Looking Back at 2013

What a weird year 2013 has been. I started the year looking forward to several MMOs none of which lasted. City of Stream imploded, Defiance and Neverwinter both fizzled for me, and Elder Scrolls Online didn’t release. Defiance turned out to be the least social MMO I’ve ever played, and add to that the bugginess of the interface after launch, and I lost interest after the first month or two. I’m still not sure why Neverwinter didn’t click for me, I was very excited for the game and really enjoyed the demo I played, but somehow I shifted from mostly playing to mostly doing offline crafting to not doing anything. This year was also the first time I didn’t buy the Lord of the Rings Online expansion, and even now I’ve not logged in to try out the class changes that came along with Helm’s Deep. I just didn’t have that moment of nostalgia this time around like I did when Isengard was being released.

Star Trek Online was the only MMO I played regularly this year, and I think that this past year was probably STO’s best year to date. Romulans have always been one of my least favorite non-Federation factions, so when Cryptic announced their expansion plan at the beginning of the year I was ambivalent. I did get excited though after I got a change to try some of the new Romulan content on Tribble. Cryptic really hit a home run with the mission content for Romulan characters and the upgraded tutorial missions for the Klingons, so much so that updating the Federation tutorial became a priority. I was very surprised that Cryptic had decided to add a new faction but allowing them to ally with either the Federation of Empire allowed people to play as Romulans without further splintering the PvP community, as well as fitting with existing canon. Then in the second half of the year with the Season 8 update and the incredible visuals of getting to fly my ship inside a Dyson Sphere. I’ve enjoyed the space adventure zone much more than the ground zone of New Romulus, and I’ve especially enjoyed the more streamlined and far grindy Dyson reputation. I’m hoping that Season 9 includes a redesign of the other reputations along the same lines.

Besides STO my other main game this year has been modded Minecraft. I started with the Direwolf20 pack from Feed the Beast but eventually moved on to making my own mod pack in order to stay on the most current releases of Minecraft and mods as possible. I haven’t tried yet, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to enjoy playing standard Minecraft again. I enjoy designing and building automated systems too much, and exploring the different magic systems, alternate dimensions, and building with a wider array of cosmetic blocks than vanilla Minecraft provides. Minecraft has always been a favorite game of mine, but generally I’d always get to a point where I was bored with a map and move on to something else. Having mods available changes that. Minecraft is always changing now as mods add new features or new mods become available, there’s always something to try, and starting over in a new world also means a chance to make big changes to which mods I’m using.

This year I’ve also added board/card gaming to my collection of hobbies. After going to GenCon and picking up Firefly, I realized that there were board games out there that would play well solo as well as in a group. Since October I’ve been spending a lot of time on BoardGameGeek and started collecting some games. Ironically, I’m playing board games now much the way I play MMOs. Solo. So far, in addition to Firefly I’ve picked up Space Hulk Death Angel, Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, Thunderstone, Marvel Legendary, and Pathfinder the Adventure Card Game.

My proudest achievement this year though has to be finally winning National Novel Writing Month. Not only has it motivated me to spend March doing a first revision but it’s heavily influenced my plans and resolutions for 2014.

NaNoWriMo Won!

2013-Winner-Vertical-BannerAfter two failed attempts, one serious and one not so serious, I’ve finally won November! Of course anyone who’s stopped by already knows from the NaNoWriMo widget on the right. Ironically it’s taken me until the end of December to actually write about it, some things never change.

I learned a few things this year. First I’m actually capable of focusing on and finishing a novel, which is something I wasn’t entirely sure I could do. I managed it this year by setting a reminder on my phone and basically blocking out 9 to 11 pm every night to write. No books or games until I’d gotten to my 1667 word goal for the evening. I also helped myself out by starting at 12:01 am on November first and getting a few hundred words in early so that when I sat down that night I could take it a little easy and still finish ahead by more than 300 words. The first week went very well especially the first few days where I got ahead by 1788 words, it felt pretty good knowing I could take a whole day off and still be on track. Instead, I ended up using up that buffer a little bit at a time during the second week which was by far the toughest for me of the month.

Hanging in during the rough week two was the first time creative writing ever felt like work to me. I found myself checking my word count after every sentence and taking too frequent breaks to research things like quarterstaves and ferrules. I got through it though motivated in large part by watching Belghast and Mogsy zip through their word counts.

The second two weeks were easier although not easy. I realized at some point that writing was a lot like backpacking. An overnight backpacking trip is fun before you start out and after you reach the top of the mountain, but the in between part can be pretty painful, which is of course why reaching the top feels so good. Writing is very much the same, some nights it was tediously painful trying to follow one word with another, but then I’d get to a level patch or hit a peak and the words would tumble out as fast as I could type them. I also got surprised a few times by things my characters did, which was a novel (pun intended) experience and absolutely fun to have happen.

So I finished a day early on the 29th with 50,029 words. Even better I managed to beat my daily 1667 word goal for 23 out of 30 days. The next big question is of course what do I do with it now?

I’ve been thinking about it over December, we’ll pretend that’s why I left the writeup for the 31st. Originally I was thinking I’d just leave it as background and exploratory writing for the setting I’ve been working in. But I’ve changed my mind on that. I found out during November that I was much more productive if I had a rough outline of where the story should go next. I didn’t always follow the outline, but it did always make the evening’s writing easier. If nothing else I think it would just get my mental gears shifted and warmed up a few hours early.

So instead of dropping it or just using it to help fill out the setting, in March I’m going to take it and make an outline of the current draft and then spend a few weeks editing it to see how it can be improved. I know there’s a lot that needs to be done, the framing story linking the individual flashbacks together is very thin and doesn’t really have a resolution to it. Some of the flashbacks need to be fleshed out a bit more as well and there’s one that has a lot of exposition in it that needs to be trimmed out. Still, if nothing else, it will be good practice for me for picking up my unfinished NaNoWriMo draft from 2010, which is something I actually would eventually like to publish.

Third Time’s the Charm?

It’s November, which means National Novel Writing Month.

I’ve tried twice now in 2009 and 2010. In 2009 I didn’t really approach it seriously. I started late, had no idea what I was going to write, and didn’t dedicate much time to it. I think that was around when Arkham Asylum came out and I spent my free time playing that instead. In 2010, I decided I was going to make a serious attempt and did much better, but still only finished about halfway to the goal. I skipped the next two years. It felt stupid to start another new story when I still had a half written one that I kept planning to get back to sometime.

This year I’m giving it another try. I wanted to join in the social experience and I decided what I could do was write another story set in the Pellia setting I developed during my 2010 attempt. It would be a way to flesh out the world some more and give me a chance to try an re-establish some good writing habits, possibly even get me to pick up the writing on The Unlucky Thief after November’s insanity has passed.

So I’m writing A Wizard’s Life. I have it planned out as an aging wizard telling his grandson about his life in five short stories, hopefully totalling 50,000 words. I’m hoping breaking it up into smaller individual stories will help me with plotting.

To hit 50,000 words in a month, I have to get roughly 1,667 down per day. I managed 1,998 on the 1st so I’m feeling pretty good at the start.

Firefly the Game

Firefly BoxMade by Gale Force 9Firefly the Game let’s you return to the ‘Verse to “Find a Crew, Find a Job, Keep Flying.”

What’s in the Box

Let’s talk about the physical bits first. There are a lot of parts. A lot. Starting with cards there are two decks for events while flying (forty cards each), one for Alliance space and one for Border space. There are five decks for contacts to pickup jobs, and five decks for supply planets where you can hire crew and buy gear and ship upgrades (25 cards for each deck). There’s a deck of forty “Aim to Misbehave” cards for use with completing illegal jobs. There’s a small deck of eleven setup cards with ship captains and starting equipment, and there are six oversized an oversized story cards with game goals. That’s two decks for setup and 13 for use while playing. Besides cards, there are also tokens for passengers/fugitives, cargo/contraband, crew morale, parts, fuel, warrants/goals, and a dinosaur marker to pass around to whoever’s turn it is. There’s also money in four credit denominations: $100, $500, $1000, and $2000. There are four ship cards, four ship models, an Alliance cruiser model, a Reaver model, a dinosaur token, and finally the game board itself.

It is a lot of stuff to get out of the box and get set up. Generally it’s been taking me between 15 and 20 minutes to get from opening the box to starting my first turn.

Full four player game setup.

Full four player game setup.

Despite how much stuff comes with the game it is extremely well made. The cards, money, and tokens are all printed on heavy stock. It looks and feels very durable. The art on everything is straight from the TV show and includes quotes to add context. I wanted to specifically highlight the money as it is gorgeously detailed with vibrant colors. As a fan of the show, the game is so well made that I would’ve been happy just as a collector.

Alliance Cruiser Firefly and Reaver Cutter
Alliance Cruiser, Firefly Class, and Reaver Cutter

Gorgeous Credits
Gorgeous Credits

The rulebook is eighteen pages, full color, and includes more photos and quotes from the show. The directions are decent although like any game I ran into some details I wasn’t sure of when I sat down to play. GF9 has been super communicative though and has been answering questions on the Firefly forum at Board Game Geek and has published an FAQ on the site for the game (you can also read the rulebook online).

Travel the 'Verse!

Flying a Firefly

I’ve play four times so far since I picked up the game from GenCon. Three times solo and once with a friend.

My first solo session that game was everything I wanted as a Firefly fan, but when I think solely about the actual game play it’s just a standard pick up and deliver game. So probably not worth getting if you’re not a Firefly geek and already own similar type games.

My first group session was more fun, although it felt a little too short to me. Partly that was because my friend and I were using a newbie friendly Story Card GF9 had on their site [link] which was intended for only an hour session instead of the normal two, and partly because I played the same way in that game as I did in my first solo. Taking legal shipping and transport jobs.

I had a much better time on my third play session (and my fourth). I used the same solo card as the first time but instead of trying to win by finishing 20 turns with $15,000 credits I decided to try the goal where you win by getting solid with all five contacts, meaning you’ve successfully finished a job for each one. Because of this I had to work for Niska and Badger, both if whom I’d been avoiding since all of Niska’s and most of Badger’s missions a free illegal. Doing these jobs required passing challenges from the Misbehaving deck, and that’s really where the fun part of the game is.

Taking legal jobs makes for a pretty basic logistics game. Finding the shortest route, trying to optimize by picking up multiple jobs starting close to one another with destinations along a consistent path. Playing this way you don’t really need much crew outside of a pilot and mechanic in order to avoid Reavers. The illegal jobs however require more planning as you need to try and find crew and equipment to cover all of the different possible challenges that will come up. This means hitting certain planets known for equipment or crew of a certain type, and balancing those expenses against the payouts for the jobs. Hiring crew also means keeping track of if any of them are wanted by the Alliance, and making sure contraband and fugitives are in your stash in case of a customs check. Knowing which crew are moral and handling morale if doing an immoral job. Plus, illegal jobs also pay a lot better. Seriously.

Mal Inara Misbehaving

Mal armed with a Pistol & Inara Misbehaving on a Job

Recommendation

If you are a fan of the TV series and like board games, buy it. GF9 did an incredible job translating the experience of being a Firefly captain to a board game. It’s well worth the $50. By the way, there are no references to the events of Serenity which is a major plus in my opinion.

If you aren’t a fan of the show it really depends on what games you already own and enjoy. As a pure delivery game it is pretty shallow until you get into the illegal jobs. If you’re interested in the outlaw side of the fame, I think there’s enough there to keep the game interesting even ignoring the theme. You’re still missing out on a major part of the experience though.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 0-8-4

The second episode was better than the first. The various team members were all able to develop a little bit, and more importantly the team as a whole started to develop.

The most interesting thing to me about the episode was starting to understand the role Coulson is going to play in the series. He is arguably the star of the series, he is certainly the big draw for fans of the Marvel movies. I had assumed that in a S.H.I.E.L.D based series he would take more of a central role, but it seems like his role here is largely the same as it was in the movies. He is a midground character. He adds some humor and exposition and keeps the plot moving forward. Even though he’s quite capable, he voluntarily takes a secondary role in order to help his team find its legs.

 

 

**** Spoilers ****

My only complaints with the episode are the bit with Sky at the end and the Fury cameo after the credits.

While I’m glad that the Rising Tide subplot wasn’t dropped, but it felt a little cliched to me. I’m giving the writers the benefit of the doubt, until I see otherwise, but I’m hoping we don’t end up seeing the usual betrayal and change of heart scenes. I also hope this isn’t a subplot that’s drawn out over multiple seasons.

The Fury cameo really didn’t seem to fit in the episode at all. While it was cool to have Samuel Jackson make an appearance, the scene itself didn’t really add anything and the fish tank bit was goofy.

Joss and S.H.I.E.L.D.

I was reading the Entertainment Weekly interview of Joss Whedon while waiting on my wife to go to bed so I could have the TV and was reminded several times why I love his work so much, for example:

Is there anything from your previous TV experiences where you’re like, “Now I know this, therefore I’m doing it this way”?

Well, don’t work for Fox.

There’s more to that answer of course, but I had to stop laughing before I could read the rest of it.

As for the pilot episode of SHIELD, I loved it. It was everything I was hoping for. An interesting ensemble cast, some great cameos from both the Avenger’s movie and previous Whedon shows, and good dialog. I wasn’t quite sure what the special effects were going to be like given it’s a weekly TV series, but they were better than I expected and more numerous as well. Of course maybe they blew half their FX budget on the pilot but I really doubt that.

I’m really looking forward to watching the different characters develop during the next few episodes. One of the weak points of having an ensemble cast and less than 60 minutes of air time is you can’t develop all of them at once. The pilot focused on Sky, which makes the most sense since she’s an outsider so there’s a built-in reason to explain things to the audience.

Tin Man Games is five too.

Not only is my blog five years old now, one of my favorite gamebook publishers is too.

Tin Man Games is celebrating their fifth anniversary by releasing the eighth book in the Orlandes setting, Curse of the Assassin. Their gamebooks are available on both Android and iOS. They have music, illustrations, and handle all of the combat and inventory mechanics, which makes them great for places where you don’t want to break out a pad of paper and a pair of dice. If fantasy isn’t your thing they have a scifi/humor series called Infinite Universe (currently only one book) that I really enjoyed, plus a great Judge Dredd book called Countdown Sector 106.

Feature Episode series comes to the STO Foundry

Authors from Starbase UGC have teamed up to make a six part series on the level of Cryptic’s Featured Episode series. I can’t wait to check the first one out come October 1st, while I really enjoyed the Romulan expansion my favorite character will always be my first Federation one, Bryn, and I’m looking forward to have some appointment playtime like in the first years of STO when Cryptic was doing their features.

Check out their teaser trailer.

Firefly Comics from Dark Horse

You know how often you see something but you’re seeing what you want or expect to see and not what’s actually there? Catching up on my news in Feedly yesterday, I caught this story on The Mary Sue (who got it from CBR here) with the title “You’re Getting Post-Serenity Firefly Stories Thanks To Dark Horse.”

My initial reaction was, “More Firefly? Awesome!” Then as I read the article the wording of the title started to sink in.

Post-Serenity.

I had always hoped that if/when the Firefly Verse returned that it would pick up where the TV show ended and just treat the movie like a Marvel What If comic. I didn’t hate the movie, but and I’ll try to say this without spoilers just in case, there were some pretty significant events in the movie that felt contrived to me. They just didn’t feel like they were necessary for the story, it felt to me more like Joss was trying to just go out with a bang.

Regardless, I’m sure I’ll pick up at least the first book when it comes out, because I can’t not at least give it a shot. Still, I would’ve really loved to have seen them pickup from the last episode of the television show and give us the graphic novel version of the series that Fox screwed up.

Year five?!

This has been, by far, the roughest year for me with blogging. I’ve been on a hiatus of sorts since April and only last week really started to feel the need to start writing here again. Really I don’t feel like I’ve missed too much as far as topics or news. It seems like it’s been a really quiet year overall for MMOs. Not that I’ve really been playing them anyway. I had a brief stint with Defiance before I got burned out on the clunky UI and severe lack of any social environment in the game. I also spent quite a bit of time with Star Trek Online this year, Cryptic did extremely well with their Romulan expansion, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t actually like Romulans much. No, what I’ve been spending most of my time playing this year has been Minecraft, specifically modded Minecraft. I mentioned back in April that I’ve found the Feed the Beast mod pack and since then have move on to customizing my own mod pack.

Anyway, I want to thank anyone that’s still stopping by to see if I’ve gotten off my lazy butt to write, and hopefully you’ll be hearing more from me for the rest of the year. It’s best not to make any promises, but I will say that I’ve finally managed to get into Dwarf Fortress after many failed attempts and that it’s unique among the single player games I’ve experienced in that it makes me want to write about the events that happen in the game. Beyond that, I’ve recently dropped back into Champions Online for more than a brief check in, so you all might finally see origin stories for a few more of my heroes like what I did for the Silver Hunter.

Thanks for reading.