Boom Blox Review

05 September 2008

I never saw anything regarding Boom Blox to peak my interest, until hearing about it in a Penny Arcade podcast. The game itself is little more than a physics simulator. On top of this game engine, they proceeded to splatter every game type they could think of, hoping a couple would stick. As could be expected, some game modes are pretty awful. Fortunately, a couple do stick, and make this game well worth picking up.

First, the bad modes:

* Jenga mode. In this mode you ‘pull’ blocks out of a jenga-like tower, trying not to knock it over. The controls and physics are nowhere near accurate enough for this to be fun. You can be slowly ‘pulling’ a block out, when it suddenly decides to gyrate wildly and fling the whole tower over. Overall the physics suffers from the “jiggly cascade” effect common to recent physics engine attempts. Chalk it up to a lack of processing power to handle real friction, combined with a relatively inaccurate controller.

* Shooter mode. This is a wiimote shooting game. Like Duck Hunt. I have no idea how this got in here, but it doesn’t fit in, and isn’t particularly fun. It’s not that it’s a bad shooting game – but it’s utterly indistinct, and fails to take advantage of any of the fun game pieces.

* Sneaky Thieves mode. You have a tower with gems on it, and bears and raccoons are coming to steal them. Throw bombs at them before they take your gems. By the way, the bombs have a big damage radius, and also hurt your tower. The bomb throwing is too imprecise and slow, making this mode frustrating. It’s basically unavoidable that you’ll blow up your own tower while trying to spam bombs at the incoming forest animals. An interesting idea, but didn’t quite work out. This mode may have been salvaged with slower pacing, more distance between spawns and the tower, and an option to switch to a more precise and faster weapon for picking off enemies near your tower.

Now for the great ball-throwing modes that make this game:

* Gem Killer mode. There’s a tower (or a few) with gems carefully placed on top. The tower is made up of various breakable blocks, including special blocks that explode or disappear when hit. The goal is to knock all the gems down in as few throws as possible. This is reminiscent of playing Portal’s challenge mode, and is every bit as fun. This is also the great multiplayer mode talked about in the Penny Arcade podcast. In multiplayer, instead of trying to knock down a tower in as few throws as possible, each player has a castle with gems on it, and are trying to destroy the other players’ castles. The multiplayer is unfortunately very slow-paced, but seems like a great candidate for tuning into a fun party game.

* Math mode. This is another ball-throwing mode, but this time instead of gems, you’re aiming to earn points by knocking over blocks with numbers on them, representing the points that block is worth. Later levels include multiplier walls, which let you earn huge points if you can knock a point block into that wall. There are also penalty blocks strategically placed to keep things challenging. This mode also works in multiplayer, making an effective selfish counterpart to the offensive gem castle mode, in case you’re sick of the politics of having to attack your friends.

The single player consists of a series of levels of each type, which you unlock in order by getting a decent score. My advice? Try the bad modes for a round or two, but don’t bother finishing them unless you’re truly bored. Skip to the good ones. Be warned that the co-op is a bit tacked-on. Some levels are copied straight from single player, and some modes make no sense for co-op (eg. throw as few balls as possible). The best co-op modes are ones that have players alternate in throwing balls or pulling blocks – but even these are little different than playing single player while handing the wiimote back and forth.

Despite having 2 fun modes and 3 bad ones, this still adds up to a game worth buying, even just for the 4-player party mode. With any luck this game will get a sequel focusing on improving the game modes that worked well.

Elementalist Mages in WotLK (finally!)

03 September 2008

In Wrath of the Lich King, the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, Blizzard has made some major departures from tradition with the Mage talent trees. This has left some people confused, asking questions like “Why do I get free fireballs in the frost tree?” and “How come an arcane talent increases damage on my fire AOE?”.

Historically, the mage talent trees have been very strictly school-based, to the point of nearly being copy-pasta with a different crayon color for each tree. Each tree had a primary bolt (frostbolt, fireball, arcane missiles), with a ‘mandatory’ talent to improve it. Several more talents copied across the trees increased the range of that “color” of spells. Others had a flat crit or damage increase for that color of spell. All three trees have a talent that stops spell pushback.

The problem with this design is that it tore down one of the most important strengths of the mage class: a vast array of spells across multiple magic schools. Because the talents vastly improve a single magic school, this effectively excludes a mage from using his other schools.

When a mage comes across an elemental immune to his primary magic school, he should laugh haughtily and destroy the enemy with his other spells. Instead, mages sorely lack damage and utility in their alternate schools. As a frost mage, a same-level water elemental can practically solo me. I can’t frost nova to root him in place. Not only are my fireballs and arcane missiles not pushback-resistant, but they take longer to cast, do less damage, AND cost more mana. Instead of devastating the water elemental with my alternate schools, I’m a punching bag with a cigarette lighter.

We feel it in PVP as well. Hypothetically a mage can switch out spells based on the enemy he’s fighting. Use fireballs on that rogue so he can’t stealth, use frostbolts on a paladin or warrior to stop him from reaching you with that big sword, or use a pushback resistant bolt when sticking at close range against a dual-wielding hunter and his pet. Again, this isn’t the reality of mage design in World of Warcraft. Other than a few powerful instant-cast spells with cooldowns (fireblast, cone of cold) mages stick to their primary school. The only example that comes to mind otherwise is using arcane missiles to avoid Line of Sight (LOS) issues. If the designers had foreseen this utility, we would most likely have it as a talent, only accessible to arcane mages.

A few token changes were made to improve this before the Burning Crusade expansion came out. Shatter was updated to allow non-frost spells to also crit, and Master of Elements was modified to refund mana on ALL spell crits, not just fire. Better design, certainly, but a small start. If anything Burning Crusade may have worsened this, by giving us a second primary-bolt-only talent, further entrenching that spell as the only one a mage can cast.

The main specs considered viable at the moment are 17/44/0 and 17/0/44, and sadly, 61 points in any tree. The first 17 in those frost and fire builds are in Arcane down to Imp. Counterspell. Mages say this spell is mandatory for PVP. For PVE you hear the same thing about Clearcasting and Arcane Meditation. The truth is, mages have always found an excuse to put points into arcane. Before Imp. Counterspell, it was “you NEED instant arcane explosion”. Really though – what’s the alternative to putting those 17 points in arcane? Who wants a faster fireball when you can cast a much more powerful frostbolt in that same time? Who wants extra frost crit damage when they’re chain-casting fire spells? No – arcane isn’t awesome, the other trees are just that bad.

The only ‘hybrid’ build is ’34/27/0′, which is really a fire build that takes only utility talents from the arcane tree. You won’t find this build casting Arcane Blast or Arcane Missiles in their rotations.

Call me crazy, but I’ve spent most of WOW as an elemental mage anyway. Have I been gimping myself by doing so? Probably a little. But I’ve always badly wanted that flexibility and utility that is the heart of mages.

Finally, here comes the WotLK expansion. Through some dramatic talent revamps and new spells, elemental builds will finally be viable.

First, you’re gonna be casting in red white AND purple, no matter what you spec. Specced deep frost? You get free fireballs. Have talents in frost AND fire? Now both will get some use, even if you still chain-cast frostbolt. Specced arcane? If you want a ranged AOE you’ve got extra damage on flamestrike too, not just arcane explosion.

Unfortunately, the fact remains that many talents still effect fire-only or frost-only spells. Hybrids will still have a weaker primary bolt when chaincasting than any other build, right? That’s where the new Frostfire Bolt comes in. Frostfire bolt receives bonuses from both frost and fire talents. Regardless of the lame name, this means that you can spec elemental and still put out sustained DPS in PVE, and have a hard-hitting bolt for shatter crits. Not only does this make elemental viable, but because frostbolt-specific and fireball-specific talents won’t impact it, your elemental build ALSO has an extra 10 points free from not speccing Imp. Frostbolt and Emp. Frostbolt, or Imp. Fireball and Emp. Fireball.

*However*, the fact remains that you have many talents in frost and fire that increase fire-only damage, or frost-only damage. That means if you spec elemental and go into a raid, you’re going to have weak fireballs AND weak frostbolts. So what do you chain-cast without feeling like you wasted all the points you put in one tree?

Say goodbye to 17 in arcane, and good riddance. Elemental here I come!

Reduced Cost BOP Gear Crafting FTW

30 July 2008

I’m going to make an effort to start refining and posting some of my WOW forum rants here on my blog. This first is an idea I’ve been tossing around for a few weeks and just recently found a forum post to pose it in.

I’ve been frustrated with gear-crafting professions in general. They aren’t worth training until late-game because they consume too many resources better put towards leveling. Even in the late-game they’re of questionable use except as cooldown-based money generators.

In Burning Crusade, Blizzard attempted to fix this by creating a few sets of gear that require a certain tailoring level or spec to be able to wear. This has been effective, as these sets are some of the best and easiest to obtain gear for new lvl 70s.

When I hit 70 and had plenty of gold to spare, I leveled my tailoring to full (375) and started looking for gear. It turned out that all of the good recipes were rare drops from difficult dungeons. But then the items were Bind on Equip (BOE), so anyone could use the items once created. Despite having 375 tailoring, I found myself having other tailors make me the cloth gear I was interested in. In addition, there are some Bind on Pickup (BOP) recipes, which are equally questionable. If only you can wear the item the recipe creates, then a BOP recipe drop is effectively a gear drop that you also have to pay for (by purchasing materials).


Alchemists are now getting a bonus effect when using potions that they can create. Here is my idea for a similar effect on gear-crafting: give tailors a discount on materials required for a BOP version of all recipes. This would be a separate button on the tailoring interface – a “make for self” tab that shows the reduced costs. I’m thinking 50% of BOE cost, but that may need to be tweaked upwards a bit. Disenchanting of these items would apply the same multiplier.

This route to fixing gear-based crafting has a lot of benefits. First of all, it’s extremely cheap from a development perspective. Using multipliers on existing recipes avoids any issues where someone would need to modify and test every existing recipe. It would also simplify creation of new recipes. The designers are presently forced to create custom tailoring-specific recipes for every class, that are only usable by tailors. This is a lot of extra work for items that 1/3rd or less of tailors would have a chance to use. Tailors and classes that wear cloth are already very limited subsets of the population, so this isn’t development time well-spent.

With this change, all recipes would be created as BOE and be available to all players who wear that type of gear. But at 50% reduced cost, tailoring would be a profession well-worth grabbing. Likewise, grinding for a BOE recipe would become worthwhile. Instead of comparing the grind time to how much time you would spend in trade chat trying to find a tailor with the recipe, you would be comparing the grind time to the amount of time required to farm for an extra 5 Primal Might and 3 Spellcloth. This would tilt the scales back towards people making the effort to obtain recipes.

Likewise, gear-crafting might become a cost-effective method of upgrading gear during leveling. The BOP versions of gear would reduce the cost of skillups, albeit at a slight cost of reducing the amount of select “cheapest” crafted gear appearing on the auction house. Personally, this would be a welcome change from speccing herbalism/skinning on every character I level.

I’ve referred to tailoring a lot here, but it applies equally to blacksmithing and leatherworking. For the low cost of creating a “BOP” tab on the gear-crafting interfaces that divides mats by 2 and toggles the BOE flag to BOP, gear-crafting would receive a much-needed buff. Considering this would also simplify recipes for both the game developers and for players, it seems like it could be a valuable addition to the WotLK expansion.


16 July 2008

Got a kick out of this video rapping about mages in WOW:

Nvidia 8800GT Overheating

06 April 2008

As I mentioned briefly in this post I’ve been extremely disappointed in my new Foxconn Nvidia 8800gt. By default it would overheat enough to kill itself, locking up the whole computer. I tried to install Nvidia’s nTune software only to find it caused my computer to permanently reboot, forcing me to do a full reinstall of Windows. The second time around I installed Rivatuner and saw temperatures hit 95 degrees celcius and higher before the computer locked up. Wow. Equally amazing is the fact that the fan duty cycle (% of max speed) never budged from 30%.

The first step which let me start playing games on my 8800gt was to setup a custom automatic fan speed rule. I used the following settings:

  • Duty cycle min: 30
  • Duty cycle max: 100
  • T min: 56
  • T range: 16
  • T operating 110
  • T low limit 0
  • T high limit: 100

The GPU temperatures were still higher than I was really comfortable with, but at least I could use my $200 paper weight.

I kept searching the interwebs and found this forum thread detailing the reapplication of GPU thermal compound to improve temperatures. After a full afternoon of leveling tailoring on my mage I was bored enough to give it a shot. Here are the pictures:

Disassembling GPU
Gunky GPU Clean GPU
New thermal compound Happy PC

Before thermal compound reapplication: 65 degrees, 44% duty cycle
After thermal compound reapplication: 65 degrees, 30% duty cycle

So by taking off some screws and applying a tiny bit of thermal compound I was able to drop my fan duty cycle (and thus noise level) to the minimum. Before I tweaked my Rivatuner settings to those listed up top, my old settings had dropped my cpu temperature to 58 degrees. That’s the first I’ve seen this card go under 60 without jacking the duty cycle up to max. All said it’s a success, although from the sound of it others have cards even worse off than mine was.

Mages in WOW

01 March 2008

I’m not the only one with a love-hate relationship with the mage class. Check out these great mage videos:

Big Blue Dress: This one is pretty self-explanatory. “Why I Ask, This Doesn’t Make Much Sense, That A Man Of My Stature Should Have To Wear a Dress??!!”

A Mage in Action: This video sarcastically shows off the role of the Mage in WOW as a vending-machine-slash-taxi to the tune of some badass music. Check out the food line in Orgrimmar at the end :)

Team Fortress 2 Dedicated Server on Linux

04 November 2007

Here are the best links I could find for configuring a Team Fortress 2 dedicated server:

The link is simple and straightforward, with the exception that you need to know the configuration step is referring to creating a orangebox/tf/cfg/server.cfg file. The has a comprehensive list of all available server configuration settings.

That said, we now have our own TF2 server up at Hopefully we’ll get a regular game going at least once a week.

Update: So much for that. Our cheap dedicated server’s ~2ghz celeron couldn’t fit 7 people in a tf2 game without dying. Back to the pubs…

My Purple Dress

02 September 2007

I don’t generally obsess over virtual clothing in video games. I’ve scoffed at role players who sacrific 10 stamina in favor of wearing a matching blue shirt with just the right collar. But as an undead mage in World of Warcraft, even I am frustrated with the wardrobe choices. Let’s take a look at the “outfits” available to a high level mage.

Magister Dress Arcanist Dress Sorcerer Dress

Hmmm. A red and purple dress, a purple dress, or … another purple dress. Not exactly going to strike fear in the heart of my enemies wearing a frilly tutu. I’m undead for crying out loud! I should be wearing gnome bones and human skulls. Subdued, dark, dank colors, not fluorescent reds and purples!

Those first three outfits are just the beginning though. If I work really hard at it, spending hours every week raiding with a guild, I could get even more powerful outfits:

Netherwind Dress Frostfire Dress

Ouch. From purple to glowing, baby blue. Are those ice crystals on his shoulders? Consider that a big hint about the role of mages in raiding…

So I went out of my way to avoid wearing dresses. Instead of dungeon loot, I spent weeks learning how to sew my own clothes, opening up a few spare upper-50s shirt patterns:

Mooncloth Vest Mooncloth Robe

Sure enough, most shirt patterns are still robes and dresses. Even though the stats are better on the mooncloth robe, I made myself the vest. -5 Intellect to wear a vest instead of dress? No longer was I scoffing at the idea.

Pretty soon I completed a difficult quest with much-improved pants as the reward. In fact, these were the best pants available before end-game raids:

No joke – it’s a “kilt”. Even after sacrificing 5 intellect to avoid wearing a robe, they still managed to force me into a skirt. Maybe I’m not really undead – I may just be dead, and this is hell.

When I hit level 60, I couldn’t wait to get my epic mount. As a mage, I spend a lot of time running away, so having the fastest mount is important. I spent a full week in Alterac Valley to receive a 10% discount – a full 100g – off my epic mount. Despite being stuck in low-end gear (including a kilt) I think I did pretty well:

Bizzle in AV

It’s pretty easy to get killing blows when you hide in the back spamming 41-yard fireballs, and using instant casts to steal kills from teammates. Or maybe I was at the top of the ranks because I spent 3 hours at a stand-still defending Frostwolf Keep from the Alliance, and had simply been in game racking up kills twice as long as anyone else. Nahhhh – it was l33t skillz and playing an OP class that got me to the top. AP POM PYRO KAPOW FTW! MI RIGHT?

Whatever it was, it worked! The tuesday after I hit lvl 60, I reached PVP rank 3, and had just over 800g – enough to buy my epic mount. The only colors available were purple and green. Obviously I picked green, doing my darnedest to avoid looking fruity despite the games’ best efforts. (purple mount shown below)

Purple Horse

I couldn’t wait to show off my new mount. I had even gotten the mount speed glove enchant, mithril spurs, and equipped my carrot on a stick. Totally badass. Not even death itself could catch this mage. But when my wife got home from work, she was less than impressed:

Me: “I got my epic mount! He’s so fast that his feet caught on fire!! Come look!”

Wife: “*groan* What color did you pick?”

Me: “Green…”

Wife: “I thought you would get Purple.”

Me: “…”

Wife: “You know . . . to match your dress.”

Me: :((

Wife: “Ooh look! Even your horse is wearing a dress!”

Green Horse


Once a WOW Addict….

09 June 2007

I started playing WOW two summers ago. I played it for over a year and stopped when I grew unhappy with how it was affecting my life. Raids became hours-long committments rather than something fun to do after work. I found myself spending entirely too much time in-game travelling cross-world for minor rewards, checking the auction house every 5 minutes, hanging out in town wishing I could find a group, and solo-grinding the same mobs for hours just to go up a level.

Even after quitting I continued lurking the forums, creating talent builds, and reading patch notes. I even kept my WOW client updated — at least until they moved authentication ahead of patch downloading.

At one point I reactivated just for a free character transfer off Illidan, an old and over-populated server, to a newer low-population server. Paying $15 once sure beats paying $20 per character for transfers. But I stayed strong…I set the subscription to cancel right after I paid for the one month, and stuck with it.

Despite the problems, I enjoyed the game immensely. I’ve always planned to start playing again. Get my wife and friends playing, join a good guild, check out the new Burning Crusade content, try a new character class… I’ve been lusting after the new Macbook Pros that were just released, and with Leopard on its way, perhaps this fall will be a good time to try again?

Isn’t it incredible how games have changed? I started playing WOW a year after it was released, played for a year, stopped playing for a year, and am still planning to start playing again.

This post started from my noticing a Blizzard website update which is effectively a Blizzard-branded Thottbott, with some very cool features tying it into the Armory. You can click upgrade on individual pieces of armor, and get a list of likely suggestions for your class, level, and gear-quality. So I started wondering — which character should I play, and what cool gear could I get if I started back up?

Here are Armory links to my characters:

Level 60 Mage (second toon, much faster leveling than shaman)

Level 48 Shaman (zug zug! My first toon)

Level 38 Rogue (who doesn’t have a rogue?)

Level 25 Priest, Squirrelbot (yes, she has a mechanical squirrel)

Level 20 Hunter

Level 16 Warlock (warlocks are amazing, but I quit before leveling too far)

I also have a <20 level Alliance paladin, druid, and warrior.

So…which should I play?

Twenty Years of Nintendo

15 February 2007
December 1986 December 2006
Eric with NES Eric with Wii