Diablo III

Jun. 21st, 2012 12:22 pm
9unm3741: Legend of Zelda.  This icon is for video game related posts. (Video Games)
So it's been since April that I have posted here. This mostly has to do with my not doing much of anything. I have been very focused on my academics. However, at the end of May I was gifted Diablo III, so I figure I'll discuss my experience playing this game a little bit now. So far I actually enjoy the game a lot. Although I actually like Diablo II a lot better, this game is still fun. Lots of running around and killing demons. There are four modes to the game: normal, nightmare, hell, and inferno where each represents a different difficulty. You must beat each on to unlock the next, and each mode offers new, better, sets of items to acquire and craft. Although the quests from mode to mode are the same, each replay is a little different as the map generator and encounter generator are random.

Although I do like the game because it is fun to play, there are a number of things that prevent the game from being as good as Diablo II. The first is that after normal mode, leveling is pretty insignificant in and of itself. In normal mode I got stuck, a lot. But if I fought enough enemies, I would either level or they would drop an item that would be an upgrade on an item I have already equipped, and I could continue on in the game. After normal mode that stops mattering as much. Levels are irrelevant when strong enemies are capable of one shot killing characters in a 10 level range (for reference as to how large that range is, the max level is 60). Thus items are king in Diablo III. After normal mode, the only real way to get past a rut is to get better items to improve your character, as leveling typically doesn't improve your character enough. But sadly it's very difficult to get a good item to drop from killing in game monsters. You do have the ability to craft items by destroying pick up items for parts and using them to make new ones. I think this mechanic is awesome. As you level your crafting ability (which is done by giving money and blacksmith plans/tomes/etc. to a blacksmith) you unlock the ability to create better and better items. Each item has a known base damage and known number of stat affixes, however, what those stat affixes are and how good they will be are random. So it often takes a number of tries to get a weapon that is any good. For example, I might craft a bow, but it gets a strength bonus and vitality bonus (affixes that would both be good for a tanking melee character, but hardly an archer). So often to craft a good item you must invest a great deal of money as well as salvaged material. It often ends up being an inferior method to the third and final item acquisition method: the auction house.

At the auction house you can buy and sell the items you find in game both for gold and (more recently) actual currency. This is often the cheapest and quickest way to get the items you want. Using the auction house also allows you to better design your character strategy, as you can search for specific affixes to items to implement the strategy you want, as opposed to trying to work in whatever item drops for you or whatever items you can craft. I like this, as the characters themselves lost a lot of customization from Diablo II (but gained flexibility). However, because the auction house is so much better at item grabbing than either of the other two methods, the game becomes more like playing the stock market than actually fighting demons. You get stuck, so you have to buy better items. But first you have to raise the money, so you try to sell items in the auction house. The items you found suck and won't sell, so you have to try to buy items on the auction house and flip them for gold. It's like I'm playing a bloody real estate game! I don't want to have to waste my time playing the item real estate game. I want to kill stuff!

Fortunately, Blizzard recently patched the game, and made the cost of crafting items much much cheaper. It is still very expensive to level your crafting ability, but this is a one time expense. So it requires a large initial investment, but the production cost is low. This, I think, is a good balance between crafting and the auction house. Because the initial investment is so high, only a few people will choose to use crafting to get their items, and so the auction house won't be flooded with crafted items. On the flip side, if you just want to play and don't want to spend all your time in the auction house, crafting is now a viable alternative to get you past the hard parts of the game as long as you use your money to improve your crafting skills in between points where you get stuck.

Well there you have it, my impression of Diablo III. Overall, despite this being somewhat of a rant, I have fun with the game. I am currently playing a demon hunter (archer), and will post a few screen shots of my character looking cool on here later. Sorry for the length :P
Lots of hard work has paid off recently. I found out that I have been accepted into the Science and Technology Studies PhD program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and I have also been approved for funding. So its official! Assuming I finish my masters on time, I will be starting my PhD at RPI in September!
9unm3741: This icon is for all space related posts. (space!)
Here is a petition on the whitehouse web page to increase NASA funding:
I encourage as many people as possible to sign this petition. While the whitehouse is only one piece to the very complicated puzzle that is the federal budget, this will at least demonstrate that NASA is not a throw away agency. It is an agency that does work that is important and that many people in the United States care deeply about. Again, please sign if you can, and please, do whatever you can to get others to sign as well.

9unm3741: Legend of Zelda.  This icon is for video game related posts. (Video Games)
One of the great things I love about Terraria is its creative capacity. Most games are based on instant gratification. The monkey does a trick, he gets a banana. Not that there is anything wrong with that, instant gratification can be very satisfying, and its a relieving break from the real world where all I seem to do is prepare for the future. However, Terraria offers a deeper level of satisfaction. It has the potential to truly be an creative outlet. Now that I have reached the point in the game where I am no longer trying to simply satisfy my characters basic needs (survival and game progression primarily), I have been exploring the artistic aspect of Terraria a lot more. For a 2D game, Terraria architecture can have a lot of depth. Just like all painters have the same three primary colors to work with, Terraria has limited tools for creating these works of art. Yet by combining them in new and interesting ways, one can create something a unique and eye catching piece. Unfortunately I am still experimenting with some of the more creative architecture, but I have made some progress. One of the big disappointments for me are the limitations set on buildings for NPCs. NPC housing must be fully enclosed, including player constructed background, with a minimum size, at least one table of other flat surface, and at least one chair or other comfort item. This is pretty creatively stifling, as it really limits the depth and lighting effects while forcing you to use per-rendered furniture pieces that will be the same in every creation you make for your NPCs. My strategy up until now has been to let my NPCs live in boxes off in the corner where you can't see them and play with the more fulfilling architectural creations somewhere else. However, recently I have been trying to come up with ways to make a much more aesthetically appealing NPC housing architecture. My idea: the NPC village. By making each NPC house different, and allowing the buildings to interact with each other and with the natural landscape, I thought I might be able to compensate for the lack of other architecturally artistic aspects. Enough rambling. Here is a picture of the houses I have so far.

I am having two major problems, which are related. The first one is that the village template takes up a lot of space. I have three houses on two "screens" of space where there are a total of, I think, 10 NPCs that you can get in the game. My solution is to utilize vertical space, ie. above and below ground. The problem there is that I want the village to mesh with the natural landscape, like a real village would. I want the houses to fit with the constraints of the land. It is hard to integrate this desire with the utilization of vertical space. As such, any advice on how I might do that is appreciated.
So far so good, I've been posting fairly regularly and I'm pretty proud of myself lol! To keep it up, I'm posting links to some reports I've typed up about some of the mountain climbing I have done. This does not represent all of the mountain climbing I've done, but does represent all of the reports I have written up. Enjoy!

Mt. Flora
Elevation: 13,146ft (4007m)
Elevation Gain: 2,550ft (777m)
Round Trip Distance: 7.2 mi (11.6km)

Cupid Peak and Grizzly Peak
Elevation: 13,117ft (3998m) and 13,427ft (4093m)
Elevation Gain: 2,950ft (899m)
Round Trip Distance: 5.5mi (8.9km)

Grays Peak and Torreys Peak
Elevation: 14,270ft (4349m) and 14,267ft (4349m) <-less than 1m elevation difference
Elevation Gain: 3,600ft (1097m)
Round Trip Distance: 8.3mi (13.4km)

James Peak
Elevation: 13,294ft (4052m)
Elevation Gain: 3,250ft (991m)
Round Trip Distance: 8mi (12.9m)

Mt. Sniktau
Elevation: 13,234ft (4034m)
Elevation Gain: 1,244ft (379m)
Round Trip Distance: 3.4mi (5.4km)

Pettingell Peak
Elevation: 13,553ft (4131m)
Did not make the summit, so I don't know the other stats of the climb.

Square Top Mountain A
Elevation: 13,794ft (4204m)
Elevation Gain: 2,400ft (732m)
Round Trip Distance: 6.5mi (10.5km)
9unm3741: Since I play Imperial Guard, this icon will be used for all Warhammer 40k related posts. (Warhammer 40k)
So a while back I made a theoretical list for Imperial Guard for Warhammer 40k. As of now, my Imperial Guard army is predominantly horde. It consists of lots and lots of foot troops and has a very small mobile armored element. While I actually enjoy playing with my horde, I feel like the troop blobs could use a little more support than I currently offer them. Thus this theoretical list is more of a "goal" list. Its the type of list I want to have, and it will provide direction for future Warhammer 40k purchases. Comments are, of course, more than welcome.

As for tactics, I like to advance. Sadly guard advance slowly. This list is designed to advance to maximum effectiveness. Demolishers and infantry advance in mutual support. Chimera's stay behind the lines and issue orders and utilize the Chimera to respond to armored threats that close with the infantry. Alternatively, they can be used to spearhead into the enemy and take out long range armor. The hellhound, likewise, responds to unarmored threats or removes enemies off of objectives. The sentinels are designed to outflank into the battle to target side and rear enemy armor, thus forcing the enemies most devastating weapons into either risking destruction or turning away from the main assault and risk destruction from the Demolishers.

Of course, critique and suggestion are always welcome.

Here is the list )
9unm3741: This icon is for all space related posts. (space!)
For the sake of posting on here regularly, and in order to have at least one short(ish) post...

I found out in 2009 that the space community and transhumanists are very closely linked. I didn't realize until recently, however, just how closely linked. Suffice it to say that transhuman ideas of the singularity and technological progressivism are a huge part of what drives the American space program. This is worrisome. Aside from the moral issues of transhumanism itself, this movement is also heavily associated with laissez-faire economics. Beyond this, the whole movement is extremely unreflexive which possibly (likely) influences the space program to be equally unreflexive about space exploration. Until this point I had always thought that transhumanists were either a minority or a fringe element of the space community that I could avoid with few consequences. I am beginning to get the impression, however, that the future will require me to not just interact with, but actively come in conflict with transhumanists within the space community. This is a rather unnerving prospect. Not that transhumanists are inherently bad people (those that I know are actually extremely cool folks) but going against the professional and social grain is never an easy thing. So I am worried about the future of American space exploration, and not just the usual funding woes.
9unm3741: Legend of Zelda.  This icon is for video game related posts. (Video Games)
So for Christmas I got two new video games for PC. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Terraria. I'll start with MW3.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
MW3 is actually a pretty cool game. But before I get into the game itself, some background is in order. The COD franchise has been coming out with a new game every year, and they started selling for $60 back when games normally retailed for $50 (anyone else remember that?). So I have been skeptical. I had owned CoD, CoD United Offensive (an expansion to CoD that was practically a stand alone game), CoD2, CoD4: MW, and CoD: World at War before this game, so you might say that I follow the franchise. I skipped CoD3 because it was console only, ie it never came out for PC and I didn't own a console at the time. I have also, up to now, skipped MW2 and CoD: Black Ops because I have been boycotting $60 games. Unlike on Xbox 360 and PS3 where games are $60 because game developers must pay a royalty to Microsoft and Sony to sell games on their platforms, PC games are $60 because companies are greedy. Of course they cannot just charge whatever they want, video games still follow the laws of supply and demand. So if people didn't buy the $60 games, prices would stay at the already prohibitive $50. Thus my decision to not buy $60 games. Unfortunately it didn't help, and $60 is now the standard retail price for a mainstream video game on PC (this is also partly due to the combined Activision-Blizzard but that's another story for another time). Even were the more recent CoD games not priced at $60, CoD: WaW was amazingly disappointing. It was a fantastic game, except it was completely unrefined. Even after a number of patches, the game remained extremely glitchy, laggy, and unbalanced. In my view this problem is the result of a push for squeal development. Rather than smooth out the kinks in the game already on the market, you abandon the gamers who paid for the game, and develop a new game for them to pay for. I am not over exaggerating here either. A new CoD game has been released every November since 2005. Its the Madden of FPS games now. I have actually beaten the campaign on every CoD that has ever been released, and logged a fair amount of hours on all of their multi-players as well. They do get better each time. They add little things to the game to give it more depth, like running, or customization of your character. So its not like they don't improve every year. They do. So what does this have to do with MW3? Well its lets you know where I'm coming from, basically.
So what do I actually think of MW3? I like it. Its not the best game ever, by any means, but its pretty solid. First, I found it fairly fine tuned. There are no glitches that I have run into, although I'm sure there are some. The level of customization means that its unlikely you will every encounter another character like your own, and there aren't that many cheese characters running around that everyone seems to play as, aside from akimbo machine pistols. On the down side, you have to play a lot before you can reach this level of customization. On the one hand, I understand why this is. In order to keep you playing you can't get what you want right away, you have to earn it. On the other hand, by the time I get what I want for my character, I'm getting tired of playing. My solution is rather than a levels system, why not use the xp directly to unlock things? This allows player to focus on the weapons, attachments, perks etc. that they want, rather than waiting until they are the appropriate level. For example, if I want to use the Mk-14, I'm going to have to wait a lot longer than if I wanted to use the Scar-L. But if I could use the xp to unlock the Mk-14 directly, I could get to using it much faster. So how are people kept playing if they get what they want to use so fast? I don't know about you, but I have a variety of different combinations of guns, perks, and attachments that I like to use, and I like to try out new ones, experiment a little. Well if you want to do that, then you have to keep playing and keep earning xp. The other downside to the multi-player is that some of the kill streak rewards require so many kills that by the time you get them the game is usually over because of the, now, small game sizes. Since the game no longer uses dedicated servers, instead picking a host player, the game size is pre-set. Of course its pre-set to the exact same size as for the console version which, historically, is smaller than what is typical for pc. The lack of server customization means that pc users have to play a game that was designed for console. Anyone who games seriously on both platforms will tell you that its very different. Map sizes and player numbers especially should be different. In previous CoD games, maps that were too small for pc could be omitted from the map queue and player numbers increased to a comfortable level. Can't do that this time around. I've only talked about the multi-player so far, and that is for good reason. While you can log dozens of hours on the multi-player, it only took me 5 hours to beat the single-player on the hardest available difficulty. Its short, and easy. And the story...it has one, but that's about all I can say for it. The CoD single-player used to be all about telling a story, it was part of what made CoD innovative. There aren't many other FPS games out there where you feel a real attachment to your character and to the other characters in the campaign. Part of this was due to the realism. Realism made it relatable. That realism is gone. CoD is well within the range on science fiction now, which has its own positives and negatives, but is not what I expect or want out of a CoD game. Thus the story has weakened. I spend more time going o_O than getting into the game. So there you have it. I have some minor gripes about the muli-player, but its generally good. The single-player, however, is a perpetuation of the downward spiral CoD single player campaigns have been experiencing for a number of years.

Now Terraria, I will try not to drone on so much here. Terraria is, essentially, 2-D Minecraft (not my description, borrowed from a friend). Which is perfect for someone with a background in engineering (engineering physics for me). Its also an amazing way to waste vast quantities of time. Its a very free game, in that you can pretty much do anything. There is no real story, and the missions you have to complete (ie fight the boss) are very lax. You basically do what you want. I think this is mostly good, although it does mean there is no real sense of progression a lot of the time. Because there is no real progression, it is easy to get stuck. So you just dig and explore for hours and hours on end hopping to find something that will allow you to get better items so you can explore more places so you can get even better items. Thus the time wasting aspect of the game. Of course its all in good fun, so there isn't any real problem with that. However, one thing I would change is adding some sort of crafting book you can buy early on in the game, or perhaps that you start with. The items that go together to craft something and their required quantities are far from intuitive. Some things are obvious, ie iron armor requires iron :O but not everything. Don't get me wrong, I really like experimenting with things to see what sort of items I can craft, but not all the time, and not everyone likes to do that. Thus the book. One can always choose not to buy the book or not to look at it if you have it. But if there is no crafting book, then you can't look at it no matter how much you want to.

Well there you have it, some relatively quick and dirty video game reviews. I hope you enjoy. Feel free to comment if you have any questions, anything to add, or want to hear about any other aspects of these games that I didn't mention. Thanks.
This post is intended to provide some background on which to support subsequent posts.

Living In Canada
So far I have been living in Toronto, Canada for about four months now. I have to say, despite the modern counter culture obsession with Canada (ie if X gets elected again I'm moving to Canada) its not all that great. It is wet and it is cold and, despite our view of Canada as being just a colder moose filled US, there are subtle cultural difference that are substantial and numerous enough to cause significant culture shock. For example, Canadian niceness is different from American niceness. I have found that American niceness is primarily action based. You do nice things for people. Canadian niceness not so much. Its more along the lines of trying to be nice is nice enough. As a result, many more Canadians try to be nice than Americans, however, it has been difficult adjusting my expectations of people who are trying to be nice to me. An example. In Canada, people are more likely to offer to help you than in the US, however they are less likely to succeed in actually helping you.

Masters Degree in Science and Technology Studies (STS)
This is why I am in Canada. I am studying to get my MA in STS at York University. STS is a fairly complicated and ill-defined discipline. Areas of study encompassed within STS might be social studies of science and technology, history of science and technology, science and technology policy, and anthropology of science and technology. This is not a comprehensive list, and each of the disciplines listed here exist both inside and outside of STS. My area of specialty is science and technology policy. Specifically, my research focuses on space policy. I'm trying to publish an article analyzing the debate over the safety of commercialization, but more on that later.

As stated, my current research is on the the debate over the safety of commercialization of human spaceflight to low Earth orbit (LEO). Essentially, my research discusses how the current debate over safety is disingenuous and a proxy debate for the differences in values of actors on opposing sides. I am pushing through my first draft for publication this month, and hope to have a final submission sometime in January or February of next year. When this happens I will make sure to post. In the mean time, I have presented my research at the Atlanta Conference for Science and Technology Innovation Policy in Atlanta, Georgia, hosted by Georgia Tech as well as the 2011 Society for the Social Studies of Science annual conference held in Cleveland, Ohio. An abstract is available from both conferences for those who are interested. I am also starting new research on public interactions with space exploration. I will be submitting my research proposal to my department here at York next month, so more on that when the time comes.

That's all for now. I don't want to inundate the reader with a wall of text, so more background will be provided in a subsequent post.
So this is my first post on this thing. I've tried having a blog/journal twice before. The first time I was when the news was full of stories of people who had been offered jobs or paid money of some sort as a result of their blogs. I thought that since not having a blog meant a 0% chance of getting money for it, I should have a blog because it literally improved my chances infinitely. That didn't last long, as my interest faded as soon as no one knocked on my door with a bag of money. The second time was when I studied in DC for a semester. It was a great way to keep my friends in the know about my goings on. I could thus talk with them about DC without making them feel excluded, and it was a major success. And then I came back to Colorado and it all of a sudden had no purpose, and so now gathers dust somewhere on the internet. This time I hope to be more successful in keeping it active.

The real question is what am I going to put in this thing? Well I'm fairly uncomfortable with putting personal matters out on the internet. So you won't be seeing much of that, although I'm sure there will be some exceptions. Rather than be about me, I have decided that this will be about aspects of my life that are important to me. Namely, it will be about my interests. So I may put things like trip reports or gear reviews from my mountain climbing escapades. I may post Warhammer 40k battle reports and my thoughts on units and strategies and such. I may provide updates on my academic research. I may talk about computer hardwear. I may simply soap box about space policy. All of these things and more are on the table, but I hope the pattern is relatively apparent. I will try to stick to topics that are relatable to anyone with a similar interest, regardless of their connection with me personally. Don't worry, I'm sure there will still be plenty to read. As you can probably tell at this point I am fairly verbose. You can be sure that as long as I post something, you will not be lacking for something to read. And if you really want to hear about me personally, you can always ask :)

At some point I may also transport my live journal containing my stories from DC. I may also repost my climbing trip reports on here, or perhaps just links, depending on my mood. At any rate, wish me luck for keeping up with this thing. I will try to make my first substantive post tomorrow...er...today. The preview: it will be long, or multi-part. Topics will likely include but are not limited to: Canada, my masters program in science and technology studies, my research in space policy, video game impressions.



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