Wednesday, January 26, 2005

World of Warcraft - Crack for the Creative Mind

"And so upon the eastern shore sprang forth a young Paladin... Stubhammer was his name. Armed only with his warhammer and his courage, he set out from Northshore Abbey in search of adventure. Armed only with his trusty
warhammer, his courage, and his clicking finger, he set out to brave the lands
of the eastern kingdoms - his sights set on the lands of Kalimdor, Blackrock Spire and the far off level 60. This... was his destiny."
- The Book of Stub 22:10



Yes ladies and gents, its true... not only has Stub totally lost it, but he has found a soul consuming game, the likes of which have not been known since my freshman year... when last Blizzard consumed my life with their strange lands, evil monsters, and obessively addicting gameplay.

I write today about the World of Warcraft - Blizzard's newest gold mine in their long history of outragously successful games. Set in the Warcraft Universe that spawned 3 successful real time strategy games, World of Warcraft is a massive multiplayer game. For the non-game savy, that means that hundreds of thousands of people play this game together, online, from all across the world.

In this game, you are but an individual character in a massive world composed of computer and human friends and foes. The idea is relatively simple, and similar to Blizzard's disablo type games (for those of you familiar with them). You create a charcter and select a class for them, then you set out across the world, completing quests, gaining experience, and finding better, more advanced equiptment, skills, and abilities as you progress. The idea is relatively simple... but its more addictive than crack.

I've never been much for massive multiplayer (MM) games. They charge a monthly fee, which goes toward sustaining servers and finding ways to rip gamers off, and thus I always considered it a stupid waste of money. Sure they might be fun, but there are plenty of games that dont charge a feee that are fun, and plenty that allow you to create characters, explore worlds, and level up. The whole concept just didnt seem that appealing.

But Blizzard, in their infinate wisdom, capitalized on the success of the Warcraft RTS series to drag obbsessive MM gamers and "noobs" like me in. And boy did they ever.

Poised to be one of, if not the, most sucessful/ popular MM game ever, World of Warcraft (WOW) sold so quickly that the first month of game sales overwhelmed Blizzard's servers, forcing them to pull games from shelves while they upgraded. Wow indeed.

So whats so great about it? Why are so many people into it, myself included. Why do I have dreams about quests I have and visions of new lands I have yet to explore? Good question.

While there is a certain amount of strategy to the game, in the end it comes down to killing things. Maybe you shoot it with a bow and arrow, maybe raid it with 5 friends, maybe you smash it with your 2 handed axe or freeze it to death with a blizzard spell, but thats pretty much the gist. You kill things. You gain experience. You kill harder things. Etc etc...

Of course this game is a lot more complicated than that, and there are literally thousands of skills, spells, trades, and weapons of war that keep you wanting more and more. But regardless, its staggering just how drawn in one can get.

One of the things that has impressed me thus far in the game is the social aspect. You encounter thousands of other players as you run across the vast game landscapes. All of them with differing races, classes, and experience levels. Thusfar, I have preferred to venture out alone much of the time, exploring the world and getting an idea of just what this whole MM experience is all about. Several times, I've found myself in trouble, outnumbered by monsters or just in a tough spot. Then from no where another player will jump over to give me a heal spell or help my fight a tough monster, then they are off again on their merry way. In other cases, small bands of strangers will join together to form groups, in order to provide more formal help for eachother and share resources during larger quests. Its a very interesting experience for me to whitness/ be a part of, as somone who has never really played a role playing online game before.

How long will World of Warcraft hold my interest? Only time will tell. But I have a feeling this wont be the last of my posts on WOW or online gaming... and that my 3 month subscription might not be a long enough one ;)

- S

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Tao of Dogs

So as many of you know, there has been a new addition to my life. Her name is Kuma, and as I write this she is 12 weeks old - a beautiful fox red labrador who has completely crushed any concept of free time that I used to subscribe too. Concequetly, as some of you have noticed, my ability to post to this blog has been rather... constricted to say the last over the past few weeks (though I was hardly a daily post-er before her arrival).

Not surprisingly, since Kuma has occupied nearly all of my waking (and many of my non-waking) moments since her entrance into my life, this blog post was inspired by her. Though not in the "mushy guhsy, I'm a new daddy and I wuv her so much" way.

Though I've never owned a dog before, I've spent a decent amount of time around them in my life. But never in my life have I met a dog with more confidence than Kuma. She is totally fearless in all situations, despite her current small stature, and I've yet to see her show fear in any way. Despite the fact that she was raised indoors in a country environment, she has quickly adapted to sububan life, and hasnt batted an eye when exposed to dump trucks, CATA buses, other dogs, and of course people. She seems just about imperverous to any "stressful situation", save not being able to follow Jenn or I downstairs, or having to remain in her crate for any length of time.

Interestingly enough, this imperviousness to stressers includes an incredibly thick skin to being scolded or scruffed. When Kuma bites something she shouldnt, as puppies do, she is disciplined appropriatly. And though with some things (such as the wire on my Xbox controller) , Kuma is about as persistent as a neighbors obnixous car alarm, when she does finally get the all important message that "you don't mess with Daddy's Xbox during the 4th quarter of a tight Madden game" she finds something else to amuse her. She is completely unphased by the scolding she recieved, she harbors no feeling of resentment, and if I call her over, I get the same happy look and wagging tail I would if I had just walked in from work.

Though I've always tried to be a pretty laid back person, Kuma, and most dogs for the matter, have mastered the art of "moving on with life". When something bad happens, she gets up, and patters around to find something else. She learns her lessons and she gets on with things. She doesnt sulk. She doesnt brood. When she gets scolded, it happens, its done, and life goes on. Things arent personal. Things just are.

And so I have learned the first of many lessons I will undoubtably learn from Kuma, and I shall call it the Tao of the Dog - Learn you lessons and then let it go. Don't sulk from you mistakes, just dont make them again, hope right up and find something better to do.

This of course barely beat out the other lesson that Kuma has tought me - "if you are going to be bad, wait until Mommy has her back turned".

- Stubbs

Monday, November 22, 2004

When Fans Attack

One of the hottest topics this past weekend has been the outburst of Ron Artest and several of his team mates during an NBA game between the Pistons and Pacers. For those of you who don't watch sports, don't watch tv, don't read the paper, or live in a cave, I highly suggest you lead a new lifestyle. But more to the point, a scuffle between players resulted in a fan throwing his beer at Artest, who leapt into the stands and attacked the beer tosser. He was soon joined by several team mates, and things only got worse from there. It is fair to say it was one of, if not the single ugliest moment in sports history.

I've been trying to figure out all weekend where I stand on this issue, and how severe I feel it really is. All weekend I've been bombarded with current and former professional athletes from all sports speaking to the need for restraint, how regardless of the actions of fans, pro athletes must restrain themselves from responding and just do their job. How Artest should be kicked out of the league for his behavior. How important it is that fans feel safe at games and shouldn’t have to worry about players coming out to attack them. These guys are entertainers, they have to act civilized.

And at first it all made sense. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it didn’t really make much sense at all. I thought about myself as a professional and what I would do if someone didn’t like a webpage I'd built out and so they throw a mouse at me. Last time I checked, that is pretty unacceptable behavior in a civilized world. But Stub, these guys are paid a lot of money - the least they can do is show a little restraint, right? After all, they are professionals... or not.

The amount of money these players make has nothing to do with their behavior. Not that I condone the actions taken by the players during this game, but I think it a rather grievous error in judgment to expect that this men will not act impulsively when placed in situations like they were so recently exposed to. It is all to easy to forget that professional sports is not a civilized world - the majority of players coming into professional sports today don't graduate college (the NBA doesn’t even require graduation from high school!). These players are hired, not for their maturity, their civility, their character, or even their intelligence. They are hired for their ability to play a game. These guys go out and live on adrenaline for months at a time. They make a living through competition, through being the biggest dog on the block and through winning. Quite a few of these guys are testosterone machines. I, on the other hand, am not. But I can tell you if someone tossed a mouse at me for a bad web page, there would most certainly be a beat down coming.

David Stern attempted, with the suspensions of all parties involved, to send a message to players around the NBA that behavior like that would not be tolerated. But what about the fans? Oh yes its deplorable, oh yes its disgusting, oh yes we'll tighten security, blah blah blah. But for the beer tosser and his friends, as well as the idiots who stepped on the court and found themselves with a mouthful of Jermaine O'Neil fist - this incident might be the best thing that ever happened to them. Civil suits are going to start flying, and these guys, these idiots are going to be rich. Why? Because they threw beers at players. Because they stepped on the court and heckled athletes. Idiots of society unite, your stupidity will be rewarded.

Like I said, I don't think what Artest and his Pacer buddies did was right. When you run into the stands like a maniac and just start swinging at anything, people, innocent people, get hurt. That kind of behavior is wrong and unacceptable, and indeed it should be punished. But there are two parts to that message - because all of a sudden tossing beers, or bottles (Cleveland Browns), or batteries (Oakland Raiders, New York Yankees) is ok. It is unreasonable to expect that these, of all men, will be able to show an almost inhuman level of restraint in response to physical assaults by fans. Suspend the players involved, thats fine. But why not slap a lawsuit on one or two of the fans who stepped onto the court or tossed beers?
If you support a civilized game, then the fans who ruin that civility should be punished as well. Justice doesn’t just work one way, and it is unfair to punish these athletes (who for some reason I can't figure out, are expected to be beyond human emotion) and not punish the fans who instigate such behavior.

But hey, paying fans want their beer. They want to be drunk and obnoxious, shun normal societal conventions, and behave in a way that would probably land them in the hospital anywhere else. But they paid the $38 for seats, so why not, right? I guess the athletes who entertain society are, for some reason supposed to be better than that society. Whatever you say Mr. Stern.

- S

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Terror

It has been nearly a week since the anvil fell on the heads of America, in what some call the results of the 2004 US Presidential election. John Kerry, the becon of light for so many during the past several months, has quietly faded into the background of our lives, as I suppose is normally the case for the runner up in a presidential election. And so, at the head of this "great nation" of ours, stands Dubya. America, as it were, got its wish. Perhaps I am the only one who finds it ironic that the wonderful show of democracy that was displayed last week may, in the end, prove to be the downfall of the world's greatest democratic nation. Why? Because terror and moral values are important. International relations, education, healthcare, the economy, and our environment (among other issues) are aparently not.

But the eletion is over. While miserably depressed at the choice America made, it was indeed made and thus I must live with it. However, I must not live with it quietly, and so I shall continue.

Because Terror was and will continue to be such an important topic in the future of this country, I started thinking about what it all means. Why are we really in Iraq and Afghanistan, "fighting the good fight"? I thought about the fact that America's armed forces are stretched thin. I thought about the continually escalating demands on our soldiers and on the American budget. These terrorists that we are hunting... who are they? How do we know them? Where do we find them? How do you stop them? Perhaps the combined intelligence gathering capabilities of our grand coalition (including of course, Poland) will lead us in the right direction. But then again...can anyone say weapons of mass destruction?

So when does it end? Though we have all heard the line before, I'm going to go back to it again... this war on Terror will become our generation's Vietnam. There are of course, ney-sayers to this who will give all sorts of reasons why this is untrue. Perhaps we learned from our mistakes. Perhaps our policy makers are smarter today than they were fourty years ago. Perhaps this is different since this time the enemy attacked America. Perhaps our army has everything it needs today to fight a quick and decisive war against our enemies in guerilla style combat. Perhaps the Iraqi and Afghani people love us so much that they will help us at all costs, even turning over their sons, brothers, fathers and husbands who have decided to fight against America.

So why isnt this like Vietnam again? But perhaps Vietnam is too drastic an example to use. So let us use another example... how about the Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan. For those who are unfamiliar with this period in world history, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan for a 10 year period, which I believe spanned from 1979-1989 (I am an aspiring scholar of military history). In my own humble opinion, I would cite the two main reasons for the attack as 1) The Reds (insert joke about US election map here) wanted to keep Afghanistan from "jumping ship" as Iran had done (and become a Fundamentalist government) and 2) they wanted a cozy little spot on the Persian Gulf for obvious reasons. It is also highly interesting to note, that many of those who supported the Soviets in their assault, commended them on making an attempt to quell Islamic terrorism... anyone scratching their head yet?

In case you couldnt figure out the end of this story, after 10 years the Soviets walked away. The great Red war machine had been beaten into a bloody stalemate. Some 1 million Afghanis and 15,000 Soviet soldiers were killed.

But this is different, you say? The US was attacked - we have to respond, you say? We know who did it and we are going to get him, you say? Indeed.

Reading the transcript of Bin Laden's most recent message, the final piece to the puzzle clicked in my head. This war on terror cannot and will not end in US victory because you cannot defeat a guerilla army in their own lands. The US is slowly but surely finding itself on the wrong side of a war of attrition. Short of Osama Bin Laden and his subordinates, we fight no clear enemy. In a war of this nature, there are civillian casualties. And each of these casualties breeds one more person willing to die to see the US vanquished from their homeland. Each of these casualties breeds one more person willing to punish innocent US civillians for the pain our Army... our President caused them and their country.

The war on Terror cannot be won because terror is not an enemy - it is a concept which cannot be killed or beaten. As long as people in power hope to push their will, be it taxation policy, political ideology, or religious persuation on the unwilling, terror will exist. As long as people are different and those differences cannot be resolved there will be terror. As long as countries impose their will on others, there will be terror.

And so our President... our leader... asks congress for who knows how many billion more dollars to fight terror. Our president asks that more soldiers have their terms extended to fight terror. And everywhere... terror laughs. Let us all hope that our leaders will end this before too many more of our brave sons and daughters pay the price.

Monday, August 30, 2004

An Interesting Experiment

So it has finally come to pass that I have my own blog space. Though I'm not sure how often I'll be posting thoughts, feel free to check back and respond to anything you see here. Thanks for checking out my blog... and so let us beging an interesting experiment...

- Stubbs