Monthly Archives: May 2012

South Africa you

As anyone following this blog would know, I am a rather big fan of Russia Today.  Essentially I am suspicious of the news, unless I hear it via RT.  Turning to their site today, i was shocked to find my marginalized little country rocking their top stories. A South African politician (Humphrey Mmemezi – the minister of  housing in Gauteng) apparently bought a ten grand painting (from a buddy of his, I bet) with state funds.  Trying to do it all undercover, but failing hard SA-style, he got another buddy, the operator of a McD’s, to charge his government-issued credit card for the total – 256 BigMac MacMeals worth – who must have then paid the artist…  Shame, I almost feel sorry for the guy;  Trying so hard, at such a minor con.  If you compare this little spot of corruption, to say ‘the arms deal’, you’ll see that this guy is small fry.  I mean: buying the state a painting it didn’t need (maybe he thought he’d keep it, but it is their’s now) with the state’s money, is nothing compared to buying us a pack of choppers and a sub that we’ll never use (and most likely can’t).

LdS

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Diablo 3 Reply

I should probably tell you, I used your message on a wordpress blog I started. I would have asked to publish your words, only, as you sent the message via facebook, they own the rights now.

I feel your pain; I have the same cheated feel you have. We were about ten years old when we first got a look at a Diablo dungeon and heard the Butcher. Fifteen years have past and I think we were/are all hoping for the love affair to continue.

Sorry I didn’t reply, I am in the middle of exams at the moment. So yeah, Diablo III launched during exam time. Sort of fitting, as Diablo 2 was probably responsible for most of the poor marks I got in high school. Anyway, I played the beta a while back before a few gameplay changes were introduced. I had worries then already… Lord, I had no idea how bad things were. Before they made the changes (I played a demon hunter on early beta) as a seasoned game critic, I sensed the bullshit. Back then they still had a few familiar features which helped hide the fact that the games soul has been ripped out (things like potions, scrolls of tp and id, and skill points to spend). Originally the demon hunter shot things amazonian style; now she gets a machine gun skill at like lvl 4 or something. Anyway, my D3 had been on pre-order since Christmas – I felt like I had to get it even though I’ve long had suspicions it would bomb. My lack of faith comes from Blizzards post Warcraft 3 track record – I am not a WoW fan and Starcraft2 is a racket. Now I’ve got the game and I’ve been playing it for a few days (lvl 33 barbarian, act 1 nigthmare), and I think I can comment.

I’m not quite sure just how much Dabs you’ve played in your life, but for me it’s almost definitely more than I have spent on study-work, and probably will still be once I have done Honours next year. I’m pretty sure I’ve got an honorary Doctorate in Diablo. I’ve played and replayed every character, from both Diablo’s and their expansions. So I know from Dabs… And also I never once had crack-addict regrets playing so much D2 – I fucking loved it.

For me the cartoon graphics story was never a worry. I also enjoyed the gothic ambiance of Diablo II, but to be quite honest I would have played it in ascii. I actually recently played Dwarf Fortress (an ascii game) and it was one of the best games I’ve tried in a while. But ya, the graphics don’t worry me, although now as I’ve been playing D3 and you’ve made me take note, I am a little sickened with blue blood stains and pink shoulder armour. First thing I did when I found cheap dye for sale (in-game), is buy a naked dye, and then run around with my barb’s chest and stomach on show, in pink shoulder-caps, and a green skirt. Generally in games that try and encourage me to customize my looks, I make myself look as close to a fat, naked, black woman as possible (made her in her entirety in Saints Row). It’s sort of a quiet rebellion against metrosexuality and the invasion of its ethos into real male life.

The gameplay, for me, is all that matters. The videos are pretty awesome (I only watched pieces of them – I thought: “if the game is any good I’ll have plenty of opportunity to watch them”). I also think the big D is looking better than ever, resembling a Horned Reaper ala Dungeon Keeper, as opposed to the doglike devil from D2, and the slightly bigger Butcher from D1. Good points aside (and there are actually a few good points), the mechanics let D3 down.
The items

The reason I refused to play WoW was the lack of imagination in the game mechanics, and now they are bringing it to Diablo. All the items that you get now just add hundreds of stats; if I took my new magical boots of +44 agil, +12 str, + 27 dex, back to D2 and put them on my level 91 paladin, I would get punkbusted as a hacker. Not to mention a blue spear I found recently with +98 str and 40 something vitality. Glay, my lvl 91 D2 pally, wears a nice fast pair of unique ‘magic find’ boots, which give zero stats. My new barbarian (OldyZOIZ – after Oldy2004 – after Oldy) uses items that give him: thousands more hp (from +vitality items), tons of armour (more from +dex items than from armour), points of life gain per hit (not a lovely % lifesteal), and extra bonus from health globe pickups. And yes those health globes are horrid. They are very necessary though, with the game virtually unplayable (melee at least) unless you are picking them up. As a barbarian, I have also been given at least three skills that have their own built-in life steal. The boringness of the items means that I often just have to go by the suggested retail price in order to determine whether an item deserves to be replaced or used.

HP

The issue with the life probably bugs me the most. The developers seem to me to have stripped the life out of the game with just the removal of health potions. Health potions promoted/demanded visits to the shop. While there: why not check out the goods? Fill up these pesky tombs? Could probably use a quick repair, and gamble the change on an amulet. It was a really good feeling going out into the fog to find money to do it again. Bosses, including magical zombies and stuff, are relatively buff now. So while fighting, health recovery is vital. Potions are given a cooldown, so either you fight for a potion-length of time and leave for a while, or make another plan. My first instinct would be to get a lot of lifesteal and tank the creep, but I have only found one weak, magical lifesteal spear. Of course the gem system is up the creek, and I don’t see any skulls or other obviously lifestealing artefacts on the horizon. You get a little bit of ‘life gain per hit’, and ‘regen per second’, but when shit gets serious this does about nothing. Contrasted to those approaches to the lifegain dilemma, is the life-orb. It’s not to difficult to find a belt that will add a couple of hundred bonus hp to what must already be about 500 for collecting one of these balls; as well as items that give extra reach for collecting them. This leaves one (barbarian) with the options: fight-hope critters drop orbs-die-respawn with damaged armour-repeat, or fight-potion-fight-run away-potion-repeat. This makes it a choice between: easy with damaged armour costs, or difficult and tedious, with severely higher potions costs. You could probably re-setup the “build” for the occasion, but that would reset cooldown on all skills, and anyway you don’t want to be looking at those fucking panels that allow you to choose to run or jump away, and slam or slice an enemy.

The build.

In Diablo2, you got an idea of what a build is, which was then successfully transported to other games. A build is: the combination of skills, chosen from various alternatives, combined with items that give you something that your stats don’t, and a unique playing style for that character. It centers around specialization in a certain field/tactic; and it is based on character decisions which are final, and acquiring items with particular characteristics. Some of my favourite D2 builds include: hammerdin (hammer throwing paladin), lighting javazon (javelin-amazon), cold/lightning sorceress, healing only paladin, and summoning neci. They all require certain items to work properly; some like the healer need some advanced unique gear, but others just needed to focus on certain properties found in magical items (like faster run speed/mana regen/lifesteal). Items back in the day, btw, had properties that matched their rarity – rare properties on rares, unique ones on uniques… Now a rare has a rare amount of stats, and a legendary gives a legendary amount stats.

A build is not: a combination of skills chosen from a pool, combined with items that for the most part just add statistics to buff you, and a playing style that is already determined for you. After the first day grinding skeletons I was already losing focus on what my skills were actually supposed to be doing, and was just holding mouse-click and rolling 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4. The sense of accomplishment you would get when you design and realize a working build is gone. Now you must make do with “setups”. The build of specifically chosen skills, is replaced with a setup of changeable skills for a specific occasion. The days of playing and re-playing and re-playing a character in order to best realize each possible Act V-Hell-finishing build, are over. Now if I get my barb to level 60, I can essentially set him up, give him the right items, and he will be the prototypical “setup” of a certain barb. Give him other items and he is another. There is no need to ever have more than one character of a class, you only have to keep the other setups items in your stash, and pop them on like Spiderman. It also seems like lvl 60 is the cap (for now at least) and it is reachable (some of my friends were there in 3 days). Returning to Glay, who is lvl 91, I never intended to even try for the lvl cap of 99. They have made a new WoW. Being at character level cap, and still grinding monsters for the items that will give you the edge is WoW. You can see it when you respawn so often your armour breaks. When durability is zero you stop getting the item bonuses, so a barb with 3000 life might respawn to find that without those items he’s only got 400. What they’ve done is made you – as reflected through your character – a clicking/walking item stand, for your items to battle monsters using your own personal choice of three main attacks. 3 choices for what my click does is just not acceptable.

The idea of skill modifying runes is not bad, but they needed to be found and used, not unlocked and enabled. Unlocked and selected is for Playstation, on a computer we collect and spend. It’s not that bloody complicated. You could find a rune, use it on a skill, and feel hella pimping. If I could find runes to use on skills that I chose and am mastering, I would be in-game, not typing this.

By having removed the choices (which a smart player would use to specialize, not diversify), and forcing a player to rely solely on items (which they present when they feel fit), they control the scale of difficulty completely. To gain the edge over the monsters (which is ultimately everyone’s goal) so that you can smash your way through critters without having to click twice, is near impossible. You could try farm some items for another character, but they would need level’s to use these items (not stats which you could stockpile in D2), and therefore they would quickly become obsolete anyway. Furthermore, every boss (and sub-boss) not only has a checkpoint outside his door, but a waypoint on the same mini-map screen (that will blink through the fog of war for those people that aren’t sure if they should find and activate them.) This is so that when you die, which you probably will, as the correct build to use against that particular boss isn’t one you regularly play, you can just pop right back into the action. The arena for the battle will also likely have an unexplained health well or two – makes me feel like: “if your gonna have to give me more life for this battle, couldn’t you rather have just have given this boss a little less?”

Nightmare difficulty did feel more Diablo-like, but it’s hard to at level 30 just forget all the problems with the game and act like it makes sense that I haven’t pumped skill points into a particular offensive/defensive skill. Ironically the henchmen, who auto levelled in D2 (and died – needing to be cared for, and revived when dead, if you wanted him to level – another place you used to be rewarded for being good at Diablo), is the only place you seem to be able to make decisions; choosing their skills. You do get to swap them out between three different kinds, but they share experience, so letting her/him/them tag along is no big deal, whether you choose to equip them or not.

There seems to be no sort of punishment for being shit at Diablo, which means that the seriousness of the game is lost, as well as the “scariness”. The lizards at Blizzard think that by making bosses tougher, and having them teleport away or make you fight their shadow, they have made a legit Diablo. No! Categorically, objectively, and downright bullshit. I have had the game a while now and have no Dabs pains, no need to see green and gold, no withdrawal symptoms from the grind. That is a bad sign Blizzard, especially as I am willing and able, and stand as part of what I am sure is a lot of original Diabloaholics who actively request you to enslave us. I will play the game, but that is no tribute to D3, but rather to my devotion to D2; D3 has been caught in the gravity of my love for D2. I haven’t however lost hope, the ratings must just dictate the next move. There are plenty of positive points to the game (mostly minor things, like speech continues through the load screens) and with the online game changes, there could be more in the future, they could even fix the childish mechanics. If I think of how quickly the D3beta turned into the completely different D3 we know today, as well as how much D2 changed on its way to version 1.11, I think there is still a chance we’ll feel the love again. Then again if the hordes who endlessly grind WoW for stats support it, it may be like this for good.

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My Interpretation of the News – 13 May 2012

Well here is what I have seen in the news today…  Just as Adrian Salbuchi outlines here, the story of regime change is never as transparent as one would hope.  Syria, with its value vested in its geographical proximity to Israel and the rest of the Middle East, has received some rather lacking coverage in the mainstream media.  On a lighter note: it turns out that American cops often use more ammo shooting one black dude – or suspected “criminal” – than all the German cops use in a year; and in what is a pretty cheap shot for RT, they did an article on the big-boobed FOX newswomen.  As they put it: “According to a poll published by Fairleigh Dickinson University, people who get their information from Fox News know significantly less about news both in the US and the world than people who watch no news at all.”

Oh, and US student debt breached 1 trillion Dollars. A trillion Dollars!!! Makes that 4 Billion for warheads just seem so much more affordable now…

~ Ludwig de Silva – 13.05.2012

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A look at other blogs.

I started writing here for shits and giggles, but after taking a look at some of the other blogger’s work, and impressive sites, I’m left a little jealous and perhaps a little inspired.  Here are a couple of other WordPress sites that I have found and enjoyed:

First, for all your moustache-fetish needs: steeshes.  Here is a taster: Batman Mustache.

Then we have a Canadian dude who discusses the future of technology: at thepostpc.  I found him with this lovely little article about the advanced Lego shoplifting techniques of Silicon Valley’s elite.

More to follow…

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Just What We Needed.

Glad to see the US government taking this whole world economic crisis thing seriously.  Turning to RT today, I see the US is making room in it’s “Defense” budget for 4 billion Dollars more nukes for NATO.  A few months ago there were talks about invading and occupying (indefinitely of course) Iran for supposed nuclear arms aspirations.  Of course 4 thousand million dollars worth of extra nukes for NATO will help stacks in those peace-keeping missions.  If my tax money was going towards nuclear warfare while people nationwide were homeless and starving… I don’t know, I think I would have to start thinking about getting a little bit Taxi Driver.

~ Ludwig de Silva – 12.05.2012

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Superman President

According to RT, some random guy in a prison in the USA, who claims to be a Harvard educated Jedi or some shit, almost beat Borack Obama with 41% of the votes in the West Virginia Democratic presidential primary.  They suggest that people were just voting against B.O and not so much for this crazy-haired, Shakespearean-knave looking thing.  These people are at least wising up to what they do not want – finally.  All they need now is to work out what they do want – Ron Paul.

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Email from my cousin before Diablo season:

Apologies in advance! You’re the only person I know who can appreciate my pain, so here goes (feel free to disregard this entirely, turns out in my anger I had more to say than I bargained for!)

So Blizzard made the Diablo 3 Beta open to the public this weekend, ending on Tuesday.

Needless to say, after the fit of squealing and jumping had subsided I promptly stopped all my other precious downloads (a full HD rip of L.A. Confidential and the new episode of Game of Thrones), hurried to my PC and started installing it.

It was a 5GB install, and to be fair it actually finished in record speed – impressive considering I must have been one of literally millions of people downloading it off Blizzard’s servers at the same time. With a sense of excitement like I cannot actually describe, I double-clicked on the desktop icon and clicked through the obligatory launch-screen.

A seriously swish title screen pops up, requesting that you log in to Battle.net. Turns out you need to be actively signed in to play, even in single player… delightful. Apparently a lot of Diablo 3’s code runs in the cloud, so the developers can fix bugs and game balance issues in real-time without having to release a patch (which is interesting I guess). Anyway, turns out I already had a Battle.net account and was able to sign in and get going pretty quickly. A small price to pay for access to my beloved birthright.

To my surprise, despite the big-ass download, the Beta didn’t come with the opening cinematic. As a result, I was plunged straight into the game, with my character going on about some “fallen star” – no idea what he was talking about. Whatever, let’s go kill something.

I must have played it for about 5 hours in total. There were crashes every now and again, which had to do with the Blizzard servers being overloaded. There were also times when the servers were down completely, resulting in being unable to play at all. I hoped these were just Beta-related issues.

But as I played, working my way to the end of the Beta (essentially the first “Act” in Diablo 2 terms), an uncomfortable, whispering voice started in the back of my head. It grew louder and more insistent as time went by. I tried to dismiss it as sleep deprivation, or the crack-cocaine, but eventually it was loud and clear: The horrible, blasphemous realisation that Diablo 3 simply isn’t any good.

Gasp!

I tried to deny it at first (surely they wouldn’t betray me like this?), but it slowly dawned on me that Blizzard had, in fact, just raped my childhood.

Where to begin?

The gameplay
—————-

Wow. Those first screenshots all those years ago made us fear that Blizzard was turning it into a kid-friendly “World of Diablo” type game with big armour, big glowing swords and talking pandas. If only we had known then that the graphics were going to be the least of our problems.

The gameplay itself has been the most affected by the WoW design philosophy. It’s like they put on a pair of big, pink, fluffy kid-gloves to make sure that no player could face even the slightest challenge of any kind, or to be burdened with the mental trauma of making a decision.

There are those mind-numbing tutorial messages everywhere, grabbing your attention and making sure that you know how every aspect of the game works at all times. There’s nothing to discover, or to try out. Gone are the days of fiddling with socketed items to see how they work, trial-and-error crafting systems or the sense of reward you get for figuring something out on your own. They spoon-feed you every step of the way.

Every 12 clicks or so of the mouse, you are greeted with a big shiny “Achievement Unlocked” message of some sort, usually for some completely asinine accomplishment – “Destroyed 6 pieces of the environment!”, “Killed two Elite monsters!”, “Sold 1000gp worth of crap!”. I absolutely loath that fake, gamifying tribute to MMOs. This is about being the lone fighter against the hordes of chaos, not collecting “badges” for the furniture that you broke.

The combat was pretty cool at first – the enemies flying around, great animations, lots of “impact” and “oomph” when you beat the living (unliving) crap out of a monster. However, the physics quickly became silly – using any sort of special ability makes the monsters fly kilometres of the screen.

Eventually however it became apparent that Blizzard was dead keen on removing any semblance of challenging combat from their new baby – we live in an age of auto-healing, auto-targeting and auto-saving, after all, and Blizzard is by no means the exception. Enemies now drop health-orbs which heal you on touch (how they justify that setting and realism-wise is beyond me – imagine how ludicrous a dropped health-orb would be from a monster in Diablo 2 – those monsters wanted to KILL YOU, not leave you parting gifts of health) rendering healing potions very much useless. The difficulty scales up so incredibly gradually that you’re more than fully prepared at every new location. In D2 it was easy to get cocky and suddenly be absolutely obliterated if you weren’t careful – here you cockiness goes unpunished, and if anything is completely justified. It is just too easy… and boring as a result. And, of course, following the 2012 gaming design mantra, absolutely nothing bad happens to you upon death. At higher levels your items need to be repaired if you die (awww) but there’s no loss of gold, XP, items or dignity when dying.

But the worst part, the one thing that makes this unplayable, is the character progression:

You get absolutely no say in your character’s abilities, other than the equipment he’s using. Literally. When I first levelled up, it came up with this message saying “You’ve received an increase it abilities! +2 Str, +1 Dex, +2 Health…” etc. I thought this was pretty cool at first – auto-assigning ability points for you meant no need to juggle meaningless numbers and potentially break a class that wasn’t designed to have, say, nothing but high Willpower. Cool.

But the problem is this extends to skills as well. You get a new skill point, as usual, but it is for a specific skill – you can’t use it anywhere else. So you go to the skills menu, click the skill they want you to click, and it unlocks. You’ve got to wonder why they even make you bother clicking through the menu – why not just a message “You got the X skill!” or whatever. The skill “tree” is an illusion – the branches don’t represent choices at all.

So you literally get new skills thrown at you, which are even automatically assigned to the hotbar and fixed in place. You play the class they designed, to a play style they intended, using the hotkeys they want you to use! This seems designed to prevent you from wasting skill points on skills you don’t use, which is admirable, but the approach is completely castrating. Heaven forbid little Timmy makes a bad skill decision and writes an angry letter to Blizzard.

Pretty much no customisation is present, other than inventory. And even there, each class has class-restricted items that you would be stupid not to use.
So now, not only is levelling-up a completely unrewarding affair (you don’t actually get to make any choices, it’s just a meaningless on screen message that throws a new skill at you) but there is no longer an element of “looking forward” to specific skills and attributes – no planning needed to get a specific skill or item to work.

No sitting on that item that needs a certain strength score and then finally getting the attribute points you need to use it (items are now only level or class dependent). No waiting to unlock a skill you need further in the tree. You just take what they give you. It has become completely and utterly linear. There is nothing satisfying about levelling up anymore – contrast that with D2, Titan Quest or Torchlight to see just how fail this is.

The only progression-rewarding part of the gameplay is loot, and even that has become as unexciting as possible: magic items are auto-identified so there’s never any mystery, gold is picked up automatically so there’s nothing satisfying about collecting it, and there just simply isn’t, for reasons I don’t understand, that same sense of excitement when you see a blue/green/gold item pop out of a monster. It feels pointless just collecting gear when all your character is, is a walking loot-repository.

I have no doubt that the dumbing down of the character levelling system is in part designed to put more emphasis on items, which can be bought and sold for real money in the online Diablo 3 Auction site, where Blizzard makes a % cut off every sale. Surprise surprise.

The graphics
—————

Without harping on about them, those initial screenshots confirmed the fears – the graphics are definitely, absolutely WoW inspired. Big armour, big swords, shiny and glowy everything. Quake 2 style lighting – coloured lighting of every sort gives the environments a Rainbow Pony Land feel, not a twisted-corrupted-cathedral- tainted-from-the-bowels-of-Hell feel.

Items on the ground blaze like the sun, emitting bright blue or green particles even for the most mundane item – you’d be forgiven for mistaking that “Cracked Club” for a particularly awesome magic item.

I totally “get it”, in theory – since the days of Diablo 2, there has been a revolution in game design with regards to helping the player see the points of interest on the screen, using shape, text and colour theory to draw the eye to the most important parts of the game window. But this is ridiculous – it’s hard to be drawn into a supposedly gothic horror, gloomy setting when the “Inferior Leather Pants” are sparkling blue particles. To add insult to injury, they’ve kept the “Hold ALT to see the items on the ground” feature. Surely that would have been enough? If someone misses the item on the ground because they weren’t looking, or because they didn’t use the ALT button, surely they deserve to miss it? Can’t that be part of the challenge, and of making items a little more special? Again, I suspect the Item Auction has something to do with this – when these things are worth real money, you can’t have potential profit just lying around uncollected.

The monsters aren’t scary. In Diablo 2 (or even better, Diablo 1) the monsters were terrifying – they looked real, threatening and the bosses very much aligned to the whole gothic-horror, Lovecraftian “unknown monstrosity” ethos. In Diablo 3, the monsters are nothing but temporary-loot-carriers. It’s very hard to be scared by mosters that glow and sparkle, and bosses who are just scaled up minions with huge glowing armour and giant anime-style chunky weapons and cartoon-character colouring.

This may not seem important, but it really is – in D2, if you were surrounded by a horde of creepily realistic, blood thirsty monsters, you FELT this “triumph of good over evil” thing when you managed to scrape your way out of it. There is no conflict, no fear and no real separation between you and the monsters.

Sigh.

Sound
——–

Great! 5 stars. 😛

Story
——

Even more obscure and harder to follow than ever. Deckard Cain is, strangely, sounding younger than ever… Which is weird, because this game takes place AFTER D2…

So in summary, biggest disappointment known to man. And I saw it coming, if I’m honest. Diablo 3 has more in common with Torchlight than it does with Diablo 2 – they sold out so, so hard it actually hurts. The creative director on this thing needs to be shot.

Never thought I would say this, but after almost a decade of waiting I will not be buying Diablo 3.

That is all.

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