Archive for February, 2009

On Being a Good World of Warcraft Player

February 28, 2009 2 comments

Too many World of Warcraft players rely on this:

Recount DPS Chart

as an indicator of how good a player one is. Or on the color of the names of one’s gear. Or on how fast they got from 0 to 80. None of these are good indicators. There’s also a vast difference in what it takes to be good at PvP versus being good at PvE. (Usually, people who are good at PvP are also good at PvE, though the reverse is far less common.) Since I personally suck at PvP, having little interest in it, I will focus here on what it takes to be a good PvE player.

Let me clarify what I mean by PvE, here. PvE is short for Player vs. Environment, and technically applies to anything that isn’t Player vs. Player. How one fares alone against a single enemy off in some isolated corner of, say, Storm Peaks, however, is of no real interest to anyone else. You can go whatever pace you want, use whatever strategy you want, do whatever floats your boat, and it doesn’t do any harm to the game experience of other players. By all means, have your fun. It’s when you get into groups for dungeons (of any size) that your playing quality matters.

Now, just to set things straight: having the best gear doesn’t make someone the best player, no… but it’s still important. Having good gear sets a limit on a player’s potential. The better one’s gear, the higher one’s potential abilities. A skillfully-played tank will still get crushed if he only has 15k health and gets hit for 17k damage. The only way to get around such limitations is to get better gear. But if you’ve ever tried playing with someone who bought their toon fully leveled and tricked out in epics but doesn’t have a clue what all his abilities are, you know that gear isn’t everything.

Likewise, I’m not going to get too much into talent specs. I believe you should choose the spec that you most enjoy and/or which best suits your playing style. Within that spec, however, you should know which talents are useful and which are not. Sometimes it’s as clear as a summer’s day — a talent may be a valuable addition to your repertoire regardless of what you plan to do with the character. Other talents you will never use. Most of the time, however, the talents available to you will have varying degrees of use depending on your play style and the situation. There are certain “standard” specs commonly used by most people, but they are not necessarily the only valid specs to use.

Which brings me to my first tip for players: know your class’s abilities. You have a plethora of talents/abilities/spells. Each of these has advantages, disadvantages, and limits. Read the descriptions. Make sure you understand them. Know when it’s good to use an ability and when it isn’t. Here are a few examples of abilities and talents from the mages’ arsenal and their uses:

  • The spell Amplify Magic is a buff which increases the effects of any and all spells cast on the buffed person. This includes both heals and harmful spells, making this spell great for when you’re fighting a boss that never uses magic, but not worth using in any other situation. (I almost never use it.)
  • Its brother, Dampen Magic, does the opposite. This spell is horrible if you have a healer, but great for solo fighting.
  • The mage fire talent Blazing Speed gives the mage a chance to run faster and break out of any traps holding them in place whenever they are hit by a phsyical attack. That’s great for PvP. Its only application in PvE will be for running away when the party wipes, so a PvE-specced mage would do much better placing the two points he’d invest to fully stock this talent elsewhere.

My second tip for players: understand that running dungeons is like any other team activity. If you don’t work together, you will fail. Any dungeon running group, regardless of size, is made up of people filling one of three roles. A tank’s role is to make the enemy (mob) hate him enough to attack him and only him, and have enough armor and health to survive whatever the mob can dish out. A healer’s role is to keep any players who are taking damage alive. A damage dealer’s role is to do as much damage as possible to the mobs without doing so much that the enemy will be diverted from the tank.

That last part is critical. Generically speaking, if a damage dealer does an average of 3000 damage per second (DPS) for the first half of a fight, then pulls the enemy from the tank and spends the rest of the fight dead, his overall DPS for the fight is 3000/2 = 1500. Getting oneself killed to show off how much damage you can do only proves that you’re not as good a player as you think you are. A lot of DPS want to blame such situations on the tank for not being good enough or not having enough gear, but really… a good damage dealer can always hold back enough to keep from taking aggro away from the tank. There have been times I’ve run dungeons on normal difficulty with a tank whose gear was nowhere as good as mine and ended up taking off half my gear just to lower the number of critical hits I get so I wouldn’t pull mobs on accident.

Assuming all players have roughly equivalent gear and that this gear is appropriately match to the difficulty of the fight, the following guidelines can be used to determine who is at fault for a death/wipe:

  • If the tank dies first, it’s the healer’s fault.
  • If the healer dies first, it’s the tank’s fault.
  • If a damage dealer dies first, it’s their own damn fault.

Assignment of blame, by the way, is not an excuse for being a dick to your fellow players. Acknowledging who was at fault for a death/wipe is, however, the first step toward improving one’s playing skillz. When someone is aware that it’s their fault the party wiped, they can examine what happened to look for ways to prevent it from happening again. And accidents happen even to the best of players. A tank can miss the healer say he’s going to the bathroom in chat and pull before he gets back, a tank might get critically hit a zillion times in a row only to have the healer’s Big Heal fall half a second too late, etc.

My third tip for players: if possible, be familiar with the fights before going into them. Blizzard is doing its best to bring us new, interesting boss fights with new, interesting mechanics to keep the fighting fresh and keep us on our toes. For five-man dungeons, it’s not really important to be In The Know ahead of time (notable exception: The Occulous). For raids, where you have ten or twenty-five people to coordinate through sometimes complex boss encounters, it can be critical to success

There are many web sites out there which exist (in whole or in part) to help you with understanding the boss fights. My favorites are TankSpot (which makes excellent explanatory videos which are great for people who don’t like to read) and WoWwiki. People also put videos of the boss fights up on YouTube which you can watch to get a better feel for the fight before ever setting foot in the dungeon. Oftentimes, information is available before a dungeon is officially released in a patch because Blizzard opens them up for testing in the Public Test Realms.

In Summary

  1. DPS charts lie. Do not trust them.
  2. Gear is not the end-all, be-all of a player’s skill. It is the limit on their potential.
  3. Learn what all your toon can and can’t do, and in which situations certain abilities should/should not be employed.
  4. Understand the balance of roles in your group, and remember there is no “i” in “team”.
  5. Know the bosses’ paces before they put you through them.

If you keep these things in mind, you’re on the path to being a great PvE player in World of World of Warcraft. Or, probably, for any MMORPG out there.


My Favorite Firefox Add-Ons

February 24, 2009 Leave a comment

I’ve been using Firefox for some years now, having been introduced to it shortly before it boomed into popularity and made Microsoft start to sweat. I don’t use too many add-ons for it. In fact, I currently use exactly five. There are a great number of useful add-ons out there which I like but I don’t keep installed because my use of them would be rare. (One notable example of this is the Firefox Companion for eBay. Great if you use eBay regularly… which I don’t.)

Of the five add-ons I employ, three are passive. One was an option in the installation of my virus scanner, AVG Free (which, by the way, is the bomb). It just checks anything I download for me. One was an option in the installation of Skype, which I use for all my long-distance calling. It turns any phone number it finds in a web page into a button I can click to call that number with Skype. The third is called Download Statusbar, and just changes Firefox’s downloading interface.

Two of my add-ons are more active. One is TwitterFox, which eliminates the need for me to keep a tab open for Twitter. It minimizes to the bottom-right corner of your Firefox window until you tell it otherwise, at which point it becomes a small Twitter interface in the bottom-right corner of your Firefox window. Twitterfox checks for new updates at regular intervals and uses a combination of color-coding and tabs to make it easy to find new messages, replies, and direct messages aimed at you. You can tweet to your feed right from the interface. It even has the added functionality of making it easy to re-tweet someone else’s messages. Furthermore, it supports multiple Twitter accounts with a simple drop-down menu so you can flip back and forth in case of multiple computer users or what have you. Now I can surf the web without that extra tab sucking the fun out of my peripheral vision.

My fifth and final add-on is StumbleUpon. This is a wonderful add-on for people who like to just find cool stuff on the internet. You click the Stumble! button and it pulls up a random web page. It does require you to create a StumbleUpon profile so it can tailor the web sites it feeds you to your interests. You can give the web sites you find a thumbs up or thumbs down, which StumbleUpon then uses to further tailor the selection it gives you to your liking. I must warn you, however, that although you’ll find some really awesome stuff using StumbleUpon, there are two significant disadvantages to this add-on:

  1. It’ll keep you up past your bedtime. I don’t know how many times I’ve thought to myself, “I’ll just do one more Stumble! and then sleep,” only to look at the clock an hour later and berate myself for weakness. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person with this problem; I’ve encounted many StumbleUpon-related insomnia jokes floating around the internets.
  2. If you refrain from rating sites because you don’t want to narrow the selection StumbleUpon provides, you’ll start to see the same sites over and over again. If you ever used Pandora and tried to rate every song it throws at you, you know that such a Pandora station eventually ends up having about a dozen songs. Some of us prefer a little more variety than that. My solution in StumbleUpon’s case has been to only rate those pages which I like or dislike very much. Rating a small portion of the web pages you find keeps the new pages flowing without overly restricting the things it throws at you.

StumbleUpon is probably my favorite Firefox add-on of all. It’s a great way to fill ten minutes, and some of the stuff I’ve found through it has been truly amazing.

The Problem With Texting

February 21, 2009 Leave a comment

The problem with texting (at least in English) is the existing typing setup. More detailed info can be found on the history and whys of the existing key pad setup can be found here and here. Below, I’ve listed what I’ve got on my cell phone keys:

1 – All Punctuation
2 – ABC
3 – DEF
4 – GHI
5 – JKL
6 – MNO
7 – PQRS
8 – TUV
9 – WXYZ
* – Space

Putting in one of the later letters on a key (i.e. a “c”, which is the third letter on the 2 key) requires one to press the key multiple times. When typing the same letter twice in a row or typing two successive letters from the same key, one must wait a moment for the cursor to move to the next space or arrow over to it manually. (I don’t have the patience to wait for the cursor to move itself.) My cell phone automatically capitalizes the first letter of a text message, but any other individual capitals have to be made by pushing the up arrow on my phone. So to text the following message via my cell phone:

I’m a little teapot short and stout. Here is my handle, here is my spout. Put me on a burner ’til I shout: “Tip me over and pour me out.”

I have to make the following key presses:


Alternately, I could type ten digits to call someone and impart this information by voice in half the time.

This isn’t to say texting is useless. I can’t call my Twitter account and tell it what text I want published. There are other, similar ways in which to use texting services, too. We’ve come up with ways for texting to be useful because we have it available to us. But there needs to be an alternate keypad setup for typing.

We can’t just discard the old key pad system — at least, not in the United States. There are too many well-established phone numbers like 1-800-ABCDEFG which require the current keypad system to keep chaos in check. I have known a guy who didn’t know the numbers for his own home phone because it was easier to remember a simple two-word phrase (relevant to his interests, even) which the number spelled out. Hell, I don’t even know his phone number, and for the same reason.

On the other hand, for texting to be made less tedious and more useful, we’d have to rearrange the key pad. An analysis of the English language regarding which letters frequently occur next to each other in words and especially common words would be the first step to take. G and H, for instance, are on one key, but appear next to each other frequently (right, sight, might, height, light, fight, etc). D and E are another obvious such pair. Eliminating such occurences would be the first step towards reducing the number of key presses used and time taken.

Of course, as with the creation of the QWERTY keyboard layout, the lack of alphabetization might slow people down a bit overall, especially until they learn the new keypad layout. However, the lessening of button presses will also lower the number of chances to make mistakes, which is another step towards less time taken. Furthermore, fewer button presses is less repititious movement, and in an era where repetitive motion injuries are becomeing more widespread such considerations bear their own weight.

Categories: Ideas, Miscellany Tags: , ,

How South Park is Awesome

February 19, 2009 Leave a comment

South Park is a rude, crude, violent, satirical cartoon. As if that weren’t enough, it’s frickin’ brilliant.

I’m bad at catching TV shows on TV. I usually just wait until they’re posted online (now that the networks and cable stations have started making everything available on the internets for a limited time before DVD sales commence) and watch them at my liesure. South Park is one show I’ve been lax about keeping up with over the years, so I’ve recently been taking advantage of the fact that the entire series is available for perusal at the South Park Studios web site.

The more I watch it, the more I have to appreciate how good the show’s mockery is. Through the unrealistically convoluted adventures of the kids and their co-denizens of South Park, the show’s creators do a fantastic job of boiling the objects of their mockery down to their basic elements. Although these summaries and presentations aren’t appropriate for kids (or, sometimes, for anyone at all), the writers display the kind of paraphrasing skills teachers encourage their students to use to avoid plagiarism in essays. Many of the episodes are keyed to current and recent events. Many of the episodes cover very controversial topics. Many of the episodes are bold social commentary disguised as crude humor.

Take, for example, an episode I watched last night called “The Entity,” which originally aired on November 21, 2001. This was, as you’re probably aware, shortly after the World Trade Center was bowled over by hijacked airplanes. Airline travel security had just been tightened to extremes. In the South Park episode, Mr. Garrison decided he was done dealing with the ridiculous amount of time it took to get through security. He therefore invented a new mode of transportation designed to rival the speed of flight. As part of its normal functioning, this mode of transportation simulated the driver being taken from behind while simultaneously giving a blow job to someone and jacking off two more guys. Everyone who tried it was disturbed by how uncomfortable and violating the machine was… but they still felt it was better than going through the airport security hijinks.

Nutshell message for the episode: These heightened airport security measures are ridiculous. The show said it much more eloquently than that, though. It’s all about the Flexi-Rods.

Black vs. African-American

February 14, 2009 2 comments

I am 3/8 black, 1/8 Hispanic, 4/8 Caucasian, and 0/8 African-American.

How can you be 3/8 black and 0/8 African-American?

I’ve heard that question lots of times. The answer is that my father is an immigrant — and not from Africa, which would make me African-American in a different sense, like President Obama. My father is Jamaican. I’m sure that if you went back far enough you’d find a place where my dad’s family history intersects with African-American history. Since we’re descended from the Moors of Spain, I don’t have a clue where that intersection point is. But that intersection point is nowhere near today.

African-American history is amazing. The black people living in the United States have, as a race, overcome many obstacles throughout the course of their history. They’ve developed a rich subculture, with its own music, styles of dress, and linguistics. African-American culture is part of the greater American culture, yet distinct from it.

My dad was mostly raised in New York City. He’s basically a white guy encased in black flesh. Between him and my 100% white mother, my culture is very white American. I have too much respect for African-American history and culture to claim to be African-American just because it’s politically incorrect to call me black. I usually just choose “other” for my ethnicity when filling out paperwork, but that doesn’t address the gap in the ethnic classification systems. I mean, I’m 1/8 Hispanic, too, technically… but why would I officially claim that when everything I know about Hispanic cultures is stuff I learned in college?

Kushiro, Japan — A Dying City? D’:

February 11, 2009 Leave a comment

When I lived in Japan, I lived in Kushiro, a city on the east edge of Hokkaido. Its primary industries, as I understand it, are fishing and paper production. (I actually got to go on a tour of one of the paper mills, and boy was that exciting! Very much like the tour of a crayon factory they show you in… was it Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood? I forget exactly. Anyway, it was the coolest field trip ever. The entry fee was the best 500 yen I ever spent.)

Anyway, some random fellow who will be working in Kushiro in the near future sent me an e-mail to ask for any advice I could give him about going there, working there, etc. He also sent me this video he found on YouTube. It was uploaded in March of 2008, and it’s the most heart-rending thing I’ve seen in a very long time.

This is the information blurb that’s attached to the video:

Kushiro is small a city in Hokkaidō, Japan. The population is largely of retirement age. Young adults leave for bigger cities where there is more opportunity and culture. There is very little English spoken here, so communication difficulties often cause inconvenience. In fact, there is very little of anything that is not exclusively Japanese in nature – food, imported products, recreation, etc. People have little understanding of or genuine appreciation for anything foreign.
Kushiro is economically depressed. There are hundreds of empty storefronts. Half of the businesses on the main street (Kita-Odori) have gone out of business. Kushiro is a city of corrugated steel doors, taped-up windows, and ‘space available’ signs. Kushiro is a dying city.

I recognize half of these store fronts for sure. Like, I remember where they were in relation to to my apartment and how to get there and what goods or services they provided. Others in it look familiar; I’m sure I’ve seen them before. If this is what the town looked like almost a year ago… I’m afraid to imagine what it’s like now. A lot of these stores are places I would never have thought would be likely to go out of business any time soon. One of the stores was a multistory (I think three stories, maybe two) electronics store selling everything from cameras to computers to batteries. I’m fairly certain one of the store fronts was a butcher, which would mean that not all of the stores closing down were luxuries.

If I didn’t have a migraine today I would get out some beer and start drinking. I’m gonna go play World of Warcraft instead. Hopefully I won’t die too often from failure to see the screen due to tears.

Why Avatar Should Not Be in the Anime Section at Blockbuster

February 11, 2009 Leave a comment

Avatar: The Last Airbender, for those of you who know little to nothing about it, is one of the best cartoons I’ve ever seen. It appeals to its intended audience of children through its aesthetics and zany humor (neither of which you need to be a kid to appreciate), but it’s also got a well-developed cast of characters and a three-season story line in which the consequences of the characters’ choices matter. It’s the first kids’ show I’ve seen in a long time that is more than just a show for kids. Avatar is truly for all ages, like Sesame Street was back in the days before Jim Henson died and the people who are now in charge of its production took a wrecking ball to it.

With many influences on the show’s development and production having come from Japanese cartoons and Asian cultures in general, the overall style of the show is very reminiscent of anime. Since Avatar‘s all-ages appeal has combined with its high quality to attract a large fan base among those old enough to wield words on the Internet, numerous debates have sprung up here and there over one question: “Is Avatar: The Last Airbender an anime?” In one sense, yes it is. But for practical purposes in English-speaking cultures, it is not, and it should therefore be in the family section at Blockbuster, instead of the anime section.

Let’s start by looking at how it is an anime. The Japanese word アニメ, transliterated into roman characters as “anime”, is their word for “cartoon.” It was shamelessly stolen from our own English word “animation” and shortened to make it easier and faster for the Japanese to say. By that definition, the word “anime” is a label not just for Japanese cartoons, but for animated films of any kind and length from any country. Three-dimensional animations and stop-motion animations, for instance, as well as every Disney movie with animation in it count, along with cartoons from China, France, Australia, and anywhere else you can think of.

English-speaking cultures, on the other hand, apply the anime label specifically to cartoons coming out of Japan.

There’s an amazing variety of cartoons produced in Japan. Unlike the United States, where cartoons are generally aimed at children, they have cartoons aimed at all demographics — children, teenage boys, teenage girls, housewives, 40 year-old businessmen, etc. Only a small fraction of these, however, are translated into English for sale and purchase in the western world. The ones that make it overseas have many things in common, in terms of aesthetics, animation style, and storytelling techniques.

It is those stylistic elements that most people in English-speaking cultures use to identify a cartoon’s point of origin. However, many of today’s animators in the west have been heavily influenced by the styling of Japanese cartoons. As a result, cartoons produced in the west grow to look more and more like the cartoons that come out of Japan. The aesthetic line is blurring, which means we must turn to other factors to determine whether or not a cartoon should be classified as anime.

The first thing to look at is where the cartoon was originally produced. There are some clear-cut examples we can make here: any Disney film will have been produced in the United States, and is therefore not an anime; any cartoon to come out of Studio Ghibli was produced in Japan, and is therefore an anime by western definition. Films produced by Studio Ghibli and then translated and dubbed by Disney for release in the U.S.A. (like Princess Mononoke) were still created by Studio Ghibli, and are therefore still anime. In fact, whether or not a cartoon had to be translated into English is perhaps even more telling. If it was originally in Japanese, it’s probably anime. If it was originally in English, it’s probably not. Both of these factors could be confounded, though, if for instance a cartoon envisioned by British folk were produced by Japanese folk in Japan.

The most important factor to consider is the culture of the creator(s). Culture is a huge influence on a person and is bound to come out in anything artistic they create, regardless of medium (and in spite of any other cultural influences on the final product). In a cartoon it will display most in how the characters speak and interact with each other and the forms that jokes take. These things can be hard to find in a translated cartoon if the translation is good, though.

So, back to Avatar in particular. It was created by two Americans and produced by Nickelodeon Studios, which is an American company. The cartoon’s original language is English. And if you ever watch the show, it’s got American humor coming out its wazoo, including puns. (Puns are almost impossible to keep funny in translation, which would hint at English as the original language even if it weren’t produced by a most decidedly American production studio.) As such, we cannot label Avatar: The Last Airbender as an anime by the standards of English-speaking cultures. This may need to be modified for other cultures Blockbuster services according to their own genre definitions, but in English-speaking countries Blockbuster Video should be putting it in the Family section of their rental racks with the rest of Nickelodeon’s productions instead of the Anime section.