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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

10:31 PM - Elsewhere on the web

Space: 1999 deluxe Eagle gift set.

"Assorted Body Parts Pack."

Beautiful Guild Wars scenes.
Enhanced screenshots along with instructions.

Out of Africa. [via]
"... a new chapter in a massively multiplayer online game called 'Guild Wars: Nightfall' stands out in its depiction of characters of colors: the entire module is set in a virtual online world inspired by North Africa."

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10:13 PM - Begone, villain

Beast Wars Silverbolt

A photo of Beast Wars Silverbolt, one of my favourite Transformers characters.

A chivalric if naive knight, Silverbolt was one of the main reasons I rate the second season of Beast Wars so highly. His interactions with Blackarachnia were thoroughly entertaining and resulted in many a fine quote.

The toy is a bit of a letdown. The figure should have been painted in chrome silver, the wings could have used additional joints to allow them to be folded in robot mode and the feather-on-a-stick weapons would be more intimidating with additional sculpting and paint.

The figure is by no means bad but being a fan of the character, I wish the toy was great rather than merely okay.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

9:35 PM - A tangled web he weaves

Beast Wars Transmetals Tarantulas

A photo of Tarantulas from the Beast Wars Transmetals assortment. It's not the best figure of the subline but it's got a striking appearance in robot mode.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

9:50 PM - Doodle

I literally dusted off my Wacom Graphire yesterday and practised a little for the first time in months.

Microman M114

It's a digi-doodle of a Microman M114 figure. I hope to work on it over the next few days.

I have had no complaints about my Graphire4 tablet in the 12 months I've owned it but I wish Wacom would provide better documentation for its driver updates.

The latest driver for the Graphire4 caused some strange problems that baffled me until I removed all user preference files (using the new Tablet Preference File Utility) and set my preferences again.

I'm also left wondering what the new driver is supposed to fix or improve. There's a Read Me file included with each update but there's scarcely any information in it.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

8:15 PM - Elsewhere on the web

Flying down the wing.

Best and Cantona may be tops in most fans' minds but to me, Giggs epitomises all that's great in football.

Terrahawks intro.

In Supermacromation! The Zeroids were clearly the stars of the show with Windsor Davies standing out as always.

Battle of Saragarhi.

To the last man, to the last round.

Scolopendra gigantea.

"... commonly known as Amazonian giant centipedes due to their massive size. Adults commonly reach lengths of over thirty-five centimeters– the length of a man's forearm."

Game review of the year.

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Monday, November 13, 2006

8:10 PM - Ghost-bustin'

I've played Tekken: Dark Resurrection for over 20 hours now. Well, 20.08 hours to be exact. I know this because the game keeps tracks of things like that. The game's records also show my win/loss record is 543W/411L and my rank playing as Sergei Dragunov (who've I've played 87.5% of the time) is Legend.

I'm especially proud of that high ranking because I've been playing on the Hard difficulty setting for the past week. The AI foes are, as you might expect, more capable and my tougher battles are usually against nimble opponents like Marshall Law, Lei Wulong, Baek Doo San etc. Fights are often very close affairs; I'm capable of beating my opponents to within an inch of their life but then they'll go into a frenzy and unleash a vicious multiple-hit combo.

I rely heavily on simple one-hit moves and my basic tactic, which has proven surprisingly effective, is to wait for my opponent to move towards me, take a whack and then resume waiting in a guarding stance for another counterhit opportunity.

Using those simple tactics, I won Survival mode (albeit on the Medium difficulty setting) and used the one million gold I earned to unlock all the character movies I had not seen. Having seen them all, I have to say Hworang's is the coolest while the endings for Panda and Kuma have to be seen to be believed.

Houses of pain

I then moved on to Tekken Dojo mode which involves competing against representations of other players' fighting styles called ghosts. The ghost concept astonished me at first. What kind of voodoo magic would have to be involved in order to synthesize a player's fighting style so accurately it can predict that player's reaction to an opponent's move? It turns out ghosts aren't accurate representations of players' fighting styles so I didn't bother creating a ghost of my own.

In Dojo mode, you join a dojo to compete in leagues and knockout tournaments in order to become champion. This unlocks the next dojo with higher-ranked opponents. You begin with the Earth Dojo, which has opponents ranked from Beginner to 3rd kyu, move on to the Water Dojo (5th kyu to 3rd dan), the Fire Dojo (1st dan to Shihan), the Wind Dojo (6st dan to Champion) and the Void Dojo (Master to Legend). Once you earn the top spot in the Void Dojo, you're awarded 3,000,000g and unlock the Heaven Dojo.

I haven't beaten the last one yet and I don't expect to do so very soon since it's got opponents ranked from Sage to Tekken Lord. I was ranked Fujin earlier but had to suffer the ignominy of being demoted after receiving several thrashings.

Ghosts in the machine

You'll also unlock the Yurin Dojo early on and this will be filled with player ghosts you've downloaded from the Net or transferred from another player. The easiest way to do this is to use the PSP's WiFi connection in either AdHoc or Infrastructure mode.

If you don't have a WiFi connection, you can still get ghosts on your machine but you'll have to do it manually. First, download a Ghost Pack (a compilation of player ghosts either from fansites or the official site) to your PC before transferring it to your PSP's memory stick. Unfortunately, I'm not sure what I ought to do with the files at this point. There are listed folder locations for US, Japan and Europe versions of the game but not the Region 3 (a.k.a Asian) version that I own.

I could experiment but at this point, I think I need a break from being thrashed by the AI.

Time to unwrap Field Commander.

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

8:04 AM - Elsewhere on the web

Robert Garriott on Guild Wars. [via]
"... Guild Wars incurs 80% less support costs than NCsoft’s more traditional MMOs ... 'It can cost us a million dollars for an update patch,' Garriott says of other NCSoft MMOs ... Garriott estimates 100,000 people play Guild Wars across the US and EU at any given time, and 1.5-2 million total every month ... As of a few months ago, 2.5 million people have bought Guild Wars."

Guild Wars Halloween 2006.
It was an entertaining event and the video has most of the highlights. It's a shame there's not enough of Mad King Thorn, however. He clearly was the star of the show with his bad jokes and sly allusions to hit songs.

Gamers With Jobs podcast episode 8.
It's almost two hours long but it's quite entertaining and they make some very good points about the next-gen battle.

Tekken music video.
Fan-created.

80s music videos.
Links to YouTube.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

10:45 PM - Come the night

Guild Wars Nightfall

It's no secret PC game development is plagued by huge problems with developers with poor project management skills being frequently pressured by publishers into shipping unpolished products. As a result, I rarely buy a game until two patches are released and even then, I read forums to get as much info as I can about potential problems before making my purchase. There are far too many games released for too many platforms for me to squander my money on a buggy game that will be poorly supported.

That said, I have full confidence in ArenaNet at this point and thus, I have no qualms about buying a Guild Wars game as soon as it's released. The gameplay has been tweaked and polished to perfection and I have faith any new bugs will quickly be fixed thanks to the company's streaming technology.

Before I get into my comments on Nightfall specifically, I have to mention three things: I'm exclusively a PvE gamer, I blitzed through the campaign's story missions and with the exception of one mission, I played with heroes and henchmen only. There's a lot I can't comment on because I was focussed on getting to the end of the story.

Technically speaking

The game's requirements have increased but I'm happy to report I played through Nightfall with the same system I used for previous campaigns without technical problems.

I opted not to install the game from the 3 CD-ROMS in the box and chose instead to download content as and when needed. This may not have been a wise decision since downloading the numerous files necessary for each new area took much longer than I expected. ArenaNet's servers must have been hammered by gamers eager to try the new campaign during the first week because the download rates I experienced during the first few days were poor. I mention this because it could result in your party members waiting a long time while you download the thousand or so files for a mission.

In play

The basic gameplay in Guild Wars is pretty simple but it quickly becomes complicated as you realise how complex combat can get. There's a lot to keep track of to the extent of almost overwhelming players with information.

You have to use skills, monitor your health and energy, watch what your target is doing, keep track of your party's general well-being and keep an eye on the radar to ensure the party doesn't aggro another mob. Nightfall complicates things further since players also have the ability to monitor and command up to three additional NPCs. Thankfully, you don't need to do that. (More on this later.)

The skill templates are really great. I enjoy playing with skills and builds so the ability to quickly change builds is very welcome. As the official site points out, no more waiting while another player reconfigures his character.

Right now, there's only one thing Guild Wars lacks: an auction house. I know I harp on this but I do feel an auction house would make it easier for players to make money and improve characters with suitable gear.

Explore

Guild Wars impressed me from day one with its beautiful look but I was concerned the desert areas in Nightfall would be too reminiscent of Prophecies' Crystal Desert. Fortunately, the new areas are sufficiently different to have their own appeal and the second half of the game offers some change after all that sand. There are some breathtaking sights with the city architecture standing out in particular.

Guild Wars Nightfall

I was especially delighted most of the game takes place in wide open areas as it makes exploring a lot more enjoyable than, for example, Cantha. I flat out hated the Kaineng City areas in Factions since players were hemmed in and forced to take mazy narrow routes. It was especially frustrating to look at the mini-map, take what would seem the most direct route to the destination only to find yourself in one of Kaineng City's many dead ends. I'm grateful Nightfall doesn't have that kind of irritating map design.

A time for heroes

If the factions game mechanic was meant to be the big feature of the second campaign, then heroes must surely be Nightfall's killer feature.

I prefer to play Guild Wars on my own and I've sometimes been frustrated by the limitations of henchmen so I'm delighted by the improvements heroes bring to the PvE game. These new NPCs are superior to henchmen in every meaningful way. They have personality, they're customisable and they're smarter.

There are over a dozen heroes in Nightfall and the previous campaigns have a hero each as well. There are two occassions in Nightfall when you're asked to choose between two different heroes but fear not, you'll have a chance to get the heroes you missed out on at the end of the game. You can (and I suspect you will) collect them all.

The new heroes are a lot more memorable than henchmen. Devona and Aidan have been in three Guild Wars campaigns now but I still don't have much sense of who they are. All I know of Devona is that she seems to have an Elektra complex while Aidan, well, he shoots arrows. The Nightfall heroes, on the other hand, each have distinctive personalities which will shine through during the game's cutscenes.

Heroic strength

The biggest advantage heroes have over henchmen is customisation. You can tweak your each hero's attributes and skillbar to dramatically change how the hero performs in combat. There were a couple of occasions when I tweaked my heroes to beat a mission or foe I previously had trouble with. Without giving too much away, I was faced with impossible odds in the penultimate mission so I resigned, equipped my monk hero with Signet of Midnight, put Wild Blow on my warrior hero's skillbar and beat the mission.

You can even choose to micromanage your heroes by activating their skills for them. For instance, I had my protection monk hero cast Life Sheath and Protective Spirit on my vulnerable Mesmer before I pulled foes. For the most part, the AI for heroes is competent and you needn't babysit them although you should expect to see some odd hero moves (e.g. trying to blind a spellcaster). I'd recommend keeping hero builds as simple as possible.

Hero customisation extends to each hero's gear. Although the armour cannot be removed, the armour level does automatically upgrade as heroes level up. There's also an armour crafter specifically for heroes but I think he only provides ornate armour with the same basic stats. You can always add runes and insignias to the armour to further improve the heroes. Take note that weapons, staves and focus items don't automatically upgrade as heroes level up and you will have to find your heroes better equipment as the game progresses.

Henchmen may be completely overshadowed by heroes but they have been improved as well thanks to the go-to-flag command. You're finally able to command your henchmen to stay well behind while you pull. Take note the flag command doesn't work on allies who tag along with your party during missions and they will still insist on sticking close to you.

Heroes obey the general go-to-flag command as well but they also have individual flags that can be set separately. The upshot of this is that you can order your henchmen to stay in one spot while you go to another spot with your heroes. This ability to split the party should make missions like Thunderhead Keep and the Eternal Grove a lot easier to complete with heroes and henchmen.

Guild Wars Nightfall

Weaknesses

There are a couple of problems with heroes you should be aware of.

Inventory space was already an issue for me before Nightfall and it's been exacerbated now because heroes don't get their own inventory space. Expect to run out of space as you start to hoard weapons, runes, inscriptions, insignias and dyes to customise your heroes. Some players are overcoming this problem by buying additional character slots for the inventory space and I hope ArenaNet will eventually make additional storage space available even if players are asked to pay for it.

I'm also disappointed heroes are character-specific rather than available to all characters on your account. It's a bit exasperating to have to level up the same heroes all over again with another character and improve them with weapons, runes and inscriptions once again. To be fair, account-wide heroes would create some game balance issues with high-level heroes powerlevelling low-level player characters.

The most disappointing thing about heroes is you can only have a maximum of three in your party. This limitation might be in place to encourage you to play with at least one other player but heroes are so super you'll wish you could have more of them in your party.

A hard night

Game-balancing Guild Wars campaigns has got to be tricky. On one hand, you've got veterans of Tyria and Cantha who've put in hundreds of hours of gaming time. On the other hand, you've got new players who've never played a Guild Wars game before. Each campaign has somehow got to be challenging enough for experienced players while being easy enough for new players. It's a delicate balancing act.

It's hard for me to gauge the difficulty for new players. I went into the game without reading anything about the missions and quests so I didn't know what to expect but I did have in my favour a fully tricked out Mesmer. For what it's worth, I found the first two-thirds of the game to be straightforward and my Mesmer, aided by henchmen, had little difficulty dispatching most mobs despite being saddled with low-level heroes.

The last third of the game was another matter. This stage of the game is challenging because some of the foes have nasty new tricks up their sleeves and some of the areas have unpleasant inherent effects. I'm a little concerned new players will find this part too difficult and might simply give up out of frustration. I suppose they could simply join experienced players. The game often reminds players "you never fight alone" and it might not simply be words of encouragement, it could be a command.

That said, experienced players shouldn't have much problems playing by themselves. I had to hook up with others for my first mission but that was only because I didn't have the hero required for it. I think Tyrian and Canthan characters get that particular hero only after that mission and I assume this was to force veterans to team up with new Nightfall characters.

On a mission

The quests and missions are all right. There hasn't been anything spectacular but a couple of quests and missions have stood out to me.

A Fool's Luck is Villainy of Galrath long and just seemed to go on forever. There's also one solo mission. Solo as in you alone. As in without any heroes and henchmen for accompaniment. But if I may indulge in some wordplay, you'll still have a party.

Jennur's Horde looks to be Thunderhead Keep ver. Nightfall in some respects. It requires patience and canny aggro management so I expect many PUGs to fail here. I had no idea what it was about before playing it so every attempt was a learning experience for me. It took me about a dozen tries before I beat it with my heroes and henchmen. I'm sure it would be much easier with another player or two -- the end of the mission requires three items that can only be carried by players -- but I was determined to push the heroes and henchmen to their limits.

The most disappointing mission for me was the last one. The setup was great but the mission itself had a really awkward and irritating design. For all their strengths, ArenaNet's designers don't seem capable of crafting a satisfying final duel with each campaign's Ultimate Bad Guy.

More on Nightfall later.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

9:18 PM - Elsewhere on the web

MicroBry updates.
He's got cool fanmodes for Mega Bloks MagneBeetle and BukiBorg.

Superstitions in MMOs.
Related.

PSP Camera Chottoshot samples. [via]

The Little Book of Hindu Deities. [via]
On Shiva: "He might sport a loin-cloth and have long hippie hair, but he's still a responsible father -- aside from that time he cut off Ganesha's head." The Powerpuff Gods illustrations are fantastic.

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9:11 PM - Bad names

I initially planned on holding off creating new Guild Wars Nightfall characters until I finished the game with my Canthan Mesmer. However, my Mesmer was rapidly running out of inventory space and I had to create a new character a few days ago simply to offload all the scrolls I had been hoarding to free up storage space.

Behold my first Nightfall character, a Paragon.

Guild Wars Nightfall: Paragon

I was pleasantly surprised I was able to create an old character. Guild Wars player characters are mostly pretty boys and girls. Unless they're Necros, in which case they look like mutants. By mutants I mean ugly Morlock mutants rather than the fashion models of X-Men.

I created an old guy with a bushy white beard. The choices for hairstyle don't really favour senior citizens, though, and I had to opt for the chromedome look.

So I now have an old black guy who's bald, has a bushy white beard, wears a skirt and will sound like a twentysomething during cinematics.

Awesome.

The next step in the creation process was the name. It had to be cool. It ought to set the tone.

As a bonus, the name shouldn't get me banned.

(Hint: if you choose to name your character after yourself and you're named Michael Hunt, don't use the informal form of the first name.)

It should be pointed out ArenaNet itself is guilty of poor choices for names. I'm sure it's unintentional but I cannot imagine anyone familiar with the Malay language reading this and not giggling.

If you're looking for some good examples of African names, try Behind the Name. Since my first Nightfall-created character was going to be an angelic Paragon, I chose a name meaning "God is the leader, follow the right road."

At least I hope that's what it actually means. It could mean Mike Hunt for all I know.

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Monday, November 06, 2006

8:42 PM - Night's end

Guild Wars Nightfall: The End

I finished Nightfall with my Mesmer early this morning after an epic 6 hour session.

To summarise: best Guild Wars campaign.

Best killer feature. Best writing. Best NPCs.

I'll expound later.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

2:16 AM - Twilight

Mr Postman delivered Nightfall, the third Guild Wars campaign, today. I added the key along with my preorder bonus pack key (which confers items for new Nightfall characters and more importantly, an extra character slot) to my existing account without problems.

I chose my Mesmer from Factions for my first run-through of the Nightfall campaign. I intend to blitz through the story missions with my fully tricked out Protector of Cantha and later explore the game at a more leisurely pace with new characters created in Elona.

Guild Wars: Before Nightfall

Here's my Mesmer at the Canthan docks just before making the journey to Elona.

(Tragically, the NPC shown above died from an acute subdural hematoma after a giant punctuation mark fell on her a split second after this screenshot was taken.)

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