March 31, 2005

Mood: Tortured.
Music: Sleeping Satellite, Tasmin Archer
Game: World of Warcraft
Book: America’s Longest War, The US & Vietnam 1950-1975, George C. Herring
Muffin: I had a tangerine and some celery sticks instead of a muffin.
Punchline: *tortured wails from the very pit of my soul*.

OK…I’ve been to the order page at for a PSP FIVE times in the last 2 days.

I originally wrote “my PSP” instead of “a PSP” in the last sentence. This can’t be good.

It’s bad, folks. I’m having real trouble here. I keep rationalizing it…then saying “I shouldn’t do this.” I believe it’s inevitable…I know it is. But if I can wait until my birthday, maybe I’ll have more gift certificates…maybe I’ll get cash…who knows. Then it’ll make the decision easier….

It’s a lot of money…it really is. I should spend that on paying bills…but I want it…



Here Comes The Storm

March 30, 2005

Mood: Good.
Music: There’s More To Life Than This, Bjork
Game: Brothers In Arms
Book: America’s Longest War, The US & Vietnam 1950-1975, George C. Herring
Muffin: I was hungry. I had a bagel. Should have bought a muffin.
Punchline: I did my taxes, and they owe ME money.

Did my taxes last night, as World of Warcraft was down all night (and is still down, actually.) The server burdens are getting worse, not better…and they keep letting people make characters on these servers. I’m starting to wonder if they’re thinking rationally. They think they’re plateauing…they’re not.

Anyway, probably not bad for me to have spent a day not playing World of Warcraft. Played Brothers in Arms instead. Got it for my birthday.

Doesn’t suck…but it’s not quite what I had invisioned. I was hoping for a good first person shooter…and instead, it’s more like “Full Spectrum Warrior” set in WWII. Same concept…fix fire to suppress, then flank and kill.

The voice acting is great, and it’s always pleasant when a game isn’t afraid to use profanity in good dialogue, rather than gratuitous cursing. The missions are apparently drawn from actual action reports of this platoon during the D-Day invasion, and they did a ton of research taking pictures and such to match the environments to real life.

The firing itself is a bit odd…no crosshairs, of course…and iron sights work…sorta. There are no healthpacks, power ups, or anything like that…which plays into the whole “You don’t find healthpacks in a war” and I KIND of like that. You aren’t going to run and gun this game…you WILL get shot.

The enemy AI is pretty good…and the enemy models and uniforms are great. The graphics are pretty good, really, and it’s not as if the game is bad…but like I said, it’s just that I was hoping for a good WWII mission-based first person shooter. Instead, I’m busy maneuvering squadmates, telling them to fix fire and such…it’s OK.

I think I need to find another game to play. World of Warcraft is very fun…when it’s up…which isn’t often lately. Have to admit I’m sorta disappointed that at this late date, the servers aren’t more stable. I’m sure there are business flacks saying “Well…let’s say we double the number of servers…what are we going to do when we lose all these customers in a year?” They’re undoubtedly playing the “How much can the userbase stand?” vs. “The cost of the proper fix.” The longer they go without buying hardware, networking, and so on, the more profits they make.

I think they’re misjudging the adoption curve of their software, and the user behavior. People are running alts on other servers because their server is down…and that’s adding to the burden. Not decreasing the burden.

In any case, like so many other people…if I can’t play it, I’ll play something else. But what?

My birthday is Sunday, and since people have asked me what I want for my birthday: EBGames gift certificates are perfect, thanks! Maybe if I get enough of them, I can buy the PSP I’m having extreme difficulty trying to avoid. (By the way, thanks Firethorn!)

It’s good to be the King…

March 29, 2005

Mood: Pretty good.
Music: Blue Monday, New Order
Game: World of Warcraft (60 Rogue, 15 Priest, 9 Warrior (PvP))
Book: Prisoner’s Dilemma, William Poundstone
Muffin: This space for rent.
Punchline: None. Someone needs to say something funny.

As promised, I’m going to talk about Dire Maul. If you’re a World of Warcraft player, and you don’t want to know what happens and such, you should stop reading now. Consider this your only spoiler warning.

Dire Maul is a three part instance. That is, there are three instances inside Dire Maul. They are not necessarily ordered, but you should do the east instance first, because it’s there that you get the key to the deeper parts of the other two instances.

The east instance has no door securing it, so you can go right in. It’s worth mentioning that there’s two ways into the instance…the “front” door, or the door inside the main area of Dire Maul, and the “back” door, which is further down the path without going into the main area.

In this instance are vicious plant elemental types, Satyr demons, and a few bosses. The bosses include a key-carrying imp, a caster type with her nasty imp familiar, a satyr who guards vine fragments, and a water elemental. All in all a good crawl, nice loot, and felcloth drops in here. You need the key from the imp to continue through the deeper parts of the other instances, so you’ll want to get one here. It’s also worth noting that only one key drops per instance run…so if you want everyone to get a key, you’ll be running this a bunch of times.

The second instance is vicious. Well and truly brutal. More, bigger plant elemental types, mana elementals (no, I’m not kidding) and invisible spirits, banshees, ghosts, and other undead casters. A few skeletons and sprite dragons, and you’ve got a party. And that’s just the outer part of the instance. Outside, there’s three crystals, each guarded by a mess of the mana elementals. You need to take out the elementals to deactivate the crystals. Also outside are two bosses…an undead hunter that does 1500 points of damage per shot with her bow…and her big level 60 elite undead bear. By the bridge near the hunter, there’s a quest-giving spirit who wants you to free all the spirits in the place by killing the prince, who’s in the lower instance.

Downstairs, guarding the door to the lower instance is a huge wood elemental…stuns, knockdowns, the whole routine. Beat him, and you get into the door to the inner instance (you did remember your key, right?)

The passageway is filled with invisible spirits who are waiting to pound the hell out of you. Once you pass the spirits, you get to the prison.

A huge circular room with an enormous forcefield around it. Inside? A big multiple-eyed demon dog thing. Go left or right, deactivate the crystal, go the other way and do the same thing…if you got all 5 crystals, the forcefield falls. Did I mention that the entire round room is filled with wandering air elementals? No? Well, it is. Groups of 5, AoE lightning and knockback.

Also to the right of the passage is another passage that leads to a library. In the library is a vendor (that repairs…and you’ll need it by this time) and a bunch of other npcs, including the insane prince. But you can’t touch the prince yet. You haven’t whacked the demon dog…

Back outside to take on the demon. He hits hard, he’s plain nasty, and did I mention the AoE teleport field? He randomly teleports people around the room, making it impossible for melee characters to stay close, and making it impossible for healers to stay in range. All in all, a tough fight. Drops some good loot, though.

Once you slam the dog, the Prince gets pissed. Head back into the library, and take on the prince. He’s a night elf (always fun to kill) but he’s dual-wielding dual-bladed swords. In short, he’s fast, hits hard, and switches targets at a moment’s notice. He also parries a ton.

Anyway, whack him, head upstairs to talk to the spirit who gave you the quest, and she tells you that the treasure of the city is yours! Go back downstairs and open the chest, and inside is some tasty loot.

Now, all this is tough and fun and such…but the prize is the final instance.

The last instance is basically an ogre outpost. Ogres everywhere, along with their demon minions and vicious hyena dogs. Groups of 2-6, all hard hitters, casters, healers…the basic humanoid crawl. Something to note, however: There are 5 named guards/npcs. The drunk, guards, captains. They drop decent loot.

About midway through the instance, you come across a goblin who is chained to the floor…he has a quest for you…if you get him ogre tannin, rune thread, rugged leather, and bolts of runecloth, he’ll make you a gordok ogre suit. It’s good for one use, 10 minutes in length.

The tannin is found in a basket in the corner of one of the rooms filled with ogres. When you take the tannin, a hidden ogre says something laugh out loud funny, then attacks. Finish him. There’s only one tannin per instance run. So again, you’ll be doing this more than once.

You go through the instance, killing as you go. The captain of the guard is no joke. He hits HARD, stuns like mad, and summons a mess of guards to help him. Beat him, then head to the King’s dais.

On there is the King and his observer. The observer is a healer of no mean skill…so stay on him to keep him busy…but don’t kill him.

Once you kill the King, an NPC says that you are now the King!

Sure enough, the whole instance becomes friendly to you, and you can talk to the ogres there. Further, the NPC says that all the ogres owe you tribute for being the new King! LOOT!

However, he says, the amount of loot you get is based on the number of named NPCs left in the dungeon. Oops. You killed ’em all, didn’t you? You get a few potions, some food, some drink.

The trick, obviously, is to get enough tannin to make everyone an ogre suit. Then, run through the dungeon without killing any nameds except the king, and maximize your loot!

Overall, this was so clever and humorous, that I enjoyed this a ton! Walked out with a key, a ton of good loot. Runecloth. Felcloth. Essences. Cash. A recipe for Run Tumm Tuber Surprise. And a great time.

I think it’s time I got my tannin….


March 28, 2005

Mood: Wet.
Music: State Farm, Yaz
Game: World of Warcraft (60 Rogue, 15 Priest, 9 Warrior (PvP))
Book: Prisoner’s Dilemma, William Poundstone
Muffin: Poland Spring Sparkling Water.
Punchline: Nope.

It’s raining. So I’m wet. I don’t like being wet all day. Yes, I wore appropriate raingear…but you still feel damp all day.

I was gonna talk about Dire Maul. I’ll probably do that tomorrow, if nothing else pops into my head. But today, I’d like to talk about the circus.

Ringling Brothers, Barnum, and Bailey Circus is “The Greatest Show on Earth.” And as far as circuses go, it’s a pretty good one, I guess. I haven’t been to this circus in twenty years. Actually, I’m not all that interested in going. Circuses don’t really interest me as far as entertainment, or what’s on the stage.

What really interests me about circuses is the whole operational aspect of them. I work in Long Island City, right near the train station there. Every end of March, one day, for about 4 hours, a circus train slowly makes it way into the trainyard here. There’s an intersection that gets blocked off, and people have to find another way around. Cops shut the intersections, and the trains (It has to be multiple trains…) come rolling in, labelled with the Ringling Bros logo. It’s hundreds of cars. All manner of people hanging out of the cars, looking out the windows, opening the doors, and waving.

These people live on the train. They travel around the country, stopping in New York at the same time every other year. (There’s actually two circuses running the same circuit, taking two years to complete the run. So they are 180 days offset or something.) For the next few weeks, the 7 train will have all manner of circus performers, staff, crew, and families on it, going into the city as any tourists would…or professional travellers. They all pretty much wear the same windbreaker/jacket with the same logos. They all have comfortable shoes, and chatter brightly among themselves. In short, they look like folks who are used to being comfortable anywhere they go. They look like travellers.

The cool thing to me is that the train is a hometown for these folks. They live, sleep, eat, learn, play…all on this train. The kids are a part that amazes me. There’s school on the train, of course, and lessons, and a medical facility, and all sorts of other stuff. Can you imagine all the stuff that they learn just by hanging around?

I’m just astounded by the coordination that it takes to have a circus do what this does every year.

There are hundreds of people, animals, and thousands of pounds of gear, harnesses, nets, safety equipment, AV gear…it just rolls into town and unloads for a few weeks. Then they pack it all up again and roll somewhere else.

The part that always just floors me is the elephants. The elephants make it to Madison Square Garden by walking. They walk off the train in Long Island City, then, the NYC cops close the Midtown Tunnel for a few hours (at night) and the handlers and cops walk them right through the tunnel, across 34th street, and into the Garden to stay as their temporary home until the circus leaves town, when they reverse the process.

What’s it like running this thing? What kind of project management experience do you need to keep this much stuff happening? Imagine the infrastructure. Communications. Payroll. Safety. Maps and such for the towns you’re in. Cellphones. How do you pay bills? Where do the bills get sent? I know you have a fulltime house, but does someone forward the mail to you where you’re going to be next week? To what address? It has to be like the operations of running an army.

I would imagine that the amount of personal responsibility is amazing. Would the train leave without you if you weren’t on it in time. I’d have to believe it would. And it’s like you take your whole town with you all the time. Your friends (and enemies) are always right nearby. Talk about a travelling poker game.

I probably spend too much time thinking about such things…but I’m wholly amazed by this. I love seeing huge systems operate like that. I wonder if there’s any job openings…..

Ain’t that a kick in the head.

March 25, 2005

Mood: Tormented.
Music: Any Time At All, Beatles
Game: World of Warcraft (60 Rogue, 15 Priest, 9 Warrior (PvP))
Book: Prisoner’s Dilemma, William Poundstone
Muffin: Poland Spring Sparkling Water.
Punchline: I thought I updated…..

So I guess I forgot to hit the submit button when I updated my blog yesterday. Suffice it to say that it wasn’t particularly interesting. I wasn’t much in the mood to update my blog, but I thought I’d throw something out there. I guess my subconscious said “Nah. Don’t do it if you’re not into it.” Oh, well.

Anyway, today, I’m going to talk about the brutal battle going on inside my soul in regards to the PSP. My normal inner monster is saying “Dude, you own every gaming platform known to mankind. How can you not get this right now?” My brain, however, is telling me a few things. The last time I found myself in this situation, my brain was right.

I bought the Nintendo DS…I was convinced it was an upgrade to the Gameboy Advance SP, which I owned and loved. As it turned out, the DS, which is a cool little platform, weighs about as much as a Cooper Mini, but is nowhere near as much fun. The software for the DS is pretty much lacking, and the much touted touchscreen is more an annoyance than anything useful. The dual screens have yet to be used for anything of any consequence in any of the software that I’ve seen. In short, it’s a larger, heavier GBA SP with less software (because it can’t play original Gameboy content. The carts don’t fit.)

OK…so, what’s my read on the PSP? My brain is saying: It’s a large, relatively heavy handheld, with limited software, low battery life, a movie player on a proprietary format which I’ll never use, and an LCD screen that has documented pixel problems that Sony just says “tough” about.

Add that to the fact that you can’t buy one without spending $400 that I just don’t have at all, and comes with two games that you wouldn’t buy if they were giving them away…and I’ve got a pretty pat “Not right now, thanks.”

On the other hand, I have a few friends who have them…and they say that they’re really amazing. Of course, all the friends that have them are nihilistic technofetishists with deep pockets. That should say something about me, I suppose. But in any case, the system IS Sony, it’s cool, looks great (according to said friends), and Ridge Racer is a must have.

Welp…I’m not much on the whole racing game thing…unless it’s Wipeout or some sequel/clone. Much prefer wickedly fast hovers to realistic race cars on most days. Couple that with my marked lack of skill in said genre, and well, I’m just not rushing right out to play it.

More software is bound to come out soon, software that will make this a harder intellectual decision. Right now, a recently launched platform with only launch titles is hard to justify unless you HAVE TO HAVE one of those launch titles. For me, that’d be a Zelda game. Not many other franchises/games made me want to buy a system. And I don’t see a Zelda-like title in the launch list.

So, given everything I’ve written, why is it so hard to keep myself from running right out to get one? I don’t think I would really use it that much, I don’t really want any of the launch titles, and I can’t afford it without crushing my bank account.

What the hell is wrong with me?

I dunno. My birthday’s coming up next Sunday (37! Sheesh!) Maybe someone will take pity on my torment.

(Or maybe I’ll just buy it for myself for my birthday if no one else does. I’m such a sucker.)

Oh no! He missed a day!

March 24, 2005

Mood: Pretty OK.
Music: Not listening to anything at the moment.
Game: World of Warcraft (60 Rogue, 15 Priest, 9 Warrior (PvP))
Book: Prisoner’s Dilemma, William Poundstone
Muffin: I want breakfast. Something Sausage-y.
Punchline: ” !” (Marcel Marceau)

I just wasn’t feeling motivated to write yesterday. I was vaguely ticked about stuff…and I spent a good portion of the day waiting for someone who kept saying “I’ll be right there.” This happened from 9:30am to 6pm when I finally asked if I should wait any longer.

Now, while I didn’t exactly stop working, I didn’t get deeply involved in things that I couldn’t break away from for fear of having to leave in the middle. Consequently, most of my day was about short, small things, rather than forwarding my primary responsibilities. I did edit and tweak a bunch of documents, I sketched out some flows and such, and I spent some time thinking about the best way to document/identify certain tasks.

Today, I’m working on something that I think will help drive my goals pretty well. By labelling each step of the process with an overarching goal (a driver) I can determine why tasks are being done, then determine if they’re necessary to effective completion of the project.

Don’t much feel like blogging right now. Rather work on this process…more later. Or tomorrow. Or next week…

Maybe I’m just hungry. Or nervous for my fookus, who’s having surgery in the next few days.

Send in the Ogres

March 22, 2005

Mood: Good.
Music: In Quintessence, Squeeze
Game: World of Warcraft (60 Rogue, 15 Priest, 9 Warrior (PvP))
Book: Prisoner’s Dilemma, William Poundstone
Muffin: Nope. No muffin. Was tempted by a Krispy Kreme Doughnut. Had an apple instead.
Punchline: Hm. Nope. No punchline.

World of Warcraft is patching the servers. The long awaited patch has finally arrived.

There’s lots of cool stuff in the patch…the part that I think I like best is the fact that they’re capping the maximum number of people that can be in an instance. Why is this good?

Well, most of the MMORPG endgame has to do with dealing with huge monsters and big dungeons. Events, as it were. The easiest way to deal with a big problem is to throw more firepower on it. Tactics are important and all that…but if you’re having trouble, just throw more people at it. And these so-called “raid guilds” do just that. They trivialize the content in most of these instances by merely overwhelming the encounters with more players. This gives the huge guilds advantages over smaller guilds, such as ours.

At any given moment, we can muster 5 people…and maybe 10 with organization. A “raid guild” does nothing but cycle these instances with as many people as they can, and so they chew through content with little difficulty. It makes tuning the instance difficult for the developer, because they can’t make it just possible for a group of 5 people without making it trivially easy for a group of 20 people.

So what Blizzard is doing is saying “OK, for this instance, you can only bring x number of people.” And for the vast majority of the instances, that number is 10.

So all of a sudden, the raid guilds are going to have to think about who they bring. They’re going to have to work. And they’re going to have to coordinate.

We know everyone in our guild, we’re not formed randomly, and we use voice chat for comms. In short, our group of 10 will work better than most any group of 10 the larger guilds can muster.

While we’ll still have trouble with Molten Core and Upper Black Rock Spire, the rest of the instances will be tuned to 10 players, with Dire Maul being a 5 person cap.

They’re basically making smaller guilds as effective as much larger guilds with this move.

I’m pretty excited about it.

There are many many other changes, some of which are very good…like adjusting the difficulty of some of the encounters in instances, changing loot tables, adding flight paths, decreasing flight times for some paths…all good stuff.

Now if only they can keep the servers from lagging and crashing all night….