August 29, 2007

Play Time

Now that I finally have my new budget-ranged computer, I find that I'm in a bit of a slump as to which computer games to play.

World of Warcraft really offers me very little, and I'll explain why. At the moment, I'm still signed up to the European servers but, because I'm 6 hours ahead, I rarely get to meet with the players I used to hang out with. As I'm in a guild, I do get to meet up with other players, but generally there is very little comraderie between them and myself. I say hi, they say hi, we go do different things, etc.

The other real issue is that most of my guildmates have moved onto daily raiding. Karazhan (yes, that guild breaker) requires that players spend a lot of time in the dungeon to clear it out - this requires at least 4 days out of every 7 raiding there. Since I can barely spend 2 days online, I just don't have the ability to go there. Ever.

So, in order to inject a bit of fun, I decided to give Knights of the Old Republic a go. KOTOR is a Star Wars game, set about 4000 years before the films. It was great fun. Hand a man a lightsaber and he turns into a whimpering kid. Hand him a double-bladed lightsaber and he turns into an even bigger whimpering kid. In the game, you get to choose whether or not you want to be a Jedi or a Sith, based on your actions and the consequences of those actions. It only took me 2 weeks but I plowed through it.

The current game I'm playing is Fable: The Lost Chapters. Essentially a roleplaying game, the choices (and thus like KOTOR the consquences) you make effectively determine your appearance. If you play like a baddie, you look like a baddie. If you get a scar during a fight, you keep that scar for that character. Scars and tattoos accumulate during a character's lifetime thereby demonstrating how your life has been led.

It all looks good so far with some interesting gameplay but one thing I did not realise was that combat was in real time. KOTOR's combat was real time too but you could pause the combat and plan out your choices.

I'm not that particularly fond of real time combat, especially in fantasy settings where you have to block, roll or swing a sword but so far it looks fairly easy. And of course you have the easy options of using archery (move the crosshairs over the target whilst drawing the arrow back) or magic.

But I'm still hankering for some MMO action. And the only game that keeps me interested is City of Heroes. Now, I know I've posted before about COH, and that the Customer Support was fairly bad, but damn it, it still looks like a cool game.

August 10, 2007


EDIT: I suppose I should start by mentioning that if you're reading the book, this review does entail a few shadowy spoilers. So, if you want to remain completely in the dark, I would suggest skipping over this.


Sometime in December 2000, Elsha's brother bought me Harry Potter Books 1-3 as a present. I'm not entirely sure if it was a Birthday or Christmas present seeing as how for me both are within weeks of each other but that's how I was introduced to the Potter Epic-dom.

Elsha was originally indifferent about the books - she doesn't much like fantasy stories about male protagonists - but after I read some of it to her, she warmed to it very quickly.

So, I read Harry Potter and the Philospher's Stone in around a few hours. I liked how the story flowed, and how it didn't take itself very much seriously. I was aware, of course, that the book was aimed at an audience of 11 year olds but that didn't really enter into it for me. I have always been fond of books aimed at the Children's/Young Adult market - Susan Cooper's "The Dark Grey Rising" and Alan Garner's "Elidor" are a good example.

Books, 2 and 3 soon followed and, like most other people, I was hooked on the stories. Book 4 was huge, by comparison, to the other books being nearly as large as the other 3 combined, but since then, the later books have been nearly as large.

Unfortunately, Book 5 - Order of the Phoenix - was a complete disaster. It was billed as the book where Harry "becomes a teenage rebel". Sorry, I must have missed that phase; I didn't realise being a rebel meant antagonizing practically everyone around you. If I was in the book, I would have probably belted Harry Potter for being a nob.

But Book 6 - The Half-Blood Prince - revitalised the story again with some nifty work, and of course, set it all up to with a magical and epic ending.

Where did Book 7 - The Deathly Hallows - go wrong then?

Upon reading the book, I spent 200 pages wondering when the story would start. We attended a wedding, which although was wonderfully written, probably had no bearing on the ending. And of course, I spent most of the 200 pages knowing this!

Then, we had a bit where Harry, Hermione and Ron spend time searching for the vital essences of Lord Voldemorte's soul, those extracts contained in the Horcruxes mentioned in book 6 (essentially You-Know-Who hid bits of himself in items scattered throughout wizard-dom in an attempt to become immortal - similar to the way that a D&D Lich hides its mortality in a phylactery). We are warned again that there are 7 of these and that at least 2 have already been destroyed (the ring and the diary) but that 5 more remain.

So we then spend around another 200-300 pages hunting down these items. Along the way people die.

That's about all I can say about the plot, not because it was written badly but because there was just no point in any of the deaths. No, even worse than that, it felt like people were being killed off in the story just because otherwise it would feel odd that the Good Guys won without any losses.

Consider this. In Book 4, Cedric Diggory dies, and there is much made of this death, the first in the series. In Book 5, Sirius Black, Harry's Godfather, dies tragically. In Book 6, Albus Dumbledore dies and there is a chapter dedicated to his funeral.

In Book 7, around 5 people die, in such quick succession that the reader cannot take in that they have died. No, more importantly, their deaths do not further the story in any way. Not mentioning their deaths would have as much impact on the story as what Rowling actually did.
The ending, though, is good. Very good. Your connection to Harry is fulfilled.

But then, we have this terrible, terrible, epilogue, where everything is wrapped up for the reader and all those bad things that have happened seem to have been washed away as if it was all a bad dream.

It seems plenty of people hate the epilogue.

There are other problems with the storyline of Harry Potter, from books 1-7, at least for me.
Initially, the world of Harry Potter depicts Evil as evil and Good as good, with there being no shades of Grey. Slytherin housemates are all as evil as, I wondered why Dumbledore didn't take them out and have them shot. Gryffindor, on the other hand, stand as bastions of virtue. Kids who can do no wrong, or if they do, get rewarded for generally being cheeky to their elders. Hufflepuff seems relegated to being a place for retards and Ravenclaw for those who are wannabe Gryffindors.

Basically, in my eyes, the 4 houses at Hogwarts seem incredibly skewed. From what I understood from the original book, Slytherin should have been a house for those most intelligent, Gryffindor for those with nerve, Hufflepuff for those who are loyal, and Ravenclaw for those who are wise. Now, the houses stand for something completely different. Was that the intention of Rowling?

By Book 7, Rowling tries to show that Good is not necessarily always good. Wizards have been abusing the magical creatures with their notions of racial superiority (the Centaurs and the House Elves, for example) and meanwhile, Dumbledore has had a chequered past. In the same instance, Severus Snape was not necessarily inherently bad, something you deduce when he starts to help Dumbledore by spying on Lord Voldemort.

In conclusion, the story of Harry Potter and his quest to find eternal peace is grand and fitting but Book 7 does not do well to fit into that pattern. Too side-winding in places, Rowling appears to have lost her way in several places. People die for no other purpose but for the reader to realise that death is a terrible thing (a thing we learn much, much earlier in the series). And finally, after a momentous ending befitting the epic, a horrible, cliched epilogue that hints of more books to come.

P.S. Yes, there are more books to come. An encyclopedia on the subject. Why for heaven's sake?

August 07, 2007

Interim measures

In case you're wondering, I haven't posted anything new because I don't have much to say at the moment.

I suppose I could go on to make a post about people who infest shopping centres and who walk around "really slowly". What's with that anyway. You're there to shop, not saunter around like it was a park.

Or, I suppose I could go on to moan about the fact that when it rains in Perth, WA, it really hammers down. English rain is this sort of light fluffy rain that goes on for most of the day and annoys the hell out of you. Australian rain, on the other hand, seems to come down with the force of bricks but usually tires itself out in about 20 minutes.

Work is continuing to drain my life energy so that the days seem to merge into one big monotonous cycle of waking up-work-home-sleep followed by a glorious weekend that ends too quickly.

I am severely procrastinating about several goals that I should have completed by now. Driving: I should have taken my Theory test, if for nothing else but to shut up the droves of people who ask me if I've taken it yet.

No. I haven't. Please. Shut up about it.

I also haven't gotten around to ordering some computer components so I can build myself a budget PC. I'm hoping that writing all this down will force me to get it resolved. Besides, building computers wins out over driving theory tests.

And finally, I AM slowly becoming a little home sick. Not enough to move back, heaven's no. But enough to sit back and think about the fun times spent in Boston Manor or Ealing. The Take Away joints. And, glorious of all watering holes, the Old Goa, a pub that still hasn't been matched by any we've found in our travels.

Gone are the days we'd walk out of work and meet up in the Old Goa, have a few beers, contemplate going home and cooking food before dashing that idea and staying until closing time. Phoning around to see if we couldn't get others to come out and join us for an evening out. These days, the best we can do is get a bottle of wine or two out and just about finish one off sat at home.

Whatever happened to those times?