Remember… Spock

spockIt shouldn’t be a shock that Leonard Nimoy passed away today, yet it is. The original Star Trek cast has been pushing the upper limits of senior citizenhood over the past decade, with a few quietly slipping into the great beyond. And so it is that Nimoy joins DeForest Kelly and James Doohan in death while we remember.

I think that Nimoy was a hard-working actor and a gracious person who gave up fighting his Star Trek typecasting and instead played along with it to the delight of millions of fans. He was in more movies than any of the rest of them (including both reboots), directed a couple of them, had a cool bit in ST:TNG, contributed to Star Trek Online, and poked fun at himself on Futurama.

For me, Nimoy was Spock, and Spock meant a lot to my childhood. Well, Star Trek meant a lot, especially the old series, and I idolized Mr. Spock’s capabilities and mental prowess. I think I wished I was as in control of myself and my life as he was, and I remember getting through a shot at the doctors thinking, “Spock would take this without flinching.”

I loved how Nimoy gave Spock this dry, deadpan sense of humor that played off Bones so well. I liked how he was the logical half of Kirk’s friendship triad, thinking through issues and solving them methodically while Kirk would tackle them out of instinct. His sacrifice to save the Enterprise in Star Trek II never fails to make me tear up a bit, because he didn’t even pause when he saw what needed doing.

We’re sad because there goes a part of our past and our pop culture, but as with many of the great actors who have come and gone, we are left re-appreciating what Nimoy had accomplished in his life.

TSW: Sightseeing through Savage Coast

lo1Last night I was part of a Secret World livestream with Massively OP’s MJ, and instead of running quests we decided to take viewers on a tour of some of the weird spots of Savage Coast. So while we were doing that, I was screenshotting all sorts of little details and interesting pictures which I want to share with you today!

Here I am with my new Valentine’s Day cosmetics. Aren’t those sunglasses awesome?

lo2You can run up the rollercoaster in the amusement park and get some pretty great vista screenshots.

lo3The ferris wheel plus the weird grainy filter in the park makes for cool shots. Very nightmare-like.

lo4This mob wasn’t aggroing us, so we got a rare close-up look at a mob. We spent time marveling over the detail that went into him, including the see-through abdomen with the spine intact.

lo5The lighting at different times of day make for stark and interesting shadows.

lo6I really loved how this picture turned out, with the warning sign in the foreground.

lo7We spent a lot of time running around the Academy looking for weird details, and MJ got very into trying to read and translate the graffiti that’s around. There’s actually a lot of it, and all of it is different from each other.

lo8Nothing super-special about this one, other than I really liked the lighting and the setup.

lo9One of the classrooms has a slideshow of the Egyptian zone’s oasis. Also, there’s cool lighting going on — if anything is between the projector and the screen (such as that loot icon) it will throw a shadow up.

lo10Weird notes on the evacuation plan in the academy. In case of fire (1) run out (2) with your hands up high. Um, why?

lo11All of the classrooms have interesting topics, such as parapsychology and arcane geometry and summoning theory.

lo12I haven’t been up in the Academy attic since that one quest a long, long time ago. It’s still delightfully eerie.

lo13This is just proof that I finally made the jump up to the very top of the League of Monster Slayers’ treehouse to see the bike gun. I’m guessing it shoots cans of cola?

SWTOR: I never want to see Kuat Drive Yards again

kdy1The good news, at least for me personally, is that I finally hit level 55 and can go straight into the Shadows of Revan content.

Now, how I got to 55, I’d rather not say. But this being a blog post and all, it would be a pitiful thing if I clammed up now. Basically, my journey from 52.5 to 55 was a tedious series of dailies on Section X and endless runs of Kuat Drive Yards. In an alternate universe, I’m still running KDY.

I will always be running KDY.

It’s not a particularly interesting or even rewarding dungeon. You get some rep and some comms, but good loot is few and far between, and non-existent on the bosses. Even after having run it scads of times, I couldn’t tell you how to get through it as I just mindlessly followed whatever gung-ho player wanted to lead the way and obviously knew more than I. I did grok that there are different objectives and a different end boss based on some light randomization, but for the most part it’s running through rooms, clicking on glowies, and killing groups.

So why did I lean on it hard as my crutch to get to 55? Simple: KDY is almost always available as a cross-level instance — and it delivered a good stream of constant experience. With a booster always running, I got two, three bars per run. It helped and I guess I can’t complain TOO much now that it’s all over.

kdy2One of the frabulous joys of playing a SWTOR free account is that the game loves to remind you just how low your credit cap is. Mine is 350K, and at 275K or so, every time I picked up a credit, I’d get a warning that I was rapidly approaching the cap. Hey, you know when I pick up credits? EVERY DANG FIGHT. I’m not a big fan of MMOs spamming me with messages. I know I’m walking on the wild side with my credit acquisition; shut up already. Maybe there’s an option to disable it? Doubtful, but I’ll look into it.

So whenever I get over 300K, I have to go on a bit of a spending spree or risk getting the excess credits tucked into escrow. I’ve been looking at unlocks on the GTN to see if there was anything to further help my character. Last night’s choice was either more GTN posting spots (which I don’t use) or an account-wide unlock for white eyes as a character creation option. Sure. Why not.

On a brighter note, I finally started to set up my stronghold on Dromund Kaas. 5K was nothing for a stronghold purchase, and I was happy to see that I had accrued several items due to various activities my character had done up to this point. It’s weird working with a hook system like this — it’s not nearly as flexible as RIFT or WildStar, but it’s certainly better than LOTRO’s hook system. At least the rooms don’t look spread out and empty when you put stuff in them. Maybe next time I get close to my credit cap, I’ll buy some unlocks or more decorations.

I’m excited to head into Shadows of Revan and get back into the story of the game, not to mention gear up a bit more. After that, an alt might be in my future, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself…

LOTRO: Syp vs. the Army of Darkness

army1Right now I’m about halfway through re-reading Lord of the Rings, and there’s one thing that really strikes me about the books (other than they’re pretty darn good and have many epic moments/quotes). The magical/mystical side of Middle-earth, while present, is downplayed and deliberately left mysterious. Are the elven cloaks really magic or just well-made in such a way that looks like magic? Is Aragorn’s sword imbued with some magical property to make it flash like lightning or is that just artistic license? It feels as though there’s a lot of room left for interpretation.

Back in 2007, I was initially attracted to how LOTRO was going to buck the trend of high-fantasy MMOs and go more low-key with its classes and use of magical whatevers. Sure, over the years magic creep has settled in (Rune-keepers are still a sore spot to many) but it’s still very much a game that’s more grounded in realistic analogues than fairies and fireballs. It actually makes it more relatable, at least to me, and when something supernatural shows up it’s somewhat impressive.

army2Anyway, that’s a meandering lead-up to say that I spent last night beating up ghosts in Gondor. Turbine used a little bit of wiggle room in the Paths of the Dead to create a group of non-redemptive spectres called the restless dead, and these jerks from the great beyond have been dogging my steps and causing no end of grief for others. Being that they’re already dead, I don’t feel that bad spearing them with my halberd (although… how am I doing that? Really?).

A local man in Gondor tells me how he and his family believe in these river maidens who have allegedly watched over the region as sort of guardian angels, and begs me to go find her. That’s not too difficult for me even though nobody had actually seen them in ages. But me? I’m special. I walk to the river’s edge and a good ghost pops out of the water to have a chat. Apparently she’s been needing to atone for some mistakes she made in life, so helping out the locals in death seemed like good penance.

But really that just meant that I was going to have to beat up a whole lot of ghosts, so beat them up I did.

army3I was all excited to see how the river maiden was going to turn the power of the water against the restless dead. The ghosts show up and taunt us for a bit, then the maiden issues the closest thing to a prayer that I’ve seen in the game, and then…

AND THEN…

Well, the ghost just melts into the water like the Wicked Witch of the West.  “Curses!” and soforth. OK, it was probably a limitation of the engine, but I was really hoping for a tsunami or a water spout or something. Melting? That was a bit anticlimactic.

Although I did get a hearty laugh at seeing the remainder of the restless dead do an about-face and run off in double-time, almost like Benny Hill. “It’s water! RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY!”

Nostalgia Lane: Wolfenstein 3-D

I was dubious. “So… it’s a game where you go from room to room and shoot people? Doesn’t sound that great to me.”

“Just you wait until you play it,” my friend James assured me.

It was after church in the fall of 1992, and I was hanging out with my twin friends at their house. While we didn’t always have a lot in common (they were sports nuts, me a sci-fi geek), video games were where we could always agree. They had just attained a shareware copy of some game called Wolfenstein 3-D, and although I didn’t know it then, I was about to enter the world of first-person shooters.

Using the shareware model — where the first episode of a game was released for free and you would pay for (or pirate) the remaining episodes — id’s Wolfenstein 3-D exploded among the gaming population. It used an older 2-D property that was mostly about stealthing around Nazi castles and turned it into a rip-roaring action fest.

Despite the name, Wolfenstein 3-D wasn’t 3-D at all, but a pseudo 3-D (2.5-D) that used a lot of visual trickery to convince you that you were moving around in a 3-D environment. There was no jumping, no aiming up or down, and not an awful lot of weapon variety — but it was a blast.

I think it had to do with the whole Nazi angle. You start out as a prisoner of war who kills his guard, takes his knife, and begins a rampage through several German fortresses. Each level had tons to explore, with locked doors, secret passages/rooms, treasure to pick up, and lots of unsympathetic mobs to mow down.

wolf3Weapon-wise, there was the default knife, the pistol, the submachine gun, and the minigun. Everything other than the knife used the same pool of ammo, so if one wasn’t careful, you’d run out of bullets with the minigun and be stuck stabbing guards at point-blank range.

There were so many small details about Wolfenstein that made it endearing:

  • Being attacked by German shepherds was actually scary, even though they were weak
  • The guards barking out simple German phrases (“achtung!” forever became a part of my vocabulary)
  • The thrill of running along a wall slamming on the space bar and eventually finding a secret room bursting with treasure
  • How id would taunt you with the different difficulty level descriptions
  • BJ’s face becoming bloodier the more hurt you became

But really, for me it was about getting into the zone of rushing through levels, taking out Nazis, and becoming good about staying alive. Like any classic video game, there was that moment of zen-like gaming where you’re just playing on a whole different level.

Wolfenstein 3-D probably became the most notorious for its depiction of Hitler wearing a mechanical battle suit and shooting rockets, which is why most kids from the early 90s have a horrible grasp on history. Still… I can’t deny that it felt really satisfying to take him down in a red puddly mess.

Doom’s arrival on the scene quickly made Wolf a game of the past, but for me it’ll always have a special spot as a new experience and an introduction into 3-D gaming.

Are our TSW characters actually mute?

TSW players are well-acquainted with the fact that our characters never talk, and usually that’s mentioned as a way to both save money and to allow us to insert our own inner voices into that character (instead of having a VO artist do it for us).

But what if there’s another, possibly more interesting explanation?

I read this today and it kind of really makes sense: “The Bees took our voices, and that’s why we’re all silent protagonists in cutscenes. The blessing of the Bees comes with a price, possibly as far as losing almost all communication skills.”

Maybe that’s why our characters only communicate via facial gestures and hand movements, and why NPCs don’t seem too surprised (and are usually bemused) that we do not talk.

Just a thought.

The Secret World: Alone vs. Together

alone1I’ve been thinking a lot about The Secret World lately, despite not having played it for over a week since I finished up Issue 10. Maybe I should pick back up my project of playing through the game and detailing all of the quests; I think I’m still in Savage Coast somewhere.

Anyway, I’ve pontificated enough in the past about how brutally difficult The Secret World can be, which leads one to the conclusion that it’s simply better to play with a duo or in a group. Not that every quest will allow groups to progress together (there are some forced solo instances), but for the most part you’d think that it’s a game that was designed for groups rather than the single individual.

alone2And I wouldn’t fight you on that if you insisted. In the past, some of the best times that I’ve had in TSW are with a regular group. It’s a rip-roaring time to experience the same story together, to figure out clues as a group, and to plow through fights so quickly that you forget what slogfests they can be solo. It’s like watching a great movie with friends, only that you all have parts to play as well.

But having done a significant part of the game by myself, I can’t deny that some aspects of TSW work a lot better when you’re alone. The scares and atmosphere hits you a lot harder when you’re on your own, especially because you’re not being distracted by what your group is saying. There’s a deeper satisfaction, I think, to solving quests on your own instead of piggy-backing on the efforts of your teammates. And going solo means that you don’t have to worry about keeping up with your friends, giving you freedom to really soak in the details and be a tourist to your heart’s content.

TSW has a lot of small details that deserve noticing.

I’m glad that TSW is making most of the game a lot more solo friendly in the next update, although I would also like to see a much better LFG option so that peeps can always have that option of teaming up. Just about every stranger I’ve grouped up with in TSW has been friendly and fairly patient, and I owe my success to more than a couple of quests to the knowledge and skill of another player.

So maybe I don’t have to choose one or the other. Alone is good, but so is together. Having the choice means that the game adapts to what I want to do that night instead of forcing me to play according to what the game demands.