2010 Feb 26 terra

Guy Blade Guy Blade---22:12:00

How's a dwarf come to be named Shepard?
Earlier this week, I finished up Mass Effect 2. As it is a sequel, I should note that I may include spoilers about the previous game as they are necessary to give even a brief outline of the plot of the second game.

Mass Effect 2 picks up two years after the end of the first game. Shepard, soon after the events of the first game, had been sent out on a patrol looking for Geth and had her ship shot down by unknown hostile forces. She was spaced and fell through the atmosphere onto the surface of the planet that she'd been investigating. Needless to say, this killed her. However, being the protagonist has certain advantages, and a fervently pro-human organization that had been mentioned a few times in the first game manages to find your corpse and spend the next two years putting you back together. This is the reason for both your inventory of spilling and your lack of knowledge of what has progressed since the last game.

Shepard quickly discovers that the universe destroying evil from the previous game has been dismissed as an advanced battle machine of a less dangerous race and now is basically alone in her fight against it save the people from the organization that ressurected her. Added on to that, human colonies outside the jurisdiction of the human government have been "disappearing". In every case, the entirety of the population simply vanishes leaving the buildings, factories, and fields undamaged. Your organization finds this problematic.

The game mostly centers around building up your party to face whatever evil is behind the disappearances and to gain more information about the universe destroying evil. In terms of plot centric content, it is probably similar in size to the previous game, but it feels much smaller. I think this is due almost entirely to the removal of the "screw around in the Mako" sections that the first game had. For those unaware, the first game had a mechanic wherein you could wander to various uncharted star systems and scan planets. On a fraction of these worlds, you could land your multi-wheeled all-terrain vehicle and wander the surface looking for various useful things such as equipment, money, or upgrades. The second game replaces this with a "resource gathering" minigame when you scan planets and has short missions on some planets to pursue. What's important to note is that the "some planets" with missions here translates to roughly 0-2 planets per star cluster with a strong trend toward the lower end of the scale.

Gameplay wise, there has been one other large change. In the first game, you could generally always go back to locations that you'd visited previously. In this game, most areas (with a very small number of exceptions) are treated as "missions" which have a mostly one-way progression. Periodically, doors will close behind you preventing backtracking and forcing you to go forward. Once a mission is complete, you generally cannot return to the area in which it took place, so anything missed will be lost forever. This mission-centric vision has another effect: experience is based almost entirely on mission completion. Killing enemies doesn't grant any XP. Instead, fixed rewards are given for completing each mission. Periodically, a sidequest will give a small XP bonus, but those are somewhat rare with the game preferring to give money as its reward.

As long as we are speaking of experience, I should note that the leveling system has been entirely revamped. Rather than having nearly a dozen skills with upwards of 10 possible levels in each skill, the choices have been cut down substantially. Most characters have 4 skill tracks each of which has four levels costing one additional skill point per level (i.e., level one costs 1 point, level two costs 2 points or 3 total, etc). This of course also means a dramatic cut in skill points. My rough estimate is that Shepard could max out four skills while everyone else could max out 3. Of course, maxing out those skills would mean that they reached level 30 which is something that I was unable to do even though I completed everything in my journal, the two DLC missions that came with my version of the game, and visited and scanned every world accessible. I ended up reaching level 28 after beating the final boss.

I found the game to be somewhat conservative in its scope. Most of the ground here has been tread before, but remains solid and at relatively high quality. Perhaps learning from the fiasco surround the "hardcore lesbian sex" allegations in the first game, all of the romantic choices are strictly heterosexual (well, you can romance one Asari, but doing so will kill you regardless of gender and lead to a non-standard game over). It seems a bit strange given the relative diversity of possible romantic entanglements available in Dragon Age, but I can understand their desire to not draw more negative press with one of their more successful series. Since I had imported my character from the first game and all of the possible romantic options for a female in the second game were uninteresting, I suppose I ended up sticking with Liara.

My hope is that they get more ambitious for the third game.

Two other notes before I finish: firstly, if you buy the collector's edition of the game, DO NOT OPEN THE ARTBOOK until you've beaten it. It has artist's sketches of the final boss as well as all of the new PC characters. I luckily didn't look at it until after I'd finished the game, but I can imagine the irritating of having a major revelation spoiled by a CE "bonus". Secondly, despite being released after Dragon Age, the game doesn't seem to be integrated with Bioware's social networking site. This means that although Bioware have their own achievement system and the game has achievements, those aren't recorded anywhere. I'm having increasing difficulty understanding what Bioware is trying to accomplish with their social networking site. If they aren't going to support what is obviously their biggest game of the year, but are still going to have it waste 2-3 minutes connecting to their servers whenever it starts up, what are gamers supposed to think? To me it just looks like another piece of irritating copy-protection without any benefit at all.

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Guy Blade Guy Blade---20:40:00

Apparently, Microsoft is selling the Windows version of Batman: Arkham Asylum for $13. I have already purchased it, but if you haven't, I highly recommend it.

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Guy Blade Guy Blade---10:27:00

I've listened to Discovery in its entirety at least four times this week. I consider this time well spent.

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2010 Feb 23 anthy

Guy Blade Guy Blade---22:45:00

Late last week, I beat Bioshock 2. In gameplay terms, we're on fairly well-tread ground. Most of the enemies you'll fight, you've seen before. Although there are new weapons (since you're a Big Daddy), they generally play quite similarly to the previous set. I'm not complaining, particularly. They also did manage to correct some of the deficits that I saw in the first game. Stores no longer play their annoying intro every time you use one (though I still hear "Welcome to the Circus of Value!" in my head everytime I used one). The hacking system is no longer completely broken due to it pausing the game when active. Research is now based on classes of enemies rather than individual types: Big Daddies count as one type rather than having both Bouncers and Rosies being seperate, everything security related (Turrets, security bots, cameras) is in one set.

Of course, the real draw of the Bioshock games is their story and environment. The second game opens with your character, already in his Big Daddy form, escorting his little sister. After being ambushed, someone uses a plasmid on you (probably Hypnotize Big Daddy) causing them to be able to control you via verbal commands. She hands you a Luger (the most evil of pistols) and instructs you to blow your brains out which you promptly do. You wake up 10 years later, well after the events of the first game, and are soon told that you're a part of the "Alpha Series" of Big Daddies. This series was made as an evolutionary upgrade to better combat the splicers and are rather unique in that each Big Daddy is permanently bonded to a particular Little Sister. Your character's was stolen, and so you go to find her.

In the interviening decade, a psychiatrist/collectivist managed to take over Rapture. Of course, a rampaging big daddy out to find his lost charge doesn't really fit into her plans to built a utopian collective.

The game delves into more detail about how the Ryan-led Rapture worked, but also manages to muddy the timeline somewhat. I think this is due primarily to the injection of the new psychiatrist character into the pre-fall Rapture story. Numerous events and interactions between Lamb (the psychiatrist) and both Ryan and Fontaine from the first game, but it is difficult to place everything into one single narrative chain. I suspect this is in no small part due to the fact that Lamb wasn't even conceived of during production of the first game.

There are also some plot threads that seem to simply vanish without proper resolution. Your character's origins--pre-Big Daddy--are illuded to, but never really fleshed out entirely. One character from the first game shows up for about five minutes before fleeing never to be seen or heard from again. A new character who fills the Atlus/objective giving role is introduced, but his motivations are murky and vague at best as are his reasons for believing that you can help carry them out.

I nevertheless believe the game to be quite good. Setting aside the issues of the interplay between the predecessor and sequel, the game managed to be quite compelling. Rather than spending the entire game being led around by the nose as in the first game, you have a definite goal and are often reminded of it by both your allies and enemies. Also, the game further expounds on the lives of the little sisters. I believe the sequence where you see Rapture through the eyes of one of them may be worth the price of admission alone. They also make the little sisters more interesting by giving them new and somewhat twisted dialog. When you are escorting one and come under fire, they yell various things at the enemies. My favorite quote is "Daddy's giving you stars and birdies!".

I should note that I played it on the PC and it is a game for Windows LIVE. This means XBox LIVE achievements and interaction. I managed to get all but one of the single player achievements in the first run. The one that I missed required you to perform an unclued action and was listed as secret in the achievement list. Luckily, I had my single "slow" (as opposed to quick) save on the level where you can get it and so doubled back to grab it.

I've attempted to play the multiplayer, but since I've not yet been able to find game with the requisiste number of people (six), I've never actually tried it.

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2010 Feb 18 celes

Guy Blade Guy Blade---02:21:00

And it gets worse
Apparently my grandmother was placed on a new medication last week. The new medication was supposed to help her extreme agitation, but seems to have had an unfortunate side effect. She seems to have had serious memory loss. Late last week, she began calling various people. She called my mother over 50 times over the course of the weekend. Apparently she had also been calling other people as well, at least one person she called she asked to have Bill (my grandfather who has been dead for three years) call her. She also seems to have forgotten exactly how my grandfather died (she thought he just died one day rather than recalling his stroke, extended hospitalization and eventual death from pneumonia). She also managed to call up a mover that she found in the newspaper and attempted to move out of her assisted living facility and back to her home. Luckily that was prevented. They've removed her from her medication, but that has only led to an increase in her anxiety (hard to believe it is even possible).

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Guy Blade Guy Blade---01:15:00

Helpful Information
Apparently, if you have too many entries in an InnoDB table (say about 36 megarecords), you can't clear the table with a simple "DELETE FROM table" statement. At least under the default configuration, it seems like MySQL will run out of entries in its lock table. It seems silly. I ended up dropping the table and recreating it instead. It actually took less time to drop the table than it did to fail to delete all the entries from it.

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2010 Feb 17 terra

Guy Blade Guy Blade---05:30:00

Orccon 2010 Day Four
The final day of Orccon was rather easy. I began the day by entering the Dominion tournament. I ended up losing in the first round and so instead went to play in the Ingenious tournament. I lost in the first round here as well (though I missed making the next round on a tie-breaker), and so had a lot of time to kill until my next game at 2pm.

I first went to the dealer's room where my five dealer bucks were burning a hole in my pocket. I ended up using them to buy a copy of Dominion: Seaside. I ended up paying $35 (after a discount and the dealer bucks) which is still $8 more expensive than Cool Stuff, but didn't require another $70+ in the order to get free shipping.

I still had tons of time to kill before my next event, so I sat down at the convention auction to kill some time. I ended up spending about $20 at the auction. I got several things:

$4 - Starcraft Tabletop RPG Box Set
$1 - Pool Position (I've never even heard of it before)
$1 - Lot of 4 Sega Genesis games and 1 Sega CD game (all sports games)
$8 - Risk (opened but unused)
$1 - Babylon 5 Component Game System Core Set + Psi Corp (mostly unpunched)

Someone who I was talking to offered to buy one of the Genesis games off of me for $1 and I happily took his buck. I consider the auction to have been relatively succesful. The B5CGS stuff is incredibly hard to find and a set that large in that condition is very rare.

I next went to the Shadow Hunters tournament. After a false start, I once again managed to make it to the final table only to not place. I had incredibly bad luck on my draws, though. On my first turn in the first round, I went to the Church on my first turn and pulled the mirror, forcing me to reveal myself as a vampire. In the second round, I pulled the same card on the second turn. It is hard to win when revealed that early.

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2010 Feb 16 aeris

Guy Blade Guy Blade---10:47:00

Orccon 2010 Day Three
Sunday was mostly a board gaming day for me. I began the day with a tournament of No Thanks. The tournament moderator didn't show up on time, so we mostly self organized. I ended up making it to the final table, but due to a very bad first round at the last table, I didn't end up placing.

After that, I went to the Uno tournament. I was completely and totally crushed in the first round and thus had time to kill, so I wandered around a bit before finding a sponsored game of Lord of the Fries. Unlike most Steve Jackson games, this one seems to have a finite limit of runtime. I actually found the game quite enjoyable and ended up winning a free copy of it.

I grabbed some lunch and then headed over to the only RPGA game that I had scheduled for the weekend: CORM2-1 - For Crown and Kingdom. Like most RPGA games, the plot was almost entirely irrelevent. We were offered a chance to choose between two factions. Each faction was led by a jackass and both offered the same monetary reward. We ended up deciding which side to join by rolling a die. Over the campaign, we faced three encounters and a skill challenge. I ended up not taking any damage during the entire campaign (my level 2 bow ranger worked quite well) and didn't use any of my daily or encounter powers until the final encounter.

I did learn one very important thing during CORM2-1. In the ongoing Living Forgotten Realms meta-campaign, intimidate is a useless skill. Rather than merely being another option in skill contests involving dialogs, invoking it causes one of three possible outcomes: immediately fail the check, counting toward the failure condition of the challenge; immediately fail the challenge, probably with a result of being ejected or attacked; be a normal skill roll in the challenge with a DC at least 5 higher than any other roll. I don't really understand why Wizards would choose to take one of the only three direct character interaction skills and essentially remove it.

I next had the Apples to Apples tournament. I managed to make it to the final table, but ran into problems there. I usually win point in the tournament by using ironic or humourous cards. Unfortunately, two of the people at the final table were an eleven year old and a thirteen year old. Neither one of them was a valid target of my wit and I ended up not even placing.

After grabbing some food, I did my last game of the evening Race for the Galaxy. I did pretty well again and managed to make it to the final table. Once again, however, I managed to lose the game at the final table such that I didn't even place.

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2010 Feb 15 emeralda

Guy Blade Guy Blade---08:51:00

Orccon Day Two
Saturday began with a Call of Cthulhu game entitled "Rain". The premise of this game was that our group was a team of police investigators in the homicide unit. Our team had been called out to a murder scene where another officer (from Vice) had apprently been shot. She'd suffered from a single bullet wound to the chest. We investigated the body and the room she was found in (some run down apartments on the bad end of town). During the search, we found some information related to one of her standard informants and began attempting to run him down. Simultaneous to that, we discovered that there had been an incident several hours previous to the one we were investigating that had led to another pair of police officers arriving at the location and leaving without properly reporting it to dispatch or informing our investigative team of the relevant information. One other important thing happened at the scene, two of the investigators, when looking into a closet, discovered a body hanging from one of the hooks. When the remaining investigators examined the closet, they were unable to discover anything.

Our team then split up to follow the two leads simultaneously. I went with another officer to try to find the two missing officers while the remaining officers went to try to find the missing informant. The other team arrived at a freestanding home that we believed had been used by the informant. Two members of that team breached the front door while a third went in through the back. Upon entering, they were met with the smell of mold and dried blood. All of the walls of the house seemed to be stained by a dark brown substance. The officer in the back door, noticing the brown substance, chose to rub it and taste a small amount of it (all further instance of him telling any other character this were met with a stock response of "Why the hell did you taste it?!"). The substance was (of course) blood with some sort of psychoactive properties that caused him to go into something similar to a bad LSD trip. The other officers quickly heard his screams of help and went to find him. When they met him, he was waving his gun about and being generally threatening and was tasered. It turns out that this set of three officers consisted of two of the characters who had previously seen things in the closet and the one who had the freak out was one of them. The one who hadn't seen the strange things began to drag off the tasered officer out the back when the door slammed behind him. Unable to get the door back open, he drug the unconscience officer back to the squad car, cuffed him, and threw him in the back to sort out later. The officer inside, now alone, soon met the informant. He seemed to have lost all the skin and muscle over about half his face and was generally unhelpful. The officer inside, after trying to shoot a few times, attempted to flee. The other non-bound officer broke out a window in the front to try to help his fellow officer in distress and found her alone and talking to herself in the kitchen. When they met again she seemed to no longer be able to see the informant, and so she began searching the room. Checking under a table, a large black blob sprang out and latched onto her head. The other officer (acutally being able to see this threat) tased it and the goo disengaged. Realizing the danger of the house, the two officers fled and attempted to call dispatch for a hazmat team, the CDC and whoever else might help.

My team had meanwhile managed to find the apartment where the missing officers were supposed to be. Approaching the apartment, we heard chanting from inside, then a scream, and chose to breach the door. Inside, we found four naked men (two of which were the missing uniformed officers) standing over a woman who was strapped down to a bed. The men were holding knives and chanting that the "ritual must be completed". Despite our valiant efforts, we mostly missed at shooting at the four men, and they stabbed her causing black goo to shoot out of her chest, covering each of the men from head to toe. After attempting communication, then stopping them with firepower, the two of us fled the scene and contacted the other unit who had by then begun fleeing the house.

While the officer who had been tased was sitting in the back seat of the cruiser with his hands cuffed behind his back, he ran into someone he didn't expect--he met the shooting victom from the morning. She seemed to still be dead, and informed him that she "liked her men tied up", after some loss of sanity, the other officers discovered him a few minutes later and were incredibly confused as to how (or why) he managed to get his pants off with his hands stuck behind his back.

During out conversation, the fact that tasers seemed to work led us to head back towards the apartment complex. Upon getting back towards the complex, we found that their numbers had begun to multiply and at least a dozen goo-covered people were now coming out of the complex along with dozens more people who seemed to be acting with them. Yet another tactical retreat was taken, and my team started heading back towards the home to meet up with the first team.

Over the course of the entire campaign, rain had been falling. As time passed, the intensity of the rain began to grow. By this point, the rain could be described as a torrent. While heading back towards the home covered in blood, a person walked out in the middle of the road, and due to the rain, my attempt to swerve caused the car to crash and flip. We were mostly unharmed, but hadn't gotten very far away from the goo people and wanted to get away quickly. The rest of our team soon arrived, and given strange communications with dispatch, we chose to "commondeer" a nearby parked car and head to the blood home. I ended up in the back seat on one side and adjacent to the cop who had recently been raped by a ghost. We headed back to the house with the apparent intent of destroying it.

As we approached, we found that the place had been surrounded by other officers. Given our recent experience with the uniformed officers and dispatch, we chose to make a drive by of the house to see what was happening. While going by, the LSD-tripping, blood-licking, ghost-raped, officer finally lost it. He took a shot at me, leaving me alive by a single hit point. That caused the driver to crash and just as quickly caused another officer to tase him. The other officer of questionable sanity (the one who'd seen the corpse in the closet and the dead informatnt) attempted to provide first aid. She rolled a 99 (critical failure), and instead killed me. This caused her to lose it completely (losing nearly half her sanity). She began to see everyone remaining in the car as a personal threat to herself and (picking my corpse at random) began putting additional holes in it. She got tased not long after. At this point, one of the remaining officers--the one who had been to the house once already--snuck around behind the house after distracting the officers by having them attend to the shootout in the car. He then managed to set off a propane tank to set the house ablaze. The building burned quickly to the ground and the rain stopped.

One officer dead. Two officers who'd never see walls without padding again. It could go worse in this system.

After that, I ran out for lunch and then came back for my next game--a Paranoia game entitled "Stealth Train". We started off with three player and then later added more. All told, I only ended up killing two people above my clearance, but we sortof managed to totally screw up our mission. Being Paranoia, I did manage to pin most of the blame on our traitorous team leader (who had joined an anti-computer protest before I shot him) and our equipment officer who had attempted to shoot me with contraband gear.

My head only exploded once during the game and I only had a single lobotomy, so I think it went quite well. I don't want to say too much about the game because it is one of the standard supplements that players might see.

To kill some time, I got into a Munchkin Bites! event. I came very close to winning, but due to a card that I drew on my initial set (Shoulder Angel), I was forced to help everyone else. I kept attempting to find the card to mitigate it (Shoulder Devil), but it was actually in the set of cards being used by the other table. I ended up very close to winning, but was unable to actually get it. In fact, I was helping the winner when he won.

My final event of the day was the Kingsburg tournament. I did quite well, placing second overall and earning myself a few dealer dollars. Unfortunately, I had previously spent about $50 in the dealer's room picking up old BESM game guides (for specific anime) at 75% off.

After that, I got more In-and-Out for dinner and called it a night.

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2010 Feb 14 tifa

Guy Blade Guy Blade---07:36:00

Orccon 2010 Day One
I got to Orccon (one of the Strategicon set of games) at about 1pm on Friday. After checking in, my first game of the day was a game of All Flesh Must Be Eaten with the title of "Ludlow Horrr". In this game, I and the five other players were rich partying UCLA students. We'd set off to go on a trip together out to the town of Laughlin, Nevada for a weekend getaway. On the way there, our car broke down (cracked radiator) and we were forced to head to the nearby town of Ludlow, on foot, in the desert. Things immediately began to go downhill: before going into town, one character (a drug dealer) chose to begin getting high on marijuana. When we reached town, and got the truck towed, we found that it would take until sometime the next day to be fixed. After a quick stop at a convienence store (where the drug dealer attempted to cut a weed-for-munchies deal), we got rooms at the nearby hotel. The drug dealer and a couple other characters decided to go the nearby bar and drink their bordem away. The dealer arrived first and chose to get quite drunk. Once the other characters arrived, he then attempted to sell more weed to the bar patrons (sterotypical bikers) and then tried to put a roofie into one of the female character's drink. She noticed and told her boyfriend who immediately (after some cajoling from the players) punched the dealer. The dealer responded by stabbing the boyfriend in the gut and then running to the hotel where he holed up for some time. After the remainder of the party dealt with the stab wound and fled the bar, my character also went to the hotel to hole up (note, there are no zombies yet) because she was also irritated with her boyfriend (because he was discussing breaking into a store with the other girl's boyfriend). The remainder of the party (now 4) went to a diner to shake off the recent incident. At this point, one of the characters paid a trucker to get use of his CB radio (because the phones were out in the town) so that he could get the hell out of this crazy place. After walking a ways away from the party and using the CB, he ended up being attacked by the trucker (who had just succum to zombiehood) and wasn't seen again by anyone else (he took more actions, but they took him away from the city and he was eventually turned by the infection). The three diners were soon greated by a zombie lumbering through the front door and then attacking the diner staff. They fled back to the hotel and nearly simultaneously, a car crashed and burst into flames. Ignoring it completely, they headed back into the hotel where my character had just walked out and been attacked by the hotel manager. I was bitten, though the party eventually dealt with him. Moments later, the nearby gas station exploded (cause unknown, but perhaps related to the burning car) blowing out all the windows in the hotel and allowing easy access to the now approaching horde of zombies. Before they found us, however, we met a "fast-zombie" who pounced the (not my character's) boyfriend, getting a good bite on him. We eventually got him off and then fled toward the freeway. Seeing more zombies in the underpass and more behind us, we fled up to the road to get to the truck stop on the other side. The drug dealer (having jumped out a window to try to save my character when she was being attacked) having rejoined the party, suggested trying to jack one of the trucks going past. After first trying to shoot out tires of one truck and failing, he was able to (with the help of my character's boyfriend) throw the infected boyfriend of the other female in front of an oncoming truck causing him to stop. About simultaneous to this, I finally fell to the infection and proceeded to bite my boyfriend. The dealer held up the trucker, shot my boyfriend when he tried to get in as well, and took the other female character with him while holding the driver at gunpoint. Net result, the only survivers were the drug dealer and the girl he tried to slip a roofie to earlier that night.

That game ended about two hours early, so I spent the next couple of hours playing a board game called Priests of Ra. It is a sort of bidding game where players collect tiles to get points. I did quite poorly, but it was sortof fun.

Immediately after that, I had a demo of Small World. It is a game of conquering a map with a fantasy theme. The twist to the game though is that you're not really trying to conquer it, but instead trying to get the most amount of points. Points are obtained through holding territory or special abilities, but characters are encouraged to quickly cycle from one race to another so that they can maximize the area that they control. I came in last because I didn't quite grasp that I needed to be cycling. Instead, I ended up spending most of my time striking at whoever was doing the best at the time and then completely redeploying to new positions every turn. In all, I think it is fun enough to warrant additional play.

I next had an RPG game that was a "playtest game". The game itself was called House of Cards and the particular campaign was called "The Trans-Siberian Job". House of Cards is designed to be a sort of collaborative storytelling game geared towards emulating the feal of a cinematic heist film. It has 4 distinct phases. In the first phase, you create characters by first having one person be the leader. He then decides what additional "role" the party will need in order to complete the job by describing a complication that will arise. The complication goes onto a list of complications and another player adopts that role. Some of the background of the new character is filled in by the first player (why she could fulfill that role), some is filled in by the player taking on that role, and some in filled in by the next player. The next player role is then chosen by again laying out a complication and picking a role that could fill it. This continues until there is a complete party. The GM helps in this phase by providing a sort of framework to keep a general tone to the play and to keep track of what complications are showing up. Once the party is filled out, they then begin their prep work. This prep work is done in a series of "scenes" and "shots". Scenes are extended interactions between the GM and one (or more) player and shots are short (single challenge) interactions. Each of these scenes and shots is attempting to somehow mitigate one of the complications that sprang up during character generation. Additionally, some new complications are added by the GM to the list, but are secret. These additional complications can be discovered (and mitigated) by scenes and shots as well. The third phase of the game is the heist itself. In this, we are actively attempting to carry out the heist. This where we face what is left of our previous complications and get to our objective. Here we have a few scenes with the GM where the additional complications left from the previous challenge are dealt with and any additional ones may pop up. Additionally, every character has a secret drive that they may be attempting to carry out during the heist or thereafter that may pit them against other PCs. Once the target is in hand, the game then goes into the final "getaway" phase. Here, every man is generally out for themselves and is focusing on getting the target away and finishing up their goal.

Mechanics wise, the game in the last three phases uses an interesting mechanic. Rather than using dice, characters have two resources: edge (represented by poker chips) and cards. In any scene or shot, players describe what they are doing, and the GM plays a card of the character's designated suit which represents the difficulty of that action. The player must respond by playing a higher valued card in order to come out completely successfully or else take on some sort of negative condition that they'll have to deal with before or during the heist. Each challenge they win gives them an addtional piece of personal edge that they can use later on. If a character can't win on their own, they can be helped by other character playing cards of their "friend assist" type. Doing this increases card value by two ranks, but causes all edge from the shot or scene to go into the communal pool rather than going to the specific player. The value of edge is two-fold: first, every character has a special ability that lets them spend edge to do things with cards (leaders can do a blind trade with other players, tough-guys can trade their cards for new ones, etc); secondly, during the "escape" phase, the group edge is divided between the players, and their total edge dictates how many cards they'll get to carry out their escape. Perhaps interesting most is that the GM is restricted to a fixed size hand for each phase and must play out of it (though he gets to use 2s and 3s as wild cards).

In our game, I was the leader (surprise, surprise) and our team ended up consisting of the inside man (my brother's wife, Elena), the tough guy (her lover, Sergi), and the tech girl (the neice of our benefactor and a family friend of my character, "The Sparrow"). We were trying to steal 500 million dollars from a the Russian mob for one of the Chinese Triads. We discovered that the train was the inaugural running of a special high-speed train, that it was being guarded by tons of "special guards" (Mobsters), and that even moving 500 megabucks was going to be a huge pain (weighs about 6 tons). We went about strong-arming the designated conductor (so that we could get an extra train for a getaway and make sure that he would drive it), planting various explosive and distraction devices in the train to cause trouble later, and faking the passenger manifests so that we could get aboard unnoticed. During the heist, most everything went according to plan: we disabled the guards very quickly, and disconnected the train car. We disabled the experimental train and sealed it up so that the remaining guards would be delayed and then headed off.

That's where things began to get complicated. The mobsters were disabled, but Yakuza hitmen had apparently been after the train as well and began giving chase. I attempted to return fire, but couldn't manage to get the requisite number even with the help of my allies. Almost immediately thereafter, Sergi betrayed the party (drive: "Fulfill an obligation" interpreted to mean arrest all of us as he was ex-KGB) by setting off explosives to blow the engine. He failed due to our coordinated effort to resist him (jiggling the train, failing to properly prep all of the explosives that he was using, and jamming from an unrelated GPS jammer). When I walked up and shot him in the face, no one offered to assist him. He made a few more last ditch efforts to resist us (in the form of other KGB agents firing on the train), but was ultimately unsuccessful. His attempts drained both my hand and Elena's of cards and the train was failing. Luckily, the tech person had previously arranged for a helicopter to air lift the money out in case something came up with the train and so began to lift us out. At that moment, I revealed by drive: "Bring the heist team to justice". I took this to mean, kill my brother's wife and her lover. At that point, the lover had already died at my hands with the full assistance of the party and I was alone with my brother's wife. I made my challenge, but was unable to pull the trigger due to her pleas for her life (my card wasn't big enough). However, doing that left both she and I out of cards, and at that moment, "the Sparrow" revealed her drive: "Get out of the business with one last big job". Lifting the money out of the train, she shook both of us off, leaving Elena and myself to the approaching Yakuza, Russian Mob, and KGB agents nearing the train, and flew off with the money. The parting shot revealed that the pilot of the helicopter was our benefactor giving the high sign to his neice.

All in all, I think the system for "House of Cards" is very interesting and makes for a very fun game. It does have some serious roughness around the edges (we never failed a challenge during the prep phase due to the various card manipulation abilities), but is still a game that I'd be eager to play again. Supposedly, the GM/game creator is going to send us a copy of his working draft so that we might try running our own (with hopes that we'd provide additional feedback). I hope that he does follow through with that.

After that game, I got some food at In-and-Out Burger and then hit the sack.

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2010 Feb 11 terra

Guy Blade Guy Blade---20:38:00

Last night, I finally beat Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings. Revenant Wings is a squad-based real-time strategy game that takes place after the events of Final Fantasy XII proper and reuses most of the characters. My brother gave it to me for Christmas last year (2008) and though I played it a bit at the time, I didn't really grok the game at the time. Over the course of last year, I eventually played through the game Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II. It uses a similar enough play concept (though obviously divergent due to source material and the differences between the DS and PC) that once I eventually went back to Revenant Wings, the whole thing just sortof clicked.

The game itself is played with a squad of (up to) five "hero" character with each hero having a set of supporting espers. It uses a relatively standard rock-paper-scissors of unit types with melee beating ranged which beats flying which in turn beats ranged again. There are also healing units which don't really enter into the RPS (aside from mostly losing to everything). The game is divided up into about 90 different stages. Each stage takes about 15-20 minutes to beat (usually) which makes it an easy game to pick up and put down.

My main irritation with the game is actually something I didn't discover until I had almost beaten it. In addition to the plot missions (which make up a little less than half the total), the game also has side missions. These missions provide various benefits--crafting materials, unlocking additional espers, special weapons--but are otherwise completely unnecessary. The game keeps track of all of the missions that you've beaten, and, should you beat all of the missions, there is a secret ending. I decided to go about getting the special ending which necessitated me going through the Optional Dungeon of Ridiculous DifficultyTM. After doing everything else, I figured it would be trivial to walk up to the final boss an just destroy him. Instead, it turns out that getting 100% completion causes the final boss to go from being about level 60 to being level 99. This effect also applies to all of his mooks and thus dramatically raises the difficulty of that fight. At the time, I was otherwise around level 55 or so. I was unable to beat even a single part of his 3 part form, despite having cleared every other obstacle in the entire game.

I then began a depressing level grind that has gone on for weeks. The Optional Dungeon's first level gives the most experience of any fight in the game (about a quarter of a level) and can be cleared in under 4 minutes. At this point, it would be difficult for me to say for sure how many times I beat it, but I finished the game at level 93, so you can perhaps do some interpolation. Luckily, since I could clear the level in such a short period of time, I rarely spent very long doing it continuously.

Aside from this glaring deficiency in the end game (or player hate from the developers, I'm not sure which), the game is actually pretty solid. There are some pathfinding issues, but since you're mostly micromanaging your units, it usually isn't a problem. If you enjoyed FFXII, it will also provide some information about what happened to the characters afterwards.

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2010 Feb 10 garnet

Guy Blade Guy Blade---20:31:00

I like the outdoors
Apparently, I have the Green Acres theme song on my iPod. I have no idea why. I have no idea where I got it. I have no idea how it ended up on my iPod. Every time it comes up, I'm just confused.

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2010 Feb 09 rinoa

Guy Blade Guy Blade---10:35:00

Keep going, really
So, I mentioned a few days ago that I was having difficulty with UPS and getting them to deliver my package. At the time, I eventually just stayed on the line long enough that the call-center supervisor agreed to have my package sent out on "the late truck" today so that it should have come after 5:30pm local. I too a short lunch and hurried home today so that I could be here well ahead of that probably time. Afterward, I waited and waited and didn't go to run errands and waited. Now, at about 11:30, I looked through the mail that I got today and found in amoungst it a postcard from UPS. They say that they were unable to deliver the package to me on their third attempt. Apparently, they didn't do what they told me and just tried again during the day.

I called up UPS and inquired as to the deviation from their previously specified course of action. According to the person who answered, no one had left any special direction with the local delivery coordination location regarding my package and there was no evidence in their system of my previous conversation. The call-center person offered to send it out for delivery again, but told me that he couldn't honor the promise made to me on Friday.

I finally just told him to hold the package until this coming Friday. I'm intending to take the day off because I'm going to Orccon and don't need to be there until 1pm or so. I guess I'll just pick it up on the way.

Between this incident and UPS' tendency to throw packages up the staircase to my apartment, I'm seriously considering ceasing using them under any circumstance.

They did offer a fun new way for me to get my package though: I could send someone else to pick it up, as long as I provided a signed note for them to take. Apparently, any person on the entire planet who goes in with a note saying it's from me can get the package, but I can't convince them to leave it at my doorstep. Fucking fantastic.

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2010 Feb 06 aya

Guy Blade Guy Blade---04:51:00

How not to do customer service
So, I recently got a new phone: the Nokia N900. I bought it unlocked from Dell and got it yesterday. It is a pretty spiffy phone--Linux based, slide-out keyboard, touchscreen, 32GB of storage--but it doesn't work very well on the ATT network. Because of the antenna configuration of the device, it works on ATT, but only on the 2G network. The "correct" network for the device is the T-Mobile network. I had been intending to switch to them anyway since they have a plan mostly identical to my current one, but for $10 less per month, so I decided to switch at the same time that I purchased my phone.

I did all of the ordering online and T-Mobile shipped me a new SIM card. It was supposed to arrive yesterday, but I got a signature required note on my door. I signed it and taped it to my door only to find another one stuck on top of it when I got home. Apparently, T-Mobile had shipped an item that they give away for free and which could fit inside a quarter with an in-person signature requirement via UPS. This is completely unacceptable. I am not going to give up a day of work just to pick up a damn SIM card which should have been dropped through my mail slot on the first day it passed nearby.

After calling UPS and fighting with first tier support, I managed to get their second tier person agree to have the package delivered after-hours on Monday. Now, I just have to hope that they actually do it.

T-Mobile, if you're listening, you're doing a lousy job of showing me that I made a good decision by switching to you. ATT didn't even have a signature requirement when I sent my phone for insurance repairs. In fact, I'll take it a step further, I don't believe that there is anything that T-Mobile ships that should require an in-person signature. Most importantly, I don't think that a SIM card warrants an in-person signature.

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2010 Feb 04 elly

Guy Blade Guy Blade---11:26:00

Lunch Break
So, immediately after my lunch today, I got a telephone call from my landlord. Apparently, the apartment below mine had a section of its ceiling collapse due to a broken water line in my apartment. I immediately rushed home, but luckily there was no obvious damage to my apartment or anything in it. The plumber had determined from underneith that there was a slow leak in the cold water line in my bathroom. There was no cause offered, I suspect it is likely just an aging effect. With nothing to try to save from the non-compromised building, I ended up sitting at home all afternoon trying to get work done as people fiddled around in my bathroom. They got done around 7pm and had fixed the leak. They did, however, leave a rather large hole in my wall. Supposedly, they will be coming tomorrow to fix it and paint over the section.

I don't really like stragers being in my apartment when I can't be there to keep an eye on things, but I don't have a lot of choice.

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