Tuesday, October 26, 2010

6 Days Til National Novel Writing Month

I've made mention of this before, but as of yesterday I'm officially signed up for National Novel Writing Month, which takes place in November. The goal is to write a single work of fiction running AT LEAST 50,000 words, and work cannot begin before November 1st.

Why am I doing this? It's one of my life's dreams to be a published novelist, but I've done a poor job over the last year of actually writing anything. Can't really achieve that dream if I don't have a finished project to try to get published, can I? So, by participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) I'm forcing myself to crank out some words, and have a legitimate core for what I will later expand to a full novel (50,000 words in honestly only half the length of your average novel, but still a lot to write in 30 days).

Writing during NaNoWriMo is all about Quantity over Quality. Write, write, write, even if what you're writing is crap, keep going! It's about going with the flow and creating without letting your internal editor bog you down about making everything perfect. Once November is done, THEN I will go back and see how much of what I wrote can still be used in the real, full-length novel, and what will have to be cut.

For anyone interested in following my progress, I will have a word counter widget installed to this blog as soon as the event starts. Also, once it's all over, I'll be happy to email out the unedited original draft to anyone who provides me an email, so you can read what I worked so hard to create.

Here is me "official" short preview of what the story is about:

Nate Gillick's 2010 novel stars Calvin Johnson, a freelance writer who reluctantly picks up an iAssistant, the new wonder-gadget that has billions of potential uses, from phone to portable TV to translator to heart monitor. Surgically attached at the wrist to help monitor vital signs, the iAssistant even comes with adaptive AI, that learns from how it's used, to be the best possible servant and companion. But what happens when a modern marvel of all-in-one technology grows a mind of its own, and disagrees with its owner on how it should be used?

Monday, October 25, 2010

More Adventures in Vegas

It's time to return to that type of post I haven't been doing much of lately, one where I talk about the games I've been playing!

First off, for anyone who missed my Tweet from late last night, I was able to find and order a white admiral uniform costume, and a set of red contact lenses (they're even to my perscription!) so I will officially be dressing up as Grand Admiral Thrawn for Halloween. Yes, there will be pictures. You can look for them in the upcoming 300th post of this here blog.

Yesterday, I spend almost 5 hours of my morning playing Dawn of War II with Creech as we worked on the game's Last Stand mode achievements. This mode is similar to all the other "Horde" modes out there, where we had to fight off wave after wave of enemies. In five hours of trying, we only got to wave 20, the final wave, twice, and got raped both times. It seems a pretty damn hard mode to clear. After each game, you get experience to level up your character and earn new abilities. I was playing as the Hive Tyrant and went from level 1 to 11 in the process. There is an achievement for getting to level 20, so all the time spent was still in persuit of a goal, even if we couldn't clear the mode completely.

I must say I started to get really bored of the mode though. Perhaps because the Hive Tyrant is a surprisingly boring hero class. There's little to do beyond spawn some warriors, who then go out and do the fighting for you. Besides casting minions and picking my target to attack, there was little else to do. Yawn. Can't wait to get to level 20 and clear this mode so I don't have to play it anymore. I'm sure Creech wants that outcome just as much, as that will give him all 2000 of Dawn of War II's points. (The man is, after all, an RTS mastermind)

I also got online to play some games of Starcraft II with my brother and Sabre (who has sold his soul to World of Warcraft), and it was quite a lot of fun. I enjoy the game's campaign and a good coop bot-stomping, but how much I'll get into the competitive multiplayer remains to be seen. As usual, I was originally better at the game than my bro, but now he can completely kick my ass. He's the type of gamer who plays fewer games, but the ones he gets into he logs A LOT of hours in, and becomes exceptionally skilled at. Halo would be the trademark example, but I'm sure Monster Hunter could be on the list, and Starcraft II will be. I wish he had a Raptr account so I could see just how many hours he logs into some of those games LOL. I'm at the other end of the spectrum, I like to play casually through a lot of stuff, and then move on to a new experience, rarely digging in deep enough to become a true expert at a game. For me, the highest compliment I can give a game is that it stays fun from the time I put it in for the first time to the point that I have every achievement. As my completion percentage will attest, most games don't stay interesting to me that long.

Today (and again later tonight) I've been adventuring in New Vegas. Like Fallout 3, the game does a great job of creating a sense of exploration and the feelings of accomplishment that come with completing a quest or finding something interesting. My travels thus far today have been along the main questline, with some interesting diversions in the city of Novac. It seems one family in Novac finds one of their cattle killed every night, and can't figure out why. While it's not a formal quest, solving their problem has some very tangible rewards, like the approval of the people of Novac, which can be cashed in towards a free apartment. So, much to my delight, I now have an appartment to store some of my stuff, which will take some of the edge off of Hardcore mode's weight rules.

While exploring Novac, I encountered Boone, the man who snipes from the mouth of the town's dinosaur by night. His wife was sold off into slavery, and he wanted me to find out whodunnit. He handed me his beret, and asked that if I find out who did it, I wear the beret as a signal, and take that person in front of the dinosaur so he could snipe him or her to have his revenge. I sleuthed around town and learned who it was, and did as asked. Vengence was delivered by an almost hilariously gory headshot. After turning in the quest, I talked Boone into joining me, and now I have my first companion (and the achievement that goes with it).

Now, Boone and I are off to the nearby rocket factory on the "Come Fly With Me" quest, which tasks us with removing some ghouls from the place to the people of Novac can continue to pull junk and supplies from the place. Where will happen in my New Vegas adventure next? I don't know, but I've been loving every minute of it so far.

On a different topic, Raptr and its ability to track your play time has made me wonder just what games I've played the most. If I were to make a real all-time leaderboard of what games I've played the most, which games would make the list? Unfortunately, I'll never know for sure (other than EQ2 is absolutely #1 right now), but the the best extent I can, I'm going to try to find what contenders I have and construct a list that shows the top games. I'm also going to break it into two categories: Verified and Estimated. Verified are games where either from Raptr or the game's own timers, I can see exactly how much time I played. Estimated means there's no way to be sure, and I'm making the best guess I can. I'll share the results of this mission once I have the list built to my satisfaction.

As I commented on in a Previous Post, EverQuest 2 is the runaway winner for most time I've ever sunk into one game. I would need to log over 820 Hours into a different game to take the title! Now that Raptr is tracking my Magic: The Gathering Online playtime, that game has the chance to take the title over the long term, though it will still count idle time as played time, and there is often more idle time than actual playing when competing in a tournament, so the numbers for that game will have to be taken with a grain of salt.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thrawn Goes to Vegas - Defends Hardcore Mode

I wish I could tell you I went the REAL Vegas. I wish I would make some quip about "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas," and then procees to drop a vague but carefully calculated hint about something that happened to set your imaginations running. I can't do that today. However, I CAN talk about my first 7 hours in the newest Fallout game, which is almost as good. (By the way, WTF is up with my penchant for referring to myself in the 3rd person in blog post titles?)

As I so often do, I broke one of my vows (the one about being done buying new games) and drove down to Walmart at midnight to pick up the game on release (and do a little grocery shopping. Everyone knows midnight is the ultimate time to shop. No lines at the registers, no crying babies, it's easy to park near the front...).

To get the obvious out of the way first, New Vegas is EXTREMELY similar to Fallout 3, but why reinvent the wheel when the core gameplay was so good to begin with? If you spent any time in the last Fallout, you'll know what you're doing here, but Obsidian has made some nice changes to the formula. The weapon mods make for more customization possibilities, there are a TON more perks to choose from when customizing a character, and there appear to be more structured quests (Will have to wait and see if the trend continues as the game unfolds).

I'm taking a slightly different approach to New Vegas than I did Fallout 3 in terms of character development. In the last game, I focused heavily on guns, heavy weapons, and heavy armor early on, but grew to learn later just how much I wanted lockpicking and speech, so those skills saw a rapid push in skill points during the midlevels. This time, I'm still strong on Guns from the start, but have forgone putting many skill points into other offensive disciplines, instead focusing on pumping my repair ability (which seems far more important now than in Fallout 3), medicine, speech, and lockpicking abilities. I'm going for a character who knows how to get through doors, talk people into doing what I want, and dish out some bullets, with the ability to more effectively heal up afterwords.

My playthrough is on Hardcore mode, and not just for the 100 point achievement. I WANT to be playing on Hardcore. I've read the esteemed jackanape's x360a review, and Hardcore mode is the only difference of opinion I have so far, though I understand where he's coming from. Hardcore mode seems to me to be about removing all the things that made Fallout 3 too easy, and making some forgotten elements of that game actually matter. In F3, there were food items and water bottles around, but they weren't worth picking up, and they didn't really do anything. Now, with hydration and food to think about, suddenly those junk items have relevance. Now, as I explore the Mojavie wasteland, I'm keeping an eye out for consumables, and making sure I have an ample stash. Yes, the physical act of maintaining healthy H20 and Food levels in boring - just go into the pip-boy and pick an item to consume to make the meter go down - but I enjoy that it's making me explore more carefully as I play the game.

Inventory management is an aspect of Hardcore mode that will make it more fun for some, less for others. Hardcore mode asserts more firmly the reality that there's only so much one person can carry, and ammo isn't exactly weightless. This forces players to think critically about the relative worth of each item they're taking along. It also means the days of carrying around 1,000,000 rounds for each of your weapons can't happen, either. I LIKE this, as it means I have to fight smarter, and don't have the luxury of unrealistic supplies of ammo. To quote Lee, "Couple in the fact that ammo now weighs you down, meaning you can carry much less death dealing equipment, and the whole thing makes it seem like a constant battle." Survival in the wasteland is hard baby, that's the whole point. I greatly prefer this feeling to the feeling of being D.C.'s Ultimate Killing Machine, which I felt like before level 10 in F3, and the Grim Reaper Spirit perk destroyed any remaining challenge at level 20.

"Other more noticeable issues in Hardcore mode are the fact that crippled limbs can only be healed by a doctor or with a certain piece of kit, and that healing items now work gradually rather than in one fell swoop." Again, I like the realism here. If I get f***ed up in a fight, falling asleep doesn't make it all better, nor would a night of sleep or an injection magically cure a broken arm. So, I got wounded in battle, and I need to pay the fee to fix that. I'm OK with that. I also like the fact that health is Heal Over Time. That has been a strong check on my Rambo tendencies, and makes combat tougher. I mean, would any shot INSTANTLY heal all the hurt of a gunfight? Come on? Insta-heals like that are another thing that made F3 too easy, and I appreciate Hardcore mode for doing away with.

While the idea behind Hardcore mode is a good one, it just serves to make things a lot less fun rather than a lot more interesting. I respect Lee's opinion (he is, after all, right more often than not) but disagree here. Hardcore mode won't be everyone's cup of tea, and is makes inventory management much more important, and makes life a lot harder for injured players. However, all that has made New Vegas a lot MORE fun for me, not less. Hardcore mode is probably the most devicive addition to Fallout, and I expect some people with think I'm nuts for loving it as much as I do, others will be with me 100%.

There is a caveat with Hardcore though - it is best enjoyed as a "plus" to whatever difficulty you would default to. I statred on Hard with Hardcore, then dropped to Normal with Hardcore, because I wasn't having fun on Hard. I was getting raped by enemies and depleting supplies way too quickly. I spent more time paying the price for failure than exploring and having fun. Once I dropped it back to normal, I've been pleased with the level of challenge. I don't feel like an ultimate killing machine, but at the same time I'm not running to the doctor and payin 50 caps to get my limbs fixed, either. So, my advice to anyone considering Hardcore mode would be to use it on your standard difficulty to intensify the challenge, but don't couple it with a step up in difficulty. Since I prefer my challenge to come from smart inventory management and battle planning rather than having to soak up more damage (as one would on Hard), the trade-ff has been all Win for me.

Has anyone else tried Hardcore mode in New Vegas yet? If so, what are your thoughts?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Silva-itis and Random Topics

Silva-itis is a condition afflicting thousands, perhaps millions, of gamers worldwide. The condition's title is derived from the gamertag BL4CK SiLva, who is widely regarded by those in the field to be Patient Zero for the growing epidemic.

Those afflicted with Silva-itis experience a compulsion to purchase large quantities of gaming content - and then never actually play it. In Patient Zero's case, the symptoms are two-fold, from a deep roster of unplayed XBLA titles, to a shelf full of full retail games that have seen little to absolutely no play.

I realized today that I suffer from the DLC strain of Silva-itis, as my purchase of "The Writer" for Alan Wake made me think of all the other DLC I own and have hardly touched:

Red Dead - Legends & Killers
Magic: The Gathering - Expansions 1 and 2
Blue Dragon - Shuffle Dungeon
Lost Odyssey - Seeker of the Deep
Dragon Age - Awakening
Bioshock 2 - Rapture Metro, Protector Trials, Minerva's Den
Mass Effect 2- Kasumi
Prince of Persia - Epilogue

At least I've become a little smarter lately and not purchased any DLC unless I'm actually ready to play it.

I'm going to try to set aside enough time tomorrow to start working on reviews for Comic Jumper and Alan Wake's "The Writer," though I'm not sure how far I'll get. My main project is continuing the cleaning and organizing work I've been doing on my apartment. I'd allowed it to languish into a disorganized clutter of crap so bad even I was embarrassed by it, so I'be been organizing and cleaning everything. Considering how unbelievably time consuming this process has been, I think I'd much rather take the time to maintain the cleanliness than have to repeat this nightmare ever again.

Next month is National Novel Writing Month, where aspiting authors try to write an entire novel in one month. The emphasis is more on QUANTITY than actual quality. With the short time frame and the lofty word count goals, all that really matters in the physical act of cranking words out. What you write doesn't even really need to be coherent to be a valid submission to the event. I'm going to be writing a novel based off one of the short stories I wrote in college, and letting the story develop on its own without any prior plotting or plans on my part. Once the dust settles at the end of November, I'll take a step back and look at what I did, and we'll see if what can be salvaged from it would be enough to be the core of a novel I'd want to polish up and try to get published.

Because I'll need to average 2,000 words per day (approx. 4 single-spaced pages) to meet my personal goal of 60,000 or more words, I don't think you'll be seeing a lot of blog posts in November. This is your advance warning so nobody things I just vanished. Considering that November is also Retail Hell Month, I could very well be completely insane or on some serious anti-depressants by the end of the month LOL. =)

After I'm done with the month of writing, I will be mailing out the unedited version of what I wrote, so I'll be asking for emails at that time if you want to read my story (in its super-quickly concieved form).

It was nice to get outside and go for a run today in the nice fall weather (or, in my case, 30% jog, 70% walk). I'm so fucking out of shape it's pathetic, but I've got to start from somewhere if I'm ever going to get better and approach a respectable physical condition. At least I've started getting out.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Thrawn Sucks (Episode 1)

I'm in a bad mood this evening, so I thought I'd hash out the things that have been irritating me lately in blog form, for your amusement. As self-bashing as this post is, believe it or not it's entertaining for me too (and theraputic). It's also going to be a random segment I sometime do when I feel inclined to laugh at myself, and let others laugh at me too... =)

All the reasons Thrawn sucks (but let's limit it to just the last two weeks, I have to go to bed in an hour):

1. If you're paying attention, I've already referred to myself in the 3rd person Twice in this post. Even better, I've referred to myself in the 3rd person using an internet identity for myself, and not even my actual name.

2. Remember that "Next Week is Top 5 Week" thing? Yeah... the way to re-energize oneself about their blog is NOT to make extravagent promises and bite off WAY more than one can chew. To my own credit, I have started writing those features, but rather then put them out at the criminally over-ambitious pace of oh, you know, DAILY, they'll be going up when they are done. Eliminating promises of a due date will let me spend more time with them and make them better. But still, promising a week of special topics and delivering exactly NONE of them is pretty FAIL. Oh, and there will now officially be a "Day off Post" for you smarty pants out there =)

3. I have lost the last 6 matches of Magic: The Gathering I've played. In fact, I've only won 1 of my last 12 games (matches are best 2 out of 3). I think the game and I need a few days off. It's retarded how bad I've played recently.

4. I've spent over 12 hours over my last three days off cleaning and reorganizing my apartment. Despite all that work, at this point in the process, it still looks virtually as bad as when I started. Nobody but me would even be able to tell anything actually got done! It will take at least 12 more hours of work to get the apartment to the level where guests can visit without immediately turning around and running away screaming in horror. Since I don't feel like being a single bachelor forever, the cleanliness and organization would definitely be good things.

5. I got pulled over by the cops tonight for speeding. I got clocked coming up on a squad car at 66 in a 55. (I was wearing my seatbelt and I have a SPOTLESS record, so I got off with a warning, praise the Higher Power). That was the first time I've ever been pulled over.

6. I'm still holding on to a set of items I was supposed to have mailed off to a certain someone about a month ago. By the end of my cleaning process, I WILL be mailing those items off. Hopefully late is better than never, especially since it's all free for this person, right?

7. The Hand of Thrawn Podcast... Do I really need to say more than that? Episodes 6, 7, AND "8" have all been done, but never posted up in their entirety. (I blame youtube errors for most of "8," I HAVE been trying). Still, I think it's safe to call the HoT Podcast deader than the Three Little Pigs (or the first two, at the very least). Only good news: This blog keeps rolling along.

8. In my first month of renewed Gamefly, the only thing I've used it for was to play Bayonetta for 15 minutes. Yep, that 15 minutes was totally worth $22.95 or whatever the 2 game plan is. That amount of cash for time counds more like phone sex or talking to Miss Cleo than an unlimited gaming rental service. (Yes, I just teed up the joke for you, but for the record I've never done either)

Let's balance out the fail with at least this one win:

WIN: While cleaning through some boxes of unsorted stuff that have been sitting in my apartment literally ever since I moved in, I found one of my favorite pictures that's ever been taken of me. The photo shows me surrounded by SEVEN Japanese school girls, from the first time I studied abroad, and spent six weeks at a Japanese high school. The picture is now framed and hanging on the wall. WIN.