North vs South Korea: War?

North Korea apparently just announced that it’s in a state of war with South Korea. The cause: the US flying some bombers nearby. Well, that and the fact that the fat kid might be a bit looney and wanting a bit of respect.

There’s been a lot of tension recently with North Korea becoming more aggressive at least with regards to their media presence. But why now? What’s going on? There’s been various analysis talking about how the US (and perhaps parts of the world) are worried about the fallout of North Korea going under with the various nukes not being managed and the country in general having tons of issues with all the sanctions against it. It makes you wonder if perhaps they were pushed to the limit and the kid reacted.

The problem to me at least is that the kid still is just a kid. He could be well educated but lacking years may imply lacking the wisdom to run an empire. Someone could easily set him off and whatever mental stress he possesses could force him into making an irrational decision. He might not give a fuck about setting off a global war and what the consequences may entail.

Part of me wonders if he’s being (ill) advised by China. There’s an odd sense of alliance with China it seems that possibly might make North Korea into a puppet state. Of course, it’s all speculation but certain things kinda clue this off.

If that were the case, then man America really fucked itself when it allowed all these companies to outsource to China just for some tax relief and cheaper labor.

For myself, I was thinking of countries closer to North Korea like Japan which might end up suffering an attack possibly. I wouldn’t doubt that given the opportunity, North Korea might use Japan as an example. That’s scary for me since I still have a lot of friends over there.

At any rate, this situation hasn’t been looking good recently. Not sure if it will either. People are saying that it’s just North Korea attempting to show force but it’s hard to say if their leader is just a nut or if he has a nasty bite. I’m willing to bet a little of both.

New Nameless Story

I’ve been having horrible writers block recently. But reading Gibson’s Zero History motivated me a bit to start something more postmodern/cyberpunk-ish. Here’s what I have thus far:

Keith arrived in the monthly mansion lobby in Akasaka around 9pm, the Airport Limosine having dropped him off about half an hour prior and Keith dragging his luggage through the slick frost build up from the incoming onslaught of a Tokyo winter. The monthly mansion was lodged in a nondescript alley, but then again everything in Tokyo looked like an alley for most gaijin. Of course, Keith wasn’t necessarily your typical gaijin, having Japanese ethnicity but the natives still had issues digesting that he grew up elsewhere. That said, his familiarity with Tokyo was uncanny but the details of alleys with the city’s purposefully illogical street structure still could deter an expert like him from locating his destination. Hence the additional 20 minutes.

 

The register greeted him in Japanese compared to the other few foreigners in the lobby. His Japanese was somewhat lacking lately having spent the past 4 years in America. So the clerks switched to broken English (or Engrish) to accommodate his recovering language skills. As the clerk examined his passport, he noted Keith’s Japanese ancestry. “Ah, you are Japanese.”

 

Impatient. “I grew up in the states. Been out for a few years now.”

 

“I am sorry. My English not that good. Could you please speak slowly?”

 

It was a common encounter, even in zones that proclaimed to be foreign friendly. Keith accepted this and in fact expected it most of the time. However, that didn’t mean he wasn’t annoyed through all of this.

 

Keith finished the registration process, eager to get to his room. It was on the 9th floor, supposedly a non-smoking room. When he arrived on the floor, he noted that the hallway looked like the interior for a mental institution rather than a comfy living space, the almost greenish fluorescent lights flickering from lack of maintenance, the monotonous white walls, almost stainless floors and metal doors. He sniffed the air detecting smoke. Figures.

 

Went to his door. 914. Ugly number without any symbolic reference. Opened it with an ancient lengthy key. Inside, he was greeted with a musty odor, possibly the former residents recent eviction. Not sure if the hotel might’ve tossed the person out or if they were flat out giving him false advertisement. Keith’s standard paranoia inclined him for both reasons given that this was Japan. Probably a sever kick out too. If it was a foreigner, they might’ve been a partier.

 

Tossed down his belongings and switched on the bland lighting. Place was probably twice as big as most American’s bathrooms. Tiny bed next to a nightstand. Desk with an archaic ethernet cable (glad he brought his wiring), non-LCD TV. Opened the window in the back to see more buildings. Shuttered the blinds realizing that unless you were some ex-pat getting a mansion over in Naka-Meguro or some high rise, you’d only be seeing the outlines of other buildings. It didn’t matter to him though since he wasn’t here for sight seeing this time.

 

Quickly, set himself up, connecting his Macbook Air to the ethernet to get himself re-connected with the world. Immediately, hit Facebook and announced on his status:
“I’m back.”

 

Left his Macbook Air open and lied on the stiff bed pondering the past few weeks’ worth of events. Mother finally passing away after brain hemorrhaging from a late night stroke. The funeral service that he wasn’t invited to but received a bill and pictures from family members that discarded him through the past year after his mom experienced her first major stroke. Then the phone call from his mentor in Japan for another position with Morgan Stanley. Afterwards, selling the house and moving his stuff into storage. He was going to hate dealing with taxes the following year, but he had more long term plans now.

 

The important thing was the phone call from his friend, Mike. Both worked together in two other financial institutions. However, both also hopped around a bit when the heat turned up. And both had similar family issues. So there was an odd bond that kept both in contact with each other.

 

Keith normally was heavily reluctant to re-enter the finance world. The stress of working in tech already had destroyed him physically if not mentally from the long hours, the bad posture, pointless arguments, and other frustrations. Finance was a whole level on top of all that since as the tech worker, you had no power whatsoever. You had accountants and other MBA types running the show so you were just a grunt, a glorified janitor at best.

 

However, his mother’s death and the opportunity, perhaps the last, to work in Japan with a nice salary and decent title enticed him back into the trenches. He had other motives for returning but wanted to keep his expectations down initially. Still, he was nervous. There was the health check up which he absolutely abhorred, remembering the vampiric nurse who stabbed him with a needle to draw blood and missing, causing his arm to swell up and turn purple. Mike joked how his arm would fall off, which was a gruesome thought despite Keith realizing that Mike was just being a typically obnoxious American. Fortunately though, Keith wasn’t scheduled for the health check up for a while and the clinic was at a more reputable one.

 

Beyond that, there were just a ton of tasks for him to take care of. He knew the routine. All the forms that Japanese loved needed to be filled out. The training courses. The familiarization with all the new systems. Then later finding his own place and moving out of the company paid for mansion. Maybe as a bonus he’ll get another humorous misplaced attempt at a anti-sexual harassment training course.

 

As his mind and body relaxed, he started to force himself awake. Jetlag was particularly cruel especially when his employment would begin in two days. It was just 9:30 pm JST but he was certain to wake up at an odd time then fall into poor sleeping habits just before starting his new job.

 

Fortunately, Tokyo only died around 5 am and around the New Years period. The rest of the time it was awake probably far worse than he would’ve liked at times. Merely got his shoes back on, threw on a leather jacket from his luggage, packed up his Macbook Air into his leather case then hit the streets.

 

Roppongi was just around the corner, maybe an estimated 7 minute walk (9 considering he was far more out of shape than before) and the perfect spot to lunk around. Once he hit the street level of

Higashigaendori, he increased his momentum as the energy of the city seemed to revive him and disperse the jetlag. More than that there was a pragmatic intuition that stepped up every time he hit Roppongi as hostess girls, Nigerian pimps, yakuza, foreigners and puking salarimen blocked his paths. But he guessed that was part of the whole energy that made him thrive in Tokyo.

 

Eventually, made his way to the Excelsior wannabe-Starbucks cafe. He hated the place because it allowed for smoking, but was far cheaper and less crowded than Starbucks. Ordered a non-dairy product since he was lactose intolerant, allowing him to survive for a few more hours than he normally would be able to, taking up a corner farthest from the dense fog perpetuating one segment of the cafe and hooked him up. No free WiFi, something he’d have to fix soon. However, a brief scan of local open networks detected several open segments. Figured as long as he wasn’t transmitting data he wanted encrypted, the network would be fine.

 

Spent about an hour in the cafe before it started to close down. 10:30 pm. Odd number but figured the operators needed to head home and probably lived far in some place like Saitama or Chiba. Didn’t want to head into a bar at this point in time, especially on a Friday night. Decided to check out Roppongi Hills, in which the upper deck was open 24/7. It was a good 10 minute walk through more crowds, less as ferocious as he took the main street with the wider sidewalk. Headphones connected to his iPod Mini, he adopted an anonymous persona, blending into the crowds, observing everyone. With it being a Friday night, you had a huge variety of people from bankers, to IT engineers, to salarimen attempting to snag deals, to people who could’ve been celebrities. However, he was no connoisseur of fashion and figured that most celebrities would probably be either underdressed or far underdressed, leading him to believe that the people here were simply clones miming their idols or whatever magazine pumped out the latest endeavor for the month that was a copy of some Western fad that ended up in reality being an identical copy of their supposed Japanese copy. Again, he felt extremely fortunate to be completely ignorant of that world.

 

When he got to the escalator, he noticed a significant crowd lying around at the base. Mostly reporters. He felt somewhat intrigued in case it was one of the idols he used to worship. However, that was in a different lifetime compared to now as a five year span away from Japan and it’s entertainment industry negated everything you formerly knew. Most of the women he liked married and had children, some of who worked on their second. Kinda like the other girls he knew and at one time felt partial to in that separate eon.

 

As he reached the top, he noticed that the main entrance to the Roppongi Hills tower was entrenched with reporters. They almost acted like the barricade that was barring them from flooding inside. Curiously, Keith sat nearby at a bench and watched the scene from a distance. Other groups of people passed by with similar inquisitiveness but with no further drama presenting itself, they simply went back to their business and trotted away.

 

Around 30 minutes in, Keith grew bored himself. Felt sufficiently satisfied that by the time he returned to his tiny room in Akasaka, he could sleep off the jetlag and get into a normal schedule. Got up and went back to his new residence, again taking even more care to avoid the increasing orange river of debauchery spreading around.

 

Plugged his laptop into the wall and decided to give his semi-rusty Japanese reading skills some abuse. Went to Sanspo and Yahoo Japan discovering that an executive of a huge internet company was being investigated for securities fraud. A picture of a rotund figure, overly well fed gleamed arrogantly. He was certain that the guy wouldn’t be smiling once he entered the Japanese prison system.

Data Driven Development: The Mistake I Made By Moving Towards This

When I first started the industry of tech, I was indoctrinated by Oracle as my first database and ended up becoming more of a data driven developer as opposed to a requirements driven developer. I think this hurt my overall perspective since my focus for many years was almost exclusively on dealing with 3rd normal form. However, as ORMs, Nosql databases and other non-relational formats and technologies evolved and as the web grew more complex from stagnate pages to more dynamic, real time idioms, I started to realize how my initial views were a huge mistake.

Right now, as I’m learning Ruby on Rails, the thing that strikes me is the notion of how the database ends up becoming a stupid data store. It’s really just an artifact of infrastructure as opposed to the driving force behind a company. In all honesty, I started to become suspicious of relational databases back when I worked for Demand Media and spent time on Livestrong. A lot of problems occurred due to how our Mysql Database would occasionally have issues scaling. My team lead and I started to become extremely frustrated by being tied down through the database layer.

In order to avoid the scaling problem, you end up turning to non-relational methods to handle your problems. For instance, one of our tables at the time was at the half billion row mark. Because of how it was primarily a constant write table, we needed a solution to evolve it. At the time, the solution we ended up going for was archiving most of the data and truncating it. Then when a user wanted to access older parts of their history, we would unarchive it upon request.

But note the language I’m using here. I’m trying to avoid using database specific terminology to describe a problem and create an answer. But that’s where you need to think more on an abstract level rather than a fine grained level such as a database row/table/column at times. And that’s where you need to move from the data layer to a business requirements mind set.

Now, I’m certain that most people in tech will all agree that solutions must be centered around business requirements. Although that’s certainly a common bond, everything ends there since people end up doing work arounds. Quite often, these work arounds exist as a result of the inflexible structure and/or nature of the database. Of course, applications also have their limitations but databases tend to be more rigid because of data.

That’s where I like how systems such as Rails have certain control over more static data elements of data through notions of migrations. Also, things like Rails seem more fluid in design because you’re attempting to do more abstractions. For instance, I encountered the :references value which allows one table to hold a relationship (one-to-many) to another. Rather than bothering with all the details of the database such as foreign keys, indexes, constraints, etc., you allow the application layer to manage that.

Part of the reason why I like this is that the technical details for an application can take away from significant development time. Having the application manage those aspects alleviates developers from useless duties and allows them to focus more on business logic. Anything that saves on time is a good thing for me.

One thing that I have noticed as the industry continues to grow is that the role of the DBA is slowly diminishing. I feel that DBA came about as a result of Oracle being so dominant early on and existing solutions not having an open source, well documented alternative. In turn, DBAs ended up becoming extremely powerful, commanding high salaries and often times enacted fairly draconian policies with regards to data. More than that, they would attempt to control the business layer by forcing developers to house all their business logic within the database. In turn, that forced applications to utilize incompatible SQL and stored procedures and providing little flexibility as new cheaper and potentially faster/better solutions appeared on the market.

Unfortunately, you had varying qualities of DBAs. Some were actual computer science students who knew about application development. However, others seemed more like people who just had fancy certifications but knew and potentially cared little for application development. Instead, some of those more poisonous individuals would utilize their power as DBAs to have all decision making processes filter through them. If they lacked the passion and/or knowledge of application development and also were difficult people (and quite a few that I’ve encountered were), the application development process would end up becoming a huge, unnecessarily bureaucratic nightmare.

The thing is that as a developer I want to build things without the issues of unnecessary forms, reviews, etc. to get to an end solution. As an architect, I want to develop solutions without thinking about artifacts upfront. I want to focus on the problems then break down the problems rather than starting with say a table and defining all the columns. Once you go down the latter path, it becomes a slippery slope because you end up working around the table as opposed to the problem and making that solution more scalable.

That isn’t to say that data isn’t important. Of course, these days it becomes a huge part of the genetics that compose an organization. But in the application development process, I really do not like it being the center of attention. Similarly, I think picking a technology in advance and trying to fit it with a business problem is equally wrong. Focus on the problem first.

Lastly, I talk a lot about Ruby on Rails. Although I decided to pick Rails for my next project, it’s mostly because I want to learn about it and how to really utilize it. That is somewhat different than say arbitrarily choosing Nosql as my data store because it’s the latest and greatest. If it’s a learning situation, then choosing the technology in advance is fine. But don’t play with others’ money if you have the chance.

 

Cool Stuff: Ruby on Rails, PyDev, William Gibson, Fantasy Writing and More

After putting down World of Warcraft for over a week, I decided to start looking into more productive uses of my time. Of course, the biggest thing right now is sending my mom to acupuncture. It takes out a good two days of the week but I do see a lot of progress, compared to where she was just over a month ago. Today, my mom demonstrated more flexibility in her right leg and having slightly more strength where she can hold up her left leg. Sitting on the wheelchair though, it’s still a struggle but most of that is due to her needing to re-build her leg muscles in her knees and calves on the right side. Once she’s able to do that, she might be able to do some limited walking with the aid of a walker. Also, her right shoulder demonstrates more looseness. Our acupuncturist is having her work little by little moving down her right arm to get my mom to re-build her muscle. Of course, we want to have my mom be able to grip once again, but she needs to first build downward to the point where first her elbow joint can move once again, then wrist and hopefully down the road her fingers. It’s very impressive seeing all this in action.

Usually, while my mom undergoes therapy, I’m at a local coffee shop working on things like writing or coding. Yes, I’m trying to get back into coding. Once in a while I get a serious call from a recruiter. I keep my price high to see if they can get me a serious offer. But at the same time I’m slowly testing the waters in preparing to re-enter the workforce. Still, I want to keep my hunger strong for technology and am starting to look into adding a few pieces of technology into my belt.

The primary two I’ve been going back and forth on are Ruby and Python. I feel that PHP is slowly running its course with me and that I no longer want to use it as a crutch, much like how I felt Perl was a crutch for the longest time. While there are still plenty of jobs for Perl and PHP, it’s always good to increase the variety of what you know. Right now, we’re seeing Ruby and Python make pretty big strides into the industry.

Python is something that I dabble in on occasion. The big thing about Python is that many universities are now using Python as a teaching tool. The readability and “one way to do things” methodology make Python an appealing language to teach students. However, the real impact of Python in the technology industry, for me at least, is seeing the number of jobs out there.

Recently, I did a quick job search comparing PHP, Perl, Ruby, Python, Ruby on Rails and Django using Dice.com to see the numbers. The big surprise for me is that Python, at least according to my search, resulted in a greater number of total opportunities compared to PHP. Perl still dominates in the language area, but this move to Python may be because of its connection to universities. However, Rails still exceeds Django when it comes to the framework side of things.

For myself, I felt myself at a crossroads. I want to learn Python because of the mass appeal and longer term potential. However, Rails does have a significant number of pluses beyond job opportunities. A few that I perceived are the community backing rails, the number of solutions and the wide support. Also, when I hit the bookstore, I only could find a single Rails book so it pretty much cemented my decision. Oh and the “cool” factor that seems to encompass the brogramming groups.

That isn’t to say that I’m unwilling to learn Python nor scorn Django. In truth, I did pick up Django a while back. I really like how Django nicely can integrate with Google Apps Engine. From what I’ve seen Django has some nice features like the admin tool, which is similar to a kind of scaffolding for your models. But my gut instinct tells me that just the number of job opportunities and the community support and possible solutions make Rails a better short term solution just to give myself something to chew on. I might, from time to time, return to Python but I would like to master the Rails framework first.

I ended up picking up the Learning Rails 3 book from O’Reilly. There were some elements that really appealed to me like migrations and unit testing. Also, I read about other integrations such as coffeescript, another thing I very much am looking to learn. So right now, I’m trying to set myself up with Rails and am doing some basic tutorials.

One thing I have noticed about Rails, at least on my Macbook Pro with OS 10.6 Snow Leopard, is that despite being installed, Rails did present some problems. The main issue seemed to be that Rails was not properly upgraded. So I spent most of the day trying to upgrade Rails and Gems to get it to work. Using a few online tutorials/guides, the Gems/Rails upgrades were not that easy and I often found a large number of dependency issues that required me to do repetitive upgrades. I’m not sure if I’m just a noob at all this but that didn’t impress me.

But once I got the basics installed, setting up a simple CRUD application with scaffolding and model validation was a breeze. I have a few ideas for some projects for Rails that I think will make great learning projects. So I’m really pumped to dig my teeth into more of the advanced topics down the line.

Once I feel more adept with Rails, I will be looking into picking up an IDE. I was recommended RubyMine. However, the cost is a bit high right now so I might wait as a friend mentioned it goes on discount once in a while. If not that, then I might try Aptena as I believe they have a pretty good Ruby/Rails integrated environment.

Also, I mentioned that I ended up giving PyDev a try. Since the recommended IDE of PyCharm also is a bit on the pricey side for me at the moment, I decided to give Eclipse the go motion again. Adding PyDev into Eclipse was a breeze and after seamlessly detecting my Python environment, I was able to get a few simple scripts going. I feel that Python might be one of those things where I’ll have to learn something like a Django to use. The problem is that most of my style of coding revolves around the web. So without a base framework to do all the dirty work, it becomes difficult finding the motivation to learn every little detail about a language. Compare that with Rails at the moment, where I can easily think of a few cool projects to whet my appetite in progressing with Ruby.

Beyond programming, I’m trying to keep my artsy side going by getting back into literature. Along with the Rails book, I picked up Pynchon and Murakami. But before I can delve into those guys, I need to finish up Gibson’s Zero History. I bought Zero History a few years ago but barely made it through 30 pages before recently picking it back up. Most of my motivation for delving back into reading is that I want to do more fantasy writing (in which I’ll talk about in a minute). It might seem strange to read someone like a Gibson for getting inspired for the fantasy genre. However, I’m still waiting for the new Stephen R Donaldson book that concludes the last leg of the Thomas Covenant chronicles and that’s not due until the end of the year (supposedly).

That said, probably some of the best advice I’ve ever received when it comes to writing is that you should always be reading as you write. I can see how this is valid. After putting down World of Warcraft, I honestly lacked inspiration for anything. My mind felt blank and I struggled with writers block for a few days. Although I still have issues coming up with new material, those first few days really were awful for me as I lacked anything satisfying to say. Hence, picking up someone like a Gibson just to get some ideas flowing.

Gibson though is great because he’s very detail oriented and has his own style that compels me to read him. His characters and story plot lack in favor of all those details. But I need the vocabulary, the prose, the sentence structure and rhythm to help resuscitate those dying nerve endings in my cranium.

I won’t do a review just yet of Zero History as I want to finish it up. Right now, I don’t have a solid opinion and am letting him guide me through the story. Most of what I’m getting out of Zero History are the details of how he’s using a contemporary setting to embellish the world. The whole series has been great in that you can see how he’s taking what’s existing and pulling it all together as opposed to guestimating what the future looks like. I still think Gibson struggles because he might sometimes not be able to keep up as fluidly as someone like myself who directly works with technology. However, I think he does introduce a very fresh point of view (like employing Twitter for creating espionage related accounts).

So again this all leads to my fantasy writing. Oh what a struggle that is. I’m never quite satisfied and it’s a real pain to come up with things that might feel fresh for readers. I think part of the problem is that I’m not able to fully immerse myself in the fantasy environment that I want. Possibly, that’s due to not fully comprehending what I want. I always felt that fantasy writing is about being in a place you’d rather be. While the premise is ideal, in practice trying to arrive in that environment is much more difficult than it seems. For me, I want to detail everything, create histories and links to everything. It becomes quite overwhelming after a period because you can go in so many different directions. Some might prove fruitful others are a complete waste of time. And then there are details that are so critical to readers that you take for granted and end up mistakenly leaving out.

At any rate, I decided to kind of skip ahead today because the sections leading up to this point are things in which I’m struggling far too much with. I can’t reveal in depth what I want to write about but I have to say I can completely understand when writers pull elements back into the present. It’s just so much easier to relate to things around you.

I’m going to continue doing this “cool things” aspect of my blog. It might be boring for the more outdoorsy type of reader, but I wanted to share more of the interesting hobbies I’m doing as I try to help my mom recover.

World of Warcraft: First Patch 5.3 Official Notes Released (PTR)

Patch 5.3 looks to be more of a major game issues fix with some content oriented elements thrown in. I already addressed the earlier noted valor/justice point upgrade system returning. From a gearing point of view, the two biggest things that impact myself are:

  • Addressing bad luck streaks for re-rolls. This is HUGE for me. Having done Lei Shi around 10+ times and on a few alts, I rarely would receive certain much needed items, especially for re-rolls. I began questioning the whole re-roll system and whether the term “good luck” should even apply to such a foobar’d situation. I’m hoping that the re-roll bonus isn’t just something lame like a +1% incremental bonus, but something significant like +10-15%. For instance, I often would re-enter LFR Terrace of Endless Spring just to have my paladin go after the 2-handed Sha Touched axe. However, even with the bonus roll, I could NEVER win it. But this change will make farming a boss over and over worth the effort.
  • Choosing a spec for loot. This affects quests, LFR and bonus rolls. This is definitely something that has been necessary since the start and I’m very happy to see it. The problem has been tanks, dps and healers choosing a role that they’re not spec’d and/or geared in and entering the raid, causing disruption. While dps queuing as healers probably will still present issues, the problem of seeing an ungeared healer or tank will hopefully go away as people can get the gear they want. For myself, this will be great since I hope to eventually gear up my protection side for specs like paladin, warrior and death knight.

Both of these changes really make me believe that the developers are (slowly) listening to the community. At the same time, I think I’m still going to wait as the current content really doesn’t entice me and these changes are something I want to see in actual feedback from the forums/community. I still feel that it’s better use of my time to work on leveling (if I were to re-subscribe) and do older content until these changes are in place. I mean, there really isn’t any point of doing current LFR when the bonus rolls are horrible and queue times suck.

Some other interesting changes are the ones being done to PVP where resilience is being boosted to an automatic 65% and most resilience being removed from gear. They will be explaining in a future post why this is being done, but I wanted to provide my take. I think resilience has been a worthless stat overall and the introduction of PVP power isn’t all that great. All resilience has been is just a way for people who have managed to grind up their PVP to near top levels to either create a barrier to entry or simply overpower people on PVP servers. I wish they get rid of resilience altogether and PVP power and have bonuses on gear sets relate to cooldowns on PVP related abilities like CC, trinkets, slow effects, etc. Also, I would eliminate the PVP aspects on the crafted gear and just make them into flat PVE related gear. That should solve a lot of problems on both sides.

Of course, the only people who’ll cry about it are the people on top who have created these barriers to entry and the gankers. But the thing about PVP at the end of the day is that it’s really meant to be about skill rather than gear nor certain scores. It really makes no sense that two level capped people are not on equal terms as a result of one person having a certain stat on their gear at a ridiculously high level. Gear should be designed more as a strategy than a barrier to entry so hopefully this is a step in the right direction.

Another gear related change is the ilvl cap. So the gear exceeding 496 will be scaled down to 496 if it exceeds that level. Again, it seems that the design we’re moving towards is preventing the huge gap and creating an overall level playing ground when it comes to PVP. My feeling is that there should be a larger variety of PVP related gear. Or perhaps what should occur is buying enchants for PVE related gear that people can apply as modifiers on their gear to make that type of gear more PVP related. Imagine for instance, having a system that’s similar to glyphs with dust of disappearance that applies certain modifiers for gear sets like actual thorns or thicker plates with visual changes to the gear as well. Then those modifications might do things such as lowering cooldowns or improving movement modifiers.

Some other notable changes are the new arena, battleground and scenarios. Also, they are introducing heroic scenarios. It feels as though the new scenarios will be leading to the story of the raid on Ogrimmar. The important aspect to heroic scenarios is the possibility of receiving LFR quality items. I don’t know if heroic scenarios will be on the level of challenge modes but my guess is that it’s still going to be puggable and without the requirement of a tank/healer. So that implies that they shouldn’t be too impossible.

For those who enjoy pet battles, they can do duel in LFR and instances. It sounds like a good distraction while waiting for tanks and healers, but my only concern is if people will end up abusing this to harass others during combat or otherwise. There’s also the seasonal pet aspect, which makes sense but isn’t a huge deal to me at this point.

Another thing is the faster leveling for herbalism and mining. Now, people with lower level herbalism and mining can speed up with some ingredient (yet to be detailed). Again, it seems like another catch up device.

It seems that outside of the scenarios and PVP arena and battleground, there isn’t going to be a lot of major content. We have yet to see more questing zones that further lead to the Siege of Ogrimmar raid. But that might end up being saved for patch 5.4 with the scenarios acting as hints.

This patch definitely feels like a big “lessons learned” type of fix for the game. For me at least it looks like the game is heading into a better situation overall. I still want to take a break but it looks promising thus far. I will end up being behind but I don’t mind. By the time the next tier of raiding content comes out, the gear prices will end up being reduced in price and I feel that they will do other aspects to make catching up easier.

The main two things I want to get across in this blog is that I think that the community to developer feedback loop needs to improve and that the “meanness” factor needs to be taken out. It feels as though the response gap between the community and developers still lag quite a bit, perhaps between 1-2 patch cycles. I really think that the developers need to respond faster than 1-2 patch cycles. 2 patches is just too long. The LFR changes here should’ve been implemented in 5.1 and would’ve saved a lot of headaches.

Second, is that the developers really should get rid of the whole “meanness” factor in their designs. I think Oondasta really is just an internal joke where developers are secretly trolling players. But for some people, they consider it a serious thing as it relates to gear. Yet the encounter is only one simple example of what I think surrounds the “meanness” of the design. Then the items with the low drop rates, etc. are all part of this mentality. Supposedly, it’s to extend the game life, but I think what happens in the end is discourage players as they end up seeing themselves wasting a lot of time. It might’ve worked for several expansions but it’s getting to the point where the patterns are obvious and the game needs an update not just to the overall concept but to the mentality of how MMORPGs should be designed.

At any rate, I will continue to monitor the progress of World of Warcraft for the next two patches before making a commitment to return. But despite these small changes, I want to see an overall intent for the betterment of the game before I resubscribe.

 

World of Warcraft: Patch 5.3 Voidbinders/Item Upgrades Make A Comeback and Cutting Edge Gaming

Outside of the new game, Blizzard announced that the Voidbinders/Item Upgrade venders will make a comeback in patch 5.3. The chief difference will be the massive reduction in cost for both valor points and justice points upgrades. Valor upgrades will cost 250 per 4 item levels for a total of an 8 item level upgrade while Justice upgrades will cost 750 for 8 item levels.

While the general cost is still higher than I would like, this isn’t as unreasonable as the 750 valor points when this feature was originally released. I still think that 150 per 4 ilvls is better, but I don’t think 250 will kill the bank book as badly. If/when I re-join the game, I foresee this as being useful for weapon upgrades. If anything, usually what ends up hurting me the most in the game are finding better weapons. So the VP upgrade option is good for that purpose.

Which brings me up to my next point: cutting edge gaming. You can also call it “competitive gaming”. Another name is “progressive raiding.” The fact that the venders made such a quick comeback with an expected lower price for valor points emphasizes my issue that trying to be on the cutting edge, at least with World of Warcraft, is a complete waste of time.

This is evident with every expansion where your raiding gear essentially becomes meaningless since the greens offered by the newer zones tend to be better than your epic gear. Now, they have managed to improve this issue over time by having epic gear slowly being deprecated around the mid level in expansions. So there is an interesting issue coming up where LFRs, gearing and the possibilities of new expansions can present a controversial decision making process for casual players who see gearing and experiencing content as being a waste of time vs being able to participate at all in content (i.e. raids).

For myself as a casual player with tons of alts, my biggest concern is using my time effectively. This is the primary reason why I’m not into progressive raiding. At the same time, I don’t want to fall too far behind. So my theory is that the way the game is being set up, it’s best to do what I call raiding tier -1 self-progression. The idea is to not do current raids (at least with LFR) and focus on other aspects of the game using alts. In short, focus on leveling, improving reputations and older LFRs to play catch up on. The game seems far more mercify at this point in terms of catch up than it is on cutting edge.

Some benefits of doing (LFR) raiding tier -1 self-progression are:

  • Better drop rates
  • Not encountering all the frustrating bugs
  • Strategies being available on the web
  • More competent players or at least people who have better understanding of the mechanics than when it first started
  • Nerfs
  • Allowing better geared players to carry others

The one problem occurs when the game is near the next expansion. Since no new raiding tiers will be presented, you will end up being stuck with that tier. So obviously, you either have to accept being in that tier or move up. Honestly, this ends boiling down to the design of the expansion. If expansions only end up having 3 tiers of raiding, then it might just be better to do this for the first last two tiers then play the catch up game once you’ve geared up. But I wouldn’t want to do all the cutting edge stuff early on.

World of Warcraft: How I Plan to Gear My Druid from Boomkin to Feral and Other Gearing Thoughts

My druid is pretty decently geared as a boomkin. Having just won one of the Sha Touched weapons and some tier gloves, she’s pretty much ready to go for the new LFR. However, there are times when I just simply prefer to play her as feral. However, I haven’t spent as much time on that side by comparison. She does have a decent weapon and a few items here and there to go as feral but it’s still pretty underwhelming.

That all said, do I go through the same painful process of gearing once again? In short, no. Since LFR drops gear according to your spec, I simply will switch specs and use my feral gear to compensate.  Since people are outgearing Mogu’shan vaults and pretty much doing well at it, I could easily get into part 1 and 2 in an attempt to pick up some spare gear. I think once she has enough pieces, I’ll start doing more dailies as a feral and see if I can pick up some elder charms for extra rolls here and there.

I’m looking forward to switching though. Boomkin just hasn’t been all that fun for me. The only thing I’ve liked as a boomkin is her channeled AoE ability. However, even with 480 ilvl gear, I’m finding my DPS lacking, especially in heavy movement fights. Also, in looking at the DPS meters, it seems that feral is pulling ahead. Although the rotation for feral can be confusing and difficult with the energy regeneration issues, it simply might be better overall to make the switch and then use the boomkin spec on the side.

The great thing is that as a boomkin, I really don’t need anything from Mogu’shan vaults anymore except maybe an offhand or trinket. But that’s really not important at this stage. I suppose if I manage to acquire enough pieces, I might even try Heart of Fear part 1 and see if I can pick up anything as a feral.

As I continue to hit the older LFRs and receive occasional loot, the thing that I’m thinking is that it might be better if I spend more effort building my toons up via leveling and working on older content rather than the more current LFRs. The wait times are still pretty atrocious with the new Throne of Thunder wing released today and the loot drop rate is going to be pretty bad even with the re-roll opportunities. However, when the next raid tier comes out, I’m certain that the Throne of Thunder raid will improve the loot drop rate. If that’s the case, why not just horde tokens until the next tier is released?

Anyway, I might give the new LFR another try this week. I still have to push three of my guys through the first one. So that should give me plenty of practice as I bring up more toons.

 

EA CEO Steps Down and Implications for the Gaming Industry

Recently, EA’s CEO stepped down. Part of it comes in speculation of the disaster for the latest SimCity DRM issues. However, it was said that EA’s projections were on a downward slope, which motivated this (more than likely). The SimCity DRM issue more than likely just highlighted one of the problems with EA in general.

The real story regarding EA though is that the company has been on a very slippery slope for years. All the acquisitions have shown nothing but failures and has caused some of the best brands to be shunned. Command and Conquer, Ultima, and now SimCity all have fallen victim to EA’s corporate greed and strict business mentality. Rather than pushing out high quality games, marketing and dates caused many of these titles to fail in creating half assed products.

It’s a sad state of affairs in the gaming world. However, the problem is that these monolithic corporations have become too concerned about quarterly revenues and no longer realize that games and brands especially have extremely loyal and vocal followings.

I don’t see the change of guard at EA to do much because the root cause of the problems are far deeper. This would be the same case if Blizzard/Activision’s Bobby Kotick stepped down. Just another corpturkey would replace him to appease shareholders.

On the other hand, what this means is that gamers will be looking for new publishers to come up with exciting brands, giving more opportunities to upcoming companies. Also, Kickstarter is providing a nice independent platform for gaming franchises, some of which are being run by people who worked on these brands before.

For major game publishers though, they need to wake up to the realities of the gaming genre and re-examine their roots rather than quarterly revenues. If they don’t, gamers will simply continue to leave in troves as the brand and trust slowly erode.

Starcraft 2 Heart of the Swarm and World of Warcraft Pontifications of the Day

Last night I spent finishing up most of Heart of the Swarm. I’m either at the final or next to final campaign, having done all the sub-missions and only missing one objective thus far (at least from what I’m aware of). I ended up switching after getting frustrated from World of Warcraft’s inexplicable lagginess that caused me a few unnecessary deaths. I felt it would be a good temporary break.

Anyway, having already seen the ending, it’s mostly a matter of seeing all the details leading to that point. I always enact the dialogue whenever a new conversation comes up. The good thing in doing this is to get more back story on the Zerg and how it originated. Pretty much this game does a good job in delving into the lore…i mean evolution/history of the zerg.

Despite providing this background, the way it goes about doing it demonstrates that Chris Metzen really has no creativity as a writer whatsoever. As Kerrigan re-integrates herself with the swarm, she ends up going to the original planet from where the zerg first evolved. Here’s where things get really goofy. Essentially, the planet and creatures resembles stuff from the movie Avatar. Unlike Avatar, you pretty much overpower the primitive planet with the more evolved zerg, until Kerrigan herself can absorb one of the main primals. In turn, she takes the opportunity to mutate into a far more advanced version of the Queen of Blades.

This is where the story really has me shaking my head. Essentially, everything that Raynor had striven for has gone to waste and we’re back to where we started. I think Metzen was pretty aware of this too as Raynor formally ends his “relationship” with Kerrigan. Despite this awareness, I’m wondering what the point of all that was in the first place. About the only thing different than what happened before is that Kerrigan’s swarm has a new purpose with her behind it.

About the only plot point that has been resolved in this situation is with Mengsk. But we still are left with Amon and the Protoss. If anything, Kerrigan’s swarm seems like will have an uneasy distance with the Terran. Considering this is Metzen we’re talking about, I’m seeing nothing more than a futuristic version of the Horde vs Alliance storyline, except that the genders are reversed. Or perhaps instead of having Thrall, we have the Banshee Queen in a more prominent role. Or maybe if Jaina Proudmoore had a darker personality and Thrall were slightly prettier, then it’s just the same thing.

Something else came to mind as I was playing Starcraft. The zerg reminded me a great deal of the Klaxxi and Mantid in Mist of Pandaria. With the whole hybrid zerg/protoss construct, I’m seeing a definitive link back to the Mantid/Klaxxi with the whole psionic power thing. Also, the ultralisk reminded me quite a bit of the Kovok mission (not to mention looking a little like him). And the Protoss resemble far more advanced versions of the Draeni.

As this is Blizzard’s franchise, I wouldn’t be surprised to some day see a real tie in. The writer in me would cringe but the fanboy in me would love to see both series coming together. I think both titles could easily explain bits of the other side. I’m still waiting to see Tauren Terran marines. The mysterious “your gods are not your gods” line that the Klaxxi fills us is the perfect tie in to bring both worlds together. Perhaps, it could be the merging of technology and magic that leads to a new franchise.

For myself, I would connect the Lady Sylvanas to Kerrigan. I see them as being similar in having tragic ends and re-births. In Sylvanas’ case, she hails from a magical world, thus explaining the natural rise to power as the Banshee Queen. However, Kerrigan’s rise to the head of the Swarm isn’t as clear. What exactly made her DNA/genetic material perfect as the head? She was a psionic as a ghost, but could any other person rise equally as well? Or was it destiny?

From a story perspective, I would say that Kerrigan is Lady Sylvanas reincarnated. If I were pushing the franchise tie-in theory, I would even say that this latest iteration of Diablo 3 could link these female characters to Diablo himself. Perhaps, the person in question is a cursed soul, bound by some destiny to be reincarnated over and over to serve nefarious demons and devils for eternity. The demon spawns of the multiverse are what causes the chaos and strife between all races.

The cut scene in Mist of Pandaria where Lorewalker Cho sees the unveiling of the Sha as a result of this conflict to me is the key aspect in all of this. But it’s not that the conflict is created by the warring of the races. Instead, it’s the crafty manipulation that goes around them. However, how can you fight an invisible foe?

Perhaps, in my ever so clever interweaving of story lines, the only person capable of understanding how to slay demons is Deckard Cain. It was instrumental for Diablo to have Deckard eliminated since he’s a scholar of demonology and can aid in putting a stop to this conflict. While in World of Warcraft and Diablo, people are capable of being resurrected, certain types of deaths are permanent or at least require a great deal of effort to reverse. So it might be quest of the heroes in this new multiverse to determine how to bring him back to life.

Taking a few steps back, I was thinking about how the Abathur mentioned how some cases he was unable to understand all genetic evolution. This leads me to believe that there’s more in store to explain how the Zerg came into existence. We only are given that their home world was a primitive place in terms of how they evolved. But what about splinter colonies? Could that explain the mantid’s existence?

Regardless, I think these questions can lead to an interesting segue into Blizzard’s next gaming franchise. Imagine one day if/when Kerrigan and Raynor are planning their assault against a rogue Terran colony, when some Tauren Terran marines stop by. The leader might be Baine Bloodhoof, who explains that they are part of a super secret project and that the universe is now ready for them and what’s to come.

If this game came into existence, what would it be? ARPG? MMORPG? RTS? What about all of the above? Why not have the most epic gaming experience in existence by combining all the things we love about each franchise into a single gaming experience? Have all the various classes with new ones that combine sci-fi with fantasy. Your heroes are literally heroic units that command their factions armies and your goal is to save this multiverse.