Jun 23, 2009

RIP Ditlog, hello SCB

For anyone actually reading my ramblings here, note that I've picked up a new URL and migrated the blog to Wordpress.

The new blog can be found at shortcontrolledbursts.net. Hope to chat with you there!

May 20, 2009

Work, Work!

After even more grunt work (pun intended - read on) on the Patio from Heck, I did free up a few hours last evening to continue with my RTS experiment while enjoying a few frosty homebrews.

Starcraft looked much better than I'd expected. You have to credit Blizzard's artists when a 640x480 game still looks attractive on a 24-inch 1920x1200 monitor!

That said, the 11-yr-old unit pathfinding AI has not aged gracefully. When moving groups of units through terrain of any complexity whatsoever, I ended up with Zerg-bait stragglers wandering around the landscape searching in vain for their compatriots. I don't think I'd have the patience to babysit individual units from point A to B in a protracted campaign. So, even though the story and voice acting were compelling, I think I'll give this one a pass and read the novelization instead in preparation for Starcraft 2.

The Warcraft III demo, on the other (albeit green-skinned) hand, sucked me in like a haywire Roomba. I had forgotten how absolutely fantastic the writing and art direction were, and the sound design perhaps surpasses even those two factors.

I played through the first few levels of the prequel campaign - Thrall is still too cool for school - and immediately thereafter logged on to Battle.net to purchase a download of Reign of Chaos. This exercise was perhaps the only disappointing part of my WC3 experience. I placed my order, updated my payment info to reflect a new card number, and purchased the game. Strangely, though, it took about a half hour for my order to process such that the download link was propigated to my Battle.net home page. I know Blizzard has been making a lot of changes to Battle.net, but they have to recognize that their customers are going to expect a digital purchase to be available instantaneously. I can only assume it was an anomoly?

"Time and moods are changing, attention spans quickening. Welcome to the Information Age." - Queensryche, "My Global Mind"

May 19, 2009

Assaulting the RTS Brain Bunker

The past few evenings, I've been greatly enjoying a playthrough of the Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War II demo. DoW2 is a recent real time strategy game release for Windows machines only.

Those following my Twitter feed will know that I'm a Mac-only cat these days. So, to give DoW2 a whirl, I installed Windows 7 (Release Candidate build) on my iMac via Boot Camp. It was a very easy install, and has been running without a hitch.

Anyway, back on topic, even though DoW2 is a RTS game, there are a lot of RPG elements to it. Loot drops are scattered throughout the maps, offering upgrades and customization for your heroes' gear. Similarly, progress earns you points which may be spent to increase attribute scores and open up special abilities in the process - very similar to Mass Effect's system.

In a departure from most RTS games, there is no base building in DoW2. None. Instead, players immediately tasked with tactically directing up to four discrete squads of Imperial Space Marines and managing their special abilities. Moreover, the "hero" character that leads each squad can't be permanently killed, which keeps the story moving, but they can be incapacitated temporarily during a mission. The individual troopers can be squished messily however, decreasing the strength of your force.

The short version is: this game is a RTS game for people easily frazzled by RTS micro-management, and/or those that tire of the base building click-fest. People like, you know, me. Plus, we're talking WH40K here, so the setting is bitchin' and bombastic. My only complaint is that the 1P story mode is Space Marines-only. You don't get to play as Orcs, Eldar, or the Tyranids (Genestealers) in the campaign mode. (All the races are available in multiplayer, however.)

Storm that Bunker, Soldier!

So, enjoying this "RTS lite" has caused me to wonder whether I might be able to break my real time strategy game brain-block. For some time, I have found myself disliking RTS gameplay. I even attempted to play through Warcraft III a while back, having enjoyed the storyline vicariously via WoW. Unfortunately, I just couldn't get into it. It was fun in the beginning, but as the difficulty ramped up with each mission, the old cerebral sweats and stuff-to-click overload started to kick in.

Thing is, I used to really enjoy playing Warcraft and Warcraft II with friends back in the day! So, why this "new" dislike of RTS gaming? I think all the base-building and arms-race-style play is a big factor. Sometimes this mechanic feels stressful and a little too much like work. These days, with all my day-to-day responsibility, I like a game that allows me to mentally chill. It's what drives me to play, really. To be really honest, after a week of no gaming, Lance can be a very stressed-out puppy.

In any case, now I'm all RTS-curious. Since I traded off my Warcraft III Battle Chest through Goozex a while back, I downloaded the demo this morning, and I'm going to give it another shot tonight. Maybe I can break this mental blockade once and for all. I need to figure out whether to buy Warcraft III, or if my RTS tolerance is unbreakable, to just accept my handicap and scoop up Dawn of War 2.

Moreover, seeing as Starcraft 2 is looming on our horizon like a hulking, alien mother ship, and considering that I've never played through the original, I'm also thinking about giving Starcraft a shot too. If I do prove amenable to RTS gaming again, I'd really like to experience the SC1 storyline before #2 launches. I'm just very skeptical about what Starcraft will look like on my 24" iMac. I mean, the max resolution is 640x480 for cripe's sake. It's going to be like Super-Aliased Lego Starcraft. We shall see when I grab the demo tonight...

Edit: Follow-up post found here.

Apr 24, 2009

Charity Auction for Child's Play

Brigwyn over at The Hunting Lodge blog is organizing a Children's Week auction for the Child's Play charity. Please click the links above and participate! Donate an item to the auction, bid on an auction, or just make a cash donation - it all helps!

For those not familiar with Child's Play, this is a charity started by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade webcomic fame. The organization donates games, toys, and books to sick kids in childrens' hospitals all over the globe.

The cool thing about this charity is that your donation doesn't just go into some nebulous pot and end up who-knows-where. You literally choose which hospital you'd like to contribute to, and an Amazon.com interface opens, showing you a list of the specific items the kids staying there have requested.

This is not your typical bullshit, bloated, waste- and embezzlement-laden "non-profit" megacharity. The exact item(s) you donate go right from Amazon to the kids. The charity has been a tremendous success - it's now in its fifth year, and the 2008 holiday season saw almost $1.5 million in goods sent out to suffering kids.

WoW gamers - help a sick kid forget about their pain for a while. Giving 'till it doesn't hurt FTW!

Hey, Four-Eyes! Does Gaming with a Headset Give You Sore Ears? Read On:

My Windows PC croaked its last breath about a month ago, and being long fed-up with Microsoft's OS, I purchased a refurbished iMac to replace it. Apple's design and OS X are absolutely fantastic, and I haven't looked back once.

The only hitch I've encountered revolved around gaming headsets. The iMac has a audio in jack, but it is just that. A microphone is a much lower-gain widget, and requires amplification to be audible. PC sound cards compensate for this fact with a 20 db mic boost feature, but the iMac sound card doesn't offer such functionality.

I initially started shopping for a USB headset to solve this problem, and found that the industry is offering a pretty wide variety of USB units. Unfortunately, this is only half the story.

Like many other glasses-wearing gamers, I suffer from a comfort problem with the majority of today's headsets. The most popular type of headphones is an on-the-ear (aka "supra-aural") design. The pressure these models exert sandwiches the wings of our glasses between our ears and our skull, and quickly becomes painful.

As such, I've been searching for a headset with both USB connection and also a circumaural (fully around-the-ear) design. Far as I can tell, there ain't no such bird. That said, there are a few nice circumaural models sporting the old PC-style 3.5mm stereo connectors. Hmm...

So, how to hook a PC-style headset up to a Mac? Enter Griffin's iMic product. This little widget accepts both 3.5mm analog audio input and output, performs a full, 24-bit analog-to-digital conversion, and interfaces with a Mac or PC via USB. (So, it's essentially a USB sound card.) What's more, a little switch on the side toggles the input jack between a normal audio line in and an amplified mic input mode - perfect! This cool little widget lists for $50 on the Griffin and Apple online stores, but psst - Buy.com has them for about $35 including 2-day shipping!

I installed mine last night, and enjoyed a raucous, two-hour trip through the Deadmines with some good friends, completely sans ear pain! Can I get a "w00t"?!

BTW, the circumaural headset I picked up is Razer Carcharias (see pic). About $70 on sale at Best Buy, so not cheap - but no ear pain, remember? The sound quality is decent (the frequency response is only an acceptable 20 - 20,000 Hz), but they will certainly do. The mic performance seems just fine as well. They are an open-eared design, but since they are circumaural, they still block what I'd estimate as 30% of outside noise, so you do get a little noise isolation. My wife complained that I was talking a bit loud on Ventrilo, so that is telling in itself.

If any other four-eyed and sore-eared gamers are looking for the next step up on the audiophile ladder, Sennheiser's PC 350 circumaural headset is the ticket. I was very nearly seduced by their excellent 10 - 26,000 Hz frequency response, but couldn't quite justify the price tag. The best price I found was at Amazon - and they were asking $139.

Feb 2, 2009

Azeroth, Through Four Fresh Eyes

So far, questing across the Eastern Kingdoms with my son has been a wonderful journey. Any activity that fosters time spent together is fantastic, and it’s great to share with him this hobby that I love so much. I’ve been surprised, though, at the degree of new perspective I’m encountering personally in the process.

Not only do I get to enjoy his enthusiasm and wonder while exploring new areas in the game, but we’re both learning how to play new classes and characters. This neophyte status places me not only in the role of teacher, which I expected, but also as a beginner in many ways.

Zack happens to be playing a Hunter, and since that’s my main character’s vocation, I’m in a position to teach him all the facets of that class as we stomp about the world combating evil-doers. However, I’ve also had to learn to be patient with him as he hones his techniques and strategies. In my 70-some odd days played as a Hunter, I’ve become somewhat familiar with the role...

A writer doesn’t need to concentrate on holding her pen as she scribbles – she is able to focus instead on crafting meaningful sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. I'm finding, however, that taking a step back and teaching someone how to hold their pen and form letters one at a time requires an entirely different mindset. Someone somewhere is saying “patience, Grasshoppa” – and I’m the grasshopper, not Zack.

I’m also delving into a new role – that of a Feral Druid – and the dual tasks of both learning to play this class and play it well with a hunter partner are keeping adventures in familiar locales fresh. The ability to effectively tank, deal damage, and heal at any given time – and at the proper times – offers a great dynamic challenge to me as a veteran player. I’m at the bottom of the learning curve, staring up like a yokel tourist new to the big city – and I like it.

Jan 29, 2009


The (evil? Galactic?) Lucas Empire recently announced a new horror-themed Star Wars genre novel entitled Deathtroopers. Not much more info available beyond the October 27, 2009 street date and cover art, but here's a link to the post on StarWars.com. Sounds intriguing!

Jan 15, 2009

Published, Kinda Sorta

Back in August, I had posted about a review article I'd written being slated for publication in the quarterly woods paintball magazine Recon. To the sorrow of legions of woodsballers however, Recon will no longer be gracing our mailboxes - the magazine folded a few months ago due to financial problems.

I was surprised to learn this afternoon that my article had still been published, after a fashion. Special Ops Paintball has begun an effort to relaunch Recon in an online format. Interested readers can find my Dangerous Power G3 review here.