Wednesday, November 30, 2011

At least I'm not alone - problems transitioning from Bad Company 2 to Battlefield 3

It was nice to find this Battlefield 3 video on Youtube where a player, Aethyal, describes his challenges with transitioning from Bad Company 2 to Battlefield 3.  Aethyal is having almost the exact same issues that I am having coming from BC2.  In BC2 I always felt that I was helping my team and that I was a decent player. In BF3 I feel that I am constantly hurting my team and being an overall liability. 



Aethyal makes a couple good points.  One, his run and gun play style from BC2 doesn't work in BF3 due to the map designs.  Two, the differences in weapons is flip flopped between the two games. 

The run and gun play style worked in BC2 because the maps were well designed and as I've mentioned in other posts, BC2 maps were designed mostly as Rush maps which is meant to be run and gun.  BF3 features maps designed mainly for Conquest game play with more open areas.  Add onto the openness of BF3 maps the fact that there is a ton of enviromental noise (sun glare, smoke, fog, dust, fire, etc.) and Aethyal's point about being unable to "clear" an area before moving on makes complete sense. Players are more likely to die in BF3 to an enemy they never see than in BC2, therefore more tactical game play is required with some brute force to clear the bottlenecks.  Flanking is also more viable in BF3 due to having multiple routes on most maps to get around the enemy, but at the same time this is a negative as defense gets invariably harder with such map design.

The second point Aethyl makes about guns in BF3 may have shed some light on my own transitional problems between the games.  I had been using BF3 weapons as I had in BC2: in short controlled bursts which to my mind should be more accurate.  However, BF3 was designed so that anytime a new burst of fire is initiated the recoil is very significant.  Once the the initial recoil is over, the weapon's accuracy is controlled much easier during the burst (aka the first shots are off target due to recoil, but the following shots are easier to keep on target as recoil is automatically accounted for during the burst).  So in my BC2 style where I am using repeated short bursts I am being penalized with massive recoil on each new burst and am far less accurate because of it.  I will have to see if I can adjust my brain to use sustained burst firing from now on and see if it improves my play.  Or conversely use the weapons that have single shot settings and not rely on any burst at all.

BF3 is the first game where after the first 30 hours I'm just not getting it and feel like I'm regressing more than progressing in my skill level.  I have learned the maps (aside from Metro which I pretty much refuse to play) and game modes.  I have done everything I know to do to be better at the game and it just doesn't seem to be working,  And even in matches where I focus on objectives I don't feel I'm being successful as I can't defend reliably.  It's really frustrating to me that I haven't gotten better aside from when I equip an IRNV scope or spam mortars on unsuspecting campers.  Even then, I am not breaking even on the K:D ratio and I don't even really care about K:D in Battlefield games!  However, it's clear that the guy giving up three deaths to every kill is really hurting the team and sad to say, I'm that guy right now.

Fortunately, there are vehicles.  There are med packs and defibs.  There are supply crates and land mines.  There are other things I can do to try and help my teams in Battlefield 3.  The question is whether I can pick up the rest of my game so I can do more of that instead of waiting for my respawn.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The New Jungle - League of Legends patch 11/29

Riot Games updated League of Legends today with controversial changes to the "jungle".  For the uninformed, the jungle in LoL is a series of neutral monsters that players can kill to gain experience, gold, and buffs during a match.  It is an optional path, but in competitive play there is almost always guaranteed to be a "jungler" on the team clearing the jungle.

Some really good information has been coming out now that the patch is a few hours old.  First up is a numbers post on Reddit covering the new respawn times and camp values based on time of clearing during the match.  They are not set in stone yet, so check back for updates (the Reddit LoL community is great for fast digestion of patch changes FYI).

Prior to this patch, jungling required choosing one of the few jungling champions and a specific set of masteries, runes, and summoner spells.  In this patch the jungle was made "easier" in the aspect that the monsters are now a bit easier to kill and are less likely to be able to kill the player.  However, killing brain dead monsters wasn't exactly a challenge to begin with so saying it got easier is more in regards to the fact that far more champions with more diverse builds can now jungle successfully (instead of just as a joke).

Maokai has been a recent jungle star even prior to the patch due to some play by some top LoL players, so he is a good champ to show off some footage of the new jungle.  If you are not a hardcore LoL player, you may not notice any difference in this footage from the old jungler.  However, the differences are there as Maokai comes away with a very fast and efficient jungle run before emerging with level 4 after clearing the camps.



The new jungle is just the tip of the iceberg for this patch. Many other balance changes came down the pipeline aimed at making the early part of classic LoL games more aggressive in nature which should speed up games and make it a better spectator sport.

Personally I have been playing a lot of Dominion (a different game mode without a jungle). Dominion has faster games and focuses more on champion vs champion combat on a capture the point map. I like the faster game times and the more aggressive play. If this patch cuts down the average game length and increases the action in classic LoL, then I will probably return for some normal solo queue action.

Anyone else have thoughts on the new jungle? On the patch? Share in the comments.

Are CCP and EVE Online back on track?

There is no doubt that EVE Online’s biggest crutch has been its own developers; CCP.  First it was CCP employees giving unfair advantages and preferential treatment to certain in game corporations (aka guilds/clans).  Next it was the micro-transaction debacle and the community unanimously agreeing that CCP was being greedy.  The core community around EVE was starting to crumble and CCPs only answers seemed to be projects completely unrelated to the core of what made EVE tick (Dust 514, virtual monocles, other games like World of Darkness).
This culminated in CCP finally realizing they were overextended as a company.  So they shut down a studio and fired a bunch of people.  They also figured out that it was about time they started to focus on the core of EVE Online before continuing with any of the peripheral nonsense that had gotten them in so much trouble as a company.  The direct result of that refocus is the Crucible expansion.
With the Crucible expansion CCP is returning to the basics of EVE, such as introducing new ships, squashing bugs, and improving the “it’s more like a spreadsheet than a game” user interface.  And that is just a brief overview of what is getting worked on with Crucible.  CCP appears to be digging down deep to work on many of the long-standing, yet minor issues that have plagued the game while at the same time taking a hard look at polishing things such as starbase management and fleet vs fleet engagements.  Graphical flair through engine trails and updated space backgrounds are also featured.
Most important to note is that nothing is mentioned about virtual monocles, console FPS spin offs, or Iceland’s volcanic history.  Crucible is aimed 100% at the core of EVE Online and CCP is selling this as redemption for their past missteps. 
Reading over the notes and feature set for Crucible I can only draw the conclusion that CCP is committed to getting EVE Online back on track.  There are several excellent improvements going into the game with Crucible, some that should have been fixed long ago (like the damn UI font).  I’m sincerely hoping CCP has learned their lessons and they will take better care of EVE Online going forward.
EVE is still the MMO that I’ve always wanted to play and these are the type of changes that will continue to interest players like me.  Unfortunately, I can’t justify a monthly subscription for an MMO with my very limited play time.  Also, I’ve already experienced the gambit EVE has to offer: massive warfare, getting ganked, “rat”ting, and watching your corp implode as the corp leader robs the coffers bare.  Someday I hope I can return and just be a lonely jackass pirate ganking newbs two jumps outside of Jita.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Battlefield 3 is a step back


Battlefield 3 is probably the last new game I will ever buy. The game was not ready to be launched and it is clear that EA and DICE only launched to beat Modern Warfare 3 to the market. If anything, I should have waited for the Black Friday $30 sale. Battlefield 3 is NOT worth $60. While Battlefield 3 is a definite step back for the Battlefield series, it will still be a solid installment once they patch in the rest of the game and fix the glaring WTF balance issues (IRNV anyone?).

Battlefield 3 is a perfectly serviceable game at this point. It runs well for everyone I play with and aside from the initial rubber-banding issue on 64-player servers, I have no technical complaints about the game. The graphics are beautiful, even on low settings, and it plays smoothly. Graphic card manufacturers have been very responsive with BF3 specific drivers.

So if there aren’t any technical disasters, then why would I say the game was not ready to be launched? BF3 is one of the rare games that launches on a solid platform (Frostbite 2) from an experienced team (DICE), but is missing that extra layer of polish and features that could separate it from other titles on the market. On top of this, there are previous Battlefield games that, in my opinion, have far better feature sets. In fact, I’ll reiterate; Battlefield 3 at launch is a step back for the Battlefield series as a whole.

The biggest glaring problem for Battlefield 3 is one of UI design. This is ironic considering that the one thing Battlefield 3 did fix for the series is that of a functional server browser. Some may not like Battle Log, but the truth is that Battle Log is the best server browser to be featured in any Battlefield game. However, the actual in-game UI is terrible and only now with the first patch is it even approaching being useable.

At launch, squad management within the UI was impossible and even after the first patch fixed some of the problems, there is still massive room for improvement. It is entirely possible for a player to be locked out of joining a squad if all the squads get locked to private with less than four players (the max squad size). There is exactly enough squads and spots to accommodate 64 players. On a full server if a squad locks itself private with only two players, two players will not be able to join a squad on that server. I don’t have to state how dumb that UI limitation is. The ability to create an unlimited number of custom squads needs to be added.

The lack of in-game voice further destroys the squad aspect of the game, especially when the in-game chat UI is unusable. The chat window is too big, with no control of text size or font, and features the new and annoying “glowing” text that DICE seems to love. Both of these combine to limit on-the-fly squad creation.
Missing from the game as well is the role of a commander, a prominent feature from Battlefield 2 that set the Battlefield series apart in the FPS genre. In BF2, a single player could take on the role of commander and survey the entire battlefield setting up UAV drones to spot enemies, issue artillery strikes, give squads attack/defend orders, and in general provide that strategic organization so badly needed in a Battlefield game.
BF3 isn’t remiss on the “key components” of the commander role as they have shifted the features into various aspects. Squad leaders can issue attack and defend orders. Any player can spot enemy players (press Q more pls). Artillery strikes are replaced by the mortar of the Supply class. The Supply class can drop ammo boxes to resupply players.

Even though almost all of the functions of the commander role are present, the biggest and most important aspect is missing: organization. There is nothing that ties all the squads and battlefield assets together. Without a commander, the battlefield doesn’t live up to much more than a sparsely connected series of firefights.
To harp on the UI’s last fatal flaw I want to point out how damn impossible the mini-map is to read. Again, DICE chooses to use the glowing neon lines and glowing text that they are so fond of. It’s distracting and annoying; especially considering the map is a blue/black/white satellite image of the map. Other than checking for spotted enemies, the map is worthless leading to the final nail in the organized battlefield coffin.

The UI was the first and biggest step back, but there are a couple other things that equally upset me about the game. The destruction is dialed back significantly from that of Bad Company 2. Mostly, it is a problem of map design. The maps are meant to be larger, but also more “iconic”. And by iconic I mean they feature set pieces which clearly aren’t meant to be destroyed such as large communication antennas, shipping crates, gas stations, refinery pipes, etc. This results in a very confusing play experience where in some instances a tank shell will crumble a wall and in the next instance the tank shell can’t even penetrate a flimsy tin shed. Or the hilarity that ensues when a tank is stopped by a dreaded indestructible light post. The “most destruction ever” bullet point on the box for BF3 is a complete and utter lie.

The destruction is only part of the issue with the maps. BF3 features some truly atrocious maps. Operation Metro is hands down the worst Battlefield map ever designed. It takes out everything that makes a Battlefield game Battlefield and replaces it with a corridor shooter. Caspian Border is a lesson in running and running and running as too few land vehicles spawn and only seem to spawn back at the bases which are located much too far away from the fight. Nashar Canals features a stationary anti-air turret that dominates a third of the map and resides on an almost unreachable ship anchored off the shore. I could go on and on about the maps, but I won’t. Hopefully the Back to Karkand mini-expansion and it’s updated Battlefield 2 maps will bring back some sanity to BF3 maps.

There are also other things missing or altered for BF3. There is no battle recorder which was one of Battlefield 2’s best features. Fun tools like the grappling hook and zip lines of BF2:Special Forces are gone. Night vision is plugged into a scope with infrared (aka IRNV) which is pretty much equivalent to a wall hack. Night vision, as implemented in Special Forces was a much better way to go. There are no custom squad settings. In-game voice is missing.

BF3 should have been a combination of Bad Company 2 and Battlefield 2. Instead BF3 is a crappier version of BC2 that happens to have planes on some of the maps. With all of this said, I still will play the game for a good bit. It is, at its core, a Battlefield game and while some aspects are lacking, it still delivers that Battlefield experience. At the end of the day I rank BF3 in last place on my list of played BF titles, which isn’t too bad considering every BF game has been good to me.

My list:

1. Battlefield 2
2. Battlefield 1942
3. Battlefield: Bad Company 2
4. Battlefield Heroes
5. Battlefield 3

Cyber Monday Gaming Deals

Amazon.com

Rotating hourly lightning deals in gaming (varies based on time, check in often)

Steam

Last day to cash in on the Steam sale!

Friday, November 25, 2011

TIP: How to move Steam games to another drive in Windows 7/Vista/XP

One of the quirks with Steam is that it only allows users to install games to the same drive that Steam resides on.  For many, that is their main C: drive, which often fills up quickly.  This tool, the SteamTool Library Management will automate the process.

Or for those wishing to do it the old manual way, I will detail the process used to move 3rd party games to another drive.  This will be for Windows 7 and Vista (Windows XP users click here).

Black Friday Gaming Deals #blackfriday

Amazon.com

At Least 50% Off Over 150 Great Games
Rotating hourly/daily deals in gaming (varies based on time, check in often)
PC game specific deals


Steam

Check each day for new sales.  Recommended that you only buy games on the daily deal and then on the last day if they never come up on the daily deal.

Reddit post detailing hidden Steam deals that are overshadowed by the daily deals.


League of Legends

Sign up to play for free
League of Legends boxed bundle
Champion skins that will be on sale

Sasquatch Nunu
Nottingham Ezreal
Blacksmith Poppy
Masquerade Evelynn
Scuba Gragas
Spectacular Sivir
Mr. Mundoverse
Toxic Dr. Mundo
Swamp Master Kennen
Hextech Sion
Yellow Jacket Shen
Red Riding Annie
Leopard Nidalee
Dragon Knight Mordekaiser
Sonoran Kog'Maw
Kingpin Twitch
Professor Ryze
Shamrock Malphite
Highland Tryndamere
Pharaoh Amumu
Badger Teemo

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

DC Universe Online Revenue Up 700% due to Free 2 Play

Another game gone Free 2 Play (F2P) and another success story.  This time it was DC Universe Online from Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) and the success was a 700% increase in revenue for the game.  So it's no surprise that they are also launching their other titles such as Everquest 2 into the F2P atmosphere.  With my SOE hate somewhat in my past, I may have to give DCUO a try now.  It is on Steam after all :)

Full article on the revenue increase can be found here: LINK.

Battlefield 3 Patch Notes and Commentary

Battlefield 3 will be getting a patch today (how nice of them to get me a birthday present).  The details of the patch can be found on battle log.  Browsing through the notes I think there are some definitive steps being taken in the right direction for the game.

First (but last in the notes) are the changes to squad management.  Squad management as it is currently is a nightmare.  Trying to play with friends in the same squad is a lesson in frustration.  The patch has several tweaks that will help squads be easier to join.  Most importantly players can now join an empty squad which will make it much easier to get everyone into the same squad.  This was not possible prior to this change.

My only disappointment with the squad UI and management changes is the fact they still are NOT adding the ability to have more squads available.  If a squad is made private on a 64 player server, and the four slots are not filled, then players get stuck without being able to join a squad.  This is a glaring bug that should be fixed.  I'm a bit scared by the quote in the notes that they aren't planning on fixing this oversight:

Please note that the Squad Privacy option still allows 2 man Squads which, during 64 player sessions, can lead to players with no squad position

The next big change is that to infantry anti-air (AA) weapons which got nerfed in damage.  Personally this one didn't make much sense to me.  Most pilots have flares and stealth, almost eliminating the threat from ground AA almost 100% of the time.  The better helicopter pilots in particular will have two sets of flares and be able to navigate the map via stealth to guarantee they can't be locked on.

The AA change really confuses me. I don't know if DICE wants infantry to be able to bring down aircraft or if they have the same silly ideas that they had with Battlefield 2 where aircraft reign supreme on the maps.  Small arms fire doesn't harm the aircraft.  Nor does fire from a jeep-mounted weapon.  The only viable way I've seen to take down any aircraft is with an aircraft of your own.  Even tanks struggle to take down aircraft and aircraft can easily destroy any tank in a single salvo of their unlimited rocket ammo.   DICE just sucks at implementing aircraft in their modern day titles.  Battlefield 1943 seems to be the only game that has gotten aircraft right.

A lot of weapon damage got tweaked as well.  This is nice to see to bring some of the more popular weapons back in line with the rest of them.  However, I still feel BF3 has very little variation in weapons.  There is almost no reason to use most of the new weapons that are unlocked as they function nearly identical to a player's current weapon.

One big fix on the hardware glitch side for me will be "Fixed a problem with high speed mouse movement" as I recently changed mice and often find myself having to dial down my mouse sensitivity and DPI on the fly in order for me to make small movements with the mouse.  It really feels like my mouse is just stuck at times, unable to make anything but a huge sweeping arc instead of the pinpoint nudge I need to put bullets on target.

Overall this patch will be good for the game, but Battlefield 3 has a long way to go and a good couple of expansion packs to become a worthy contender for best Battlefield game.  Currently I would probably put Battlefield 3 as the fourth best Battlefield title I've played, which isn't bad considering I hold the entire series in high regard.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Civilization MMO? Not from Sid Meier? What?

News has hit the net that XLGaming will be making a Civilization MMO.  XLGaming?  Where is Sid Meier?
Get ready, Civilization fans, as your favorite franchise is heading to MMO-land (and no, we're not talking about the Civ World Facebook game). A couple of months ago we told you about XLGames' partnership with Take-Two Interactive, as well as the fact that XL would be making an existing Take-Two property into an MMORPG. 
This morning, various Asian gaming websites confirmed that said property is the venerable Civilizationseries that began way back in 1991. Details on the new game are sparse, but Google Translate versions of the news articles indicate that XL has begun "large-scale recruitment of MMORPG developers [...] including server [programmers], client programmers, artists, planners, project managers, story designers, [and] mission designers." 
Prior to its involvement with the Civilization franchise, XLGames was known exclusively for ArcheAge, a fantasy sandbox MMO that is currently undergoing closed beta testing in Korea.
I can't imagine this turning out well.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

NaNo WriMo Day 14, 15, & 16: Pain

Yes, I am three days behind, but its all good :P

Chapter 14:  Pain

Gurley opened his eyes.  He was still alive.  At least he felt alive.  The old man’s face still burned in the back of his mind.  Shrake was not a man soon forgotten.  

Shrake had bragged to him how he counted success in limbs and appendages.  First with the fingers, then the hand itself.  Then the arm.  Most victims of Shrake and his Krakens did not make it to the arm, giving in once their hand had been removed piece by bloody piece.  Gurley had been lucky.  They started with his busted leg before going to his fingers.  Gurley figured that keeping him alive was of more importance than making him talk.  

Odd concoctions had kept him from passing out during the entire ordeal.  Sticks in his eyelids had forced him to watch the entirety of the event.  Pain was not descriptive enough for the torture of watching one’s own limb being removed.  Yet, the Krakens worked fast on the leg and once the stub had been bandaged and a poultice applied, Gurley seemingly felt better.  He actually felt good.  That is, until they started on his right hand’s middle finger.

Gurley had wondered if the entire castle could hear his screaming.  Shrake’s hooded bastards were more than willing to let his torturous ramblings filter out.  Warnings to the rest of the captives.  Were there captives?  Gurley had been in a feverish state when the castle was taken, so he was not sure of much aside from the fact the Thunderer now held the castle.

The flaying continued through a grizzly procession from finger to finger.  Gurley didn’t talk.  Pain combined with secrets hidden deep within Gurley to create a euphoria which permitted a mental escape.  Gurley took little satisfaction in the fact Orten was feeling all of this.  It was probably driving him crazy, wherever he was, and no doubt he was cursing Gurley’s name with every painful step he took.  

Gurley laughed at the idea that this would continue until the Krakens had removed the last bit of his skin and sent him into the underworld.  Orten would not be pleased with such a turn.  Not at all.  These bastards know nothing of what they were awakening. The thought comforted Gurley.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, Gurley really couldn’t decide, the Krakens stopped after the last finger detached from his right hand.  They left the thumb.  With each cut had come another question, met with the euphoric silence that had entrenched itself upon Gurley.  Was Shrake irritated?  It was hard to tell, but Gurley figured not many were able to not talk to Shrake.  The satisfaction sat like a cask of ale in Gurley’s gut, warming him on the thought of what awaited him when he awoke again.

However, in his dream-like state fear had started to creep upon Gurley.  His bandaged stub of a leg and the neat wrappings being dressed unto his hand were too well done.  The torture was excruciating, but it had stopped.  Sharke may have been irritated at the silence, but he hadn’t really shown it.  Then the realization caught up with Gurley.  This wasn’t for him.  It was for Orten.

***

The small skiff beached itself as the wave crashed onto the beach of the small island.  The storm had visibly weakened in the glances Orten had caught as he slipped in and out of consciousness.  The moon lit the area enough for Orten to drag himself out of the skiff and make his way into a cluster of trees.  His right hand throbbed as he clutched it to his chest.  He laid his head back and breathed a deep breath.  A burst of fire leaped from his chest and shadows danced down the beach.  Rain sizzled as it clattered off Orten’s skin.  He slipped back into the blackness with the thought of freedom ringing in his ears.  When day broke, it would be glorious.  The Flamerunner awakes.

***

Enlil had begun tracking time based on the meals served him and the shifting of the guards outside his door.   It was mid day when the washer boys brought by his cleaned doublet and captain’s vest.  To his surprise, his feathered officer’s cap was also returned.  He had not hesitated to change into the clean change of clothes.  The comfort was immediate.  If only he had a blade to clean the scruff of beard that had grown about his face.

The hard rap of a knuckle on the door broke his moment of escape.  He put his feathered hat on the table and walked to the door.  The toothless grin of one of the guards stared in at him through the tiny window.  “Dress up Captain.  We like a good show for an execution.”

Word count: 13,835

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

NaNo WriMo Day 13: Revelations

Chapter 13: Revelations

The crimson star was emblazoned on the dirty white of his breastplate.  The guardsman stood alert and proud of his station.  Hard work and loyalty had earned his trusted place at the sides.  Loyalty that meant death if broken.  

His name was William, but as far as anyone knew he was You.  You there as fingers pointed.  You by the door as he stood by the door.  You seemed to fit him well.  He did not need a name.  William the guardsman was a silent, obedient man.

He had found himself situated inside the Thunderer’s main chambers this evening.  He knew this meant sensitive talk was going to be had.  Talk that only occurred in the confidence of trusted men.  Talk that also meant a chance of violence.  William had dressed the part; drab in understatement. He needed no ornament on the handle of his sword for the sharpened blade hiding within the sheath to do it’s business.  The daggers tucked in the small of his back stood backup.

It wasn’t long after he was positioned that the procession came in, lead by the women.  William took note of this.  It was unlike the Thunderer to play second fiddle.  William knew of the Fravashi, but had not had the privilege of meeting them.  Yet, there was no doubt who the women were.  They were followed, closely, by the Thunderer who took his customary seat at the head of the table.

Following the tall man came a shorter, older man covered draped and hidden within a blackened robe.  His demeanor was disconnected, uncaring.  William knew him well:  Shrake of the Krakens.  William did not care for his presence, but did not deny the value of the information he so often collected.  Still, the man disturbed him deeply.  Evil creature.

The next party to enter the room was that of an envoy from the King.  The crimson stars on bright white gave way to neatly cropped hair cuts and

The last group William did not know anything about, which meant he needed to find out everything in the short time it took them to get to their seats.  Their shorter height was the first clue they were not midlanders. Olive skin meant westerner, from the islands of the jade sea.  Odd dress-like garments covered their bodies, buttoned up the center with large wooden buttons.  Ornamental hair pieces adorned their hair, most with which appeared to collect in a hornlike structure at the back top of the head.  No visible weapons.  William didn’t relax.

A traditional meal of lamb and root vegetables was served.  Conversation flowed freely among the varied groups.  The foreigners spoke mixed dialect that stuck their home language of the island nation with that of the main lands.  The letter h seemed to present a challenge however.  William took note of this.  Either they had been on the main land for some time or they were attempting to play the part.

Midway through the meal, William noted one of the foreigners favoring a single side.  William did not let the alarm show in his face.  He waited for the shift in position to come with the guard opposite him.  As he crossed to the other side of the doorway, he discovered the reason for the favor.  The man’s hand appeared to be missing, replaced by a wad of bandages.  The wrappings looked fresh, possibly hiding something?  William didn’t venture to guess and stored the information in the forefront of his mind.

After the meal was finished, the envoy from the King did not wait to start addressing their concerns to the room at large.  They started in immediately with taxes from the new Alban holdings and provincial domain the Thunderer had taken on his travels down the eastern coast.  The Thunderer was visibly uninterested in the conversation, nodding agreeably with the majority of the statements.  

William noted Shrake peering out from his cavernous hood towards the foreigners.  At first it was little more than looks, but then William noted it moved to a savage monitoring.  William pieced it together when the man with the bandaged stump of an arm winced at Shrake’s stare.  William was disturbed by the revelation, but again showed no change in his stature or face.  

After the tax discussion ended, the King’s envoy excused itself from the table.  Their crimson clothes flowed out of the room, splitting the two guardsmen.  William counted their departure, four out the door.

The Thunderer broke the silence left by the envoy’s departure.  “Your boy there did a hell of a job.”  The Thunderer thumbed towards the man with the bandaged hand.  “Quite well considering the years he spent under the watch of good old Orten Ben Fareen here in this dump.  My apologies for his hand.”  The Thunderer paused as if waiting for acknowledgement of the apology.  He continued, “and of course for any disgraces from my men.  Clydas knew not of the arrangement and Shrake.  Well Shrake and the Krakens just do what is asked.”

The foreigners didn’t respond.  In turn they stood and bowed in the direction of the Thunderer and then again towards the Fravashi.  William counted off their paces to the door, thirteen.  He counted as the party left, four.  The Fravashi and Shrake remained with the Thunderer.

Once the door swung closed and the footsteps faded into the far hall, the six women spoke as one.  “The Flamerunner comes.”  The Thunderer eyed the women and then Shrake.  A nod from Shrake confirmed the statement.  “Let us make preparations then.  I suppose he will want that brother of his back.  Shrake I do hope your lovely boys left him in one piece.”

Word count: 13,038

Monday, November 14, 2011

NaNo WriMo Day 12: Findings

Chapter 12: Findings

Thump, thump, thump.  The steady pounding of drums beat like the wings of a bird announcing the arrival of something.  Enlil did not care to guess at the identity of those arriving in the castle as the thumping echoed about the inner confines of his holding room.  His white doublet had been recently washed and felt brisk against his skin.  Leather chaps clung tightly to his legs.  Sandals replaced boots lost to the sucking sand of his prior prison on the beach.  He paced from wall to wall, thinking.

The Thunderer wanted something from him, something that was not apparent until after the successful siege of the castle.  At first Enlil had not caught onto this fact.  He awoke every day, groggier than the last.  His mouth would be parched dry as if he had spoken for hours.  Yet, he bared no recollection of any talking outside of a few crude jokes thrown at his gaolers.  

It was on the third day, or what he ascertained as the third day, that he discovered the powdery substance on his food.  Tact was taken to carefully place the substance where it mixed best with the liquids of the meal, clearly added after the meal had been prepared.  

On that third day some of the powder had managed to stay suspended; afloat on a pool of rendered fat among some chopped and roasted root vegetables.  Enlil opted not to partake of the vegetables that day and instead dumped them in a hidden alcove behind the high-backed chair.  

His keepers seemed none the wiser and when the Thunderer arrived that evening for questioning, the change was immediate as Enlil sat quietly opposite the taller man.  “You are very quiet this evening Captain,” the conversation had started.  The talk died quickly before the Thunderer saw himself out, whispering in the ear of one of the jailers on his way down the hall.  The door had swung shut before Enlil could make anything of the whispers.

The next day, Enlil hid his entire meal along with the previously discarded vegetables in a bundle of clothing passed to the washer boys.  However, that night when the Thunderer visited Enlil spoke openly.  Unsure of where previous conversations had wandered while he had been under the influence of the powdery substance, Enlil tried to be truthful enough to be believable.  It seemed to have worked as the pair discussed details about the Alban procedures at the camp, but the Thunderer clearly guided the conversation. Enlil felt that he filled in enough new information to deflect his ruse.

However, abruptly during the conversation, the  Thunderer announced he had business elsewhere and that “I will miss our conversations Captain.”  The door clicking shut behind the the man as he left sounded like the final hammer blow on the nail’s head of the coffin that was Enlil’s confinement.  Better here than the beach Enlil thought to himself.

Enlil ate his entire plate of food at each meal the next day.  On the next day he awoke clear headed and energetic.  It was clear the Thunderer had seen through his guise, but why not send the executioner to finish this?  Why spare him now after the treatment in the camp and on the beach?

Had he awoken with the grogginess associated with the powdery substance the thumping of the drums would have driven him mad.  His pacing continued from wall to wall, before he changed to the door and table.  The rhythmic flip flip of the sandals about his feet combined with the steady beat of the drums set his mind at ease.  

On a pass nearer the door he overheard the guards speaking.  On his first pass of the conversation he made out the word “women”.  The second pass revealed “dresses”.  By the third pass “storms” and “cursed” filtered through the small inset opening in upper half of the door.  This meant only one thing: the Fravashi had returned.

***

Clydas dragged Jacco down the steps by his tightly knit horn of hair.  Ornamental beads pattered in cascading hops down the stairs as the ornamental ties broke in the knot of hair.  The staircase had been found at the backside of Orten Fareen’s quarters, hidden cleanly behind the linen closet.  The biting sound of axe on wood sounded in the background as the men accompanying Clydas proceeded to disembowel the room.  Clydas was not pleased Jacco had chosen to hide this from him.

“Tis is all.”  Jacco pleaded with Clydas.  “I swear.” The whole situation had turned on Jacco. Gurley had not cooperated as he intended.  The man’s busted legs slowed had slowed him down.  Far to slow.  The siege was practically on the castle as they had arrived.  Jacco should have just killed the sorry excuse of a man right there and fled.  Yet, Jacco knew that would have been disastrous.  No, not disastrous.  It would have meant his death.  Better to let the foolish midlander that was so fond of being called the Thunderer meet the fate that lay at the hands of Gurley’s killer.

Jacco wondered if the Krakens had finished with Gurley yet as he eased himself into the corner nearest him.  He was careful to avoid putting weight on his right arm as his own time with the Krakens had left nothing but a knob of a wrist covered in bandages.  They were, if anything, thorough in their craft. He should have accepted the tainted food.

Jacco sighed a sigh of relief as Clydas lost interest in his misery in favor of the oaken drink casks lining the walls.  Stacked in rows three high, two deep, the entire room was filled with orderly rows.  Actually, he couldn’t quite believe it had been this many.  This was a lot to have been carried through that secret door in Orten’s room.  What was this stuff anyways?  It clearly wasn’t wine or ale.  Clydas was happy at the find, but Jacco knew it wasn’t the happiness of a drunkard.


Word count: 12,088

Amalur's class system is exactly like every other RPGs class system

I've commented before about Kingdom of Amular's very generic RPGness and I'm here once again to harp on this point.  They released their most recent developer interview explaining their Destiny (aka Class) system.  The video has a promising start with a developer talking about how they were getting away from the problems of most RPG class systems before promptly showing a video of an RPG class system that is like every other single class system in any RPG ever designed.  The small tweak they made is that your character is a blank slate to start, with no base class such as mage, rogue, warrior, etc.

This is all well in good, but Amalur needs to stop with the EA/Bioware "this game is SO different, but lets show a generic video that completely contradicts that" tactics and start promoting Amalur for what it is: another RPG, just like all other RPGs, but hopefully executed better.  The longer they spend introducing videos about how they are doing things differently, the longer it takes for me to figure out they are fibbing.  

Video below:

Friday, November 11, 2011

NaNo WriMo Day 11: Holding

Chapter 11: Holding

Enlil sprinted through the open field as arrows skipped along the ground behind him.  He was covered in a thin layer of dust, dulling the freshly oiled sheen on his leather armor. He reached the small stone wall and cleared it in a single jump.  The adrenaline surged through his body and his voice came alive as he spoke to the small group gathered in the grove.  “The bloody cunts.  They brought the entire clan.”  He leaned against a nearby fruit tree and worked on catching his breath.  

It had only taken two days of searching the rugged hills to find what they had thought to be the remnants of the long hidden hill tribe known as the Black Crows.  It was suspected they had been coming out of the hilltops and raiding among the foothills and plains.  Sure enough, here they were invading the simple farmlands of a rightful citizen of Alb.  However, remnants wasn’t a proper description.  Enlil had spotted an entire tribe traveling together; women, children, and warriors.  Many warriors.

Enlil’s party had worked its way back down from a pair of twin hill tops that the  locals had grown fond of calling the “humps”.  The farmstead had taken hold near the creek that split the hills.  The Alb farmer and his woman had been hospitable the first night.  The second he seemed irritated when he learned of the presence of the Black Crows.  

Had it been Enlil’s decision, he would had let the farmer be and set a hard ride for the camp, but it was not Enlil’s decision to make.  His feathered sergeant, Caedmon, had ordered the men to hold fast deep in the grove out of site.  Enlil suspected he meant to gather more on the Crows as they passed and favored a slower journey back to the main force instead of a frenzied escape with or without the farmer in tow.  

Unfortunately, it hadn’t taken long for the Black Crows to prove the plan folly.  On the morning of the third day, a shout had come from the farmhouse.  Caedmon had sent Enlil and another unfeathered soldier, Turin, to investigate.  The two found the farmer split open from ear to ear on the back store room’s floor.  Knocked over foodstuffs trailed out of the room mixed among bloody foot prints.  

Turin was the first to follow the trail and catch site of the thieves cresting the far hedge row, black feathers streaming from their hair.  Turin agreed to head back into the grove while Enlil surveyed the stone house for the farmer’s lady friend.  The scream had definitely been that of the farmer.  Either the woman was dead as well, hidden elsewhere in the house, or she was deaf.  

His and Turin’s entrance into the house meant that they had cleared the main dwelling.  All that remained was the stable outside the low stone wall of the orchard.  Enlil closed the distance between the two buildings quick and silent enough.  A peak through the closest door revealed nothing.  A pig waddled in the corner while the plow horses whinnied at his sudden presence.  Hens pecked the ground as they passed in and out underneath the rough wood doors.

Enlil did not care much for the mystery of the missing woman.  She may have been carried off in the night or played an excellent game of hide and seek.  Yet, he knew Caedmon would question him, so he figured a look into the pasture down was warranted.  It was through the hedge row, so he would most likely get a glimpse of the retreating thieves.

He approached the hedge row with caution as he trotted down the path at a slight jog.  The first arrow whizzed by before he could react.  The second nearly caught him in the groin.  By the third arrow Enlil had begun his retreat.  The thieves hadn’t meant to escape at all.  They were going back to advise of clearing the house.  A line of Black Crow warriors popped up like rodents from a city sewer as Enlil looked over his shoulder.

The distinctive whooping cry known to the eastlanders as an order for battle among the hill tribes chased Enlil as he ran.  More arrows loosed in his direction as he made the wall.

At first the thrill of the moment drove a smile across Enlil’s face, but as Caedmon appeared from the thicket of trees Enlil knew something was wrong.  The Crows had already sent scouts into the grove and the blood streaked across the sleeves of Caedmon’s white sergeants doublet spoke silent confirmation of the danger they faced.  

The hefty nature of the fruit trees provided a natural barrier preventing the threat of arrow fire throughout the grove.  Caedmon’s band worked it’s way along the rows back to their horses.  Having finished the scout in silence had given them enough of a head start to mount up and choose a route for escape.

As soon as the mounted men broke through the long gap in the stone wall the air buzzed to life.  Arrow fire cascaded from all directions as the Crows revealed themselves.  Horses screamed and threw riders.  Enlil found himself as the lone rider as he watched as Caedmon’s horse crumpled.   He spurred his mount and made for creek knowing the creekside hills were his lone chance.

Enlil had only enough time to look back once.  The Crow warriors descended upon the downed men in a frenzy.  The fight was over before it started with only Caedmon able to bear his sword long enough to trade blows one for one.  Enlil turned back forward concentrating on his flight.  He needed to get back to the Alban camp.  

Cold water splashed up from the creek and the clip-clop of the horse’s hooves thundered upon the stone of the creek bed.  Enlil was shocked to realize the horse was racing on without him.  Pain caught up with the sensation of water grabbing at his armor.  He struggled to get to his knees as dark spots began to obscure his vision.  The blackness consumed him and he toppled, limp-bodied into the creek.

Enlil awoke with a grogginess reserved for the worst of nights of drinking.  He shot up hoping to keep his head above water.  However, Enlil realized he was back in the dark room somewhere hidden within Castle Black.  Memories of his previous captivity amongst the Black Crows flooded his mind.  He did not much like being a prisoner, but at least it was not a new experience.

***

Orten slumped in the small fishing skiff, it’s small sail fighting the edge winds of the storm.  The pain ate into Orten from all directions.  A sleep came over him as smoke trailed the boat. The skiff cut a course northward and entered the storm.  The storm responded with a whipping of wind and the attack of rain.  The waves grew and crashed into the skiff, yet it held course powered by the vary winds that worked to destroy it.


Word count: 11070

Thursday, November 10, 2011

NaNo WriMo Day 10: Brother

Chapter 10: Brother

“I am not his brother.” Gurley’s tortured speech bounded around the dank cellar walls.  “He would not want you calling me that.”  Orten did not treat him like a brother.  There was no point in admitting brotherhood.

“You are of the same mother are you not?”  The obscured light and shadows cast by the stone restraints prevented Gurley from identifying his questioner.   

“You do not understand.”  Gurely protested.  The question had seemed odd.

“Oh I think I do.” The man slipped his gauntlet off.  The strike was harder than the previous, but at this point Gurley did not notice.  He lay limp, strung like a puppet from the stone pillars below the grate in the ceiling.  He could hear the click of boots on the floor above.

His captor motioned in the shadows.  “Splay him open until he talks.”  A crowd of hooded figures crowded into the cellar.  “Slowly.”  As the speaker passed out the door way torchlight lit his face just enough for Gurley to make out a smirk on the man’s face.

You fool. You will get nothing. Gurley prepared himself as the cold smoothness of a blade pressed against his inner thigh.

***

Orten hated the feeling.  He had hated it as much that day outside the jailers yard so many years ago as he did now.  Pain; it was not something he was accustomed to.  He grasped his leg as the sensation cut into him.  He cursed his mortal form taking no solace in it’s nearby end.  It only troubled him slightly as he thought it over.  His path was set.

“Mister you aww right?” the little boy asked snapping Orten back to the fact he was standing on the beach on the outskirts of a small fishing hovel.  Smoke clouded around him and flames spurted from every crevice of his body.  His clothing no longer disguised the effects of being so far away from the castle.

Not long at all now. “A boat.”  Orten coughed.  He watched as the little boy pointed towards a row of skiffs.  Smoke trailed as he cut his way across the beach.  Looking up the coastline, he hurried himself as the outer edge of the storm blackened.  

***

Enlil could hear the screaming from down the hall.  He wondered where Govad was.  Was he alive?  Were these his screams that tormented this night?  He did not have time to linger on the question as the pounding headache wracked him again.  Wincing in pain he slumped in the chair before bunching into a ball.  

“We can do this all night Captain.”  The Thunderer sat behind a simple wooden desk adorned at the corners with raised pillars.   The chair back reached just enough with matching pillars to exceed the height of the man sitting there.  He spoke again. “It is very simple.  What did the Wind Lords charge of you at this camp.”

“Again, nothing.”  Enlil did not lie.  “The camp was fake.  A show.  That is how it was when I arrived.”  Enlil found it easier to speak to the facts without the looming threat of violence standing next to him.  It was apparent the Thunderer had a different interrogative style and motive than that of Clydas.  Enlil could not help but feel like he was suddenly needed, as if some key was locked away in his knowledge.  The only problem was he didn’t know what it was and therefore could not leverage it.

A meal was brought in as Enlil covered the details of his siege and his attempt to cut off the cliff-side supply line.  This seemed to intrigue the Thunderer momentarily as he inquired about the details of what was pulled over the castle walls.  As far as Enlil’s recollection, it had always looked mundane, food crates and barrels of drink.  

Enlil continued into the downfall of the camp after the bloody siege.  He hadn’t really thought about the aftermath much.  The camp had fallen into chaos quickly.  Quicker than even he had imagined.  He began to piece together a picture bigger than what he had paid attention to at the time.  The more he spoke to the Thunderer, the more he found the signs of something greater at work.

First there had been the delayed influx of new recruits, shortly followed by the first late gold shipment.  Then there were the paymaster visits and wage cuts.  Then the supply shipments disappearing without word, communication break downs to the southern most Albian strongholds.  What he had first assumed was punishment for his poor judgement started to feel suspicious.  It was clear from the force that the Thunderer brought upon Castle Black that it was important.  Yet, not important enough for a force from the midlands to contain until now.  Enlil had assumed this was due to the proximity.  Alb was directly north of the land bridge that Castle Black sat upon.  It only made sense for the Wind Lords to pledge troops to the cause.

More details sprang to mind as Enlil spoke with the Thunderer.  The conversation turned towards the arrival of the Fravashi and his unfortunate treatment at their hands.  The Thunderer had seemed amused at the situation though, which disheartened Enlil slightly.  Chewing ate a piece of boned meat, Enlil spoke about the storm.

“I was knocked out as it passed, but the bloody thing was beyond spectacular when it first anchored.  It felt like we were surrounded by solid walls of gray.  No one dared pass through the storm initially.  It took a day or so for the men to realize the Fravashi were gone and for the storm to break enough for travel.”  Enlil quite enjoyed the fruits that abounded a bowl that had been set before him.  He sipped again at the reddish liquid in the goblet he had been given.

“That is good for now captain.  I am going to take my leave for the night.”  The departure of the Thunderer had almost saddened him.  Enlil had started to enjoy the talk, but that enjoyment was cut short as the headache returned.  He faded back into his chair as the door clanked shut.  The solid click of the lock echoed through the room as darkness crowded in.  At least Enlil wasn’t hungry.  The screams continued.

Word count: 9897
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