Friday, May 31, 2013

"Zombies"



While the photograph doesn't really do this drawing justice (I really need a new camera or a larger scanner) this is something I made for my brother's girlfriend. I promised to draw her a picture, and when I asked what she wanted, she said zombies. It was the first time I even attempted to draw a zombie since high school. What I liked the most is that I was forced out of what makes me comfortable, most notably, drawing buildings. I did screw up a few places, but that's what I get for trying to draw structures freehand instead of buying myself a ruler...

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Learning on the Web

I'm sometimes humbled when I learn something new, especially when it's a tidbit I either never considered, didn't think possible, or overlooked. This morning a friend on Facebook posted a status update that was a quote from the movie "Django Unchained." I have seen the movie (loved it), but I did not recognize the quote and thought it was an every day observation.

Her update was, "This is like the time I found out that the guy who wrote The Three Musketeers was black." I own a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo. It's one of my favorite books, maybe one of the best tales of revenge I've ever read, and the remake of the movie with Guy Pierce and Anthony Hopkins is also one of my favorites, yet to my shame, I knew absolutely nothing about Alexandre Dumas until today.

I had always assumed, given the time period his books were written and the little depiction of Dumas on the back of my book, he was white. Assuming is usually bad--it definitely made an ass out of me. What was even more interesting is that after I replied to the status update more people replied with similar reactions; I didn't feel as ridiculous.

My mind was further blown when I learned Alexandre Dumas was a pen name. He was born Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie, a name derived from his slave grandmother and his father's name, who was Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie, "the first black general in French history and still the highest ranking person of color of all-time in continental Europe." It was fascinating to me to learn this history and at the same time realize I had read Monte Cristo multiple times yet knew nothing about its author. Even what I thought I knew was wrong--amazing.

While doing this research on Dumas, I came across an interesting article about bright pink slugs. Again, I was humbled by the notion that an 8 inch slug as vibrant as a pink neon sign could even exist, let alone come about after millions of years. I couldn't find any more information on them other than the fact they're there, but I had to wonder: why are the pink? How does it benefit them? Does it deter predators or serve a function? Are there even predators on the mountain it inhabits? Is it just happenstance? A curious critter, indeed.

Then, as if I didn't feel like a fool already, I read another article about nuking dangerous asteroids on a collision course for Earth. For years I have laughed at the movie "Armageddon," thinking to myself, "If we blew up an asteroid, we would just get bombarded by the pieces." While the plan scientists have come up with doesn't involve landing miners on the asteroid in space to drill a hole and plant a nuke, it does detail a system of shooting a hole into the asteroid, then shooting a nuke into that hole. The theory is the asteroid will break apart, diverting the large sections; the rest of the pieces will either burn up in our atmosphere or have smaller, non-global-killing impact.

All in all, it's been quite the day of lessons via the Internet.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Mists of Pandaria: Patch 5.3 Review

Earlier this week, Blizzard Entertainment released, "Escalation," a minor patch similar to 5.1, and it has not come without controversy. Along with a new battleground, new scenarios, heroic versions of scenarios, more pets, and class tweaks, there was a massive alteration to PVP. There has always been a feud between PVP and PVE players. Over the past few days, it has heated up immensely.

The major debate in World of Warcraft at the moment is that within the latest patch resilience was made a 65% baseline stat for all level 90 characters. Resilience was taken off PVP gear, a drastic change from what players have experienced since The Burning Crusade. The attempt on Blizzard's part was to level the playing field in PVP instances, give a fresh 90 or a PVE'er a chance at survival when entering battlegrounds or arenas. In theory, it's a great idea, but where I think Blizzard faltered was the additional nerf to PVP Power, a stat highly sought after by players for its ability to bypass resilience.

In essence, the changes made PVE gear from current content as viable in PVP instances (i.e. arena, rated battlegrounds, and normal battlegrounds) as the highest tier of PVP gear. There's scaling, lowering the PVE gear to a cap of item level 496, yet that does nothing for folks like myself who casually PVP and tend to have mostly honor gear. I've tinkered a lot with my sets these past few days and I came to one conclusion: given the bonuses and scaling of my PVE set, I'm strongest in PVP instances mixing my honor gear, almost a full Malevolent set, and the scant Tyrannical pieces I possess with the best of my PVE set, notably my Throne of Thunder (ToT) tier pieces and a trinket. I use two pieces of Tyrannical and two pieces ToT tier for duel bonuses.

There's no doubt in my mind PVP is more intense, closer to being balanced...in instanced PVP. The fights last longer; a lot of the games (and I've done a lot since the patch) tend to be closer. If I combat an opponent who's not accustomed to PVP but wanted to try it out in their PVE gear, I will faceroll them same as before the patch. If I run into someone with far more experience than myself, I will be facerolled. In that regard, nothing's changed.

PVP Power, while still a handy stat to have, is too weak. In world PVP, it's completely obsolete. If I were to go after a player in full Malevolent, maybe even full Tyrannical--it depends on their skill--in Pandaria while in my raid gear, chances are I'll be dancing around their corpse soon after; regardless of whether or not I succeed, I will have an advantage, same as a heroic raider would have over me. The same rules that apply in instanced PVP should be applied to the world. If that's not a possibility, world PVP is forever broken and will always favor the raider.

I truly believe Blizzard had the right idea in mind with baseline resilience, yet they took it too far when they nerfed PVP Power. By doing so, they negated everything PVP'ers had worked for over the past months. An easy fix, which they should probably consider relatively soon, is buffing PVP Power either back to its original strength or somewhere in between where it is now and where it used to be. I would think the latter would work best, for players would still survive longer in PVE gear, PVP gear would still be the best in slot for PVP by a larger margin, and it would give players an actual reason to PVP more and grind out their sets rather than running LFR, normal, or heroic raids for gear to PVP in.

Worth noting, there is a queue system for battlegrounds. A player must select a role, which has helped balance teams. Where the system gets tricky is when players decide to switch their roles or don't join in the role they queued for. It's helped even the odds so one team isn't stacked with healers while the other team goes without; it's still not perfect, nor do I think it will ever be. Blizzard can implement these features, but they can't make their players honest.

While the PVP changes were the biggest part of patch 5.3, "Escalation" arrived with new pets and changes to pet battles as well. On the day of its release, while waiting on queues, I completed an excruciating achievement called, "The Longest Day," which was named properly. I spent about 5 to 6 hours doing every daily pet battle quest from the old world to Pandaria. The hardest part was when I faced the Beasts of Fable. These beasts have a buff named, "Elite," and it reduces the damage the beast receive from players' pets by 50%; Dos-Ryga is a headache. After using twelve bandages, failing to make a dent in this challenging fish's health with my flying pets, I resorted to a roach's Apocalypse attack and two pets that could shield, heal, dodge, and survive for 15 rounds.

I'm not pleased with the changes Blizzard made to Miss and Dodge. I find my pets missing a lot more than prior to patch, including when I use attacks that are supposed to be 100% hit. My level 25 pets should not be missing level 12 pets. Like PVP, this system needs more work.

What I love the most about the patch's new pet battles is the inclusion of more drops off bosses in old raids. I went to Karazhan last night for the first time in years, and after several attempts, soloed Chess. I was even lucky enough to have the Netherspace Abyssal drop off Prince Malchezaar, meaning I'll never have to do Chess again. Being in Kara really brought back some memories of when I first started playing. It was very nostalgic for me, and I can't wait to do the same for Serpentshrine Cavern and Tempest Keep.

One aspect of patch 5.3 that stood out to me was the introduction of Heroic Scenarios. I have yet to finish them all, but the couple I did were fun. As required, I found a group from my server (they were guild members), and we went through them without the desire to beat timers for a bonus. Instead, we had a tank, healer, and me as DPS. We probably extended our stay longer than most compositions--I had fun, regardless. I didn't receive any upgrades, since the gear is for catch-up. The valor, however, is a lot, and I find it quicker, more enjoyable than LFR. It's a personal preference, something I know others, especially the dungeon fans, do not agree with.

Speaking of LFR, lesser charms are a cinch to obtain from mobs and pet battles. Thus, the weekly quest for Mogu Runes is easy, and I don't even have to do dailies to get my bonus rolls. A system was placed for bad luck streaks on bonus rolls. According to my guildies, it's helped. Also, players can queue as DPS yet choose to get gear for their offspec. There's no longer a reason to cheat the queue by joining as a healer for gear, then DPS'ing.

Lastly, there is a limited-time Barrens event. Vol'jin and his rebels are gearing up to assault Orgrimmar and take down Garrosh. To do so, he's willing to give Alliance a chance to help out. Though the story once again revolves around Horde and Alliance's quest chain is trivial, at best, I liked seeing Orc firing squads and such. The event itself, involving protecting caravans, finding overturned supply wagons, and killing Kor'kron Champions includes a weekly quest with rewards. These rewards are mostly for fresh 90s needing gear to reach ToT, yet I received a bag upgrade and a new pet. It's not a lasting event; it does, however, open doors for the future of Azeroth, if Blizzard decides to expand this feature or create a similar one later on.

All in all, I find "Escalation" has given me more to do in the game, and I can adjust to the PVP changes. It's a minor patch, so I wasn't expecting a mountain of content, just a few things to keep me occupied on top of 5.2's additions until, "The Siege of Orgrimmar." The changes were mere steps, some better than others, in a direction I would like to see WoW evolve, but the developers' work is nowhere near to done. Hopefully, they know this.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Iron Man 3 Review (Spoiler Alert)

I finally got around to seeing "Iron Man 3" this weekend, and I have mixed feelings about the movie.

While I laughed a lot my biggest overall complaint is the usage of Mandarin. They turned him, literally, into a joke. As I tried to explain to my friend when leaving the theater, Mandarin should have rings of power made from alien technology. In this movie, he was an actor, a ruse for Killian's plan to monopolize the war on terror. Admittedly, I laughed during his scenes; Kingsley was hysterical, yet deep inside my inner nerd cried a bit.

The door for alien technology in Marvel movies was knocked off its hinges during "Avengers," so why was it decided that Mandarin would not be how he was in the comics? Better yet, couldn't they have improved on him? And couldn't he have developed his rings from a crashed spaceship or junk from the battle in New York? Why was he a drunken British actor named Trevor? Normally, I can overlook changes, but this one just has me confused. Aldrich Killian claiming he's Mandarin just isn't the same...

Robert Downey Jr. carried another installment on his back, yet I was left with a few questions as well. One of the major holes was this: we're led to believe Stark has no backup suits (I guess geniuses don't think to have a stash of spares close by), and that's the reason he improvises to assault Mandarin's hideout, yet for the final fight, he calls on the Iron Legion and suit hops. There were literally dozens of different types of suits he could have had sent to him by Jarvis prior to that scene. Also, why didn't he call Rhodey/Iron Patriot sooner when he was on Mandarin's trail? Instead, he let Rhodey fly all over Pakistan, which resulted in him losing his suit too.

Another scene that made me cringe was when, in an effort to prove to Pepper he was over the events of New York and would no longer be consumed by his work, he gave the command to destroy the Iron Legion. Why? Now if he ever needs the Hulk Buster it's not there. Couldn't he have stored them, just in case?

In another blog (I think my "Avengers" review), I mentioned how I wanted Pepper Potts to be more than a damsel in distress, and the third movie of the franchise did not fail me in the slightest in that regard.

Majority of the film we see Tony Stark rather than Iron Man. The movie is essentially about the turmoil and bravery of the man inside the suit, akin to "The Dark Knight Rises." I'm not displeased with this decision. If anything, this movie is proof I can watch two hours of Stark chatting and not be bored. I was surprised, however, they didn't touch on Stark's alcoholism. I guess that's not ever going to be in the movies.

All in all, I did like the movie, yet I feel the first "Iron Man" is still the best. I expected a lot more action and a deeper story and Iron Man going toe to toe with a supervillain, Stark's technology verses Mandarin's. It didn't play out that way. In a sense, I would say parts of the movie were spoiled by my own expectations, not what was displayed on the screen. In time, maybe it'll grow on me. Right now, having seen it a mere half an hour ago, I am somewhat disappointed.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Imagining My Perfect ARPG

Recently, I've been playing a lot of Action Role-Playing Games (ARPG), and it got me thinking about the strengths and weaknesses for each of the games I currently have on my computer. With that in mind, I thought if I could fuse all the best parts of those games into one game, it'd be the perfect ARPG...at least for me. Here's what I would want from each:

Diablo 3 - From this Blizzard Entertainment title, I would definitely nab the combat system. It's sleek and smooth. What I really enjoy is the hit-box on monsters. Rather than relying on "Shift" (or whatever your hold is set to) constantly, which keeps a ranged character stationary (I favor ranged classes), Diablo 3's hit-box is large enough to allow me to be fluent in my movements, stay out of bad, and still deliver a lot of damage. A hit-box sounds trivial, but in playing other titles in this genre I find they have very tiny hit-boxes, which means if I click slightly off my target and I'm not holding down "Shift," my character will walk where it's not supposed to instead of attacking and, consequently, take serious damage or die--it can get frustrating.

I'd snatch a feature Blizzard added in October called Monster Power, too. Aside from there being levels of difficulty preset in the game, Monster Power creates a player-controlled difficulty setting. You can ramp up the monster's health and damage for a challenge, which also compensates for the difficulty with boosts to experience and gold and a greater chance of bonus drops. If it was my game, I'd have a system where a player could increase the number of monsters on the screen along with increasing their power. More kills and chaos = more fun for me.

Diablo 3's cinemas are like no other ARPG. They're stunning. I wish there was more of them...and more fighting in them.

Gold as currency and the gold auction house can join, but the real money auction house would have to be left behind. I don't know why, but the sound effect from picking up coins in Diablo 3 makes me happy. I like seeing my funds increase and grow vast over the hours played, though it's definitely ruined when I realize I can purchase millions of gold for a dollar...

Torchlight II - Gear. Runic's gear is absurd; there are stats upon stats, so much so, they offer the ability to swap out sets for situational fights. One of the greatest joys of this game is the endless hunt for stat improvements via gear, and it starts early. By the first map I found myself comparing pieces of gear and thinking about where my character was weakest and how one piece would benefit me over another. Plus, I like the artwork on the gear.

Torchlight II's maps would have to come along. They're massive and randomly generated, two things I appreciate in a genre where grinding the same map dozens, maybe hundreds of times, is not only unheard of it's par for the course.

Mods. Another strength to Torchlight II is that players can modify the game and get as creative as they want. So far, players have added classes and pets and ways to start a character with all their skill points; there's even a mod called Synergies that I'm fond of that added all sorts of loot, higher difficulty, more bad guys, more areas and dungeons, another town, world bosses--it's unbelievable and gives longevity to a game that could have grown stale if players had solely relied on Runic for updates or changes.

Stat allocation interests me for whatever reason. I realize that most players are going to be the same stats in the same places for each class, yet it still gives me the sense of control over my character.

Offline mode. This morning I'm writing this blog instead of gaining the last two levels of my wizard in Diablo 3 because the servers are down for maintenance. I like the online aspect of ARPGs, but I like to play a game whenever I'm in the mood to play it even more, especially since I'm more of a solo player in this genre.

Path of Exile - Without question, Grinding Gear Games' passive skill tree is one of the best out right now. In a past review, I went into some detail about how its massive setup allows for amazing character uniqueness, and I would take its tree over other games.

Along with the passive tree, I'd take the gem system. Finding spells out in the world is a far more gratifying system than learning them with each level.

Another strength to Path of Exile I appreciate are the array of maps. There's no linear path to take while questing. A player can stray from the main story for adventures, explore additional areas, and doing so benefits them.

Marvel Heroes - One of the features I found immensely fun in this title was an overworld where players ran around fighting and searching, passing each other even if they weren't grouped. In those areas, there were even dynamic events with boss fights and bonus quests. It was quite thrilling to see 20+ characters trying to take out the same boss as if it was a raid in World of Warcraft.

Another perk I discovered was the ability to unlock more characters while questing as random drops. If there was the potential to find a new class while hunting gear in Diablo 3, Path of Exile, or Torchlight II or even an item drop that started a lengthy quest to unlock an additional class, I'd be elated. Of course, these characters in Marvel Heroes can be bought, yet what's the fun in that?

What I'm Still Looking For
 
Crafting - Despite the fun I have in all the ARPGs I listed, I have not found a crafting system that's enthralling. Most of them feel tedious and boring. One day, I hope to see a system similar to Dark Cloud, where players could combine weapons, gear, or items to create new ones. Actually, I'd like to see a system that takes the Dark Cloud system a step further, where a player can build weapons from scratch, piece by piece, like a Steampunk inventor.
 
Story - The stories really aren't the main draw of ARPGs. In fact, they're just blurbs to explain why you're suddenly going from a desert to a snowfield. While Diablo 3 attempted to change this it ultimately failed. When not full of clich├ęs, a lot of that story didn't make sense, and venturing through that story in every area became a nuisance. I want an engaging, interesting story, but I also want to free-roam after seeing that story without interruptions.
 
Followers/Pets - While I'm fond of pets and followers their gearing and leveling is always minimal. It'd be nice to see a game where building a companion was as intricate as building the main character.
 
Endgame - Wouldn't it be great to be in an ARPG where the endgame was as rich as in a MMO, where new areas and bosses, as well as fancy gear and such, opened at max level? New game+ and free-roam are fun, but nothing ever compares to patches or expansions that offer entirely new content and features.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Don't Cancel Hannibal

As of today, Hannibal has not been renewed by NBC, and its future is uncertain. If cancelled, it would be a mistake on par with Fox's decision to can Firefly, and I joined over 9,000 other fans in signing a petition to see this show return next season.

Last night's episode, "Sorbet," was the best I've ever seen on NBC, one of the best I have seen on network television. Without giving spoilers, it was loaded with Hannibal's sly humor, which the viewers, not the other characters, are in on, and there were times I felt as irritated or lonely as he did. As I said in my original blog, Mikkelsen's portrayal is amazing and somehow continues to improve each week. The musical choices were perfect, a mix of haunting, classical tunes that evoked emotion even while Hannibal prepared meat and dinner in his kitchen.

If the writers, actors, producers, etc. can maintain this level of quality for multiple seasons (should they be given the chance), I would pen Hannibal in as one of my favorite television shows of all-time. It might reach that list in a single season. I liked the movie adaptations of Thomas Harris' books; I love the show.

The most comparable series would be Showtime's Dexter, which will be ending this season. Hannibal would be the perfect show for people wanting to fill the void left behind, should they crave games of cat and mouse, serial killers, and smart writing. Unlike Hannibal's competition, Elementary, the crimes Will Graham and Jack Crawford solve week after week are overshadowed by the overall story arch. The plot moves forward with every scene, rarely straying. The characters evolve as well; in the beginning both Will and Hannibal were rigid, didn't open up, but with each episode their personalities spill out. Last night I had a moment where I thought to myself, "I'd be his friend." Then I realized being Hannibal's friend would mean being served people's organs unwittingly--it gave me chills.

While I'd like to hope NBC understands the jewel they have, I worry they'll pass on the show. I would be sickened if Grimm was renewed and Hannibal was not, and, being the angry nerd that I am, I would probably boycott NBC the way I did Syfy when they cancelled Farscape. When it comes to TV, especially good TV that's taken off the air too soon, I hold grudges.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Some Stand-Up I Enjoy

It's been a rough week for me, so here are some funny comedians with my favorite bits of theirs. I wanted to share laughs.

 
* Caution: Contains Strong Language and Sexual Themes*

Chris Tucker:


Denis Leary:


Lewis Black:

Sarah Silverman:



Chris Rock:


Jerry Seinfeld:


Bill Cosby: