Dragonborn DLC for Skyrim: Details!

Bethesda dropped some news about the new DLC for everyone’s favourite levelling up sim SkyrimDubbed Dragonborn, players will get to go to Solstheim (remember the expansion pack Bloodmoon for Morrowwind? Bingo) and fight the first dragonborn and a bunch of other monsters. There will be werewolves too, and presumably not just yourself looking into a mirror.

If this doesn’t inspire terror, I don’t know what will.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Humble Indie Bundle and How Skyrim is Ruining the World

Humble Indie Bundle 4 is out. Do it up, good games, good prices, good charities, etc. Plus, if you’re an awful human being, you can pay like $0.01 or something (or nothing at all!)

Dave Banks AKA GEEK DAD has a humorous post about why Skyrim is ruining the economy. Most of his points are true, and I find it lamentable that aside from Dungeons of Dredmor, which I only play when my girlfriend has stolen Skyrim from me, is the only game other than Skryim I’ve played since, well, Skyrim was released. Read it, laugh, share it, etc.


Things I’m Doing Instead of Working

Having had two weeks off due to a work injury, I’ve had plenty of time to work on my various grad school applications. Of course, I squandered that time horribly. Here’s a list of things I’ve done and am doing.

Watched Dawn of the Dead

AWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW YEAH!!!!!!!

I hadn’t seen Dawn of the Dead until a little while ago. Now I have. Solid film. There ya go.

Watching Sherlock

Sherlock is a recent BBC take on the classic with it taking place in modern-day London. Holmes is a semi-professional police consultant who has an eye for detail and an obsession with text messaging and Watson is a vet of Afghanistan with a bit of post-traumatic stress disorder. As a whole, it’s a great show. While I’ve yet to see subsequent episodes in the first series, the first episode was great.

There is one thing I found very interesting, and that is the use of text messaging itself. Sherlock is SMS obsessed, it seems, so texts are flying around all over the place. Typically when that happens in a show, either the character reads the message out loud or the camera zooms to the phone so we can read the message. Instead, in Sherlock, the messages appear on screen, as below:

Holmes does seem the type to sign his text messages.

I think it is a cool way to address the problem of texts on a screen (in that if you have a button-mashing protagonist there is going to be a ton of texts being sent, and you can only pan to someone’s iPhone so many times before it gets old). It is a little distracting, but there is something cool and, I dunno, video-gamey about having messages pop up like that. At the very least, it’s creative.

Watching The Walking Dead

Part of being a good zombie-wasteland wanderer is being able to make hard decisions.

I’m just going to say it: The Walking Dead is a pretty mediocre T.V. show. There isn’t a single character to care about, the acting is awful, the pacing is pretty bad, and the series plot is incomprehensible and/or stupid. The zombies look good, which is great if you just like zombies, but here’s something else: zombies suck. Of all the paranormal undead creatures that walk the earth, zombies have to be the absolute lamest. They aren’t scary, can’t think, and all they do is eat. If I wanted to watch people that were dead inside gorge themselves, I’d head to a buffet, thanks. With it on a break, I am currently evaluating whether or not I want to keep on watching.

Watching Community

TROY AND ABED IN THE MORNINGS!

It’s still on the air for a little while before its much ballyhooed hiatus, and it’s still, well, good. The thing with Community though is that it is so hit-or-miss. Some episodes are hilarious, others are just stupid. Granted, they seem to be more hit than miss, which is great. In the show’s defense, it has to have one of the most likable casts in awhile and is certainly one of the most unique television shows to hit airwaves in awhile.

Not watching Whitney

The kind of wacky shit that goes on in NBC's hit sitcom, Whitney.

I have never seen an episode of Whitney. I only know that it is staying on the air during the mid-season and Community is being dropped. A lot of people have been lambasting Whitney and blaming it on Community not continuing to air because of NBC dropped Whitney, which is allegedly awful, Community could air. However, Community is being swapped out for 30 Rock, which has not been funny in years, so maybe the blame should be redirected?

Playing Skyrim

It may be cold, put pants and sleeves would just slow you down anyway.

Enough said, right? Skyrim is awesome and has occupied so much of my time. Again, I’ve done next to nothing and left the main questline relatively untouched, and I’m alright with that.

I think my problem is this: I hate short videogames. I like tons of playtime and replay time. While I’ll probably replay through Skyrim (though probably not as in-depth as this time), part of me is always worried I won’t, or that I’ll miss something by not doing every single side-quest. Which is why whenever I play a RPG I end up doing just about all of the side-quests before touching the main quest. There ya go.

Playing Dungeons of Dredmor

The "Congratulations!" makes me feel less shitty about it every time.

“The dungeon is dark and musty. Somewhere, far off in the distance, the distinct sound of a Sickly Diggler scraping his drill hand against the wall can be heard; in the opposite direction, a Blobby is blobbing back and forth, it’s blobby underside making grotesque slapping noises as it bounces along. Descending from the stairs, torch in one hand, sword in the other, is Thuglor XXVI, the  great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson of Thuglor I, the first adventurer to venture to these depths.”

I’ve been playing this game a ton and between my reckless playstyle and just bad-lcuk, I’ve made it to my 26th guy. It’s brutal but the game itself is amazing. I will keep on playing, as should you.

Not working on grad school applications

The few, the proud: grad students.

I’ve got a list, I’ve got references, I’ve got money saved up for applications, but I have yet to actually work on them. As the days pass I doubt I’ll be applying to any grad schools with a December deadline (most seem to have a Dec. 15 deadline if they have a December deadline at all) and instead to ones in January. I don’t have a good excuse with all this time off to have not gotten them done, which is a shame.

Working on a blog

At least I'm keeping busy.


Writing Without Reading

I wrote this for The Peak. It was published on November 28, 2011, to much fanfare (maybe). It was edited by Kelly Thoreson, features editor. This is the original version, not edited by her (it is a little longer).

Writing Without Reading, the James Plett Way

Managing both a social life and a work life (both in Skyrim and in the “real world”) with school isn’t easy. As young scholars we try to imagine that we’re cloistered in this magnificent ivory tower on top of this god forsaken mountain, when in reality, we totally aren’t. For the first few weeks of class, it’s ok – you’re doing introductory stuff so you can afford to blow it off by not doing the readings and showing up to class late (if at all), but if you keep that up, it’ll catch up with you pretty quickly.

But you know that and that’s why, even though it’s the last week of classes and you don’t know anything about anything (putting you in the same category as MBA students), you’re sitting around reading The Peak. You’ve got a stack of unopened books sitting at home, you’ve been to just a few classes, and you have an essay due but you don’t understand one out of every three words in the assignment outline. You’re screwed. Right?

You would be if I wasn’t here. Presented for the first time ever is my quick and dirty guide to succeeding without reading everything. Follow these steps and you’re guaranteed to get an A/pass with credit.

Go To Class
Yeah, maybe this is closing the barn door after the horse has taken off and ruined your crops or something (or whatever it is horses do when they escape), but such is life. If there is one sure-fire way to succeed in class, it’s to actually go to class. Counter-intuitive, I know.

In my first year at SFU, I and my two friends would drive in from Surrey for an 8:30 class. Rather than actually go to class, two of us would ditch, sign out a laptop at the library and play SNES roms of Metroid and Killer Instinct. Needless to say, I did awful that semester and my pal dropped out. If you’re going to be on campus, go to class. And when you’re there, pay attention. Don’t sit there on Facebook like some dork (another pro-tip? Lecturers know when people are paying attention or not; expect that to be reflected, in some way, in your final grade). And if you can’t handle a morning class, one, you’re a wuss, and two, just don’t take it.

Finally, don’t download the slides and lecture later instead of going to class, that’s stupid. Just go to class.

Wikipedia
I shouldn’t need to explain this, but I do. Look on Wikipedia but whatever you do, do not quote it. Don’t  quote it directly, don’t quote it indirectly, don’t paraphrase it, don’t do any of that. There’s two really good reasons why you shouldn’t: one, it’s probably not allowed. Two, and even more important, whoever is marking your paper has gone over the Wikipedia for whatever you’re writing on, guaranteed. If they catch you plagiarising, you’re screwed. So just don’t do it.

Read a Little
Now that you’ve hit the Wikipedia, you’ll know of a few key spots that you should read. Do that. It might take an hour or two, tops. You’ll be glad you did.

Avoid Circumlocution
Circumlocution is a fancy word for beating around the bush. There is one sure-fire way to tell if someone knows what the hell they’re talking about, and that’s basically by how straightforward the argument is. If you find yourself using a lot of fancy ten-dollar words, talking in circles, and using tautology (the repetition of a statement or fact in a way that is not helpful), odds are you’re circumlocuting. If you’re circumlocuting, you’re demonstrating you don’t know what you’re talking about. And that will kill you on your paper.

Be Specific
Believe it or not, when you use concrete examples, write in a clear and concise style, and sound like you know what you’re talking about, people notice. You want to get bogged down in the small details here (unless the scope of your argument demands otherwise), because paying close attention to minute details is proof you’ve read what you’re talking about (especially when you haven’t). See, you’re never expected to know everything about everything. You should have a good understanding of the overall thing that you’re talking about, and you should have a solid understanding of a few small things contained within.

Think of it like a movie: you remember one or two scenes and the general plot, that’s about it. Writing an essay on some stupid book is pretty much the same. Vaguely allude to the plot, concretely reference a scene or two, and you’ve got it made.

If You Don’t Know What It Is, Find Out (Or Don’t Use It)
I worked as a Peer Educator in the Student Learning Commons at SFU for a year, and if I learned any one thing, it is that people use words and grammar without any care for how they’re actually supposed to be used. People put quotation marks around things just for fun, sprinkle semicolons over their papers like it’s going out of style, and use a thesaurus on every other word in order to sound smart, despite the fact that very few words in the English language mean the exact same thing as another word.

If you use it in your paper, you should know exactly what it means. Every word, every hyphen, every parenthesis, every comma, every god-damned semicolon. If  you aren’t linking closely related independent clauses with that semicolon, you’re using it wrong. If you’re using commas because that’s where you’d take a breath, one, what the hell are you thinking, and two, you’re stupid.

There are tons of resources online and in print that explain how to use semicolons, colons, commas, quotation marks, apostrophes (etcetera), how to write effectively, how to properly cite your sources, you name it. There’s no excuse for ignorance.

Hand It In On Time
You may be tempted to e-mail your professor and explain how your grandpa croaked so you need extra time to write your paper on Henry James and his love of pedantry (you don’t know what that word means so look it up). Don’t.

When you hand in your paper by the due date, your marker is reading it with every other paper. Sometimes there are only a dozen others, sometimes there are ten dozen others. If your paper is amazing, it’ll shine. If it’s mediocre, it’ll blend in.

If you hand it in a week late, your marker may only be reading that paper. So it has to stand on its own. Now, given that you’re reading an article about how to bullshit your way through your final paper, it probably won’t be able to stand on its own. Just guessing.

So the moral, here? Hand it in with every other plebe in your class.

In Conclusion
That’s it. This is all I’ve learned in my years at SFU. Some of this is obvious, very little of it is mendacious (look it up), and it’s all awesome.

Final tip?  Never end a paper with anything like “in conclusion”. If it’s the end of your paper, why do you need to tell the reader that? Obviously it’s “in conclusion”. It’s like writing “The End” at the end of a movie: obviously it’s the fucking end, the credits are rolling.

addendum:

I will be honest — this article isn’t as good as I wanted it to be. Things just didn’t click right, I guess. I like it fine enough though. Some of this is practical advise that I’ve used and is helpful — as I point out, very little of it is tending towards mendacity and/or cheating, which is great. There are obviously ways to “cheat” in university that I don’t mention here. A lot of this article is about stuff that’s very important to me, most notably good grammar and punctuation use.

I’ll admit that I make mistakes too. I misuse commas and semicolons and misspell words and all sorts of general writing no-nos. It happens. But I still hate it. Working as a tutor at SFU was one of the best things I’ve done, but also one of the most frustrating. People would approach me with horribly written papers and it was my job to sort through their mess. Often it would be an EAL (English as an Additional Language) student asking that I “edit” their paper even after I tell them that we don’t do that. Our mission was to help students help themselves, not to edit their papers, but that’s what they expected of us.

So I’m a little touchy when it comes to grammar. If you’re handing in an essay or whatever as a professional, polished piece of work and it’s riddled with apostrophe, comma, and semicolon errors and filled with typos, you’re a jerk and I hate you. Also — oxford comma 4 lyfe.


Skyrim 1.3, the Unruined Edition

With resistances broken, hiding behind rocks is becoming a viable option again.

Bethesda has dropped the 1.3 patch for Skyrim. You may remember the 1.2 patch, which ruined bookshelves, introduced a ton of stability issues, made dragons fly backwards, and screwed your resistances so a backwards flying dragon could incinerate you even with your 100% fire resistance.

More here.

Finally.


Dungeons of Dredmor

If you recall from my Skyrim post, I enjoy difficult games. Merciless ones that make you cry and toss the controller aside not because of a fault in the design of the game, but due to your own (possibly vast) incompetence.

An example of the kinds of shenanigans to expect from Dungeons of Dredmor.

Enter Dungeons of Dredmor, the ridiculously fun, simplistic, and difficult game by Gaslamp Games. Currently a bonus prize if you buy the Humble Indie Bundle at above the average donation rate (currently $4.09), Dungeons of Dredmor is worth every penny (and probably more than 409 pennies).

Dungeons of Dredmor is a “roguelike” videogame. Roguelike videogames are characterised by randomization (think Diablo, Diablo II) which results in replayability, permanent death (think Baldur’s Gate, or hardcore mode in Diablo II), and, in some instances, turn-based movement. Due to their deadly nature, roguelike games are difficult but (designed to be) fun. Whereas in some RPGs where you can spend an hour just making your character, your DoD guy is ready to go in just a few short minutes. Coupled with the short character creation time is a short lifespan: don’t expect to last too long.

You basically dungeon crawl, and it is a ton of fun. It isn’t a cakewalk, though. It wasn’t until I had my seventh guy that I was able to last longer than twenty minutes (I’m reckless, whatever — it took twenty minutes to get through seven guys, anyway), a guy appropriately named Thuglor VII. The character creation process is simple enough: you pick seven skills and that guides your character progression. Kill dudes and smash things heroically to get experience points. Level up, get tougher, fight tougher guys. If you overreach or open a room filled with monsters because the game hates you and wants you to die, expect to make another character (unless you’re some wuss who turned off permadeath). The game is tile and turn based, which means that walking “one square”, opening a chest, drinking a potion, or swinging a sword all take up one turn. In that time your enemies get a turn, too, which they may spend chasing you or running away or attacking you.

My Dungeons of Dredmor high score list

Either I'm not qualified as a dungeon delver or Thuglor is a cursed name.

A nice touch is the pure hilarity of the game; almost every item or monster has a joke concealed in it (including a spot of fungus on a wall that had me laugh on the mouseover when it revealed that the pungent stench of mildew emanates from the wet dungeon walls). It’s hard not to laugh when a Sickly Diggler is clawing you apart, you hit the ground dead and are met with the message “Congratulations! You have died.”

Skill selection screen of Dungeons of Dredmor

If it didn't work last time, why will it work this time?

What I love the most though is the pure simplicity of the game which is itself pure brilliance. You pick seven skills and that’s it — those define your character. There are no restrictions on the abilities you can pick, so even shifting one skill here or there can drastically affect your character. It’s not a class based system but a skill based system, which is awesome. You can play this game with just a mouse, if you really wanted to (though I feel weird playing computer games and not using WASD). Shift-click lets you pick up things right to your inventory (very handy), while rightclicking an ability or item (like a crossbow bolt, hint) allows you to use it. Clicking, as you might expect, makes you attack. My only gripe with the game has to do with its simplicity, however: the graphics. While I think the graphics do a good enough job of depicting what’s going on, your character image remains static and most abilities and spells look just austere at best. On the other hand, though, the game is insanely fun so you can easily look past the graphics.

Dungeons of Dredmore is a tough, but very rewarding game. You need to think on your feet and act carefully if you want to make it through (or you can dumb down the difficulty or even just turn off permadeath). To be perfectly honest, I’ve only scratched the surface of the game (making a rogue-like character…) and haven’t even bothered with the dozens of other options. I’m going to do that now, instead of playing Skyrim.

I read LW’s review over at Transylvanilla after I picked up the Humble Indie Bundle. It’s very good and worth a read as well.


Skyrim

A dragon not fucking around anymore, he's finished with that, you're not his boss.

I twisted my knee pretty badly at work some time ago and have been off on Worker’s Compensation due to my inability to walk properly.

In that time I have amassed over 50 hours of Skyrim time. Not a lot, I know, but I have done next to nothing. I’ve done tons of side quests, I’ve wandered around the world, I’ve beat people up because they figured they could win 100 septims the easy way, but aside from that, I’ve done nothing.

Sure, I’ve smashed dragons in half with a warhammer and killed giants like they were ants (or, dragons, I guess), but aside from that? Nothing. The main questline remains next to untouched. I didn’t even talk to the Greybeards until hour 45 or so (big mistake, I see now).

This, I think, is what makes Skyrim an amazing video game and this is what makes Bethesda an amazing company. The same thing happened to me in Oblivion. My first playthrough, I put in roughly 60 hours before even going through the gate at Kvatch (and was soundly destroyed because of how I levelled my guy). My second playthrough I put in over 100 hours and I didn’t even beat the game.

I don’t know what the “future of gaming” looks like. Oblivion, and to a lesser extent, Skyrim, are very old-school style games in that you’re just some guy and there’s this massive world out there waiting to kick your ass. Daedric princes don’t care that you’re rocking the best armour and weaponry money can buy — you’re still just some punk. They’re also old-school in their approach. The game is just plain mean, and unlike, say, Dragon Age II, which coddled players to the point of absurdity, it doesn’t hand out much to the player. You escape a dragon and bam!, the whole world is out there for you to explore.

I will admit: I’m a bit of a jerk when it comes to video games. The more draconic and harder to understand, the more I like it. There was a time when video games came with what was essentially a tome, a compendium of rules and gameplay mechanics that you needed to read to play the game. Games like Baldur’s Gate or Neverwinter Nights come to mind — even if you played D&D, you still needed to know how the spells in BG or NWN differed from their pencil-and-paper counterparts. Those days were awesome.

But I think what Skyrim has accomplished is kind of what Dragon Age II was trying to accomplish. Critics of Dragon Age the first complained about its controls and its combat system in general (among other things, of course). Many complained that the lack of a thorough understanding made combat difficult, that in fact, the game was too  difficult because of it. The rules were all there, of course, but they required reading.

This is best summarized with an example, I think. I was reading comments on some review site and one person was slamming DA 1 and praising DA II, because they missed two characters in DA during their first playthrough because they had no idea that Lothering would be reduced to a pile of ash after they blew dodge. That’s right: since there were no direct quests (“Save playable character Sten from jail”, or “Assist NPC Leliana in the bar so she’ll join y’all in your quest”), he just took off even though he had just witnessed an army of darkspawn slaughter an army of soldiers.

My main issue with this is that this is a case of pure laziness on the poster’s part: had he bothered to wander around Lothering, he would have found Sten and Leliana. Instead he followed his quest icon without thinking and just took off. While DA 1 or especially 2 are nowhere as free-roaming as Skyrim or Oblivion, Bioware obviously created a world for you to explore. And I think this kind of stupidity, which may or may not have its roots in World of Warcraft or Diablo 2, is hurting the RPG as a category of video game. RPGs should leave a lot of the decisions up to the player should decide where to go and when to go there. I could, to use the previous example, knowingly see Sten locked up in his cage and decide, “tough buddy, I don’t feel like helping you”, and leave, allowing him to get killed by the Darkspawn. It’s my decision to make, which is awesome.

Granted, Skyrim, Oblivion, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas are all made by Bethesda and each has a very similar quest journal which actually points out where to go, sure. But the game does leave the decisions up to you, even if the decision is typically “kill/don’t kill”. But that’s the point. The decisions, the quests, are up to you. You don’t have to do anything. The n00b who complained about the Lothering thing in DA1 clearly didn’t get it. He wanted a game that would direct him through each and every quest so he could complete the game without missing out on any of the collectables (be they NPCs or whatever else). He didn’t want to explore, he didn’t want to check things out for himself. He just wanted someone, or something, to tell him how to play. And I guess that’s an acceptable thing to expect from a game, but it’s not something I like.

What Skyrim ultimately offers, I think, is a choice about the type of game you want to play. You can get right in there, pick the right perks, level up carefully, serve jail time to downgrade some skill levels, whatever. You can smith and enchant and make potions to your heart’s content and fill up your house with trophies of your adventures (or sell everything that’s not bolted down). Or you can play the game at a bit of a distance and not bother with any of that stuff that horrifingly OCD people like myself get caught up in. But what matters is that there is no right way to play Skyrim, just like there is no right way to play Oblivion. Let me stress: I love Oblivion and have put tons of hours into it, but I’ve never beaten it. And I’m fine with that. Which is awesome, too.