Posted in November 2012

Hugo Reviews: American Gods and Hyperion

Some more literary thoughts here!

American Gods – Neil Gaiman (Winner, 2002)

This kept me sane on some long flights to and from America itself over the summer, but didn’t help much as a guidebook if I’m honest! American Gods is an epic tale of the new gods of a modern age supplanting an older pantheon of immigrant deities brought to America in the minds and folklore of its historical settlers, and the war between them. Sounds clunky, but works well, with strong characterisation in the hidden maneuverings of the New Gods; Media, Technology, The Freeways, etc and the crafty countering of the Old; Odin, Anansi, Thoth, etc.

In to the middle of this invisible battleground comes Shadow, an ex-convict just released from prison to find that news of his wife’s death and infidelity has severed all ties to his old life and left him at a loose end. Taking up a job as bodyguard for the enigmatic Mr Wednesday leads into an increasingly surreal hidden world which is very much at war.

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How To Murder Time 2.03

It’s another hour of informed rambling on the important games of the week, and this time we’re continuing with the unexpected chat about new MMOs like Planetside 2 and Guildwars 2.

There’s also some chat about Assassin’s Creed, Need for Speed and the Walking Dead episodic games from Telltale Games and Tim’s favourite subject, Star Wars, as we played the X-Wing miniatures game. He even quite liked it.

I, Mesmer: Swords

Continuing on with an attempt to find Mesmer Comedy Builds in Guild Wars 2!

My standard runabout build has developed over a month or two of trial and error and mostly uses the Greatsword in the Primary Weapon slot, For Massive Damage! The Secondary Weapons can be important too, and possibly a way of exploring a more in-depth complexity than initially seems present in the game.

At L7, the Weapon Swap button unlocks (Unless you’re an Engineer or Elementalist, who get some different mechanics instead) and from there, a press of the tilde key can instantly change half the skill bar, even during combat with a 10s cooldown. A useful and complementary Secondary Weapon set is clearly an important part of the build, effectively turning 10 available skill slots, into 15.

Being so gleefully destructive with the Greatsword, I tend to use the Secondary set more for utility than straight fighting and typically go with Sword and Focus. Continue reading

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Hugo Reviews: The Fountains Of Paradise and Blackout

I keep meaning to talk more about books on the podcast, but we usually run out of time with all the gaming we’re doing these days. I’m still as voracious a reader of Science Fiction as ever and never gave up on my plan to read every winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novel, which is actually going quite well!

I can’t enjoy a thing unless there is an arbitrary collection-based secondary gameplay achievement element to it all. And a list! I’ve read a couple since last posting about any of it and here are some thoughts! I’d be keen to see yours in comments!

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I, Mesmer: Greatsword

Any attempt to create Comedy Mesmer Builds in Guild Wars 2 must begin with an understanding of the weapon slots. In Guild Wars One terms, a weapon sort of translates as a kind of preset unalterable ‘half-build’, presumably with a particular kind of purpose and gameplay style in mind. In this case, the weapon becomes the starting point of any Guild Wars 2 Comedy build.

I particularly like the Mesmer Greatsword and use it almost exclusively as a default weapon for almost all activities, only switching in the Sword/Focus for particular specifics.

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How To Murder Time 2.02

It may have been slightly delayed by evil web hosts suspending our account and not wanting to publish with the new one before I’m sort of sure that the site is stable, but I’m sure you’ll all agree the wait is worth it.

In this episode we discuss using computer games to become better guitarists, believable humans and also show a complete lack of interest for revolutionary America.


In Search of Comedy

One of the things I loved about Guild Wars (and still do!) was the dizzying complexity of the basic Skill Bar Build game. Although everyone had a single hotbar with only eight slots, there were hundreds of skills which could be put in those slots, opening up endless vistas of elaborate theorycraft, clever interplay and intricate sequence building. Check out this dedicated wiki for a mind-boggling sample of this fascinating secondary gameplay!

I used to dabble myself, and if I can ever work out where all our historic posts vanished to, I’ll re-add all my old Comedy Mesmer Build posts back to the site! With a bit of work and without switching to an alt, I could be DPS, Tank, Healer, Crowd Control, Buffer, Debuffer and all sorts of crazy concept gimmick roles of my own devising. Some builds worked very well and others were more in the nature of abject lessons in the perils of Things Looking Good On Paper; exercises in Overdesign. I suspect this reflects many people’s experience with the system during GW’s heyday. Was it too complicated? Did most players shun the theorycraft and just run around with the same eight skills from their primary profession, forever?

Arenanet seem to think so and the system in place in Guild Wars 2 is a far less complex beast.

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Admirable, Regrettable

After much scepticism and astonishment on my part, PlanetSide 2 is more or less here! Even late into the beta and actually playing it, I found it hard to believe it was a real thing. A niche project even when new, the unrelenting harshness coupled with numerous technical obstacles it never quite managed to fully overcome meant that the predecessor, PlanetSide, never really captured the attention of the masses and I often marvelled at its continued existence, let alone thoughts of a sequel. I get the impression that the franchise is a personal favourite and pet project of John Smedley and so carries more weight than matters of mere profitability would otherwise suggest. I would have been axed long ago otherwise.

The sequel is undeniably fun. It seems well-executed and a bears a worthy comparison to the modern console FPS in performance, execution and style. Comparing PlanetSide One against its own contemporaries, CounterStrike et al, was always painful and a lot of the cause of its marginality; too pacy for MMOists and too lumbering for FPSists. There were always better games of that type to play, back then. Differences between PlanetSide 2 and the latest Battlefields, Calls of Duty and Halos are much subtler and more in the nature of subjective stylistic matters, I think. Mind you, I do say all this as someone who doesn’t do a lot of FPS so take my thoughts as you will.

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And we’re back!

After a little snafu with our hosting we’re back on a brand new server. Normality, or at least something closely resembling normality, will resume shortly.

Sympathy for the Dalek

That’s rather rubbing it in a bit…

As alluded to in the inexplicably resurrected podcast, I’m having some difficulties adjusting to Guild Wars 2, mostly because for some reason Arenanet thought it would be a massive hoot to take the main nemesis villain race from early-stage Guild Wars: Prophecies and make them playable, and on the same team as us beleaguered humans.

Back in the olden days, 250 years prior to the events of GW2, the Charr caused The Searing, an improbably catastrophic event involving massive crystal meteors called out of space in a directed orbital bombardment which caused a wonderfully picturesque lush medieval country to be quite literally bombed into the stone age, and after a two-year nuclear winter of sorts, the early events of Prophecies see we players escorting the surviving refugees away from dead ashen Ascalon to a new life in Kryta.

Not great neighbours then, and the harrowing implied behind-the-scenes treatment of waif-like franchise mascot Gwen in Eye of the North only cements the idea that Charr are really not The Good Guys.


It all leaves me with a massive problem buying into the current goings on in what passes for modern-day Ascalon, an eerily familiar landscape dominated by Charr ironwork and smokestacks. Tootling about the Plains of Ashford as a human Mesmer, tagging explore points and vistas, is a lot like sending a Hobbit to go map-making in a post-Scouring-Of-The-Shire Hobbiton. “I remember when all this wasn’t overrun by our mortal enemies!”, I think to myself, and then to add insult to injury, find myself murdering dozens of Ascalon “Separatists”, bold human freedom fighters, in a massively hypocritical attempt to impress various Charr ‘heart’ NPCs to complete each zone. If not that, then putting down dozens of Ascalon humans ghosts, which is nearly as bad.

The sensation of vengeful xenophobic time traveller only increases as I travel about Ascalon. Their city, The Black Citadel, is built on top of Rin, the doomed human capital from the Nolani Academy mission of GW1. During this mission, you have to blow a big magic horn to make it rain, which puts out rampaging Charr fires. In GW2, they’ve got the damned thing on display in the Citadel, all smashed up! Much of the Great Northern Wall still exists and many parts of Ascalon resemble their GW1 counterparts, places I’ve actually been. Many of the indigenous Veteran and Champion grade ghost bosses are the very same NPCs who taught me how to use basic class skills in Pre-Searing!

Admittedly, it is all done very well, leaving me a lot more affected that I ought to be. It’s just a computer game, I think to myself, but still feel twinges of genuine anger at the state of an imaginary world I held dear. Technically, I shouldn’t even be concerned about it all anyway. My GW1 main character (who either has an identical great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter, will live to be over 280 years old or is actually a Timelord – I haven’t decided yet) is Elonian anyway – created in the Nightfall campaign, which means according to their own personal canon, they never experienced the Searing personally, instead joining the Prophecies storyline after the refugees made it to Kryta and just before the whole Shining Blade/White Mantle storyline kicks off. I did have a Prophecies alt though and it does still get to me a bit!

Arenanet have made a reasonable attempt to join the dots through the intervening 250 years and to balance the books of morality somewhat; with some later human-induced retaliatory cataclysm called ‘The Foefire’, along with a retrospective pre-history rework which now suggests that the humans stole Ascalon from the Charr in the first place, but I remain dubious. I wonder whether their strained attempt to meet the needs of gameplay (we need to add a playable Charr race…somehow!) by rewriting so much game lore has been a success or not. It feels a bit forced to me. A lot of it is detailed in the supplementary reading materials and I was so perplexed by it all that I went and bought Ghosts of Ascalon, just to answer the massive rhetorical ‘WTF?’ I have about it all. I guess that means it worked on a commercial level. (It’s not a big book – small pages, big writing – expect a reviewlet on the podcast soon!)

Petty complaints, I agree, and on the whole the sense of worldwide nostalgia is a big plus for me, making me a lot more interested and invested than if Guild Wars 2 had been set in an entirely new world. I should probably just stick to the Kryta, Maguuma and Shiverpeak zones for my blood pressure’s sake!

So my weird time-travelling genocide project continues, and I’m increasingly sympathetic to the plight of the often misunderstood Dalek race. I will EX-TER-MIN-ATE the Charr race one way or another, although I am hampered by the numerous instances of a strange bug where sometimes Charr seem to end up with green or teal names and become unattackable! I repeatedly log bug reports, but have yet to hear anything back on the matter. My frustrations do have something of an outlet though, as in typical MMO backstory fashion, even the Charr have their ‘evil civil war’ counterpart faction in the form of the Flame Legion, fire worshiping Charr of whom I am allowed to kill as many as I like! And if that’s not enough, there’s always WvWvW…

More on actual gameplay soon!