Wednesday, December 20, 2006
This all begs the question how long will I stick with Guild Wars? I have already been playing for two months and there is plenty more content to go even in the original chapter of the game. Add in expansions and epic missions and you can see how this game could keep me occupied for a very long time. I have to laugh whenever I read reviews of Guild Wars games where reviewers discuss how this is really all about PVP but that there is enough PVE content for about 100 hours. I have logged over 200 hours of PVE and I am still a good way from the end of the first chapter. To put this into perspective over those 200 hours I have accumulated about 250k experience points. I know of one guild mate who has earned over 10 million experience points over the course of a year and a half.
I guess I would like to reach the end of the storyline of Prophecies (the first chapter) and then I'll probably take a break. One of the nice things about Guild wars is that the low level and items cap means that you don't get left behind if you can't play every day. I could still pick up the game after a break and be able to play on an equal footing with more experienced players. I have talked about getting Nightfall in order to be able to play with guildmates but if I do get it I think I will treat it like a separate game. Bringing one character through to the conclusion of each chapter is enough for me. I might even skip Nightfall and wait till the next expansion to play again. I may need to leave my guild if I don't play for a long time because guild slots are limited. They are a friendly bunch however and I am sure they will let me back in if there are slots available when I return.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
I shall be bringing the game right back but they have no other copies of the game in stock. Arghhhh.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Speaking of Santa it has been my custom to buy myself a couple of games every Christmas to see me through the holidays. The rest of the year I play scrooge and live on second hand and bargain bin offerings but at Christmas I will go full price if need be. A good shooter and a good RPG or strategy game usually keeps me entertained. This year however I am not sure what to choose. Half Life 2 Epsode 1 or Prey are probably the best FPS choices. Medieval Total War 2 is tempting but it doesn't seem to be as groundbreaking as Rome was and I already have a first rate strategy game "Company of Heroes" waiting for my attention. I'm currently reading "Q" by Luther Blisset all about the trials and tribulations of the reformation. This is a period of history I know very little about but it is quite gripping so far. Perhaps this will sway me back towards MTW2. A few good single player CRPGs have been released : Neverwinternights 2, Gothic 3 and Might and Magic but I can't see myself getting around to play any of these while I am so immersed in Guild Wars. Even though I have still got plenty of gaming to do in the original Guild Wars Prophecies campaign I will probably buy the Nightfall chapter so I can hang aound with my guild mates.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Computer games strive to create this sort of value all the time. Most single player games reward you with a fairly inane final cinematic after downing the last boss. The cinematic itself is pretty worthless but the pride and satisfaction you get from overcoming the challenge of the game is certainly not. It is often possible to enable cheats and get to the end of the game that way. Fine if you really want to see the end credits but a considerably less fulfilling experience. However this is after all a form of entertainment and different people have different levels of ability, dexterity and above all time. I may lack the nimble fingers of a 15 year old and I certainly have many more competing demands on my time but I still want to get the the end of this game I bought. Thankfully most single player games offer a variety of difficulty settings. The quick fingered 15 year old can vanquish the game on nightmare setting while I get similar enjoyment out of playing through on normal difficulty mode. I have found that playing the game at too easy or too hard a setting greatly diminishes my enjoyment. On a curious side note: A few years back I used to play most games on the second hardest difficulty mode (the old ultraviolence setting from Doom). Recently I have started shifting the difficulty back to normal. Perhaps I am getting older but this also reflects the fact that I play more games now and I find my time is getting ever more precious.
MMORPGs really go to town in creating this type of value. There is no such thing as "finishing the game" so dedicated players strive for rewards along the way. This may be the attainment of levels, the learning of new skills and perhaps most significantly the acquiring of powerful items. Since such things are in reality no more than a few pixels on the screen the game makers go to great lengths to create value by making them hard to achieve requiring many hours of gameplay, perhaps entailing co-operation of many fellow gamers and also needing a modicum of luck in getting the correct drops. Having created this value the game makers then go to great lengths to ensure that this value is not diluted through the discovery of an easier method of obtaining the goal. This gives the players who have invested so much time and effort some comfort in knowing that their achievement will not be devalued.
I realise that my analogy with the Olympic medal winner breaks down somewhat when you look at value as perceived by society at large. The Olympic medal winner is lauded as a hero / heroine and can probably make substantial earnings from their fame. The wearer of a complete set of World of Warcraft Tier 3 armour is regarded as sad individual who has no life. Nevertheless we cannot ignore the fundamentals of the human spirit. The best answer ever given for why one should want to climb a mountain was George Mallory's "Because it is there". The wearer of the tier 3 armour knows himself the magnitude of his achievement even if his mother despairs at his ever getting a girlfriend.
Yet this raises extra difficulties in a multiplayer on-line game because different players come with different levels of ability and different levels of commitment yet all come expecting (and paying for) entertainment. If a casual player can obtain the gilded sword of uberness in 10 hours on easy setting while the hard core player spends 100 hours on high difficulty to get the same piece then the more committed player can feel quite rightly that their efforts have been devalued. For this reason it is rare to find adjustable difficulty levels in MMORPGs and cheat modes are completely outlawed. Unfortunately this then puts the casual player at a disadvantage. They will never get to own the gilded sword of uberness and experience the added gameplay that it permits despite paying the same price for the game as the hard core player. This of course is the age old "casuals versus hard core" debate and I do not propose to solve it here. I do want to comment on a couple of models for dealing with these issues that I have experienced.
Pre-Burning Crusade World of Warcraft set up powerful items (armour and weapons) as the most valuable rewards in the game. The only way to obtain these powerful items was to invest enormous amounts of time in end game activities such as raiding, grinding faction or pvp play. Of these methods raiding was probably the quickest in terms of reward versus time invested but it also required the most co-operation with other so was not amenable to solo player or players who could not commit regularly to group play. This scheme certainly created value and Blizzard took strong steps to ensure that value was conserved even to the extent to banning several long term players who were caught using exploits to speed up the route to rewards. In my opinion it is unfortunate that these items were not just symbols of achievement but actually gave boosts to player capabilities as well. This put the more casual player at an ever increasing disadvantage and effectively shut them out from large sections of gameplay. Encounters that are designed for players kitted out in uber gear are just not accessible to more casual players. The problem kept getting worse as each new tranche of high end content was added. One feels compelled to ask why Blizzard even bothered to add the Naxramas dungeon for example when such a small percentage of their player base will ever get to experience it.
Blizzard are playing a balancing game between the needs of casual and hardcore players and they have responded by levelling the field for players in the new Burning Crusade expansion, making easy to get items in the expansion as powerful as uber leet gear from before. They have taken even more drastic steps with PVP changing the reward structure so totally that pvp now looks like the easiest method of getting high end rewards whereas previously it was the hardest. These steps should certainly please casual players but the hard core may well feel aggrieved that their past efforts have been devalued.
Guild wars adopts a somewhat different approach. I know Guild Wars is not a true MMORPG but there are so many similarities that the comparison is still valid. In it's Player versus environment game Guild Wars does not invest so much value in rare items. A casual player working through the story line can fairly quickly get themselves outfitted in the best armour in the game. There are special skills to capture and rare green drops to be collected but these do not require the gargantuan levels of effort demanded in a game like WOW. In any case the increase in abilities provided is not so great as to imbalance the whole game. Where then are the rewards that encourage people to invest thousands of hours in the game? Most of these rewards might be called "Vanity" rewards. A set of armour for example that actually has the same specifications as default armour but looks prettier. Also there are Titles that may be earned for achieving certain feats: "Explorer" for exploring every corner of the map, "Survivor" for getting to a high level without dying and so on. Some of the titles are quite humorous for example "Drunkard" for excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages and "Unlucky" for losing at games of chance. People do seem committed to strive for these vanity rewards even though they convey little or no advantage in gameplay. In the PVP game Guild Wars used to require that players first unlock skills by playing through the PVE game but NCsoft have since introduced the ability to buy all the skills you need for PVP. At first glance this appears to devalue the efforts put in by players who have already earned all their skills the hard way but I haven't heard too many complaints about it.
Personally I prefer Guild Wars way of doing things. Rewards are mainly symbolic much in the way an Olympic medal is but that does not undermine their value. I know that I will probably never earn the survivor title but I do admire those who have done. I like playing a game where I know that all regions of the game are accessible even to a casual player like myself. And if I do happen to meet a multi titled hard core player in a pvp arena they will still probably wipe the floor with me but it will be due to their playing skill and not because of the +20 PWN NOOB gear they are wearing. Guild wars is a much less popular game than World of Warcraft but I do not think that the reward system is at fault for this. I think it would be possible to build a fully fledged social MMORPG with all of the beauty and diversity of WOW but with a reward system closer to the honorary titles of Guild Wars.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
This game may still be too tricky for my 6 and 8 year old I fear. I went looking for other games. As far as I can tell there is only one shop in my city still selling gamecube games so I don't mind stocking up on a few before they disappear altogether. Sadly none of the games available seem appropriate. There is no point in my getting adult games for the gamecube - I can play those on my PC. I would love to get a co-operative game that is suitable for kids but most of the multi-player modes are competitive rather than co-operative. My girls just aren't into competitive and the difference in abilities makes competition pointless. A co-operative game might be a hit though.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Friday, December 01, 2006
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Now it is an awful but inescapable fact that on account of the behaviour of a small number of unspeakable perverts society has come to regard any social contact between an adult male and a minor who is not his own child as wrong. Normally this isn't a problem - I don't have much in common with 14 year olds and I generally don't have much occasion to interact with them. In an on-line game however a clued in 14 year old can play just as well as an adult and short of a character bawling for their mammy there is no way to tell someone's age from the actions of their character.This poses a problem for an adult gamer like myself. I have no problem playing the game with an (able) 14 year old but I feel very uncomfortable engaging in chit chat or other social interaction. I generally switch off the social interaction if I discover a fellow player is in fact a child. I know that is totally fucked up and I know the world shouldn't be like that but it is. I have been lucky enough to find a mature guild for my Guild Wars adventures so I can comfortably chat away with guildies knowing that everyone there is over 21.
My way of dealing with the fact that some nasty people take advantage of children is to run away from interaction with kids. This is a knee jerk reaction. Sometimes I think about this and I realise that those of us who are not perverts and who do not pose a threat to kids should atcually make special effort to interact with young people in order to keep them away from the perverts and to and show them that most adults are actually decent people. We really need genuine committed adults to run football clubs and dancing classes. Perhaps my knee jerk reaction is wrong - mainly it comes from a sense of self preservation. I don't want some irate parent getting upset because their kid is chatting to a middle aged man.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Anyway Company of Heroes works just fine on my 7300GT DDR3 at 1280x1024 with medium to high detail settings. My main gaming graphics card died a couple of months back and knowing that Vista and DX10 were around the corner I set a budget of €100 for a replacement. This 7300 DDR3 version stood head and shoulders above everything else in its price range, it has slightly better performance than a 7600 GS. It cost under €100 including shipping and gives me about 60% of the performance of my older €300 card. (Aside I will never buy a graphics card from ASUS again. That card an ASUS X800XL failed 3 times in 18 months despite being returned to vendor for repair. ASUS themselves never once responded to my requests for service despite a pretend 3 year warranty).
Anyway Company of Heroes looks good, very good. In PCZone Company of Heroes knocked the Total War games off the top of the rankings for the first time in n-years. I am still working through the tutorial but the game looks and feels beautiful. The superb graphics and sound really add to the immersion of the game. So far the game play seems to be a fairly standard but just very well done. After playing Total War games with 1000's of troops on a battlefield it can be disappointing to go back to Age of Empires style games where a devastating horde consists of 20 troops. This isn't a problem in Company of Heroes because small squads seem more natural for the WW2 period. I will report more later when I have played the game itself for a bit.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
My first machine was a 16k ZX Spectrum. Sadly all the best games for it needed 48k and I was too skint for the upgrade. In college I did get to play with a BBC model B and early IBM PCs. I developed something of a talent for "Elite". My favorite PC game of the time was a freebie called "Snipes" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snipes.
I went intp a gaming hiatus for a few years. The whole Nintendo, Sega thing passed me by. In the early 1990's however my eyes were opened to the potential of PC gaming by the discovery of point and click. I can proudly boast to having locked myself into the office to pull an all nighter in order to finish "Leisure Suit Larry" on one of the work PCs. I pulled more than one all nighter playing Lucas Arts "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade".
I didn't actually my own home PC until 1995 and I was literally blown away by the tremenduous advances in first person shooters. I gobbled up "Doom" in all its forms, "Duke 3D" and my own personal favorite: "Descent". In those days I mainly played shooters and the odd strategy game. I loved the "Earthsiege" series (big stompy robots).
My involvement in PC gaming kept increasing through the "Half Life" / "Deus Ex" years. Some personal favorites from that time include "System Shock 2" and "Homeworld". I have never been one to keep up with the latest trend (mainly for financial reasons) but I started amassing quite a collection of PC games often buying second hand or older titles at reduced price. By 2003 I was buying about 50 games per year. Of course I didn't play all these games - I just liked having all the important titles.
I was a quite a latecomer to fantasy role playing games. "Dungeon Siege" was an easy entry point for me but soon after the awesome "Morrowind" converted me. I thoroughly enjoyed "Arx Fatalis", the "Gothic" series and "Star Wars KOTOR".
This year saw quite a change in my game playing / game buying habits. I spent four months playing "World of Warcraft" and nothing else. I bought no new games because WOW consumed all my free time. I stopped playing WOW for the sake of my sanity using some excellent single player games to come down: "Oblivion; "Quake 4"; "King Kong"; "Homeworld" (again); "Far Cry" (again); "Battle for Middle Earth" and "Rome Total War".
I have kind of lost interest in amassing a huge collection of PC games. So far this year I have purchased less than ten games. Partly this is due to burnout. Partly it is due to a sinking feeling that the best years of single player PC gaming are over - the future belongs to consoles and muliplayer online games.
I picked up "Guild Wars" for €15 in Game about 6 weeks ago and according to /age I have spent about 2.5 hours every day playing GW since then. I feel less theatened by Guild Wars than by World of Warcraft. It is much more casual friendly - I don't feel the same pressure to play every day just to keep up with my guild mates. I will probably buy the next installments out of guilt at deriving so much entertainment out of so little cash.
By the way if anyone is looking for a break from Guild Wars I recommend you look at "Mount and Blade" from Taleworlds http://www.taleworlds.com/. This is an unfinished game that you can play for free up to level 6. The story and role playng elements are paper thin but the game has the most exhiliarating combat on horseback I have ever played.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Using the /age command I find I have played Guild wars for 126 hours over the past 46 days. That's an average of almost 3 hours per day. Pretty good gaming value for my original €15 investment. Guild wars player versus environment play suits a causal gamer like myself. You might complain that 3 hours per day is not causal gaming but the problem is these are rarely 3 uninterrupted hours on the trot. They are made up of a half an hour here and a half an hour there interspersed with the routines of a busy family life. A full blown MMORPG such as WOW requires you to commit to group sessions lasting several hours or more. I found that is not compatible with my lifestyle. To tell the truth I play Guild wars mainly as a solo game using henchmen to help me along but I do enjoy the odd bit of banter in guild chat. Of course this lack of social commitment means that I am likely to tire of the game eventually. I don't know whether this will happen before or after I complete the prophecies campaign. I am enjoying this game so much I almost feel honour bound to pay NCsoft some more money - perhaps by buying one of the newer campaigns at full price. I love the pay once play forever model they use and I would hate for them to abandon it because it isn't making enough money.
For the record I have reached level 18 and I have just got as far as "The Wilds" mission. This is by no means fast levelling Some people get to level 20 in less than a week. I have however been enjoying the scenery trying to do as many side quests as possible. I spent an inordinate amount of time completing a mission called "The villainy of Galrath". This trek involve a huge trek across 4 zones from Lions Arch to Kessex Peak. Kessex peak itself is full of level 20 mobs which will tear a player and his henchmen to pieces. I knew it would be a tough mission before taking it on so I stopped off in "The Temple of Ages" along the way. I started out at level 16 and upgraded to 17 during the course of the quest.I died many times getting there but once there I could upgrade my henchmen from level 12 to 15 and also increase the size of my party from 6 to 8. With this large party I easily cut a swathe through the Black Curtain towards Kessex Peak killing 2 level 24 bosses along the way ( an ancient tree and a mesmer character). My confidence was further boosted by the ease with which we cleared the first area of Kessex peak - a swamp infested with Reed Stalkers, annoying Spined Aloe and level 20 Fog Nightmares. When we came out of the swamp into a plane in bright sunshine I got overconfident and strolled straight out. That was a big mistake beacuse the plane turned out to contain a huge number of very aggressive patrolling lvl 19 Minotaurs and Fen Trolls. I lost several lives on this plain and was carying a large death penalty when I finaly got to the teraced plateaux where the object of the quest Galrath was standing. Galrath was easy but the level 20 groups of Verata Apprentices and Eyes of Verata at the base were not. These apprentices have some effective necro healing ability and also spawn bone fiends from corpses. The Eyes of Verata cast a choking gas which interrupts spellcasting and increases their arrow damage. It was late, I was tired we were carrying 60% death penalty. When you die in Guild wars your health and energy are reduced by 15% for each death increasing the likelihood of dying again. After 4 deaths you hit the maximum penalty of 60%. We just ploughed on through coming back for more every time we got wiped. It wasn't pretty but eventually we got to the top of the peak and killed Galrath. Job done.
Friday, November 17, 2006
I came across a post on the mount and blade forum about special goggles for seeing games in stereoscopic 3D . I thought you would need a specially designed game to get 3D vision. In fact almost all modern 3D games are rendered into 3D by the graphics card so if you have a special graphics driver that splits the images for left and right eyes you can get stereoscopic 3D. There are a few ways to get your left and right eyes to view the two images. Perhaps the best is to use special goggles like these which have a separate screen for each eye. A cheaper approach is to wear goggles with an LCD shutter in front of each eye - by alternately turning each shutter on and off and by synchronously displaying alternate images on the screen you can achieve stereoscopic 3D. This approach is much cheaper but does need a very high monitor refresh rate so I am not sure about using it with LCD displays. I would love to try the 3D visor product but in the meantime I managed to fudge up my own solution. using a pair of cardboard red and blue 3D glasses filched from my daughters "Barbie Magic of Pegasus" dvd.
It goes like this: I have an Nvidia graphics cards and Nvidia offer a stereo 3D driver for free download. Now this driver supports the methods describes above but it also supports a method called Anaglyph Red/Blue glasses. Select that mode and away you go. I tried a few games: Mount and blade worked brilliantly, Far Cry not at all, Call of Duty 2 worked ok but some effects were weird, Doom3 worked extremely well. The red and blue does cause a bit of strain the eyes so I wouldn't recommend it for long playing sessions. The default stereo separation worked well for me but my wife saw two images - reducing the separation a bit enabled her to see the 3D effect too. This has fired up my enthusiasm for 3D gaming. I wonder if Mrs. Santa Claus would stump up for the 3D visor product?
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
At this stage I probably have about 200 PC games in my collection. Of that 200 perhaps I have played perhaps half seriously getting some way into the game and perhaps finishing it. The other half have received only cursory attention - perhaps one attempt at playing. In a significant number of cases (maybe up to 1/4 of the games I own) I have ever even opened the box to install the game. Another time I will explain the history of my collection but for now I want to discuss my game buying policy, particulalry in light of the fact that I own so many games I have never played.
Let me say first off that I don't pirate games - all the games in my collection are genuine copies that I have paid for or have been given to me. I will however buy a game second hand - some game licenses allow this but some (Doom 3 comes to mind) forbid it. I don't nessecarily agree with all the stuff that software licenses try to enforce but I generaly try to play fair and stay within the rules.
Next let me say that I like owning something physical - a dvd case with a disc and manual inside it. I have bought a few games for online download but only where they were unavailable elsewhere or where there was a big price difference. I know that I am probably old fashioned in this and perhaps even one day it will be impossible to buy games in physical packaging but I like the box. Even if I never play the game I have the box on my shelf. I also like special editions with maps and coins and stuff but not if I have to pay a whole lot extra for it.
I generally don't buy budget re-releases. I like the original game in colourful box with a manual. I do have some budget games in my collection picked at times when I was bored and didn't want to spend a lot. If I like a game however I will always try to get the original version. I kind of have a rule that I will only buy a budget re-release if it is a game I think I will play straight away. If a game is for my colection proper it needs to be the real thing.
I am mean when it comes to buying games. I almost never pay full price. This is probably the single most important characteristic in my game buying. I will by a game at a bargain price even if I amn't interested in playing it. That explains why I havee so many unplayed games on my shelf. Where do I get cheap games? If you wait 6 months or so most games will fall to half price or less in game shops. Even brand new games can be bought online for less than shop prices. I also buy a lot of second hand games from internet buy/sell forums. I actualy get a lot of pleasure from bargain hunting for games. I can stil recall the time I snagged recently released Half Life2 for €30 when it was still €50 in most shops. I have also managed to pick up a few rare gems on the second hand market: System shock 2 and Planescape Torment come to mind.
Reading all of the above you might ask but what about the games - do I not choose games I like to play? Well I do like certain genres: First person Shooter, Real Time Strategy and Role Playing Games and I try to buy and play the most important releases in these genres. I have also managed to pad out my collection with many significant titles from earlier years.
I am actually buying far fewer games this year than in the last few years. I got stuck into World of Warcraft for four months at the beginnning of the year so I didn't have head space to think about other. One of my best sources of second hand game has also dried up. I may also be getting a little tired of buying games and trying to keep up.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Fox news aired this piece about the dangers of kids being able to access the internet using a Playstation Portable (PSP) and a wireless network: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4l7ng-U_fks
In case the link doesn't last it is a fairly sensationalist piece pointing out that many parents don't know that kids can use a PSP to surf the internet away from parental supervision. It goes on about pornography a bit and it also mentions the dangers of internet predators. DEspite its sensationalist nature the article does give some useful information it ends with some pretty sound advice for parents.
This piece has come in for general lampooning on you tube and on internet forums. Among internet using , forum posting liberally minded people (of whom I am one) anything from Fox news is often regarded with derision because Fox supports George Bush. Also anything suggesting greater control of the internet is also likely to be criticised. Finally anything criticising a cool gadget like the PSPS is also rejected.
However as a parent I thought the piece was pretty goood. I responded to a forum topic saying as much but I seemed to be the only one of that view. Anyway for what it is worth here is the reply I posted on the forum:
So what is this blog supposed to be about then? A while back I mentioned that I started a blog because I enjoy writing and I want to see if I can use this blog as an outlet for this. At the back of my mind there was the thought that it would be nice to write a blog that people actually read. I have been writing stuff for a couple of weeks now and it is becoming clear to me that I need to decide what this Blog is actually about. The decision has a few dimensions because the subject matter of the blog will affect how much effort it is to maintain the blog, how much I enjoy writing the blog and also whether or not other people will want to read my blog.
One option would be to make the blog a kind of on line personal diary a dumping place for my innermost thoughts and feelings. A second option would be to use the blog as a kind of mental scrap book recording various thoughts and snippets that I find interesting with no particular unifying theme or motif. A third option would be to give the blog a theme and to try to keep my finger on the pulse of a particular topic recording important developments in the blog.
If I really want people to read the blog I would probably have to go for the third option. Options 1 and 2 are just self indulgent and I am pleased to report that I am just an ordinary bloke. Vague musing about my life are unlikely to attract a large audience. However option 3 sounds like hard work. In any case I don't have my finger close enough to any pulse that my particular view of things would be current enough for a mass audience. My biggest hobby is PC gaming but even there I am generally 6 months to a year behind the curve.
Option 1 is not really a runner. I am not a shy lonely adolescent who needs to confide secret desires in a diary. I may reveal personal issues in some posts but I don't see that being a major feature of my blog.
That pretty much leaves option 2 . In fact if I loook back over my posts option 2 is pretty much where I have ended up by default. My blog is a reasonably eclectic set of posts each representing a brain dump of my particular thoughts at the time of writing. Happily this format is the easiest for me to write and therefore the most likely to be kept up. Sadly it is also the least likely to be read.
Went to see the Borat movie with my beautiful wife this evening. Neither of us would be a big fan of Sacha Baron Cohen in Ali-G disguise and we had only seen a limited amount of Borat so we didn't know whether we would be offended or amused. But...we had a babysitter so what the heck it was an excuse to go out.
The movie was actually a disappointment. All of the of unscripted scenes in which real people were duped into responding to this imbecile pretending to be a documentary maker from Kazakhstan were side splittingly funny. One scene in particular involving a polite dinner party (to which Borat invites a prostitute) stands out as one of the funniest things I have ever seen. However there were only about five such scenes stuck into a completely inane scripted plot involving Borat's pursuit of Pamela Anderson. I suppose they felt that the "sketches" needed to be tied together in some way in order to make a film but I really wonder why they bothered.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Dropping my 7 year old daughter to school this morning I was struck by the behaviourof the 7 year old boys from her class. While supposed to be waiting in line an impromptu tournament had broken out with boys trying to wallop each other by swinging their school bags. Now the bags are heavy and even a 7 year old could probably do damage with one if they tried but it was obvious that all of the participants were greatly enjoying the contest even those on the receiving end of blows. There was nothing threatening or intimdatory about this roughneck play.
In my experience girls never play at fighting. If a seven year old girl was to swing her bag at a colleague chances are something far more serious is going on - possibly bullying or intimidation.
I guess this type of play historically prepared men for the battles they might have to fight as adults. A less obvious result is that it also teaches men how to control their strength and aggression. Although the participants went at each other with considerable gusto they stopped short of causing any real harm. If you have ever witnessed a no holds barred fight between adult males you will understand that it is a terrifying experience with death a very real possibility. The lessons earned in the playground and on the football pitch are probably vital in teaching us guys how to limit and control our testoterone fuelled aggression. Women do not have the same testorone engine and are generally less agrressive of course but I have noticed that when a woman gets angry they can often be far more viscious and ruthless than a man in the same situation. A notable case recently in the news in my country involved two young women who literally hacked an alleged abuser to pieces.
Most of my friends and acquaintances would consider me to be a fairly mild mannered non aggressive individual yet virtually all of the computer games I play involve killing. My wife has often commented on this and points out that it is one of the reasons that she rarely enjoys playing computer games with me. I guess gaming is an outlet for my testosteronal urges and my gentle wife has no need for a similar outlet. I know that gaming is predominantly a male hobby and I wonder if the prevalence of violent games is a cause or a result of this. There does appear to be a growing cadre of female gamers however - particulalry at younger ages. Some of these may be playing non-violent games but I have certainly come across a few women who delight in player versus player battles.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Each weekday morning I have the dubious pleasure of taking a commuter train to work. During peak times commuters are jammed on, forced into arbitrary and often uncomfortable proximity with complete strangers as is common with such systems all over the world . To be honest it is pretty unpleasant but it is preferable to put up with 15 minutes of being squashed like a sardine to spending an hour in traffic were I to try to drive my own car into the city. Anyway there are certain unwritten rules of etiquette involved in the use of crowded public transport services. Generally commuters put up with the discomfort stoically and do their best to afford others as much space and dignity as possible under the circumstances. Sadly there are some individuals who think only of their own comfort and act selfishly to put others at unnessecary distress. I am thinking of the gentleman who commandeers a pole that normally provides a safe handhold for two to three people, lying back against it preventing anyone else getting purchase. I am talking about the lady who stubbornly holds on to a comfortable standing space right in front of the door blocking others from entering or exiting even though there are spaces available further in.
This morning I had the misfortune to be stuck between two such people. In order to allow more people to get on I moved towards the middle of the train into a narrow corridor between two rows of seats. Yes there are seats but as I do not live near the end of the line I never have the pleasure of getting one. Anyway I was prevented from moving further into the train by a gentleman who was holding grimly on to a favoured standing spot. I could not move by him even though there was vacant space on the other side. Then a fairly large large lady sqeezed into me from the other side leaving me with no room whatsoever. With no space to balance my feet I toppled on to an individual sitting in one of the seats. I am sure they were discomfitted but they did have a seat after all so it is hard to feel too much sympathy. Despite my predicament the gentleman would not budge.
I suppose a sensible response would have been to ask him to move but my conversational skills are extremely limited at that hour of the morning and to tell the truth actually speaking to one of the total strangers you come into intimate contact with on a commuter train is kind of against the unspoken rules of etiquette. I have my own approach to dealing with these situations. While appearing to be polite and respectful I contrive to make my body as angular as possible. Elbows, thumbs and knuckles are called into play. Strange how a person who is quite happy to squash into your unguarded side is somewhat more reluctant to impale themselves on a jutting elbow. This morning I was particularly sneaky. I had a newspaper in my hand and by rolling it up tight I made a fairly good jabbing stick. Next I had to appear to hold the paper casually while in fact grasping it firmly and ensuring that the end of the paper pointed out one way and a pointy elbow jutted out the other. I didn't have a very pleasant journey it is true but I derive a certain satisfaction from knowing that neither the gentleman who had a newspaper poked into his ribs nor the lady who had an elbow jutting into her had either.
Monday, November 06, 2006
Is Gaming Bad For You?
One of my favorite gaming blogs is Tobolds MMORPG blog http://tobolds.blogspot.com/. In a recent entry entitled "World of Warcraft all or nothing?" he defends MMORPG playing against accusations of addictiveness by comparing it favorably to the alternative of watching TV.
There is no doubt that a lot more time is wasted by a lot more people watching TV than playing computer games. According to the US 1995 time use survey (http://www.bls.gov/news.release/atus.t11.htm) the average American spends 2 to 3 hours every day watching TV but spends less than half an hour playing computer games. Of course these are averages - they don't nessecarily tell us about individual behaviour. Gaming is still in its infancy and the number of gamers is still much lower than the number of people watching TV. The average hours put in per computer gamer vs the average hours put in per TV watcher might present a very different picture.
However on a personal level I find computer games far more addictive. I get a buzz or high from gaming that I never get from watching TV. In fact I watch very little TV and I can take it or leave it. On the other hand I can easily lose myself in the virtual world of a computer game. When I am immersed in a particular game I am reluctant to put it down.
Perhaps it is not a fair comparison to compare gaming to TV. Its a bit like comparing cigarettes to cocaine. Overall given the huge numbers who smoke cigarettes may do more damage o society but cocaine is certainly a much more serious proposition for the individual
Thursday, November 02, 2006
I guess I've wanted to try blogging for a while so this is it. However it is not a real blog yet. Not in the sense that anyone reads it. I don't fully know what you need to do to get a blog read but I am sure you need to advertise it. I don't mean blatant advertising. I mean subtle stuff like responding to other blogs and casually dropping a link to your own, posting on internet forums with a link to the blog in the signature and other stuff like that. The chance of someone stumbling across my blog by accident is virtually nil. I can hardly find it myself unless I use the bookmark stored in my browser. I don't think I am ready to start touting for custom yet. On the one hand this is kind of a test to see if I can keep blogging on an almost daily basis for a week or so before I go public. On the other hand I amn't sure what kind of blog I want this to be. There are a few reasons why I am doing this. First off I like to write but rarely get the chance so this is an outlet for that. Secondly its a kind of a diary - I enjoy reading back over my own musings even if no else ever sees them. I guess the fact that I am doing this on a public blogging site on the interweb means that I will eventually try and go public. But not today. By the way I am going away for the weekend so I wont be blogging for a few days.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Halloween last night. Our house has turned into a madhouse. You cannot get from one room to another without fighting through fake spider webs. I have to admit that we have 100% embraced the commercialised American version of Halloween. I don't feel too crass about it though because Halloween is an ancient Celtic festival and my forefathers have been celebrating the night when the spirits rise since time immemorial.
After all my efforts to get to Lion's Arch in Guild Wars you can bet I wasn't going to miss the visit of the Mad King on Halloween night. Many of my new guildies were also logging on for the visitation. I didn't meet many of them in cartoon person however. Guild wars deals with overcrowding in towns by simply creating a brand new instance of the town so you end up with English District -1, German District-3 and so on. Normally I never see numbers greater than 5 or 6 but I believe some zones were up to the high 30's last night. I have to say the system works great and there was no appreciable lag despite all the people logging in to catch the Mad King. It does make it harder to get a large bunch of people together in the same place. It's not impossible - you can switch zones if you want to but we weren't organised enough to agree on a zone.
I logged on about 10pm after my own little trick or treater's had gone to bed. I discovered that the Mad King only turned up every three hours and his next visit was due for 11pm. With an hour to burn I decided to do a mission: "The Gates of Kryta" . I love the fact that GW missions can be completed in under an hour - makes the game much more compatible with real world activities. The mission was very straight foward . The mobs ranged from level 12 to level 18 with most of them about 14ish. I had no time for any fancy pulling so I just waded through with my level 10 henchmen and my level 15 self. Not elegant but the new smarter henchmen make it hard to die. Previously healers were the first to die leaving you without assistance. Now the healers seem to stay out of trouble and several times I was rescued from the brink of death by a smart heal. Almost makes the game too easy - I wonder if it will be nerfed later? Apparently this mission is a popular farming run for dyes but I had no time for that - I just ploughed through to the finish at Lion's Arch. Quite ironic really after all my efforts to cross the mountains and find the alternative route to Lion's Arch - I actually arrive there via missions just as the Mad King appears.
The nutty monarch himself was about 15 ft tall with a pumpkin head. Apparently he has just flown in from Hades. He planted himself right next to a giant cauldron that had appeared at the start of the Halloween celebrations . He was a bit of an attention seeker really - demanding that people laugh at his jokes, bow, jump, play rock paper scissors and so on. Those who complied with his commands received novelty gifts while those who did not were smote dead on the spot (soon to be ressurected). He ended with a long game of "Mad King Says" following the same rules as the kids game "Simon says" where you must obey his orders only if they are prefixed with the correct phrase. Since obeying orders means typing in the appropriate emote (eg "/laugh", "/bow" etc) it was more a test of typing skill than anything else. Anyhow I did reasonably well and ammassed a tidy collection of novelty items including a cool scary pumpkin head. Rumour has it that the bored rich of the game will pay top prices for such novelty items. I believe transmogification potions (of which I got 9) sell for up to 2k each. No idea why someone would pay that for a potion that turns you into a carrot man for a few minutes but it takes all sorts. I plan to horde my loot for a few weeks in the hope that it will rise in value.
Monday, October 30, 2006
We had friends around for dinner this evening. Fair dues to my lovely other half - she cooked us a knockout meal. I can bask in some reflected glory though because I did the shopping! Our guests are a family just like us and the father a PC gamer who like me should be old enough to know better. We spent a couple of hours lingering over a lovely meal and then the gentlemen retired to the games room while the kids ran riot around the house and the ladies stayed at table and chatted. Kind of like Victorian times only the ladies and gents have reversed roles.
It is funny being an older gamer. It is not something I can normally discuss among my peers. Most of my friends (particularly female friends) seem to think it is bizarre that a man in his forties actually plays games!!! You can imagine how refreshing it is to talk with someone my own age who actually shares my hobby.
My friend is into shooters and strategy games so I showed him Guild Wars for a change. Amazingly he had never played a computer role playing game either online or offline so he was rightly impressed with Guild Wars. This is even more amazing considering this individual actually played real life Dungeons and Dragons quite seriously when he was younger. That is a level of nerdiness that I never even reached so I do hope I haven't started something he will grow to regret. I warned him solemnly never ever to start playing World of Warcraft. I don't want to have the break-up of a family on my conscience.
Then I showed him Mount and Blade and that really hooked him. His wife had to drag him away from the keyboard at going home time. For those who have never played it Mount and Blade is an as yet unfinished game being produced by a Turkish Husband and Wife team. The best way to describe the game in its current state is that it is a paper thin first person role playing game tacked on to the most sublimely awesome combat experience of any game around today. The thrill of riding around like a knight of old cleaving heads from shoulders is tremenduous. You can actually run enemies through with a couched lance - how cool is that?
After going the long way around to Lion's Arch I now have to go back and fill in all the missions I missed along the way. Luckily I fell in with an excellent pick up group and we breezed through two missions in under two hours including all bonuses. I surprised myself that my Mesmer character didn't suck in group play despite the fact that I have pretty much played solo with henchmen up to now. I even got invited to join a Guild - Woot! It seems like a friendly guild with mature members so I've accepted and signed up.
Guilds are funny things. I played World of Warcraft for about two months before I joined a Guild. Chatting and playing with guild mates brought a whole new dimension to the game which I enjoyed. However it also brought new pressures. I am a bit of a loner at heart and sometimes it bugged me that I could never log on anonymously when I was in a guild. I was also a very poor attender at guild events because they often clashed with family responsibilities.
It will be interesting to see how I get on in my new GW guild. The person who invited me assured me that casual membership is fine. GW doesn't have long instances or raids like WOW so as long as I don't get involved in hardcore PVP it should be easier to stay a causal.
So I made it to Lions arch without following the missions. It wasn't too tough after all. Apart from a detour (see below) the hardest mobs I had to beat were some lvl 17 skale in Northern Kryta. By the time I got there I was level 14 with 5 lvl 10 henchmen and we breezed through. Mind you it took a long time - it would probably have been quicker to do the missions.
I have to say I am seriously impressed by the new smarter henchmen. The healer (Aleysia) seems to be 10 times better at staying alive and is pretty on the ball when it comes to healing. At one stage we accidentally wandered into a high level area called Lornar's Pass. Me (lvl 13) and my 5 henchmen (lvl 10) were immediately confronted with four mobs ranging from lvl 22 to lvl 24!!!. Amazingly we survived and beat them. Mind you I got over confident then and was soon eaten alive by some terrifying monster worms which literally exploded out of the ground under our feet. It was all worth it though - I managed to snag a golden sword from a chest which I think I'll be able to sell for 20,000G. I'm rich!!!,
Lion's Arch is all decked out for the return of the Mad King on the 31st of October. Many of his followers seem to have turned into animals or monsters. Its all very jolly. Mind you there is serious money to be made selling the collectable items which can be traded for novelty Halloween gifts.
Sunday, October 29, 2006
This being the weekend before Halloween Arena-net have included some special content for the event. Trouble is the special content is in Lion's Arch and my level 12 toon has only gotten as far as Yak's Bend. Lion's Arch is still half a world away across the forbidding Shiverpeak mountains. Now I could just play through the game missions and end up in Lions Arch eventually. Alternatively I could pay a high level character to run me to Lion's Arch. However I have decided to do this the hard way - I am determined to solo my way to Lions arch by running over the mountains. To be honest it isn't really soloing - I have a team of computer controlled henchmen to aid me. These guys tend to have lowish levels and are not always the brightest but sometimes that's an advantage. At least their behaviour is more predictable than that of human companions.
So I went to the doctor to talk about a vasectomy. Bit of a waste really. It turns out that my GP doesn't do vasectomies but he can refer me to someone who does. He gave me a bunch of advice about the operation. Mind you there was nothing I couldn't look up on the internet so I was a bit peeved to be charged €50 for the consultation. A major theme of his advice was the fact that the operation should really be considered to be irreversible and that I should be absolutely sure I want it before going ahead. This hasn't helped make my mind up - it just makes me even less sure about the whole thing. He did give me one choice I hadn't considered before. Apparently I can have the procedure under local anaesthetic or under general anaesthetic. Now I realise that a general anaesthetic is a serious business not be be undertaken lightly but I don't know how comfortable I would be to have someone cutting into my privates while I was fully conscious.
Saturday, October 28, 2006
Gaming is a big thing in my life. PC gaming that is. However I am too old and too mean to keep up with the latest trends so I generally survive on games that are 6 months to a year out of date. I am currently playing the original Guild wars (prophecies campaign) I picked it up for €15 in a local game shop. A complete bargain - MMORPG style gaming without the monthly fee. Of course all the hot shots are now playing the third instalment (called Nightfall) which was just released yesterday. However people like me get some benefits from the new release too. There are some handy new features. Salvaging rare items to try and extract magical items is now a whole lot better - you get to see what you will get before your salvage. There is also a handy new button for ordering your henchmen to move to a spot. Unfortunately I can't find a way to separate the fighters from the casters but at least it's a start. The henchmen seem to have better AI too - this may just be my imagination but my healer henchperson doesn't seem to charge in to her death quite as often any more.
I dont usually discuss private details of my life with total strangers but sometimes its is easier to say things to strangers than to friends.
The thing is I am going to a doctor this morning to talk about getting a vasectomy and I am really confused about it.
I am in my early forties, my wife in her mid thirties. We have a lovely family but there are medical reasons why it would be dangerous for us to have any more kids. Over the years my wife has borne the brunt of contraceptive interventions. She was on the pill for years and had a coil for several more. Then there was the morning after pill following a split condom incident. I know these things are supposed to be harmless but I guess you don't fill your body with artifical hormones for years without some side effects. Contraception has given my wife headaches, and high blood presure, it has interfered with her moods and her sex drive and in the case of the coil it has contributed to chronic back pain. Add in the damage to her body caused by childbirth itself and you will understand why I will not, can not ask the woman I love to subject her body to yet another intereference. It is my turn now - and in any case vasectomy is much simpler, safer and more effective than the female equivalent.
So why am I confused?
I guess there is a part of me that does not accept that I am growing old. That does not accept that I will no longer father another child. I love my wife dearly, I have never been unfaithful to her and I never will be but for some reason the fact that I won't be able to make any other woman pregant either is really getting to me. This is not rational stuff it is almost subconcious. The ability to father children right into old age is part a man's birthright and I am finding it hard to give that up.
If I probe deeper it gets even more complicated. I find that there is still a little boy inside of me. That litte boy refuses to accept that I have already grown up. He refuses to accept that I have already made the life choices which define who I am and what I do as an adult. That little boy seems to think that I can still run off and join the circus. That little boy still thinks that any day now I will receive the call to head off and hunt dragons, conquer bug-eyed aliens and rescue beautiful princesses. He is with me each and every day as I live through the hum drum routines of everyday life. He entertains me and enthralls me with thoughts and possibiities of things that could have been and things that might yet be.
That little boy is an important part of me and an important part of my life and he is not happy about my plans to get a vasectomy. The admission that a phase of my life has ended and that certain possibilities are no longer open to me is a betrayal of everything that little boy believes in. For that litte boy nothing ever ends and the possibilities are always limitless.