GW2: Log Harvester Edition

The League of Orrian Lumberjacks strike yet again!

It’s official.

I’ve joined the ranks of those who risk life and limb virtual lumberjacking (aka getting mistaken for a bot by ArenaNet’s algorithm detections and slapped with a ban.)

Though by now, there’s an army of people standing by the grove of Cypress Saplings west of Pagga’s waypoint, all busy half-heartedly grumbling and chop-chop-chopping.

I held off selling 13 Foxfire Clusters in the last few days before the Dragon’s Reach Part 2 update hit, suspecting that we’d probably need them again for a whole new batch of plant food to grow the next stage of the backpack.

Good decision, as it turned out.

Except we were talking 20 for the clay pot upgrade, and 28 for the plant food, and that’s just for the first stage of this new incarnation. Double that for the next.

The names of the backpack are classic though – Mawdrey and Mawdrey II.

Being a Little Shop of Horrors fan, that’s a must have.

Not to mention, a bloodstone dust disposal unit would really come in handy.

I don't even champion train or EOTM train on a regular basis!
Yeah… I don’t even champion train or EOTM train on a regular basis!

If only we’d get another such device for dragonite ore, empyreal fragments or maybe even *gasp* elder wood logs (now 16c a piece and probably plunging further.)

What this means though, is that Foxfire Clusters are not likely to drop in price terribly soon, and I’m really tired of buying them for 60-80 silver apiece.

So the self-sufficiency option means to go woodchopping myself.

Except I’m also tired of running around 4 zones with one character from tree to tree. It was fun for a while, but I’m bored with that now.

The efficient tactic that most are using is, of course, alts. Double the characters, double the chopping power, unsoweiter.

As loathe as I was to move some very comfortably ensconced crafters from humping the Divinity’s Reach crafting stations, I decided I’d rather quintuple my usual Foxfire Cluster harvesting rate instead, at least until I get 76 of them – and then decide if I’d put up with repeating the same routine to sell more to others.

So now all five level 80s of mine are parked by the cypress grove.

Every odd half hour or hour, I log them all in to check if the trees have respawned. Feels a bit like one of those Facebook farming or resource management games – log in every 4 hours to check on things!

On the bright side, this is encouraging me to play my engineer and elementalist more, both at level 52, and consider extra key farming as another activity on the ‘to-do’ list.

Living Story episode-wise, Episode 4 definitely makes up for the slightly weaker stuff in Episode 3.

While doing my best to avoid spoilers for now, there’s one instance that had me grinning and thinking about Phoenix Wright in GW2, and the final instance is a spectacular climax to this series of 4 episodes, before we break for feature patch.

I really really liked the end-boss fight and am looking forward to repeating again for chievos. Made me feel super-heroic, taking it on singlehandedly.

It will, doubtless, be a bit too hard for some.

Overheard a more casually logging-in guildie seek help for it – kept dying as an elementalist, apparently, but imo, it’s a moderate test that asks of the player constant movement and some dodging ability.

Anyhow, if one doesn’t like to solo it, it can be done in a group as well.

I like how immersive the instances are. They encourage a little bit more “RP” into a genre that has left its RPG roots way back some time in the past.

I RP walked through the first ‘Party Politics’ instance, chatting to various NPCs.

A badly mistimed phone call stopped me from my first impulse to do something in the Waypoint instance, had to AFK during a critical story bit (yeah, this is why people solo too, rather than group) but I hear many others gave in to the emotion of the moment and acted accordingly.

And while watching the procession of leaders go past in the Summit instance, I couldn’t resist emoting a /salute as the charr Imperator walked past, which just so happened to time -perfectly- with the NPCs saluting.

It's the little things...
It’s the little things…

Anyway, this episode counts as a big must-play.

Go, go, play it, and then we’ll talk speculation in a week or so.

There’s so many delicious GW1-related hints and echoes to speculate about…

WoW: 10 Years, 10 Questions

Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated...

Like it or not, WoW has been an institution in the public consciousness for a very long time.

The 10 Years, 10 Questions survey by ALT: ernative Chat seems to have taken off like wildfire and become at least a shared point of reference to unite the now disparate interests of MMO game bloggers for a time.

So why the hell not join in?

Though these are thoughts from a WoW contrarian’s POV:

1) Why did you start playing World of Warcraft?

I attempted it twice.

Once was juuust before the game officially launched, when I decided that even though I was burned out like hell on the raid concept and avoided Everquest like the plague, I may as well take advantage of the FREE beta to give the game a fair shake before dismissing it.

It took about 3 continuous days of leaving the computer on in a sweltering tropical climate wondering if I should use up even more electricity by running the air-conditioner for 72 hours to cool the computer down to download the client.

Something about their fancy bittorrent strategy to save bandwidth costs on their end, wasn’t playing well with my ISP. My download speeds were throttled, and throttled good.

That was, perhaps, not the best of first impressions.

Of course, since I left it till the last minute, I literally had about 1 hour of game time, snatched in the morning before I had to leave for work, after which WoW would officially launch and I’d have to pay to play it. Box + Sub fee. Quite a big hurdle to overcome.

I made a Tauren… something. Druid, I think.

Logged in, admired how clearly they laid out everything for newcomers to the genre (I’m a big fan of well-designed tutorials, even if I don’t need them, because well, they show good design and successfully attracting and retaining newbies without turning them off = success) and attempted to do some quests.

Somewhere just past retrieving something from the well, and facing the prospect of goodness-knows-how-many Kill X Whatevers quests in a tutorial area I’d seen was small and cramped and limited (for those said newbies not to be confused, I geddit), I said, there’s no way I’m getting past this in an hour, this is kinda boring, I don’t want to raid anyway so no interest in endgame, so what is the point of advancing further? Just to see numbers exponentially go up?

Then I nope’d right out.

Cue a long period of doing just fine without WoW and forseeing burn out of many at around year 4.

Couple years later, colleague at work started playing WoW like an addict, bringing his shiny new laptop in to sneak in game time during downtime periods.

Ended up essentially spectating him leveling, going through Battlegrounds and so on, mostly with a tolerant knowing smirk that the raid endgame wasn’t for me and trying to sell him on City of Heroes instead.

We sort of peer pressured each other to try out our favorite MMOs. For a time, anyway. Like the free month on the box, in both directions.

The one thing that ended up selling me on a second try of WoW was the smoothness of how his hunter went from mob to mob killing stuff. I -love- smooth, slick, medititative combat grind or farming, whatever term you want to use when referring to killing a whole bunch of easy mobs in quick succession.

The animations were quick and responsive and a little cartoony but just felt good even while merely watching him play.

I guess I could stand to buy a now-cheaper box bundle of WoW plus the Burning Crusade expansion and just enjoy the feeling of combat for a while.

2) What was the first ever character you rolled?

Tauren Druid, I guess. Because it could shapechange and stuff, and I like monster-y races.

I rolled it a second time when I re-tried WoW again, and this time managed to get up to the level where you could turn into a bear, and then the feral cat. Enjoyed the smoothness of the feral cat DPS combat quite a bit, but then had hunter envy watching my work colleague solo stuff and crank out level after level.

I think it was around that time that Cataclysm dropped as well. That was another reason to try WoW, I wanted to get a quick sense of the ‘before’  and then see the ‘after’ and check out what had been  ‘improved’ on.

Post-Cata, I rolled an Undead Hunter – a skeleton archer that ended up reminding me of Clinkz from DOTA.

That became essentially my “main” or the leveling character that got the furthest ahead, up to level 63, thanks to the well-arranged but very meta-gamey post-Cataclysm quest hubs.

I got up to the first flying mount level, flew around for a bit, ended up in the… Outlands, is that what it’s called? The Burning Crusade content level range, which was still full of the oldschool BORING Fed-Ex Kill Ten Rats shit (except now it was more like kill 27 somethings, and there’s a good chance it won’t drop the entrails you want anyway, so it’s really kill 33 more)… and cracked.

Couldn’t take it anymore, and gave it up as a bad idea yet again and ended the sub.

To this day, the poor skeleton guy is still logged-off somewhere in that other dimension.

3) Which factors determined your faction choice in game?

Horde for life!

Um, I played orcs in the Warcraft RTS games?

Because there were far more interesting monster-like and ‘ugly’ races over Horde side than the boring pretty humanoid ones on the Alliance side?

And it didn’t really matter anyway because I just hopped to another server and rolled a Draenei and a Worgen to try them out, the only two races I had a real interest in on the other side.

4) What has been your most memorable moment in Warcraft and why?

Let’s see: it would either have to be the first breaking point where I nope’d right out of the last 5 hours of the beta.

Or it would be somewhere around that time where I went swimming to some island just off the Orc coast (I can’t even remember what class that Orc was), across the way from some NPC troll village and then accidentally died to a shark or something in the water.

I’d apparently crossed some zone boundary or other without knowing it, because I turned up as a ghost at the ‘nearest shrine’ and when I rezzed there because there was no fucking way I was going to retrace my footsteps all the way back to the frickin’ ocean, I was like level 15 in a level 30+ zone.

EVERYTHING was a deep deep purple.

Cue a whole series of deaths, where I was calculating my chances of dying in sequence trying to ‘shrine hop’ towards a zone where I would maybe stand a fighting chance?

Ended up eventually reaching a town / quest hub where I found a more-or-less affordable (ie. nearly everything my lowbie had earned via quest rewards so far) griffon ride taxi back to the “correct” zone for my level range, cursing under my breath about being penalized in monetary terms for exploring, instead of being a good orc peon and following the defined questing route like a carrot-seeking Achiever.

Or it would be the second breaking point where I stood in the middle of demon-infested lands and couldn’t repeat the same thing I’d been doing for the past 63 levels, just in less hidden, less streamlined and not-much-story form.

With memories like that, I suppose that explains why I don’t really play WoW.

5) What is your favourite aspect of the game and has this always been the case?

How smooth and slick the dang combat is, animations and all.

Yep.

It got someone not at all impressed with the foundations of WoW (vertical progression, bait-and-switch leveling to raid game, raid endgame) to play the game for a time, just to enjoy pew-pewing stuff for a while.

I bet they had a testing and iteration period where they really -nailed- the optimum time-to-kill for a normal mob to fall over and die, how many attacks it should take to feel right, and so on.

It works. It really does. It has this ridiculous addictive “just-one-more-mob” quality to it.

6) Do you have an area in game that you always return to?

Err… considering I can barely name any area in game, the answer has to be no.

Maybe Orgrimmar, if only because all my Horde characters end up funneled there in the “proper” course of things? An inn, because of rested XP?

7) How long have you /played and has that been continuous?

No clue.

In real life terms, maybe a month or two or three’s worth of sub time?

Not continuous, no. The longest was that two month stint casually leveling the skeleton archer, I mean, Undead Hunter.

8) Admit it: do you read quest text or not?

I tried.

Then I compared the quality of the couple of sentences to the longer elaborate sagas found in LOTRO, where I actually had a vested interest in the lore, and gave up doing it in WoW.

Easier to do like the Romans do, put on a Quest Helper mod, follow the shiny dots and arrow and play the game efficient OCD Achiever-style. It’s primarily the main playstyle that’s rewarded by ding after ding, after all.

9) Are there any regrets from your time in game?

Not personally, no.

I played what I wanted, experienced what I wanted, and stopped when I didn’t feel like playing any longer, no hard feelings.

I do kinda regret how this massive WoW giant etched into the collective gamer consciousness an “understanding” that THIS IS THE ONLY WAY THINGS SHOULD BE and that every MMO should feel and play like WoW.

But I’ve gotten over it and decided that with the passage of time, enough people will burn out of this phase to populate other games, and one may as well look at the silver lining and say that the WoW zeitgeist at least introduced a ton more people than would have otherwise got into MMOs or games to the basic concept.

10) What effects has Warcraft had on your life outside gaming?

Not very much?

Perhaps providing a vague frame of reference or conversation topic, where one actually meets another person in real life who admits to playing MMOs and then it turns out that they only blindly and faithfully play WoW, and then we end up exhausting that as a subject because it’s either I smile and nod politely while they tell me all about the next piece of gear they’ve gotten from a random roll (sorta like being accosted by that stereotypical someone who just wants to regale you with all the stories his last D&D character got up to, though that’s never really happened to me)…

…or they try to get me hooked “You should play too,” which then naturally segues into asking why I don’t, and them blinking with uncomprehending eyes while I bite down on the words ‘endless treadmill’ and ‘hamster wheel‘ and try to explain the difference between vertical and lateral progression options, and inclusive versus exclusive mindsets, and how clever game design can affect the way players behave in-game.

The conversation tends to stop after that.

Uh, yeah. Not much.

Stars Without Number: Swan Song

I’ve always liked tabletop roleplaying, but also always ran into the geographical problem. There’s simply not enough people I can find in physical proximity to get a game going, especially living somewhere in  freakin’ Asia, a continent or two away from where more people have heard of the concept.

Now there’s digital tabletop roleplaying – assuming you have a webcam, a microphone and a tabletop roleplaying program – but eh, I already find trying to keep to regular MMO raid times a headache, to say nothing of trying to schedule the SAME 4-5 busy working adults across weeks and months for long enough to have a decent story going.

Then there’s the effort of GMing – isn’t it always funny how the one with the most interest ends up taking on most of the work – and I end up concluding that trying to run a game in reality fits under the ‘very low priority desire’ category.

Instead, just like one realizes that one doesn’t have the time to play all the MOBAs in the world and just idly watches professional streams now and then, I’ve taken to watching someone else roleplay for me.

Or a whole bunch of someone elses.

JP McDaniel aka “itmeJP” on Youtube, runs a roleplaying games channel where his friends and him play through a broad range of game systems. He’s also had some very special guest stars joining in – Totalbiscuit on Dark Heresy, Jesse Cox on Numenera, and so on.

One of the more recent and fascinating game series that I would recommend is their current play through with the “Stars Without Number” RPG system (a free edition available through DriveThruRPG here.)

If you like science fiction, and/or are a fan of Firefly, where a gang of ruffians and ne’er-do-wells fly around on a spaceship visiting different planets and getting into interesting scrapes, you might like Swan Song.

This is Part 2 of the first episode, which gets right into the introduction of the characters, then the story portion.

(Part 1 is the character creation and involves lots of dice rolling and numbers and system talk, which may only interest a smaller subset of you.)

One notable player to look out for is Steven Lumpkin, who also happens to be the lead level designer for the Warhammer 40k: Eternal Crusade MMO. He’s more often in the GM role, but as it turns out, he’s also a very entertaining and artfully imaginative player.

The entire playlist is here.

As these “Rollplay” episodes are almost essentially audio plays, unless you really want to track every last nuance of their faces and dice rolls, I’ve found that they make good watching alongside a relaxing farming session in an MMO, where one can indulge in repetitive meditative motions while keeping the rest of the brain occupied elsewhere.

Now level 63 in Path of Exile, thanks to lots of Fellshrine Ruins farming and Swan Song!

(The item drops on Merciless do seem to be a lot more attractive, I’m accruing currency and skill gems at a decent enough rate.)

On Fantasy and Reality (and Violence?)

A million stories tell us that woods are magic places... what the cat with a giant sword on fire is doing there, I dont know...

From as early on as I can remember, I have always grown up with the fantastic.

80s cartoons like “He-Man, Masters of the Universe,”  “The Centurions,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Transformers” and their attendant advertisements were always an important part of my childhood.

Were they violent?

Well, they did involve lots of battles against villains, and a truckload of laser blasts and rocket explosions.

A dozen years on, a class project involved another group of classmates who gleefully projected the number of laser shots fired and explosions and so on in just one episode of X-Men.

I think their count was somewhere in the 80-100 number range.

From there, I think they were trying to make some kind of point about how media influences our lives and our perceptions, and linking cartoon violence to real violence – you know, that thing that has been going on with video games and violence for the past dozen years now.

I remember being ridiculously skeptical because my biggest take-home from watching entire SEASONS worth of X-Men was that discrimination of the mutant or the outsider for the color of their skin (or how many arms they had) was unfair and hurtful.

This was also the same class project where my own group attempted to belittle Xena: Warrior Princess for being demeaning to women by camera angles that always insisted on a boob shot before panning to the face.

A couple of years later, the advent of popular internet revealed to our general knowledge how feminists and lesbian groups were praising the show for not shying away from using two females as their main characters and passing the Bechdel Test with flying colors… so you might indeed want to treat our adolescent attempts at matching our teacher’s assigned theme with a hefty helping of salt grains.

These days, I think adults too often project their own fears and interpretations onto the kids themselves.

Has anyone ever asked the children what they’re thinking?

One such person that did is Gerard Jones, author of “Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super-Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence” and he goes on to say:

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that young people emulate literally what they see in entertainment. That if they like a rapper who insults gays, then they must be learning hostility to gays, and if they love a movie hero who defeats villainy with a gun, then they must be learning to solve problems with violence. There is some truth in that. One of the functions of stories and games is to help children rehearse for what they’ll be in later life. Anthropologists and psychologists who study play, however, have shown that there are many other functions as well – one of which is to enable children to pretend to be just what they know they’ll never be. Exploring, in a safe and controlled context, what is impossible or too dangerous or forbidden to them is a crucial tool in accepting the limits of reality. Playing with rage is a valuable way to reduce its power. Being evil and destructive in imagination is a vital compensation for the wildness we all have to surrender on our way to being good people.

In focusing so intently on the literal, we overlook the emotional meaning of stories and images. The most peaceful, empathetic, conscientious children are often excited by the most aggressive entertainment. Young people who reject violence, guns and bigotry in every form can sift through the literal contents of a movie, game, or song and still embrace the emotional power at its heart. Children need to feel strong. They need to feel powerful in the face of a scary, uncontrollable world. Superheroes, video-game warriors, rappers, and movie gunmen are symbols of strength. By pretending to be them, young people are being strong.

Adults, however, often react to violent images very differently – and in the gap between juvenile and adult reactions, some of our greatest misunderstandings and most damaging disputes are born. Soon after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, many toy retailers reported sharp increases in sales of G.I. Joe and other militaristic toys. But some of those same retailers also began pulling such toys from the shelves, largely in response to parents’ requests. Newspaper stories reported that many parents were forbidden violent toys and entertainment in their homes as a reaction to the tragedy. One mother said she’d hidden her sons’ toy soldiers because “It’s bad enough that they see the Army in the airport.”

Many of us worried about how we would help children deal with the terror of September 11, but when I went into the classrooms, I found that the children were far less shaken than their parents and teachers. Most of them talked about the horrific images they’d seen with a mixture of anger and excitement – and a lot of them wanted to draw pictures, tell stories, or play games involving planes destroying buildings or soldiers fighting terrorists. This isn’t a failure to react appropriately to tragedy: this is how children deal with it. When something troubles them, they have to play with it until it feels safer….

…Adults are generally more empathetic, more attuned to the greater world, and more literalistic than children. We are more likely to feel the pain and anxiety caused by real violence when we see it in make-believe. It troubles us to see our kids having fun with something we deplore. We fear that they are celebrating or affirming a horror that we desperately want to banish from reality. We want them to mirror our adult restraint, seriousness, compassion and pacifism. But they can’t – and shouldn’t – mimic adult reactions. Play, fantasy, and emotional imagination are essential tools of the work of childhood and adolescence.

If any of the above makes sense, I encourage you to take a browse through the actual book itself, recall and think about your own childhood and come to your own conclusions.

Personally, Gerard Jones’ words resonate a lot with me.

I remember my favorite daydream, an elaborate saga that would go on in repetitive vein fueled by the latest plotlines of the week’s cartoons and whatever books I’d read. I was a god on a spaceship.

My house was my spaceship. I’d jump onto the sofa and it’ll become the comfortable control center for taking off to the next planet or magical plane of existence. The balcony was the viewport, and of course, the spaceship had plenty of laser guns and was so shielded by godly power that it could dive into the sun and come out again.

As for godhood, I had to be, because gods are powerful, you know? They can do anything they want.

Except you know, gods also had powerful enemies, so there was a very fair share of getting weakened by a Kryptonite equivalent and getting captured. He, of course, had friends to rescue him from these perpetual predicaments. Godly disciples yanked out of the latest books to capture my imagination.

I don’t remember all of them, but I know the first was Lord Mhoram – out of the Stephen R. Donaldson Chronicles of Thomas Convenant series.

(Yeah, that series that has an anti-protagonist that dared to commit the r-word. I don’t think I even understood that part as a kid, just glossed over what I didn’t understand at the time.

All I knew was that I wasn’t at all impressed with the craven Covenant, and that Lord Mhoram was so much more a wise and active figure that he became my hero and favorite character of the series. Try as I might, through repeated attempts over the years, I could never properly get through the Second Chronicles after the series moved on past the age of the Lords.

I wince to think about what kind of trauma I might have suffered, if anyone had pulled the books out of my hands as a kid and told me not to read the dang things because OMG RAPE.)

Lord Mhoram was simply my wizard figure. He worked for me, because I was a god, you know – that standard narcissistic center of the universe reasoning that children often enjoy. He’d give advice and lead the rest when the god was otherwise (and frequently) disabled or incapacitated and get me out of a million and one scrapes.

I was a bit of a precocious kid, by the way. My mother tells me I was reading by the age of two. Something I naturally don’t remember but would credit her patience and willingness to teach and read with me till I picked up the habit.

Enid Blyton was entertaining me before and through the first years of primary school – groups of five kid adventurers (always five, for some reason) who would visit incredible places and solve mysteries that stumped adults, a fantastic tree that two kids would climb and enter lands of make-believe, often filled with delicious food, and so on.

From youth, libraries were exciting places, and I’d soon find myself exhausting the children’s section and wound up nestled away in a magic Dewey Decimal System number somewhere past 100 and just before the 400s (the Sciences, from which I’d also borrow tons of plant and animal books.)

Whoever thought to put Folklore in the 390s was a genius.

It was an eclectic mix of only two shelves or so, but I patiently worked my way through as many as I could decipher. Tales of 1001 Arabian Nights – a humongous tome that I’d never quite get to the end of, before running out of library borrowing time, tales of greek and roman myths and gods, tales of the devil and ol’ Nick and the common man taking them on.

The second disciple of my long and extensive imaginary childhood construct was Lord Aragorn.

Of course. How you can have geek cred if you didn’t read Lord of the Rings, eh?

My father shared his well-worn browned and very thumbed through copy with me, when he realized I was reading a bunch of folklore and fantasy epics from said library.

The first page contained his signature, a black ink scribble running to purple and green from the passage of time, with a date marked before I was born, to say when he bought the book. Marking a book like that was quite unthinkable to me at the time, but I found it fascinating anyway, to realize that my dad had a past that existed before I had even existed, and that this book was older than I was.

Naturally, the hobbits were too modest a hero to idolize when you’re young and small yourself, and my wizard needed a warrior to do the melee fighting, right?

Who better, than Strider himself?

(Sorry, Gandalf, Lord Mhoram’s cooler than you. You can come and play a bit part and guest star in my cartoon, no problems. Plenty of plotlines of the week.)

Sadly, I don’t remember the third any more, and I knew the fourth was a purely imaginary character that joined up with the group later, a sort of karate fighter that I named Tiger Khan (from glomming together a cool word and Ghengis Khan – don’t ask, I don’t know how it got created in my head either. Watching Karate Kid and Eye of the Tiger movies, perhaps?)

I’m sure there was PLENTY of play and pretend fighting through the storylines. I had my share of plastic swords and Super-Soaker Blaster types to use, after all.

When I played with LEGO, it was castles and knights, and then subsequently pirates. Much pirates. Pirates upon pirates.

I had two ships, and they’d clash forever, with cannons blazing and crew clambering aboard the opposing ship, lots of cutlass swinging and stabbing, little yellow figurines going into the water and getting sheared in half with only the tops remaining visible on the floor (“HALP! WE’RE DROWNING!”) while the two pirate captains would smirk and pet their red and yellow parrots with their hooks and stop by the local fortress to jail their captives. (Cue rescue mission later.)

Try as I might, I simply don’t remember a time when I wasn’t aware that all my fantasies were exactly that. Just pretend. They weren’t real.

All they were, were simple joyous escapism. They were a place where exciting adventures could happen, in contrast with real life and grades upon grades. A place where one could feel powerful and in control, where kids are often just the opposite in reality, acted on by adults who had more authority.

The emotional content was the real reward, not whatever wrapping lay around it – be it sci-fi or medieval fantasy or cowboy western or supernatural fantasy.

Even then, I’d probably look pityingly on an adult that somehow got this confused.

When I was around 11, one teacher of mine took one look at the -cover- of the Blood Sword gamebook I had brought to school, The Battlepits of Krarth, that sported a slimy looking horror monster. Without even reading the contents, she did a double-take, took me and my friends aside and gave us a serious heart-to-heart talk about how satanic and dangerous ‘roleplaying games’ were, while we looked bemusedly at each other and tried to explain what an adventure gamebook was, and this particular volume’s foundings in folklore – she was an English/literature teacher.

Fortunately, confiscating student property on trumped up charges wasn’t a thing in those days, so I got to keep my book. Our entire class did get to sit through a Christianity video she brought to school after that, where we blinked amusedly at caricatures of American kids who dressed up in wizard robes, carried D&D books as a prop, and tried to sacrifice cats and summon Satan. Naturally, one kid saw the light of God and defeated the evil Game Master or something of that nature.

Leslie Fish – Gamers (As she says, I really wonder and worry about these people who think a game is real)

It makes me wonder why and how we come to differentiate the real and the fantastic.

Maybe the secularity of my upbringing helped?

Maybe it was just what my parents taught me?

I dunno. My mom believes in Catholicism, but she never imposed that belief on me or anyone else.

My father believes in UFOs. (Or at least thinks they could be a very real possibility. Why not? Is his line of thinking. He’s never really heard of Occam’s Razor.)

It’s especially ironic that we had a screaming argument when I was in my rebellious teenage years and I almost threw a punch at him (my only attempted real world violence against another person, only held in check by my mother. Thank you, mom) because he thought my highly valued comic book and roleplaying game collection indicated that I was lost in a world of fantasy and wanted to throw them out to ‘force’ me to live in the real world.

All I was really thinking of at the time was how much -real life- dollars that collection had cost me, how impossible it would be to find copies of them again, and how unfair it was that he had a roomful of DVDs (many of them with fantastic themes) while I apparently couldn’t be allowed to maintain a collection of what I enjoyed, because he specifically didn’t understand what they were, and feared what he didn’t understand?

My mom talked us down and the incident blew over. Logic prevailed over tempers.

Maybe, ultimately, I have to credit books and my mother for teaching me how to read them, so I could think for myself.

Googling up “how people distinguish real and fantastic” brought up this article about children’s beliefs in fantasy and magic and how theatrical plays may have an impact:

What might account for the age differences in children’s understanding of the reality-fantasy distinction? Anne Hickling at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and I have proposed that a number of different factors contribute to children learning what can really happen in the world, and what cannot. The first is increased knowledge. The more knowledge children acquire about objects in the world and their causal mechanisms, the better able they are to distinguish real from unreal events. A second factor is parental input and encouragement.

Knowledge is key.

Reading is the key to knowledge.

Or rather, exposure to information, with parental encouragement, rather than repression of what adults fear.

This post is a lot more personal than you’d usually see from me. Think of it as my little sort of Blaugust contribution, in the spirit of things, even if I really don’t intend to do daily posts or share too much personal stuff in my gaming blog.

It was written as a sort of response to Aggro Range’s “Rated M for Mommy” post. It’s not a criticism of any kind of parenting – I believe all parents have the right to do as they see fit for their particular household and context – but the story of the kid that had a screaming tantrum when he wasn’t allowed to play Call of Duty got to me a little.

I don’t know the context, if this kid really believes terrorists are going to come to get him and everybody else, if he couldn’t shoot them before they could, that really suggests something has gone awry with his ability to distinguish the real from the fantastic. Or maybe it’s just the only way he can cope with the reality that his oldest brother is facing real danger, to shoot pretend terrorists and exorcise the fear demons haunting him by doing it in a safe environment.

The whole patriotism jibe is not cool, of course. Seems to be a trend in conservative America now to accuse anyone with differing viewpoints of not being ‘patriotic.’ That’s a kind of groupthink that can easily lead to more dystopian scenarios – as reading or watching sci-fi stuff might teach.

The corresponding impulse to ban and prohibit games or media in response is personally worrisome to me.

It strikes me that forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest, and that repressing and bottling up things without discussing them might just lead to infernos of rage or strong emotion that people don’t know how to handle later, if they haven’t had prior practice, with smaller emotions, in make-believe.

I am not going to impose this view on anyone, or say that there’s only one way of doing things, or that things SHOULD be this way or no other, because reality doesn’t work like that.

There can be multiple solutions to a problem that all work, and plenty of people have grown up with all kinds of parenting and turned out perfectly healthy individuals.

But I do hope this post makes all of you think a little, and explore different perspectives, and decide for yourselves, rather than indulge in knee-jerk reactions or go along with what the mass media tells us.

I leave you with this adorable cute video of a father playing Dark Souls 2… with his admirably precocious three year daughter, who also plays Portal 2:

Path of Exile: Level 60, Forsaken Masters Ahoy!

When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled. Oh, brave Sir Robin!

News of the impending Forsaken Masters expansion has encouraged me to revisit Path of Exile.

Down time in GW2 helps (or rather ‘slow, not really doing much, no immediate goals’ time, since GW2 doesn’t go down for maintenance ever, and only becomes inaccessible when unforeseen technical problems crop up.)

I’m thrilled to share that my Shadow has made it to level 60.

You may or may not recall that he was previously bogged down at lvl 52, with a tendency to explode and lose a bar’s worth of experience every time a spellcaster looked at him funny. Or if he stood in melee range of something with a very big sword or hammer.

I don’t think they changed anything that affected me specifically during the few weeks that I was away from the game, but for some inexplicable reason, I felt like things seemed a little easier.

I suspect it was partly due to a subconscious change of strategy.

Playing XCOM made me realize that using corners and scenery to block attacks can still be valid in games that are not MMOs.

cornersummoning

So now, any time I feel like meleeing up-close-and-personal is not going to work, I find a handy corner.

Then I summon a stream of skeletons, which act as a passably decent wall of somewhat tanky mobs, and pop in a few raging spirits in between. (The raging spirits seem to attack for decent amounts, but are very squishy, so the skeleton distractions help.)

If all goes well, the enemy gets distracted and nickel-and-dimed to death by my mobs.

If it comes around the corner, I run screaming for another corner, quaffing heals like no tomorrow.

Ah, yes, retreat is now in my vocabulary.

I’m content to kite the things through multiple corridors of already-cleared rooms if I have to, throwing disposable skeletons in their wake to slow them down, while I work on raising slightly sturdier ghouls (which unfortunately require corpses and take a bit more prep time to summon.)

Watching DOTA 2 guide videos alerted me to the revelatory fact that getting behind your opponent allows for more time to get hits in.

Path of Exile, unfortunately, has major sync issues with skills that teleport you around the place. They’re just best not used. I used to have Whirling Blades on the bar as a get away quick mechanism, but the amount of jittery framerates and lag it can produce is just not really worth it to me any more.

What I do have, however, is Summon Skeletons, which places skeletons anywhere under your cursor.

I’ve taken to casting at least 2-4 skeletons BEHIND an enemy. This often has the welcome effect of distracting it and encouraging it to turn around to face them, offering up its vulnerable back for my stabbing. Worse case scenario, it doesn’t turn around and the skeletons get free hits in while I run around avoiding blasts and trying to stay alive.

Just watching pros juking others at DOTA 2 seems to have subconsciously affected my ability to dodge through mouse clicking, as if I’m either trying to emulate them, or I’ve suddenly realized that it’s actually possible to try and avoid attacks with a similar click-to-move control scheme.

The other part of it, I suspect,  is that old bugaboo of gear and levels.

As I started outleveling the maps, it got easier and easier. Less attacks hit through my evasive defence, I could use flasks that recovered more hp and mana, that sort of thing.

That mostly took a hefty helping of patience and plodding away.

I got more open to using the commonly-understood ‘standard’ farming maps to get some easier xp in. In Act 1, that’s places like the Ledge.

Ahh, happy ledge farming days. Thank you, Endless Ledge for teaching me this spot.
Ahh, happy ledge farming days. Thank you, Endless Ledge event races for teaching me this spot.

In Act 3, the early part before the City of Sarn, and then the Catacombs, and finally the Docks.

Before I went risky places to progress the story, I’d finish up the level I was halfway on, so that if I died, I wouldn’t be losing excessive amounts of xp.

Also, knowing that I could farm up that bar or two of lost xp quite quickly in these maps made deaths elsewhere feel a little less punishing and frustrating.

At the same time, all that farming gives decent amounts of loot to sift through.

Being voluntarily self-found (buying uniques off other players for a pittance feels like cheating to me and doesn’t really teach an understanding of the game, imo), that meant patiently sorting through junk, pulling out things that looked like they had potential, spending some currency to randomly roll up nice stats and get good linked slots.

It ends up being a fair amount of compromising, because it gets ridiculously expensive to get things optimally right.

This time, I followed the ‘understood wisdom’ again and prioritized resistances. Lots of them. Plus some +Life if at all possible.

Having 70% resistances to fire, lightning and ice went a long way towards mitigating the initial alpha strikes of the later maps’ mobs.

I could actually take 3-5 hits before exploding, which at least gives time to estimate the amount of damage coming in, and to quickly quaff a heal while hastily scrambling away out of range.

Some of my support gems had to be rearranged, or gone without, which was a little sad, but welp, can’t win them all.

In a way, it was interesting to be forced to experiment with new combinations of gems.

I tried putting Increases Minion Life on my skeletons, instead of my ghouls, and that didn’t seem to work very well at all with the way I normally play (with an entourage of 5 ghouls following me.) I swapped that back after a few close encounters.

I’d previously put Faster Attacks on my dagger attacks – having it on Venom Strike was nice, iirc. It wasn’t bad on Reave either. But then my slots changed and I couldn’t  fit it with either of those skills, and I went hunting for any other valid places to combine it.

Turns out, minion melee attacks can be buffed by Faster Attacks too. I only had a free slot for my Raging Spirits, but now they attack 33% more quickly, which seems to be working out fairly well for me too. (Like a permanent GW2 mesmer time warp on them, mwahaha.)

I got a few levels under my belt, then went through the rest of the Cruel Difficulty maps, marveling at the change of feel. Heck, I even managed to down Piety without dying, which is doubtless utterly standard for normal PoE players, but quite a feat for a noob like me.

Even the Dominus fight went well, all his preliminary attendant bosses were patiently kited one by one and dealt with patiently, with plenty of dodging around and kiting… right up to the final phase, anyway. When he went into his final form, and that damnable blood rain started, I looked at my xp bar, which was 3/4 of the way to the next level and sighed.

I knew I could just walk out and go farm up the rest of it before dealing with him again, but I was already -there- and committed. I also knew I didn’t have any chaos resistance worth speaking of, and that it would be even more farming and grinding to put together a semblance of stuff that worked.

But what the hell, right? If I got through to Merciless Difficulty, I suspected that I’d be able to get to the Ledge eventually, where a bountiful harvest of xp would await me.

So I repeated the same ignoble ‘feat’ of dying, reviving, teleporting, stabbing him a few times while letting all my summons get a few hits in, total party wiping, reviving, resummoning, re-entering, getting re-teleported to him and attacking and rinsing and repeating.

Whatever works.

I hear there’s builds that utilizes a skill gem called Cast on Death. Yep, literally you kamikaze bomb something. And some folks have managed to get it all optimally linked to the point of it being able to deal 1.6 million damage, one-shotting bosses.

Your standard easy-mode PvE MMO player fears death and set-backs a ton. Player death feels terrible, even before you throw in old time hardcore stuff like losing equipment and needing corpse retrievals, or losing tons of xp (or worse, levels) that have to be ground back up. That’s one of the reasons why FFA PvP full loot games are so scary to us.

My little experimental forays into games with the threat of loss attached are teaching me one thing that probably all Eve Online players know, or are forced to learn in a hurry.

Never bet or risk anything more than you’re willing and can afford to lose.

It takes a bit of learning on each game to feel out the limits on this.

A permadeath quickie game like Realm of the Mad God can risk a lot, but you can build a farming character up quite quickly in an hour or so, and figure out that it’s best to farm potions on a throwaway for your desired ‘main.’

A game like Path of Exile means figuring out how to quickly get back the xp you’re bound to lose at some point, and to try and keep risky attempts near the start of a level, while doing non-risky farming activities when you’re trying to get to the next level.

I’m still not really willing to risk my stuff on a game where other players can take things away from me, since that always sounds like a grind to build up lots of throwaway items to trundle around with and risk losing through no fault of my own, but for games where my deaths are either my fault or at worse, lag’s fault, I can deal with that.

Anyhow, I essentially ‘paid’ 3/4 of a level to defeat Dominus on Cruel Difficulty because I was too lazy and disinclined to pause and take a break.

And I was totally all right with that. I knew the cost going in, up front.

I got into Merciless Difficulty, celebrated a little, did some killing of random stuff,  died once or twice accidentally, then got into a groove and got back that 3/4 of a level. Ta da! Problem solved!

Now I’m back to being bogged down again in the early beginnings of Act 2, Merciless.

Whee.

At least I know what to do this time.

pisspoorresist

Behold, my glorious resistances on Merciless.

On Cruel, which imposes a global -20% to resistances, I was pulling 70%+ resist with my current gear.

My current gear on Merciless, with a global -60% to resistances, well…  UGH.

I admit to being a bit at my wit’s end on how I’m going to stack more, as I’m already relying on lucky rolls like my boots with 30%+ fire and cold resist mods.

I suspect that I may have to change things around to focusing on -one- resist, as and when each map needs it.

I more or less did that for cold resist when facing Merveil, and that -seemed- to work somewhat well.

I think the other possibility is bringing along a specific resist flask for the specific map, so that I can quaff that just before doing an important fight and dealing with a bad alpha strike. Resist flasks don’t really last for a long time though. UGH.

My gear is, of course, also woefully underleveled by this point, since I’ve hit level 60.

I suspect a patient farming pause is in order.

I’m hoping the Forsaken Masters update might help. Apparently, they will be introducing new NPCs that you can work towards building a sort of faction rep for, and that will unlock new crafting options like being able to add specifically chosen mods to items.

This sounds a hell of a lot more attractive than just randomly relying on RNG, though it will no doubt be quite expensive. We’ll see.

My hope is that they recognize that low-level players kind of need an in-between alternative to keep them occupied, and help them gear up at various level ranges,  if they don’t just buy uniques off various shop bots sitting around. Hopefully upgrading and crafting low level equipment will be possible and affordable, with these new systems, while still keeping the super-awesome high-level stuff as a golden carrot very hard to get to for those crazy enough to desire chasing them.

Naturally, the Forsaken Masters update is also going to come with a complete rework of the part of the skill tree that directly affects my most high-leveled character. Go figure.

Shadow and Witch areas are apparently going to be reworked. I do hope this doesn’t mean that my weird-ass summoner dual-wield dagger-stabby build is going to be invalidated or impossible to achieve, because I’m kind of fond of it.

On the bright side, I don’t think it’s possible for a reworked skill tree to get myself any worse off, being all noob and newb when I chose my options, so a free complete respec is going to be quite the gift horse.

The bad news is that it’s entirely possible for me to screw it up a second time, since I wouldn’t have the advantage of slowly leveling through the skill tree and figuring out how to work with what I chose.

Welp. I guess we’ll see. Worse case scenario is I adapt my strategies to whatever my new build becomes.

There’s also the last resort of throwing out the character, but I believe I’m a little more stubborn than that.