Friday, 22 August 2014

Neverwinter Online: Tyranny of Dragons

[Post #23 of the Blaugust Challenge!]

Neverwinter Online's Tyranny of Dragons has been out for a few weeks now and in my opinion it is a clever and resource saving way to expand. Instead of having entirely brand new zones like they did previously (though there is still a new dungeon and skirmish to unlock and for those interested a new race and class to try out), this time they just expanded a few of the existing areas and added the new encounter sets for the quite troublesome Cult of the Dragon in each zone, all at "skull" level which means the percentage of damage they take and receive is based on the level of the player they are fighting. It's a clever system as the first zone of Neverdeath Graveyard has people around level 30 still able to participate in the content and be just as effective against the enemies as the sudden influx of level 60s.

That said, there are campaign instances, again on reused maps but with the new baddies set at level 61 which may catch some people unprepared. The biggest draw card of course are the heroic dragon encounters out in these new regions where they and their timers are clearly marked. Zone chat has never been more useful in finding the soonest dragon brawl you can get into. As always, the campaign tree to unlock content and feats is grindy. At least this time I haven't found any PvE competitive tasks thus far, and that you can grind to what suits you. You can do a short 10 minute stint a day, or if you want to get ahead you can collect more currency items than needed so that you can either have rest days or have extras readied to unlock bonus reward chests and the like.

I think Tiamat is also waiting in the new dungeon...

Personally I quite like it, though I find the dragons (the first three anyway) much easier to fight at range. You have to be a bit more on the ball with the evades if you are up close. Standing on the side often lets you evade the tail swipe and breath attacks but all the dragons do a radial stomp that can kill an unprepared hero.

While we're on the topic I figure I should put up my latest foundry creation. You might have to hunt around for it though in the "New" or "For Review" tab. I tried something different this time and made it optionally stealth based, but due to that it can probably be finished quickly. :P Please give it a try when you get the chance.

Quest Name: Arroway Manor
Short Code: NW-DP3GLWRDP

Quest List so far:
Arroway Manor [NW-DP3GLWRDP] (8-15 minutes)
Spiders of the Glade [NW-DUWK7BEE7] (15-25 minutes)
Dirty Rats [NW-DGLB37WLW] (15-25 minutes)
Rebel Incursion [NW-DFHLFGNQY] (15-20 minutes)
One Step to Darkness [NW-DNJC9SK7A]  (1 hour running time)

Blaugust Bonus: I quite enjoy creating and playing through player generated content. Not only does it speak of the devotion of the said players to the game but it also usually produces some of my favorite experiences. I actually started making quests back in the free shards of Ultima Online by painstakingly hiding stuff around places, making flash animated "cut scenes", and getting guildies to help lure monsters to desired combat points (some across oceans) and act out parts of the quest. Soon after, I was invited to become a game master to even better my quest generation stuff which I gladly accepted. I did it again on a later shard and once more became a GM. Those were some great times.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Command Performance

[Post #22 of the Blaugust Challenge!]

I didn't have high hopes for this movie so I was quite surprised that it started out pretty good... and then it went to the level I thought it would be. :P The gist of the story is that while the Russian president and his daughters are attending a rock concert "for a good cause", a band of angry separatists storm the place and kill all but a handful of people who they then keep hostage until their demands are met. Unfortunately for them, drummer Dolph Lundgren escapes the initial assault and is inadvertently trapped inside with them. He also has a penchant for killing people, because that's how he rolls.

He's a man of many talents.

This "Die Hard" like plot quickly unravels though with some poor acting from the secondary players (the military commanders and the child actors in particular who enjoy looking right at the camera after delivering a wooden line), some really quick and unexplained changing of emotions, and one hilariously bad prop piece when the bad guys are checking out the "escape tunnel".   

At least there is a liberal amount of killing in the movie, and because it actually had some promise before everything descended into comedy, I give it one and a half bullets out of five.

Blaugust Bonus: I come from a very musically oriented family. Personally I play the piano, fiddle with the guitar, try to sing, and once upon a time played the clarinet. It's probably why Mabinogi with features to compose your own songs in game resonates so strongly with us. My proudest (and at the time, most terrifying for me) solo performance was providing keyboard and vocal singing for my cousin's wedding. Kinda glad now that people talked me into doing that. :)

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Tower Heist

[Post #21 of the Blaugust Challenge!]

Due to an issue of misplaced trust, a talented building manager (Ben Stiller) puts himself and his coworkers into a pretty dire situation. Some more dire than others. His eventual solution is to put a few of them in even more danger to try save everyone else. I'm glossing over most of the story here because while this movie is marketed as a comedy and there are funny moments in it, there's a fair amount of serious business going on too and for me it was surprisingly good (though slightly predictable). I don't really want to spoil it since it was one of the strongest elements, at least up to the part where the heist itself comes in.

It's in that last part where you will most have to go "it's just a movie" as there are some pretty unexplained plot holes. Mostly you will question the observation skills of all the security personel, but I suppose that's like asking why all the bad guys in action movies can't shoot straight. You'll enjoy it more if you don't think about it. :P

Relax, it's meant to be a comedy!

In regards to the acting quality: Alan Alda (you may know him from M.A.S.H.) is very old, but that doesn't detract from his ability at all. Indeed, he and Ben Stiller have the strongest and most memorable characters here  (best acted too) while almost everyone else gets a small question mark as to why they get involved in committing what I would think is a pretty big felony. That aside, this turned out to be better than I was expecting so I give it three and a half rooftop swimming pools out of five.

Blaugust Bonus: I am scared of large bodies of water, especially anything deeper than my height. It seems to always want to kill me and is definitely not my element. This doesn't stop me from going to the beach or frolicking in pools though. Just from the deep parts. It's a bit weird then that I enjoy the feeling of waves either on a boat or on the shallows of the shore. I also collect sea shells. I don't do anything with them so I don't actually know why I do that. :P

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Max Payne (2008)

[Post #20 of the Blaugust Challenge!]

Max Payne is out for revenge of the violent nature. This movie picks up just as he learns of clues on who he can enact it on. Before I go any further I should mention that I've never actually played any of the Max Payne games, so I don't know how well it ties in there. That aside, Mark Wahlberg makes a decent grumpy and angry protagonist, though he speaks a bit softly at times. Everyone else does a not so memorable job with the pretty basic yet effects laden plot.

What does work well though are the many moving camera shots which often involve variations of light sources and floating particles. Also very cool is the extensive CGI used in key spots of the movie, often when characters get high on a particular drug called Valkyr. The audience gets to see just what all of them hallucinate about.

Tripping balls has never been so appealing!

As expected there is a little bit of gun play and shooting and while the "bad guys" still have a poor hit chance they actually do a better job here than in most other action flicks. Just as well because most of the fighting is over pretty quickly, and like me you might be left wanting a little bit more just as the movie abruptly ends. Maybe they were angling for a sequel? Still, it's a pretty entertaining ride and I give it three bullets out of five.

Blaugust Bonus: I've never taken recreational drugs despite hanging around acquaintances that did in my school days, nor do I drink any form of alcohol. I guess peer pressure is less when you are the odd one out? Saying "no" is pretty simple for me (actually I try to say "never," when offered as it drives the point home better). I also don't smoke, thanks to my dad. He used to smoke a pipe. When I was little I asked what it was like so he gave it to me then told me to inhale. After coughing out that disgusting taste he told me "that's what it is like all the time," and I never smoked anything again. He would eventually stop smoking too, after getting a quadruple bypass. Afterwards the doctor said to him quite plainly to stop smoking or die. I'm grateful that I never got into that stuff.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Firefall: First Impressions

[Post #19 of the Blaugust Challenge!]

Future Earth is being corrupted and invaded by another dimension in this Free to Play MMO which I've just started trying out, so while I don't have a full grasp on everything that's going on I do have a whole bunch of first impressions, most of which are negative. Let's look at what I think is -good- first: Most of the voice acting, background music and the bits of the world I've seen get a thumbs up (level 18 only so far).  Having drop ships and glider pads that let you fly about is also good. Using cover does increase your lifespan. Dynamic world events and random invasions are also cool.

Seems I'm the only one that rides the air bus.

And now for the bad. There is no melee. Your secondary weapon (which for me switches between an SMG or grenade launcher) never runs out of ammo. Outside the tutorial I also haven't been able to -not- use a battle frame. They are the mandatory dress code. Jump jets are cool, but this made it lazy for them design wise as there are pretty much no lifts and very few staircases in game, instead forcing you to use this "feature".

There is no way to change your chat channel without knowing the typed commands to do so. The speech bubbles over characters heads look clunky, as does the inventory screen. I'm quite used to having my "pack" open at all times so for me, having an inventory screen that eats up a third of your window is quite annoying. There is also no way to find out what instance of the map you or your friends are on. Instead, after partying up, you have to again know the typed command to get everyone in the same map channel or you will never see each other despite standing in the same spot.

When partied up, only the leader can accept quests. You can also only have one main quest and one optional quest active. This makes for A LOT time wasting travel back and forth travel to quest hubs. I can see that some are meant to be done sequentially which is fine, but there are many others that should be able to be picked up simultaneously. Also the quest locations are randomized which sounds good on paper. In practice the place where I hunt the bandit leader, escort some civilians to a picnic, hunt a nest of spiders, search through garbage, tag a nest of birds, and deliver cookies to girl scouts is all the exact same spot.

Items also have level restrictions. This is somewhat more passable in say, Diablo where your character might actually not be strong enough to wield a sword effectively enough or lack the magical knowledge to operate a staff. Here, where everyone is basically walking in powered exoskeleton armor a level 10 player can't use a level 11 shotgun because...? The trigger is too heavy?

Despite all that the explorer in me wants to unlock all the SIN towers at the very least so I'll keep at it a bit more, just to see more of New Eden.

Blaugust Bonus: I prefer my MMO's to be medieval fantasy. This is partly because I like linking the same character throughout all the worlds I visit and it makes it difficult to do that when suddenly there are laser blasters everywhere. Also I don't really get the same epic feel. Facing down a horde of angry enemies with a blood stained sword is more intense and rewarding if you survive as opposed to facing the same horde with a gatling gun and jump jets. It basically becomes a "meh".

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Highlander: Endgame

[Post #18 of the Blaugust Challenge!]

One problem the Highlander franchise has is with continuity on a few (but important) aspects of the overall story so for the benefit of this review I'm going to pretend none of the earlier films, series or cartoons exist and just base it on what I saw here. The story focuses on a bunch of immortals, aka people who have "a hard time dying" if they don't get beheaded, one of whom has a huge grudge to another that he has held for centuries, literally. Unfortunately the grudge bearer and main villain happens to also be stronger, so the two heroes of clan MacLeod have to combine their powers to stop him.

Throughout the movie there are various flashbacks to whatever time eras are called for. This is both cool and annoying. Cool in that the sets and costumes department did their job well. Annoying in that the characters speak with different accents (often humorous) within them, and that there are SO MANY of them sometimes strung one after another. Oh, did I mention that they have multiple flashbacks of things that happened earlier in the SAME movie? Well they do! It's like the director thought you would have forgotten at that point. Gahhh.

There's also a redundancy in characters. The entire bad guy group could have been reduced to main bad guy and main female. More importantly Donnie Yen's character could have easily replaced Bruce Payne's slightly overacted and much less skilled martial arts (actor wise) main villain. Well, the grudge would have been slightly shorter but it would have still worked. In truth the best part are the fights, especially with Donnie versus Duncan (Adrian Paul). I wasn't surprised to see Donnie acting as the combat choreographer in the credits.

Best yet most pointless fight in the movie.

In short, this is quite a flawed movie (I'm skipping a LOT of flaws such as obvious stunt doubles and reusing the same fight footage twice) - one that would probably only appeal to regulars of the franchise like myself. I give it one and a half katanas out of five.

Blaugust Bonus: I think I'm going to use another of Belghast's writing prompts today - "What is your favorite boss encounter in any game and why? What makes that encounter stand out in your mind and what can be learned from it?"

Like any gamer I have a pretty big list to choose from here, but I think I'll stick with the final Queen's Gauntlet match of Guild Wars 2 - a petite necromancer named Liadri. It took 140 attempts before I finally won the match against her, which is almost as bad as some of those Super Meatboy levels. Why is it my favourite? Because it was challenging (for me anyway, I'm not like Wethospu), solo only, and forced me to adapt. Don't know how many trait lines I switched between in all those attempts before I got one that worked.

Most importantly you could watch and cheer on others while doing so. I remember throughout that week meeting new people as we took turns laughing and advicing each other in between getting our asses handed to us in the various matches. Maybe that's why it sticks out most for me - it was the ideal social soloists setup. It was awesome.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Disney, 1996)

[Post #17 of the Blaugust Challenge!]

Hidden away in the bell towers of Notre Dame is the disfigured Quasimodo, a monster with fricking strong arm muscles, a great singing voice, and a heart of gold. He longs to mingle with the rest of the people in Paris but is rightly afraid that he'd be treated as an outcast so he instead spends his days looking down on them with only his (possibly imaginary) gargoyle friends to keep him company. A string of events lead him to meet the gypsy Esmeralda, who becomes his first true non-gargolye buddy. Alas, gypsies aren't tolerated for very long within the city as the main villain,  Judge Frollo quite enjoys setting them on fire.

That is a -very- rough outline of the movie's setup, and to be honest I was a bit surprised at how well all the main characters are developed. Being a Disney movie there's a LOT of singing, a lot of comedy, a fair bit of dancing, and a very light violence. I'm just curious as to why the movie wasn't titled "Esmeralda" as she is the main crux upon which Judge Frollo, Quasi and Phoebus (my favourite dude) revolve around. Basically they all want to get into her pants. Go DISNEY! :P

There's even a pole dance sequence!

I guess I should also mention that with Notre Dame taking center stage there are a few songs and themes involving religion, in case that should bother anyone. Last thing I want to talk about is the animation. For the most part it's very good as per usual for Disney but there's a little bit near the start where I felt they were using what I call "reserved animation" too much. The city is made with layering paintings and the animated characters in between them didn't quite seem to gel. That's quickly fixed in the next 4/5ths of the movie though so I just found it odd they didn't fix it fully. Regardless I thought it was a very enjoyable and entertaining flick and give it four bells out of five.

Blaugust Bonus: I go to mass every week. Never been to Notre Dame though. When I was very little I actually wanted to become a priest! That wouldn't have worked out so well I think, the world doesn't need another psycho preaching to the masses. Sooo, instead I setup a blog to do exactly the same thing. LOL.