Blaugust Day 20: Asura Alt Collection – The Ranger (GW2)

I need another one of those quick posts again, because I’m seriously starved on time lately.

It’s all I can do to knock out one set of GW2 dailies (hit the three easiest – < 30 minutes), and then go on to one set of Trove dailies (fill the star bar – also < 30 minutes.)

I think Paeroka is on to something, showing off all her MMO mini-mes

Ditto Rowan Blaze, with his SWTOR character biographies.

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So, this is Kujl.

Pronounced “Cudgel,” as he will tell you sourly, if he deigns to tell you at all.

He shares the typical asura trait of assuming all bookahs fairly stupid and not worth conversing with, plus a little extra helping of bitterness for being teased mercilessly through progeny-hood for his un-asura-like name.

(No double-vowels, not even a double-consonant, not the usual short sharp exhalation of a one syllable male name, but a double syllable one slightly more typical of female asura names… the only thing vaguely respectably masculine is ending in a consonant… and the sexy ears, of course.)

Personally, I sometimes slip fondly into something more vaguely resembling “Cujo” or “Cujill” when I’m thinking of bringing him out for an sPvP spin, but it’s ok, we’ll whisper it and he already thinks we’re all a bunch of bookahs anyway.

He’s been level 39 for a very long time, having officially replaced my necromancer as my sPvP ol’ reliable some time back.

And he’s one of the rarer combinations of race and class – something I love my characters to be, so that they’re a little bit atypical and I can infuse a little more backstory into them.

Why asura ranger? Well, mostly because I thought the idea of a pet being as big or bigger than his ranger master would be hilariously awesome to play.

In my head though, Kujl is an extremely antisocial (probably even asocial) asura who doesn’t even want to mix with his own kind, due to said horrible childhood teasing making lab and school life a living hell.

Obviously, animals don’t judge in that fashion.

Since nature and the outdoors are where most normal and ambitious asura only venture to when their labs suffer an unfortunate accid- “learning experience” and require some ventilation time… or when they need test subjects… Kujl has probably discovered or decided that this giant free-from-rent-and-research-grant-requiring-(aka-political-schmoozing-needed) venue is where -he- will set up lab instead.

Being also a typical “I’ll show them… I’m a genius” asura, Kujl is busy pioneering work in “living” golems.

Yep, his pets are implanted with all manner of technomagical control devices for “guaranteed reliability” (fine print: beta version, some testing still required.)

It’s a curious thing, but I’ve always thought of Kujl as being fairly young, and his levels tend to match, I haven’t moved him beyond level 39, and not really sure I want to, even if I do want a level 80 ranger at -some- point.

Yet, he has a very old, serious, bitter soul.

He was one of the earliest characters I made, probably in one of the original five slots.

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I found a portrait of him at level 9, some time in Dec 2012, and I suspect he was made earlier than that.

At the time, I knew he was young, I tried to color him flamboyantly, yellow and purple “rich” colors, mostly because I was sick of dyeing all my alts some version of ebony, grey or brown for natural metal/leather colors.

It just didn’t quite click. He was kind of saying, this is not who I am.

I suppose we can assume he was still schooling at this point, dressing up in a more civilian style, if only to blend in, but just not comfortable with city life.

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Around 2013, I start attempting to level the ranger alt again, and give him a bit more of a makeover. He still has the purple intensity, that reflects the deep blue intenseness of his eyes. The yellow has been dialed back to something more cream-leathery, and more natural dark leather armor is protecting him on his ventures afar.

He stalls somewhere around lvl 20ish.

When I next revisit him, probably at least a year later, I have a free makeover kit lying around, and I decide to check out the exclusive asura hairstyles.

I have no idea how to describe it. A mohawk? A ponytail? Something vaguely Aztec-inspired? But somehow, I know it fits. He’s grown up.

He doesn’t need that kid hairstyle with the purple hairband anymore.

He’s moved from kid to teenager to young adult, at least.

I take him PvPing. I’m relying on his totally nondescript lowbie leather armor to signal that I’m a nobody, not at all prestigious, I can be overlooked, I probably suck, maybe we’re small and sneaky, but that’s about it for the fear factor…

… We do suck. For quite a while, as I throw myself gleefully into build-testing the hard way, under fire.

But slowly, surely, one experimental tweak after another, as I and he grow more comfortable with his weapons and what he is capable of, I start winning matches. Not a whole lot, but enough to tilt me back to a 50% win/loss kind of ratio.

Several months later, GW2 opens its very first sneak peek of Heart of Thorns, and somehow in the closing of that, something funky happens to the old pre-launch early start accounts and Anet says that our particular version of game doesn’t quite exist anymore. They’ve given us the heroic edition of the game instead, and the heroic edition comes with an extra bonus GW1 heritage/legacy armor skin from the gem store… Take your pick, heavy, medium or light?

The medium Krytan armor looks to my eye like the best of the lot, and it really reminds me of my GW1 ranger, who spent quite a while wearing a style like that.

But do I even -have- a medium armor class who can wear it?

Oh wait, yes, I do.

Somebody’s come of age.

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Some months after that, I was on my scientific skins collection kick.

When it was done, I was struggling to figure out who else could use green skins besides my necro (who already sports Tequatl sunless styles and a rare dreamthistle skin or two.)

And then I knew who it was absolutely perfect for.

Scientific and steampunky, as in asura-like technology?

Green and acidy, as in condi damage?

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Thank you, Kujl. Take a bow.

(Just don’t take over the world while I’m not looking.)

This post was brought to you by the letters B for Belghast and Blaugust, and the number 20.

Blaugust Day 19: Gone Home? Not Really…

Artsy fartsy title screen for an artsy fartsy game...

As part of my optimistic attempt to work on my Blaugust To-Do List and clear 0.1% of my Steam games list, I got around playing Gone Home tonight. Finished in 2 hours – 116 minutes, to be exact.

I have to say… I didn’t really like it.

I admit I was a little spoiled by glancing through reviews that basically said: “Nothing really happens.”

Therefore, I did not allow myself to be the least bit scared regarding the 1001 horror movie tropes that Gone Home attempts to inflict on you. Flickering lights, creaky noises, coincidentally well-timed lightning, the works.

I think that part of it was the major let-down, so to speak.

It feels like the game was purposefully trying to pull your strings, show you a horror movie trope, let you imagine for a breath or two something stereotypical and dramatic had befallen… and then way too quickly, it also shows you the “logical” mundane explanation for what’s going on.

It just makes me wonder… why bother then? A good story should have rising action leading to a climax…

Conversely, Gone Home is filled with vignettes that let you briefly think /something/ might be approaching rising action, and then just as quickly, it lets you down and you deflate again back to mundania.

Gone Home is not
Gone Home is not as crass as to -actually- let any dramatic violence occur, stereotypical appearances to the contrary…

The central plot is okay, very prosaic in the larger scheme of things, the clues all support it… even if they end up rather “coincidentally” arranged so that you wander from room to room in a channeled linear fashion, picking up one key after another that unlocks a room with the next revelation (and the next key.)

I guess that was my main problem with Gone Home.

I just couldn’t stop from thinking meta and design thoughts.

At no point, did I really immerse into the simulation.

I started out blind and amnesiac, not even knowing who “I” was, with regards to this Katie person, whom “I” apparently am, says my luggage tags on the doorstep of this house.

That made it supremely hard to feel fearful, or indeed, even know how “I” was supposed to feel. A little more background at the beginning might have helped, perhaps.

I know I personally felt a lot more spooked in Vampire: Bloodlines’ haunted house – I had made and named my own character and chosen her vampire clan, I “knew” who she was, her background and could roleplay/immerse how she would feel. Furthermore, in the supernatural Vampire setting, -ghosts- may very well be very real creatures that might do horrible things to my health bar…

In Gone Home, the game seems to go out of its way to imply both super-mundanity (real life setting, absolutely nothing paranormal is going to happen, even if some characters believe some occult stuff) and game immortality of your avatar (she’s not going to get hurt, unless stumbling into a specially scripted event, right? And there can be no specially scripted events if the game is so hell bent on being mundane…)

So yeah, no fear. Just methodical turning on the lights, one after the other, and casing every room in a left-to-right systematic fashion, trying not to get lost.

Ha. Ha. Too clever by half.
Ha. Ha. Too clever by half. Is that a meta commentary on how the player has been acting so far? I’m still not laughing.

Oh yeah, the other “meta” thought that I couldn’t shake? “This damn house is too fucking big. Awfully convenient of this fellow to die and will this monstrosity of a manor to the family. Where’s my ‘run’ key? Why don’t I have a ‘run’ key? Surely simulating panic ought to be important, if you want the player to pretend like they’re worried at any point? Also, convenience factor and all…”

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Oh, here’s one thing I -did- like. Playing with glow-in-the-dark stars that do actually glow after you turn out all the lights you turned on.

Well, glad I got it finished, anyway. One more game off the “maybe should try” list.

Bottom line: I didn’t find it as spectacular as some other people might say.

Verisimilitude-wise, it is very very good. If you like an old house simulator where you can pick up and rotate various modeled items like soda cans, tissue boxes, potato chips and toilet rolls… none of which actually contribute to gameplay or story and merely a little to the atmosphere… Gone Home is good in that regard.

Story-wise, it makes sense. It doesn’t cheat you in that respect either. It’s just a very ordinary and mundane story, that unfortunately appears to be hiding under the cover of being some kind of ghost or horror story.

Problem is, you can go from mundane to supernatural themes, and overall tension and interest rises.

Take it the other way around, and it mostly ends up as a giant yawn.

This post was brought to you by the letters B for Belghast and Blaugust, and the number 19.

Blaugust Day 18: Screenshots of Fire (GW2/Trove)

Today is “knock out a quick blog post” day. Mostly so that I have some time left to play games.

Thus I’m indulging in the art of the cheat post via screenshot!

Have I mentioned I like fire?

I have?

Good.

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I’m pretty partial to any fiery volcanic landscapes. The sky and general tint of the environment changes in Trove in the Dragonfire Peaks, including fiery ash drifting in the breeze. My mount helps along the ambience with its own fiery effects.

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Fireheart Rise in GW2 also has its own fiery rain environmental effects. I’m doubly fond of the place for being set in Ascalon, with the cozy familiar autumn grassy landscapes of the first game, now extra charr-ified.

Bonus: My guardian tries his best warrior elite spec impersonation. (Hinted to be Berserker = Torch, apparently.)

Hooray for marching to the beat of my own fiery legendary drum and making Rodgort first before everyone else decides they want one too?

This post was brought to you by the letters B for Belghast and Blaugust, and the number 18.

Blaugust Day 17: The Blackwell Adventure Game Series (Legacy, Unbound, Convergence, etc.)

If there’s one game genre that I find it almost impossible to explain why I would recommend a particular game highly, it’s the adventure game genre.

Whatever you try to explain, you can’t shake off the uneasy feeling that you might be dropping a whole bunch of spoilers on someone, and it’s too easy to end up with a series of stock clichés. It’s good? It had a solid story? Interesting characters?

Part of the adventure game’s appeal is that sense of discovery and exploration, of finding out secrets and mysteries and what’s going on. Me providing a Wikipedia synopsis would ruin that desire to piece it all together.

Couple that with the doubt that what makes a story good is all too subjective – I might be too much of a romantic, content to accept formulaic plots that would find plenty of homes on the TV Tropes website, simply because it falls into one of my favorite settings (urban fantasy, in this case) or find an easy, comfortable, familiarity with such a formula, while someone else pans it for being too predictable – and it becomes very difficult to describe why a particular adventure game would appeal.

I guess for me, it’s part atmospherics – the setting, the sense of mood (bonus points if it’s noir or cyberpunk), music that sets the tone, suitable sounds that evoke a place and ‘fit’ with the world.

It’s part writing – how the characters come across, if they come across as believable, the flow of the dialogue, the strength of the voice-acting, if any, or fun, humorous vignettes that follow in the style of the classic Sierra or Lucasfilm/LucasArts greats.

Puzzles are very much a secondary concern for me. I prefer them easy and not to get in the way of the story being told, as opposed to so hard or obscure that I end up forever blocked or forced to use a walkthrough to progress. after having endured a heavy dose of frustration that made me forget the story while trying to deal with the requirements of the game.

Adventure games are very much mostly about the story for me, how I feel about the characters, if I can immerse into the world believably for the space of those couple of hours and live out the plot the writer wanted to tell me.

That said, the Blackwell series from Wadjet Eye Games would come highly recommended by moi.

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The Blackwell Legacy is the first game in the series.

I put it on my list at the beginning of the month, meaning to finally give it a go and evaluate if the rest were worth playing…

…Well, in under two nights, I’ve gone right through Blackwell games 1-3 and am chomping at the bit to finish 4 and 5… which I don’t yet own, leading to an interesting dilemma of if I should go against my usual miserly nature and pay full price for said games, or exercise just that little bit of patience to pick them up when one of the ubiquitous Steam sales roll around.

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The main character of the Blackwell Legacy is Rosangela (Rosa) Blackwell, who returns home from her aunt’s funeral to discover the family legacy… a ghost named Joey that is now bound to her side, and the powers of a medium… which yes, lets her see ghosts and talk to them. Turns out that she now has a new mission in life, to find restless ghosts and help them accept their deaths and find peace.

It’s not a terribly new trope – TV shows have done it before, like in the supernatural series Ghost Whisperer; there are a ton of urban fantasy books that cover similar ground, though they may call their special women ‘witches’ instead of ‘medium’ or (one of my favorites being Kelley Armstrong’s Jaime Vegas) ‘necromancer.’

But you know, that lack of newness just makes the premise understandable, and dare I say, a little fun as well. Now -you- get to play the ghost detective that you’ve read or watched before.

The character writing in the Blackwell series is fairly solid, courtesy of designer/writer Dave Gilbert, providing a cast that is both diverse and colorful.

The voice-acting of the series is excellent. One of its critical pillars, I would say, as the voice actors really help to bring out extra facets of each characters’ personalities over what the text conveys.

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Blackwell Unbound is the second game,  and if you think the main character looks rather different from the first game’s intro, you’d be right.

We move backwards in time several decades to play Rosangela’s aunt – Lauren Blackwell – when it was her turn as the psychic detective.

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There’s a lot more noir influence in this one. Lauren is as hardbitten a medium as Rosa was reluctant. The woman chain-smokes like a chimney, and has an ashtray for every location of the house, plus a couple more.

As they go around solving ghost cases, little plot threads start springing up and winding their way through the past/future of the first game, and harkening and foreshadowing the subsequent games. It leaves for some mysteries and unanswered questions, if you try to play any of the games as a standalone (I wouldn’t advise it,) but I’m a right sucker for episodic story arcs so it’s completely up my alley.

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Blackwell Convergence brings us back to Rosa, a little older and more mature, having blossomed into a fairly competent, fast-talking ghostbuster.

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The third game offers more attractive graphics, and looks and feels like Dave Gilbert has found his stride with regards to who these characters are, and where we are going with them.

There’s plenty of wit in this one, with characters that are now both comfortable and familiar to the audience, and makes for an entertaining ride.

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I’m still waiting to play the fourth and fifth games, but from reports, things only get better from here and the whole series winds up in a satisfactory and fitting (if possibly poignant or bittersweet – which usually means the writer nailed it emotionally) fashion.

Definitely worth a play. (Or at least watching or reading somebody else’s Let’s Play of it.)

This post was brought to you by the letters B for Belghast and Blaugust and Blackwell, and the number 17.

Blaugust Day 16: On Masks, Reality and Truth

On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.

On the Internet, you can be a wolf if you want to be.

Psychochild has been writing up a very worth-reading series of posts on social media this week: Your Best Foot Forward, Tribalism and Signaling, Blocking Others From Your Bubble, How to Improve Your Experience.

One thing that I did ask about was how exactly was the social media experience different from the rest of the Internet (be it blogs, forums, MMOs, whatever) or indeed, even in real life – as all the valuable stuff that Brian’s been talking about: projecting/assuming stuff about other people, the dangers of treating every issue as a dichotomy with two extremes where never the twain shall meet and forgetting all the people in-between, tribalism and fearing/hating the out-group, -also- happens to an extent in the other ‘mediums.’

He clarified that the main difference is mostly that of immediacy, that social media feels more ‘authentic’ and makes you feel like you’re closer to the ‘real’ person, and the limited amount of space to express oneself fully or to be clear in one’s meaning, which seems to exacerbate these issues and make the potential pitfalls inherent in the medium worth highlighting.

(After all, the Internet’s been around for some time and most people are aware of potential pitfalls there, leading to fond humor like “there are no girls on the internet” and “G.I.R.L – guy in real life.”

Ditto real life, especially in things like job interviews, where everyone is aware that there’s a game of putting one’s best foot forward in play.

Social media, though, is a slightly newer breed of communication medium that paints a veneer of ‘real life authenticity.’)

One of the things that I feel is worth highlighting is this obsession with ‘real life authenticity’ as being something valuable and a connection mechanism to keep striving for.

Does it really matter that much if the other party is male? Female?

American? White?

The same age as you? Old enough to be your parent or grandparent?

Are all ten-year olds automatically obnoxious and immature and not worth associating with?

Heterosexual, LGBT, gender queer, all the other labels I have not kept track of, etc.?

One of my blog readers commented the other day that it seemed to be the first time I declared my nationality in a blog post.

Well, mostly I mentioned it because it was relevant to what I was writing about. Nor is it the first time. I have alluded to it or even outright mentioned it a number of times before (hurrah, search function), when relevant… such as in rants regarding region-locking *ahem, definitely relevant.*

Somtimes, I even outright answer it truthfully if an in-game stranger asks me that question. (Or I may pass and choose not to answer for reasons of privacy, or to avoid being asked a million and one questions due to the perceived ‘exoticism’ factor. Introvert, you know?)

But I rarely find it useful to keep throwing it in my readers’ faces, so to speak.

I mention it, they may remember, or they may forget. Doesn’t matter. Life goes on. They project who they want Jeromai to be. And, optimally, they keep reading me. (I hope.)

On my gaming blog, I make very little mention of nationality, race, skin color, age, sex, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs… what else am I missing… socio-economic status, dietary preferences, stances on abortion or gun control or evolution, political leanings… and lots more.

This is, to echo what Psychochild is saying, entirely intentional. A construct. Carefully cultivated.

For the purposes of discussing games with a freer hand, free from any automatic negative stereotypes by taking advantage of human nature to fill in the gaps with neutral or positive assumptions.

(And sometimes, I decide to shake up those assumptions with an offhand comment or two, when it is relevant to the topic being discussed. Because in my own sneaky way, I want people to form new, broader thoughts about their in-groups and communities, especially in this global age.)

It is good to be aware that said construct exists. That it is made. That it is a mask.

That is not to say that it is not real or ‘true’ in its own way.

One of the most valuable things about the anonymity of the Internet is that ability to mask irrelevant facts, so that other important messages come through first, without a book being judged by its distracting cover.

(It can also be used to cover up inconvenient facts, so that a prettified message comes through first, as Psychochild has mentioned.)

Our real life selves tell one story. (Or multiple stories – if we hold various work, play, family identities.)

Our online avatars tell another. (Or multiple stories – if you’re an altholic *coughs*.)

And I, personally, would not be the one to tell another that his or her “avatar” is fake and not real, a carefully crafted lie, and therefore meaningless and untrue.

Such is the paradox.

We all wear masks.

And perhaps, that statement is not as frightening as it first sounds.

We are all different.

We are all the same. (And for those interested in how to find common ground, I wrote about it from a game perspective some time ago. PvE vs PvP, up in arms again, and how mediation works.)

We are all still human. (Until the aliens officially arrive, someone teaches a dolphin how to talk online, or something.)

And on this blog… in this carefully crafted space, with these carefully crafted words… I hope, united in our love of game.

This post was brought to you by the letters B for Belghast and Blaugust, and the number 16.