Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Taunting A Gorilla

I was perusing the Internet this morning, when I came across this video:

It depicts school children at the Dallas zoo taunting a gorilla. One of the kids waves his arms around and yells, "You ugly!" For some reason, the video really got on my nerves. I think what bothers me the most is that the parent or teacher recording the incident did not stop the children and try to explain to them that it's not right to act this way in a zoo...or toward any sort of wildlife.

Is it a sign of our times? Was there more to the video we didn't get to see? Maybe the parents did, in fact, say something to the children afterwards, but going on the video alone, it would seem the parents or teacher had as much of a laugh about the taunts as the children.

Irks me.

I remember as a child going to petting zoos, my friend's farm, and whatnot and looking at animals in awe. I was also a little afraid of them, especially the large ones, even cows. While I'm not sure if that's something my parents taught me or something that was always there, I've always been inclined to respect and marvel at nature. What I do know for sure is screaming and taunting anything in public around my parents would've resulted in some sort of immediate reprimand.

I can only hope the twinge of fear that gorilla put in these children will make them think twice the next time they taunt. In other words, I hope a lesson was learned, though I can't imagine anything was learned the way they immediately start pointing and laughing at its rear...

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Random Thoughts

Microsoft Word's Table of Contents feature in the 2013 version is infuriating. I've been trying to get my book ready to sell on the Kindle, and the only thing holding me back is a Table of Contents. For starters, there's only two templates available to me. Secondly, the program only allows a total of 9 lines in a Table of Contents, when I need at least 20. I've been going crazy trying to get it to work the way I need it to.

In between fiddling with Word, I've been playing more Marvel Heroes. I'm on the verge of quitting. I've leveled all four of my unlocked characters to 20 - 40 without receiving a single hero or costume drop, so I refuse to give Gazillion any more money. Then I found out, after grinding my crafter to level 10, the cost of adding a core is 200,000 credits. Most cores are +1 to a stat. I would use the special find ones. The price is steep, and I'm debating whether or not the game is worth my time and effort, especially since things happen like last night: I killed Mandarin and right when I killed him he cast an attack that made me immobile. I could not move to loot the Cube Shard I needed. I tried to bodyslide out of it to no avail, logged out then back in, cleared the entire board again, and found out the Cube Shard that I didn't receive counted as my daily Shard from that boss. Swearing, I turned the game off in disgust. Oh, and after waiting two and a half weeks on a ticket stating there's a browser error when I tried to enter the forums they recommended using a different browser and that it's not a problem on their end...despite it being the only place on the entire Internet I can't log into.

I'm also frustrated with World of Warcraft. There was a half off sale two weeks ago, and the sale ended up killing my server. Of the top ten guilds left on my medium population home about eight of them transferred off. My server is now low population--it's not even fun logging in anymore. In the meantime, I'm keeping my sub, leveling my final character to 90, and hoping the next major patch that will introduce Virtual Realms will help fix the lack of population. Otherwise, I'm calling it quits until there are legit mergers or something interesting happens.

I got SiriusXM back in my car this week. While Bubba the Love Sponge is no longer on there and Howard Stern seems to play mostly reruns, I'm thrilled to have the music channels back. In my area, the radio stations either have a lot of commercials or static.

The main reason I got satellite radio back is that I'm finally employed after three years of job hunting and groveling. As I repeatedly said in my interviews, I was willing to do anything to prove myself, and I'm demonstrating that by commuting forty-five minutes a day for a part-time position. Feels great being at work again, and I have the radio to make my drive easier. So far so good.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug Teaser

As I watched the teaser, I noticed there's going to be significant additions and changes to Bilbo's tale in the second installment of the trilogy, and...I couldn't care in the slightest!

As long as the movie maintains the key points of the book, which at first glance it seems to do, I will be thrilled to have more action and a little more depth. I actually like the idea of seeing the Elves' side of the story, in particular, including Legolas, the Prince of Mirkwood. Plus, Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel, head of the Elven guard, should make for an interesting heroine.

A few things to note in the teaser: Beorn's giant bear form (I assume), Radagast, Gandalf about to storm the necromancer's keep, spiders, barrels, Azog, Bard the Bowman, and, of course, Smaug. It's evident, as was rumored, that Vermithrax Pejorative from the movie Dragonslayer was used as inspiration. I don't know how far the second movie will go, but it would appear we can expect the initial conversation between Bilbo and Smaug. I'm unsure if we should expect the culmination of that part of the story, though, given the title, that might be the case.

That said, I can speculate the third and final movie will be based around the Battle of the Five Armies and the journey home, meaning the Desolation of Smaug will have a lot of action. A lot.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Marvel Heroes Review

Last weekend, I started early on Marvel Heroes, Gazillion's massive multi-player online action roleplaying game (MMO-ARPG). I spent twenty dollars on a Punisher pack, then used the extra Gs to purchase Iron Man at half price. My intent was to play these characters and grind out other heroes.

After the prologue, starting with Hawkeye, I received Thing as a quest reward, and I thought it wasn't going to be that bad of a grind for heroes. When I beat Doctor Doom as Iron Man, I received a second Hawkeye--I shrugged that off, learning I could use the duplicate to upgrade his Ultimate Power at level 30.

I began my endgame, grinding daily missions. Until I had a decent set of hard-hitting gear with specialty boosts, I did not start farming bosses. I figured I would stack my gear (I believe I had some potions too) and a new hero would be a cinch to obtain. One hundred hours and then some into the game, I have yet to receive a hero drop, and for me, it really puts a damper on the game.

Don't get me wrong. There's fun to be had. The controls are easy to learn, as they are no different than other ARPGs like Diablo 3, Path of Exile, or Torchlight 2. Each of my four heroes plays different, and the skill trees aren't bad. While picking talents might appear unforgiving, there's a quest in the game where a free Retcon Device is given upon completion (Chapter 4, killing Bullseye), allowing a player to respec, and it can be repeated for the reward by restarting Story Mode.

Throughout Story Mode there are Event Bosses, including Venom, Green Goblin, Blob, Rhino, and others. Since they appear in the free-roam world, there can be upwards of twenty players taking these villains down, and the villains scale in health and damage to the amount of players beating on them.

There's also a Crafting System, which a player levels via gear donations. Rather than selling items, you give them to a vendor or crafter. This increases the level of gear sold or expands the list of crafting recipes--crafting is essential. With it, you can add bonuses to costumes, make potions, change rares into epics, or change Cable's gear into Iron Man's gear. Its only setback that I have seen is that materials are not stackable, and they will fill an entire stash with ease, if you don't constantly merge them into stronger versions.

At endgame, downing bosses in daily missions will net a Cube Shard once per day per boss in both green and red rooms; collecting ten shards grants a Fortune Card. These cards are pure luck. Sometimes, you'll get a new costume, a pet, or (I've heard) a new hero. Most times, you'll get some sort of timed experience bonus or rarity find boost.

What's troublesome about endgame is the lack of variety in missions. Despite there being three places of increasing difficulty, as well as green rooms and red rooms, the latter being much more difficult, the missions are identical. Not only are they identical, you can't loot a shard off the same boss at different locations, so killing Shocker in the Abandoned Subway in green three times a day does nothing for you. Yes, there's really three green room versions of Abandoned Subway and three red versions. To break it down, there are three green rooms of Abandoned Subway/Shocker (that's 1 cube shard), then three red rooms of Abandoned Subway/Shocker (another shard), which require a cosmic key to enter. That formula repeats for each green room and accompanying boss. They're progressively harder, yet they're still the same. Doing a red room will give you an extra shard, but it will not give you better loot, despite a considerable boost to difficulty. There are also purple rooms, which require a group to complete. It's definitely less appealing than it could be, especially since there's a whole host of super-villains left off the daily grind list. On top of that, it's really the only way to grind from level 30 to level 60 with any efficiency--this is the endgame.

PVP is in Beta, but I haven't really given it a shot yet. I don't know that I will. PVP in an ARPG has never really appealed to me, and I don't Brawl in Diablo 3 either.

Back to my original point: rarity of hero drops. The only true carrot on a stick in this Free-to-Play title are heroes and costumes, as gear upgrades drop at a fairly regular pace, so I was disheartened to learn the rate at which heroes drop was significantly lowered from Beta. In Beta, I could expect to receive at least one hero, even if it was a duplicate, between level 1 and 30. Now, I've marched Iron Man to 35, Punisher to 30, Thing to 17, and Hawkeye to 26 without a drop. I have stacked specialty gear while farming every boss every day since I cleared Story Mode. For my effort, I have not received a single hero; it's worse than finding legendaries in Diablo 3 after its launch.

*Update: In the latest patch, the drop rate of heroes was increased. There was also a weekend of increased drop rates. I did receive two hero tokens, but they were both duplicates.*

I completely understand why the rate was lowered (to get us to purchase our favorite hero), but at the same time, the cost of heroes was increased. Iron Man and Spider-Man, for instance, cost the same as my Starter Pack--twenty dollars. Others, like Rocket Raccoon and Wolverine, are twelve dollars, and there's a slew that are nine or six dollars. By the time I reach either level 60 on Iron Man or level 30+ on all of my heroes, I can't foresee myself splurging on more heroes; it would cost more than a full Xbox 360 or PC game to get all the ones I want.

In other words, I have to ask myself: if the carrot on a stick is too far away, will I continue on this journey? I don't think I will. When they add new zones, I may wander back, yet I feel as if my hope for this game's future and my plans to make Marvel Heroes my next addiction have already been crushed. I'm a Marvel fanboy, but unless the carrot is brought closer and soon or the cost of heroes decreased, Gazillion's title will very likely face a mass exodus, myself included.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Game of Thrones: Red Wedding

I waited a little bit to post this, in the hopes that those who missed Sunday night's episode of Game of Thrones had time to catch up. If not, steer clear now because this will contain spoilers.

The Red Wedding finally arrived, and as a reader, I was not in the least bit disappointed. There were minor changes, but I believe the producers at HBO did the scene justice, and they even managed to throw in a little surprise, such as Talisa, Robb's wife, taking a knife to her pregnant belly four or five times. I have watched the episode three times now (I've been waiting for this event since I heard the announcement of the series), and the more I see it, the more I appreciate the setup.

Throughout the scene there's a slow buildup. Everything that is said or done escalates, starting with Catelyn talking to Roose Bolton; his expression when she said, "Ned didn't think it right to break a man's jaw on our wedding night," is something I didn't catch the first viewing, and it was priceless, because, as we all know, he planned to do worse. Then the doors were shut and the band in the balcony played, "Rains of Castemere." Even though I knew what was going to happen, I got a sick feeling in my stomach. I was nervous, thinking, "Here it comes." I haven't felt like that since the final scene in the Sopranos--I still cringe seeing Talisa's fate.

The outrage from viewers, the total shock, was unbelievable. It reflected what I felt when reading the books (I threw my copy across the room). Even my dad, who is usually immune to these types of events on television and movies, was amped about the Red Wedding, saying, "It was a slaughter." There are not many shows or stories these days able to surprise its fans, and only a few have the guts to do what Game of Thrones did last weekend. The writers and producers could have decided to let Robb or Catelyn live because they're fan favorites and drastically alter how it is in the books, but they stayed true to the source material.

I wouldn't be surprised if fans were still outraged. I had a friend on Facebook tell me the Red Wedding was why she stopped reading Martin's novels. As I told her, she shouldn't have given up. New tales and characters are coming--wait until you meet House Martell from Dorne--the paths of old characters will shift with this event, and as Varys said in the beginning of this season, "The revenge you seek will be yours in time."

Be patient, like our friend the Spider.

In the meanwhile, here's a couple videos of fan reactions and George R.R. Martin talking about why he wants his readers to be afraid.