Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Prot Warrior Thoughts on Wotlk Pre-Patch

While I don't feel done with TBC yet and could've easily spent another year running around in Outlands, I feel a lot better prepared to move on this time around than I did last time. My main has turned out to be my prot warrior and as such I probably looked forward to the pre -patch with more delight than most.

Let me give you a quick rundown of warrior tanking in TBC in case you haven't tried it yourself. It's essentially crisis management. Don't ever think you've got things under control because you must likely haven't. Why Blizzard every thought it would be a good idea to endow most dps with decent to smashing aoe damage while give warrior tanks exactly zero tools for aoe threat is beyond me. My guess is that they counted on cooperation in the group, a beautiful collaboration and communication forced between dps and tank to make sure no one dies, and everyone stays happy. And to be fair, in most pugs and definitely in guild runs this usually works really well. I make it sound like warrior tanking was an impossible task, but I still enjoyed it immensely. It was just that tiny bit short of what was actually required, and it was easy to get frustrated. It was definitely not for everyone.

Then comes the pre-patch. I knew things were going to change, though I hadn't bothered to check up exactly what. New talents, of which I remembered some, like Shockwave. I remembered tanking in Wotlk being a delight, and aoe threat being a non-issue. Just how much of a non-issue quickly became apparent as soon as I had logged on, re-specced my warrior and gave it a run through an instance. It was crazy. It was bonkers. I was laughing out loud. I almost had tears at the corner of my eyes from being flabbergasted. I mean I knew it was going to improve but what the heck had Blizzard done?

I was now madly overpowered for the content in TBC, that was to be expected. But being a contender for the lead and often even the actual highest damage dealer in an instance, as a protection warrior? It was almost like Blizzard had looked at everything that was a struggle with prot warrior in TBC and decided to dial it down to "stupidly overpowered". 

Rage starvation? A complete one-eighty. Where before I had to plan my Bloodrage cooldown and manage my rage to make sure I always had a bit left over at the end of a pack, I now barely even had to glance at my rage bar. It was always full, my skills were only limited by their GCDs and CDs. I don't even use Bloodrage anymore...

No aoe threat? How about all the aoe threat? How about Thunder Clap does damage to everything? Even if they're 5, 10, 100 mobs. Sure you might think, that is how every aoe has worked, never being limited to a certain number of mobs. That is true, but I am also not limited by resources like mana and can clap away to infinity and beyond. It's a good thing it has a cooldown at least...

Ok, so I still don't have a ranged threat until I get Heroic Throw at level 80, but at least now I can charge in defensive stance and have got tools like Spell Reflect and Intervene. 

Even as a good tank (as I consider myself) I could count on losing aggro to some dps who wasn't following kill order who got some lucky crit streak. Now it's like I cannot lose aggro even if I completely let go of the keyboard and mouse and go make myself a cup of tea.

I just charge through instances with dps huffing behind me trying to keep up. It's fun, it's exhilarating, and it's going to get boring quite soon. It's just... too easy. I like tanking because it requires a lot of thought (if I want to chill while playing, I go heal in instances instead). I enjoy planning my pulls, planning my rotation and adapting it to the situation. Things are always the most fun when they go wrong and you just barely to make it because you used everything in your arsenal, and it worked. 

Fortunately, I know to enjoy it while it lasts, things are going to change once we actually get out to Northrend in a few weeks. I am definitely looking forward to that and in the meantime, I am going to blast through some more instances as the killing machine I am.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Netflix Resident Evil (2022) - Review (mild spoilers)

I am going to say straight off the bat that I am probably doing you a disservice by saying that I didn't end up hating this show. After having read the initial impressions I went in with extremely low expectations, and now that I've seen it I am a bit worried that it might be a prerequisite for not getting massively disappointed. Ok, off to a confused start? Good, that's as it should be when it comes to Resident Evil.

I am a pretty big Resident Evil fan. It started with the Remake actually, which got me to love the original. It lost me around RE4, I am quite old-school in how I want my zombies and my action. I loved the first Resident Evil movie with Milla Jovovich, the later once less but they're at least close enough to be somewhat entertaining. I liked the animated movies Degeneration, Damnation and Vendetta (haven't seen Infinite Darkness yet) and thought that the Netflix TV-series could at least have the potential to add something to the world of RE.

And she's cool.

It seems most people didn't like it
. It has got a pretty abysmal 3.9 on IMDB when writing this. I haven't dug too much around to see why that is. But it seems easily summed up in words like "disappointing" and "annoying".

I like to start with the bad, that way I can end with the good (where there is some). My biggest issue with RE Netflix is that it really ends up being two shows, and they don't mash particularly well. On the one side you have a (bad) teen-angst-drama. The show centers around sisters Jade and Billie who move to New Raccoon City and a lot of the show is about how they deal with feeling like outsiders. The other side of the show is about how their father (Wesker) might be insane and why the company he works for is so mysterious. It's easy to see the problems this show faces, because it can't decide which of these two story-lines to focus on. One of them is boring as nails, I'll give you one guess which one that is. The other one is a pretty decent take on the RE universe that I had fun watching.

I almost get the feeling that there was a team of actual RE fans trying to make a good show and execs came in and ruined it by trying to fit it into some hip demographic. Unfortunately I think the part of the hardcore RE fans that are also teenage girls who think no one understands them is very small. Why were they worried about making it just about RE? 

The choice in music is among the worst I have ever come across in television. If a scene is about Jade trying to figure out how she should support her sister Billie, a song comes on with someone singing something along the lines of "ohh, if I only knew what she was thinking of. Maybe I can help heeeeer?". If Billie is getting angry with her sister for showing boys more attention than her a song comes on singing "why can't she see meeeeee? If only I could make her understaaaaand". I am only slightly exaggerating. They must've literally done a word search on the dialogue to try to get song that fit, because they are excruciatingly on the nose. And why are these scenes that exist in a show about RE?

The whole thing about Jade and Billie is not just beyond boring, it's also pretty much useless even as a plot device. If they were completely cut out of the story it would've barely made a difference, other than make this show a hell of a lot better. I almost feel sorry for the two actors playing young Jade and Billie, because it is not their fault that they've been put in a show where no one wants them.

There is not enough of this.

The show also follows two timelines.
One of the mentioned young Jade and Billie as nervous teenagers and one as Jade as an adult where the world is already overrun by zombies. One can see it as one timeline taking place in the first Jovovich movie and the other in the last Jovovich movie. There are some plot twists, most of which are not particularly twisty, one which is halfway through the show and is absolutely amazingly twisty and actually had me sit up in my chair going "this is the RE I love!".

Lance Reddick, who plays Wesker, is probably the best thing about this show. Paula Núñez who plays Evelyn Marcus, the shows iteration of the crazy owner of Umbrella is also pretty spot on. If the show was only about these two it would've nailed a lot of RE (and zombie) tropes that we know and love; gigantic zombie animals, check. Someone getting murdered by a zombified family member, check. A lunatic trying to save the world by watching it burn, check. People making really poor decisions, check. Science doing things science can't do, check.

I really did have fun with this part. I suffered through the teen-angst for this part. Someone did a cut of Obi-wan that cut out all the stupid scenes. Something similar could possibly be done with this show, and it would be half as long. The show ends abruptly, at first I didn't realize I had finished it and was looking for the next episode. But there is a lot of good material here, some interesting and fun RE ideas. Maybe the most disappointing part is that they had to be forced to wallow around in a show that is nothing about RE. 


Tamara Smart, who plays young Jade, looks and acts so much like Heather Langenkamp (Nancy) from Nightmare on Elm Street. Look at them and tell me I am wrong.

There are quite a few references to the game series scattered throughout the show. Some are obvious, some are less so. It's fun to try and spot them.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Pizza Power Game (1987-1990)

Flea markets are such a great place to find unusual things. Old board games are no exception. A while back I came across this gem, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle: Pizza Power Game, and since I am a fan of TMNT (who isn't after all?) and also a big board game lover I had to buy it. I don't recall exactly what I paid, but it was around 20-40 Swedish Kronor, so around 3 euro.

The box art changes a lot between versions, in mine they're all happy.

As you can see it combines two of my favorite things, TMNT and board games. Is it any fun though? When I first tried it with my SO and two kids I didn't think it was all that. But the others liked it so we played it a bunch more and it kinda grew on me.

I guess the Sai and Nunchaku weren't cool enough.

My version is a Swedish release of the game, completely translated. It was released in 1990 whereas the original was released already in 1987 so at the same time as the TV series was first released. When I read up on the game online it seems that some of the rules from the American version have been changed, and for the better if you ask me.

Kudos for including April and Splinter

In my version you start with three "Good Guys" (and you should know who they are) and have to walk around the board fighting the "Bad Guys". When you end up on a space that says "Kamp" aka "Fight" you get to choose one of the cards on the board and then the fighting is basically Top Trumps. That means you choose one of the stats on your card and hope they are higher than the equivalent stat on the enemy card. Simple. You need to collect three "Bad Guys" with the same "clue", i.e the symbol in the corner in order to be able to enter the Technodrome. Once inside the Technodrome you get to look for the Mutagen, and when you find it you win the game.

Raphael looks like he has a doppelganger, I think they had trouble with the colour orange.

In the English version the combat seems to include some sort of dice roll, which is not included nor mentioned in the Swedish version. While I think that change is for the better, the Swedish version also includes some other really peculiar and unfortunate changes however, proving that whoever localized it clearly does not know anything about TMNT. I am not talking about the change to Hero instead of Ninja, I think the Swedes just copied the UK for that...

"You loose a Good Guy" when getting a pizza slice? No way! Unless maybe they're busy eating...?

But the Pizza Spinner, which allows you to move anywhere on the board if you get a pizza slice, or lose a Good Guy if you don't, actually does the opposite in the Swedish version. Not only does that mean you have 75% chance to get a bad outcome, it also means the pizza slice is the bad outcome. Anyone who knows their TMNT knows that doesn't make any sense. When we play the game we play it the way it is supposed to be, and not according to what it says on the Spinner. 

Canis and Cayman are exclusive to the European Version. Kerato and Tusker too maybe?

There are some oddities going on in the game overall too, like what is up with some of the names of the Bad Guys? Rocksteady is called Kerato and Bebop is called Tusker? You might think that these are some Swedish versions of the names, like Kalle Anka (Donald Duck) and Läderlappen (Batman), but no. Swedish TMNT has all the original names intact. A quick search on the internet shows that versions in other languages also uses these names, and I have no idea why. Also the turtles are all wielding the wrong weapons, but now I am getting picky.

It looks busy, like every good board game should.

Oddities aside though, this game is quite fun and definitely one of my flea market gems.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Technicolor Time Machine by Harry Harrison - Book Review

Do you like stories about time travel? Who doesn't, am I right? Without sounding superfluous, I would like to say it's one of those genres of literature that must be simultaneously the easiest and the toughest to write about. On the one hand time travel could be anything you want it to be, since we have no reality to compare it to. On the other hand it's so easy to write yourself into mind-bending paradoxes that make the reader just think you're being silly now. If you're trying to do it seriously it must be an impossibility to keep every timeline clean from scrutiny. I am sure even the most serious creator gives up at some point and realizes that some things are just not going to be explainable.

If you want to read something very educating and interesting about "real" time travel, as we understand it today, I can really recommend Kip Thorne's "Black Holes and Time Warps". Kip Thorne was also scientific consultant on the movie Interstellar, which shows how some of the theoretical ideas from the book could work.

A cover that captures the essence.

I really think I don't come across time travel often enough in literature, please point me to some good works if you know of any. Maybe that is why I enjoy sci-fi on TV where this seems to be explored at a regular basis, my go-to Star Trek has delivered on so many I'd be hard pressed to even say my favorites (but it is probably telling that both The Voyage Home and First Contact rank among my favorite Star Trek movies).

H.G Well The Time Machine is interesting from a history of literature (or history of sci-fi) point of view, but it's not very entertaining to read. Because good time travel stories seem few and far between in literature, I was very happy to come across Harry Harrison's "The Technicolor Time Machine" from 1967. It's one of those deliciously funny stories that takes the time travel story and runs with it to its furthest reaches.

- Ottar has signed the contract. I was very surprised to find an Icelandish notarius publicus here...
- You can find anything in Hollywood.

The concept of the book is as funny as it is silly. Time is money. So if you're a movie company and have no money but a time machine, couldn't you save a lot of money by simply time traveling? Let's just say, it's not going to be that easy. 

The main character, director Barney Hendrickson, works for a movie company that is just about to go bust. It has about as much money needed to make one last movie, but no time to make it before the banks come and take it all away. Because of reasons, Barney happens to know a professor who has invented a working time machine. Barney decides to use it to jump back to the time of the Vikings (around year 1000) to shoot a movie about the Vikings "discovering" the Americas, which they called Vinland. The idea is based on the very real theory that Vikings briefly settled on the Canadian coast, way before Columbus ever set foot there.

- There is a hostile guard. You need to sneak up there and kill him just like if this was for real.
- But why?
- Why? What kind of question is that, Ottar...?

The time traveling works fine, but it turns out that the practicalities of shooting a movie aren't removed because you suddenly have all the time in the world. Barney has to make the most out of the fact that the time machine can allow you to spend any amount of time in history and still only use one second of time in the "now". In the "present" Barney only has a weekend to finish the whole movie so he constantly needs to make sure no one spends any time there. He sends off the script writer to Trilobite-time to finish the script. He has to send off the lead actor to a different time because of an injury. They forget one of the actors in-between jumps (one second in present time, a year in Viking-time) which has life-altering implications for her. They leave the old-norse language historian in Viking time for months so that he can teach the lead Viking actor to speak English. 

That's not even to mention the ordeals of getting the native time-inhabitants to cooperate with a project they don't understand on any level. Nor the fact that they have to deal with hostile forces that literally want to kill them. Barney takes it all in stride and makes the most out of it. When he fails to get the native Indians to "act" in the movie he decides to use the very real attack on the settlement in the movie instead.

- I didn't want to bother you while you were eating, she said.
- Why not? After what I just ate my digestion will never be the same. Do you know what a Trilobite is?

The end result is nothing but a romp, in the best of ways. It gets to the right kind of confusing and hilarious, like a slice of something out of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It always feels like a miracle that Barney can keep track of where everyone is on the timeline and most importantly how much pay they are due (an ever constant argument with the company owner, who keeps arguing that only mere hours have passed in the present and everyone should get paid accordingly). 

The Swedish version called "Barney the Time Traveler Saga". I don't think the cover artist has read the book.

Because it is a book about time travel it wouldn't be a proper ending without a twist, one that I foresaw pretty early on but which was nonetheless clever and thought-provoking.

The Technicolor Time Machine is the kind of book that is created when someone has an interesting idea over a cup of coffee somewhere and they go "what would happen if...". Harrison brings it all together marvelously. It has some flaws, there are some not so well aged, "to be expected of the time"- caricatures (anyone who isn't a white male is horribly stereotype, I tried to read it as a parody), and my Swedish copy (from 1982) is a pretty bad translation. But it doesn't remove from the fact that the overall concept and execution works to entertain. 

This was my first book by Harry Harrison and I am eager to find more. I am actually surprised this hasn't been turned into an actual movie, because the book reads like one, and I think it would be brilliant in the right hands.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Zinn Plays - Cultures (PC)

One of my favorite games ever is Settlers 2, or Die Siedler as the original German version is called and which my optimistic German grandma gifted my then 8 year old something little brother back in the late 90's. I can see her reasoning, Settlers 2 is seemingly a game about building rather than killing and destroying, during a time when DOOM and all their clones were flooding the market this must've seemed like a boon to all the wanna-do-good grandparents around, and overall grandma was correct. Although there is the possibility to kill enemies in Settlers 2, the majority of the game is spent building, crafting and balancing resources. 

My 8 year old brother had zero interest in that concept however, but I did. At first I played entirely without enemies, probably unknowingly exactly the way my grandma would've wanted, and it turned out to be a great way to learn the basics of the game without the stress of being killed. When something stopped working I could slowly figure out why.

Knowing how much fun I'd had with Settlers 2 throughout the years made me curious to check out Cultures, originally released in 2000. Starting it up I was immediately greeted with the possibility to play a tutorial, but I decided to opt out figuring that a well designed game would make me understand while playing, the same way I had with Settlers 2 all those years back.

My first impression was at once that it reminded me a lot of Settlers 2, which meant Cultures was off to a good start. And interestingly enough Cultures was also designed by a German developer, Funatics, just like Settlers 2, Blue Byte. In fact, the people who started Funatics were ex-Blue Byte personnel. There was even an expansion to Settlers 2 produced by Funatics called "Settlers 2 - Rise of Cultures" released in 2008. It doesn't feel like a long-shot to claim that the Settlers-series worked as a heavy influencer to the Cultures-series. Maybe someone had ideas that weren't realized in the Settlers series and decided to explore them themselves?

Because there are some notable differences between the series. While the Settlers series (at least the ones I have played) focuses on the gathering of resources for the building of structures, Cultures leans a lot more heavily on population management. In Settlers 2 any and all humans needed for a job just spawn out of nowhere like an endless resource. In Cultures, your people are a resource to be managed as well and the most crucial one by far.

In Cultures your men need to be born, told where to live, told which job to do, learn it well over time (or go to school and learn it well a bit faster), get a wife, have children with her and the new child continues the loop. The women on the other hand need to be born, marry, have children and cook for their family. You can imagine the big sigh I let out when I realized this. I decided to not let it ruin my fun however.

Every person (and they all have their own names) in your little settlement needs food but not all people create food, meaning there is an important tactical choice every time you choose to give someone a more secondary useful job like shoemaker rather than a huntsman. Will the rest of the population be able to sustain this shoemaker? Maybe they will all walk a bit faster because of their new and improves shoes which will increase food-production over time (I am actually not entire sure what shoes do to improve the population). Where should my new Huntsman work and will the women be able to reach his tent fast enough to be able to cook for their families? It is just the right amount of annoying when you see an alert that someone is going around hungry, when you know one of your Fishermen Huts is filled with fish. 

Everything moving along nicely.

Because so much focus has been put on the population management in Cultures, some other things have been made considerably easier. For instance, unlike in Settlers 2, most resources in Cultures seem to last either forever or at least way longer. Hunters don't seem to be able to run out of wildlife to kill nor can the fishermen overfish their waters. Once you've assigned someone to their job they seem to be able to go at it forever, giving you all the time you need to manage your people, right?

The controls are easy to grasp, especially if you have previous knowledge of this genre, and it didn't take me too long to figure out roughly how I needed to move along to keep everyone happy. Knowing and doing are two different things however, and I find myself tweaking my micro-managing in just the same fun ways I did with Settlers 2. Every now and then the game throws a wrench in my works, like someone not being able to pathfind their way back to their home (working as intended) or me realizing that in my eagerness to create men that work the fields I've not birthed enough women that do the hidden work, slowly making my civilization crash before my eyes (almost an apt political statement from the creators).

Just like Settlers 2 this proves to be an incredibly more-ish concept. It is very satisfying to try to figure out the balance between your resources and making sure not to tip the scale the wrong way. It is fun to realize that by trying to solve a problem by adding a new worker I just actually added to my problems. When I look down on my little settlement and see everyone working like little cogs in a machinery, I'm almost afraid to add any little thing to it, lest it sets off a cascade of issues. Problem-solving these kind of issues has always been one of the things that have attracted me to the genre.

Because Cultures is about the lives of people it is slow work though. I haven't checked if this game has a "speed-up"-button like Settlers 2 (I some times played entire sittings with speed-up activated), but in either case you've got to be prepared for a whole lot of leaning back in your chair and read a good book while waiting for things to happen. One of the most common occurring themes in reviews for this game was how slow it was, and I can definitely agree with that. But not in a bad way and never to the point where it gets boring. A lot of these city-building games, and maybe it was something about the times they were made as well, are designed in the way where you set up an amount of orders, wait for it to happen and then reap/repair accordingly. Set up your next amount of orders, rinse and repeat over and over. 

Even if waiting for someone to grow up so that you finally can get that really needed Merchant can sound like the dullest concept for a game, and despite what I just claimed above, in reality you're rarely absolutely out of things to do. If nothing else there is still a lot of thinking to do, about things you are going to have to do, about things that look like they might not work for much longer and are going to need fixing etc.

That is the charm with these kind of games and as much as Settlers 2 made me love it for it, Cultures is doing a great job in capturing the same essence with a similar but quite different take on it. Part of the appeal here is the meditative state they put me in and things just kind of trudging along and the world around you disappears. It's not stressful, and extremely rewarding when you get things right.

My 8 year old brother had no interest in Settlers 2, but my 8 year old at home showed great interest in Cultures. After having tried it for a while on his own though he seemed to think things didn't go so well and we decided it would be the most fun to play together. And any game that can get a modern kid away from Minecraft is at least doing something right.