Thursday, May 31, 2007

The 360 Will Be Mine Soon and a LotRO Update

Well it's been about 7 weeks since we sent out our tax amendments, and given it takes 6-10 for the additional refunds to be processed and returned to us, I'm guessing I should have my very own Xbox 360 by the end of June. Cross your fingers for me. Crackdown and NBA2K7 shall be my 1st titles, as well as borrowing my cousin's copy of Gears of War. If any of you have a 360 and have some other games you think I need to try, please let me know. I've been following the 360 for a while, but there are still plenty of games I've missed that I need to catch up on I'm sure.

And on a side note, I finally had time to settle into about an hour of LotRO last night. Good times. Explored more of the Lone-Lands... it's drab, and somewhat boring for the most part, but little parts like Wethertop and the Red Swamp make up for it.

Speaking of LotRO, I was going to copy and paste the public test server (Roheryn) notes from the June content update: The Shores of Evendim. But it'd take to long to format correctly right now, so I'll open up discussion on this Update.

A lot of the whiner types are complaining that this is just content that should have been in at launch, and while that may be so. I'm just glad it's coming, and look forward to much more from the Turbines. Here's the notes. Some great improvements to be seen there. 1st 24-man raid, 100+ new quests, a whole new zone, new epic book chapter, etc. I'm just curious what you have to do to get those "Epic" armor sets, though. One prays it isn't just the WoW loot-grind all over again.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I'm One Scurvy Dog

I really need to start taking screen shots from my gaming and posting them here. It's one of those things I always think of after the fact.

Hope everyone had a lovely Memorial Day weekend. I know I did. Taking a 5 day break from the world is always refreshing.

I didn't get much gaming in, as I was busy spending money with the missus, but on late Sunday evening and last night I was able to squeeze in some time with my retail copy of Sid Meier's PIRATES!

Hot damn, that game's fun.

There is a story to the game surprisingly: that you're the only member of your family who escaped the clutches of the evil Count Montalban and after rising to become the captain of your own pirating vessel, you begin to seek out your lost family members and avenge your name.

That's all fine and dandy, but I was more in the mood for making my claim as top pirate in the Caribbean. You see, like any other of Sid Meier's games there's no set path for you to follow. The world, or in this case part of it, is yours to do with what you will. The 1st mission on my mind? To scour the seas and take out each of the other 9 top 10 pirates, making me the sole legend of the ocean.

Last night I completed that task, taking out the 6 remaining pirates, including Captain Henry Morgan (yes, the rum guy) himself. The only quabble with this game's historical accuracy I've had so far is that Morgan was sailing the "Queen Anne's Revenge" which was actually Blackbeard's ship. Perhaps somewhere along the game Morgan took QAR from Teach, but I don't know. I was just glad to have it as me own once I defeated Morgan in a harrowing game of "who can stab the other first?"

And so I've made my way to being the number one feared pirate in all the Caribbean... and now I'm kind of sad for it. There's no one left to really challenge me but hangers-on around the derelict ports. What's a pirate to do?

I'll tell you what... it's time to start taking towns for my pleasure, and then maybe before I retire of old age I'll worry about finding my family and taking on Montalban.

Pirates! really is a great game folks, every bit as wonderful as the aged original. If you haven't tried it yet and have even a modest interest in the time period, pick it up as soon as you can. It'll be good for the Edward Teach in you.

(SIDE NOTE) - From everything I've played of Pirates!, and from what I know of Pirates of the Burning Seas Online I'm starting to think that the developers of the latter were very fond of the former. I can't wait to try PotBS for myself and see if I'm right. If I am, and the two do share a lot of the same ideals even if they're vastly different genres, count me in for the long haul.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Yes, I'm Still Playing LotRO

But damn it all if it isn't hard to log into that game when the weather's this good.

This past Saturday was LotRO Vault's 1st Live Event on the Silverlode server: Creeps 'n' Keeps. It really ended up being quite a lot of fun, even though the numbers there were far more than I expected: about 70 or so in total. Keep an eye out for news of our next event.

Since that night I've not visited Middle-Earth. Instead I've been busy chilling out with the wife, working on our fledgling garden (yes I'm a man and I admitted that, you cheeky blighters), and in general just enjoying the nice weather.

I'm off of work from this evening until next Tuesday, so you might not see a post from me at all for the next week or so. No worries, though. I'll be back ready and raring to go come next week.

Plans are to visit some Cleveland exhibits like the natural history museum, Great Lakes Science Center, and check out this Pirates movie everyone seems to excited about. Maybe sometime in there, in the down hours I'll get some LotRO in, or some GTA: San Andreas which I picked up to tide me over until I'm able to get my 360.

Cheers folks and have a great Memorial Day weekend.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Xbox 360 is Calling Me...

Soon, the wife and I will be getting a lot of money back from taxes, due to amendments we made for the Lifetime Learning Credit that we knew nothing about (if you're a college student and don't know what I'm talking about, Google that phrase and thank me later).

Here's the deal. I have a Wii, and I have my gaming PC... but I'll be damned if there's just too many games, both up and coming, and existent on the Xbox 360 that are begging for my attention. Games like Crackdown and Gears of War are calling out to me in my sleep, and in the future, Fable 2, Too Human, GTA IV, Resident Evil 5 all will be taunting me with their goodness. Who knows, maybe even Age of Conan will be better played with a 360 controller.

I don't think I can fight the beast anymore, the traditional console gamer in me misses games like those, even though the Wii's lineup is strong in the future as well. It's a conundrum, for sure. But I think my mind's already been made up. I suspect that within the next month or two I'll have an Xbox 360 next to my Wii.

Oh how the mighty have fallen...

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Garr... Jack Sparrow is my hero... garr.

I didn't see an NDA when I signed up last night, so until someone points one out to me otherwise, I'm going to leave this post up. :)

I was kind of bored last night, the wife decided a 4 hour nap sounded like a good idea, and so I started farting around the internet. That's when I saw that Fileplanet has a subscriber's beta for Pirates of the Caribbean Online. One very tiny download (not kidding, only about 140MB for an MMO) later and a quick install and I was off into Disney's newest foray into online gaming.

Say what you will about Toontown Online, as it's certainly not a game for the "hardcore", but ask any kid what they think of it and they'll go on for hours. They knew their audience with that game and they hit it hard. After spending an hour or so last night in PotCO (heh) I think they may be able to do it again.

There's a nice article on Fargo's Fileblog at Fileplanet about how the guys at Disney's VR Studios set about making Toontown and now PotCO. Essentially, it boils down to - Keep the specs as low as possible and make the game as light-core as possible. And most importantly, make it free to try and hope to hook them into paying the monthly fee once they realize they're having fun.

Disney's market with PotCO isn't you or me, the rabid MMO gamer with high standards and tons of theorycrafting... it's the kids and moms and dads who enjoy the movies and might just get hooked on a game where they can be the pirates. By keeping the requirements low, their potential userbase is widened, and by making it free (supported by Disney ads) they've widened that base even more.

The real question is though... does it play?

I can honestly say, that unlike just about any other free-2-play MMO, yes it does.

It's not grand, it's not "epic", and it's not even particularly pretty. But it's fun. I'll list a few of the things that stuck out to me in my short play session.
1.) CUT-SCENES GALORE - Not altogether unlike LotRO, Pirates has plenty of cutscenes to keep the story you get set on interesting. The graphics make it hard to look as pretty as LotRO's, but the voiceover work is excellent.

I'm fairly certain Cap'n Jack and Tia Dalma are voiced by their real life actors too. In fact, all the main characters might be. Not to mention your 1st glimpse of the game's main bad guy, Jolly Roger, is actually quite memorable. For what little money they seem to have spent on making things "purdy", they seem to have spent plenty on voice talent. Even if the actors aren't the real thing, they sound damn close.

2.) COMBAT IS ACTUALLY UNIQUE! - Huh? A free to play game not just using the highlight and auto-attack method of combat? Can it be? It sure is.

Instead you actually will swing your sword with one click, and with the right timing, a second slash attack can be added for a 2 hit combo. Miss the timing, and you'll barely dent your enemy. One assumes that more attacks and skills will open up as your character levels. Special skills are used by right-clicking to bring up a special skill menu and then clicking the corresponding attack you want. It was clunky at first, but became second nature for me quick enough. These attacks are much more potent, and often damage more than one foe.

It's actually a pretty ingeniously simple system that seems like it could make PvP (which I haven't tried yet, but apparently it involves temporarily becoming undead by grabbing a cursed coin) very interesting and skill based.

3.) YOU GET A BOAT, YA SCURVY DOG! - Not only do you get a ship of your own, but you get to man the canons and blow the other salty dogs out of the water. Didn't get to play with this too much yet, but when I have I'll let you know how it pans out. It's a nifty feature for a game I thought would just make WoW-Lite and chalk up the money coming in.

There's lots of other neat little touches, like a name helper that helps you organize and pick the best pirate-like name for you, which also appears when you name your ship. I think mine is called "The Scarlet Rogue". It's a wee-fast little speeder, but in time I'll get me a frigate.

The lag was bad last night though. I'll chalk it up to server load because of the doors being opened on the game. And I did experience 2 CTDs for apparently no reason. But should the developer straighten out server stability and client stability... this little free game will likely win a spot in the hearts of many Pirates of the Caribbean fans.

For me, in all reality, it's going to be a nice diversion... but what it really serves to do is hype me up even more for Flying Lab's Pirates of the Burning Sea.

Once a hardcore gamer, always a hardcore gamer... even if my free-time says otherwise. :)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Behind The Times - Sid Meier's PIRATES!

This happens to me a lot, being a poor shlub that misses his younger days of "spend-paychecks-on-nothing-but-games-and-movies". I always seem to miss some of the best games, be it PC or console, until much further down the road. I'm sure all working adults have this problem, honestly, so don't be surprised if you see more of these "Behind The Times" posts as the months go on and I get to try games I've missed for some reason or another.

Today's subject of lost-then-found glory is none other than the newly revisioned version of Sid Meier's PIRATES! (the exclamation is literally how it's printed on the box and used throughout the game's menus, but after playing it I'm inclined to say it's deserved of many more exclamations).

But needless to say, I wasted my only hour of gaming last night on a demo that's not saveable... the reason? Bildo the White was anxious to scour the Caribbean in search of those dastardly Dutch and in the process become a Corporal of the British Navy. Upon which achievement, I would escort the Governor of St. Kitt's daughter to the grand ball, sweep her off her feet, bed her, and then spit in the governor's face the morning after. Why? Because I'm a pirate dammit... what I do is for no one but myself. :)

In short, I fell in love with PIRATES! last night and swiftly ordered it for 20 bucks off of Amazon today. The upside of being behind the curve like myself is that I get the games on the cheap side. :)

Pick up the demo at the very least, if you haven't yet played this game.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

No LotRO Lifetime Membership For Me...

But it's not for the reasons you think. Nothing to do really with LotRO as a game. I'm currently enrolled in a Digital Design degree program at an online University: a second Bachelor's for what I actually want to do, if you will. And it's come to my attention that I greatly need a Wacom Tablet. So, instead of spending 200 bucks this month on a lifetime sub to LotRO, I'm saving that money to buy an Intuos 6x8 tablet.

The more I thought about LotRO and "lifetime", the more I realized that no matter how much I love the lore, I just don't see myself playing more than 2 years time. I'm an MMO-freak, so I know that when something new and shiny comes out I'll likely be attracted to it and move on, with LoTRO always to return to now and again.

This would be easier with the lifetime sub, but 200 bucks is a big chunk of change for a young married guy working his way through college and trying to pay off debt he racked up in error during his younger days.

And on top of it all... with Gods & Heroes, Pirates of the Burning Sea, and Age of Conan all coming out this year, I don't think I'll be playing only LotRO in the next few months. The pull of those other games is too great.

What about you all who pre-ordered LotRO? 9.99 a month or Lifetime?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

"don't panik comics" is GO!

Nothing of gaming import to report this morning, but I wanted to point out to my readers... all 5 of you... that my wife and I's joint venture into the world of online comics has begun.

I do the sketching, she does the inking, and I do the photoshopping. We both do the writing and conceptualizing. Soon, with any good luck, we'll get a Wacom tablet and start digitally inking as well.

Anyway, you can learn more about don't panik and all of that over on its own blog. Check it out by clicking the link below (lower-case intentional) and be sure to leave your comments there for us to read what you thought of the doodle.

don't panik comics

We plan on getting a new strip up every week, most likely on the weekends, so check back often!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Starcraft MMO? Please Do It Justice...

So everyone's already talking about it, and I'm late to the party for sure, but the word on the street is that Blizzard will likely be announcing a brand new MMO (at the very least some new game), and many believe it will be a Starcraft branded MMO. This does make sense, considering the announcement will be coming on May 19th at the Blizzard event in Seoul, Korea. And heck, I'd even be very happy to see an MMO based on this universe. But what worries me is that we'll just be getting World of Warcraft with the Sci-Fi treatment. It's no secret that Blizzard likes to play things safe.

Ultimately, I still don't think we'll be seeing much in the way of innovation from most MMOs on the horizon, and certainly not from Blizzard. They're at their best when they take a genre and refine it to a tee. This is what made WoW so accessible, Diablo so addictive, and Starcraft lauded as the finest RTS ever made. Still, I sure hope the mighty developer realizes that with the rich lore and universe of Starcraft they can do so much...

Squad-Based Combat

Imagine as the Zerg controlling your main character, but also a host of zerglings at your command. or as a Ghost having 5 or 6 Marines at your side for harder fights. Sort of like Gods and Heroes' minion system, I think this type of feature would be ideal for an SC MMO, more so than the lone-gunman style of traditional Fantasy MMOs.

Space and Ship-Oriented Exploration

They wouldn't be limited to just one world with the SC Universe. Imagine taking a cue from Star Wars Galaxies and giving players the ability to own and operate their own ships to use in traversing and exploring the universe. A fast travel feature may be more enticing though between planets, as there's less of a market I would assume for space combat. EVE is awesome, but niche. At the very least, combat-enabled "mounts" would be a necessity.

3-Faction PvP

They can get it right here, and do away with the Talent system that muddied up WoW, and and have a shot at one hell of a PvP system. Like Warhammer Online, or even to a lesser extent Aion or RF Online, all the players questing and actions could relate to the tide of the frontline battles. With an SC MMO, Blizzard would have the chane to really get an At-War feel right.

Those are just some of my very vaguely represented hopes for an SC MMO, if that is indeed what will be unveiled on the 19th. Whatever game Blizzard is making, and it is likely an MMO, I just hope they've learned the major lessons from WoW's biggest problems. 8.5 million subs or not, even the developers will admit that there have been mistakes along the way.

Anywho... what do you guys think the Mystery Game will be? And what would you like to see?

Monday, May 7, 2007

Spidey 3 is a Tangled Mess of a Web

I have waited for Spider-Man 3 since I first saw the last seconds of Spider-Man 2. Being a big comics to movie supporter, Raimi's first 2 Spidey flicks to me were the shining example of how to handle comic book adaptations. Then I saw the 3rd one...

I won't spoil any plot turns or twists for those who haven't seen it, but suffice to say I was very much left cool by the 3rd episode in the Spidey films. The pacing was horrid, the action too brief, and the "Emo-Peter" segments were handled poorly.

I'm all for comic films paying attention to character and depth of story. It's a great way to make sure those who don't know much about comic books see that the art is more than just guys and gals in tights with cheesey puns. But Raimi and crew beat the audience over the head with the whole Pete-MJ-Harry triangle, and it gets very old, very fast.

Meanwhile, stellar talent like Thomas Hayden Church as Flint Marko (Sandman) and Bryce Dallas Howard as Gwen Stacy are literally tossed aside and wasted as ancillary characters with little to no depth. Same thing with Topher Grace as Eddie Brock and Venom. He's completely wasted as a character, and these 3 deserved much more screen time.

The flick seemed to take forever to get going, and once it finally did... it was over too soon. The effects were good, the sparse action sequences were close to topping the Doc Ock fight on the train from number 2, but for some reason I didn't get the same sense of import from the 3rd installment. It was sort of like watching Rocky Balboa... it's still the characters you love, but the heart isn't entirely there. Not horrid to watch, but missing something.

Anyway, I'd still say it's worth at least a matinee, and they did leave holes open for number 4 should all the cast sign on once more. It's breaking records at the box office, so despite bad reviews another episode will likely come... let's just hope it's better than this 3rd try. Maybe it's time to let Sam Raimi (as much as I love the man) sit back and produce while bringing in a fresh look for the films, a la Harry Potter 3.

Time will tell, but Spidey Number 2 is still the best of the series.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Pirates Delayed?

It seems, via P0tSh0t, that Pirates of the Burning Sea may wind up coming a little later in the summer, or possibly early fall.

Some troubles with distribution may end up equaling extra time to tweak the game and stress the servers. Which I'll be thankful for... if they let me in. :)

This is the one game this year, aside from Conan and LoTRO, that I am truly and utterly psyched about. I worry about the Pirates sheerly outnumbering the other factions (who doesn't want to be a pirate after all?), but the game as a whole sounds incredibly refreshing and down right cool.

Here's hoping the delay is just a couple of months, and not into the fall or winter.

I want to force scurvy dogs to walk the plank as swiftly as possible.

Tabula Rasa Enters Closed Beta

Richard Garriott's (and his rat-tail) next epic, Tabula Rasa, has entered the final development stage of the MMO known as closed beta.

This game's had a long and tumultuous path towards being released. Initially it was being developed by Garriott's American "Destination Games" in direct conjunction with NCsoft's Korean development studio as YAFMMORPG (Yet Another Fantasy MMORPG), but after a few years in things just weren't going well, and so (very appropriately for the title of the game) started over basically from scratch.

The game is now coming in the form of a Sci-Fi FPS-MMORPG hybrid, and it's certainly going to be one to watch this summer and fall. NCsoft has made a name for itself in the US by offering titles that stray from the norm. The idea of an FPS MMO isn't altogether new, but one has to wonder how Garriott's mind will present the design to us.

My only worry is that I suck at FPS games, and because of this simple fact I'll never be able to enjoy Tabula Rasa. We shall see, I suppose.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

I am a Father...

Of Pogue the Dwarven Minstrel in Lord of the Rings Online.

I had you goin' there for a minute, eh?

You see, there's a nifty but somewhat pointless (unless you're into Roleplay) feature in LotRO. People of the same race can form parent/child relationships.

I was peaking into my character's Bio tab on the character journal when I was reminded of the feature. So I asked in Kinship chat if there was any dwarf who was willing to let Begud be their daddy. Surprisingly, my good buddy Djerbyll (his alt is Pogue) said yes. Huzzah!

No annoying papers to fill out, no long trips to foreign countries (unless you count the horse ride from Lone-Lands to Thorin's Gate), and no Brangelina taking my baby. I met Pogue, my son-to-be, in Thorin's Hall, targeted him and typed "/adopt".

But it did not work... it said something about our generations being incompatible. This directed me to another nifty feature. Not only can you have a kid, but you can create a whole bloodline. I had to set my own generation to 1, and Pogue had to set his to 2, and then we were able to make the adoption official.

Presumably, I can now come on with Tundrin my Dwarven Guardian and Pogue could adopt me, making our Dwarven family 3 generations long!

The coolest part is, say Pogue left the game, or for some reason he wanted to delete that character, or for an even stupider reason we got into a fight and he didn't want to be my kid anymore. All we have to do (either one of us I presume) is visit the local Notary and have the relationship erased for a small fee.

Adoption is a great feature added in the later stages of beta for LotRO, that's just another in a long line of things that make me enjoy my time in Middle-Earth. There's really just so much more depth than my previous MMO and I had almost forgotten what it was like to be in a virtual world with more to do than kill stuff and grind dungeons.

The adoption feature got me thinking though... what about Marriage? Where's that feature? Why can't my friend make a "female" dwarf (there are no male or female distinctions between dwarves in LotRO, as is fitting with the lore) and have us get hitched?

Apparently, the issue at hand was that this posed the question of same-sex marriages. Ruh-roh. I recall the stink that happened in WoW when Blizzard made the decision to not allow Gay and Lesbian Friendly Guilds to advertise themselves as such. It just shocks me, that in today's day and age, we're still having such problems accepting people for their personal choices.

Call me left-wing (I am, to the far side, very likely if you want to do go that far), but far be it from me to say what's right and wrong for another person's sexual choices. I'll tell you rape is wrong. I'll tell you murder is wrong. Stealing, lying, assault? All wrong. But there's no clear moral distinction, in my eyes, of what's "right" when it comes to being homo or hetero-sexual. Call me crazy, but I believe there are far more pressing issues in this world than whether someone is attracted to a member of the same sex.

And before rumors or insults start flying this is just the opinion of a hetero married man. I'm a bleeding-heart liberal, if you will. So it rubs me the wrong way when I see things like this debated heavily and paid too much attention to, when there are far more pressing matters to tend to.

Okay, I'm done. God... anyone who's seen the movies knows that Sam <3's Frodo... sheesh. *wink*

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

My 1st Photoshop Painting

I'm currently enrolled in a Web Design degree program, and one of my classes is Illustration using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. This week, I've got to put together an image with a road, horizon, and vanishing point (at least one). Below, I've pasted he work thus far. It's my 1st attempt at anything in PS, so be gentle on your critiques. I've got some work still to do on the road, as obviously it's just not looking right. But I like the rest of it so far.

Nothing of gaming import to report today though, as I got lost in Photoshop and spent my evening messing with it. I promise we'll get back to LotRO and other gaming stuff tomorrow. :)

Cheers all!