Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Pirate's Life For Me...

You know, the one real danger with video games, especially very immersive ones, is LOSING yourself in them!

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

I know, I know... It seems contradictory to why anyone would ever want to play games in the first place. We all know that people play the games they play to immerse themselves in this virtual world, often, to forget some of the crap going on in real life... Such as being unemployed, and getting countless rejection letters; or even having bad days at work, or in their personal lives.

I won't lie to you folks, I started honest to goodness GAMING when I was trying to heal the wounds of my divorce; something I did not ask for, but was saddled with nonetheless. Playing Star Wars Galaxies way back then allowed me to put myself in the world I loved, and forget about living in a crappy basement studio apartment, where if I would have died, no one would have found me for weeks. Through that game, I met so many new people who turned out to be real flesh and blood humans with emotions and needs (fancy that), and some of them are among my best friends to this day. That community of people almost literally kept me alive, just by being there for me, and engaging in virtual tasks in a fictitious universe that built real memories and lasting friendships. I cannot thank them enough, and they know who they are.

Over the years, gaming has supplanted art and music as my number one hobby. It may be argued that in some cases, writing as well, though the fact that I am finding time to write this blog should indicate not entirely. It's an addiction, to be sure, but one I am happy to have. In my eyes, it is far better for me than smoking, though I have yet to get rid of that addiction. I do, however, realize that I spend an extraordinary amount of time gaming... as evidenced by my Raptr account, and the number of "Elite" rankings I have amassed. Case in point: Assassin's Creed IV- Black Flag.

Good thing Cubans never look up... They won't find me here.

This game just came out on November 19th (the day after my birthday), and I got it on the 20th. Since then I have played 71 hours! Do you think I love this game? Haha.

Hmm, I wonder if this is from Sting?

I have never played any of the Assassin's Creed series of games before, but something about this one resonates with me. Maybe it is the pirate theme, or perhaps the fact that the story is well written, with a protagonist that feels believable to me. I have certainly gotten a kick seeing Kingston, Jamaica portrayed as the bustling colonial town it probably was back in those days. Oddly enough, the buildings still look similar today, from my understanding... well... in the older areas of town.

Sing that sea shanty again mates, this time with FEELING!

I think another good term for this game would be "Ship Simulator 3000". I have never played a game that actually allowed somewhat realistic LOOKING control over a water vehicle. As you may or may not know,  I am no stranger to simulators, having spent years in Microsoft Flight Simulator, in various versions. I will readily admit, I have never played a ship simulator at all... The closest I have come was building and piloting hovercraft in Second Life. All the same, Assassin's Creed has presented this to me in a way that feels comfortable, and a whole lot of just pure FUN! Watching your ship ride the crests and troughs of the Caribbean, and reacting to the doldrums or gale force winds, is that extra bit of icing on a very polished vehicular cake. The only keys you even need to remember are  W, A, S, and D... then your two mouse buttons, and occasionally E. 

Brace yourselves! Killer wave bearing down!!

Another damned water spout. That's it, we're out of here!

Side quests abound in this game, and the completionist in me is going nuts trying to capture every fort, hunt every animal at least once, or even harpoon Moby Dick's ancestor. I will say that they certainly put a lot of things to do when NOT doing the story, in this game. I would be lying if I said I did not try to complete at least everything in a given area of the map, before going through the next piece of the tale.

Herman Melville would be proud of me.

One minor letdown though, is the fact that you only ever get ONE ship. While there is a fleet of ships you can "own", you won't be pimping about the tropics in a "borrowed" Spanish galleon. You can however command your fleet to visit various parts of the new world, or old, in order to trade and build your wealth. Along the way, you can have turn-based battles with enemy ships, as illustrated below. It's not quite as appealing as watching 32 cannonballs smash through the deck, but it is a mildly amusing little side game.

Monopoly with ships?

If there is a downside to the game, it is going to be in the controls, while playing as Edward Kenway on land. As a PC player, controllers are simply not something I am used to using on my computer. With this game, I do feel like I am penalized for this. The keyboard commands have my fingers doing the tango all over the keyboard, and I have actually had to rebind a few keys to my mouse side buttons, just to ease the pain. It is not game-breaking enough for me to go out and buy a USB game controller... Aside from which, who has money for that kind of upgrade right now. One thing I will say though: After going hours on end in AC4, switching back to Guild Wars 2, I find myself pushing the wrong keys to try and do things.

Oh yes, and a side order of boobies please...

You know I love a good story, and with this game, you get two for the price of one (which I understand is a common theme in all AC games). First, there is the story of YOU, an unnamed employee at Abstergo Industries; basically a new hire who is stumbling upon something far greater than just your average gamer geek type of job (I wish)... 

Oh really?


Oh... Ok...

Then there is the story of Edward Kenway, the pirate you portray while in the "Animus" (think virtual reality times ten). As of this blog post, I am only halfway through the story of Edward, but the plot twists thus far both in and out of the Animus have kept me riveted to my seat. Yes, this is a game I am finding hard to log out of... I want to SEE what happens next!

Not now Kidd, I am busy...

Where's Lara Croft when you need her?

Hmm, I wondered why this island smelled funny...

I have not tried out the player vs player aspect to this yet, because as I have stated before, I am not really that into it. This is funny because as an amusing sidenote, I have also been playing a lot of Planetside 2, and actually enjoy that game... And that is a game with literally NO story to speak of. Once I complete the story mode however, I may pop in a few times to see what all the hoopla is about. If I like it, more power to me, but I imagine I would play the game considerably less than I am now.

I'll drink to that.

One thing I am seriously thinking of doing though, is using FRAPS with it, and actually uploading gameplay videos to YouTube. Having enjoyed watching people like WoodenPotatoes, MattVisual, Sips, Jesse Cox, and others game, I think I could probably do the same thing... Though I don't think I am nearly as hillarious as the above mentioned guys. That is still in the planning stage however.

Awesome view... Now how the hell do I get down from here?

If nothing else, Assassin's Creed IV, like all the other games I play, is helping to keep me sane at a time when I see more and more friends struggle, and lose their own jobs. In case you have not noticed it... it is happening at an alarming rate lately. It is a wonder any of us are even still surviving! I certainly have not given up the search for the perfect job, and I am actively engaging in other projects that have potential (for example, I began writing articles for Elite Monster, about Guild Wars 2). I know good things are coming for me very soon, but I am really glad that I have a way to slip into another world and just forget my worries for a few hours. My problems do not disappear totally, but the key to losing oneself in a game, is to remember to balance one's life WITH gaming.

Look, we can do this the easy or hard way, either way, you are buying these girl scout cookies.

With that said me hearties, it be time for me to harass the Spanish and send 'em down to Davy Jones' locker! Arrrrr!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Chaos Ensues...

It has been a rough week, to say the least.

I just got laid off last Friday from the title company I was railroaded into transferring to (a long sordid tale of buyouts and sellouts). To say  I saw this coming would be a gross understatement, but like anything else that has happened to me, I prescribe to the Maya Angelou philosophy-

"I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it."

Today I am taking a break from the applications, and infinite resume tweaks, to play some much needed Guild Wars 2; just in time for the latest living story update, which reflects the chaos going on inside at this moment. I figured now was as good a time as any to both recap what has been going on in the world of Tyria, as well as kill some time doing something creative. This having been said, perhaps you can indulge me.

For those who have not been keeping up, ArenaNet, creators of Guild Wars 2, decided on a two week cadence for their content updates, in the form of an ever evolving story that literally can change the face of Tyria as it goes on. While this began with a more sluggish pace back in winter past, over the last couple of months it has ramped up considerably with new celebrations such as Dragon Bash, and the Queen (of Kryta)'s Jubilee.

Our man Bel was at the Dragon Bash ceremony with a good friend, Ellen Kiel, when the forces of discord disrupted the shindig by killing one of the members of Lion's Arch city council.

An investigation ensued, and eventually the culprit was brought to justice... but also revealed was a new enemy faction that would come into play over the next few updates... The Aetherblades (aka Sky Pirates).

I might also add that their base in the Gendarran Fields is now a permanent jumping puzzle that is sure to tax your platforming prowess... if not drive you mad in the process.

Naturally, the loss of one council member created a void that needed to be filled. As luck should have it, a curious group of merchants / mystics named the Zephyrites docked their massive air colony (cannot really call it a "ship") to the far reaches of the Deldrimor Front area. During the time that the Zephyrites were anchored, we (the players) were treated to a shopping bazaar the likes of which has not been seen in Tyria before or since.

The heads of Lion's arch decided to use this to their advantage by brokering a trade agreement with the Zephyrites. Two candidates for the council- Ellen Kiel, our old friend; and Evon Gnashblade, CEO of the Black Lion Trading Company (aka the in game cash shop) vied for the vacated council seat by trying to seal the trade deal.

The game playing populace on all servers were asked to support whichever candidate they wished by casting as many ballots as possible (democracy runs a little differently in Tyria). Of course during this period, the Aetherblades made brief appearances to remind us that they are still out to cause mischief, but their attacks were sporadic at best.

In the end, Ellen Kiel won out. With her victory will come a new mini dungeon in the famous Fractals Of The Mist, as well as lower teleportation portal prices for a brief period, and a couple of other various perks.

With the issue in Lion's Arch settled, and the Zephyrites pleased with the outcome, we left Lion's Arch to continue business as usual, as the Zephyrites undocked their air colony, and flew off to parts unknown.


Enter Divinity's Reach... last human city on Tyria, ruled by the benevolent Queen Jennah. This year (ingame) marks the tenth year of her reign as queen, and to celebrate, she had commissioned the building of a new sector to the city to replace the huge sinkhole that had been dubbed "The Great Collapse". What she had built was a pavilion to be used for gladiatorial matches, a place to test your mettle against Tyria's best, or at least most infamous foes. It is said to be a monument  to humanity's resolve, and their will to survive.

It is magnificent, to say the least.

Anastasia Merrimox (my thief alt) made it to the opening day ceremony, where Queen Jennah unveiled the new clockwork guardians for the district- the Watchknights. You know when you just have that "feeling" that this can end in no good way? Let's just say I hate it when I am right.

A mysterious sylvari figure known only as Scarlet, disrupted the ceremony with what appeared to be asuran based technology- portalling in her vaunted Aetherblades, her minions apparently.

We were able to dispatch them with relative ease, but Scarlet however always seemed to be one step away, and lived to fight another day. Aside from the Aetherblades attempting to stop emissaries from all over Tyria from attending the celebration, the two weeks of the Queen's Jubilee passed largely without incident after that.

And now we come to this week, and the closing ceremony for the Queen's Jubilee. With security forces of both Countess Anise (of the Shining Blade; the Queen's guard), and Logan Thackeray's Seraph Guards on edge, the expected happened. During the ceremony, Scarlet made her presence known and felt by placing bombs around the district, attacking in an unexpected way- by reprogramming the Watchknight robots into grotesque killing machines capable of reconfiguring and splitting into smaller entities.

She also attempted to abscond with the Queen but was stymied by the surprisingly heroic efforts of one Lord Faren (who should be familiar to human players of noble blood). Faren's fate remains unclear, though the Queen was spared any tragic demise.

Scarlet has declared all out war on Tyria, attacking many zones at random with her portal technology, and it appears she has the following of the steam creatures from Lornar's Pass, the Molten Alliance which months ago assaulted both norn and charr lands, as well as her Aetherblades. It has been discovered by an asura named Vorpp that she is also trained by all three asura schools of magical technology, and utilizes all those skills she has learned to give her army an advantage in both surprise and their ability to reinforce.

In short... it is absolute chaos right now in Tyria! For new players, there is no better time to jump in and level up swiftly, and for us veteran players, rewards abound in spades! What happens next is anyone's guess, but I am sure it is about to get turned to 11.

Perhaps it is a good time for me to be temporarily unemployed... at least now I can catch up on the Guild Wars 2 I have not really had the time to play lately. Though I have to admit... the only thing that would make me feel better, is if I could play this game for a living, and be paid by ArenaNet.

Hey, a man can dream............. right?


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Spoiler Alert: Zhaitan Dies!

Howdy internet people...

It's not unusual!

Yeah, I bet you never thought you would see me again, huh? HA! I showed you!!

I know I have been horrible at keeping anything even remotely related to a scheduled blog, but I am getting better... I promise! I remembered to do one this YEAR!

All kidding aside, it has been a long year thus far, but I would like to think largely a good one. I have been keeping myself busy with work, the band (who changed its name to Chaotic Playground, when we lost our singer), and I have a new computer that is actually up to speed on all these fabulous games I have been playing.

Belenos Geode and Anastasia Merrimox, Skyrim style.

For example- this one... Skyrim. Just about everyone reading this should by now know of Skyrim. Yes it sucked me in too.... for months. Of course when I found out how to mod things, the first thing I did was take my character Belenos Geode, and couple him with my other main- Anastasia Merrimox. Now whether I play as Bel, or Ana, the other half of the couple is a permanent follower.

Well that is one way to get me back down the aisle...

So I figured I would make it official. I found that temple of Mara in Riften, and promptly made them husband and wife. I have always said that the family that slays together, stays together.

Art Imitating Life?

Anastasia Merrimox has been featuring prominently in most of the games I have been playing lately, including Guild Wars 2. In Sims 3, I created her there too, and not surprisingly, she is also married to Belenos in that game. I, of course, have an ulterior motive as to why Ana features so highly. She is modeled after my real life girlfriend of almost a year now- Stacy.

Stacy Merrison and Drew Bolton- Key West, July 10,2013

Yes folks, I have been trying to turn Stacy into a gamer, but so far the best I have been able to do is play Words With Friends with her lol. I'll get her yet though!

Anastasia City... looking good, looking good.

When not running around with my virtual partner, or even my real life partner, I have also been making cities in the new Sim City. It will also not surprise you to hear the names of the cities as Geode, Stardust, Shrike, Merrimox, Anastasia City, to name a few.

My ride, notice the blondes?

I have also been spending a fair bit of time in War Thunder, flying my F-4U Corsair in historical battles to wrest the Pacific from the Japanese, and Europe from Nazi Germany. I have to admit that this particular game has definitely scratched my aviation itch for some time to come, and made me a bit more comfortable about PvP... which I still have yet to do in Guild Wars 2.

For some reason I just cannot keep away from the dark side...

I even decided to get back on board the SWTOR bus, since it went free to play, and have been working on my Sith Inquisitor- Anat'Alya the Twi'Lek.

But all things eventually come around full circle. Guild Wars 2 has been my main video game squeeze, and it continues to be so today. So yesterday I decided the time was right to do what I had been putting off for almost a year now... To finish my personal story on Bel Geode, and KILL ZHAITAN!

If you have never done the end of the personal story, then spoiler alerts abound. Number 1- it is a dungeon... meaning you need a five person group to pull it off. I am still not sure how I feel about that, since it is a PERSONAL story, and a bit disorienting to see someone else star in the role you should have, but hey... I can live with it. I only needed to do it once.

Number 2- Destiny's Edge guild plays a pivotal role in this, so it is best if you have done all the previous story mode dungeons as you were leveling up. Otherwise you may miss out on some of the inside jokes that ArenaNet spent so much time crafting in the characters' voiceovers.

Number 3- Plan to spend at least an hour of your time in there! Especially if you have never done the personal story version, I imagine you will want to watch the cutscenes... And there are a LOT of them!

Number 4- There will be a fair bit of downtime in the middle of the dungeon... while on the airships (yes plural). Use the time wisely. Hopefully you go in there with your build already specced out, and ready to roll.

Number 5- There is a lot of surreal beauty to see, even with dragons and assorted undead trying to kill your ass! Just the fact that you are actually airborne, on massive airships, over a ruined yet well modeled nation of Orr is enough to make you lower your weapon if only for a moment and say "Wow!"

And then THIS sucker shows up and has to try to ruin the party. Well I should not be  too harsh on him, after all, he IS the guest of honor now. Were it not for him, none of us would have reason to even be in Orr, let alone get a bickering guild crucial to all the racial storylines back together!

Now I am going to level with you folks... Number 6- This is as up close and personal as you are going to get with big bad mofo Zhaitan. You never actually go mano a clawo with him. A dragon this big can only be brought down by one thing...

INTENSIFIED FORWARD FIREPOWER!!! With half an airship left, but a full complement of Pact made weapons, you do have the power to kill this behemoth, and it will take all of your 5 person team (plus Destiny's Edge and the other various NPCs on board) to shoot him out of the sky for good.

Thus, we get to spoiler number 7, the most important one to note-  ZHAITAN DIES! Yup, he dead... I say you, he dead... Never to rise again... The rewards are pretty sweet, and you have the satisfaction of knowing you are officially DONE with the personal story... No more needing to hang with Trahearne, you are free and clear to explore Tyria as you see fit, on YOUR schedule... And with good reason. ArenaNet's living story has been changing the face of the continent on a biweekly basis almost. There is still MUCH to do in Guild Wars 2 after Big Z croaks.

...Including FINALLY getting to dance with Eir Stegalkin.

It only took 11 months.....

So where do I go from here? Well... I have been playing with FRAPS, but have not yet had the confidence to upload anything to youtube. I know I still have a ton of SWTOR stories for Belenos to go through, and may decide to revisit that saga... I also thought about doing Skyrim stories, but let's face it... that game is even more immense than some of the others.

Who knows... I am open to suggestions.

For now I bid you adieu, it is time to spend some more time with my beloved Anastasia Merrimox, and her real life counterpart. ;-)

Ahh, amoré...