Thursday, November 29, 2012

Mists of Pandaria: Patch 5.1 Review

This week Blizzard released the first content patch, Landfall, for MoP. While there are several fun additions to the game, some needed fixes and balances (depends on who you talk to about class changes, as players despise nerfs on anything they play), there are also some questionable changes and omissions.

I do enjoy the removal of a raid group to enter the old raids such as MC, BWL, and Naxx, as well as the additions to pet battles that drop off raid bosses. I spent a couple hours last night solo'ing MC on two of my 90s in search of pets, as well as tagging along with guildies to clear Naxx and BWL; we have plans to topple AQ40 over the weekend. My goal is to capture all these drops and snag Mr. Bigglesworth, who I was fond of killing at the start of every Naxx run in Wotlk. Having not been in Naxx for years, last night's run was nostalgic for me; I wouldn't have been there without an incentive, as I don't really get into transmog.

In the future, I look forward to the Brawler's Guild. The price on invites through the BMAH are too high for me, but members of my guild have already joined and will shell out invites once they're able. If anything, as more people get into the guild and invites are less of a demand, the steep price will drop. I believe they start at 10k. Plus, there's always the chance I receive one on an NPC drop in the new daily zone.

Yes, Blizzard added more factions (one for Horde, one for Alliance), and they require dailies. The length of the rep grinds have been lessened via purchasable commendations from each faction's quartermaster, once a player reaches revered. The effects are account bound. I don't do dailies on my alts, though I'm considering Cloud Serpents on my hunter with this patch--I never use flying mounts on my druid. The 100% rep increase is larger than I suspected. I exalted Cloud Serpents two days early; I will exalt Shado-pan a week early. I might even go back and grind both Klaxxi and Golden Lotus, which I abandoned at revered. It'd still be nice if the tabards at exalted were BOA and gave rep gains in heroics up through honored or something, but at this point, I'll take what I can get.

I like the new daily area in Krasarang. It's centered around the factions' campaigns to control Pandaria, including strategic points that can be taken by players similar to the towers in Hellfire Peninsula. On a PVP server, it's never dull. I even spent a solid hour on a wall in Domination Point nuking any Horde that came within distance while using typhoon to keep enemies off my ledge. I believe the RP and PVE servers were experiencing a glitch that flagged players; I read it was hotfixed yesterday.

While instances of world PVP are thriving, PVP balance continues to be its usual mess. Since nerfs were across the board, nothing really changed. Gimped classes stayed gimped, OP classes stayed on top, and the devs' decision to allow the use of silence to stop a shammy from dropping a totem, among other nerfs, is baffling. CC is still rampant, as are bots--I'm hesitant to try the updated Wintergrasp and Tol Barad because of this. MMR exploits weren't addressed other than setting all teams back to a 2200 rating. On PVP servers connected by CRZ, levelers must still remain vigilant of gankers in areas like the Dark Portal and expect serious traveling delays; I doubt there's a solution to this other than eliminating CRZ. Regardless of such nuisances, I enjoy seeing an active Azeroth, as opposed to my dwindling server...

There were a lot of complaints about the new UI feature for CC that lights up the screen and action bars. I tried to disable this feature and was at least able to remove all but my action bars turning dark. Though I can see how this feature would help a beginner, I already have my trinket and escapes keylogged and memorized, so it's no help to me at all.

The new scenarios are far and away more compelling than the originals, definitely what I had expected of them from the beginning, yet it's unfortunate they're not needed by geared 90s, other than a source for achievements (*update: in a recent hotfix, Blizz upgraded the bonus at the end of scenarios to drop gear more often and sometimes contain epics). I did them once. Maybe, if they pop at random, I'll do them again when I have a fresh 90 sometime in the future. If I get bored by LFR or heroics, I might queue as well, for I think I will be taking advantage of the new gear upgrade system once I've collected all the VP gear I can off quartermasters.

As for the continued story arch in 5.1, one thing about MoP that has irked me from the moment I hopped on my goblin mage and heard Garrosh say, "Paint the land red with Alliance blood," is the warchief's flat character; more and more he seems like a villain from a B-movie. Yelling everything as if Samuel Jackson on meth, he speaks in cliches. His motivation is lost in translation, and if the only thing driving Garrosh is a lust for power, it's really not that interesting. He is even hypocritcal: in Stonetalon, he kills one of his orcs for dropping a bomb on a city then does the same to Theramore. The warrior's code he lived by, something that was appealing and added dimension to his character, is nonexistent.

Given the direction he takes in the scenario, "Dagger in the Dark," Garrosh isn't even that smart; the writers have turned him into a mindless, paranoid brute that just so happens to be the warchief. For me, it makes no sense that Vol'jin is the lone faction leader within the Horde opposed to Garrosh, so it looks bad on the others as well. As far back as Cata, Garrosh calls the undead an abomination and refers to Sylvanas, who I always assumed was as cold-hearted as she was cunning, a bitch. What does she do? Stammers and little else.

All in all, I think 5.1 took as many step forwards as it did back. The most promising of the changes were to solo play, and I've found, in the overall scheme of the game, we're mostly where we started (I still have yet to even glimpse Galleon, let alone defeat him). However I enjoy MoP, I won't say there isn't room for improvement; some of the issues I've discussed are game-breaking for other players. At this stage of the expansion, I'm still gleeful to have things to do, because around every corner is a reminder of how bored I was throughout Cataclysm as I sat in a capitol and waited on a heroic.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Observers in Fringe

As I watched the season one Fringe marathon on the Science Channel I happened to notice an Observer leaving the terminal of an airport as Olivia's flight landed. At first, I thought I was seeing things, then I went on Youtube and discovered the creators of Fringe have been sneaking the Observer September (and some others) into episodes since the pilot.

Having seen every episode, I'm amazed I never noticed this before. As if I needed another reason to watch the show in its entirety, now I'll forever be on the lookout for Observers. It will be kind of like looking for pineapples in Psych.

Here's also a link to Fringepedia that has a list of known sightings.

My new awareness has led to some interesting questions, especially considering the turn the show has taken with Peter's storyline. Why has September been watching them for so long? Is he more than a rebel Observer? Is he Peter Bishop? Have the writers really known how things would end since they inked the pilot, years ago, that the Observers were always meant to be the final villains?

I guess I'll know in a few episodes. The series finale is coming up fast, and hopefully some of my questions will be answered.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Stephen King's Influence

They all float down here.
- Pennywise

A fellow blogger got me thinking about Stephen King this morning and how influential his work has been in my life. Whether movies, books, or television, King's visions have seeped into my subconscious and intertwined with my memories. His imagination is one to admire, even if you're not a fan, and his skill in the craft is one I hold on a pedestal, especially when I consider how prolific an author he is, producing a book every few months (take note George R.R. Martin). My copy of On Writing is battered from referencing it, and I've always aspired to write characters as fleshed and interesting as Flagg or Father Callahan. Even when King drops a corny line or a goofball joke, I enjoy it.

Fun fact: King's wife pulled a half-finished "Carrie" out of the garbage and urged him to finish.

I started reading King in high school, when I received a paperback edition of The Shining for Christmas. Until then, I had only experienced his movies, and as a kid, some of them downright terrified me. As someone that was already terrified of lakes and oceans, the part in Creepshow 2 about the oily blob in the lake that picked off swimmers one by one as they were stuck on a dock left me petrified. Then there was The Shining; though Kubrick took liberties with the source material, I'd be a liar if I said the twins didn't give me chills to this day. My mom still has trouble watching anything with Jack Nicholson. She says it has to do with his eyes. She has also mentioned that she had to leave the room during the maze scene and doesn't know how the film ended...thirty years later.

Currently, my three favorite King movies are The Mist, Shawshank Redemption, and 1408, which are all based on novellas. I find his shorter works translate better to film because there's no need for them to be trimmed. They manage to capture the characters and story and have room to be expanded upon, whereas the 1,000 page The Stand would be a nightmare to fit into two hours. I've read that's exactly the problem Ben "You Were the Bomb in Phantoms" Affleck is having, and I don't blame him.

I can't say everything I've read by King was a home run (I used Bag of Bones as an Ambien), but when a novel of his hits me, it's out of the stadium. For years, I gobbled up anything related to the Dark Tower series, including short story collections. There were a lot of spin-offs and crossovers. In college, I read The Gunslinger for a third time, as it was required for a course, and like any good book, each read is different. Each time I sat down and ventured with Roland Deschain I was a different person. I'd changed, thus what I took from the story changed. That's not to say I didn't struggle through some of the Dark Tower novels in the series. Some were stronger than others--I detested King putting himself in the story, and I wasn't keen on the overall climax. A Drawing of the Three wasn't to my liking either, yet Wolves of Calla, which was a King version of Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven, Wizard and Glass, a glimpse into Roland's past, and the original Gunslinger were top notch.

Every bit of his extensive work is tied to a memory: rewinding Halloran taking an ax to his chest over and over in high school, because it made the girls we were with scream and grab onto us, making stove-top popcorn in anticipation of the new installment of It, covering our buddy with popcorn when he fell asleep during the midnight showing of Apt Pupil, gawking and rummaging through my neighbor's bookshelf with the glass door that contained a Stephen King collection, sprinting home in the dark after watching Cujo, reading The Talisman by the heating vent in my Somerville apartment.

So many memories; too many to fully list.



Friday, November 16, 2012

Combating Internet Trolls

When I read an article online, it's hard for me not to skim the comments and try to get a sense of what other readers think. It's equally hard for me not to respond to a commenter whose opinion greatly differs from my own, thinking if I leave my opinion I may get to the bottom of why they think the way they do.

More often than not, leaving a comment backfires. Rather than a calm discussion or debate, the responses are flagrant insults or trolls. As I had to explain to someone a few weeks ago, a troll is someone that purposely writes a mean, racist, off-topic, or lie-filled comment in order to elicit an angry response. Once they get your hate, they've won and proceed to ask, "Angry bro?" until you're punching your keyboard and swearing, dwelling on what they said for hours. All the time I've spent on World of Warcraft (WoW), I've become practiced in the art of sniffing trolls out from under their bridge.

Yesterday, after reading an article on secession, I noticed the trolls were out in force. One man in North Dakota was gloating over his state's possible independence and calling for a nuclear strike on California. He had dozens of people react with threats and taunts, including a man from Texas that said, "BYOBB: Bring Your Own Body Bag." Death threats, childish remarks, and a call for the apocalypse against nonbelievers and sinners are the type of thing a troll feeds on. They tell a person, "Go worship your man in the sky," because they know the reaction they'll get.

As well as on news articles, the forum trolls at WoW don't just want one response. They set out to derail threads, instigate fights between other people, and will continue to taunt a person until they leave a thread entirely. Early last week, one player told me he hated me (my opinion differed from his), then he found my comments in a couple other threads. He wanted an angry response; luckily, I gave him nothing, though I admit I was tempted when he proceeded to call me, "son...kid...fanboi." Sometimes, a troll at WoW will create an entire thread with the sole purpose of upsetting readers so much they feel obligated to respond, and all the troll needs to do is post an outright lie.

The sharpest weapon in a troll's arsenal is discrediting the opposing commenter, rather than what they say. Such behavior is rampant in game forums. Should you write anything that might support the game, you're sure to read, "Fanboi, White Knight, or Wrathbaby," soon after. Along those lines in political articles, people are called, "Libtards or Repturds." Both sides claim the other is drinking Kool Aid and told to use their brain.

What do you say to a person that just publicly insinuated you're a brainwashed drone? Any response will get a rise from the troll, who will only attempt further aggravation. My advice is to either stay calm and write something sensible, which, to an intelligent commenter, outs the troll, or click off the link and find another bridge to cross. Retreat is always an option, especially if you're outnumbered and your opponent starts correcting grammar instead of the issues.

Have I succumb to trolls? Most definitely. I've taken their bait on occasion in seething fashion; it happens to the best of us, even the savvy Internet users. What used to drive me the craziest was when I had written a carefully plotted response, attempting to stay objective and on point, and my opponent retaliated with, "Strawman is a strawman." From there it was a downward spiral as I tried to prove I didn't write a straw man while they use a straw man to enrage me--I wouldn't be surprised if it's on purpose as the original debate shifts into an argument over semantics.

While I doubt trolls will ever go extinct, resilient hobbyists that they are, keep up the good fight. Stay witty. Stay vigilant. And if worst comes to worst, at least be whimsical.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mists of Pandaria: Pet Battle Review

I'll admit pet battles were the feature for MoP I was the least excited for. Although I didn't talk bad about it, I also didn't look forward to it. I was in college when the whole Pokemon craze hit, and I didn't quite understand how it was addicting, despite having had a friend give me a Jigglypuff toy that sat on my desk for four years.

The very first week of MoP I noticed people getting easy achievements through pet battles, and I thought, "I like nerdpoints, why not round up a few while I wait for this dungeon?" A month and a half later I have a small army of companion pets ready for battle, and their ranks are growing by the day.

What I appreciate about the system the most is its turn-based style that takes me back to the days of Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior, where I'm plotting what spells to cast and pitting Flying against Aqua. It's not clear right off the bat as you take your favorite level 1 pet around Stormwind or Orgrimmar that there's any sort of strategy involved in the fights; then you find yourself facing off against a couple of spiders in Duskwood and realize you're not going to win unless you use a mechanical pet of similar level. And, of course, you make the mistake of joining a PVP battle and want to cry like your character when all three of your pets are dead at your feet.

Another aspect I enjoy is finding pets in the wild. There are hundreds of them. At this moment, I have alts hovering in strategic positions around Azeroth. My mage is over Jaguero Isle in southeastern Stranglethorn, waiting for rain so I can nab a Baby Ape before anyone else can. I also bring my druid to Felwood when I know a server restart is coming with hopes of caging a Minfernal, one of the most elusive pets in the game, other than the seasonal (only in summer) Qiraji Guardling. Unfortunately, MoP released a week or two after the season, so a Guardling will take a year's wait to capture.

Yesterday, when seeing I had a fifteen minute wait for raid finder, I powerleveled a slew of pets in Pandaria to level 10 for an achievement--I like nerdpoints. I also like taking a low level pet, allowing it to smack a higher level pet, then swapping it out for my ringers and gaining a level each victory. What I'm really striving for is a contingent of pets. I need 3 of each family at level 25, if I'm ever going to clear the Pet Battle Masters in Northrend and Pandaria. I've been stuck in Northrend for a while now, because I don't have the team make-up to beat 3 of the masters and their level 25 pets.

What's even more promising is Blizzard is just getting started with this implementation. In 5.1 they'll be releasing more pets in places such as Naxxramas and giving us rare items to upgrade our captured pets from uncommon to rare, easing the grind of finding those blue titles in the field, which happen to have superior stats.

I think new pets are just the beginning. Down the road, there might even be new families or tricks to capturing pets, such as was done with hunter rares in Pandaria. Pet battles really are an outstanding mini-game, especially when waiting for a dungeon, battleground, raid, or just seeking something new to do outside of dailies. They're not going to improve your character. They're not going to make you rich, because, currently, we're not allowed to sell the ones we capture in the wild (I'd like this to change). If anything, they'll give you some titles, more pets, and nerdpoints to brag about, but after an expansion that took itself too seriously, it's a refreshing change of pace--having fun for fun's sake.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Mists of Pandaria: PVP Review

Over the years of my playing WoW it has been easy to see the yo-yo of classes; one expansion beast master hunters are garbage, then the following expansion they're wrecking machines. I used beast master as an example, because I toiled through Cataclysm on mine against the advice of everyone and am absolutely shocked about their dominance in MoP.

It's a regular thing in battlegrounds for my hunter not to die and rack up 10-15 kills. Last night in the Temple of Kotmogu, my hunter was taking on 2 or 3 enemies at a time and stepping away victorious. It's almost too easy. On the other hand, my boomie is a glorified practice dummy. Boomies have no stuns, no pets (unless you spec for treants), and 2-3 second casts which require them to stand still to fire off. Usually I have to run away, root, kite, spam moonfire/sunfire (I hope to proc starsurge during this and wait for starfall to come back up) and heal myself--it has terrible mechanics. Compared to both my hunter and frost mage that have silences, stuns, roots, superior defensive abilities, and ways to break out of CC it's a downright travesty.

For certain classes that were either nerfed into oblivion or are underpowered, PVP simply isn't fun. It contains a handful of the same problems as in Cataclysm: MMR exploits, unbalanced BGs where one team is stacked with healers and the other team has none, as well as teams loaded with fresh 90s pitted against a team loaded with fully PVP geared players, raid gear boosting dps classes, and flavor-of-the-month classes. There are definitely specs that need buffs to bring them to the level of others. Boomies, in particular, need their instant roots back (it made a world of difference); I really don't understand why it was removed to begin with when most classes have instant roots like a mage's aoe root, frost nova.

The state of crowd control is obscene. There's simply too much. If outnumbered, a player must be lucky enough to run away. Otherwise, they'll be caught with a chain of CCs and stare at their PC unable to move until they are dead. When that happens, especially if your trinket is on cooldown, no amount of gear or resilience will save you. I don't even know if it can be called playing; it's more like watching a video.

One thing Blizzard somewhat fixed was the ridiculous survivability of healers. The mana cap plays a large part, as does the abundance of CC and the burst damage that a few classes now sport. Even in arena, it's a noticeable difference from Cataclysm. Healers these days don't feel like boss fights.

Their attempt to even the field with baseline resilience hasn't been that impressive. If a player doesn't craft all or most of the PVP gear when they first hit 90, they're fodder; even with that gear, other players will stack PVP power gems on their honor gear, which bypasses the resilience. The end result is really no different than Cata; I've actually seen characters die faster this xpac than in previous ones, yet once fully geared, my hunter feels tankish against everyone but those that outgear me.

What I have talked about, the biggest problems, were addressed in a Dev Watercooler by Ghost Crawler, and I feel if Blizzard follows through with what he states there's a good chance they might actually balance PVP this expansion--might. The one issue that remains, which GC seemed to be content about, is CC. I really hope they one day make it so all CC used on a player diminishes the way fear and cyclone do. For example, if you're frozen, then someone fears you, the following CC doesn't last as long. I also hope they stop adding new CCs to the game. There's more than enough already.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

My Fall TV Picks

I always find it interesting to learn what TV shows my friends are watching and why, especially the ones they're addicted to, so I thought I'd share my Fall picks. These are the shows that sunk their hooks in me as of late, the ones I try to watch as soon as they air so no one can spoil what happens, and the ones, if I should miss them, I catch up on as soon as possible.

Castle - It's my lone show on Monday nights. It's also my only cop/crime-solving show. Every episode is as quirky as the characters, and Nathan Fillion cracks me up week after week. It's also one of the few shows, maybe the only show, I've ever seen where the unrequited love story is resolved and when it's resolved, I'm not bored out of my mind. The writers have definitely been on top of their game this season.

Dexter - While I lost all interest in this show an episode into season 3 it brought me back in a big way with John Lithgow's portrayal of the Trinity Killer in season 4. It hasn't let me go. This season has been amazing, picking up the exact moment Deb learned about Dexter's dark passenger. On top of that the writers have returned to a theme I've always enjoyed: Dexter's attraction to dangerous females...who happen to be easy on the eyes. I knew this season was going to be a good one with the introduction of Isaac, a ruthless mob boss, and an episode revolving around a murderer that dressed like a minotaur and chased women through his maze.

Fringe - Never a disappointment. When I read the final season was going to take place in the future I was apprehensive; I completely underestimated the storytelling and characters involved. Instead of freak-of-the-week episodes and a case to solve, there's just one story: taking the world back from the Observers. The characters are still evolving, literally, and as I learned last week, none of them are safe. Fox Network's lone jewel, Fringe is the best science fiction on TV. I'll be sad to see it end.

The Walking Dead - As if AMC listened to all its fans complaining about the borefest that was season 2, this show has surpassed every expectation I had. Only a handful of episodes in characters die and make choices in season finale-esque style. I've been on the edge of my seat since Rick and the gang entered the prison. In between the walker action there has been a few heart-wrenching scenes that stuck with me as a viewer as well; I couldn't ask for more.

Supernatural - Dean and Sam are finally back to the basics, traveling around in the Impala on cases. They're no longer running around trying to stop the end of the world, a persistent theme for years. Instead, the story is about Dean and Sam's lives as hunters, their relationship with each other, and their choices. The writers also made a brilliant move by putting the demons on the run this season as the sarcastic brothers try to keep hell's minions off earth forever. It's a nice change to what had become a predictable tale.

666 Park Avenue - The beginning of this show was shaky for me, and I wasn't sure how long I would last. Lately, the stories have picked up steam, are congruent, and overlapping, and the overall theme has taken shape. It took a few episodes, but the characters are no longer these flat, uninteresting cliches. Terry O'Quinn (you probably know him best as Locke from Lost) as Gavin Doran kept the show afloat when it appeared to be sinking, and now I'm glad I stuck with it. The Drake, a devilish apartment building that seems to have a mind of its own, reminds me a lot of Stephen King's Overlook Hotel/Room 1408. In fact, the show could easily be mistaken for something King would have written. While I won't go as far as to say this is one of the best shows on TV I will say it's doing enough to keep me returning, especially with the latest introductions of villains. It definitely has potential.

American Horror Story: Asylum - I didn't watch the first season in its entirety. I saw three episodes and gave up--it just didn't do it for me. However, on a whim, I decided to check out the premiere of Asylum, and I've been craving each episode. Something about mad scientists (James Cromwell is spectacular and disturbing as Dr. Arden) and insane asylums intrigues me, not to mention the alien abduction plot and whatever is living in the woods. Then there's Jessica Lange as the meanest nun I've ever seen. Somehow, she can also be erotic, and I'm not sure I want to dwell on why that is. In the end, can you really not love a show that maims Adam Levine in the opening sequence?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

My Thoughts on Lucas and Disney

Earlier this week, George Lucas sold the rights to both Star Wars and Indiana Jones to Disney for a few billion dollars, and when I heard the price tag, I immediately moved past my initial anger. I really can't blame him. He's getting up there in age, is criticized for everything he does involving both franchises (I'm guilty of this), and probably does not have the time or drive to do another trilogy. Plus, 4 billion dollars is an insane retirement fund.

While fans are assured there will be another Star Wars trilogy many of us are worried about its future. It's hard to imagine the franchise under the direction of someone other than Lucas, but the man was never going to live forever; it was bound to happen. This sale could actually be good for us, if Disney is thoughtful of loyal fans.

The first thing they should do is revisit the originals and strip them of the added scenes, get back to basics: return to a time when Han Solo was the only person that fired in the Cantina, showing us all what a bad ass merc he was, take the Little Shop of Horror plant alien-thing (sarlacc's mouth?) out of the Great Pit of Carkoon, swipe Jabba from A New Hope entirely, and get that stupid song and dance scene out of Jabba's palace--just to name a few.

Second, even though Disney has already said the new trilogy is going to have an original script and characters, they should at least base parts of the upcoming movies on the Thrawn Trilogy, written by Timothy Zahn. They already told us the movies will take place in that general time era; why would they ignore available canon? If anything, at least give us a cameo or two. Like any of us wouldn't kill to see Han Solo on the big screen again, even if he's a grandparent. Hell, roll out Mark Hamill as Luke with a new apprentice. There's no age limit on Jedi masters.

As for Indiana Jones...that purchase scares me. Those movies are classics, and I still get a little bitter thinking of some scenes in the Crystal Skull that had me groaning in the movie theater (I'm looking at you, escapes-a-nuke-in-fridge). Harrison Ford is Indy, and there isn't an actor on the planet I could envision filling those shoes. But, Disney owns the rights. Eventually (I hope I'm not alive to see it), they're going to replace Ford with someone younger and revamp the whole franchise. Unlike Star Wars that touts hundreds of stories and characters, Indiana Jones revolves around a single personality. On one hand, it could turn into a James Bond deal, where Indy is replaced by a new actor every few movies. On the other hand, it could be a complete train wreck.

Whether Lucas' decision to sell is good or bad is going to be decided within the next few years, and like many other fans, I beg Disney to handle these franchises with the utmost care as they're cornerstones of my childhood, and I can do nothing but thank George Lucas for giving them to us to begin with.