Jul 29, 2006

Until We Meet Again, WoW

I made a decision yesterday afternoon that might come as a surprise to those who know me well. I decided to cancel my world of Warcraft subscription. Azeroth and I have had a long, torrid love affair. At this point though, I think it's time for us to start seeing other people.

I still love the game - I always will. (It's not you, WoW, it's me...) I just realized that I'm slogging away again and again at the same content. Basically, I've been running the same instances over and over with my sights set on one helmet and two swords. Is that reward along really worth 2 or 3 months of my video gaming life?

At this point in my WoW career, I've been most everywhere and experienced most everything. Barring the two Undead race starting zones, and several endgame dungeons, I've basically experienced everything that Blizzard has to offer, multiple times.

The problem with endgame content is that organizing a play session is not trivial. In general, I need to schedule a session at least a week in advance with my friends, and we're talking two weeks' advance notice for raids. My life is very busy, and this kind of rigidity is very inconvenient. I hate it when my wife comes in and I can't just hit "pause" to talk with her, because 39 other people are depending on me to pay close attention to the game. Or if my family wants to make spontaneous plans, and I have to say, "uh, sorry guys - I have a raid tonight."

I'm tired of the pressure to play that the $15 subscription places on me. I don't want to feel guilty for playing other games.

I've been playing this game for a year and a half straight, almost exclusively. My Xbox is covered in dust like some ancient Egyptian artifact, and the games that I have purchased since building my new gaming rig remain largely lonely and untouched.

I bought Oblivion and Battlefield 2, both outstanding games, and there they still sit in their boxes, barely used. I want to play Half Life 2. I want to play F.E.A.R. I want to try Crysis when it comes out, and Spore just looks yummy. I want something new.

That said, I'm sure I'll be back to WoW when the expansion come out. Content is really the only thing I'm missing right now. I still love the community and the camaraderie of a guild. I just need a change of pace.

So, for my friends that I've pulled into the game, especially Tarrek and Peric, I apologize for dropping out of the game that I pushed you so hard to join. Blizzard saves one's characters indefinitely though, so I know that Erilar will be waiting to join you in our climb to level 70 when Burning Crusade launches.

I'd also really like to figure out some other games to jump in to. I'd love us to all settle on a single shooter that we could occasionally play together like we did WoW. Maybe Half Life 2 or F.E.A.R or Battlefield 2?

I'm also planning on checking out Guild Wars (the original release subtitled "Prophesies", not the newer one called "Factions"). It's a "lite" MMO, with no monthly subscription fee. I figure it would be a sandbox we can jump into like we did with WoW, and my son and I could also play together without feeling like we're draining our bank account by wantonly paying for two subscriptions.

Anyway, farewell Azeroth, and sorry to those I recruited and am leaving behind. I'm sure we'll meet again in Outland.

Jul 27, 2006

Blogger Comments Hack Live - Dare I Say v1.6?

Keep your fingers crossed, but I think I have the Recent Comments functionality working in the sidebar now! I thought it would be a bit trickier, but it really wasn't that difficult to implement. I still probably have a few formatting tweaks to make, but the feature is functional.

A note about how this feature works. One first has to create a separate Blogger page to host the comments. Your original blog is then configured to email notifications of any comments to a Gmail account. Gmail then auto-forwards the comment email (via filter rules) to the comment blog, which then auto-posts them. Finally, a script pulls the comments from the RSS feed of the comment blog, and inserts them in the sidebar of your blog (or wherever). Pretty easy! (Seeing as I'm standing on the shoulders of giants and simply using scripts that others so generously coded and distributed, hehe!)

Many thanks again to Greg, John, and the rest of the crew over at Freshblog for their great tutorial and script!!! If you're using Blogger for your page and want to add more functionality, Freshblog is the place to visit!

Jul 26, 2006

Withdrawal from Ice and Fire

I recently finished A Feast for Crows, which is the latest volume in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series of fantasy novels. Actually, I should clarify that it was the audiobooks that I'd been reading (or listening to - what's the correct terminology??).

In any case, I wanted to take a moment to highly recommend this series. A few buds in my gaming group had told me to check them out, and the books did not fall short of their praise. To date, there are four books in the series. The first, A Game of Thrones, is a little slower than the remainder, but is largely set-up and character introduction. The subsequent books are much more exciting and eventful, but I still very much enjoyed the first.

The books are based in a unique fantasy setting, but the presence of magic and things fantastical is very muted. In general, the books are more so an intricately-woven tale of the goings-on in a fictitious medieval world. The story centers largely on political intrigue, and even though that sort of novel wouldn't typically interest me much, these books have kept me firmly captivated.

Martin introduces a plethora of interesting characters, some of which will be very well developed, and others to be explored and revisited at a later date. Indeed, a large cast was almost entirely necessary, as the denizens of Martin's tale seem surprisingly short-lived. The world of Ice and Fire is not a Disney-esque one, but rather a gritty semblance of what medieval courtly life most likely entailed. The common folk are but playthings of the upper class, and absolutely none are safe from the mortal reality of lesser power struggles, war, and even the conflict for control of the crown.

Meanwhile, beneath the surface currents of the so-called game of thrones, Martin is slowly building an exterior, fantastical threat. While the ruling class and their base-born pawns heedlessly struggle for power and the crown, a dark menace is inexorably gathering its strength to crush civilization beneath a tide of ice and encroaching death. It's fairly evident that elements of traditional fantasy and magic will become more pronounced as the books continue.

Therein lies my frustration. I've read all four of these (rather lengthy) novels back-to-back, and I'm thoroughly embroiled and not yet ready to stop! Unfortunately, Martin is still busy massaging his next installment, leaving me hanging. Even more frustrating, Martin decided to split up the events following the third book into two volumes, one dealing with a certain set of characters, and the other with the remainder. As many of my favorite characters' fates are still suspended in the limbo of the fifth book, A Dance with Dragons, I'm truly faced with a classic cliffhanger. Drat! (What's going on with Tyrion Lannister, dammit?!?)

For those of you who also read audiobooks, I particularly enjoyed the delivery provided by Roy Dotrice, who performed the first three books. He does a great job of creating a different voice for each character, such that one always knows exactly who's talking. John Lee, who reads the fourth book, also does a decent job, but I really missed the excellent voices provided by Dotrice.

Jul 20, 2006

Drivers! Start Your... Err... Throw Your Switches!

As a performance car enthusiast, I've managed to stay ambivalent to the electric and hybrid car buzz. That was before the Tesla Roadster. I like!

Strategic Caffeine Deployment

The idea for this post has been rolling around in my head for quite a while. It's so hard to find time to write sometimes!

Caffeine is a funny subject. Specifically, why is there such a link between caffeine-worship and the geek subculture? Is there some kind of predilection for the geek brain to crave a slow Mountain Dew buzz? Certainly, the average geek probably enjoys a certain level of cranial stimulation - video games, scifi and fantasy movies positively dripping with outlandish special effects and action scenes, and of course the short attention span theatrics of the web. So, does the caffeine hum also even us out, in the same fashion (but to a lesser extent) that Ritalin might a child with Attention Deficit Disorder?

There is also the possibility that we cherish the edge that caffeine provides when we've a controller or mouse in hand and we're looking to unleash virtual electric death on our opponents. Myself, I'm quite convinced that "doing the Dew", as it were, can bestow a boost to reaction time that truly gives on a leg up on one's iEnemies.

I remember a NukemCon (one of our home-grown weekend gaming fests) about a year back when we were all sitting around playing Halo 1 over a network of linked Xboxes. I'd been chugging Mountain Dew all afternoon while we were boardgaming - it had been a long weekend of gaming, with many a late night with dice in hand, and I was trying to perk up a bit. At the point when we sat down to take a break and play some Halo 1, my brain was humming like a turbocharged, 2-liter boxer engine at 6500 RPMs.

Long story short, I was in the zone - buzzing and unstoppable. There was about a 20 minute period where I got my hands on a rocket launcher, and was killing Ken and Bob over and over again, seemingly invulnerable and uncannily accurate. They eventually threw their hands up, and said, "OK - enough of that for a while!" It's not that I'm better than them - both of those guys usually play Halo a bit better than me. My reaction time simply felt hummingbird-quick and my senses preternaturally aware. Quake Shake, indeed! (Be sure to check out the preceding link - one of the funniest PvP strips EVER!)

I myself have been a bit of a caffeine worshipper over the years, so I suppose I play into the geek stereotype nicely. There is a half-kilo bag of pure, food-grade, 100% caffeine powder in my office cabinet at work. You see, I am a coatings chemist by trade, and I'd weaseled a sample of the geek ambrosia from one of the chemical distributor salesmen that call on me (he also calls on food companies).

I'm going to stress right here that this material is nothing to mess around with casually. Ingested, the lethal adult dose is reportedly only about 10 grams. I suppose one's heart might have a hard time handling a pick-me-up of that magnitude... As they say on TV, certainly a "do not try this at home kids - leave this to the experts" type situation. That said, I'm obviously well-versed in measuring and dilution techniques, and in handling hazardous substances, so I consider myself to fit that experts-only bill.

I've messed around with a few different interesting recipes. My caffeinated spring water beverage (active content equal to that of Mountain Dew) is as low-cal as a "soda" can get, and my personal favorite, caffeinated Jell-O Jigglers, is perfect for a snack during a late night table-top gaming session. :)

Back to the Deployment portion of the piece. A while back, I stopped drinking soda on a regular basis, mostly for health reasons. Coupled with a reasonable diet, I lost 10 pounds in a relatively short period. I was drinking one cup of tea in the morning when I got to work, and that was about it. (I'm now mostly on a coffee kick, and a 16-oz travel mug of java love is a permanent fixture in the dash cupholder of my WRX on my half-hour morning commutes.)

Since cutting out the frequent soda, I've had to really watch my intake of caffeinated beverages. If I drink a cup of coffee or glass of soda after 4 or 5 PM, I can expect to still be sitting in front of World of Warcraft at 2 AM - it really affects me strongly now. My one cup of coffee is all I really need anymore, and it lasts me throughout the morning, and on late gaming nights, a single glass of Dew will keep me going till my Subaru carries me to my front door.

Those of you that find yourself drinking soda or coffee all day might consider cutting back, if only as a temporary experiment and/or easy diet method. You may just find out that you don't really need all that go-juice, and that you're really just wiring yourself to the gills and guzzling empty calories needlessly.

That said, the next time I log on to Halo 2 or Battlefield 2, I'll probably still have a Dew handy in my coaster. Take that, Devilfish!

Jul 19, 2006

Ditlog 1.5

Well, how pretentious am I - a version number for my... blog?? Well, I'm no 1337 haxxor, and these kind of upgrades are not trivial for me, so allow me a little pride. :)

On the surface, I've done some reorganizing - mostly to the sidebar. It's now much more organized and I've prioritized the items there for ease of use.

OK, snore... Is that it? Nope. The big upgrade is the addition of a tagging system allowing me to catagorize my posts. The blog is relatively small (young) right now, but as time passes, without catagories it would be increasingly harder to find a specific post. So, catagories.

Again, what's the big deal? Well for starters, Blogger doesn't offer this function natively, so I had to do it the hard way. Many thanks out to the folks at Freshblog for the tutorials, and heaps more to Johan Sundstrom at Ecmanaut for his great catagorizer script!

As far as the nuts and bolts go, the script customizes the code of Blogger's posting page via Greasemonkey, and uses del.icio.us as a back end to host my tag database. Pretty damn cool. Del.icio.us also recently released a tagroll script that enables the nice sidebar tag navigation tool you see to the left.

I must caution those interested in implementing this Blogger hack that the del.icio.us script generator is slightly broken, at least under Firefox. The slider that is supposed to specify how may tags will display in your list was defaulting to 1. I think this may have been because my del.icious database was empty, because it works now. If you encounter the same problem, be sure to change the count=x variable to your desired list length. Otherwise, you'll only see the list title and no items underneath.

One more caution. Del.icio.us takes a while to refresh. After adding a list of bookmarks, del.icio.us will take a little while to populate your list of tags. Don't freak out - just keep adding bookmarks and the tag list will eventually populate.

Hopefully, one fringe benefit of tagging all my posts will be increased traffic. Johan's excellent script formats the tags to be compatible with both del.icio.us and Technorati, so folks should now be able to easily find my content contextually. Enjoy!

In the future, I'd really like to add a Recent Comments field in the sidebar. At this point, one has to dig and new comments referring to old posts will be very buried. If you thought the tags hack sounded convuluted, wait 'till you hear what the recent comments field will require...

Jul 18, 2006

Arkham Horror Audio Review

Just a quick note to check out the latest installment of the Radio Active podcast (#34) over at Ken Newquist's speculative fiction website, Nuketown. Ken kindly asked me to join him to collaborate on a review of one of our gaming group's newest obsessions, Arkham Horror.

Arkham Horror is published by Fantasy Flight Games, and is an engrossing cooperative board game based on the timless, creepy fiction of H. P. Lovecraft and the cult favorite (pun intended) Chaosium Games' RPG, Call of Cthulhu.

Jul 14, 2006

What? Video Games DON'T Cause Real-World Violence?!?

Just wanted to post a link to a great article debunking Big Media's "video games = violence" crapathon. Great Stuff. One amateur video game writer, using government-published statistics, easily and intelligently squashes all the combined blustering of the Far Right and the media. Precious! :)

Grand Theft Auto - embrace it, my children!

Fine print: Ditlog does not condone parents allowing their young children to play GTA. Lots and lots of soccer moms read Ditlog daily and I need to be careful to qualify this stuff...

Jul 13, 2006

Battle Planner - Check it Out!

After a long hiatus, I've recently gotten back into playing some HeroClix with friends, and wanted to give some props to a great program called Battle Planner. I've been using this great database for a few years now, and it really deserves a close look from any of you who play collectible miniatures and/or card games.

The program keeps an inventory of your collection, and empowers you to more easily and intelligently construct new armies/teams/decks. Via a variety of different tools - filters, sorting, statistics - it allows one to get a better top-down view of their collection, and best utilize all the strengths and combinations available from your inventory of game pieces.

Data modules are available for virtually all the major collectible games out there, and for quite a few of the more obscure ones as well. The site also maintains a link page for accessing player-compiled sets of playing-piece images. (The creators are not allowed to provide "official" images themselves due to copyright restrictions.)

Unless you have a photographic memory, you will be hard pressed to remember the exact details of every game piece when putting together a new deck or miniatures force. Battle Planner puts all this data at your fingertips, and will make you a more competitive player in the process (ast least from the standpoint of creating a deck or army).

I've used BP for HeroClix, Mechwarrior, VS cards, and most recently, WizKids' great constructible Pirates game.

(If you're interested in Pirates, be sure to check out the cool new Pirates of Davy Jones' Curse expansion. WizKids' new expansion has introduced a bunch of cool fantasy elements to the game - ghost ships, sea monsters, and the spooky Cursed faction, which really give this great, very affordable, fast-paced game a supernatural shot in the arm.)

In closing, Battle Planner is very affordable, and in dealing with the creators Shawn and Todd over the years, I have learned that they are very nice guys and support their product thoroughly. Pay their site a visit!

Jul 6, 2006

Booo - Scary!!!

Think Count Floyd, folks... :)

OK, you want to be scared? I'll scare you. Guys like Senator Ted Stevens (R - Alaska) are making choices about your internet. Who's that? Why should you be scared?

Here's a transcript of ol' Teddy explaining why he voted the way he did about net neutrality. Better yet, listen to this sound byte of his actual delivery, but I'm warning you - it's scary. About a third of the way through the clip, he explains his understanding of this Internet thingie. Leave the lights on.

He's not a-feared about technology, and don't need no expert to learn him about it neither. He even plugged in one of them there computers one time - shoot...

Sometimes when I send an internet, it gets all tangled up too, Ted. I hate that.

Jul 5, 2006

Berin and the Big Bandwidth Bill

For a few months now, I've been toying with the idea of starting a new podcast. I love the technology, and I'm a huge weekly consumer of a long list of gaming, geek, and techie podcasts.

Podcasting is just such a beautiful thing. It's an illustration of what makes a free internet great, and is an iconic showpiece of why Net Neutrality is so incredibly vital. Anyone can record their musings on any topic of their choice, upload them, and share their mind with any who care to listen.

What's the alternative? When was the last time you caught a radio show catered to your particular interests? Fishing, skating, geek life, needlepoint - how far and wide would you have to search to find a commercial radio show giving even a few minutes to any of these esoteric topics? Yet, all one needs is a PC and an internet connection to enjoy an incredibly broad selection of podcasts catering to each of our individual personal interests. That is freedom, my friends - that is the sharing of minds across all geographical (international even!), cultural, and lifestyle borders. What a time we live in!

Back to my ephemeral podcast musings though. I've been mulling over an idea for a World of Warcraft podcast for some time. There are several great ones out there, but seeing as WoW is one of my biggest interests now, I still wanted to contribute to the community. So, I've been considering unique angles on the topic, and came up with the idea of a "WoW-101" show, designed to help new players along.

I imagine addressing topics such as effective soloing and questing techniques, proper group dynamics, the different class roles within a group, etc. I envision my local gaming friends co-hosting regularly, and occasional guest spots by members of my WoW guild appearing in focus pieces on particular classes or professions.

So what's stopping me, you ask? Fear of success and the Big Bandwidth Bill. WoW is a popular phenomenon, and I worry that if the project were of sufficient quality and posted on iTunes,
the podcast might gain enough popularity to make the bandwidth unaffordable to me. I'm not an expert on the particulars, but from comments mentioned on several of my favorite podcasts, even a moderate following can quickly turn into a car payment-sized byte bill.

Perhaps if the site were built with growth in mind, and a donation button in place from the get-go, everything would work out fine. At this point, it's still too scary to me.

Enter my RL buddy Ken over at Nuketown. He's been mentioning a desire to attempt an occasional collaboration on his Radio Active podcast, and it seemed like a great opportunity for me to at least give the physical recording process a whirl. We haven't even discussed any details as of yet, as Ken's been busy getting his life ready for a new baby. Ken's son is a few weeks old now though, and a specific opportunity has perhaps reared its head.

Berin from Uncle Bear has also been making plans to embrace the podcasting medium, and has put out a call for submissions from the gamer community. He's looking for pieces that examine the gaming culture - the gamer/non-gamer dynamic, as well as discussions from the viewpoints of different types of gamers (video vs. paper RPG vs. CCG, etc.).

Ken has proposed the two of us discussing the topics of gaming and geek life as parents, perhaps even bringing Mur Lafferty from Geek Fu Action Grip into the mix. (That would be a particular treat, as Mur's podcast has been a frequent listen for me.) It all sounds like a great opportunity for me to test drive a mic and see if it's for me. We shall see. :)