Wednesday, March 24, 2010


In less than 24 hours, I'll be landing in Boston, MA (the location of some of the best years of my life) for PAX East. PAX = Penny Arcade Expo, a fan-focused gaming convention with tens of thousands of attendees run by Gabe, Tycho, and Robert Khoo of the king of gaming webcomics, Penny Arcade.

In a strange way, I idolize those guys because they get to live their lives on their own terms and be successful at it. They are a bunch of genuinely good guys with a lot of integrity, and somehow they managed to make a successful business out of their art and enthusiasm. And instead of looking for more ways to burn their brand with hyper-monetization, they instead started a convention dedicated to fans instead of companies, and founded a charity that raises millions every year for sick children.

In other words, they win at life.

I'm going with my female lifepartner, whom I first met - in Boston, no less - by overhearing her talking about Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2. So it should be a pretty special trip for us. I've always "vibed" with Boston, so I was happy to hear Tycho say that the city "felt right" to them as well.

This Friday through Sunday, I'll be live-tweeting my experiences from PAX East as much as I can (provided that the sheer number of smartphones in the convention center doesn't crush the 3G), and even if you don't have a twitter account, you can see my tweets at

There is so much going on at the show, with a constant stream of panels and events while the corporate show floor (swag!), tabletop gaming room, classic arcade, tournaments, chiptune music rooms, and a million other things happen all day and late into the night.

But there are a few things I must not miss:

  • Wil Wheaton's keynote: Wheaton has become a geek icon over the past decade by writing books and blogs about being a geek after coming to notoriety as Ensign Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation. I became a fan after his hilarious turn on the Penny Arcade Dungeons and Dragons podcasts. He's delivering the keynote Friday at 3:00pm, and it's expected to be legendary. Here is his keynote at PAX 2007: it starts off slow but gets great by the end, so stick with it:

  • The Protomen: Oh my god, this band is good. They do a passionate rock opera telling an emotionally amplified version of the story of Mega Man. I expect their show to be one of the highlights of the weekend if their live work is half as good as the albums. And I'll definitely get a T-shirt.

  • Bill Amend: Ever heard of Foxtrot? Yeah, it's him. Enough said.

  • The Death of Print: This panel is about the end of the era of video game magazines (which were a mainstay of my childhood and whose recent loss in the form of the GFW/EGM layoffs hit my entertainment sources pretty hard). I'm excited to finally see Jeff Green (squee!!), John Davison, and Julian Murdoch in person.

  • Podcasting for PR: Since podcasting is sort of my day job, I should probably go to this anyway. Add in the fact that Jeff Green, Shawn Elliot, and Ken Levine (!!!!!) will be there, and I'm going to have to skip dinner on Saturday for it.

  • Saturday Night Concert: OK, I've seen the Video Game Orchestra before, and it's pretty good. I've heard good things about Paul & Storm. But - OMG, am I reading this correctly? - JONATHAN MOTHERFUCKING COULTON!?!?!?! I'm making a note here: this will be a Huge Success.

  • The Future of the MMO scene: The title kind of explains why I want to make it to this one. It includes a number of members of MMO studios, including Curt Schilling.

  • D&D: I've never played Dungeons & Dragons before, but Wizards of the Coast is running some demo game sessions throughout the weekend. After hearing how fun the game could be through the PA podcasts, this seems like the perfect time to give it a try with a professional DM guiding the way.
I'm pretty much giddy with excitement. Hopefully I won't do too many fanboy squeals in the coming days.

Monday, March 22, 2010

I'm going to PAX East

I'll be at PAX East this Friday-Sunday. I'm very excited. There will be a pre-trip post and a post-trip post, and I'll be sporadically live-tweeting the event from @EscHatch, hopefully with pictures. Even if you don't have a twitter account, you should be able to view what I have to say this weekend by simply following that link. It's easy-peasy!

If you are going to be there, let me know and maybe we can meet up in person or something. If you aren't creepy and stuff.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Whiny Post Day

By decree of Klepsacovic, today is International Whiny Post Day! I'll join Larisa, Tobold, Spinks, and others in celebrating this awesome holiday.

But what do I want to whine about? There are so many things.

Keep in mind that these are the criteria:
- Would you be annoyed at reading it?
- Would you want to respond with "cry more"?
- Do I disagree with your complaint?

So my goal here is to annoy you into telling me to "QQ moar" about something that only I even think is a problem.

Oh, here's one thing that irrationally annoys me:

Backseat raidleaders!

You know what? Once I explain a fight strategy, you don't need to add minor details about how using X move at exactly X second can give us a tiny advantage. Yes, it's a neat trick. No, no one will remember it the first time in our lives that we pull the boss and are just trying to remember the basics of the strategy. The more complicated you make the explanation, the faster we'll wipe. That's why I didn't mention that tiny tip. It's not because I didn't know about it - I actually read the same sites as you! It's just that I didn't want to make the strat any more complicated than it had to be until we get a look at it.

You know what else? I know that you need to line your cooldowns up with bloodlust to pwn the meters. But you don't need to be obsessed with BL. Nor do you need to call for it every fight without fail if I'm about to call for it a second later than you liked (because I'm also having to call everything else that someone in the raid forgot to pay attention to).

And another thing: we really don't need to completely change our strategy every attempt just because we wiped. Sometimes, we just need everyone to perform a little better at the strategy we already have. 99% of the time, changing the strategy will only server to confuse someone and make us wipe even faster. I'm all for analyzing and making changes based on what we did wrong, but usually what we did wrong is "stand in the fire", not "had the positioning totally wrong and should have switched targets later and one of us should respec. Oh, and Bloodlust earlier!"

But worst of all is the guy from another guild who has something to prove in our joint raids and needs to step all over my playcalls. I also don't appreciate when that guy waits for me to miss some detail or other so he can jump in and "prove" how I'm a bad raid leader because I forgot to say one thing out of the 100s of things I generally need to remember to tell the group. Tearing someone down is easy when they have a lot of responsibility. Actually shouldering that responsibility yourself? Not so easy.

I fully acknowledge that a lot of this is irrational. I'm far from perfect, and raid leading isn't that hard. Often, these "backseat raidleaders" give useful suggestions that are key to our victory, and they certainly help keep the raid thinking critically.

But sometimes, they just get on my nerves.

/end whine

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Starcraft 2 beta impressions

This is going to be a bit stream-of-consciousness. If I try to edit or organize too much, I end up not getting anywhere because there's just too much for me to talk about. I've been waiting a decade for this game, and now that it's here I'm pretty much gushing.

Starcraft is one of my top 3 all-time favorite games. I could not get enough of that game back in the early 2000s.

I've had a few days in Starcraft 2 beta, and so far it is more an SC1 redesign with pretty graphics than a different game. And I'm perfectly happy with that.

Right now the beta is multiplayer-only, with 1v1, 2v2, and ffa available on a pool of about 5 maps. So it can get a little repetitive, but it does allow Blizz to focus-test balance. I've played all of the races a bit, and after specializing in Protoss for about 50 games, I've switched over to Terran. I never liked Terran back in SC1, partly because I disliked siege tanks and the race's comparative lack of mobility. The race has been vastly improved by mixing up the roles of some of the basic units, improving their air options, adding a heavy high-tier ground unit, and reducing their reliance on siege tanks. They have a new heavy infantry unit, called a Marauder, that, unlike the marine, can take a few hits, and is strong against armored enemies. You can make a reasonably durable ground force early on now, which makes Terran a lot more attractive to me. Conversely, the Protoss ranged units that replaced Dragoons can't take much punishment and rely in maneuverability and spell casting.

OK, I'm getting too specific now.

There is so much I could write about SC2, but I'll try to limit myself to a general overview here.

The visuals are great. They have the "Blizzard touch" in the art direction, and the effects are well-done. If you zoom in close the models look blocky, but they look perfect from the normal distance. Most have a unique profile that makes it easy to keep track of things at a glance and avoid losing your units. The animations blew me away, especially for the construction of the terran and zerg buildings, and the transformers-like animations of the Valkyrie and Thor.

Likewise, the music is excellent, though a bit limited right now. Playing the same race, I hear the same tune far too often. The sounds are what I expected: they hearken back to the SC1 sound effects, but are much higher quality.

Korea is probably going to be pretty happy, because this game is Starcraft 1 only prettier. Most of the iconic units are still there, except - notably - the Dragoon, which has been replaced by two similar units, so its absence is less felt.

It's also balanced better overall (not that SC1 wasn't well-balanced, just in a different way), with a larger variety of useful units and counters. There are some units that got very limited use in SC1, but in SC2 so far I've had a good reason to bring out every single unit at some point or another.

Games tend to last 10-15 minutes, except for the occassional knock-down-drag-out 45-minute slugfest. I've also had some epic matches where my force reaches the enemy base just as his force reached mine, but instead of either of us retreating to defend, we both just race to burn the bases down more quickly while expanding in hopes of buying ourselves a few more minutes. In these cases, Protoss generally wins because of Observers, cannons, and some unit balances (such as the fact that Carriers can kite Battlecruisers).

The current playerbase seems . . . more skilled than I expected. I'm a reasonably good player, and was originally placed in one of the top leagues. I decided to screw around and play random races for a while, and that got me knocked down a few leagues. Even in the below-average league that I'm now climbing out of as Terran, I'm encountering so many people who know so much about the game even though they are supposedly below-average players. The pool of people in the beta must be dominated by pros and superfans. There are only about 5k people playing at once and I think roughly 10-20k in the beta at all, so hopefully the skill levels will spread out a bit when the game releases or more beta opt-ins go out. I'm shocked by how few people I encounter who don't know what they are doing. Everyone seems to at least know the basics, and about 70% seem to know macro tricks like kiting and running, and seem to know unit counters much better than I expect. I thought I'd be ahead of the curve, and instead I seem to be right in the center.

So far, Starcraft 2 definitely embodies the idea of "just one more match". I can't seem to stop!


Monday, March 15, 2010

Starcraft 2: Protoss Job Application

A'dun Tassadar! Thank you for your interest in a position in the Protoss army. Please take a few moments to answer the following questions to help us place you within our forces:

1) Would you give your life for Ai'ur?

a) Yes
b) No

2) Do you long for combat?

a) Yes
b) No

3) Please detail any experience you may have with constructing additional pylons:

Thank you for completing our questionnaire! An Arbiter will contact you shortly about exciting employment opportunities throughout the universe.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Had to share this....

This Penny Arcade comic could just as easily be about MMOs.

Gaming Update: It's About Time!

This week, I gained accessed two games that I have been waiting nearly a decade for.

My first year of college, I met two of my best lifelong friends from across the hall, and they introduced me to Starcraft (among other things, such as whiskey, another lifelong friend).

My second year in college, I met my current female lifepartner. In the early days of our relationship, one thing we did together was play through Final Fantasy 10 (her idea, not mine . . . she's awesome!)

This week, Final Fantasy 13 was released. It is the first "real" FF in my opinion since 10. I'm sorry, but 12 flat-out sucked. The graphics were good, and the story as well, but the gameplay systems were a disaster. We bought it with excitement upon release, and gave up in disgust a few weeks later. We spent last night playing FF13, and have loved it so far. If anything, it feels so far like the spiritual successor to FF7 (tied with 6 for my favorite ever), in so many ways.

Also this week, I was reading this interview with Dustin Browder, lead designer on Starcraft 2. He mentioned offhandedly that they had "added a bunch of new keys this week", meaning beta keys. I had been avoiding my email and account page to save myself the heartbreak of not being in the SC2 beta. Hoping against all hope, trying to keep my excitement in check, I futilely logged into my account.

Well, not so futilely - the beta was there.

So in conclusion: you know how people tell you "life isn't fair"? Well, guess what: for me it is. There is a god, and I believe in miracles.

So far, I love both games. Have a great whiskey! I mean, weekend!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010 has an agenda. It's to support entitled leeches.

Nerdrage time.

So does a "Most uber players of the week" post. Except it isn't about uber players at all. There are none of the examples I expected, of a strong player kicking ass or succeeding where others failed, or demonstrating any skill at all. It is ONLY stories about "nice" people who take one for the team and agree to carry someone else who shouldn't even be in the instance. In fact, almost all of the stories are about someone being extra-nice to a severely undergeared and underpracticed tank who is new to 80 and couldn't be bothered to run a normal instance, instead insisting to skip a step and go straight to heroics and expecting the rest of the group to pay for it. The column is solely about compassion rather than superiority (notice how "super", uber's most direct analogue is in that word?). There are definitely better descriptive words for what you meant than "uber", professional writers over at Like, for instance, "compassionate" or "nice".

What I'm saying is that you're being misleading by calling them "uber". You need to pick a different word now or you're going to look dishonest.

I really wish such a prominent wow site would stop openly supporting people being dicks and expecting to be carried.

Oh, and btw, readers: if you have time to read a wow site and write in about your pug experience, then you certainly can be bothered to DO A FEW NORMALS FIRST BEFORE GOING STRAIGHT TO HEROICS AT 80 YOU JERKS.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Book Review: The Steel Remains

What can you do to spice up a genre as well-traveled as swords-and-sorcery "hard" fantasy? A genre that is perhaps more locked into tradition and disconnected from reality than any other?

In the case of Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains: you take a critical eye to it, and you root it back into reality. You wipe off the gilding until you find the dirty, flawed humanity underneath. Instead of writing a shiny, clean bit of wishful thinking that happens to come equipped with swords, dragons, and beautiful damsels, you instead write a noir story that just so happens to be set in a world of magic and dragons. Oh, and torturing Inquisitors and wolf-shaped demigods who will mangle your genitals.

This is Morgan's first foray into fantasy, after making a name for himself with award-winning and best-selling sci-fi noir stories and thrillers such as Altered Carbon and Thirteen. He has always had a knack for grounding his books in reality even as he tackles such fantastical topics as gene manipulation, mind-swapping, and space travel. The worlds he creates feel genuine, and the inhabitants are realistically flawed and react to these crazy technologies in believable ways. Morgan's visions of the future are so authentic that they don't just seem possible: they seem likely.

In The Steel Remains, Morgan brings these skills fully to bear on the fantasy genre.

The narrative bounces amongst three protagonists: the disenfranchised and cynical war hero Ringil, the gruff viking tribe leader Egar, and Archeth, a woman half-bred with a long-lost race of engineers whose works border on magic. Ringil's story treads familiar noir territory: a woman finds him living a low life and tasks him with searching for someone in trouble, which leads him into a larger mess than he bargained for. Meanwhile, Archeth faces a military mystery of her own while wrangling with the corrupt government, and Egar encounters betrayal and demigods.

Their stories intertwine while introducing the reader to the three main allied factions in their world. Years after a war that united humanity against the invading "scaled folk" that emerged from the sea, we see an aftermath where imperfect leaders and institutions (like those we'd expect in the real world) have led to imperfect conditions. Conflicts are made, politics and petty bickering must be observed, and the people of this world suffer for it. After border disputes and brutal slaughtering of rebels, an uneasy alliance has been reached amongst the Emperor, a king, and the northern tribes. It is in this setting that Morgan explores human nature and the flaws of our institutions and leaders.

No review of this book could be complete without addressing Morgan's head-on treatment of homosexuality. Two of the primary characters are gay, and the reader is faced with an odd juxtaposition: Morgan treats homosexual sex and desire as just as normal and open as most authors treat the hetero versions (there are a few very explicit scenes), yet those characters are shunned within the book's world for their preference. Their version of the church even goes so far as to design a special torture for those "convicted" of sodomy: they are locked in a paralyzing cage and put on dispay in the public square as a massive spiked pole is slowly screwed into them from below until it emerges from their shoulder. There they hang for days, impaled and in agony (and with jeering children throwing rocks at them) until they finally die.

Yeah, it's a dark book.

Morgan's previous books could easily be described as "page-turners", but if there is any problem with The Steel Remains, it is that the story sometimes feels meandering. It can be hard to discern where the plot is going, so the reader may feel less driven to keep following the story. The plot plays fast and loose with the usual 3-act story conventions. It can be great to spurn tradition, but this book seems afloat without the usual guideposts. Morgan also seems more interested in world-building than character-building, with everything else sometimes feeling like an afterthought in comparison to descriptions of the book's setting. The story could probably use a minor restructuring, but it is still a great book in spite of this.

The Steel Remains will not allow you to escape to a simpler world where heroes are heroes and blah blah blah. But it will entertain, intrigue, and impress you. You'll probably be challenged to look at a few things a different way, and in my opinion that's the best thing any book can strive for.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

This is why guilds will not be obsolete in Cata


What's that you say? You've already killed all the easy loot pinata bosses and now you want me to get saved to your instance just to wipe?

Too bad it isn't a guild run, then the social norms would have kept that healer from leaving . . .

Monday, March 1, 2010

Catclysm Stat Changes Revealed

Eyonix posted this afternoon on the official WoW forums with a preview of the upcoming changes to item statistics in Cataclysm. Most of it was in line with previous announcements and expectations, but there were a few nice surprises in there:

Defense is being removed from the game entirely. Tanking classes should expect to become uncrittable versus creatures just by shifting into Defensive Stance, Frost Presence, Bear Form, or by using Righteous Fury.

Awesome. We'd heard about this before, but not simply from shifting stances! Defense was always a confusing stat, and I never understood why it was on gear. It has always been a major barrier to entry for tanks. Making their gearing much more straightforward will help the game a lot, and hopefully shorten LFD queues. It also makes it viable for a geared dps to handle tanking duties in a pinch, or using an incomplete patchwork of dps and tanking gear while gearing up.

Weapon Skill - This stat will be removed from the game completely. Classes will start with all the weapon skills they need to know and will not need to improve them.

OMG BEST CHANGE IN WOW HISTORY!!!!!1! No more grinding for hours to level a weapon skill!!!!! No more randoms in LFD skilling up their new weapon during my dungeon runs! YES!! With this, we watch some of the last vestiges of Tigole's World of Everquest fall away, and it's undoubtedly for the better.

Gems - We are changing the gem colors of a few stats as a result of these adjustments. For example, Hit is likely to be blue instead of yellow.

What? Blue gems not being useless to dps? Where do I sign up?

Ratings will be steeper in Cataclysm, and creatures in later tiers of content will be harder to hit or crit, similar to how level-83 mobs are harder to hit or crit than level-80 mobs.

Intriguing. Does this mean most people will never cap out hit and expertise? Or will it just be a crappy implementation where most of our stats are wasted when going back to older content? For instance, if I have 8% hit cap for Deathwing, will I be overcapped at like 20% for the boss two tiers below him?

Armor Penetration becomes Haste or Crit.

Crap. That's gonna hurt. Hopefully this patch won't apply until just before Cata. Or it will be accompanied by talent tree changes that make me no longer love armor pen so much. Who knows?

The only downside to this post is that it will renew all the wishful-thinkery about Cata's release date. Just because they posted some more info does not mean Cata "must be mere months away!" Enjoy free epics from the Ruby Dragonshrine until at least October, everyone!