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Games. Tech. Musings.

Games offline and online. Technology. Random stuff.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Guild Wars: +Health or +Armour?

It's not very obvious whether you should choose +armour or +health equipment for a PvP character. Here's a very useful post by Ensign on the subject over at GWGuru.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Magic the Gathering: Winston Draft

I still play Magic occasionally - just not the 20+ hours per week I was playing when I was playing competitively. Reading about Tara's experience at the Guildpact prerelease reminded me that I was going to write about Winston Draft but hadn't got round to it.

Winston Draft is a 2-player draft format which works for any collectible card game. Last I heard, it was Richard Garfield's favourite format. It's a lot of fun and lets you get a lot of value out of a few cards. Note that despite Aaron Forsythe's description below, you don't have to provide actual sealed product - any mix of cards will work although it's usually better if the colours are somewhat balanced.

Here's the rules:
1. Each player supplies 45 cards worth of sealed product (either three booster packs or a tournament pack minus the lands).
2. Shuffle all 90 cards together in one big deck without looking at them.
3. Choose someone to draft first, then put the top three cards from the deck face down next to it as three new small piles of one card each.
4. The first player looks at the first small pile. He may choose to draft that pile or not.
5. If he drafts it, he replaces that pile with a new face-down card from the deck.
6. If he doesn't draft it, he puts it back, adds a new card from the deck face down, and moves on to the next pile.
7. He looks at that pile and decides to draft it or not, replacing it with a new card if he drafts it, adding a new card to it and moving on if he doesn't.
8. If he doesn't want to draft the third pile, he adds a card to it, then drafts a random card from the top of the deck.
9. Continue until all 90 cards have been drafted. You may use as much additional basic land as you wish to construct 40-card decks and play.

(Thanks Aaron!)

It even works if you are using the same pile of cards to draft from more than once. It's a really fun way to play and I highly recommend it.

Guild Wars: Boon Prot monk video

Here's a fabulous video of a Boon Prot monk chock-full of useful tips. The build is pretty similar to the one I was talking about before. Many thanks to Sarus over at Team-iQ.

Note that this is Team Arena, so he's running Holy Veil instead of Contemplation of Purity. Pre-casting the Veil at the start then dropping it if there's no mesmers or necros on the other team is a good tip - I for one hadn't thought of that.

Another great tip in their forum thread from Arathorn - when kiting warriors on ice, stay in one spot but strafe from side to side for a minute. They'll keep hitting but will be still enough to trigger the ice effect. In case you didn't know, ice in GW slows you if you stop on it, which doesn't make any sense to me. Anyway, since you keep moving, you don't get slowed and then you can take off while they're lumbering slowwwwly after you.

Guild Wars: Fighting Energy Denial

Energy denial can be very frustrating to play against. Doesn't really happen in PvE but it's definitely something you have to worry about in PvP. It's not as good as it used to be (the relevant Mesmer skills got somewhat nerfed) but people are starting to realise that it's still usable.

So, what do you do about it? Start by reading the excellent article by Ensign over at Team-iQ.
Several people seem to be advocates of trying to lock an opponent's energy down... it isn't effective because the victims are truly helpless, it's effective because they're clueless.
Read and be enlightened.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Coding: Deep Magic

I was recently reminded of a series of technical articles that some friends (and ex-co-workers) of mine wrote back in the day. They're just as good now as they were then.

If you've got some interest in coding, you should try some Deep Magic.

Guild Wars: PvE Beginner Tips

Another day, another painful pick-up group. It still never ceases to amaze me that people can get this far into the game and still have no idea how to play. Elona Reach is not even a hard mission - unlike Thirsty River which is significantly trickier - but the group was so bad that it wasn't even close.

Just in case you're just starting out, here's some beginner tips for PvE. The group I just had managed to get every single one of these wrong.
  • It's a good idea to fight as few enemies as possible. If there's a bunch of monsters all together comprised of more than one group, wait till the groups separate. Get someone with a longbow to shoot one of the monsters then run away so they'll follow. If they don't follow, shoot them again till they do. You don't care about damage at this point, all that matters is making sure you don't aggro everything at once. It doesn't have to be a Ranger - in fact, you should be carrying a longbow just for this no matter what your class. This basic technique is known as "pulling". For everyone else in the group, wait for the monsters to come to you, don't run to the monsters.
  • If someone draws a line on the minimap perpendicular to your path, that means "don't go over the line".
  • Keep an eye on the minimap. If you see something coming up behind the group, ping it on the minimap so other people realise - not everyone is alert.
  • If you're playing a Warrior, you normally want to be up front attracting aggro since you have more armour. Once everything is dead, don't run on into the next group of monsters until you're reasonably sure that your casters have energy and there's no ambushing patrol about to gank the rear of your party.
  • Bring a self-heal if possible - e.g. Healing Signet - it'll take a lot of the load off your monk and if the monk dies you might make it out alive.
  • Bring a resurrection spell of some kind to missions - Resurrection Signet if you're not a monk primary or secondary. If you're the last one alive after a disaster, you'll be really glad you did. If you are a monk, Rebirth isn't a bad choice because it's good for disaster recovery. Pretty bad for resurrecting in mid-battle but things have already gone pear-shaped if you're doing that.
  • If you're a Warrior or Ranger, don't use expensive spells from your secondary class. Your energy regeneration will suck compared with the primary casters so you're better off leaving that stuff to them.
Sadly, I suspect that posting this is a bit pointless. I suspect a lot of the worse players I've had in pick-up groups don't read anything anyway - so if you made it this far you're already ahead of the curve.

Numbers next to names, part 2

I asked the smartest person I know (my wife) on her thoughts on why a number next to your name could give a "reward" feeling. Her theory was that it's a prestige mechanic.

That certainly makes a lot of sense - you're generally perceived as more "able" if your number is higher. In a hunter-gatherer society, being a more valued member of the tribe would pay off because the rest of the tribe would make greater efforts to help you if you needed it. Given that, it would make sense that your brain would reward you for increasing your perceived prestige. Of course, your World of Warcraft character's level isn't quite the same as impressing your tribe with your amazing ability to find wild mushrooms, but brain wirings haven't updated a whole lot in the meantime.

Note the separation here between dominance, usually defined as group superiority due to force or threat of force, and prestige, defined as group esteem.

It's fairly scary how many human behaviours boil down to basic hunter-gatherer survival mechanisms. There was an interesting series of articles on evolution over Christmas in the Economist, some of which were relevant to this. I particularly enjoyed this quote:
Students of animal behaviour refer to the top male in a group as the “alpha”. Such dominant animals keep the others under control and father a large proportion, if not all, of the group's offspring. One of the curiosities of modern life is that voters tend to elect alpha males to high office, and then affect surprise when they behave like alphas outside politics too.
Here's the article (ad view required unless you're a subscriber, I'm afraid).

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Numbers next to names

Why is it so compelling to maximize a number next to your name?

I first noticed this phenomenon on a casual games site I used to work on - each player had a rating for each game and people were fiercely attached to that number. You see it on WoW with the fixation on level. In GW, the equivalent is probably the rank & fame system.

I'd be the first to admit that I suffer from this as much as anyone. This comes up because some of the trolls on /. gave me positive moderation - on what was, in retrospect, a well-timed karma whore quote post - and it gave me a happy warm glow. Why do I care?

I'm really not sure. Evolutionary psychologists in the audience, you're up.

Uncanny Valley

This picture is definitely on the far side of the Valley (via Aeropause). Very nice.

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Guild Wars: Killing time

To win in PvP, you have to kill the opposing team. Well, technically, you could have a plan which involves not dying for such a long time that the other team quits. Doesn't seem like fun or a time-efficient way to get wins under your belt so let's not worry about that.

So, killing time. How to do it? At a high level, there's 2 ways.
  1. Spike
  2. Pressure
That's it.

Spike means applying offense without sufficient time for defense to be used. A great example is the new Obsidian Spike team in the Zaichen Challenge - their plan is to simultaneously cast Obsidian Flame on one target at the same time, which kills that target. It means that your offense must be faster than the sum of the defense's lag, reaction time and casting time.

Pressure means overwhelming some area of the defense with greater resources. Here you care about pressure over time as opposed to simultaneous pressure. There are 3 sub-types: damage pressure, hex pressure and condition pressure.

A damage pressure team usually revolves around warriors - IWAY is an example. Damage per second is the key requirement - you have to do damage fast enough to overwhelm defensive healing.

Hex pressure means you're overloading the hex removal of the other team. A small-scale example is the use of cover hexes. Spot hex removal is cheap but if you're just removing a Conjure Phantasm instead of the Migraine it was covering, you're going to be in trouble.

Condition pressure is good - some conditions (e.g. Blind, Daze, Cripple) can be very nasty. While conditions are easier to cause the defense is correspondingly better.

Alright. These may seem like obvious points but not everyone seems to understand them. You may be able to get away with uncovered hexes etc. in CA but in TA and even more so in Tombs or GvG it's not going to work.

So, what if you're the lucky defender? Let's start with spike defense. You have 3 methods:
  1. Active defense. If the opposition's trying to do something like Obsidian Flame spikes then well-timed interrupts will cut the damage down to the point that your monks can heal it up. Mesmers and Rangers are generally the best for this kind of stuff although other classes can do it too.
  2. Passive defense. If the spike is telegraphed ahead of time - e.g. the opposing casters wanding the target before they cast, or always spiking the monk - then a well-timed Reversal of Fortune or Protective Spirit can break the spike. Guardian or Aegis against a Ranger spike can be excellent. For this reason, spikers often have enchantment removal which is applied right before spiking (Rend Enchantments and Shatter Enchantment being popular for this).
  3. Positional defense. A spike team often requires nearly all its people in one place to spike hard enough to kill the target and you can take advantage of this - if you split your team into 2, one half can remove their base defense while the other half is taking a spiking. This tactic forces the spikers into a defensive posture to avoid simply losing.
Now pressure defense. Trickier because of the sub-types: if you have a lot of damage defense but limited condition defense you're going to have real problems facing a condition pressure team. Generally, anti-melee (e.g. Aegis, Ward against Melee) against damage pressure, multiple hex removal (e.g. Contemplation of Purity, Convert Hexes) against hex pressure and multiple condition removal (e.g. Restore Conditions, Martyr) against condition pressure. Hex defense is the weakest of these but it seems tricky to build a really effective offense with hexes.

Standard caveat: take all of this with a pinch of salt because I'm still working the theory out as I go along. I just figured you might want to know what I've learned so far.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Guild Wars: Ritualist skill mechanics

Very useful post by Aigred over at GWGuru on some of the finer points of Ritualist skills. For example:
Binding Rituals cannot be interrupted by Spell-only interrupts.

Guild Wars: Zaichen Challenge update

Managed to hench the Zaichen degen team with my PvP boon prot monk over the weekend. It'd probably be easier with a heal monk (I think) because generally prot is worse against degen than straight damage.

Still no joy on IWAY or trappers, alas. If you have a tip on a "solo" build that might work, feel free to let me know.

Guild Wars: Preview weekend over

Well, the preview weekend is over. No more Assassin and Ritualist for a while - but the other changes stay! (Yay!)

I played a bunch of CA and some TA over the weekend. I did play all the premades but didn't use any hard-won faction to unlock extra skills - I'm still working on unlocking superior runes for all the Necromancer, Mesmer, Elementalist and Monk classes since I have enough skills to actually play most builds of those classes required for TA, Tombs and GvG now.

I'm a big fan of the new training arenas and the Zaichen Challenge/Elites. I have a lot of wacky build ideas and it lets me give them a try without embarrassing myself in public.

Ok, now the Assassin and Ritualist. As per usual, the premade templates didn't seem optimal (rather reminiscent of preconstructed decks in M:tG) but the classes themselves are very interesting. If you didn't get to play, here's a summary:
  • Assassin is a melee, high-damage character. Armour is not great but offense is good. Has some interesting teleportation skills which will make for a strong primary/secondary class for flag running. For more detail and strategy, there's a great guide written by Panda over at the iQ forums. Here's their current skill listing.
  • Ritualist is a caster class, primarily revolving around spirit summoning. Spirits work more or less like Ranger rituals but are mostly asymmetric - where Ranger rituals affect everyone, Ritualist spirits help your team. Some good healing abilities and reasonable offense. The spirits summoned do not move but have a fairly long range (something like 1/2 radar range) to their abilities. Aside from Spirits, they have some interesting weapon enchantments (notably Weapon of Warding, which seems excellent) and "ash summons" which conjure up an item which gives you abilities either while you hold it or when you drop it or both. Here's their current skill listing.
My next dilemma: I currently have a low-level R/W. It may be that I should ditch him when Factions comes out so that I can unlock the Assassin and Ritualist skills - A/Ri or Ri/A don't seem like good class choices. So, maybe, A/W and Ri/R would be ok? It's unclear to me what the best combinations would be right now. In any event, it seems like I shouldn't bother working on the R/W any more given that he may be fated for deletion.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Guild Wars: Zaichen Challenge

Played a lot of the Zaichen Challenge last night. Really fun - if you're playing GW you really ought to try it.

Beaten with my PvE Necro & henchies:
  • Smiters
  • Obsidian Flame Spike
  • Illusionary Weaponry
Not beaten yet on my own:
  • I Will Avenge You (IWAY)
  • Trappers
  • Mixed Degen
I've beaten them all with real people on my team. The Degen team was the most fun to play against but IWAY was also challenging. All the AI teams seem to be very weak against traps, probably because positional awareness code is a pain in the butt to write.

So here's a sub-challenge: can you find a PvP build with no traps that can beat Zaichen IWAY (no other players, just henchmen)? It's not easy. I've come close but not done it yet.

Another mystery is exactly how Faction is awarded - it doesn't seem clear when it gives you faction and when it doesn't. When I played the training teams with a monk it did not give me faction but it did when I played as an Assassin. Let me know if you know what's going on on that front.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Guild Wars: New Intro Screen

See what I mean about it being pretty? (from Dukan at GWOnline). Also note that you can now pan/zoom the camera, hence this over-the-shoulder view.

Presidential Text Adventure

Oval Office
You are standing inside a White House, having just been elected to the presidency of the United States. You knew Scalia would pull through for you.

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Guild Wars: Bloodstained Boots

Something fixed that's not mentioned in the update announcement (via Zingeri at GWOnline).

You'll only care if you have a Necromancer character.

Guild Wars: PvP updates today

Some exciting PvP updates posted today (via GWOnline and the official site). The summary is some actual (*gasp*) tutorial stuff for PvP in an attempt to give new players some idea of what they're supposed to do. About time too. They also added an unlock system so you can't go play Tombs etc without working up to it via winning in CA (Competitive Arena) and TA (Team Arena). Existing accounts are unlocked already, in case you were wondering.

For "old-timers" like me, some highlights:
  • Zaishen Challenge: an Arena where you can play the computer AI team of your choice on the map of your choice. Beat five different computer AI teams to unlock the Zaishen Elite Challenge.
  • Zaishen Elite Challenge: the ultimate AI challenge. See how far you can get in a series of random Arena matches against increasingly difficult AI teams.
  • When a party leader uses Map Travel in a town or outpost, his entire party travels with him to the new map - assuming they've all been to the target area.
  • Tombs is apparently chock-full of PvE stuff now, and the monsters that are in there are not friendly. The equivalent of Tombs (Heroes Ascent, I think) is on the new Battle Isles.
New intro screen is running a promo for Factions. Have to say it's pretty - their artists did a really nice job. I didn't get time to actually play any of this stuff so I'll have to wait till tonight. Alas.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Guild Wars: Necro at the Ring of Fire

Finally made it past the Ring of Fire. Normally I don't bother posting about missions but this one was fairly painful to do, mostly due to some poor play from random people in pick-up groups. A hint: go in the front door, even though it looks scary. It's much faster and easier than going the way you're told in the cutscene right before you see the Ether Seals.

For reference, here's the build I was running that seemed to work well:
Blood 11 + 2
Curses 11 + 1
Soul Reaping 8 + 1
(I tend to only run minor runes in PvE because I change my build so much)
Vampiric Gaze
Life Siphon
Spiteful Spirit
Blood Ritual
Well of Blood
Resurrection Signet
Use a Curses +20% recharge item if you have one.
Strategy: cast Spiteful Spirit on a target next to the called target (not the called target, it'll probably die before the SS wears off). Suffering on any group of 3 or more. Faintheartedness on off-target archer/melee. VG the called target. Repeat SS as often as it recharges. BR on low energy people.

SS is pretty effective and having Blood Ritual helps a lot with all the Ether Seals.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Guild Wars: Efficient Faction in Competitive Arena

I'm pretty sure that the most consistent way to win in Competitive (random) Arena in GW is to play a monk. Simply put, a team with 1 monk is in much better shape than one without and the easiest way to ensure that is for you to be the monk. You risk ending up with 2 monks and then your offense may not be enough to kill a team with 1 but it doesn't seem to happen too often. The other good thing about running a solid monk build is that you get a lot more flawless victories which gives you a bonus 25 faction per round.

Ok, so you're a monk. You have basically 4 choices:
  1. Smite. Now you're not really a monk, you're effectively nearly an Elementalist. Play an Elementalist instead.
  2. Life Bond. Not as effective in CA as it is in PvE and 8v8 since you are the primary target for the other team.
  3. Healing. Viable: use Infuse Health and Healing Touch. This definitely works and is very energy efficient.
  4. Boon Prot. My personal favourite and the one I'm going to talk about right now.
Here's an example build. Nothing earthshaking but solid.
Divine 12 + 3 + 1
Prot 8 + 1
Blood 10
  • Guardian
  • Protective Spirit
  • Mend Ailment
  • Reversal of Fortune
  • Contemplation of Purity
  • Offering of Blood
  • Divine Boon
  • Resurrection Signet
Use a set of Judges Armour for +10 against physical. More useful than a couple of extra energy points. Use a Blood weapon for faster recharge on OoB.

Variants on this theme:
  • Mo/Me and Mantra of Recall instead of Offering of Blood. In fact, here's a very nice video of someone doing just that.
  • Some people prefer to run Signet of Devotion over Resurrection Signet, but I hate the 2s cast time of devotion and having res sig available is more polite.
  • Shielding Hands over Prot Spirit. Theory here is that there are more Rangers than Elementalists. Personally, I like having Prot Spirit around because otherwise a Lightning Orb + knockdown spike can take you out very fast.
One nice thing about this build is that it's very hard to interrupt - very important with the number of interrupt rangers in CA. Keep Boon up and drop it with CoP if you get hexed with something annoying like Backfire. If you're really hexed into the ground because you were too busy saving someone to hit CoP or plain didn't notice, throw up Guardian then CoP - as a bonus it'll heal you for a hojillion.

Now, tactics. Move. All. The. Time. I really mean this, it's important. A still monk is a dead monk. Not only does this force warriors to kite and hopefully get snared via Crippling Shot or similar, you'll get some evades from arrows and elementalist spells. Run around teammates when you're kiting because sometimes they'll effectively body-block the warrior who'll often then stand there like a lemon.

So, what are you scared of?
  • Hammer warriors. Continuous knockdown is very bad. Guardian helps - put it up and start kiting like crazy.
  • Energy denial. Luckily very infrequent in CA. If a mesmer starts hitting you with the usual energy denial spells, immediately switch to a blank weapon slot so you can switch back when he runs you out of energy.
  • Continuous pressure. If you're not careful, you can run out of energy since your healing isn't super efficient - try never to go under 5 energy so you can afford to recast OoB. The nastiest type of this is if 2 opponents double up on you while 2 more get someone else. Try not to overheal people - your spells are cheap but the +2/spell cost penalty from Boon adds up fast.
  • Mass hex/degen. If there are enough Conjure Illusions etc going around and your offense is being nerfed via Faintheartedness/Enfeeble/etc it can be tricky since you have no straight heals. If it's condition based then you're ok - Mend Ailment will do the job.
This is certainly the most effective way of winning CA I've found yet - you can turn a mediocre team into a good one with this support character.

Guild Wars: Aurora Glade

I did Aurora Glade last night with a PUG (pick-up group, not this kind of pug). Including the bonus. The bonus is a bit tricky so I figured I'd write something about it - last time round with my necro I tried the bonus with a PUG but got slaughtered. Here was how we did it.
  1. Have a group that doesn't totally suck and actually listens. Admittedly, this may be the sticking point in most plans.
  2. Include a W/x that is set up (at least partially) for running - sprint, defense stance, etc. Preferably level 20 if you can get one.
  3. Once you get to the final bit with all the altars you have to attune, the W/x runner grabs a stone and starts attuning. Everyone else guards the first altar on the left. Don't go anywhere and don't chase the monsters - if they go, let them go. Don't worry if they attune the altar you're guarding - your runner should have attuned enough other altars that you won't lose and you'll likely take down the opposing runner several times if you stay put. With 5 of you, assuming you passed step 1, you should be able to kill the oncoming hordes of Mantle (warning: there's a lot of them). A decent minion necro helps for this bit although we did it with a heal monk and a prot monk (me) instead.

Guild Wars: Factions key available

Announcement is on the front page of guildwars.com. For North America, the key is:
If you aren't already playing GW, you can download the client. Preview starts at 00:00 Saturday 21st Jan and ends 24:00 Sunday 22nd.

For those of us who are already playing, an interesting tidbit from the announcement:
Oh, and players may want to pay close attention to the game world in the days preceding the event; things are changing in many interesting ways.

Roger Ebert, games and art

Are games art? Brinstar reminded me about this debate. In case you aren't aware of this, Roger Ebert apparently thinks they aren't.
"I am prepared to believe," Ebert responded, "that video games can be elegant, subtle, sophisticated, challenging and visually wonderful. But I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art. To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers. That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic."
Ach, Ebert's whole argument doesn't make sense.

My 2-year old draws things. Badly. It's still art. Even if Ebert was right and all games are poorly written compared with movies (which I thoroughly disagree with) games would still be art.

So it's art from the point of view of watching cutscenes (a visual experience)? Ok, now let's try authorial control, which seems to be another aspect of Ebert's argument. Lots of modern art involves interaction from the viewer/participant. Those exhibits are still considered art. Now, if the participant is playing Shadow of the Colossus rather than trying to tickle a performance artist, it's somehow not art any more?

On top of all this, somehow to believe his argument you have to reconcile that if you take computer-animated graphics (art, e.g. Pixar), music (art, e.g. Mozart) and add viewer control it's not art any more?

Obvious hooey. The guy's obviously smart but this whole debate clearly stems from the "corruption of the youth" syndrome that seems to affect each generation when they don't understand what the next is up to. It was Elvis and the Beatles before, now it's videogames. Doubtless when I'm doddering around it'll be holographic porn or somesuch that's "destroying the nation's youth" instead.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Guild Wars: Chapter 2 Preview

This is the official press release.

Executive summary: all the stuff I blogged about earlier, plus there's going to be an open "preview" (read: beta test/promo) on the weekend of Jan 20 through Jan 22.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Guild Wars: Team iQ

Just found Team iQ's forums, courtesy of STINGER from Knights Templar. A massive wealth of PvP info.

{edit}I stand corrected, apparently STINGER is actually in aG (The Alphas, I believe).{/edit}

Guild Wars: Observer mode tip

The new observer mode in Guild Wars is very interesting. If you didn't know, hit "b" (default key) in-game to bring it up. Several times I've had it on in the background to see what builds some of the decent teams are using for guild battles.

Anyway, here's a tip which someone told me. If you hit "o", you'll get a graph which shows hp and morale over the battle. Morale can be key in guild battles because often the team that loses does so via attrition where their morale is very low due to death penalty.

Guild Wars: Chapter 2 Info

Info up on Guild Wars Guru (via AcidForBlood), originally from CGW. Some hot stuff here.
  • Story missions match groups with and against each other (whole 8 player groups included)
  • Players may choose an alliance--Luxons or the Kurzicks, which affects conflicts in the story and pvp areas such as a "king of the hill" scenario
  • Faction Wars between Luxon and Kurzick
I can't wait. Well, technically, I can wait, but I don't want to. No date though apart from Gaile (the ArenaNet PR lady) having previously said "before the end of June".

Must admit I'm tempted to pick up CGW to see the full article.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Guild Wars: Gameplay Videos

I've seen a bunch of GW gameplay videos but frankly, most of them aren't very good. Having said that, here's a few of my favourites so far (in order of preference):

Necros Suck - Necromancer Feast of Corruption spike build

Zerg Rush - Guild Lord rush with Grenth's Balance "exploit" (before balance was fixed)

Flareway - Fast-cast Me/E flare


German board games for beginners

Let's say that, hypothetically, you've played so few board games that you think of Monopoly when I mention them. You need to play some German games. Board games are much bigger in Germany than they are in the US or UK - and the majority of the best board games are designed in Germany.

Here's a few to get you started:
  • Manhattan by Andreas Seyfarth. Simple, strategic and great fun. Wins the "My Mum Can Play It" (MMCPI) recommendation.
  • Settlers of Catan by Klaus Teuber. A territory/trading game. Once again, MMCPI. Wheat for sheep? Doesn't anyone have some sheep? Very well known and popular.
  • Puerto Rico by Andreas Seyfarth. Sublime design and balance, a fine wine (if you will) of the boardgame world. If you can't get 4 people together to play it or you're just jonesing for more, try its card game little sibling, San Juan. San Juan shares some of the core mechanics but you can play with only 2 players in as little as 15 minutes.
I'd say Puerto Rico is more complicated than the other 2, so if you haven't played any "real" board games (read: not Monopoly or Game of Life) then start with Settlers.

One final tip: if you're in a store that sells boardgames and don't know what to buy, if in doubt buy one with the "Spiel Des Jahres" (Game of the Year) award. It will be good.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Guild Wars: You know your PUG might suck when...

... one of your monks has so much DP that he has 33hp and dies if there's a light breeze.

And so on.

Wrote that back in November. My GW Necro is still stuck at the Ring of Fire. Alas.

And when I say PUG, I mean pick-up-group. Not this kind of pug (yes, those are our dogs).

4 Reasons to Be Glad Bush Is Still President

Ok, I must admit I couldn't suppress a slight snigger at this at the LA Weekly.

"[#1: Iraq...] The fact is that there’s no good solution to Bush’s disaster, and that’s why it should stay his and his alone. Bush built the SS Fuck Up single-handedly, so he can sit in the bridge, snap a crisp salute and go down with it all by himself."

Not actually true given that there's a lot of people dying over there because of the PNAC's misbegotten attempts at empire-building. But I take the point.

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Doom: The Boardgame

Yes, I'm in a blogging frenzy. I think it's because I'm thinking about a database schema and the easiest way to work out the issues is to not think about it for a few minutes at a time to let my unconscious (way smarter than me) to do it.

Anyway. Link. Sounds interesting. I'll have to ferret around for some more info. Does sound like the balance may not be all that, much like most boardgames. Still, good flavour does go a long way.

Speaking of boardgames, that reminds me that I haven't written about them yet. Most people who aren't "in" on the hobby games industry and/or who haven't played an awful lot of boardgames don't realise what they're missing. I'll probably come up with something more useful later.

Software WTF of the year

The Brilliant Paula Bean from the oh-so-believable Daily WTF.

A coworker and friend of mine interviewed someone a few years ago who had a similar bean obsession. When asked to write the code for a simple algorithm he just replied "well, I'd have a bean do it" and answered with variants of that when pressed for a little more detail. He couldn't seem to understand that one day, just perhaps, he might be the lucky guy who'd have to write the code in the bean.

Kids these days...

TV, Tivo and kids

Interesting post about Tivo and kids at Parent Hacks. Seems pretty certain that a good percentage of this generation will grow up not used to the old "you watch it when the broadcaster wants you to" model of TV. When we visit family, we have to tell our toddler that "the TV is broken" because you can't fast-forward through ads or just turn on the Wiggles if that's what he wants to watch. We try to ration his TV viewing as much as we can but a certain amount gets through.

As for me, I don't watch a whole lot of TV, at least compared to the national average. Right now? Let's see:
  • The Daily Show - only TV "news" worth watching.
  • Lost - Season 2 is good but not as good IMHO as season 1.
  • Alias - seems like it's jumped the shark, alas.
  • Finished the first season of Rome a while ago, which was marvellous - definitely pick up the DVD when it comes out if you don't have HBO.
I'm not even sure I'd watch anything except Rome if my wife wasn't watching it. In fact, if I was a bachelor again I'd most likely not bother with a TV at all except for console games. Without Tivo? Definitely forget it, with kids around it'd be impossible since I'm way too lazy to VCR everything.

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Dangers of Powergaming

I've played an awful lot of Magic: the Gathering. Hell, I met my wife in NY when I was playing in the Pro Tour (first prize $30k - and no, I didn't win). Geeky? Sure, but then I'm a game geek so what do you expect?

Trouble is, that much analysis of card combinations looking for "loopholes" seems to have permanently warped my brain. I seem to be able to do that kind of analysis reasonably well, but I find I can no longer enjoy table-top RPGs because this specialized section of my brain is still trying to find the optimal solution to whatever situation the characters are in - and that interferes with just relaxing and trying to work out what the character would do in the situation.

Maybe it's just part of growing up and losing that creative child-like spark - or maybe I'm right and it's too much card-flipping. Hard to tell, really.

I Forgot Ico

Reading Brinstar's Game of the Year pick post (Guild Wars, of course) reminded me of yet another game on my really-ought-to-play-it list that I'd forgotten about: Ico (PS2). Don't have it yet but I suspect I'll pick it up at some point.

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Quick mulled wine recipe

Another grey Seattle day. The rainy season in Seattle isn't great but it does offer a good reason to drink coffee, tea and pretty much anything hot.

My parents picked up a taste for Glühwein (mulled wine) in Germany at some point. I've noticed that a lot of Americans have never even tried it and they don't know what they're missing. You can buy spice bags to make it but here's a quick n' easy way.

  • 2/3 mug Red wine (don't waste a good one, it has to be vaguely drinkable but that's about it)
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 1/3 mug orange juice
  • Sugar to taste
Mix everything except the sugar. Microwave to piping hot - but do not let it boil. Fish out the cinnamon stick and the cloves with a teaspoon or other suitable implement. Add sugar (about 2 tsp for my wife, 1 to 1/2 for me).

To serve: drink looking out a window at miserable weather being glad you're not in it.

I visited Berlin before the Wall fell and saw people buying and knocking back mugs of this stuff from street vendors on the way to work - apparently this isn't unusual. Each to their own, I suppose.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Fabulous game designer available

Quick plug time. My wife is no longer at Wizards of the Coast after 10 years in their R&D. She's back to freelancing again as of last month and will have a chance to pursue a bunch of things that maybe she wouldn't get to do at WotC.

She's worked on pretty much every major game in the hobby industry at some point in her career between previous freelancing and WotC - there's a tiny slice of her credits here but at a glance I can see an awful lot missing.

Anyway, if you need an amazing game designer/writer as a contractor for your business, let me know.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

More news than you can shake a dead tree at

I got a subscription to The Economist for Christmas this year (from my lovely wife). That is a seriously information-rich magazine. Very interesting stuff.

The only slight drawback is that even though each issue doesn't seem that thick, it's printed on tissue-thin, closely typed pages and there's a ton of info about different global issues. Hence, actually reading the whole thing sucks up a bunch of time - and I am by no means a slow reader.

Nonetheless, if you have an interest in what's actually going on in the world and/or politics then I'd strongly recommend buying a couple of issues and subscribing if you like it.

Guild Wars: In-game name

Quick note: all my characters in GW are called Clamatius {something}. If you want to find me in-game for whatever reason, just add Clamatius Iulius to your friends list.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Gameplay list

Games I'm playing right now:
  • Guild Wars (PC) - much already said about this and more (probably) to come.
  • God of War (PS2) - a classic of modern gaming (albeit one of the most violent games I've ever played).
That's it. My 1-year old has had an ear infection for a few months so that hasn't left much time for sleeping, much less anything fun.

Games that I actually own that I may well be playing given more time:
  • Even more Guild Wars (PC) (ideally Tombs and GvG! *sigh*).
  • Natural Selection (PC) - still an amazing game - plus there's still things I'd like to add to WhichBot.
  • GTA: San Andreas (PS2) - great stuff although I must admit I wish I'd held out for the PC version. The lower resolution of TV is really irritating now I'm used to PC res (from GTA3 + Vice City).
  • Orbital Colony (ARG) - since Rose recommends it it's probably good.
Games that look like I should probably be playing them:
  • World of Warcraft (PC) - although if I try this one that's probably it for the rest of the list. Not going to happen anytime soon.
  • Fahrenheit (PC) - looks like another benchmark game that should be on the list.
  • Shadow of the Colossus (PS2) - benchmark, once again.
  • We Love Katamari (PS2) - the first was a gem so I really "owe it to them" to play the sequel too.
  • Dystopia (PC) - semi-Gibsonian cyberpunk HL2 mod? Why aren't I playing this already? Oh right, no time.
So little time, so many great games.

Guild Wars: Alice in Ascalon

Apparently Alice has a New Year's Resolution to get round to playing Guild Wars. As someone who plays way too many games and is a WOW player, I suspect she will try a bit of PvE, get bored and go back to WOW without really playing enough PvP to get into the game. I could be wrong but that's my prediction right now. In fact, that'd be my prediction for pretty much anyone who's playing a fair amount of WOW already.

Shame, really. I'm not 100% sure what the ArenaNet guys can do about it - but making the PvP play a bit easier to get into might be a good start. Seems like a bit of a vague recommendation from my ivory tower here - a more concrete suggestion would probably be good. I'll have to think about that one. Definitely a problem though, because the tasty PvP centre of the game is really where it's at but most players don't even try that before the eh-it's-ok PvE on the outside.