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Bartholomew is the writer monkey. All hail the writer monkey.

We’re popular!

We’re popular! published on No Comments on We’re popular!

Well, more specifically, Zach is popular. His Fiverr exploded, so he’s been drawing for money. The plan is, once Finals week is over, to start regular updates again and to also get our comic book underway.

A friend of ours, Sam Bruch, got his Kickstarter comic funded and we’ve been lending hands here and there. Watching him do it with something resembling success is making us want to do it, too.

Also, this whole “selling art for a one-time payment” thing is just a *little* frustrating. Which means the Fiverr prices are going up a little, and the comic will start coming first more often.

Reconsidering Diablo III

Reconsidering Diablo III published on No Comments on Reconsidering Diablo III

When Diablo III launched, I wrote a pretty scathing review of it, then vanished into academia and far from the lands of gaming. On rising from that mound of books and paper, staring blinky-like at the sun of all things changed (Next gen console? You mean the 360, right?), the first wind of change to smack me was that Blizzard planned to shitcan the Diablo III auction house system, completely, in prelude to a new expansion pack.

A Review of Blizzard, First

So that everything is aboveboard in this review, know that I am not Blizzard’s biggest fan. I bought Diablo III back when it was packaged with a year’s subscription to WoW, and had a lot of fun zooming around on the Tyrael Charger. Good stuff, until the homework mound hit. I went a few months without playing WoW, and learned that I could not, under any circumstances, cancel the subscription because of the Diablo III package deal. Made sense. The game was more expensive that way, especially since I was no longer using WoW to make the package valuable. Customer service didn’t care, but in fairness to them, the deal had plenty of warning about this.

Diablo III came out and the launch was riddled with horrible, horrible problems. On top of all this, the story was fan fiction quality, and playing required an always-on connection to what were at the time incredibly unstable servers. I liked my Wizard, though, and saw a lot of potential for fun. I kept playing.

Act IV hit my computer like a freight train. Massive, horrible slowdown, all the time—textures turned bizarre colors—and then the inevitable crash to desktop. I called technical support, and they were exceptionally rude about pointing out that my video card wasn’t supported. I have a very hippy-dippy attitude about people who work in call centers, and always try my best to be a beam of sunshine for them, mostly because I know from personal experience that the call queue is full of assholes.

But this guy—Christ. He treated me like absolute garbage because I dared to buy the game even though there was a massive list on the tech support forums of non-supported video cards. Never mind that my video card wasn’t actually on that list—I was a huge moron. He hung up on me after about 15 minutes. It was a bizarre, otherworldly experience.

A new computer later (I needed to upgrade anyway, and buying fun toys makes me not think about people I dislike) and I was done with Hell difficulty, working my way into Inferno. Inferno was… impossible. Then my account got compromised. Customer support was again distinctly hostile to me, and even after sending them a picture of my photo ID, they treated me as if I were a crook trying to steal, rather than regain control of my account. This was only a week or so after the tech support incident, so I, because of the company, gave up on the game.

I really wish the story ended there. I do.

More than a year later, I noticed that I was still being charged for World of Warcraft, but couldn’t gain access to my account. I called customer service, and learned that they don’t do refunds. They were nice to me, this time, but frankly, I’d earned a friendly voice at the low, low price of $230.

Time passes. I learn of the Loot 2.0 and the Reaper of Souls expansion, figure—eh, why not? I already owned the game, and from a certain point of view, I’d paid a lot of goddamn money for it. I go to sign into Battle.net to start downloading Diablo III.

Account compromised, of course. And it took two electronic tickets, a phone call, and two scans of my photo ID to get it back. Online Banking, Steam, Paypal, WordPress, Origin, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit—those accounts, I use every day, without ever having lost access to them. Battle.net, though? It might as well be a timeshare I own with thirty men in China.

TL;DR – Blizzard makes Bart angry.

Diablo III and Loot 2.0

Some of my complaints about Diablo III were tied into the storyline and aesthetic. Those, obviously, weren’t fixed and I didn’t expect them to be. But comparable games don’t have better storylines and pound for pound, nothing matches the breathtaking beauty of a cut scene from this game. Couple that with Diablo III being an astounding pretty game, and there’s a solid three star balance between mishandled story and eye candy. I maintain that, if everyone skips the cut scenes by default, they need either be better, shorter, interruptible with action, or non-existent. I’d rather have no story than a terrible one.

That grumping behind me—wow. Loot 2.0 and the collective patches since the game’s launch have effectively murdered any complaint I have about it. Even before the expansion pack, this game was crack cocaine. The gameplay is fantastic, if lacking the strategy and tactics I tend to prefer in my dungeon crawls (blame Dungeons & Dragons in my formative years), and Loot 2.0 makes randomly stomping open every crate and stray monster fun. It’s great finding loot that I always have a chance of caring about, rather than only occasionally finding anything with the potential to be useful.

My wizard tends to find wizard items, my demon hunter tends to find demon hunter items, and that’s just better.

I still find crap I’ll never use, but finding items with stats to spells and abilities I care about makes me think about potential builds, try new skill sets, and generally keeps me thinking while I go through my piles of loot.

Reaper of Souls

Act V is everything aesthetically that Diablo I used to be. Fighting evil on a city of corpses is fun, the music is sexy as hell (where I’d never noticed it before in the other acts), and the premise of the extended plotline is interesting, and perhaps on the merits of being shorter, manages to entertain me rather than offend me.

Adventure Mode turns Diablo III into a game I can play the way I do Team Fortress 2—quick sessions where I accomplish one or two goals, admire my loot and stats, and then get back to work. This is a serious boon to players who don’t have the time or desire to play lengthy sessions. It lets casual gamers feel powerful without grinding for six hundred hours, and it lets non-casuals dump time into finding the perfect trifecta of stats on their gear.

The new class is entertaining; Crusaders feel, mechanically, like Cavaliers from AD&D but with a modern spin. There are still a few bugs with their skills, but nothing game breaking and despite my lengthy rant about Blizzard as a company, they have a strong history of killing bugs quickly. It’s their product, after all, they push the good stuff.

That’s right. Diablo III: Reaper of Souls is crack cocaine, and Blizzard is the seedy, yellow-toothed dealer you get it from.

Let’s Play Civ V – England Vs. Ethiopia, BNW + Communitas Mod – Deity

Let’s Play Civ V – England Vs. Ethiopia, BNW + Communitas Mod – Deity published on 2 Comments on Let’s Play Civ V – England Vs. Ethiopia, BNW + Communitas Mod – Deity

Because Civ V can’t handle mods in online multiplayer (because it’s still 1990 and that’s just how things work; our 56k modems would slow turns down a lot, anyway,) Zach and I rolled up a hotseat game with the Communitas mod (version 15.1). The game doesn’t actually support multiplayer hotseat, either–but the Custom Advanced Setup Screen mod fixes that.

Communitas styles itself as an expansion pack instead of a mod; Since 2K Games is reportedly done releasing new content for Civ V, I expect that Communitas is going to be a great place to look for new content, and that the mod will become tenfold more stable than its previous iterations, both in terms of bugs (version 14 broke the Sistine Chapel; version 15 fixed it.) and in terms of altered game concepts not changing radically because of content released through official channels. Communitas has always been our favorite mod, and now it’s likely to be our default mode of play. This is both a test of the mods deity difficulty, and a measurement of size of Zach and I’s respective Civ wangs.

Without further ado, then, Let’s Play.

Speed: Normal
Map: We Have No Idea
Size: Normal
Player One (Bart): Ethiopia
Player Two (Zach): England
Difficulty: Deity

No Food, No Production, Just Elephants
Bart is underwhelmed by his start. He planned to play Ethiopia tall, so he wanted high food yields. Those aren’t here. The continent promises to have desert to the north and jungle to the east, though, giving the potential for a strong religion or a strong science game with universities. Lamenting a lack of production, he okays his starting location.
Tundra, Deer, Whales, and a Mountain
Mountain! Zach plunges into the civilopedia to see if the mod has changed how observatories work before he decides whether or not to move his settler. Observatories are reduced to a 10% science increase, but cities can be one hex further from a mountain to build them. That seems like a fairly balanced change; vanilla observatories are insane. Despite the Tundra and Snow, Zach’s start is arguably superior. He okays his start, and the game officially begins.
Chopping forests in Communitas has a much higher production yield, so he decides to try for both The Great Library and The Great Lighthouse. Diety AI’s grab wonders quickly, though, so it’s a huge gamble.
I miss the rains down in Africa!
Zach and his horde of vile Brits find Mt. Kilmanjaro; it’s new yields, highlighted above, are sexy, and it’s next to both salt and an Oasis. Zach decides he needs to delay being a wonder whore to get out an early settlement.
Stele
Ethiopa’s Stele, a monument replacement, promises faith per pop and therefore a powerful religion. Coupled with having Sweden’s old bonus of 10% great people generation for declarations of friendship, the prospects of being well-liked and being rewarded for it are immense. Those plains tiles are going to a lot sexier when they’re covered in manufactories and academies.A ruin yielded 80 gold, so Bart buys his stele. This is potentially an opportunity cost. The Communitas mod is littered with random events that, in exchange for about 150 gold, can supply resources and military units to their recipients. 

 

India
Bart meets India early. Gandhi typically dips into Piety and founds Hinduism. This might throw a kink in his plans. Since we’re only four turns in, this amazingly sexy bay is probably very close to the Indian capital, making any future settlement risky, if the goal is to be well-liked by the AI. Ethiopia in Communitas maintains its combat bonus against civs with more cities. Additionally, the combat bonuses in religion have been rolled into a single belief, making them good for offense and defense. Bart is now deciding between an attempt at a domination victory instead of an attempt at spaceships.
Scout
Zach’s Warrior has been pinned against a barbarian horde for 400 years. Since hotseat turns takes considerably more time than online turns, the production of his scout is instant relief.
Holy Faith
Bart’s pantheon pops at turn 11. Since faith production doesn’t seem like it’ll be as much of a problem as terrible starting hexes, he uses his pantheon to add two food to his elephants.
MOHR FAITHS
And if faith generation does turn into a problem, there’s a handy religious city state rammed up Bart’s ass.
Writing
Zach hits writing and then starts on Sailing. Worker is 7 turns away, but he can’t chop yet. Work boats only cost 100 gold, though. He’s going to try to enhance his sea tiles while still getting both wonders, and sees having the techs and the ability to start on The Great Lighthouse if the AI gets the Great Library first as a better tradeoff.
That, or he was outside smoking and Bart hijacked his turn. BWAHAH.
MOHR FAITHS :D
Bart’s colon develops more more faith generation.
First Random Event
The first random event goes to Zach. He bought a monument the turn before, though, and cannot afford to either upgrade his scout to an archer or duplicate it. Five free experience and full health isn’t anything to sneeze at, though, and the monument is arguably more valuable.
Political Summary
Turn 25 – Political Summary
Zach (England), despite having explored more than Bart (Ethiopia), has only met one civ – Portugal. If she expands heavily, he’s like to conquer her early for the leg room. Portugal is to England’s south, where the tundra isn’t.Bart is sandwiched between China, Assyria, Celtia, and India. He may shit out a religion of combat bonuses in self defense. 

HAHAHA
The Ethiopian people have doves the way the rest of the world has rats. People open cupboards and shoo the critters away from their reserves of dried elephant meat. They annoyed constantly, but also inspired.
Islam
Bart founds Islam on turn 39. The AI’s have founded three pantheons so far.
He’s been careful about not giving out embassies, so no one covets his lands yet, and he’s got three declarations of friendship; only Assyria does not melt at the sight of an Ethiopian smile. With this in mind, Bart doubles down on a peaceful game. He can still transition to full war mode if he has to when he enhances, but for now, Islam is a religion of peace in a non-sarcastic way.
2014-03-14_00020
With almost no production, this worker is the first thing Ethopia has built. No random events yet, so the 200 gold is quickly becoming an opportunity cost for an archer or a work boat.
More Glory for Ethiopia
Bart finds Lake Victoria. As Zach’s turns involve fighting barbarians and rushing through a settler (still intent on his early wonders, amazingly!) he has become incredibly frustrated. These turns take longer than they should, and all the fun stuff has been happening for Ethiopia. We take a long smoke break.
2014-03-14_00024
Zach takes happiness per 10 population and a wonder production buff out of Tradition. These aren’t linked to the free cultural buildings anymore, allowing him to better cherry pick his buffs.As frustrating as his turns are, his capital is population 6, thanks to sea resources and lucky population ruins, and he’s almost got his settler out. He’s behind in social policies by one (Ethopia has taken Monarchy, Growth, and Free Cultural Buildings, and is slightly ahead because of the Stele) but ahead in science. The AI’s have finished The Great Wall, so there’s still some sort of hope for his wonderlust. 

2014-03-14_00023
Second random event also goes to Zach. The AI have had a few, too. He’s still broke, though, so instead of getting either 100 culture or a unit upgrade, he gets 30 culture for free. This closes the gap for him a bit in early policies, saving him four turns.
2014-03-14_00026
Holy Shit, he did it. Zach gets The Great Library on deity. This would never have happened in vanilla. Part of the charm of the Communitas mod is that the AI’s bonuses snowball at the later parts of the game, rather than in the early game.
Portugal must also have been building this; they covet wonders he built, and they covet it with bright red letters.
2014-03-14_00027
Apparently, Lake Victoria is made out of Jello.
2014-03-14_00028
Bart gets down his second city. His warrior has been standing guard for a thousand years, and getting pelted by a barbarian archer. While Lake Victoria is tempting, Bart is bypassing attempts at early wonders to get out two trade ships–one to ship food to his capital, and one to farm gold and beakers off of India. Also, China’s capital is 5 or 6 hexes north of Lake Victoria, across the water, making it a riskier forward settlement. Surprisingly, Gandhi does not yell at Bart for settling here.
2014-03-14_00029
Two Turns later, Zach reaches Kilmanjaro with a settler.
2014-03-14_00033
Ethiopia gets its first random event; for 150 gold, Bart turns dissidents in Harar into a slave labor force, getting a cheap worker unit. Blessings upon their fiery spirits; surely they will be rewarded in the after life.
2014-03-14_00034
Zach gets his third random event, but still can’t afford it. Instead of 5 science or five culture on a mountain tile, he gets two gold. Fortunately, the event didn’t spawn on Kilmanjaro, meaning that if he saves money from this point on, there’s a decent chance of the game giving his natural wonder a big boost.
2014-03-14_00035
Celtia asks for 100 gold. Ethiopia wants friends. It’s not the worst trade. Besides, there’s 50 gold in that camp up there, and after thousands of years, the mighty Ethiopians have produced an archer. It fires doves, blessings upon it.

We decide to call it a night here, so we can get onto our Fiverr gigs for the night. We also started downloading Diablo III, to give it a second chance. More on that later.

Big Versions of the Disney Panels

Big Versions of the Disney Panels published on No Comments on Big Versions of the Disney Panels

The Disney Princesses in Civ comic did really well; to thank all the folks coming and visiting us, I figured I’d share the high-res versions of the princess panels.

Kida of Atlantis

Mulan of China

Jasmine of Arabia

Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality published on No Comments on Net Neutrality

Zach and I probably represent the average person’s understanding of net neutrality. We’re not experts; don’t take this blog as more than our opinions as they existed when we cobbled it together.

The FCC ruling against Net Neutrality was a direct attack against freedom of speech, and we live in a post-news USA. By this, I mean that we have only shallow infotainment and punditry left to rely on for political information, and even this shriveled ghost has major stipulations about what it can and cannot wail about, handed down from publisher to editor to writer.

Another preface: I do not believe that the decay of journalism in the US is a conspiracy, but rather that cultural and political forces damaged it randomly. I do believe that the article we’re picking on in the comic is a blatant example of yellow journalism, though. The headline implies something wholly different from the contents of the article. The social context around any article about big cable interacting with Netflix is going to be Net Neutrality, and I don’t believe from a minute that the editors of USA Today are oblivious to this. I took classes on journalism and worked in student publications. We’re taught to deliver the crux of the story in the headline and the lead, just in case the reader doesn’t feel like chugging through to the end. This is called the inverted pyramid.

If the college paper I worked at was smart enough to write headlines with a consideration of social context, it seems bizarre that the writers and editors who trickled up into places like USA Today deliberately avoid this practice. There’s an implication here, but I don’t like to think about it.

But I have the flu, and am a vomit-font, so perhaps some of that is writing this post.