Monday, May 11, 2015

Missing Time

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the blogosphere, I produce a new article! I know, I am infamous for months-long breaks between spurts of articles, but I am actually not at that point just yet. The last 2 weeks have, however, been busier than heck. We've have Lor's birthday, 2 road trips (including a rain-soaked one in my brother's open-sided Jeep), household consolidation, and some major gaming. Very little time to write. Accordingly, I will bring everyone up to date.

My Sunless Sea series is probably over, due to a couple factors. First, my poor record keeping - I ran an hour long session, took lots of notes and screenshots, then left the PC unsupervised. As these things go, my anti-virus software auto-updated and restarted my computer overnight, leaving me with 10 screenshots and no notes. I could probably try to rebuild my explorations from memory, but my memory is an ongoing issue, and the Sunless Sea articles are drawing something like 4 hits each any time any of the 3 of them has been posted. This is in comparison to 30-ish (or better) views for articles on pretty much any other subject. While my blog is mostly about whatever I feel like writing about, documentation of a game experience is kinda pointless if no one else is interested. So, adios, Sunless Sea play-by-play.

The latest obsession on my shiny new desktop is Mechwarrior Online. Since I now have a machine that can run it, I have spent the last weekend doing match after match, trying out all the starter mechs. I have now reached my first 25 matches and have earned a cadet bonus of over 9 million "C-Bills", the in-game currency, more than enough to buy a mech or two of my own. I will probably make my selection later today. I may even join a clan/guild for the game, I enjoy it so much.

As usual, the majority of gaming time has been spent on Wizard 101. Our main characters are in their 60s, and carving their way through the world of Celestia, but slowly due to recurring alt-itis. My Necromancer is currently receiving more love from me than any other character, and he has just hit level 42, putting him only 20-ish levels behind my Life caster (healer) main character. The damage generated by our duo of Necro and Fire Mage is so much fun to watch that I just can't help myself, so more and more time is being funneled away from our mains to these two characters.

More stuff coming soon!


- Hawk

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

To Sail the Sunless Sea, Part 2

I have returned to the UnterZee after a week's absence, prepared to invest an hour or two digging further into the game, when I am greeted thusly:

"New Stories Available". Hmm. Reading the text in the lower right informs me that a quest has been added that reveals "more of the Chelonate's past". Fabulous stuff. If only I knew what a Chelonate was.  However, the fact that material is being added to the game is encouraging - it means that the company is actively supporting the game and its players.  I apply the update, then Continue my adventure.

Now, where were we?

Ah, yes - Hunter's Keep. Instead of a bustling zee-port or a mysterious ruin I have discovered a large old house, smelling of lavender. I perform some reconnaissance on the island, which provides me a "Port Report" which can be turned in back in Fallen London to the Admiralty, presumably for a reward of some kind.  I am also allowed to spy on the house (using my "Veils" ability), revealing 3 sisters within and also giving me more Fragments! Emboldened, I present myself at the front door. What could one expect from 3 sisters living in the middle of nowhere?

Lunch, apparently. During lunch I am able to choose only one of the sisters to converse with. A bit rude, it seems to me, but it wasn't my idea. I select the melancholy Eldest sister, Cynthia, to chat with,  After a very long and involved and strange story, I am rewarded with a plethora of items: my crew's hunger is reduced to 0 (apparently they were fed too?), I am granted a Tale of Terror and ship supplies, and my crew's Terror score is increased by 1. If that score is allowed to get too high we apparently begin acting strangely, worshiping ancient gods and eating one another. The "Tale of Terror" is actually an item,  appearing in the ship's hold. I will have to wait and find out what it is for.

Strangely, the sisters also want my "Recent News", an item I gained by reading the paper back in Fallen London.  This somehow results in another luncheon invitation. I now select the middle sister, Lucy, to chat with. Her story is quite silly, though just as long. At the end of her tale I am granted yet another ship supplies (bringing my total to 7), as well has having my crew's Terror score reduced by 1 - back to 0, where it was when we arrived. It appears that if I had another Recent News item I could launch a third luncheon invite, but alas, I had only one. It is probably time to sail off further into the North to see if I can find Venderbight.

A little further North we are suddenly assaulted by Bats. I am so taken aback by this that I forget to take screen shots. 2 shots from the deck-gun take care of them, but not before they are able to do 15 points of damage to my hull. After their defeat I am given the choice of eating them (to reduce Hunger) or throwing the corpses overboard (to reduce Terror). Given that we got all this free food from the sisters of Hunter's Keep, I elect for the Terror score reduction. And only a few minutes later, we discover the Tomb Colonies, and Venderbight:

The various discoveries I have made have also given me enough fragments to earn a "Secret" - the element I use to increase my skills by chatting with officers. I elect to save it for now. I head into Venderbight, ready to get the mummy off my ship and, also, to get paid for it.

But, nothing is ever easy. The Colonist I have delivered now wants me to go pick up an absent friend in Mangrove College. After giving me this commission, he departs the Zenith - not bothering to pay me for his transport. Freeloader.

I am able to quickly gather another Port Report for the Admiralty back home, Withing the city I also discover a well, guarded by moths, which increases both my fragments and my Terror. Odd, that. I have never really found moths all that intimidating in reality. Looking through their shops I discover that I could be selling things like "Recent News" and other items for good old fashioned currency. I speculate that this is perhaps the use of the "Tale of Terror" I found earlier. Since I have not really explored the trading component of the game I make a note of this - I am going to need SOME way to pay for fuel, even if the sisters keep feeding my crew for free.

Noting that I still have quite a bit of fuel and supplies left, I take a look at my map:

I notice that far to the South-East there is a barely visible Harbor sign, just to the East of Badstevener's Abyss. I decide to follow the coastline South from Venderbight then head South-East between Fallen London and Hunter's Keep, to see what might be lurking there.

To be continued,

- Hawkwind

Friday, April 24, 2015

A glimpse into Wizard 101

After putting several curse-worthy hours into Wizard 101 alongside Lor yesterday, it occurred to me - the game that I am spending the lion's share of my time on these days is getting exactly zero coverage in this blog. Accordingly, here is a bit of a glimpse into our current obsession, and life in The Spiral.

The guy there on the right side of the walking tree? (Treant, for you Tolkien purists.) That would be my character - Michael Wildstar, Savior of the Spiral. No name and title above him, since the screenshot was taken from my PC, which assumes you know who you are. To the left is Sierra Shadowfinder, one of Lor's many alts on Wiz 101. Her main, Fiona Fairypants, does not appear in this shot. Think I was helping her with a lower-end quest when this shot was taken.

So, this, then, is the graphics presentation of Wizard 101, and the very thing that puts many adult gamers off of the game in the first place. It looks, and feels, like a game designed for children. Which is, indeed, what it was originally designed as - a family oriented game where parents could spend some time gaming with their kids, but also let the kids roam around in unsupervised without fear of them being abused, taken advantage of, or exposed to foul language/racism/sexual comments/what have you.

The game itself is based on collectible card game mechanics. You have a deck of cards containing spells and creatures. Each of these cards has a mana cost. (Your character's mana total is visible in the blue globe in the lower right corner of the picture above.) You earn a single casting point or "pip" every turn - think of these pips as the opportunity to spend an amount of mana. Accordingly, you can cast a 1 pip card on turn one (costing 1 mana), or an 8 pip card on turn 8 (costing 8 mana). Generally speaking, the more powerful the card, the more pips it will cost you. Cast enough times and you will eventually run out of mana, rendering you unable to continue in your present duel.

You, and all your foes, also have a Health pool (visible as the larger red globe in the lower right corner.) As you cast spells on your foe in a duel, your monsters will be summoned via nifty casting animations and then attack your enemy. The damage from this attack will reduce the amount of health in their health pool. First side to run out of health loses.

Oh, did I say side? Well, yes, I did, because the battlefield actually has room for you and 3 allies to go up against up to 4 enemies:

The large circle is the battlefield, the 8 smaller circles around the perimeter are slots for you and your team on the left, and various baddies on the right.

Now, here is where it gets interesting - instead of typical RPG classes, there are instead schools of magic. Everyone in the game is a trainee wizard, but they all have different specializations. Michael, for example, is a Life mage. He specializes in Healing and nature based attacks like Treants and Centaurs. (Feel free to pause now to laugh at the concept of me being our party's healer. Take as long as you like, I'll be here when you get back.) Lor's character in the above picture, Fiona, is an Ice mage - Snowmen with daggers, Blizzards, and Shields that reduce damage are her forte.

What keeps the different schools interesting is that you not only get access to specific spells and creatures from a certain schools, but the schools play very differently from one another due to the concept of "fizzling". This is when a spell does not resolve when cast. The school with the least powerful offensive spells, Life, has a native 90% chance for its spells to go off in any given turn. But the school with the most powerful spells, Storm, has only a 70% chance. More powerful offense, then, but only reliable 2 out of every 3 turns. It adds a whole new element to strategy.

Even cooler is this - as you level, you gain access to "training points". These points may be used to learn spells from schools other than your own. (Your school's spells are given to you gratis.) So, if you are a Storm mage who wants to know a heal or two, you may spend some training points in the Life school. If you are a Fire mage (native 75% spell chance) who wants some more reliable spells in your deck you may learn a few Balance spells (native 85% spell chance). And you get enough spell points that you can customize heavily. Michael currently has learned spells from Fire, Ice, Balance and Death schools, though I admittedly now wish I had specialized a bit more.

So, at the end of the day, this is still a kid's game, right? Not going to hold an adult's interest for long?

In the last few days both Lor and I hit level 60 on our main wizards. Once upon a time 60 was the max level in the game. We've had a series of dungeons and adventures open up that we went traipsing merrily into...and got our heads handed to us.

It seems the game designers made a shift in philosophy from level 60 onward. These wizards, they figured, are the adults - the ones capable of focusing long enough to push through this far. You reach this level, and suddenly, play time is over. The back half of the game, from 60 to 100, is increasingly difficult and designed for more "hard-core" gamers. As a hard-core gamer myself, I am now completely motivated to get out wizards geared up and press forward to see what else lies ahead throughout the worlds of The Spiral.

If this sounds at all interesting, you should really try it.. Our 2-person subscription costs us $13 - less than one person playing WoW would. There are many problems with the game, as there are with all MMOs, that I may cover in more detail here in the future. But if you have wondered why a 40-something person is so stuck on a game designed for children - now you know.

Preparing to join my wizard,

- Hawkwind

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Always running away

After an intensely weird dream a couple nights ago I sat down and put some lyrics to paper - the first ones I've done in quite a while. I don't really have any intention of scoring them, recording them, anything like that; but I did notice something about them.  The main gist of the song is a man apologizing for running away from a wedding he couldn't stand to be at. And this is not exactly the first time I have dealt thematically with the concept of running away in my writing.

"Headed East" takes a person who is alone deciding to make an unconventional decision on where to go to look for happiness. " Shadow on my Soul" is about a person who ran away and is gazing back at where he came from, wondering if he made the right decision. The song I co-wrote with Jerry McGraw, "South of Cheyenne", is about fleeing a failed relationship. And it made me wonder if I have some weird subconscious urge to run away, or is this maybe more common than I think?

So, I dug through my library of music, and found out that I am not exactly breaking new ground with the idea of running away. Country Western music is chock full of songs about running away. "Much to Young to Feel This Damn Old" by Garth Brooks and "Like a Cowboy" by Randy Houser are both about men who can't stay home because they are busy pursuing their dreams. "Already Gone" by the Eagles deals with dumping someone proactively, before she gets the chance to dump you. Probably the ultimate one goes back to 1967 - "By the Time I Get To Phoenix". That'll teach HER to doubt your ability to leave her, Glen Campbell.

Rock and popular music isn't much different. "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" by Paul Simon gives us instructions on how to ditch one relationship for another.  There are plenty of musicians leaving their loves for indefinite periods of time - "Leaving on a Jet Plane" by Peter, Paul and Mary and "Babe" by Styx spring immediately to mind. And, there is the seminal, elemental running away song: "Hungry Heart" by Bruce Springsteen. I left my family behind without planning to, and with no real reason for doing it. Good times, Bruce.

So, why the list of "See ya later" songs? The fact that all these tunes were tremendously popular means that there is something inside a great number of us that can relate to the idea of jumping ship - heading out for parts unknown. We empathize with and somehow understand that being somewhere else is somehow preferable to being here.

In a way, this makes sense. Those of us, like me, needing constant medical care dream of being able to just go somewhere - anywhere - where these rules don't apply to us. Those caught in hurtful or abusive relationships probably dream of a place where daily misery is not a fact of life. People trapped by bad financial decisions wish to be free of these obligations so that they can start over, free of the consequences of past choices.

And maybe that is it in a nutshell. For every one of us who is perfectly content in their life, there are probably another 99 who wish for a "do-over" button. A chance to make an entirely different life, filled with all the things that we think are missing from the life we are currently living. Different homes, different jobs, different partners, different families - a chance to do it RIGHT this time. Because learning to embrace our current lives, to be content within ourselves, to actually make constructive changes instead of wiping the slate clean - well, that's hard, isn't it? And running away just seems easier, somehow.

All I can do is wonder about it - I will never have a chance to run away, at least not if I don't want to give up the very best things in my life. But, I guess I can still be curious.

And maybe write a song or two about it, while I am at it.


- Hawk

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Great Review

Suffering from writer's block this morning, I decided to look through the previous 100+ posts on Misdirected for inspiration. What I discovered both delighted and depressed me.

Delighted: I used to put out tons of useful information on whatever game I was playing at the time. We had farming guides for World of Warcraft, we had guild info for Lord of the Rings Online, we had do-it-yourself challenges for League of Legends. We had some stuff, man!

Depressed: Yeah, kind of all the same things in the "Delighted" section.

I am not sure there is a real solution to this, in all honesty. The game that Lor and I play together currently is Wizard 101. And, while I love it, and we invest hours each day into it, it is designed for children. Which means there is not really a whole lot of theorycrafting or min/maxing that goes into gameplay. You have a deck of cards. You walk around in circles. You run into critters. You pull cards out of your deck summoning random monsters to beat on your opponent while they do the same to you. You triumph triumphantly. You do it again.

See what I mean? Describing it makes it sound as interesting as watching paint dry, which is SO far from the truth. But there really isn't a whole lot I feel like I can add to the Meta through observation and advice.

As far as the other games I am playing...well, I just started a series on Sunless Sea, which no one is reading :-) I am supposed to be playing Minecraft on a server with the former membership of the Rusted Iron Rats but haven't made it over there yet. I play a tiny bit of Marvel Heroes, which is a blast but I TOTALLY do not understand. 

So, yeah. The sum of my current gaming wisdom. Maybe at the point where we buckle down and play some League of Legends regularly I'll will have some more observations, but other than that I think I am gonna have to pick up some other game to start writing about.

That or figure out some really, really good stuff about Wizard 101.


- Hawkwind

Monday, April 20, 2015

To Sail the Sunless Sea, Part 1

After a long and non-productive weekend filled with Wizard 101, the first half of the Daredevil series on Netflix (Seriously - go watch it), the LCS Spring Split finals (congrats to TSM for winning!), and getting to go see Beg, Borrow and Steal over at the Effing Bar, we have, at last, arrived at Monday. Time for more serious matters. Workmanlike things, even. In short, time to arrive dockside on the Sunless Sea.

My last experience here was a brief one, so I will make every attempt to play a bit more conservatively this time through. Despite this intention, the game itself informs me that I am to "Explore. Take Risks." It also lets me know that my first captain "will probably die", but we've already covered that, thank you very much.

I launch the game, select "New Game" and behold:

The atmosphere is very dark and brooding, lots of deep blues and greens indicating our arrival at a vast underground sea. My first choices are left for me in the form seen above - very much like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book, but with ancient gods and potential for cannibalism thrown in. 5 potential backgrounds are available to choose from, each increasing one of my captain's skills. The skills themselves are odd, unlike any other RPG I have played: Veils, Pages, Iron, Hearts and Mirrors. Though I am inclined toward taking the "Iron" skill due to its bonus to combat, I decide instead to stick with atmosphere and become a Natural Philosopher, with a bonus to Mirrors, "the skill of detection and perception". Only time will tell if this was a wise choice.

I must now choose an ambition - what is my Captain's motivation? As a Natural Philosopher, the "Fulfillment" motivation sounds about right: "Learn all I can of the zee. Write a Masterpiece." Sure, I can dig that.

And, at last, a title. I flirt briefly with the idea of "My Lord", but instead select "Captain". Since, you know, I am a Captain. With that, I become Captain Winthorpe (sounds vaguely British), Master of the Zenith, a Ligelia-class steamer.

And, no, I don't know what that means either. The slots to the upper right are my officers - I currently have a Comatose Ferret as a mascot and a Plausible Surgeon as Surgeon, with the other 4 slots empty. They each add a small bonus to my skills, visible beneath the Officer's portraits. Below and to the right are 3 small boxes, each waiting for me to select one of them and unlock the adventures behind them. All this and I haven't even left the dock yet. No wonder I got killed so quickly on my last outing.

I visit my lodgings, read the paper, and head out into London. And, behold, I discover the very thing which led me to quit the game early in Beta - a "Tomb-Colonist" wishes to be taken North to Venderbight, the very city I was looking for when I was eaten last time. While I still am not interested in becoming a Ferry-Captain, there doesn't seem to be any other work available currently, so I reluctantly bring the tourist aboard and head out into the darkness.

The background story is awesome, as is all the writing in this game: In Fallen London citizens do not exactly die, but instead wrap themselves in bandages and relocate to the Tomb Colonies, centered upon Venderbight. We've just loaded a casket containing a mummy on-board the Zenith. Now I am really motivated to find Venderbight - I want to get this thing the heck off my ship before it eats us all.

We head out into the darkness and immediately discover "Badstevener's Abyss". This results in Captain Winthorpe earning 50 "Fragments". Fragments are pieces of "Secrets", which are what passes for experience in Sunless Sea. Each Secret may be traded to an Officer for a permanent increase to one of your five skills, each officer being able to train a different skill. My Surgeon can increase my Pages skill. So, unless, I wish to have no skills increased but Pages, I had better find some more officers. Secrets can also be used as currency of sorts, traded to unlock conversations and quests with characters within the game.

A little further North and I have discovered Hunter's Keep:

Though not visible in this shot, the North side of the island contains a dock - my first chance at adventure, exploration and horrifying death. With great trepidation I bring the Zenith alongside the dock and tie up, wondering what awaits me inside...

To Be Continued,

- Hawkwind

Friday, April 17, 2015

Sadly, back to "normal life".

First off, thanks to everyone who is suddenly reading Misdirected. I had more than 120 visits yesterday. I didn't think 120 people even knew this blog existed :-)

Today was a very sad transition for us. Our most recent "guest kid" left our custody this morning, headed for another placement. He was a very brave little boy, heading off into the wild blue yonder without a tear in his eye while Mel and I bawled like babies. He was our youngest long-term placement by far, and though we didn't know what we were doing with a 4 year old he was very gentle and forgiving with us. We will miss him.

And...he will be the last one for a bit. In the 14 months we have been fostering we have had 24 different wonderful kids pass through our home, and we have grown attached to each of them - so much so that seeing them leave was always heartbreaking for us. As followers of this blog know, our original intention was to foster while we pursued adoption. During this same time period we have also had 3 different attempts at adoptions blow up in our faces. It has been hurtful, saddening, maddening, and ultimately exhausting. So we are going to give ourselves a little space to figure out how to proceed from here before sticking our hands back into the fire.

Our many contacts within the Foster/Adoptive Parent community assure us that this is normal, and many can tell us stories about how they had to wait many years, decades in some cases, for their "forever families" to come together. These folks are made of sterner stuff than I am. I am saddened with each new story about hurt and neglect that enters our home, and ultimately crushed when these children leave and we are left alone once more, still without a child or children to call our own. Thank God that there are those who are able to do this for years at a time - the need for Foster Parents is real, but the burdens are huge.

So, now what? We'll spend some time turning on televisions and radios to make up for the missing noise. We'll notice that we no longer have schedules full of places to go and things to do every day. We'll probably do a little more "couple gaming" while smiling sadly at each other. And, eventually, our batteries will recharge and we'll wonder why on Earth we are allowing that spare bedroom to remain empty. But, for right now, we're just going to curl up around our hurts and heal for a while.


-  Hawkwind