30 May, 2017

The Warm Thrill of Confusion

I hate politics. I wish they would just go away already. But we live in extremely politicized times, and it's becoming ever harder to stay silent. Which sucks, because most people are idiots, and should really just keep their damn mouths shut. But that's precisely why I think it's counterproductive for smart people to keep quiet and let the idiots dominate the conversation, even though I'd really just prefer not to get involved in this fools' game. I honestly can't decide whether it'd be better to step aside and watch Homo sapiens destroy itself, or make a futile gesture to insinuate myself into their nihilistic pursuits. But as an alien who has been stranded on this planet, with no way of getting home or even contacting my kind, my fate is inextricably linked with the fate of these overly self-important apes. And so what other choice do I have? Even if, in the long run, it changes nothing.

As much as I try very hard to avoid the news (as the new Yardbirds sang, "please don't tell me 'bout the news"), I just can't seem to escape it (thank you, Facebook - which, like some stereotypical Thanksgiving dinner, can't decide whether to be a forum for friends and family to keep up to date on their lives, or a place for everyone to vent their political frustrations and practice armchair activism). And so, Entertainment Weekly (which I browse casually for updates on TV/movies that might interest me - but only because my roommate subscribes to it) reports on the recent Ariana Grande tragedy. It's terrible that there is senseless suffering in the world - I get that - but I'm concerned with how we react to it. And I've been concerned at our approach to terrorism since at least the aftermath of 9/11, which happened over 15 years ago already. Allow me to juxtapose two short passages from the article as an effective demonstration of the point I wish to make:

"One music-industry veteran tells EW that...'the zone of security [eventually] ends. It's outside the venue where it gets tricky. If this happened in New York City, you don't get patted down going into the subway.'"

"One music-industry source tells EW, 'With security, it depends on the show and where you're going. Sometimes you get wanded and sometimes you don't. I would certainly hope that would change. Everybody needs to think about security measures going forward.'"

So, let me get this straight. An attack happens outside of security checkpoints, and our response is to make those security checkpoints even stricter? When it's clear that this specific action would not have prevented or even lessened the severity of this attack? At the very least, I'd think that the fact that these attacks keep happening (the article itself lists three other serious attacks that have occured just in the past few years), might prove that the countermeasures we've elected aren't having much of an effect. Who is responsible for re-evaluating the efficacy of these social control programs? Years ago I linked a paper on so-called "Black Swan Criminology" - the theory that shit happens, and that it's tragic, but reactionary policies (enacted with fanfare while emotions are still running high) are often only effective at assuaging people's fears - unfortunately by restricting their liberties - while not actually accomplishing anything to prevent these crimes from happening in the future. We have separation of church and state (if we at most only pay lip service to it); we should have separation of social policy and emotion, too.

Here's my reactionary diatribe:

The police state and terrorism have a symbiotic relationship. An authoritarian government loves a successful terrorist act, because it gives them an excuse (that no one will question, at the risk of seeming unsympathetic) to enact more Draconian measures to further control its citizens' lives, while not actually making the execution of terrorist acts any more difficult (because that would be counterproductive). Meanwhile, the public goes along with this, mumbling the Orwellian chorus of "not letting the terrorists win" while simultaneously contributing to the terrorists' goal of whittling away at our freedoms, because they're too stupid to know the difference. But it's not their faults, because they've been trained by an education system (that runs suspiciously like a prison) adopted from a totalitarian regime, to memorize and recite back anything their instructors tell them, while suppressing independence and critical thought.

I realize this makes me sound like a conspiracy theorist, but it doesn't mean the government and the terrorists are working together (necessarily) - it just means that they have similar aims. And if your government has similar aims as terrorists and that doesn't horrify you, then you need to go sit in the corner and think long and hard about that for a while.

16 May, 2017

More Guild Wars Girlies

This is something of an ode to a post I made way back in 2008, when I first started playing Guild Wars for the first time (nine years ago!). I've always taken pride in my characters, even (or especially?) though they're all basically representations of me as a female, in the skimpiest armor available to each profession. Nevertheless, I also take some pride in their names and the equipment they wield. So I'd like to catalog them here for posterity (and just plain fun).

2008 Characters

Three of the four original characters I created from my first stint on Guild Wars were represented in my original post (the fourth must have been created just after I wrote that post).

Kazekirino Flora (Elementalist)

Kazekirino Flora was the first character I ever created. Out of all the professions available (six, originally), Elementalist was the most appealing to me because I've always enjoyed offensive spellcasters. Elementalists are basically the Black Mages of Guild Wars. She's the only character of mine named after a previously existing fictional character - from the manga/anime series Claymore. The first part of her name is Japanese for "Windcutter". Fire is the most popular element for Elementalists (nuking!), but I switched to an Air build (lots of armor-ignoring lightning spells and interrupts) to do justice to her name. I even finally got a sword that works functionally like a staff! It's pretty badass, too.

Salix Sepulcralis (Ranger)

When it came time to decide on my second character, I looked at all the armors for all the different professions, and picked out my favorite one (Elite Druid), and made a character of the corresponding profession. I named her Salix Sepulcralis, which is Latin for Weeping Willow - my favorite type of tree. She's an archer (weapon of choice: Feathered Longbow), and these days she keeps an Iguana as her preferred pet. I used her bow techniques a lot (some of which have inspired one of my characters' skills in my RPG) to do a lot of pulling/aggro control and interrupts, which gave me a slight advantage in those early days before I had heroes to pad out my team. I haven't done much trapping, but I tried out a Touch Ranger build once to get through an annoying primary quest in Eye of the North. It's a very effective build, but I enjoy using a bow, so I usually stick with the classic Splinter Barrage build for satisfying AoE damage.

Malady Grimm (Necromancer)

Here is Malady Grimm, my Necromancer in her Elite Scar Pattern armor, hanging out in the Underworld (the fact that I can even hold my own in the underworld, albeit with a crack team of heroes, shows how far I've advanced). Necromancer is actually the one profession with the most styles of armor I actually like, so even though this is one of the skimpiest armors in the game, I often switch it out with several others (I like Krytan, Profane, and Elite Cabal) for variety. I'm probably "wasting" my Necromancer by using a life steal-based Blood Magic build, but it's worked for me. I never could get the hang of using Spiteful Spirit, and Minion Masters (while a fun novelty) are better left to heroes. Call me simple, but the game is just more fun when I'm dealing direct damage to enemies (the more the better!) - which is probably why one of the only professions I still haven't tried is Mesmer, although I'm starting to regret that now. But that brings me to my next character:

Filia Spatheros (Warrior)

I'm surprised it took me so long (relatively speaking) to make a Warrior, because I like her Elite Gladiator armor almost as much as the Ranger's Elite Druid armor. Plus, I love swords. I love swords so much, I tried to have my Elementalist wield a sword, and I even started collecting evil-looking blades for my Necromancer! Which is why my warrior is named Filia Spatheros, which is a (probably muddy) amalgamation of various Greek words roughly translating to "lover of swords". Filia is a nominalized version of the suffix -philia, and Spatheros combines spatha (sword) with eros (the root for erotic). Does that mean this character has a sexual attraction to swords? Yes. Yes it does. Lol. Check her out wielding her Deldrimor Sword and Shield. Pretty badass. For a long time she was my most satisfying character to play, dealing out heavy damage against enemies, especially after I capped the Hundred Blades elite skill for AoE damage (AoE - however you reach it - is the holy grail in this game for me). Later expansions seem to have rendered the Warrior more or less obsolete, however (see: Assassins and Dervishes).

2013 Characters

I don't remember all the ins and outs of when I started and stopped playing Guild Wars over the years (except for the period preceding this latest resurgence, when I pretty clearly put Guild Wars aside to make time for RPG Maker), but Guild Wars is an easy game to slip into, so it's entirely possible that I played it on and off a lot through the years. I don't remember the circumstances, but at some point I bought the Factions and Nightfall expansions, to add brand new continents and campaigns to explore. It must have been in 2013, because that's when my next two characters were born, one for each of the two new expansions.

Kunoichi Nanashi (Assassin)

I mentioned this briefly in my last post, but when I fired up Factions (an Asian-flavored campaign, involving a deadly plague afflicting a sprawling urban jungle), I had to choose between a dual-wielding Assassin and an ambiguous, spirit-summoning Ritualist. I chose the Assassin, which sounded more interesting to me, and had the better armor choices (you can see the Imperial armor - my favorite - in the picture above). Although, Factions probably has the best original professions - because spirit spammers and dagger spammers alike are highly effective - so I couldn't go wrong with either one. I named my Assassin Kunoichi Nanashi ("nameless female ninja"), and gave her sais. It's funny, when I watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a kid, Raphael was always the lamest one because his weapons were so unimpressive. But then I watched Ronin Warriors (a.k.a. Yoroiden Samurai Troopers), and I fell in love with Lady Kayura's weapons - which are sai-like, though extended to the point of basically being swords. I've been looking into having my Assassin dual-wield katanas as an alternative, however.

Sandra Lumina (Paragon)

The other full-size expansion is called Nightfall, and it takes place in the desert, with a Middle Eastern/African vibe. The story involves an ancient demon god who is in the process of being resurrected, so as to plunge the world into darkness. Since you're fighting on the side of light, and you're surrounded by sand, I named my character Sandra Lumina. She's a Paragon, which is essentially a paladin or white knight who wields throwing spears, and specializes in using shouts and chants to support the team. I picked this profession solely because it had the better armor choices (Dervishes, like Ritualists, are plagued with unattractively long and bulky skirts), even though, as it turns out, Paragons have very limited effectiveness. Their only meta build is the "Imbagon", a highly defensive build, which just isn't that much fun for me to play. Which is a shame, because strictly from a visual standpoint, this is one of my favorite characters. She's got highlights of gold in her armor, accented by the shimmering shield I picked out for her.

I actually have a funny story about that. I was looking up shields online, to pick out the one I wanted for my Paragon, and I decided on the Diamond Aegis. But this is a rare shield, that would require a lot of work and/or luck to acquire (since I'm not, at this time, in the habit of buying/trading with other players - besides, the Guild Wars economy runs on ectos, or Globs of Ectoplasm, and I barely have any, since I've done very little elite dungeons/endgame content). So in the meantime, I settled on the more common Aureate Aegis, colored gold. Then, believe it or not, while I was playing on my latest character (since I'm doing more Hard Mode content than ever before), I actually stumbled across a Diamond Aegis! But, when I tried it out on my Paragon, I decided that I actually liked the gold shield better. At least I hadn't gone out of my way to get that Diamond Aegis... Oh, by the way, the spear she's wielding is a Spiraling Spear, which I like because it reminds me of the Lance of Longinus (sort of - it's single-tipped) from Evangelion.

2016 Characters

Fantazma Gloria (Ritualist)

So when I came back to Guild Wars last year, I still had two empty character slots unused, but four professions left to try - two from the original Prophecies campaign, and one each from Factions and Nightfall. And for the first time, I was ready to pick a profession for practical considerations, and not superficial ones. I heard that Ritualists were pretty powerful, with their ability to summon armies of spirits to their aid. I was not disappointed, as much of the content in the game became much easier than it had been in the past. (Although, to be fair, I'd also at this point learned how to look up killer builds for my heroes, and put together whole team setups for optimized performance - 7 Hero Player Support for the win!). I named my Ritualist Fantazma Gloria - an obvious play on the word "phantasmagoria" referring to her ability to bind spirits to her will.

Sylvia Divinora (Monk)

I chose a Monk for my last slot, largely because I wanted to try out the 55 farming build (although now I'm hearing that it's not as effective as it used to be). I'd avoided playing a Monk in the past, despite this profession having armor comparable to the Necromancer's Scar Pattern armor (in the picture above, you can see the Dragon armor, dyed green), because the idea of healing a party doesn't interest me as much as dishing out damage to enemies (also, it turns out that heroes generally do a better job of healing). But I've been playing with a smiting build, based on the Ray of Judgment elite which deals AoE damage, and it's actually been lots of fun. I named the character Sylvia Divinora, a slight modification of Salvia divinorum - not because I actually have any interest in the psychoactive plant, but because I wanted a holy-sounding name, and I really liked the sound of this one, as well as the fact that it evokes a sense of "divine salvation". I remember thinking up the name while watching the Rio Olympics last summer - I swear, I almost called her Christa Redentor! I have her wearing a halo, and am working towards earning her the coveted title God Walking Amongst Mere Mortals. It's a lot of work, but I got off to a good start by earning Legendary Defender of Ascalon for my first time ever!


I'd love to complete my collection of professions by making a Mesmer and a Dervish, except that doing so would require $20 for the two extra character slots (up to this point, I've been using only the ones that come with the game and its expansions), and, perhaps more importantly, it would mean a lot more hours to sink into this game, and I'm at a point where I need to think about taking a break. If the server stays online well into the future, though, maybe someday I will!

14 May, 2017

Mother's Day

I've been re-watching all the old alien movies in anticipation of the new one coming out next weekend, and it occurred to me that, although it's not the first thing you'd think of, these movies - especially the second one - all deal with the theme of motherhood. Okay, maybe that's a really morbid way of looking at it, but how else would you describe the climax to Aliens (one of the greatest extended movie climaxes ever put to film) than as a battle royale between two of the most baddest mothers in all the universe - each one trying to protect (or avenge) her young? Call me twisted, but I can't think of a better movie to watch for Mother's Day.

And on the subject of being twisted (ufufu), by pure coincidence (funny how these things work out sometimes), the image I happen to be using as my desktop background at the moment - a drawing inspired by and featured in the Fate/stay night spinoff series Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya (a magical girl re-envisioning) - features a mother engaging in some bath time skinship with her daughter. Here's to all the badass mothers in the world (and their pretty daughters, too)!

13 May, 2017

Returning to Guild Wars

I'd say it's been about a year now - but the time all runs together; I'd swear it's felt longer than that - since I started playing Guild Wars again in earnest. I actually stopped way back when, right in the middle of my first run through the Nightfall campaign, and shortly after I'd finally gotten around to purchasing the Eye of the North expansion, in order to switch all of my time over to working on my RPG. When I first got RPG Maker, I was so absorbed in it, I couldn't even stand to step away from my computer long enough to get a good night's rest. Would that I were still that absorbed. Do not despair, though - I am still working on my RPG, albeit at a slower pace. I actually recently purchased Minecraft for the sole purpose of using it as a 3D modeling software to help me visualize the ledges in a hill-based town I'm working on. Mapping that town has been a nightmare, but I'm really excited about how it's shaping up; I think it's going to be really fun to explore once it's all done.

But this post isn't about my RPG (I have a different blog for that), it's about Guild Wars. About a year ago, I was feeling kind of downtrodden, after having lost a little bit of my freedom and independence when I wrecked my car, and in response to a growing atmosphere of intolerance regarding my sense of radical individuality. My roommate and life partner was beginning to have some medical problems that ultimately resulted in surgery (pretty routine, thankfully - she's fine now), and a pretty dull summer, as far as vacation plans go. But we made up for that the following October with an exciting trip to Niagara Falls (my third - including the memory that perfectly epitomizes my anxiety - her first), and even before that, I scored an exciting win in a large nude volleyball tournament. So things are a little bit better now, and we're even on the verge of moving from our apartment into a house - although, as always seems to be the case, that's taking longer than originally planned. (I'm getting pretty desperate for a change of scenery).

But last year, I fired Guild Wars back up again, and dug my nose into it. It helps that it's such a fun and easy time sink. I can absorb myself into it and tune out all the stressful distractions going on around me. And I swear, it's as if I can never get bored of it. When Guild Wars 2 came out a few years back, somebody asked me if I was looking forward to playing it, and I honestly and matter-of-factly said, "I haven't finished the first one yet". Which was true. And still is. (For what it's worth, I see a lot of people returning to Guild Wars these days after playing Guild Wars 2 for a while, getting bored, and wanting to go back to the original). I haven't gotten as much play out of a game over an extended period of time since Doom! (And Guild Wars doesn't have customizable fanmade content)! Anyway, I still had the Nightfall campaign to finish, and six characters to run through Eye of the North. Plus two empty character slots yet unfilled - each one promising hours of content to defeat and unlock.

I used one of those slots to make a Ritualist, after hearing about how OP Spirit Spammers are. First time I played Factions, I opted for an Assassin, because I thought it sounded more interesting than the Ritualist; and, frankly, Assassins have the better armor in my opinion (I've always chosen my characters primarily for superficial reasons :p). But making this Ritualist character was one of the best decisions I've ever made in Guild Wars. I've always felt discriminated against in the game due to the fact that I am a solo player. I never could compete in any of the endgame material because the AI-controlled henchmen are crap. That content was ostensibly created for teams of players to work together, like in other MMORPGs. So I've always been willing to use any unfair advantages - exploiting bugs and the like - to expand the percentage of content available to me.

Lucky for me, henchmen have been more or less replaced with heroes these days, which are similar, but allow for far better user customization - they can level up, so you don't have to rely on whatever level the henchies are in any given outpost, and (better yet) you can customize their skill builds to make them pretty damn badass. Originally (I hear), you could only have up to three heroes in a team, but (perhaps in a bid to increase interest in a dying game, or at least give players a fighting chance in the absence of the kind of player base required to form teams of real players) now you can make full teams with up to seven heroes. As a result, endgame content - including elite dungeons, and pretty much everything in hard mode - is finally within my grasp (if still not exactly easy). Hell, I've even joined a guild - although that doesn't mean I'm social. I was invited by a recruiter, and I figured I'd give it a try. If nothing else, it's nice to monitor the background chatter (even if I don't usually join in) - makes the experience feel slightly less lonely, hearing other people talking about the game.

So it's been a year now, and I'm still playing (in between other things, like working on my RPG) pretty much daily. How is that possible? Well, I discovered Zaishen Missions. Every day, one of the missions in one of the campaigns (Prophecies, Factions, Nightfall, or Eye of the North) is selected (on a rotating and predictable cycle) to be the daily Zaishen Mission. And all that means is that you get bonus rewards for doing that mission on that day. But one of those rewards is Zaishen coins, and Zaishen coins can be traded for special items. The only one that really matters to me right at this moment, though, is the Heavy Equipment Pack. If you know anything about me, you'll know that I'm a packrat, so I'm always in need of more storage space. You can buy extra storage panes with rl cash, but I'm also a firm believer in games that don't require micro-transactions (the only reason I'm still playing Guild Wars is that I've only had to pay for it once - when I bought it - with no monthly subscription fees).

So one of each character's personal storage panes (separate from the panes that are shared by characters across an account) holds 5 slots, and can be upgraded (up to 20 slots) only by buying storage packs with Zaishen coins. Needless to say, I embarked on the grueling journey of taking each of my now seven characters completely through each campaign (previously, I had only taken each one through their starting campaign), including the new (to me) Eye of the North, collecting Zaishen coins as I went (the missions come up in scattered order, so it requires a good bit of juggling). Did I mention that Heavy Equipment Packs are exorbitantly expensive? Most Zaishen missions reward something in the vicinity of 50 to 150 copper coins per mission (double if you collect during double rewards week, which comes up once every nine weeks). Every 50 copper coins can be traded for a silver coin, and every ten silver coins can be traded for a gold coin. Do you know how many gold coins each HEP costs? Fifteen. Which is equivalent to 7500 coppers. Across seven characters. But hey, the game is fun!

But that's not all. Last summer, I made my latest character - finally filling up that final character slot. I decided on a Monk. I'd never played a Monk before, because the idea of healing just doesn't seem that fun to me. But I've been playing her as a Smiter, which is lots of fun. Anyway, I wanted to finally try the 55 Monk solo farming strategy. (Although now I'm hearing that the 55 has been nerfed, and nowadays you're better off with a Dervish; another popular profession these days being the Mesmer, which is the only other one I don't have... orz). I started her off in Prophecies, and decided that I would finally try to get the title Legendary Defender of Ascalon, which you can only get by growing your character to max level 20 in Pre-Searing Ascalon. Once you leave Pre-Searing, which is the beginner's area in Prophecies, you can never return. It's not made for high level characters, so earning the experience to hit level 20 is grueling work. But it's the only way to get that title.

Level 20 Pre-Searing

So I worked at it for a while, and it was fun to be back in Pre-Searing after all these years. And I finally got the title! (I screwed up getting Survivor, too - but I'm gonna get that a different way). I also decided that I was going to consolidate all the alcohol, party, and sweets points I had been gathering up, and use this character to finally go for the coveted God Walking Amongst Mere Mortals title, which you can only get by maxing a bunch of other titles. Titles you can max are things like reputation points (by doing quests and stuff in different regions), completing all the missions on all the campaigns in normal and hard mode, capping elite skills, and vanquishing areas (defeating all the enemies in an area on hard mode). Suffice to say, I've got my work cut out for me. I think sometimes that I spend way too much time playing Guild Wars - each time I work out an exit strategy, I find some other goal I want to reach. But I enjoy it. And it can't go on indefinitely. I've got other things in my life I need to get back to, like putting more time into that RPG...