Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ozzy, Superhuman, and Toy Story 3

It's been another long day at work, though this one was pretty decent, all things considered. After how my last rotation went, I didn't imagine things would start out as well as they have, all things considered. That said, I still have a long list of things I need to do...

I picked up the new Ozzy Osbourne album and have that blasting out of my surround sound system as I type this. I'm ready to write my Toy Story 3 review, as I've now finished the vast majority of what the game has to offer. Great kids game. With my work schedule as it is, I'll likely be beasting it out Saturday morning before heading out and being social for the weekend.

Tonight, I plan on devoting my writing efforts to continuing my novel. I sit at 1800 words. I've been juggling the writing of two scenes simultaneously... there's kind of a lot of juggling back and forth in the novel early on, as I currently have it conceived. The annoying thing is, even as I'm developing the story, ideas are popping in my head on how to tell it better. For now I'm storing those thoughts away and continuing to write the scenes in progress, even though I know they'll end up drastically edited. The point right now is to let the tale runs its course, and then go back and refine how that story is told. If I bog myself down now rewriting the beginning two or three times, I'll never make it to the end.

Wow... I kind of feel like Alan Wake when I talk about my writing like this.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Good Peer Pressure

Peer Pressure can be a great source of inspiration when properly applied. I have been seeking it out a lot lately as it applies to my own writing, and have been able to generate motivation to get my butt in gear writing my novel from a couple different sources.

First, I have enlisted my friends Tim and Sandra as my "Quality Assurance" agents. It is their job to keep pestering me to make sure I'm writing my self-imposed weekly quota of 3000 words. Knowing that there's two people who will harass me if I become lazy in a nice motivational tool, and they will provide useful feedback for me as the novel progresses.

Another great writing tool I recommend to anyone who wants to write is It's a site where people can critique other people's stories and have their own reviewed by others. It also has handy tools like progress graphs and social monthly goals. I will be using those to also ensure I'm keeping up with the 3000 words a week I'm striving for (once I get good at this, I'm hoping to up that pace to 5000 to 8000 words a week). And, to make my success or failure even more public, I'm adding the tracking bar available on the site to this blog, for all of you to see. It will be updated weekly at least, as Sandra and I have an arrangement that my weekly work has to be sent out to her by midnight every Saturday. You'll see that bar has 120,000 as the goal, as that's the projected minimum length for the novel.

Hopefully these measures will keep me going strong. I want to knock this novel out of the park.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Riding the XP Train

This week I've been doing what I've seen many like-minded achievement hunters doing... riding the 6x XP event in Gears 2 for absolutely everything its worth. I've successfully paired myself up with boosting groups on a couple different occations. The rewards for boosting have exceeded my most optimistic projections on how far I'd go during this event, and I'm not done yet. I've gone for rank 57 to 76 at the time of posting, going from maybe 700k experience to around 2.8 million XP. Clearly I still have a long ways to go, but I can't even begin to count the number of normal play hours this has saved me. Even normal games are more fun considering how much XP is doled out.

As I type this, I'm in yet another boosting session. I will see where it can get me tonight, as I will not be boosting tomorrow (we need to record the next episode of the Podcast.) Then, I'll give it a go on Saturday night if I can find a group, as I don't work Sunday. I may not be able to boost on Sunday as I'm going out of town for Fathers Day. If I can get to about 3.4 million (50% of the total needed) I'll call that successful enough, and hope that there will still be people looking to boost this the next time an XP event rolls around.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Dust Off Your Lancers for E3 and Join Thrawn

For a week surrounding E3 (June 14-21) Gears of War 2 will be offering up 6x the multiplayer experience. I know of many people who have no interest in obtaining the rank 100 achievement, but I still think I'll eventually get there at my own, admittedly long-winded pace. As fortune would have it, I have four of those 7 days off from work. So, I'll be getting E3 news on one screen while probably playing Gears on the other... or just playing Gears.

I play Gears 2 in spurts, going wild on it for a few days, then setting it aside for a while. I'm planning to make the most of the E3 bonus and devote virtually all of my gaming time to Gears until the bonus ends, at which point Gears 2 will likely sit unplayed for another 3 months before I so much as glance at it. I'd like to make as much progress to rank 100 as I possibly can.

If any of my readers are of a similar mindset, and would like to get together to boost Horde on Security (and mix in some MP when that gets dull) let me know. The more, the merrier.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Upgrade: Round 1

Today I pulled the trigger on a purchase I've wanted to make for months... I finally have myself a sound system! Got myself an Insignia 5.1 surround system, and spent my afternoon and early evening setting this bad boy up. It's a nice mid-range system, as there are both cheaper and more high-end models available. While I want to upgrade my TV, the sound system is the more affordable upgrade, and one I really "need" more. While I can't complain too much about my picture quality, I've lacked a really good system for listening to music, but that problem is now solved.

I've got my TV, Bluray player, and sound system all synced into the remote that came with the system, which was simplicity itself to set up. After I've finished watching Transporter 3 on Bluray, it'll be time to test out the sound system while playing games.

My ears are in heaven... This is SO much better than just the TV's speakers.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Back from the Dead: The Rule of Four

Like an alcoholic who can't stay on the wagon, I keep falling on and off the wagon when it comes to my Rule of Four. Lately, I've started making a concerted effort to get back on it. The current loadout is:

1. Red Dead Redemption
2. Alan Wake
3. Dragon Age Origins
4. Cameron's Avatar (the clean-up holdover)

+1 Record of Agarest War

I think part of the hopping on and off the wagon is because I've been wishy-washy on what counts as completed enough to take the game out of the four. Every achievement? Finishing the campaign? Either / or? I think I'm going have to decide on a game by game basis what "completed" means for that game.

This is the easiest time of the year to keep on the wagon, as the summer months are traditionally the thinnest in terms of quality. I'm not planning on purchasing any games in June, and if not for Crackdown 2, I wouldn't be buying anything new in July either. So, I have an abundance a month to see how much I can accomplish with this set of four before Crackdown 2 pushes itself into the mix. Then, even with Crackdown 2, I'm going to be seeing how much I can accomplish before the fall rush starts sometime in August.

In the on-deck circle, Divinity II will replace Dragon Age when that's done, and Prince of Persia will replace either Alan Wake or Avatar. I don't want to make myself a queue that is any more than two titles deep, as my mood is likely to change before I get to the point where I'd be playing them.

I'm a little behind pace for Silver in my completion challenge, and would need to step it up to catch back up... which isn't likely to happen with the current line-up. What I'll probably end up doing is see where I'm at during the post-PAX segment of my vacation, and go on an easy completion binge if I have no other plans. I may also use the month of September as "catch-up" month in general, where, aside from Halo Reach, I do nothing but rent and whore out easy games. I'm just going to hope by then I'm not too far behind to get close to reaching Silver (24 completions) which is my true goal for the year. Anything above that is a bonus.

Besides gaming, I've been making an effort to do some more reading (which is something people don't be enough of any more). I made a killing on Barnes and Noble deals, picking up some gread books at insanely low prices:

Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Allies -- $14 ($27 list price)
Confessor {Sword of Truth Series #12) -- $5 ($30 list price for Hard Cover)
Duma Key {Stephen King} -- $7 ($28 list price for Hard Cover)
Frank Herbert's Dune -- $4 ($8 regular)

Mmmm... $93 list price for $30... I like! (Then again, I've never paid list price for a hard cover book. It's way too easy to find a deal on them to do that.)

I always try to get the hard cover versions when I can, because they last longer. Paperbacks tend to start falling apart after a second reading. Even at the higher price hard covers charge, books maintain a better entertainment-value-per-hour ratio in most instances. What's a better bang for your buck; a $10 book that takes 30 hours to read, or a $60 game that takes 12 hours to beat? I know it's kind of comparing apples and oranges, but if I ever had to chose between not buying games and not buying books, I'd give up games first. Those low-low prices you see listed above were because the books were either clearanced out Hardcovers (with nothing wrong with them except that I had to peel off some bargain stickers), or were part of a summer Sci-Fi sale, plus my 10% discount. I'll be in books for a while.

That'll do me for this time.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Back from the Dead: Dragon Age Resurrected

Lately a third AAA giant has entered the ring, turning my game-time duo of Alan Wake and Red Dead Redemption into a full on three-way of awesome. This game is none other than Dragon Age, Bioware's fantasy opus that took the gaming world last christmas. I picked up the game for $37 new while you-know-where was engaging in some generous comping of the competition. I popped it in, played it for about 8 or 9 hours... and hated it.

Well, I didn't TOTALLY hate it. The characters and dialogue were awesome, but I couldn't wrap my head around the combat and leveling mechanics. Perhaps I should not have rolled a Warrior as my first character. I wanted to blast through everyone like I was playing Dynasty Warrior: Bioware Edition, and I got shredded for it. The game got put into the backlog and I never even looked back... until now.

Last weekend, I spent a couple off days in St. Paul, hanging out with my friends Ricky and Michelle. Early in the morning, while we were waiting for some other friends to stop by, Ricky booted up Dragon Age and I watched him play. Just through watching someone who knew what they were doing with the game, I saw everything I was doing wrong, and resolved to give the game another try, for several reasons:

1. While I don't obsess over my completion percentage any more (a fool's errand, IMHO, especially as it applies to me, an 80 of 1450 is just damn pitiful.
2. I was starting to feel the itch for some RPG action that isn't FFXIII. The only other option was to continue Divinity II, which I also enjoy, though that game is a poor man's Dragon Age.
3. I liked the characters and plot, so I figured if I could get good at the combat, everything would be awesome.

I forgot about my human male warrior and instead made a female elf mage. The mage's play style is suiting me much better than I thought it would. I get to feel like a badass chucking a ton of spells, and the mage's frailties counter my latent desire to treat they game like it's Dynasty Warriors. I think I can handle the other two classes now in future playthroughs, but the mage was definitely the right one for me in round one.

After completing Ostigar, the game's first non-origin mission, I took to the DLC with a vengence. I downloaded and completed Return to Ostigar, since in terms of storyline progression it felt right to go right back there, and not return after a bunch of other stuff has happened. I picked up a ton of items my characters aren't high enough level for, and 25 achievement points for the moderately challenging final battle of the module. All in all, it was rather disappointing... A 1 hour retread though old areas for a few items and 1 achievement... with little story contribution.

Next up was to start The Stone Prisoner DLC, which I got with my new copy of the game. This quest was a lot more entertaining, and Shale is certainly does not behave the way one might expect a golem to. He has replaced Alistair as my party's tank. (I roll with a party of Shale, Liliana, Morrigan, and me... so 2 mages.)

With my rocky companion in tow, the Warden's Keep DLC was next on the list, as I wanted the chest to store all those items I'm not high enough level for yet, so they wouldn't waste all my inventory space. For my $7, I wish this would have lasted a little longer, but it was far better value than Return to Ostigar, all things considered. More interesting battles and dialogue throughout. I'd rate this one as worth the download, despite my griping on the price.

Now, it's back to the main game. I plan on playing the story through before picking up the Darkspawn Chronicles. With all that out of the way, I'll focus on getting the game to 1200 before purchasing the Awakening expansion. That retail disc will only keep getting cheaper while I plug away at everything else I need to do in the game.

That'll do it for today... more tomorrow.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Back from the Dead: Future Review Strategy

It has been one of the longest dry spells between posts in this blog's history... nearly two weeks. I need to get back on the horse. So, to rekindle the flame, I'm writing out a massive and rambling post that will be released in pieces over the next several days. I'm still experiencing the dumb glitch that is dating all my posts as if they came from November of 2009, and I have no idea how to fix it. So, so everyone knows, today is June 2nd of 2010.

One of the reasons I've found it tough to blog lately has been the Hand of Thrawn podcast. A lot of the things I would end up writing about or commenting on here, I instead discuss with the crew on our show. It's left me starving for content, and I don't want to say the same things here that I do on our show, and seem redundant. What form the happy medium between the podcast and this show will take, I do not yet know.

I also haven't reviewed anything in what seems like an eternity. There are several reasons for this. I was trying to review Record of Agarest War, but the length of the game and my inability to play it for lengthy stretches in one sitting has made it slip by, to the point that it's not worth the effort any more. Lately, the UK side of x360a has been snagging early review editions of games, with the effect that between Webb and Jackanape, the two of them have beasted out damn near every review over the last few months. I don't begrudge them for this; it makes sense for the person who is able to get the review done most efficiently to do it. I just wish communication was more open on what the UK side is getting and who is reviewing what is still needed... Looks like the new trend is going to be me picking up what junk falls through the cracks while the AAA games are all spoken for. Again, I get why things are the way they have been and have no beef with any site staff, I just feel a little left out.

So, to get me mojo back, I'm going to get more involved with Podcast reviews for the Hand of Thrawn Podcast over the coming weeks and months. While I will write reviews for x360a first whenever there is a chance, if someone else is reviewing the game, I will write a review for the podcast instead. We are still hammering out how reviews will be handled on the show, but they will all be backed up by a traditional text draft from yours truly. The first two candidates for review are likely to be Alan Wake and Red Dead Redemption. They may be a while yet, but I promise to be more timely with reviews as the Podcast Review project gains momentum.

If I can throw yet another disclaimer out there, my reviews are strictly my own views on a game. If I should review a game someone else on x360a does, and take a different stance on it than they do, or score it differently, that does not mean I'm right and they're wrong, or visa versa. Take my reviews as they are, and not in the context of anything else.

There, is my butt covered from any off-base ideas and unnecessary drama? There isn't any.

I may rent a game or two this month if I find out there is need for a review, but otherwise, I'm planning on not purchasing any games in June, and focusing my gaming efforts instead on maxing out Alan Wake (which I have beaten once), Red Dead, and delving into my newly discovered love for Dragon Age Origins.

That's it for today. There shall be more tomorrow.