Friday, September 28, 2012

Mists of Pandaria: Leveling Review

Late last night I finally hit level 90 on my druid and finished a leveling experience as lengthy as Burning Crusade or Wrath of the Lich King when they were first released. As of this morning, I am only one of three players in my guild to hit 90, which is a fine indicator that Blizzard did in fact go old school-expansion, despite the naysayers.

I'm gleeful to be rid of Cataclysm.

For starters, there are elites wandering around just about every zone. Their numbers increase with each zone. Yesterday in the Dread Wastes (this place is packed with elites) my leveling friend, a mage, was squashed by a stone elemental he didn't see PAT, and later, he was slaughtered by a silithid-looking mantid he attacked before realizing it wasn't part of our quest.

Then, of course, was the twenty minutes that four of us (one was level 90) spent trying to kill a rare elite Pandaren monk after we fought for half an hour with a group of Horde that had the same idea; they eventually acquiesced when I used typhoon on their healer and popped him off a cliff. If you're wondering, all rares in Pandaria are elite. At this stage in the expansion, they can't be solo'd either, and I've laughed at plenty of players that tried. I tried at first too and took a 200k hit to the face--instant death.

The zones are put together brilliantly. Having leveled in beta, I knew some of what to do and where to go, picking and choosing quest hubs, plotting my course through areas. Other than the start of Jade Forest, players aren't required to go from point A to point B then C. A player can now choose B, C, then A or just skip to D. The scenery isn't too shabby either.

As an explorer, there is a lot to discover along the way. Blizzard tucked relics in the ground, in houses, and in caves, along with lore to read on statues, scrolls, and books. I don't think I found 25% of what is on Pandaria from glimpsing my unfinished achievements.

There's no flying until max level, so there's a lot of ground skirmishes with the opposite faction (it was incessant for me as my Alliance is outnumbered by Horde on my server) and competition for nodes.

The music is on par with Grizzly Hills; the tracks surrounding the Shado-Pan are my favorite.

Yes, there are Pandaren. Yes, they are a humanoid race of pandas that like to get drunk and know martial arts. However, as NPCS they are sprinkled through the zones. Some zones, like Dread Wastes, they're few and far between. The entire expansion does not revolve around them; as players, we happen to be in their lands causing upheaval with our war.

As usual there are references to pop culture and easter eggs. One of my favorites was an homage to Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. Basically, a leviathan showed up at a fishing town, and I had to hop into a boat, shooting harpoons from a cannon as it circled a massive, seagull-covered octopus. Anyone that has sailed the high seas with Link on Gamecube gets the reference. This time around there is an abundance of vanity items to be had from quests as well, everything from kegs to golden bananas that emit a beam of light.

While the new farm system bores me and the pet battle system is just something for me to pass the time in between dungeons (I admit, I hated the idea of pet battles but they have kind of won me over when I realized there were strategies to it), professions like cooking are a bit more dynamic. It's not the normal grind of killing stuff, harvesting meats and veggies, and cooking. I have some dailies and six different cooking specialties to level.

As far as the leveling aspect, zones, and professions are concerned, MoP meets and maybe surpasses the standard of old. My biggest complaint is that there are only four dungeons along the way; most were designed as heroics for max level, and I haven't even seen them yet.

At the end of the day, as exhausted as I am from grinding all week, Mists of Pandaria renewed my interest in WoW, when I was at the breaking point and on the verge of quitting forever. I don't know how long the joy of something new will last, but I know it's a good expansion when the biggest complaints I see on the forums are when servers go down, gear/profs are too hard/time-consuming to complete, or leveling takes too long.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

"Peasant"


Here is a painting I did in college. I believe this was the first one I did in my Painting I class, sort of just getting a feel for the brush.

Monday, September 24, 2012

"Koala and Lizard in a Bowl"


Here are a couple more critters from my final project for Animal Drawing. The piece is so large and my camera is so crappy that I'm going to show it in pieces over time before its entirety...as best I can.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

"Gator"



This is the upper left hand corner of my final project for my Animal Drawing class. I've always been partial to this alligator (you can tell it's not a crocodile by the roundness of its upper jaw), and I'll never forget the two caffeine-riddled weeks we had to make these enormous drawings, which could only be accomplished by taping large sheets of paper to walls.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Borderlands 2: Halfway Through

Borderlands 2 plays smoother than the original yet maintains the charm and action that made its predecessor so successful. I find myself laughing as much as I'm tense and swarmed by attackers...or grumbling at my screen because I'm having trouble killing a monster (threshers and constructors drive me nuts).

I was sometimes annoyed with the original, either from running through the same exact paths and areas over and over and over...or at Claptrap. Not this time around. While there's some side quests that require backtracking, it's not as repetitive; I don't recall having to visit the same mini-area on a map more than twice unless I choose to waste some time exploring/weapon hunting (so many guns). Now and again, there's even a mini-boss thrown at me to spice things up. Thankfully, Claptrap isn't up in my grill the entire game. He's there, and I can hear the sad-sack all over the town of Sanctuary, but it's nowhere near as extensive as Borderlands.

The non-player characters are as silly and insane as the original, which makes for some stellar laughs. You'll recognize a few as well, and they offer side quests that are downright fun. I've seen an homage to the Ninja Turtles with pizza-eating mutants living in a fully replicated version of the Turtles' lair from the 80s cartoon; I also instigated a clan war that involved me getting drunk and taking out an entire bar of people at a wake. Almost as an amends to how annoying Claptrap was in the original Borderlands, there was a quest for his birthday party; no one showed and I was stuck with him in a back alley, eating cold pizza, listening to his new Dub Step.

On the main quest line I'm at the Wildlife Exploitation Preserve looking for a Claptrap upgrade (hint: you have to kill a boss), which is the halfway point. I have no idea how many hours I've sunk into Borderlands 2 already, but it has to have exceeded thirty, and that's excluding the first character I made. I abandoned my initial Gunzerker because I didn't enjoy charging at things.

There are four unique classes, each with three talent trees. I went with Axton as a Gunpowder Commando my first romp through Pandora. Aside from a farther throw of my turret--a skill combined with a sniper rifle that can give you an insane advantage with long range fighting or combatants using cover--the talents I have picked are increased gun damage or increased mags. I've also spent most of my earned bad ass points on similar boosts, picking bonuses to reload, elemental effect, shield capacity, health, and larger mags when gun/melee damage aren't options.

The bad ass system is quite ingenious. Bonus stats are earned through the completion of challenges, everything from killing X number of a specific type of species to performing a certain boss tactic. Last night, after achieving a challenge of killing a zombie girl before any of the seven midgets defending her (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves with a Pandora twist) I scrolled through the extensive list of challenges, finding over a hundred, most of which had 5 ranks. These stats are then allocated for each and every character, whenever you start one; it should make my next play through, probably as the assassin, a bit easier. The stats, as well as a character's build, can also be reset at any time. The bad ass points also operate independently, so when I reset my commando it leaves my assassin alone.

While the music has left a little something to be desired I haven't found a glitch, bug, bump, or hiccup thus far; I'm shocked. I haven't played a game this ironed out in years. I have read complaints about the field of view. I have also read complaints about motion sickness. While I think the field of view might be a tad small for the Xbox 360 I've found I barely think about it, and unlike the original, I have not experienced motion sickness unless playing at 3 in the morning with all my lights off.

As someone who rarely buys or even tinkers with first person shooters the Borderlands games, particularly the sequel, are fantastic. The addition of gear drops, character builds, and a leveling system (rpg elements) truly enhance a stale genre, and I feel I've barely scratched the surface of Borderlands 2. At this point, I haven't even experienced group play.

Unlike some franchises as of late (Diablo), 2k Games seems to have a firm grasp on what works and what doesn't in terms of what the players want, and this gamer is very appreciative of that understanding--it makes for a great sequel.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Cabin In The Woods Review

Yesterday I rented The Cabin in the Woods on my Xbox 360, expecting the typical gore and mindless story of a slasher flick--I was pleasantly surprised.

There was a lot of humor incorporated into this horror film through dialogue; it's part of the charm of Cabin in the Woods. Nothing is slapstick, and what jokes I saw were cleverly crafted into the flow of the scenes, usually a pair of characters discussing what to do, and at the same time, playing off the cliches we tend to see in horror movies.

Purposely stereotyped with jocks, a blond, and a stoner (there's a point to it that you find out near the end) the characters try to stick together. They try to leave. Unfortunately, a building full of men and women in lab coats conducting this "experiment" have tricky ways of manipulating behavior. Both Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins were hilarious right out of the gate. Rather than the opening death scene I've grown accustomed to, I saw five minutes of comedy partially unrelated to anything that happens the rest of the movie; it was a simple character intro that offered a string of chuckles that put me in the right mood.

The trailers had me thinking this was going to be a movie that took itself too serious, but the fact that it laughed at itself and poked fun at the genre made me fall in love with it instantly. Cabin in the Woods might be the best horror film I've seen in years, maybe as far back as Scream...or one of my guilty pleasures, Slither with Nathan Fillion.

Despite the laughs, as a viewer, I never forgot it was a horror movie. There was gore and blood and hillbilly zombies, as well as a host of other creatures. The ending especially was a nice twist, a twist I didn't expect, and I'd recommend this movie to anyone even slightly interested in horror or looking for a light-hearted monster flick; I might recommend this to anyone looking for a comedy or pure entertainment as well.

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Little Insulted


"Jerry, I'm a little insulted."
"You're not a little anything, Newman."
-Seinfeld
 
 
After attending a wake this week, a bunch of us decided to go out for some drinks at the local watering hole. I got into a discussion about writing with one of the people at the table, mentioning I recently purchased The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. I said, "Half the things in the book I already do," and the person replied, "Maybe you need to worry about the other half then," while perusing her smartphone.
 
 
What really aggravated me about the response was that it came from a person who, despite my repeated insistence they check out my blog, short stories, or novels, has never read a single word I've written. The true insult, whether they realized it or not, was being told I need improvement by someone unfamiliar with my work, outside of my status updates/comments on Facebook.
 
 
For the past few days, the person's response has been clawing at me; I've had other people in my life make similar comments. An uncle once told me, "Maybe you're not as good as you think you are." He has also never read my any of work.

Last weekend, another friend that has never read anything of mine referred to me as lazy and followed the insult with, "Come on. What's it take to write to a book?" He chuckled when I responded, "Try it, if you've got a couple years."
 
If these comments came from people that finished anything I had written: a chapter, a page, a paragraph, a sentence, I would take their words as honest criticism, doubling my efforts to improve, yet I can't. They are clueless of my methods or style, ignorant of what I'm trying to accomplish--they're flippant.
 
Why?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

"Female Figure"



This is from my Figure Drawing class; we were allotted ten minutes per sketch. It's a very unique experience drawing a person that is in front of you, not from memory, imagination, or a photograph. It's especially weird when they disrobe, but I remember most of us got over the initial embarrassment as soon as the pencil hit the paper.

I recommend any aspiring artist take a class such as this. I took Nature, Animal, and Figure Drawing classes that involved drawing what we saw in real life, and each of them improved how I studied and displayed forms.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"Bulldog"


This is a sketch from my animal drawing class. We had to draw three dogs from pictures.

Friday, September 7, 2012

"Split Potato"


This is a still life I did my freshmen year of a college, made with pastels and charcoal. Apparently, it's been hiding in my portfolio, and I had forgotten that it existed until today.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Monster Consistency

One factor that makes or breaks a monster movie, whether it's vampires, werewolves, or aliens, is consistency, and what I mean by consistency is this: are the monsters as easy/difficult to kill at the start of the movie as they are at the end; do their powers stay the same?

I just finished watching the fourth installment of the Underworld franchise, and I grumbled the entire time. One Lycan (werewolf) would take a silver bullet to the heart and flop dead. Another Lycan would be shot in the same spot, as well as take several other rounds in the chest, and manage to sprint off. At one point, the main villains said they'd been taking injections to be immune to silver, yet when it came to the end of the movie, the largest, baddest Lycan of them all was killed by a carefully planted grenade containing silver.

I have to say, as much as I enjoy Kate Beckensdale in tight leather doing anything, I couldn't for the life of me figure out her abilities. One minute she ran from anything with a gun, needing to be saved; the next minute she moved faster than light and killed an entire hall full of armed guards in a single attack. Why did she move that fast only once? Why is her aim only accurate a second before her or someone she loves is a breath away from dying? Either she's skilled and powerful enough to take out rooms full of guards, Lycans, and vampires while they tote all manner of weapons or she's not; it can't be both.

As for movies involving aliens, I recently viewed Battleship. It was a prime example of my largest pet peeve--aliens that landed with immense power at the beginning of the movie yet died easier and easier as the film progressed. Majority of the alien invasion stories I've watched in the past decade have been plagued with this flaw. Humans get the floor mopped with them for a little over forty five minutes, then miraculously discover a chink in the armor (sometimes, that's literal) and start laying waste to aliens in droves.

In Battleship, rockets that did nothing to the alien's rolling balls of destruction suddenly blew them to smithereens. In Battle: Los Angeles, alien armor that took six guys firing machine guns to penetrate were suddenly shredded by a single marksman, hitting the same spots. Overlooking the obvious fact that an alien species would probably adjust to enemy tactics as fast as humans, if not faster, the humans never upgraded their weapons. Therefore, whether it's five or fifty minutes in, it should require the humans the same amount of bullets to get through the alien's armor.

That's just common sense.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Casualclysm?

Yesterday, I was doing my usual flip through the World of Warcraft forums, concerning a poll of whether or not the latest patch has ruined the game. A couple pages in, I noticed several people addressed Cataclysm as Casualclysm, and it got me thinking: how can anyone in their right mind claim Cataclysm as casual? Do we forget that easily?

The first four months into Deathwing's expansion, I saw more rage quits and friends leave for easier games (Rift mostly) than any other time. People I knew left in droves, when failing in dungeons over and over, then entering raids and failing to progress beyond the first boss or two. I was in three guilds that collapsed because of lack of progression. I have just one real life friend that stuck out Cataclysm with me, though he's on a separate server and different faction; the rest, if they were raiders, quit. My pvp friends stuck through the mayhem, regardless of the class-balance issues that plagued this expansion. I die a little inside just thinking about Heroic Deadmines at the start of Cata...

Sorry, folks, if Cataclysm was so easy everyone with a keyboard and subscription would have the Dragonslayer title. We're about to enter the next expansion, and I have seen a total of two guilds with a Heroic Sinestra kill on my server, one of which was achieved not long ago and nowhere near current content. Majority of players didn't start clearing Bastion of Twilight, Blackwing Descent, and Throne of the Four Winds until we received dramatic nerfs and higher end gear. Yeah, they're pretty easy if you enter now, but have we all forgotten what it was like in those raids head to toe in 346 blues? Make a raid, put on some blues, try to fight Al'Akir, and get back to me--I bet most will fail, despite the nerfs to his mechanics.

Zul'Aman/Zul'Gurub: we can all agree a lot of groups in dungeon finder crumbled to their bosses. I don't know (I'm glad I don't know), the number of times I waited half an hour to get into ZG, only to have multiple groups wipe on Venoxis and finally be left standing alone, wishing there were guildies online to join me, then be forced to quit and queue again. Mob pulls required some planning, CC, and awareness of what was around in the instance. Boss fights required precision and high dps/heals/occasional CC. Anyone can say what they want, but ZA/ZG did not become faceroll until there were nerfs and people started running them in Firelands gear.

Firelands: again, only the best really downed Ragnaros and H Rag prior to nerfs. We received two or three nerfs until it was pugable, and there are hardcore raid guilds out there that still haven't downed him on heroic while wearing Dragon Soul gear.

I think players go into DS today, have an easy time with their 35% buff, and equate that to the rest of the expansion, which just isn't the case. Yes, you can get an epic from LFR if you have 45 minutes to spare. Yes, by far, DS was the easiest raid in the entire expansion. Yes, it makes no sense to have the easiest raid double as the final raid. Having said that, less than 6% of players (last I heard from Blizzard) have downed both Heroic Madness and Heroic Deathwing with a 35% buff to healing and damage, which makes me believe that a lot of the players saying Cataclysm was designed for casuals are basing that opinion solely on LFR DS and, to a certain extent, normal DS.

Overall, Cataclysm was nowhere near as easy as Wrath of the Lich King (outside of Ulduar). It's not even a contest, unless we're talking about the ease at which you could level, and the only hardship leveling in Northrend had over leveling in Cataclysm was time. Leveling 1-85 (boa gear plays a huge role in this) and possibly the cookie cutter talent trees might be the only arguing points for why Wotlk was less casual than Cataclysm, but then we would have to discuss what we mean when we say casual, because, for me, casual means easy content/progression, and most of Cataclysm, especially when it was current content, was not that easy for the average gamer a.k.a. the casual.