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The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

August 21st, 2014 by

We’ve all seen the videos, laughed at some of them, loved some of them (Nathan Fillion and Tom Hiddleston, oh my!) and then gradually become irritated with seeing them posted and reposted. I hope that this has raised some money for the ALS Association as well as made people a bit more informed about what the disease actually does…but I don’t think people really understand what ALS is all about.

My mother died of ALS. To be completely accurate, she actually died from an infected gallbladder in hospital while doctors debated the best way to put someone under anaesthesia whose ability to breathe was already so compromised. But in the end, ALS was the real cause.

In the beginning it affected her throat, and her doctor at first theorised that she may have had a small stroke that affected the muscles in that area. As it progressed, she found herself unable to speak, swallow and at the end breathe. She had a keyboard that would speak for her but she hated using it. The woman who had been very bright, friendly and a force for good in her community, her family and her church, saw her world shrink to the confines of her house. If you are unable to communicate, if no one can understand the sounds that you make, it is both humiliating for the sick person and embarrassing for the people that she is trying to speak to.

Imagine being gradually locked into your body, a prisoner of unresponsive flesh. Still smart, still bright, still full of love and things that you want to say and do, but locked in.

I’ll tell you a personal story, a small one, to illustrate what an early stage of ALS is actually like: I was visiting from the UK and had gone with my mother to pick up lunch for everyone from Taco Bell – something that millions of people do every day without it becoming a personal ordeal. I was really struggling with understanding her speech, as my infrequent visits from abroad meant that I was much less used to translating what she was trying to say than the rest of the family.

I ordered what I needed to, and turned to my mother to ask what she wanted. As it was lunchtime, the restaurant was packed and people were waiting behind us. She said something, and I couldn’t understand her. She tried again and again, and as much as I desperately wanted to understand what she wanted, it wouldn’t come together in words. The person behind the counter waited politely, the people behind us waited politely, and my mother kept trying. Her eyes were bright with tears and her face was flushed, but she stood there and kept saying whatever she was trying to say. You have to understand that there are things which run deep in our family (aside from nasty tempers): pride, a stubborn streak a mile wide. and politeness. She was too stubborn to use her keyboard. I didn’t want to insult her by just ordering something for her, or asking her to point, so we remained stalemated in hell. (Yeah, yeah, Taco Hell, ha ha.) I have no idea how we finally escaped with our bags of food, but that little episode seemed to take forever.

And that is an experience from the early stages, before it really gets nasty.

So it’s all well and good to post videos of yourself or your friends having buckets of ice water thrown on them. Hopefully you’ll also throw a few bucks at the ALS Association. Just remember that it benefits real people, people who are being reduced to minds locked in failing clay. It’s an evil disease and it can strike anyone.

 

Mom

Go then, there are other worlds than these

August 12th, 2014 by

I woke this morning to the news that Robin Williams had taken his own life yesterday. I’m not a follower of celebrities, but this really rocked me. He was such a part of my life: Mork and Mindy was a part of my high school years, and then his brilliant, mad comedy was a large part of the decades afterwards for me. The clip below (unfortunately audio only) is an example of why he was so crazy-talented – the words “crazy” and “talented” used together intentionally. You couldn’t imagine living with someone like that, the white-hot fierceness of that manic personality would exhaust you and burn you out. Also, you just knew that there had to be a flip side to the manic persona, a darker side…or perhaps that is just hindsight.

I have seen so many links to suicide hotlines posted, so many exhortations to just talk to someone if you’re feeling down, and they’ve been irritating the hell out of me this morning. The intention is good, I’m sure, but how dismissive is it to say that you should just pick yourself up when you’re feeling down, that you should think about what your loss would do to your family and friends. Well, you know what? It’s not as easy as all that. Sometimes depression is something that arrives at your door unexpectedly, when life is good and nothing particularly difficult is happening to you. All of a sudden the world is black. It can feel as sharp as grief (even though no one has died), or like a deep exhaustion that makes every day an insurmountable mountain.

If you’ve lived with depression long enough you know how it works. You know that you’ll have good days again, that this will eventually pass. You also know that it will come back, again and again over the decades. I’ve suffered from depression since childhood. I have my scars which I refuse to hide (although I’ve developed a “you don’t want to go there” look when I know that someone is dying to ask about them). This is me, this is the thing that I’ve always had to deal with, and damn it I’ve managed it…but sometimes I get so damned exhausted. I can relate to someone who made the decision to not deal with it anymore. He didn’t love his family and friends any less…perhaps he just got tired.

Go then, mad prince…I have to believe that there are other worlds than these. It was your burden and your decision to go, so go then.

 

ArcheAge: Getting the Most Out of Beta

July 30th, 2014 by

ArcheAge ShipArcheAge can be overwhelming at first (as in one of the betas, when you are trying to see as much as possible, decide on classes, races, etc., and also get your head around a very complicated farming and crafting system). There is just so much to do, so much to see, that it seems impossible to evaluate the game over a single weekend. We purchased the Archeum packages as soon as they were available and I’ve had a lot of time to try different classes, explore various areas and learn about as many aspects of the game as possible. Since ArcheAge is such a deep, at times very complex game, that time has been essential and was well worth the cost of the pack (all of the perks and currency are going to be pretty nice as well, but more about that later).

Rolling a Character

Ideally, you’ll be able to get into several beta events. With 120 class combinations you’ll want to try several. All of the races have racials that will actually matter in game, such as the Elf swim speed increase and longer underwater breathing which I am very partial to. Each race has a different starting area and unique mount, and although the quests are pretty typical MMO fare they all manage to convey the characteristics of that race.

With a few caveats, I love the character customisation area. There is a distinct lack of darker skins, which bothers me a bit as someone who normally plays darker-skinned characters. There isn’t a way to customise your body. Aside from that, there is a wealth of facial customisation – for someone like myself who can spend hours building the perfect face, it’s wonderful. And saveable, which is the most important thing for beta! In the lower right-hand corner of the screen is a button that will allow you to name and save your presets.

Skill calculator

A Place To Call Home

One of the more important activities (and one of the most rewarding) in ArcheAge is farming and crafting. This system happens to be in flux right now as Trion tries to Westernise the game. To a lot of players, said “Westernisation” seems to involve balancing their desire for you to buy things in the shop versus the players’ desire to just have a good time, and hopefully they’ll find a midpoint that stops short of an Allods-level cash grab. Hint: just look up “labor points” on the forums. :)

Since housing and land are not instanced in ArcheAge, and there are limited amounts of it, early access is going to be a land grab. People will be levelling as fast as possible in order to get land for farms and houses staked out. I would suggest watching all of the cutscenes and enjoying the beauty and richness of the early game in beta so that you can haul ass at launch. Once land is gone, it’s gone. Remember the land rush scene in Far and Away? Yep, that’s exactly what launch is going to be like, so stop and smell those early flowers in beta.

Friends and Family

It is worth doing some research into guilds prior to the game launching: get to know people, find the right group and be sure to meet up and say howdy at some point during the beta weekend. In this game having the right guild is going to be very important, as much of what you want to do will be made much more pleasant and easier with a group. If you know that you’re interested in farming and doing trade runs, for example, it’s much easier and MUCH more fun to do that first trade run across the sea with your guild, preferably in a ship. I did mine solo, and it took two tries (I lost my first pack to a bunch of sea bugs). The second one I did by swimming the whole way in stealth, which took frickin’ FOREVER.

Although I am by nature a solo MMO player, I’m putting my anti-social preferences aside for this game. You’re going to need a group of people to play with some of the time – and you’re going to want it, as you’ll have some of the most riotous, hysterically fun experiences ever with them.

You can also form a family, which means that you can share each other’s property, work each other’s farms and so on. This comes in handy as you can share chores, pool LP (labor points, you’ll come to know more about labor points than you ever wanted to in AA) and so on.

Gathering

You don’t need to train gathering skills, so from level one if you see a tree, cut that sucker down. Pick that flower, mine that node. They all give XP, but also use labor points, so use your discretion if you find that you’re running low. Many of the plants you see will be useful for the first trade quests, so I always gather everything I can. You can’t harvest other people’s farms, but if they plant in the wild you can gather their crops. Be warned, though, that a jury system exists in ArcheAge and most trial juries seem to regard stealing crops or uprooting trees as being a crime worse than piracy. If you uproot trees in the wild you won’t get XP but you will occasionally get a sapling, which you can save and then plant on your own land.

Mounts and Ships

There are some pretty cool mounts in game, and you should have your first one by level five or so. If you’re brave, you can cross the sea and buy a mount from the opposite faction, which is always a hair-raising and exciting experience. Mounts level up with you and have their own XP pool, so make sure that you have a pet out when you’re fighting or on foot. At level 20 you’ll be able to get your first battle pet to fight by your side, and he levels up the same way. Quite early on you’ll get a rowboat from one of the quests, keep that in your inventory. You can do your first trade run in the rowboat, but it will be both slow and dangerous.

You can buy mount armor from any stablemaster, which provides speed and health boosts. Upgrade as you level your pet.

Lions and Tigers and…PvP

ArcheAge is in part a PvP game, there is no denying that. However, if you aren’t comfortable with PvP it is entirely possible to level to cap without participating…you will be missing a lot of the fun, though! There isn’t any on-land PvP at all until you reach level 30, and after that you’ll be levelling through areas which are sometimes at war, sometimes at peace. The seas, however, are always PvP. One of the elements of the game that I am decidedly unfond of is same-faction killing (PKing), which I personally think is the lowest form of PvP. Gankers and griefers aside, though, you’ll rarely experience something as exciting as trying to take a tradeship through hostile waters with friends. :)

Have Fun!

I normally don’t do a lot of these posts anymore, but I wanted to for ArcheAge. Like many longterm MMO players I’ve fallen out of gaming a bit while remaining nostalgic for that first love, that game where you realised that you could blow an entire evening, an entire weekend, immersed in that world. I think (I hope) that AA is going to be that game for me. This is going to be my home, and I hope that you love it as much as I do.

 

ArcheAge

Steampunk Short Film: Tea Time

July 3rd, 2014 by

I loved this short steampunk film, which happens to feature one of my all-time favourite steampunk themes: the sassy girl inventor. This was lovely.

 

 

More steampunk short films here.

Wildstar: Cancelled

June 21st, 2014 by

I just cancelled my subscription to Wildstar, and this makes me sad. I’ve been looking forward to this game for so long, really anticipating it as one of the last big MMOS on the horizon. (Arguably, there is still Everquest Next out there and that might be ok. I have to say, though, that I hated EQ2.)

I was looking forward running around inside a world that looked as though it had been designed by Pixar, a world with a warped sense of humour. I wanted really unique mad-science quests, rocket ships, racing against time to prevent giant computers from blowing up the world (or trying to unbalance giant machines into destroying the world). I wanted it to be different. I, who am totally burned out on several years of Warcraft raiding, was even looking forward to the return of giant raids.

What did we get? “Kill ten rats” quests. An endgame focused entirely on raiding, and raids designed for the ADHD crowd. A long, convoluted attunement system for said raids. Doable? Yes, of course. Fun? It depends on your investment in raiding and the game.

I just wanted to have fun.

I’ve always been an MMO gamer. I love being a part of a vibrant, living world – aside from a good book, it’s the closest that I’ll ever get to finding that secret door into another realm. At the moment, though, I seem to not have a home and I miss it so very much.

 

This is why we can’t have nice things

June 16th, 2014 by

ArcheAgeLike everyone who is eagerly awaiting the NA/EU launch of ArcheAge, I’m not logging into the alpha as much as I used to, while simultaneously watching the forums and Reddit eagerly for any news of beta and/or launch. At level 40 already in alpha it seems silly to do those last levels to 50 – I’ve never put this much time into an alpha or beta version of a game before.

The most emotionally-charged issue on the forums is that of PvP vs. PvE balance. These threads go on for pages and pages, hundreds of responses all saying that any concessions to the “other side” will inevitably ruin the game and lead to failure. The pirate guilds want PvP all the time, everywhere. The PvEers just want to be able to take their trade packs to market without having some jerk strip them of all their hard work. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground.

I confess that I’m much more of a PvE type than a PvPer. I actually do a lot of PvP, but I want it on my terms, when I want it, when I have a hope of things being at least somewhat equal. And yes, sometimes I just want to pick flowers. :) This Massively article on alternative server rulesets had one of the best quotes that I’ve seen on gankers and griefers: “The fact is that most of us don’t want to be bothered with Little Johnny Rottentop’s attempts to work out his mommy issues and testosterone overflow after we’ve endured a 12 hour day in corporate hell.” Indeed – and that is the problem that I have with PvP in a nutshell.

I actually want really well-designed PvP in the games that I play. When I started reading about ArcheAge I imagined castle sieges and huge battles, some of them on ships at sea – how cool is that? What we actually got, though, is a mean-spirited playground for asshats to go around in groups and gank lower-level players. We got people who sit on the docks all day, waiting for traders to come in so that they can steal packs. We got zerg guilds that sweep through areas looking for players trying to quest. There is very little risk for gankers and massive risk for farmers and traders. Changes are being made to our version of the client to try to force people into PvP, which never, ever works. Those players will just quit, and then the game will indeed fail as a mainstream game. (I have no idea what the sub numbers on something like Darkfall are, but I would bet that it’s an extremely niche game with a small playerbase.)

Time and time again I’ve seen people on the forums say “This is a PvP game,” thus totally ignoring the fact that the biggest part of the game is actually PvE. It’s gorgeous, it’s fun, and the crafting, farming, husbandry and trading systems are both challenging and satisfying. Yet certain very vocal minorities in the game act as though someone at XLGames came to one of the dev meetings and said “I know we’re making a hardcore PvP game, but I had an idea that we could implement without too much work. What do you think about adding some farming and crafting, just for giggles?” This was an area of the game that they put an enormous amount of work and resources into. This was never a limited-scope PvP-only game, it was always meant to be a full sandbox with equal emphasis on crafting, housing, farming, gathering, exploration, questing and yes, PvP.

What is the solution? I don’t know, to be honest. How do you build a system where both types of player can enjoy themselves? Some of the obvious changes would be:

1. Same-faction PKers. There absolutely needs to be much stronger consequences for killing someone of your own faction. Eve has a system where people who have been too naughty actually cannot go into the higher-security areas without getting killed by NPCs. Something like this would be a start.

2. There has to be some risk to killing players and taking their trade packs – perhaps you can only sell them on the pirate isle, for instance. As it stands now, the trader has spent a lot of time, effort and money to try to get that pack to the other continent, and the other side needs to share some of that risk.

3. Trion really, really needs to begin policing chat and allowing reporting of players. Faction chat and trial chat are cesspits of racism, homophobia, rape threats, etc. Bots and goldsellers are unchecked. I know this is “just” alpha, but you are building a community even now…and the one that is being formed is an extremely nasty one.

4. Give people an incentive to participate in PvP. Right now I’m questing and levelling, and I don’t do it during wartime – I’ll go and do something else, or log out. There simply isn’t any point to trying to quest while getting repeatedly ganked by roving groups of bored 50s. Make the rewards more valuable, though, and I might think about it.

I suppose what I’m really saying, when you get down to it, is I love this game. I want to live here for quite a while – don’t ruin it. After all…this is why we can’t have nice things. :)

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