Monday, July 27, 2009

And so it comes to this...

What do you call a Boomerang that doesn't come back?

Frazz

A stick!

I read someone's Blog a while ago postulating (another $5 word floating around my brain and which I wonder if I've used in the correct context) that Twitter & Facebook have killed Blogging. After all, it's so much easier to just type up a sentence or two or some random thought and hit Publish, than it is to sit down and put pen to paper (figuratively if not literally) and generate a Blog post. And while I have been known to post Youtube videos I'd rather not devolve into doing that and nothing more, so this post is more than just a funny cartoon and a joke :)

Our daughter has been taking swimming lessons at a local Rec Center adjacent to a park with a large expanse of reasonably open grassland. We also found the boomerang we bought for my son when we were last in Australia, a couple of years ago now, which we'd never actually thrown. Boomerangs require a lot of room to throw, more than you might think. Like a good-sized Baseball diamond area, and of course no trees. This park had trees but also had a large enough grassy area that I thought we could get away with throwing the boomerang, assuming there were no people around. The park does have swings and a jungle gym but they're both set off to one side so the large grassy area is usually fairly free of bodies. And with the park being on a slight hill it's not conducive to soccer or other ball games, so we had our open, body-free area.

The boy couldn't get the hang of flicking the boomerang as he threw it so instead of spinning through the air it fluttered around a bit then fell to the ground about 20-30 feet away. Meanwhile, I was trying not to throw the boomerang too high or too hard, because there were several large trees surrounding the grassland and I didn't want the boomerang to end up in one of them. So the boy's throws landed 20-30 feet in front of us, while my throws left the boomerang with insufficient altitude to complete its arc and make the return trip, requiring us to walk to the other side of the park to resume our throwing. There I'd let the boy make several fluttering throws, then I'd launch the boomerang only to see it fall to earth and back to the other side we'd go.

After several throws and near misses with trees the inevitable inevitably happened.

No. Nobody got clocked by the boomerang. After one of my slightly more exuberant throws the boomerang flew into a tree...and didn't come down.

Being on the other side of the park meant that while we knew which tree the boomerang had entered, we weren't sure which set of branches was holding it prisoner, and so the wife found us staring up into the tree, walking back and forth, trying to spot a brown boomerang among brown branches. We did eventually find it but that was only half the battle; We still had to get it back down.

Fortunately there was a large, softball-sized rock near the base of the tree (a very out-of-place rock. I'm not even sure why it was there, but it was, and it served our purpose well) and I began making underarm lobs which initially didn't go high enough (it was a heavy rock, okay?) then didn't strike the right branches, then hit the right ones but still failed to dislodge the boomerang. A couple of kids playing nearby were watching with feigned disinterest, possibly hoping we'd give up and leave so they could try their luck. Finders keepers, right?

Had I been in Australia where a replacement boomerang was readily available I may have just done that and endured the tearful ride to the closest souvenir or toy shop (you can get cheap, plastic boomerangs in Aussie toy shops which are almost better than the real thing. NERF™ boomerangs. I'm just saying.) But we were in suburban Los Angeles and boomerangs are hard to come by here so the rock went up and the rock came down and then it went back up again. Until finally it came back down and the boomerang came down with it, and Dad got to be the hero in his son's eyes for one more afternoon.

He's 9 years old and waking up to the way the world really is, the magic is fading and Santa's sleigh bell doesn't ring for him anymore. As the years pass by and my strength fades those heroic acts will become fewer and further between, but for now, a rock thrown into a tree still does the trick. For now.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wisdom from a bear of little brain

"What's this you're writing?" asked Pooh, climbing onto the writing table.

"The Tao of Pooh," I replied.

"The how of Pooh?" asked Pooh, smudging one of the words I had just written.

"The Tao of Pooh," I replied, poking his paw away with my pencil.

"It seems more like the ow! of Pooh," replied Pooh, rubbing his paw.

"Well, it's not," I replied huffily.

"What's it about?" asked Pooh, leaning forward and smearing another word.

"It's about how to stay happy and calm under all circumstances!" I yelled.

"Have you read it?" asked Pooh.

From The Tao of Pooh, by Benjamin Hoff.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ahh, sweet Irony.

During a recent job action I signed up to receive informational emails to keep me abreast of what was going on. As is the way of these things a double-agent got hold of the list with the result that both parties were sending propaganda back & forth. Some folks got rather vocal, belligerent even, and the emails went from informative to vindictive...and everyone always hit Reply All.

After this morning's latest round of arguments and name calling I'd finally had enough. I sent out an email of my own saying I didn't think name calling was helping either side, and that as professionals we needed to follow email etiquette, think about what we were sending, and whether it was really necessary to Reply All.

Then I requested I be taken off the list. Yes, via Reply All, as there was no other way to ubsubscribe.

Shortly afterwards I got a reply, as did everyone else on the List, because true to form my respondent felt compelled to hit Reply All when she wrote: "There's always the Delete button and the Spam filter!"

Good advice, I thought, as I deleted her from my address book and marked her email as "Spam" :P

Sunday, July 12, 2009

DDO - first impressions (count)

I downloaded the Trial and had a play with DDO this weekend.

*EDIT - I rolled another Ranger last night and played through the first couple of Instances again, so there will be a couple of Edits to this post*

The character creator was pretty good. I liked how the classes were broken up into Melee, Ranged, & Specialist first, then you chose your individual class, and each step showed you how well that class could be expected to perform on its own or whether it had more of a group role. Naturally I decided to go with a ranged class and decided upon the Ranger, a Human Ranger to be precise (no, not a Dwarf ;) because I felt it fit the lore of the Ranger better (and I didn't want to be an Elf). Interesting was that the Ranger class was available to every Race in DDO. Even Gnomes and an odd-looking Race of Ben Grimm-type creatures called the Warforged could be Rangers.

The Tutorial section is a single-player mini-dungeon that gets you used to controlling your character, opening doors, throwing switches, etc, including climbing ladders. I really liked that ladder graphics lined up with my climbing animation so my avatar actually appeared to grip and use the rungs, as opposed to just climbing a texture on a wall.

Combat can be initiated by enabling Auto-attack (via a Hotkey) then moving into range, or right-clicking the Mouse to manually swing/fire your weapon. But while my Ranger had a couple of different special attacks I found myself relying on Right-Clicking rather than using my Hotkeys and specials. As right-clicking actually initiated a swing (or fired an arrow) it just felt more like I was actually doing something than when you simply press buttons, and as most Mobs died after just one or two hits I didn't use or even miss my "Trip" and "Sunder" skills.
*EDIT - I tried using my Trip & Sunder skills and didn't notice any additional animation. Trip seemed to work occasionally when Mobs would fall flat on their back, but that was the only way I knew I'd actually performed the Trip attack *

I remember reading another review of DDO where the writer mentioned feeling like they were being "rushed" through the Instance, and I definitely got this feeling in the tutorial dungeon because I had the support of three NPCs who would frequently run ahead. Not because they were faster than my character, but because running just seemed faster than in WoW, so when they ran off down the corridor they quickly left me behind. Then again, it's likely that an inexperienced player in WoW would have a similar feeling being run through a low level Instance by an 80.

At the end of the tutorial dungeon I was offered a choice of various quest rewards, and it was nice to see a good variety of items from which to choose. I'm sure every class had something they could use. And instant "shiny" gratification was achieved when the Rapier I selected came with a Fiery enchant as did, I think, all of the weapons. This enchant didn't just make my blade glow red but actually wreathed the blade with flame. It was pretty cool, and a great way to give a new player an awesome looking weapon almost right from the start.

Somewhere along the way I'd also picked up a Bow, and being a Ranger I decided to put it to the test. In the tutorial dungeon I didn't have much chance to do that as my NPC party made short work of most of the Mobs. *EDIT - Actually it appears I got the Bow at the end of the Tutorial, along with my Fiery Rapier* It was when I entered the next instance that I got the opportunity to test fire my new Bow, and archery worked quite well. Like swinging a sword you can either Tab-target or left click to select a Mob, then Right-Click to fire your bow. Being in the depths of a Dungeon if there was a maximum range to my bow I wasn't aware of it. If I could see a Skeleton in the distance I could shoot it, and here Ranged Combat seemed a little overpowered. Almost all of these starting level Mobs went down after just one shot. Some needed two but most went down in one.

Entering this first Instance I'd been presented with a choice of Difficulty, from Solo, through Normal, Hard, etc. I did it on Solo and had no problem completing the Instance, especially once I worked out how to Hotkey my Rapier and Bow to allow for quick weapon changes - there's probably something allowing you to do this without hotkeying the individual weapons, but it wasn't immediately obvious to me. Even when I re-entered the Instance on Normal difficulty (which I assumed was meant for a group, as opposed to Solo) I still had no problems with any of the Mobs. If they didn't fall to my arrows it was a simple matter of switching to my Rapier to finish them off in melee.

I guess it comes down to which you prefer. Shooting a Mob 2 to 3 times as it closes to Melee, then taking 3 to 4 whacks with your axe to finish it off? Or shooting it once (or twice) then finishing it with a blow from your sword?

So combat was realistic and satisfying (if over a little too quickly), the game itself looked good, and the couple of times I took a dip my character swam "freestyle" in a very realistic fashion. *EDIT - I remember liking the way my Hobbit in LOTRO swam, also "freestyle" but his running animation was off. DDO's animations a lot better *

What was not so satisfying was leveling, or XP per se. In traditional D&D fashion you do NOT get XP from killing Mobs. There is no grinding here. Instead you get XP from completing Instances and the quests associated with them. After completing the first Instance (not the tutorial, but the first Solo-Instance) I noticed I was a couple hundred XP short of level 2. Completing this Instance directed me (in true MMO fashion) to another NPC who directed me to talk to yet one more NPC, who had a quest for me, which sent me into someone's cellar (another Mini-Instance). Completing this second Instance and quest gave me the XP I needed to level, but I didn't level right away (or didn't appear to), which again is true to D&D leveling. You don't level in the dungeon, you only level when you return to town to "train".

Back in town I found my Ranger Trainer but when I spoke to her about leveling I got the equivalent of assigning two Talent Points to level two Skills (ok, so maybe by the time I found her I'd "leveled" twice ;), and that was it. No flash of light. No "Ding!" Nothing. Just "click to assign a Skill Point". Ok, cool. Thanks for coming. See you next time.

That was it? I just leveled...didn't I?

So yes, I had a Flaming Rapier and a nice leather vest (among other pieces of armor), but there was no real sense of accomplishment with leveling, in fact it was almost rather anti-climactic. Perhaps having access to the manual may have explained the leveling process a little more. Yes, I do RTFM, TYVM, but as the client was 100% downloadable I would expect the manual not be required reading for something as basic as leveling.
*EDIT - You can download the Manual here. In PDF format, it's just 50 pages long. Not as bad as I thought. And...I just discovered I did not Level, per se. From page 49 of the Manual comes this: "Each Level has 5 Ranks, from 0 through 4." So I gained enough XP to go up a couple of Ranks, but I was still Level 1. *

I still have 5 days left in my 10-day trial, and there's a good chance that when it expires, I'll probably create another trial to check the game out further. And maybe if I can find a copy of DDO in Walmart or Target somewhere for cheap, just maybe, I might buy it. Especially if it's going F2P in August.

Friday, July 10, 2009

DDO: Eberron Unlimited to go F2P

Press Release (July 8, 2009): Turbine, Inc. announced today Dungeons & Dragons Online®: Eberron Unlimited™, a free digital upgrade for Dungeons & Dragons Online®: Stormreach™, will launch on August 4, 2009 in North America. DDO Unlimited will raise the level cap, introduce a new player class and add major new content, as well as make the game free to play for everyone.

Considering you can download the DDO: Stormreach™ client for free (with a 10-day Trial), would this imply that you could upgrade your Trial account to an Eberron™ account, for free? Or is it more likely that you'll still need to purchase a retail copy of Stormreach™ to get the free upgrade?

Enquiring minds want to know (although I know which is most likely).

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Nightmares

It's funny how as an adult & a parent your nightmares can differ greatly from that of a young child.

I had two bad dreams last night, neither of which should have been particularly scary but for me, they were.

In the first "nightmare" my wife and I were at a party. I was sitting on one side of the room while my wife was sitting on the other next to one of my coworkers, when my wife approached me and told me she was leaving.

"Okay," I replied, "I'll come home as well."

"Oh, I'm not going home," my wife told me, "I'm just not staying here." And she left the party with my coworker.

In the second "nightmare" my family had fallen on hard times and we'd had to move, which meant pulling my son out of his current school and enrolling him in a new school in our new neighborhood. My son's current RL school is a very good school; his new school in my dream was not, and could best be described as (I think) a stereotypical "inner-city school". We walked my son to his new school and classroom where we watched his teacher introduce him to the class, then, as he took his seat, the door on the other side of the classroom opened and four students walked in. All were dressed in identical clothes and exhibited an attitude that screamed "street gang". I walked away, fearful for both my son and his education.