Dragon Age: Inquisition and BioWare’s triumphant return.

I’m an avid gamer and have been playing games for quite some time.  One of my favorite genres of games is the RPG genre.  When I was younger, I cut my teeth on such greats as the Temple of Apshai on my Commodore 64, Dragonstomper on the Arcadia Supercharger for the Atari 2600, Might and Magic for the IBM PC, Baldur’s Gate and Planescape Torment.  As I aged I progressed through CRPGs and JRPGs, FPSRPGs and ultimately to MMOs, etc.

Electronic Arts and I have somewhat of a sordid history.  They make a habit out of taking old intellectual property, buying it and the company that owns it, then completely gutting the culture and replacing it with bottom-line cash-crop anti-consumer behavior.  This was easy to see after their purchase of Maxis when they launched SimCity, which was widely regarded as being not only the worst game in the series, but one of the worst games ever made.  Unfortunately, it still sold extremely well.

I’m telling you all of this because a company called BioWare spent years making some of the absolute best CRPGs on the market, that I played the bejesus out of as a child (and some as an adult).  They were responsible for such greats as  Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Jade Empire, Mass Effect, Knights of the Old Republic, and more.  In 2007, they were purchased by Electronic Arts and I was fairly certain that sounded the death knell for their reign of good game production.

One of the first games released after the acquisition was Dragon Age: Origins, a classic-themed RPG in the style of Baldur’s Gate, some 20 years after Baldur’s Gate had been released.  Thankfully, this game had been deep into production before the acquisition, and Electronic Arts did not interject too much of their super-monetization into the game.  Dragon Age: Origins was widely regarded as being one of the best CRPGs that had been made in a very long time.  I spent a lot of time playing that game and enjoyed it very much.  The story was interesting and grabbed me very quickly, the gameplay was tight and strategic and unforgiving and difficult (just like I want from an RPG), and overall the mechanics were extremely well done.  I sunk many an hour into that game!

A few years later, EA / BioWare released Dragon Age II, the sequel to Dragon Age: Origins.  This game is widely regarded as being a piece of utter shit.  While the combat has been somewhat streamlined, gone is the top-down tactical view that harkens back to the Baldur’s Gate days, and gone is the good story and engaging characters.  On top of that, their monetization model included putting obnoxious characters into your town party that try to sell you DLC every time they see you.  In addition to poor quality questing and buggy gameplay, the game itself just wasn’t as good as the first one by a long shot.

Coincidentally, another series that BioWare had launched prior to the acquisition, Mass Effect, suffered the same fate.  Mass Effect 1 was a great RPG-element-heavy FPS with engaging sci-fi story line, great characters, and perhaps too much time spent in elevators.  Mass Effect 2 was an action FPS with little to no RPG elements, 30 diffferent DLC packs, mission based structure that opposed the open-world RPG structure of the first game, and a fairly poor antagonist.  Mass Effect 3 was then a DLC laden mix of the two, requiring phone apps to be used as a time sink in order to get the best game ending in addition to offering a glut of unnecessary and obnoxious DLC — not the least of which was a playable character of a race that was believed extinct, which added immensely to the story.

So, flash forward to 2014 and BioWare/EA is preparing for the launch of Dragon Age: Inquisition, the latest version of Dragon Age.

All I can really say is that it warms my heart to know that there are people at BioWare / EA who still care about making good games.  Dragon Age: Inquisition is easily one of the best RPGs I have played in a VERY long time, and while it falls into the DLC trap that EA can’t seem to escape from, at least it does not brain you every time you play with a blunt stick of DLC.

The game is beautiful, very clean art design and great character design.  Characters you’ve met in previous games have gotten the necessary graphical overhaul for this game and all of them look great.  It was fairly difficult using the character creator to actually create a character that looked decent, in my opinion, even with all of the options — but that’s a minor quibble if ever I had one.

Gameplay wise, the game is a perfect mix of Dragon Age Origins and Awakening.  You have the top-down , paused tactical combat view where you can control each party member individually and provide detailed steps and strategy — but you also have a free-form action / hot-bar style combat system that you can use for easier fights.  I don’t recommend it for boss battles, though, it will be a little more difficult that way than you would expect!

The story is deep and engaging, but it does rely heavily on your knowledge of the lore from the previous games.  If you don’t specifically recall the plotline of the first two games, I recommend going to the Dragon Age Keep to allow it to provide you the recap of what happened, as you will be a little lost without it and there are some dialog choices that require you to remember specific people and events in order to make effective choices.

Exploration in the game is an absolute blast, with huge and expansive environments covering mountains and streams and cities and plains, forests and castles and encampments.  There is no shortage of things to see and do — to put it into perspective, I decided I wanted to 100% the first area that you are dropped into in the game, an area called the Hinterlands.  About 25 hours later (around level 10) I had completed every thing in that area that was possible for me to complete — but still had about 10 things to complete that I couldn’t accomplish yet due to being too low of a level.

At my best guess so far, the game includes 8 or 9 areas of that size, each with that much content.  I’ve been playing the game now for about 45-50 hours and I’m not certain that I’m even half-way through the storyline yet.

I suppose I will have to withhold complete judgment until I can finish the game and see the ending, but I am surprised and pleased to see that BioWare seems to have released a proper return to form.  At the very least, they’ve given me 45-50 great hours of gaming — that’s a pretty good return on $60 investment, if you ask me.

Even more e-cig Upgrades!

So, in my quest for the PERFECT VAPE, I have made yet another upgrade.

I had been using the Aspire Vivi Nova-S tanks for my VTR, but was having a few issues with them… The manufacturing tolerances on the parts seemed pretty inconsistent, so in a pack of 5 replacement coils I think I’d get 3 decent ones, 1 passable one, and 1 that shorted against the side and/or didn’t work in general. Past that, I was having some flavor consistency issues between coils that was really bugging me.

Kanger released a couple of things in the last month — first, they announced that soon they would be providing stock sub-ohm coils for their ProTank, EVOD, and AeroTank lines. This is great for heavy vapers that are constantly chasing that huge cloud and throat hit. Secondarily, they released a product called the Aerotank Mega, which was (after some dremeling …) a perfect fit for my VTR.

A website called Craving Vapor had the best price on the AeroTank Mega at $33.50 or so, so I bought one. They shipped the next day and I had it at my doorstep less than 48 hours after that.

HOLY COW. This is almost a night and day difference. The Aerotank Mega uses Kanger’s newly built atomizer coils, and I’m here to tell you — they are NOTABLY improved from the previous versions. The vapor production and flavor provided by this tank rival that of several RBAs I’ve used previously, including the widely regarded Kayfun. It is the closest to dripping on an RBA that I have ever found with a tank — and was so worth the $33.50 for the tank that I’ve already bought a second one.

If you’re in the e-cig game and want a tank to buy once and never have to replace, it looks like this is the one. Not only is every piece able to be purchased by itself in case you break anything, the thing is machined out of steel and the build quality is astronomically improved from any of the other tanks I’ve ever used. Last but not least, if you are a klutz like me and drop your e-cig all the time, you can build the tank as 100% steel so it will put up with your abuse.

Best tank I have ever used, hands down. 5 Stars. 10/10. A++.

Surface Support Rocks

Or, How Microsoft Decimates Nokia in Customer Service

I mentioned previously that I have a Surface Pro (1st edition model).  I also mentioned that at some point I would post a full review of it — but I’ve been exceedingly lazy about that in the recent past.  Don’t expect that to change today.  I will pass along quickly that I think the device is awesome, I use it as my daily driver for all of my work, and short of a slightly underpowered GPU and less battery life than I’d really prefer (about 6 hours), it’s an awesome device.

In any case, last week I was noodling with it and opened up the Camera app to find that my Surface Pro did not recognize the front-facing camera.  Having had the device for 7-8 months at this point, I was surprised I hadn’t noticed sooner.  I went to Microsoft’s Surface Pro support site (which is really, really well done) and within 5 minutes was able to create an RMA with an Advanced Replacement device being shipped overnight, a package to return the defective one, and a shipping label to make the entire process $0.00 for me.

As expected, the following day, a brand new Surface Pro arrived and I spent an hour or so with a tool called Reflect to image it with the content from my previous device.  It worked like a charm and when it booted off of my new image, the front facing camera worked.  I wiped my old Surface Pro back to factory, stuck it in the box, taped it up, slapped the included label on it and dropped it in a drop-off box.  Total turn-around time from me opening RMA to having a replacement device that was imaged and ready to go was less than 36 hours.

I’m mentioning this solely to point out the difference in behavior between Microsoft and Nokia.  You may remember in my previous Nokia rant that all they offered was for me to pay to ship my obviously defective device to them, wait 2-3 weeks, and then perhaps maybe if they decided that my battery life really was not as good as it had been promised (judging by the reaction on their forums, they seem to believe 3 hours of idle time on a fully charged battery to full discharge is OK), and maybe — JUST MAYBE — replace the phone.

The devices are closer in ‘true’ cost than you’d think.  Buying a Lumia 920 out of contract when it was new is a $500+tax+tag+title ordeal, and buying a Surface Pro (depending on model) is $700.

In short, fuck you again Nokia.  Dealing with (nearly) every other company in the world continually reminds me of how shitty your customer service is.  I hope you all rot and your stupid shitty phones don’t sell.  Dicks.

Ocubook Facerift

Or, watching the neckbeards collectively shit a house.

Last week, the tech world was upended as Mark Zuckerberg announced that he had purchased Oculus Rift for $2Bn in company stock and cash.  Pretty much every neckbeard on the internet (myself included) reacted via knee-jerk, talking about how Oculus was dead now, how the product was going to be covered in like and share buttons, and how the upcoming CV1 Rift would be saddled with Facebook login limitations, etc.

Unlike a lot of the internet, I went to bed that night and woke up the following day with an entirely different take on it.  My viewpoint on the matter isn’t extremely unique, nor is this article going to shed any additional light onto the topic, so I’ll be brief:

  1. $2.4M was never enough to get the CV1 hardware out the door.  If you’re one of the people involved in the intial kickstarter, thank you for proving the viability of the market — but you’re deluded if you ever thought that $2.4M was going to be enough to produce quality hardware at an affordable price.  Also, those of you who somehow think that kickstarting earned you equity in the company, you’re fucking idiots.  You were promised a DK1, you got it, that was it.  You are not a partner in the company because you gave them $350.  Just shut up with that nonsense.
  2. If you think Oculus taking money was selling out, then at least get your facts straight — by that logic, they sold out last year when they took the $90M in venture capital.  You remember last year, when you were all grassroots VR’ing all over the place and everyone was up in arms over the $90M of VC, right?  Wait…  No, you don’t, because it didn’t happen, because you’re not upset with this based on principle, you’re upset with this because of the word Facebook.
  3. VR is not a cheap thing.  It is not cheap to get the hardware working.  It is not cheap to get the right types of displays.  Until the Facebook acquisition, the Oculus Rift was a hodgepodge of cell phone parts craftily duct taped together to form a rudimentary VR device.  The acquisition by Facebook gives Oculus the capital required to custom manufacture new equipment (e.g., low persistence, low latency displays outside of standard cell phone pixel count or aspect ratio as one example) which will ultimately cause the production versions of the product to be notably better than they could have been if they were still built on hand me down hardware.
  4. Every single person involved has claimed that the specifics of the deal clearly indicate that Oculus maintains full control over the Oculus hardware and CV1, and that Facebook will be acting as an almost angel investor — seeding money into the project, knowing that the first launch will not be profitable, and accepting of that fact.  Yes, it’s true, companies will PR all over things like this and say these sorts of things when their userbase is shocked by news of this type — but I don’t think they’re blowing smoke here.  Facebook knows that if they want to tap into that sweet, sweet advertising revenue and gather all of those great use metrics about you using their product, you actually have to OWN the product first.  So, their comment that they were leaving the hardware alone and focusing on software does not seem to fall flat for me.

Anyways, my DK2 is on pre-order, so if you still think Facebook is “TEH GREAT EVIL OF OUR TIM3!!111!!111oneoneone!!!eleventyone”, don’t order one (or cancel your pre-order so mine ships sooner), and we will all have a good laugh when the CV1 comes out and Palmer and the Oculus team are proven to be telling the truth.

eCig Upgrades!

It has officially been 120 days since I smoked my last ‘analog’ cigarette, and boy oh boy do I feel a lot better because of it.

During the last 4 months, I’ve expanded my juice horizons, replaced my battery, and switched tanks — so here’s some new data!

The new battery is the iTazte VTR. I love my stick-style iTazte VV 3, but the 800mah capacity in it was sorely limiting. When I started vaping primarily at 11W, I could extinguish the battery in about 4-5 hours at best. It was a passthrough device, so I could just throw it on the charger, but that got to be a liability — now that I feel better, can breathe better, etc., I’m looking at doing some climbing camping trips in the near future and I will need to go more than a few days without access to USB or power. I wanted more capacity, but did not want the device to look like the huge boxes with an atomizer sticking out the top (like, say, the iTazte MVP2). The VTR met all of those requirements.

The iTazte VTR is effectively the same circuitry as the iTazte VV 3, including the variable voltage and wattage functionality (though it provides an increase in the available voltage and wattage range), but in a bigger, heftier package and built around replaceable, rechargeable 18650 cells. FastTech (aka SlowShip) had a deal on the device for about $70. I picked it up with 2x Panasonic 3400mAh 18650 cells and a Nitecore i2 charger for just at $100 shipped.

Another change with the VTR is that the primary threading on it is 510 threading — not eGo threading like the Kanger MT3S tanks and other tanks used. Instead of attaching to the external threads on the outside of the center post, it attaches to the center stalk and threading. As such, in order to use the Kanger MT3S tanks, I would need to use the extender tube included with the VTR which would make it the same form factor as the MVP2 — a large box with an atomizer sticking out of the top.

To address this, I purchased several of the Aspire Vivi Nova-S BDC Tanks. These are strikingly similar to the Aspire ET-S BDC tanks that I had been using (which are in turn strikingly similar to the Kanger MT3S tanks I had previously recommended), but are 510 threaded and have an ever so slightly increased capacity — about 3.5ml. They work almost identically to the previous tanks I had been using, they just socket right in to the VTR and the only thing exposed past the top of the battery is the drip tip.

Last but not least, due to a notable increase in shipping times from Ms. T’s bakery (20-30 business days, eek), I started shopping around for new juices and found a few that I really liked.

First is a replacement for Ms T’s Snickerdoodle — it’s by a company called Seduce Juice, and it goes by the name of Snickerdoodledoo. It’s not quite 100% as good as Ms T’s, but it’s half the price and ships the same day. That’s worth a lot when you’re fighting addiction, as far as I’m concerned.

Second was a new fruity vape I had tried. Historically I’ve liked blueberry and strawberry and such, and also had good luck with an orange juice flavor — but I wanted something a little lighter and preferably citrus-y. I found Mt. Baker Vapor’s Arnold Palmer flavoring and bought a small bottle with 2x flavor shots and was immediately impressed when I received it. As such, I bought 236ml of it the next week.

All in all, it’s been an interesting 4 months of vaping — I feel a whole lot better, my heart rate and blood pressure are WELL within healthy ranges, and this one time two weeks ago I had a dream where I smoked a real cigarette, and woke up in a cold sweat feeling like I had cheated on my wife or something.

Good times.

Starbound is great.

Did you Terraria? Good.

Did you not Terraria? Go buy it. It’s only $15. Why not? Is it because you’re an idiot? That’s my guess. Terraria is effectively 2D Minecraft + Metroid + Ghosts and Goblins (if Minecraft had a point other than making large gold penises). You get a little dude on a planet and gather some resources to make a shelter and then some tools, gather more resources to make some weapons and armor, find the dungeon and summon some bosses and kill ‘m, then find hell and find a boss there and kill ‘m, then clear the world of corruption and hallow. Yeah, I know that probably made 0 sense. Don’t care, it’s an awesome game.

Anyways, buy Starbound. Most of the people who made Terraria formed Chucklefish games and just released the beta of Starbound, which is effectively a more complex Terraria (with additional survival and crafting elements) + space. So, where Terraria was one world, Starbound seems to be hundreds of explorable planets of varying difficulties and with differing resources.

Also, I’m running a semblance of a private server and a teamspeak server for it. Reach out to me if you want access.

I am not an idiot, and I am buying Starbound right now like you told me.


UPDATE: I fixed most of the math, added the average cost of smoking an e-cigarette, totaled some numbers, and changed some of the wording because I felt like it.

So, I smoke cigarettes. I have for a lot of years, it’s a nasty habit, and I don’t like doing it. When the e-cigarette revolution occurred, I tried early on to get onto the bandwagon with the blucigs brand, but didn’t really like it. Flash forward something like 2.5 years and I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time figuring out a good e-cigarette setup that works for me. I’ll spare you the lengthy diatribe about it, but will quickly drop my current parts list:

eGo C v2 Upgrade 900mah Pass-through

Kangertech MT3s 3.0ml Steel Bottom Wick w/ 1.8ohm Atomizer

MsT’s Bakery Snickerdoodle or Cappuccino

In any case, to help me see the direct result of the good choice of never smoking real cigarettes again, I’ve thrown together a quick javascript function to show how many days it’s been since my last cigarette, how many cigarettes I have not smoked, and how much money I’ve saved in doing so. It’s only mostly accurate — I smoked about a pack and a half or so a day on average, and the easiest way to make this work was just to assume one cigarette per hour throughout the day. If I really get pedantic about it, I’ll fix the math up to handle awake hours and asleep hours (at least an average period), and then do additional math to figure out exactly how many cigarettes I was smoking per hour I was awake. I’ll get there one of these days. I’m also actually going to be honest about it since it only really means anything if I don’t lie to you or myself about it. Funny how that works.

I’m pretty certain no one else cares about this, but fuck you anyways because I do — and I want it public on the webbertubes.

Why are you still here? Go away.