Am I Blogging Now?

A blog about writing, reading, art, and history

Archive for the month “September, 2012”

I know blogging’s been slow. Blame Guild Wars 2

I’m not actually sure what this place is. It’s visible from one of the harbor towns, but I don’t know what it’s for or how to get there.

My thoughts on Guild Wars 2:
Very much worth the hype. It’s a streamlined, easy-to-learn, beautifully rendered MMORPG that I strongly recommend for anyone who likes computer action role-playing games. The overall look of the game is stunning. I honestly think I’ve become addicted to taking screen captures of the landscape throughout this vast, beautiful, and dangerous world. The game itself feeds this addiction by providing vista points for players to discover, where by selecting the point, players are treated to a camera flyby of a nearby landmark or landscape.

Milady Greensleeves, guardian and noblewoman, out exploring and rock climbing.

One of the key points for me is that it’s one of the more sand-boxy MMOs I’ve seen. There is a decent amount of territory to get lost in if I just feel like exploring for a while. While this might otherwise suggest that it takes a long time to get from place to place, Arena Net thoughtfully added various waypoints players can teleport to for a nominal fee, simply by clicking on them on their maps. The only stipulation is that it must be a waypoint that their character has visited in the past. I also think Arena Net did a great job of taking into account that players want to explore. We enjoy climbing mountains and dancing on rooftops. Other game makers seem to forget this factor. Whereas Blizzard was long known for suspending World of Warcraft players for getting up onto the roofs of buildings or mountain climbing into closed-off areas, Guild Wars 2 has waypoints and scenic vistas that are only accessible through rigorous mountain climbing or jumping from building to building.

Viarra the Thief. Though not in the first-edition Dungeons and Dragons sense.

Character creation, game play, and customization are about as streamlined as I’ve ever seen in an action RPG. In contrast with my Champion from Lord of the Rings Online, who has at least thirty abilities—only six of which I use in a given battle—my Guild Wars 2 Guardian has around twelve abilities equipped at any given time. Technically she has more than that, but I’m free to equip, un-equip, and customize these depending on the situation. What this essentially allows players to do is specialize their character for a given role. My thief, for example, can be set up as a melee fighter with swords or knives, a ranged fighter with short bow or pistols, or even some of both with sword in one hand and pistol in the other. I can swap between any two combinations of weapons with a keystroke and make more extensive changes on the fly between battles. Perhaps a more effective comparison is the Dragon Age series, where many of the attacks and other abilities depend on what weapons the character has equipped at a given time.

I also appreciate Arena Net’s break from the standard elf, dwarf, orc series of cliches in the character build. Instead we get Humans, ordinary people like you and me; Norn, a race of viking-like giants; Charr, an apparent amalgam of the Beast from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and various members of the genus panthera; Asura, a grey-skinned cross between the Brain from Animaniacs and Yoda; and Slivani, a race of plant-people with leaves for hair, petals for undergarments, and flowers growing out their butts.

The Charr: Villains in Guild Wars 1, now a playable race.

But the factor I think makes Guild Wars 2 most revolutionary is the questing system. Say, for example, a player character arrives at a farm beset by marauding centaurs. In a standard MMO, there will be three or four NPC farmers standing about, offering quests to do things like repair fences, retrieve stolen crops, and bring back fifteen centaur brains. The centaurs, meanwhile, are milling about in a field and only attack  if the player gets too close (approx. 15 feet). And apparently only 1 in 3 centaurs even has a brain, as it takes killing 40 to 50 centaurs to get fifteen centaur brains. In Guild Wars 2, the player might arrive at the farm to find the centaurs burning buildings, riding off with loot, or openly butchering NPC farm hands. Instead of having to talk to an NPC to get the appropriate quests, a message pops up in the top corner of the screen, letting the player know what needs to be done. Thus players are able to immediately enter the fracas and start rescuing NPC farmers and recovering stolen crops.

In addition, there are random events that occur throughout the questing areas that players can choose whether or not to participate in—assuming, of course they don’t get caught up in the middle of them when they hit. In the human lands, for example, there are areas being fought over by the humans and the centaurs, with outposts on both sides being contested. Players are invited to join in the attack when the humans make a push against a centaur encampment. If enough players don’t join the assault, the attack fails and the human troops retreat. If enough players do come help, the encampment is taken and the humans gain a new foothold. Similarly, if enough players don’t come to help defend a besieged human fortress, it will be taken by the centaurs and players lose access to all vendors, repairers, teleport waypoints, and other facilities until the fortress is retaken. I love this feature in that it creates a tug-of-war dynamic between factions in contested territory. I have, however, been caught outside a besieged fortress just as the defenders slammed the gates shut against the oncoming horde. Hilarity ensued.

There is also a story-based campaign of quests that players have the option of whether or not to pursue. The quests have been only mildly interesting so far, and some of the voice acting is of the mediocre persuasion. I try to keep up with them, though, because they tend to provide decent on-level gear as quest rewards.

An alpine road guarded by giant statues of the Norn spirits, Raven, Snow Leopard, Wolf, and Bear.

A few things I feel could work differently (not that any of these factors ruin my gaming experience):
Mounts would be helpful. Sure, the waypoints eliminate any need for a flight-path system like in WoW or a stable-point system like in LOTRO, but at the same time there is enough open territory out there that I feel it would come in handy to have a horse to ride around on. I get tired of hearing that centaurs are attacking the southern encampment, but missing out on the battle because I had to run the whole way.

I also think a costuming system like in Lord of the Rings Online could seriously benefit the overall look of the game. Yes, there is a civilian clothing toggle, so you don’t have to run around town in your armor, but I felt like they could have done more with the outfit customization. While I like the selection of dyes and the amount of color customization available for individual pieces of clothing, I keep finding aesthetically pleasing armors that I know I’m likely to miss once I update them to a newer set. My other reason is that I have a profound dislike for some of the cheesecakey armor that shows off a lot of skin. Not that I’m particularly bothered by cleavage or bare midriffs, I just find it mildly offensive that Arena Net’s armor designers think a reasonably competent warrior woman would want massive gaps in her armor just above her heart or entrails. (Though Guild Wars 2 is hardly the worst culprit in this pet peeve of mine.) Thus I’d prefer the option to cosmetically substitute some of the more lingerie-ish armor I’ve seen for the more sensible scale and chain mail armor I’ve used so far.

I especially love how characters’ feet actually adjust to sloping terrain—unlike most 3D games where toes disappear into hillsides and wide stances involve one foot buried up to the knee and the other hovering off the ground.

Screen captures taken directly from game play. The images should be full resolution, so feel free to use them as desktop wallpaper. I often do.

Drawrings from High School

This came from a poster I used to have. The hat and bandanna had loud, strange, colorful patterns that were basically impossible to portray in graphite.

I don’t think of myself as a particularly great artist. I can draw most things I see with a certain degree of skill (except cars—I can never seem to draw cars very well), but I’m not the sort who can draw just anything that comes to the imagination. I envy people like that. That isn’t to say that I can’t use other images and modify them to look how I want—I do it all the time—but I look at a lot of the slickly drawn, original images on art blogs and Deviant Art and webcomics, and feel mediocre in comparison.

For my 30th birthday, my mom put together a scrapbook for me, full of pictures, certificates, and other paraphernalia that she’s kept all these years. One thing she made sure to include was samples of my art, mostly from my drawing classes in high school, but also featured a few more recent ones as well as a marker drawing of a tractor from 1st or 2nd grade. (Apparently, John Deere green wasn’t a standard color in marker sets.) It’s been interesting to see how my interests at that time reflected my subject matter for my sketch work. In elementary school, I was into video games and remember drawing a lot of Mario Brothers stuff. I even remember designing Mario levels on long sheets of paper and having cutouts I drew of the Mario characters dodging cutout Goombas and Koopa Troopas. I also remember being into World War II airplanes for a while and drawing many of those during my free time. Unfortunately, very little of my artwork from elementary school still survives. It’d be interesting to look back at those and compare how they look to my later stuff.

I remember being rather proud of this one. And looking back, it’s one of my better comic book drawings. It’s been so long that I don’t remember where I got the image I used for Wolverine here, but having him tearing through the page was entirely my addition.

I didn’t do a great deal of drawing in early high school. Not sure why, either. It wasn’t until I took a couple drawing courses my junior and senior years that I started to draw regularly again. I still have my high school sketchbook and peruse it from time to time. Apparently I was really into comic book heroes back then. Most of my comics sketches were from X-Men, but I also drew a couple Spider-Man drawings, among others. I don’t follow action comics as closely anymore—I even gave my comic books to one of my cousins years ago—but I do still think they’re interesting aesthetically. I think it’s the exaggerated physical features that draw me to them. I’m fairly certain it isn’t possible to be as muscle-bound as the male heroes nor as outrageously sexualized as the heroines. I’m not sure why, but I find these exaggerated images as compelling as they are hilarious.

Based on the MTG card “Goblin Hero,” artwork by Pete Venters. I recall that Venters did a number of great illustrations of goblins for MTG, but this one was particularly effective.

At about this time, Wizards of the Coast’s Magic: the Gathering was also fairly popular at my high school, and so a number of my drawings for class were of the artwork from the cards. One of the things that always impressed me most about MTG is the artwork. I think that more than any single fantasy-based endeavor, Magic cards gave us more of a visual representation of the universe it portrayed. There were sneaky, sinister goblins like the one above. Black and White knights—both male and female. Wizards, sinister and benevolent. Elves, dwarves, orcs. Spells and artifacts that could change the course of the battle. Lions, tigers, and bears. Rotting zombies. Drakes and dragons of all sizes and colors. And of the thousands of individual cards made, each had it’s own painted image. These images inspired quite a few of the drawings in my high-school sketchbook.

I kind of like how the quiver of arrows looks; I think this was the first time I’d drawn one. I also like how it looks atmospherically, with the cloudiness and the rain coming down. Apparently my elf is a lefty? I don’t remember consciously deciding that.

It was also during high school that I first read Lord of the Rings. I’d read The Hobbit a few years previous, but didn’t even know about LotR until I was a freshman. Artistically, one of the more notable results was that I did a series of drawings of various comic book and other characters as elves. Mostly this amounted to me giving them pointy ears and medieval-ish clothing and weapons. The above drawing came originally from an Excalibur comic—I just really liked Rachel Summer’s pose from a particular page and wanted to use it for something of my own.  As with most comic-book drawings, these were mostly cheese-cakey, and I’m glad I’ve outgrown that particular phase in my artistic interests. But that kind of experimentation taught me to use more (and better) embellishments when I draw something from life or from a picture.

I had a lot of homework that week…

Most of my life I’ve loved to draw. It relaxes me and allows me to explore my imagination in ways I might not get to otherwise. Like writing, drawing is a means of communicating and expressing myself to others. Following high school, I only took one drawing class, and so haven’t always had the opportunity to draw when I wanted to. In fact, there are several years since I graduated that I didn’t draw anything—when I didn’t have a single sketch dated from that year. During graduate school in particular, about the only drawings I did were for a zine I worked on with some of my classmates from my Medieval Romances class. While I don’t have a huge amount of time in my life to sit and sketch, it’s something I hope to continue to do in the future.

So long and thanks for reading.

Post script:
As a quick question to readers: should I start a separate art blog, on subordinate to this one? It’s an idea I’ve been toying with and I’m curious if it would get a decent-sized following at all. Let me know what all y’all think.

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