't think that this is my kind of MMORPG. Still, it fills in the time until Wrath of the Lich King comes out, so that's okay.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Byte: How Not To Make A Second Impression

With my Enhanced Edition of my Witcher review neatly out of the way (I'll link when it goes up, probably at some point next week), I tried again to get started with Warhammer Online. Regular readers will know that my first attempt did not exactly go swimmingly.

Today though, at least I was able to register an account and activate my CD Key. All systems stop, here's an 821MB patch to download before you can even get started. To be fair, at least the patch didn't take too long to download - about an hour on my 2MB broadband. So I start up, watch the intro movie (which appears to have been cut down to be more kiddie friendly than the original - the fire mage doesn't get run-through the chest by the Black Orc, for example), create a Dark Elf Sorceress on Karak Hirn so I can hopefully spend my first 30 days with the Rock Paper Snotling crowd, and... the server goes down before I can even take my first quest...


Thursday, October 02, 2008

Bark: Introduce a Little Anarchy

If you're the kind of guy (or gal) (or non-gender-specific cypher/hermaphrodite) who likes film soundtracks, you need to buy this album. Really. I'm not crazy. No. No, I'm not.