Friday, November 30, 2007

Retraction of previous statement

Previously, I had said that Sumo lounge didn't suck, only their tracking system. Well, seems like I made a big mistake. Sumo lounge DOES SUCK and sucks big time. We had left off on Wednesday with Mindy, the "manager" promising me that the package had already shipped and that I should receive an email confirmation by email. Well, no confirmation. When I called again to inquire today, no one could find my order...again. When I asked Mindy about why this was the case, she informed me that it's a "new system" and sometimes this happens. So she says she will find the tracking number for me and comes back with this tracking number. Well, I put it into FedEx tracking and it doesn't show up. When asked why it didn't show up, she told me she would find out and get back to me. 5 hours later, I call back to see what the deal is, but conveniently, Mindy is "on the phone" and cannot talk to me. Then when pressed further about what the hold up is, the rep tells me that "FedEx hasn't gotten back to us yet and so you will have to wait"
I decided to actually call FedEx with the tracking number they provided and it turns out the package is FedEx Ground and hasn't even been shipped out yet! I think this Mindy person needs to level her Charm up some more or maybe run for president.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Quest for beans

I have always wanted a beanbag chair. The trip to PAX earlier this year just further cemented that desire. On a whim, I decided to finally order a nice beanbag chair from the people over at sumolounge, the same people who provided the beanbags at PAX. However, after not hearing anything from them for 4 days (not even a confirmation email), I decided to call in to check the status of my order. Apparently, they "never" received my order. When I wondered why my credit card had already been charged, the representative vehemently told me that "it's not possible" because they only run my credit card when the product is shipped.
Now, I used to work at a less than scrupulous computer parts dealer and know all about these tricks of the trade they use. So I pointed out that the charge was made on 11/24 which is the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Of course, I know these people are so hardworking that they even ship during public holidays when the shipping companies aren't even open. When confronted with this fact, he decided to tell me that I best contact Mindy tomorrow during normal business hours of 9-5 EST. I found this very strange because the company is located in California which is on PDT...Oh well, we shall see tomorrow.

Addendum: Sumo Lounge doesn't suck, but their whole order tracking system does. After finally getting into contact with Mindy, I was notified that the bag was conveniently shipping today. To her credit, she was courteous throughout the entire call so that's a plus.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Mass Effect

With much thanks to Catnipped, I was able to get Mass Effect free of charge on the first day of release. I am about 30 hours into the game and so far, it has definitely been a very positive experience. Bioware is really great at telling a grand story. Here are my thoughts:

Things I liked:
The graphics are very good. While I am not sure why they couldn’t do some kind of caching on the HD as having to load textures on the fly generates some annoying pauses in the action, when everything is in, the game looks gorgeous. You can see the facial expressions of the NPCs and the battles feel very frantic with bullets whizzing by your head as you desperately look for cover.

The voice acting is superb. All the intonations sound right and the facial expressions usually match the mood of the discussion as well. No blank stares as the fate of the world hangs in the balance. The conversations add a lot of depth to the game and I actually look forward to finding the next NPC just to see what they have to say.

The storyline has always been a strong point of most Bioware games, and this one is no exception. It really makes the player want to keep going just to see where the next plot twist will be and what other new information will be revealed.

The Combat system borrows heavily from Gears of War. Cover is the name of the game here as most enemies are pretty good shots and enemy snipers often times will 1 shot you if you are out in the open. The biotics (magic) of the game is weaved very well into the flow of combat.

Each pitched battle can also happen in many ways depending on what class you are. I decided to play as an Engineer my first time through so in most of the combat missions, I rely on grenades and my other squad mates to do most of the damage while I hide in the back disabling enemy weapons with sabotage and healing my party.

The achievements actually mean something! While all Xbox games have achievements, most of the time, they are merely trophies you hang on your gamer card wall to increase your own E-peen. The achievements in Mass Effect actually have an effect on the game. Unlock the rifle expert achievement, and you can add the rifle talent to your starting character your next time through, regardless of class. Rack up a million credits and you gain access to special weapons and armor only available to Spectres. Heal your party 150 times and you can add First Aid talent to your next character. I think nearly every achievement unlocks something else you can use in a new game

The game also comes in 4 difficulty modes, with Insanity being unlocked once you have beaten the game once. There is also a new game+ mode. All of the above make for an immense amount of replay value. After completing this first playthrough, I seriously think I will play through the game again on the insanity mode with a female character just to hear the dialogue from the other side.

Things I didn’t like:
Bad case of Consolelitis. The inventory management system is pretty lame. It’s essentially a huge long badly sorted list that you have to scroll through. It organizes the items by their item level which is represented by a Roman numeral (so a banshee rifle VI is more powerful than a banshee rifle IV). This isn’t so bad if you are trying to breakdown stuff into omnigel since you can go to the equip screen which auto sorts the items by type as well, but it’s absolutely horrible when you try to sell stuff since it’s just one giant list in the sell window. So if you find out that you happened to have a higher level of an assault rifle and wanted to sell the lower level one, you have to scroll all the way to those items of the same level, often times, this can mean scrolling through 20 or more items, 1 at a time. Add this to the fact that there is a 150 item limit and it just compounds the problem.

The hotkeys are also very annoying as you can only have 1 hotkey mapped to a skill and only your main character gets this hotkey. To issue commands to squad members to use their powers requires you to pause the game and bring up the powers menu then activate. The pauses can lead to some serious breakages of action in a firefight and take away from the overall effect. I am pretty sure this game will eventually be ported to a PC and that should fix most of these interface issues.

Mass Effect really doesn’t give a very good explanation about how to effectively play the game. The manual offers some basic information, but it basically tosses you into the water and expects you to swim. You don't really know the ranges of the weapons and how to take cover, plus the enemies start out WAY higher than your characters do when you first start out and leads to a lot of difficult battles at the beginning. As your equipment and levels start to catch up, it gets much better.

The AI can use a little work. While your squad mates generally do a good job of adhering to your commands and finding cover, sometimes, they make inexplicably retarded decisions like running out into the open to reach a piece of cover that’s just around the corner but out of LoS.

As mentioned before, there is no caching in this game and so everything needs to be loaded on the fly from the DVD. This leads to some annoying load times between zones and I assume leads to why they didn’t include a minimap in the UI. The lack of a minimap usually isn’t a problem though as the zones aren’t too convoluted and simply traversing a path a couple of times will commit it to memory. When you are just totally lost, you can always open up the main large scale map from the menu (very detailed and helpful).

Monday, November 26, 2007

Holiday Cheer

The Thanksgiving grill off went very well. Despite the cold temperatures and rain, everything came off without a hitch. I would like to thank Caxiya for the wonderful job she did of cleaning the floors and hope that she will come clean visit more often. I decided to go with some pre-marinated fajita beef and fajita chicken meat. It was a great idea as the cooking time on those meats were less than 20 minutes and they tasted totally awesome. The BluPnutMM couple provided a delectable chocolate fondue for dessert. People started to invite their friends and we went from a party of 9 or so to more than 15. We ended up playing Mafia for quite a long time and surprisingly, the villagers won the majority of the games. As people started to leave, the remaining people chatted about...very..."interesting" topics all the way until 3am!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Maid on Demand plus a TV

Woke up early this morning to BlupnutMM couple calling me up to let me know they would be coming to my house soon. Not exactly of how sure "soon" would be, I quickly got dressed and was walking down the stairs to get some breakfast when they arrived. Apparently, Caxiya had come with them and they hadn't had any sleep for over 24 hours. They left at 12 midnight to catch some of the deals at San Marcos. Supposedly, the line off the highway to the parking lot was a 1 hour wait. The BBQ is a potluck of sorts and everyone was instructed to bring something to share with the rest. Unfortunately, Caxiya didn't bring anything so she volunteered to clean the floor....sweeeeet! My cleaning equipment at the house wasn't even of magical quality so we had to go to Walmart to pick up one of those Legendary space age mops. It JUST so happened that they had LCD TVs for sale. 42'' LCDs for $798! Couldn't pass up this chance. So now I have a new TV to play around with and the mop was so 1337 that Caxiya even included the restrooms at no extra charge!! So Awesome!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Time to grill

Last Sunday, while just making random conversation, SourTom mentioned that he hadn't grilled in a while and would love to do some BBQing. Seeing as how I still had the "borrowed" grill from Veg Out 2, I just decided on the spot to have a post Thanksgiving grilling thingie. Unfortunately, lots of preparation work this time round as the grill appears to be in pretty bad shape. Since I am totally the workaholic when it comes to chores, the grill has basically sat out there for the past 10 months, soaking up nature's goodness. The general grill appears okay, except the actual racks have a healthy amount of rust on them. I remember the propane tank was also getting low at the time. While everyone can always use a bit more iron in their diets, I fear that the rust may give the meat an unpleasant taste. So the plan is to scrap the racks, fill the tank, and give it a test go on thursday to make sure it still works. Weather is supposed to be pretty crappy on friday though, with wind and rain and temperatures in the mid 40s.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Brought to you by Gillette

BlupnutMM's wedding is fast approaching and I got the sudden news last Saturday that I was going to be the Best Man. While the prospect of writting a speech is exciting and annoying to a slight degree, I am less enthusiastic about being under the fashion policing of a certain demanding bride to be. I think the first things that were mentioned was "okay, friday, I want all of you to go try out tuxes. I want them all to match with cumberbuns and cufflinks and yada yada yada yada." To be fair though, this is the most important day of their lives, so I suppose it's normal....right?

Friday, November 09, 2007

Hellgate Weapon Modifications

From this post, it seems like there are two types of attacks for the same element. Damage and Special effect strength. The post does a good job of explaining, but in summary.

Elements add both damage, and ability to proc special effect:
Physical - Stun
Toxic - Poison
Fire - Ignite
Electric - Shock
Spectral - Phase

Assume you have a sword that does 100 Physical damage with 100 Physical Attack Strength.

If it has 4 mod slots and you put in:
+10% Toxic
+10% Fire
+10% Electric
+10% Spectral, you now have a sword that does:

100 Physical damage, 100 Physical Attack Strength
10 Toxic damage, 0 Toxic Attack Strength
10 Fire damage, 0 Fire Attack Strength
10 Electrical damage, 0 Electric Attack Strength
10 Spectral Damage, 0 Spectral Attack Strength

So basically, against some monster with 100 resistance to all elements. You have a decent chance to stun, and basically 0 chance to poison, shock, ignite, or phase. But you still do the elemental damage.

But what if you add a mod that increased Elemental Attack Strength but the weapon doesn't actually do Elemental Damage of the same category?

Like If I put a +100 Fire Attack Strength mod into the base sword, will it have a decent chance to both stun and ignite? Or do you have to actually do fire damage as well to proc the special effect?

Hellgate Mechanics

Being a stats freak, I had been very curious about the mechanics of partying in Hellgate.

So far from this post, it seems as if the level difference between party members does not affect the experience in any way. Only the player level vs. Monster level is checked.

So Monster A is level 2 and gives 10 exp.
Player 1 is lvl 2
Player 2 is lvl 2
Player 3 is lvl 45

Not in group:
P1 solo kill A -> P1 gets 10 exp
P2 solo kill A -> P2 gets 10 exp
P3 solo kill A -> P3 gets 0 exp (level too high)

P1 and P2 are now in a group:
P1 kill A -> P1 gets 20 exp, P2 gets 10 exp
P2 kill A -> P1 gets 10 exp, P2 gets 20 exp

P1 and P3 are now in a group:
P1 kill A -> P1 gets 20 exp, P3 gets 0 exp
P3 kill A -> P1 gets 10 exp, P3 gets 0 exp

P1, P2, P3 are now in a group:
Extrapolating exp?:
P1 kill A -> P1 gets 30 exp, P2 gets 10 exp, P3 gets 0 exp
P2 kill A -> P1 gets 10 exp, P2 gets 30 exp, P3 gets 0 exp
P3 kill A -> P1 gets 10 exp, P2 gets 10 exp, P3 gets 0 exp

Now, I am interested in doing some testing as to if the party member actually needs to be in the zone for these changes to occur or simply being in the party will do. If this is the case, then just partying with people even while soloing will yield greater exp than just soloing. Of course monsters will have more hp and take slightly longer to kill.

Also, a more indepth look into the augmenatrix is featured here.
So in order to try to get the mods listed, you have to pay for that level of the mod

White Mod -> Pay for Normal Mod
Blue Mod -> Pay for Rare Mod
Orange Mod -> Pay for Legendary Mod

Dave and Busters

Today, Accenture is hosting a community meeting at Dave and Busters. They have these events 4 times a year. Supposedly, there is going to be around 500 Houston based employees invited. I have never actually been to a Dave and Buster's before and research/commercials seem to indicate it's like a grown up version of Chucky Cheese. I totally hope they have a grown-up ball pit!

Monday, November 05, 2007

I need Bao Zi!!! STAT!!!

So tomorrow is our annual Thanksgiving potluck lunch at the office. It's supposed to be this giant event where people stuff themselves with food and coma it up the rest of the day at the office. What a fantastic tradition!! Anyways, I signed up to bring some Bao Zi (Chinese buns) to the event. I figured, 40 should be enough to give most people a sample. I checked on Saturday at the local Shan Dong Mian Guan (山东面馆)and they had these wonderful rows upon rows of baozi in batches of 6. I SHOULD have bought them then, but I decided I should wait until Monday so they would be more fresh for tomorrow.

I get there today after work....and IT'S CLOSED!!!! I am so screwed! But wait!! George to the rescue! Now, George is the owner of a huge chinese supermarket but is an elusive person to track down as he changes cell numbers almost every week. After much sleuthing around on the cellphone while driving recklessly, I finally was able to contact him. Emergency order of 40 baozi STAT!!!! He asked me when I needed them by, and I told him tonight as it's a matter of life and death. He said he would talk to his people about it and 10 minutes later, I got the phone call! They would be ready by 8pm he said..come alone, bring cash. I R SAVED!!