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DawnBurn Blog

PSA - Dead blog

For those of you who haven't guessed from my lack of updates here is the official: I don't have time to check/update any more post. I have been working a lot (still) and I still love it. Add to that the fact that I do work in Video Games now and so I try to curtail what I do post to avoid sounding like I'm speaking for my company (I'm not, any opinion expressed here is my own solely) and/or accidentially commenting on something where I have more knowledge than is publically availible.

No, I won't reveal which company I work for, but I've helped on several games and I couldn't be prouder of where I'm at today.

Thanks to all for the good times and I wish I could check this more often, but it is amazing that when you love your work you actually do work harder and more.

*hugs to all*



For those of you who don't already know:

This week's FREE Rock Band Downloadable content is "Still Alive", from The Orange Box/Portal.

I downloaded it and played it on both guitar (medium) and vocals (easy). It is very much fun and I encourage you all to play around with it.

I know I'm not posting much, but life is keeping me busy. I'm still playing WoW, been playing a little Hellgate: London, watching the first 4 seasons of LOST via Xbox Live and working at a job I adore.

I was very sad to see Brad leave GameSpot, as he is a friend of mine. I spoke with him privately about it and meant to post something here but forgot. For those that don't know, Brad had been with GameSpot as an editor for almost a decade. I loved reading Brad's stuff and seeing his take on upcoming games. I'm very happy that one of his last contributions was the awsome preview of StarCraft II, Zerg Rush as it was a great preview, a good article and I now wish to kill him and wear his skin to be able to try to sneak into Blizzard and play myself.

I'll try to update more often, sorry been away.

Mama Mia!

I'm a very happy girl. I ventured into Japantown in San Francisco this past Saturday with a friend to do research for her Brownie troop. We oooh at all of the pretty kimonos, ahhhhh at the traditional architecture, giggled at the various lucky cats in every store, and salivated over the various candies that you can't get in normal stores.

But then, I saw him. Those eyes, that hat, the overalls... the whole package was utterly entrancing. I had to have him. I ventured over shyly and then stroked his oh so soft cheek. Finally, I told the clerk I would have him, as long as I could afford him.

And now I do.


(Mine is actually a bit bigger and I can pose his arms, but I couldn't find a picture online).

Siren's Call - One more turn

While I still don't have a lot of gaming time, I did take a few hours the other night to play some Civ IV. I've been a fan of the Civilization series sine Civ II. I recall to many hazy nights of hitting enter until the wee hours of the morning in the dimly lit internet cafe after hours (it was owned by friends). My friends and I whiled away many hours figuring out the quickest way to elephants (which could still take down tanks in the late game). I didn't actually 'win' many games, as I would get too caught up in individual pursuits to look at the big picture.

I still do this in Civ IV. While there are some easier win conditions in Civ IV than Civ II for a pacifist like me (cultural victories for the win), I still found myself whiling away the time. Rather than looking at the game as a win/lose scenario and trying to figure out the best way to 'score', I tend to just build every building, research the tech and improve my surrounding countryside. I will go to war to get someone out of the way of my expansion or to stop bothering me, but I won't cutthroatly go to war and I'm in favor of peace treaties. I don't expand as much as I should or as soon as I should. I don't research only necessary technologies, I try to research them all. It is a valid way to play, but a game ends up taking a total of several hour play times over the course of days instead of a single sit down or only two. I know that there are ways to optimize winning and I find that I just don't care. I play Civ to hit the 'one more turn button' rather than to really win. This hampers my ability to play on the harder difficulty levels and prevents me from doing well in multiplayer games.

There are other games I care about winning. I worked hard on Geometry Wars and studied YouTube videos to get to my respectable high score (over 600,000 iirc). It isn't nearly as high as some people I know (my boyfriend has a high of 3 million plus), but it is still enough to garner respect amongst my friends. The only point of Geo Wars is to get that high score. I play RTS games (Starcraft, Warcraft III, Company of Heroes) and there I will figure out optimal build orders down to the second to gain an advantage. But for whatever reason, I don't treat Civilization in that way. I treat it almost more like an RPG, where I'm just running around and expericing the world.

I never finished Oblivion because I (seriously) got too caught up playing with the herbs and alchemy profession to bother to advance the main storyline. I tend to wander a lot in Zelda games, not because I want to find all the secrets or to explore all the zones, but because I just enough moving around in the world. I won't finish a RPG quickly, if I finish it at all.

I don't know what it is about Civ that pulls me in this way. It isn't a story thing. There isn't really one and I certainly don't tell myself the story of the Great and Powerful Dawn. And the world is familiar as it is history & earth, more or less. But I always would prefer to have 'just one more turn' instead of winning.

Anyone else like this out there? Are the other games that people savor instead of playing to win than the standard open world ones? And, related, I wonder why it is that I'll have a blast doing Civ or Oblivion but I'm not into the open world games like GTA.

Group Dynamics

As stated before, I've been playing a bit of WoW. With my new work schedule (still love the new job, btw) I don't have a lot of time for gaming and what little time I have has been mostly spent in WoW. Though there was a brief Xbox Live Arcade binge wherein I played a good amount of Root Beer Tapper.

WoW is addictive for many of the reason previously stated, but one really resonates with me. As elucidated by Tycho Brache (aka Jerry Holkins) in a news post the other day.

I knew it before, and then in some moment of weakness I let my cohort twist me into this thing. I don't know how much game is here. What I do know is that they have set up a system that allows me to rent my friends on a monthly bwhlasis.

One of the reasons why WoW is so addictive and so satisfying and so hard to choose something else over, for me, is the social aspect. My boyfriend plays it, so we sit together and go out and farm or quest or run a heroic with other friends. There were several of my friends from real life on the server we chose and we've made more friends with our guild. So even if my boyfriend isn't home or busy, there are usually at least 3 people on who I know and usually more like 12 - 20 who I can just talk to via our vent server while running a battleground or doing arena work or just flying circles around Shatt.

I'm now 70 (have been for a while, actually, before Xmas break) and I only have one character (Elemental Shaman makes things goes zot, as per William Shatner) because I suffer from the reverse of character ADD. I focus pretty solely on one character because I love raiding.

My weekends are currently spent for at least a good portion killing internet dragons with 9-24 other people. My guild is decently high end (currently ranked 15 overall for our Server). The core of the guild is completely done with Kara (translation for the non-WoW geeks: a several hour dungeon for 10 players with 11 bosses. It takes a lot of coordination and several passes to open it all, let alone complete it regularly). This means that new people, like me, can tag along with really good players to get new gear quickly. But still, I get to talk to 9 other people for several hours, crack jokes and feel like we've accomplished something together. And when we aren't at Kara on the weekend we are pushing on two of the high end 25 man instance. There is a really neat feeling of working together with 24 other people in concert to get something done. You are supporting each other, watching each others back and only when you all work together does something get accomplished.

Karazhan from the Front

The tower of Karazhan

However, group dynamics can quickly sour. My guild is focused around raiding, though we are a 'casual' guild about it. Meaning we aren't usually raiding every night, we don't force people to respec constantly for optimum play, we don't disallow certain c14asses just because they aren't the 'best' fit and we don't have an out of raid commitment toward material gathering. But there are those people who want to explore the PvP aspects of WoW and often the raiding gets in the way of that. This is a problem between expectation and reality. PvP is not the core view of our guild. Sure we like it, but it isn't our number one priority. But when it is one person's number one priority they can be disappointed when raiding takes precedence over PvP.

Other way group dynamics can get skewed is feeling left out. While we aren't going to say no to lesser options, we will leave out someone if they are clearly a make or break choice. Which is hard on the officers, because they have to make the call for the greater good of the guild over the personal enjoyment of one. And the one person can become a bother if they don't realize that they were left out for reasons of the greater good (i.e. they can't actually play very well or would in fact be deadweight due to not having the ability to survive fights) and instead attributes the drop to favoritism.

A guild is a very complex social animal. I enjoy participating in the social game as well as watching it from a far. What is highly interesting to me about WoW is how it brings so many different people together. Most of our guild is aged 25 and older. At least half are married. And yet, we have several members under the age of 18. We also have a good proportion of females to males. We have some members from Alaska, Florida, California, New York, Texas, Massachusetts and elsewhere. We have programmers, military men, stay at home moms, college students, security guards and video game industry workers. I learn a lot about life listening to people from various backgrounds talk. I like hearing the other side. While we usually avoid talking about politics or religion outright, some of those still creep in. And there is a lot of random nuggets of information.

I think the social is part of why games like Halo 3, Team Fortress 2, and Call of Duty 4 are so popular. There is a team multiplayer aspect. That working together for advance brings people to the game and keeps them coming back. If I miss a few nights due to working late or going out with friends, my guild in WoW notices. They ask after me and encourage me to come back, because they miss me. My real life friends miss me too and have noticed my WoW playtime and occasionally are like 'Why do you want to waste your time with imaginary monsters?'

I'm not. I'm playing with my friends. And some of my friends are in WoW. And some of them are in the 'real world.' But they are all my 'real' friends.

Positive Advertising

I had an amusing experience today that I'd like to share. I was out Christmas shopping (last minute, I know) and picking up Rock Band for my boyfriend, Jason's, father & half-brother. We called around and found a copy in a local Gamestop. I knew that parking in general in that area was difficult, so I went to a nearby parking garage.

It was even more crowded because there was a street fair. To be honest, on the weekend in this area there is almost always some street vendors, but this was a full on road closed street fair. So I walked the crowded 3 blocks, admiring some of the wares, and entered the game store. I picked up my purchase and had the clerk try to let me know all the various information about the game. Which was sweet, but since we own a copy ourselves, wasn't really necessary.

Back out on the street I started back to my car. Luging the not entirely light nor small box for the special edition. It was a noticiable encumberance and several of the other street fair goers noticed it. Some blantantly stared, but others actually stopped me and asked me about the box. I was more than happy to discuss the game, as I think it is one of the better ones out right now. But what surprised me was how many people who clearly weren't gamers were interested in the game. I mean, I know it is one that reaches out across the boundary, but almost everyone I spoke with was interested afer I explained what it was. Several commented that they were thrilled that there was 'finally' a game out there were you weren't killing other people. Many loved the idea that 4 people could play at once. It was really neat and I feel I did some good outreach for gamers and gaming.

I charge all of you to carry Rock Band around your local neighborhood. =) Maybe we can eventually convince the rest of the world that were aren't all bloodthristy murdering machines.

As you know Bob...

As you gamers all know, many games today are faced with a challenge. You may recall from games such as Mass Effect, Final Fantasy or even Halo that the hero, or you, knows nothing about the world. Even though you may be a commanding officer, you don't know anything about the races you are facing, the political structure of the government, or even (sometimes) your own name.

Fortunately everyone else is there to tell you, in stilted dialogue, what you are missing.

You all know what I'm talking about here, so I'm doing the same thing. Perhaps it is just because I'm playing through Mass Effect where this is really blatant, but I wish there were a better way to handle exposition in video games. In Mass Effect, you start out as the commander of a rather large detail of soliders in a ship, and yet you ask people what they know about the various races. Their responses usually involve a preface of "Well, I only know what we learned in High School..." Key word there: 'we'

It implies that you, as Commander Sheppard, learned this too. And yet your journal doesn't update unless you initiate the converstaion with the NPCs, so players can't actually know enough to pretend that they know what's going on in the game. And at the same time, usually the writing of such backhistories is so dry and/or boring, that most players won't read them. Nor will they really listen to the NPCs who have the dialogues either, or if they do they risk blindness from too much rolling of the eyes.

A common solution to this is to have the player be either drawn into this new world without knowledge of it before (Persona 3), or suffer amnesia or some other tragic event that removes knowledge and/or skills (see Super Metroid and the destruction of your suit after the first battle). Then the character needs to be 'taught' everything as well as the player. However, this is now so overused as to be cliche and beyond that, the writing skills of the dialogue and/or backhistory is usually pretty terrible.

There are two real problems that need to be solved here, in my opinion.

First, video game developers (and publishers) need to be serious about finding good writers. To be frank, most written content in a game is created by either the game designer, the programmers or the scripters. Usually a combination thereof. As much as I adore my programmer boyfriend, skills in programming languages rarely transfer over to skilled prose. He's got a great handle on grammar & spelling, more so than me to be honest, but prose is a hard beast. I've worked at it for years, I wouldn't say that I'm very good at it. Aditionally, it isn't a pure fictional prose style. It is almost more akin to a screenplay, as there are often voice actors and a back and forth with the hero. Screenplays have a different pacing than a novel. There is a skill set to creating good quality writing for the ever expanding text and dialogue in today's video games. Game designers should be good a designign interesting game play elements and levels. Programmers should be good at writing lines and lines of code to accomplish the design in a speedy & fun fasion. Scripters should be able to string together long events with some understanding of pacing. Of the three, scripters are probably the closest to writers, but even that is not necessarily true as the artistic bent is not always related well to the mathematical bent of scripting elegantly. It is rare that a company will hire even one dedicated writer, and even more rare that multiple will be hired to handle the vast amount of text generation. MMOs are trying, but there isn't a lot of quality in the quest text.

Second, someone who is much brighter than I needs to find a good way of doing exposition in video games. For novels you can weave in information during the action sequences. Movies use a lot of visual shortcuts for information. Both movies and novels don't need the audience to know & understand everything the characters do, because the knowledge of the audience doesn't affect the ability of the characters to survive a given situation. But for video games, that isn't true. If the audience/participant doesn't know to throw grenades, the character will end up dying over and over. If the audience/participant doesn't know that the Borg are an evil race bent on assimilating the entire galaxy, then they might invite a Borg over to pick flowers. So it is crucial that the player be exposed to all the necessary information, but we have yet to hit on a really good method for giving out that information in such a manner that is realistic. I know that is one of the reasons Half-Life 2 and other Valve efforts get so much praise. They use a combination of cinematic tricks to direct the player's attention to crucial scenes without forcing the issue. But that can't work in every game and every situation.

So, Bob, now that you know the problem, what will you do to help save the galaxy from poorly worded dialogue? Or, am I'm completely misunderstanding the situation and you can tell me why I'm wrong and that everything is fine?

Video Game related products lust

Okay, so while working on SUPER SECRET stuff for Didi on GrrlGamer, I went looking in the store and found the current object of my desires.

Grrl Gamer Keepsake Box

A keepsake box. Is it not adorable? Does it not scream "Dawn Must Have this!" Because it does to me.

Other gaming related Xmas gifts I want but probably won't get:

Plushie Companion Cube - Coming Soon! *shakes her first at Valve*

Plushie/Leather Mario

Disgaea Figurines OR Prinny Plushie.

Anyone have any other suggestios for things I should lust after?

Not Dead - Not WoW murdered

So I'm sure you all assumed I'd succumbed to the Warcraft Addition since it has been a while since I posted. I will admit the WoW playtime has influenced some time reduction. However, I've actually been quiet because of some life going ons.

I have been in the process of interviewing for a new job. These last two weeks saw an interview, an offer contingent upon refernces/criminal check (standard procedure for most big corporations) and so I've been pretty quiet as I wait out the time. I started today.

For privacy reasons, I won't say which company I'm with for now but 'm very excited to say that I will be with a company in the Video Game Industry. So that is a huge yay for me. And they seem to be a company that takes good care of their folks, which is awesome. I'll be joining the marketing department, so I'll be using my skills and love of gaming in that regard, but also the general coporate skills of paper pushing and getting things done.

Getting ready to change jobs means a lot of changes for me. It means I go from working 25 hours a week to 40+, so I'm getting in a last hurrah at long gaming stretches. It means going from a 10-15 minute commute to more like a 45-60 minute commute, so I'm cleaning my car and making sure to get it checked up. It means more money, due a pay raise and the aforementioned more hours, so I got myself a pretty new haircut (same fashion, more like a severe trim than an actual cut, so the picture I have is still pretty accurate) and I'm also got some blonde highlights put in because I miss being a blonde rather than a brunette. I'm trying to train the birdie I live with to accept that we will no longer have our morning Volleyball (DOAX2) sessions and instead do mostly nighttime things as I won't be getting up two hours early just for him.

On the gaming front, I've been working on stuff for Grrl Gamer and trying out a lot of (but not all of) the new shinies this fall. Guitar Hero III & Rock Band both made home, so I've been rocking out a bit. I suck at drums (so hard, no fair two hands AND a foot), do okay at Guitar (yay Guitar Hero skillz carryover) and have no idea on microphone as I have yet to have access to the game when no one else is home and I refuse to sing in front of my boyfriend and roommate.

Rock Band is definately the awesome when my boy gets on drums, the roomie on voice and I'm playing my guitar. Such a blast. Would love to get a full foursome going on.

Also, I know there have been a lot of gaming related news bits that have come. Especially here at Gamespot itself. I don't really want to comment on Jeff, because I know it has been hashed a lot, but Jeff has my support and I am unhappy at the rumors that Gamespot might be losing its editorial integrity.

I would also love to comment on the Blizzard acquistion by Activision, but my brain boggles. I have been a Blizz fangirl since Warcraft 2 and I worried when they got bought by Vivendi, but Vivendi seemed content to stay hands off and Blizzard has done very well since then. But some of the statements Activision is making and the renaming that goes with the merger makes me worry as to whether or not Activision will try to fix something that just isn't broken. And with Starcraft II yet on the horizon, my baby fangirl cries.

I'm sorry I've been gone so long and hope you all haven't forgotten me!

Warcraft - The Addiction

So, I remember waaaaaay back when hitting F5 constantly on Blizzard's site as I waited for them to annouce their latest game. Bets were high that it was potentially StarCraft 2(finally) but there were also rumors of a Warcraft related title, even though War3 was still going strong. Lo and behold: World of Warcraft was annouced. Blizzard, hopping on the EQ bandwagon? Could it be done?

I professed an instant dislike of the idea and swore I would not play such a thing. MMOs were something that I just wasn't interested in. But as time passed, and more details were leaked, I became more & more interestest, though I hotly denied it. I dreamed of playing a Night Elf Druid, as that was my favorite race and unit from Warcraft III. This was during the time when I knew someone who worked for Blizzard. As I heard that the alpha was going and closed beta might soon arrive, I emailed my friend and offerred fresh baked cookies if he'd help me get in the closed beta. However, he refused the baked goods (he was a diet), but went ahead and got me in on the Friends & Family Alpha test. Horde was the only faction option, and of that only orcs and trolls were allowed for races, max level was 25, and falling through the world was still a common problem. It was glorious.

I played throughout alpha, trading off with my husband (now ex, but at the time), until my contact noticed and then got another account for him. I played an orc warlock and fell in love with the cl4ss This was way back when. Soulstones were physical objects one kept in one's inventory and would auto-rez you and there was no recast timer. They were handed out like candy. No voidwalker or succubus yet, just little impy boy. Alpha was a ton of fun. There were a lot of bugs, and new builds every few days. Wailing Caverns was introduced and was a riot. Then we all got switched to Alliance and there were a few more builds before closed beta. I fell in with the guild that my Blizz contact was a part of and we all became pretty close during closed & open beta, though we mostly played alliance through beta and I was the cutest gnome warlock this side of Azeroth.

At release the vote was made to go Horde and I had no interest in being a cow druid, so I kept to my warlock trend. Playing through the release was awesome, especially with a strong friendly guild. We had a ton of fun, never lacked for 5 mans and questing groups and pretty much all leveled at a good rate, though there were a few who rushed ahead and a few who lagged behind. But we were a casual guild, and so certainly were not the first (or second, or tenth or even twentieth) guild to reach Molten Core. In fact, I'm pretty sure there were guilds who started for people's alts who got there before we did. And there was drama as most of the officers were against DKP as a raid setup and people were unwilling to respec or all of the the other stuff one really should do if the group is going to raid effectively. I loved the people of my guild, but I really wanted to see a lot more of the end game content than we were capable of seeing. Through one of our alliances, I got an invite to a more hardcore guild and after a lot of discussion I went there. Mostly with good wishes from my old guild, which was nice. I had a blast rocking Molten Core and taking on Black Wing Lair. However, WoW was quickly taking over my life. I played it every night. I had raiding on Tuesday and Thursday nights, all afternoon Sunday and 'suggested' quotas of farming to be done throughout the week. I was eschewing friends and social outing, running late to work due to lack of sleep, and various other problems. At the same time, for mostly unrelated reasons, my marriage was falling apart. I quit the game, said good bye to my new guildies and tried to forget. This was just before AQ was introduced.

I gained a lot from not being in WoW, though my marriage was beyond saving (and though you will nay say, WoW was actually one of the shared bonds between my ex-husband and I that was a bright spot during that time offering hope). But after a collasal life shift (separation, move, job quit and new job skill acquisition) I was much happier. I still followed some of the WoW news, and felt the itch on the night of TBC release, but mostly I was happier that I now had time to play games other than WoW, visit friends and had slightly better sleep patterns.

But about three weeks ago I came home and saw the install screen on my boyfriend's computer. He'd decided to resub and play with a friend who lived on the East Coast. I was torn. I'd given my account to my younger brother, as he wanted a lock for raiding and I wasn't using mine, and even as I heard the siren song I repeated to myself how much better off I was without WoW. I resisted and did other things. I resolutely ignored the familiar images and the fact that I was being asked to share in the time with my boyfriend and a well loved friend. I was scared. Scared that WoW would take over my life again. Scared that I would have even less time to play through the pile of games that I want to complete. Fearful of the impact it would have my job and outside activities. But after some discussion and reassurances that we would work together to make sure I didn't get 'that bad' again, I went ahead and rolled up a new character.

I've missed the game, and yet there are so many memories, good & bad, that I'm not so much playing it as I am reliving a lot. I'm currently playing a Tauren Shaman, and the boy is playing a Tauren Druid. We're having a good time questing together and going pretty quick, though not insane super fast. Our friend from the East Coast is running us through the various instances at light speed for quest completion & gear. I had done this for others before but hadn't ever done it myself. I'm learning the new lingo and cataloging all the differences between when I last played and now. It is a comfortable old shoe that fits funny as I've grown and changed.

Here's hoping that I continue to find it fun without being work, and that I will be able to maintain a healthy interest.