Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top 10 games of 2013

1- Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Probably the most impactful emotional experience and reaction I’ve had with a video game ever. The game is extremely well put together, and is very immersive and beautiful. As you control both characters at the same time, this leads to some fun puzzle solving and is critical in conveying thematic story lessons as well. Being about 6 hours long, I highly recommend this one to anyone; grab it on steam if you can.

2- Rogue Legacy

20 goto 10. This game kept me up till wee hours of the morning with “just one more level” Very tight iterative progression and controls. Just a great dungeon diver all around.

3- Something Wicked (World of Warcraft)

World of Warcraft is probably my most played game this year. My monk has been a roller coaster ride between the tiers this expansion, but peters out towards the end. MoP built on lessons learned, so it’s taken about a year to feel like more of the same. Raiding has been impressive all expansion.

4- Zelda: Link Between Worlds

I was expecting it to be “Link to the Past” HD, but I was pretty surprised at how wrong I was. It’s still some Zelda ass Zelda, but they made some pretty good deviations from the formula to make this game stand out. Being able to choose which tools you want to take on your adventure from the beginning rather than unlocking them linearly was pretty great. The story is also pretty twisty, which is something I like.  

5- The Last of Us

I came to this party late, and heard a lot about it. I mean it’s a Naughty Dog game, so going in I knew that there were going to be great set pieces and the gameplay would be engaging. The character development between the protagonists is phenomenal, and I think that Joel is the best character of 2013. He has his flaws, but his heart is in the right place. Just picking nits, but Ellie swears worse than a sailor, and you end up killing more humans than zombies than I would like for a “zombie appocalypse” shooter. Mad props though, that even I was careful with my supplies, crafting and scrounging, I never quite felt safe or over prepared for the enemies in the game, which augmented the story and the atmosphere.

6- Bioshock Infinite
The whole universe is weird, and you need to keep playing it just so you can figure out what the hell is going on. The art design is fantastic, and playful. You feel like you are in a very familiar place, even when there are rifts opening in space and time all around you. All the characters play their part well, which is what the game is all about. Songbird though...

7- Ni No Kuni

I haven't played a JRPG in forever, and this is the kind of experience I remember it being. A little Final Fantasy, a little pokemon, and cute as hell. Very punny, and just the right amount of grind. The whole broken hearted people theme was a fun minigame.

8- The Swapper

Gritty and gross, this game’s main mechanic explores some strange morality in terms of “what is a soul?” The puzzles are excellent, and it’s just fun to make lots and lots of clones of yourself to shoot yourself into space.

9- Guacamelee

Another good revival of an older genre, the metroidvania. Just really silly, and the combo system was great to pile drive people into oblivion.

10- Papers Please

It’s a game? I mean, it conveys a really powerful message, but for some reason I play a shift about an hour a day stamping passports. I haven’t finished it yet, so I’m hoping it has some good payoff.

Honorable Mentions:
Super Mario 3D World
Card Hunter
The Stanley Parable

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Monkbots, Roll Out!

Currently, my guild is just beginning progression on Garrosh Hellscream and is a mere few weeks away from finishing off the tier, until we begin the long wait for Warlords of Draenor. I am most likely going to be kiting the adds to victory for the kill, so this will be the second progression kill that I will not be playing my main spec (I was Mistweaver for our Lei Shei kill.) As raiding is on the precipice of farm, I want to take a look back where the class has been.


Monks are the second new class added to the game since World of Warcraft launched in 2004. When Blizzard added the Death Knight in 2008, the general perception of the class was that it was overpowered, and it unbalanced the game, for better or for worse. Based on this precedent, I think a lot of players were expecting monks to be given the same treatment: very powerful at the beginning of the expansion, but balanced out as time passed.  

Looking back on the expansion, the monk class has been competitive, but not game breaking in any way like the Death Knights were when they were introduced:

Windwalker – They have been solid melee DPS every tier and competitive with other classes. Their main drawback has been lack of meaningful raid utility. Blizzard has iterated on the spec for every tier, and has been adding flesh to bone where it was needed. Tier 15 added a cleave to the toolset, and Tier 16 polished talent choices. Our mastery has come a long way from the original Combo Breaker, and now sits in a good place overall, with a crazy rollercoaster detour that was Rune of Reorigination.

Mistweaver – Conceptually very cool. A healer that can be effective at ranged or in melee, and play very differently in either place. This ultimately did not pan out as well as most people hoped it would. The melee rotation was nerfed for being too simple and too effective, while the bread and butter heals feel out of control and way too automated. The legendary meta gem became far too effective, and ultimately made mana irrelevant. Priests and paladins dominate the whole expansion due to absorbs, as mistweavers shine in Throne of Thunder with impressive throughput.

Brewmaster – I think Brewmasters ended up being the most consistently potent throughout the expansion. Shuffle is a very well designed active mitigation system, and the class did a cargo ship’s worth of damage in an expansion where tank damage not only mattered, but was substantial. Monks have lots of personal survivability cooldowns, so they can take a burst beating in addition to being as smooth as butter to heal.

So yea, all in all Monks getting a passing grade in the expansion they debuted in. While this is all well and good, and they are a complete class, why does there still feel like there is something missing? In comparison to the Death Knight, the Monk class did not feel as powerful as Death Knights in the expansion in which they debuted.

Enter the Fist?

From playing Blizzard games as long as I can remember, their game philosophy has always been “Make everything overpowered” and emphasize “Concentrated Coolness”:

I think this is where the Death Knight design philosophy differed from the Monk, and why the Monk feels less complete in comparison. Thematically monks represent balance, incorporating elements of both the yin and the yang, harmonious, subtle, and Zen. I think the introduction of such a serene force into the game is in direct opposition to their design philosophies. The balance that monks represent ultimately works against them as an engaging game element.
Balance is boring, and imbalance is interesting.
The Death Knight was wildly popular when it was first introduced, they can be summed up with once simple ability: Death Grip. This ability changed the way the game was played forever, because it was powerful, and introduced a very visceral disruption into the game. Everything about the Death Knight was disruptive and imbalanced, and I think that resonated with a lot of players and injected a very large player base into the class.

I will extend this metaphor a little further, and say that every class in the game has one iconic ability that represents them. Paladins have Divine Shield, Warriors shout, Druids shift, and Shaman have totems. All of these things are awesome, concentrated, powerful.

Monks have….Healing Spheres? Jab? Zen Meditation? ROLL? Please. What’s missing from the monk is that iconic ability that sums up everything about them, and broadcasts that to the player and everyone around them. I will say that the Tea/Brew concept is unique in how well monks can throttle their performance, but it does not stand out enough to attract players to the class.

At least to me, there was never that one ability that stood out from the rest of the classes and was an icon of monks uniqueness. A lot of our abilities are bled and borrowed from other classes so that we fit the paradigm of the more homogenized game we play today in comparison to where the game has come from.

It’s the community, stupid.
Warcraft players can be summed up in one word, community. That community could be raiders, PVP, RPers, altaholics, transmog fiends, auction house barons, or a million other little niches within the game. The monk community is still nascent and growing as people pick them up and start to play them more and more, whether that be as a main character or an alt they play on a regular basis. While other classes in the game have had a strong, established community that has been building for nearly 10 years.

Where Death Knights exploded onto the scene, Monks came in as a trickle. Monks didnt get that huge player infusion simply monks didnt get that overpowered feeling from the get go (in my opinion) from either a class balance perspective or a lore perspective. I dont think they were front and center for this expansion, and didn’t have that “Turned up to 11” feeling that Death Knights came to the game with.

Ultimately, it will take time for the monk community to become as vibrant as any other class community, and that’s not a bad thing. Little by little the bird builds its nest. Nor do I feel like monks have been ignored by the developers, though some specs feel more complete than others. Right now we are absent a central hub to exchange ideas and learn from each other, but that will organically come with time.

A part of me worries that monks won’t become a core part of the game, simply because of the type of player that the class and the game attracts now is different from where the game has come from. As warcraft built momentum, it was a brave new world, and enterprising players learned every nook and cranny, and explored the mechanics of this crazy new game. I feel that the roads have been paved, and the wilds have been tamed, and a more civilized and docile player has came and replace the people who blazed the trails and have since quit the game, or have firmly established their empires within Warcraft. If the monk class and community is to become as vibrant as the others, we need such enterprising souls to come through and establish monks as a force to be joined together.

Why did I monk.

I have been playing a paladin since Vanilla, and raiding since Burning Crusade. I played the same character for nearly 6 years. I’ve played all three specs in raids, and felt like I had exhausted my ability to learn something new from the class. I quit raiding in Firelands due to real life, and just general frustration with the game.

If Mists of Pandaria had launched without the introduction of a new class, I would have stayed unsubbed. I rolled a monk, because I wanted to learn something new, and explore the game with fresh eyes. The monk represented adding something new and funky into the mix and it held the promise of changing the game paradigm. I will admit that I expected another Death Knight type of disruption into the game with the Monk.

I do feel that my expectations didn’t match reality. The monk didn’t do what I thought it was going to do. Maybe my expectations were misplaced, and I think everyone’s were to a point as well. A lot of windwalkers simply gave up on the class when they realized they were underpowered and brought very little raid utility. I feel like my raid spot was based on the promise of future performance that never really materialized.

While each monk spec performs competently, there is something missing, something that sets us apart, or adds to current game environment. I feel like Blizzard was fighting the last war when they designed us and other classes got better toys.

Monks didn’t change the game like I expected them to. So in the end I am left with a question: Were my expectations too high or unrealistic, or was the introduction of the monk class just a flop? Rhetorically, I think it’s a little of both.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

My Binging Habit

It's been really bad the last month. I ignore my phone, I sit in my room, and I can't stop. I'll be up till 2, 3, 4 in the morning and I can't control myself and I know I should be sleeping and how tired I am going to be the next morning, but I can't stop. There are people in my life that want to be in touch with me, and it doesn't matter.

The last few weeks I have been binging hard on games in my Steam library that I have been wanting to touch for a while, and it's been a little unhealthy. Rogue Legacy kicked it off and it sucked me in, and I played it till 5 in the morning. Then Dust, and last night System Shock 2. Those hours add up and I get to the end of the tunnel and feel like a lump.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Neglected Blog is Neglected.

I’m a little scared at the moment.

The cost of living is increasing, and seems like most everyone I know is having trouble managing their levels of debt. I’m debating with myself whether my own mother is deserving of a bailout from her family for making some really bad investment choices. From what I can tell, a vast majority of people and organizations have unmanageable debt, and nobody seems to be worried about it.

My time has become scarce as of late. Employment, working on my house, dating, social obligations, and predesignated scheduled leisure (aka raiding), and working out have left me a little light in the time department. I have friends I want to catch up with, books I want to read, and couches that need sitting on.

Work is becoming more demanding. It’s always, do more with less. I like my job a lot, but I don’t want to be a workaholic like some of my co-workers. What happened to liking your job and not letting it get the best of you; was that false? We hire more people, but the workload never seems to get lighter.

The NSA has been collecting cell phone records, and is probably spying on my activities. No big surprise, but concerning nonetheless. I don’t trust the government, congress or any type organization, and I’m not alone.

My friends are all disappearing one by one. They are getting married, having children, and moving away. Sometimes they are just going rogue all by themselves and I don’t ever hear from them again.

I’m worried that my house is going to take me down and cost me tons of money. I’m working on it, fixing it, making it better, so that I can own something of value. While it’s nice to have a project to work on, I’m not a career landlord, and its responsibility that I don’t like owning.

I’m not getting any younger. I’m dating someone at the moment and she is really awesome and cool, but I think if I want to have a relationship with her, a long courtship is not going to happen. I've had two very long relationships, and that seems like just a luxury now. If I want to have a family, I feel rushed.

Our generation is one of distraction. We aren't great explorers, fighting wars, baby booming, or fighting for civil rights. We are tweeting, pinning, posting, and instagraming ourselves and existing in worlds that we are building for a population of one.

Am I just living in a world of accelerating acceleration?

All of these paradigms are shifting right now and it is kind of freaking me out. The thing that really worries me is that the list of things to worry about is not going to shrink over time. How do I get out of the infinite worry loop? Just stop caring about all things?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Value of Oil

I was listening to an article (wow the future is so rad) the other day about how there is an enormous oil reserve in Ecuador that is underneath a national rain forest preserve.We have seen this movie and heard this plot many times, but what is interesting about reality is that the Ecuadorian government is doing something different.

The Ecuadorian government is requesting money from the world in exchange for not opening up the reserve for drilling; they are basically holding their rain forest hostage:


but I'm not sure who from.

I started thinking about this. Nobody is holding a gun to the heads of the Ecuadorian government and forcing them to tap this oil reserve, oil companies that want to come in and extract the oil would need to pay the government for the ability to do so. Worst case scenario, the oil will stay in the ground until their sovereignty becomes threatened.

Ecuador could decide to drill. Obviously that money would be used to benefit the Ecuadorian people, but it has been shown in resource rich countries that very little of that money actually benefits the population at large. Instead the money is lost to corrupt leadership and governments, and revenues benefit the oil companies.

This trade off is very unique in my view. On one hand you have a natural resource that is valuable, useful and pretty much essential to the world as we know it. Oil is used to transport things, create things, and gives the world freedom. The other hand is that oil fuels the chaos of our world, enables us to be lazy and ends up polluting the world at each stage in it's life from extraction to consumption to decomposition.

I remember listening to another article about how the Native Americans were negotiated with during the civil war, when pioneers ventured west. One of the strategies was offering credit to the Indians for food, guns, and other things that white people had in abundance. When the Native Americans later could not pay their debts, the white settlers took their land instead.

The Ecuador situation sounds remarkably like the Native American one. They are faced with the situation of trading money which can be used to buy the things they need (better medicine, better infrastructure, better education) in exchange for something that has undefined value and has significant external benefits to the world.

The oil is not going to disappear anytime soon. It can stay in the ground as long as it needs to, and if Ecuador chooses they can choose to extract it. As the article points out, leaving the oil in the ground and leaving the preserve intact has a compounding effect on global climate change; the oil is never burned or consumed, and the rainforest itself absorbs CO2 gasses and produces oxygen for the world.

If this boils down to money, I say leave the oil in the ground. It has more value under the ground than in the world's gas tanks.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

2012: Not a bad year.

2011 sucked so much.
Anyone that knows me probably knows why. 2011 was a year of self destruction, wallowing, discovery, and martyrdom. I tried new things, but sort of flailing in the dark and trying to find something that stuck. This was true with dating, location, working, and a lot of life. Not a bad thing, but there was no strategy or no tact to which I was doing a lot of things.
This year I decided to start rebuilding myself. My road trip, starting a new career, starting a new relationship, and rebuilding my body were all things that I approached with a plan. I’m proud of everything this year that I accomplished everything I set out to do. This worries me a little, in that I accomplished so much in one year I feel obligated to be even more ambitious about what I expect from myself in the future. I’m also the most introspective than I have ever been in my life, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.
Getting in shape was definitely the centerpiece of the whole year. In January, I weighed 260lbs and wasn’t especially happy with myself, but then I’ve been overweight for most of my life. I finally decided to do something about it, because despite what people say appearance is very very important. I learned this year, that how you present yourself has the potential to change how you approach each day and how people perceive you. Human are attracted to attractiveness. I weighed in finally at about 205 at the end of 2012, so I dropped about 55lbs.
Losing weight is really easy once you commit to it. You change your diet, increase your physical activity levels and do less of the bad habits that contribute to being overweight. I stopped playing a significant amount of video games, and stopped drinking beer.
I stopped eating ramen, Mac & cheese, and pretty much anything that came out of a box or a freezer this year where these had been staples of my diet for as long as I can remember. Specifically I started losing the most weight when I started thinking of my body as a closed system, and seeing food in a different light. Food has two properties, weight and nutrition; all food weighs something and when you eat it that weight augments your own. Not all food has nutrition however.
I ate less of the food that had less nutrition, while consuming high nutrition foods in sensible quantities. My body follows the law of the conservation of mass and energy. Mass goes into my body, and mass goes out. If I want to eat the bad stuff, just eat a little of it.
The year started out with lots of weights and burpees, and ended the year with not as much weights and a lot more running and rowing. All in all I found a good routine that challenges me and also feels good.