World of Warcraft – I like it, even if I don’t feel special anymore

I’m playing World of Warcraft, a game twelve million people play, except for everyone I know who plays online multiplayer games.   The people I know have either never played World of Warcraft or they moved on to other games.  A few people came back for the new expansion, Cataclysm, but then they moved on too.

So, it’s me and twelve million people I don’t know.  I play on an established roleplay server, and all my characters are at a low level, so my world is not crowded.  I don’t run into a lot of people.  The people I come across are either doing their own thing or they are nice to me.  I may not feel special by playing such a popular game, but this is a good world.  I enjoy playing a game that’s beyond trendy, part of popular culture.  It’s refreshing.

I’m now playing classes (professions) that come with “pets”, but they aren’t really pets – they are magical animal companions.  My hunters get an animal that adventures with me.  My warlocks (a sort of magician) get a demon that helps me defeat my enemies.   If I ever decide to group with people I’m going to keep playing a priest, a healer, since they tend to be in demand for groups.  I do like being sociable, sometimes, in a game, but formal grouping is different – it’s structured, and there can be pressure.  I regard these games as a meditative experience, so grouping may not be for me.

Once you get the hang of it, WoW is designed to keep you playing.  There’s always just one more thing you want to do before you log off. I get my quests from the quest givers, wander around the world, deliver packages or secret letters, buy supplies for a party, and kill monsters, angry wildlife, or enemies.   I get rewards in terms of money, advancement in the game, and stuff.  There’s always a reason given for me doing the things the quest givers ask me to do.  Sometimes I’m interested, and sometimes I don’t care.  It’s enough that the quest gives me a reason to be out in the world.

It’s the world that’s compelling – worlds of winter, magical woods, medieval looking towns, crazy mad hatter towns, tropical islands — and I’ve only seen a little of the world!  I travel long distances by paying for a ride on a fantastic flying animal.  At higher levels in the game I’ll be able to get my own mount.

You can have up to ten characters on one server, which means you can try different races and classes (professions).  Each race starts out in a different area in the world, which gives you a reason to play different races.

World of Warcraft has two factions, the Horde and the Alliance, two loosely coupled groups of races that are fighting for domination in the world.   This affects the overall story, and it can affect you if you engage in player versus player combat, which I don’t do.  If you are playing an Alliance race, and you meet someone from one of the Horde races, you can’t text chat with them because you supposedly don’t understand their language.    I realize that this is the way the game world is set up, but I think it’s silly.   People from different groups come together all the time. Why should I have to see another group as my enemy?  I’m not a purist. If I am playing a character, and I’m given a quest to kill some NPC (non player characters) from the other faction (there’s always a reason) of course I do it, so I can keep going in the game.  But for my personal story, this whole war thing is ridiculous.  Why can’t there be peace.

I was playing Alliance characters exclusively.  Originally the Alliance was thought of as “good”, but it’s more complicated than that.  I play Alliance characters because they tend to be the more attractive characters – I have Night Elf, Human, Draenei (alien humanoid looking creatures, with hooves), and Dwarf.   But then I started playing two Horde characters, Goblin and Blood Elf.

Goblins are the nutty trade obsessed technologists in the game.   They are wacky characters.   The story of my goblin character is funny, clever and enjoyable.   I was all set to become a “trade princess” (who wouldn’t want to be that?) but things didn’t work out.  Somehow, after I was told to blow up a building for the insurance money, I ended up on an island with a bunch of other not too happy goblins.  No one is very happy, but we are making do.

I’m also playing a blood elf, because the world of the blood elf is simply beautiful.  I play a blood elf even though I look like elf Barbie with a dark side.  There’s something about the blood elves that remind me of Malificent in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty; there’s some menace with all that beauty. The Blood Elves got into trouble by focusing on dark magic, but I don’t care.  In their beautiful world – there are brooms that sweep all by themselves!  Along with all that beauty, who wouldn’t want a world where the inanimate objects did housework!

Another great thing about World of Warcraft – there is all kinds of stuff about the game.  There is something called The Armory, a “searchable database of information for World of Warcraft – taken straight from the real servers and presented in a user-friendly interface”, from wowarmory.org.    I can look up my characters in the Armory, outside of the game.  Even better, there is an Android application, Droid Armory, which accesses the World of Warcraft Armory database.  I can look up my characters on my Motorola Droid smartphone and view my characters in 3D.  I can save a picture of my characters from my phone.  The app and the pictures aren’t perfect, as you will see, but it’s still wonderful.  I can have my characters with me, wherever I go!

Pictures of my characters taken via the Droid Amory app on my Motorola Droid smartphone, using data in the World of Warcraft Armory.

World of Warcraft Night Elf Priest. March 2011

World of Warcraft Human Warlock. March 2011

World of Warcraft Dwarf Hunter. March 2011

World of Warcraft Blood Elf Hunter. Looks like elf Barbie with a touch of Malificent from Disney's Sleeping Beauty. I love this character. March 2011.

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Playing games on my Android phone

I used to be the sort of person who played games on my PC – big games, games in beautiful or mysterious settings.  I’ve played MMO games – massively multiplayer online games.  I’m a fan of Guild Wars, I’m waiting for Guild Wars 2, and I have a lifetime subscription to Lord of the Rings Online.   I have accounts with Second Life and Free Realms.  Note to self – I am going to get an Xbox 360, and a Nintendo WII.

In February 2010 I got my Motorola Droid smartphone, Android operating system. The screen is small, but it’s beautiful.  When I hold it close it fills much of my field of vision.  And it’s so darn convenient, and it’s right there, and the games are, mostly, designed to be played in little blocks of time – though you might end up playing them for a long time!  Something about a game being really accessible makes you want to play.

I’ve tried many games.  Here are my favorites.  The screenshots of my Motorola Droid are taken with my digital camera, as there currently is no easy to use a screenshot app for an Android phone.

Simple physics games.

Physics games are games where objects have physical properties and behave like they would in the “real world”.  The games usually involve dealing with gravity and manipulating an object that has mass.

What could be simpler than a game where you throw a balled up piece of paper in the trash?   If you get it right, the thing goes into the trash can with a rewarding clunk.  The challenge is throwing the ball in the trash basket when a fan is blowing at varying speeds.  The game is Paper Toss by Back Flip Studios, http://www.backflipstudios.com.

One of the settings of Paper Toss perfectly exemplifies the noisy ennui of waiting for your plane at the airport, the ambient noise, the announcements over the intercom, and the sounds of the annoyed passengers you hit when the ball goes off the screen.

Paper Toss, at the airport, October 2010

Toss It is a similar game, Boolba Labs, http://www.boolbalabs.com. This game has beautiful levels, including a funny one where you toss your iPhone into a trash basket!

Toss It, ready to toss the paper ball, October 2010

Toss It, iPhone setting, October 2010

Tile Puzzles

Kittens Puzzle, Playgamesite, http://www.playgamesite.com/ .  An adorable jigsaw puzzle game where you switch tiles around to make a picture of a kitten.  You can save the pictures to your SD card.  There are many levels.   The game is relaxing, and the kittens are adorable.

Kittens Puzzle, a puzzle, October 2010

Kittens Puzzle, a puzzle solved, October 2010

Games that tell a story

Kongregate has a site where you can play free Flash games – http://www.kongregate.com.  Some games are optimized for mobile devices.  The Butterfly Fantasy series, developed by Garbuz Games (http://www.garbuzgames.com) is a “click the differences” game.  You are presented with two nearly identical screens and you click on what is different on each screen.  After you find the differences, the next screen is presented.  Each successive screen unfolds the story.

The story progresses via pictures, no dialogue but a soundtrack.  It looks like a graphic novel. This is very moving story, nicely done, with fantasy elements and a beautiful look.  I loved this series.  Parts 1 and 2 of the trilogy are available for mobile devices and PC and Mac. Part 3 is not available for mobile devices, only PC or Mac.

The tag line for the first game is “What can happen when the last hope disappears and it seems there is no way out.”  What could be more evocative?

Butterfly Fantasy, it begins, October 2010

Butterfly Fantasy, wonderful scene, October 2010

Butterfly Fantasy 2, scary stalkers, October 2010

Angry Bird, Rovio, http://www.rovio.com/

The back-story is that some mean pigs stole eggs from birds.  The birds are very, very angry and they seek revenge.

You use your finger to launch the birds against the pigs’ strongholds.  This is a physics game – you have to figure out how to control the birds’ trajectory.

It’s hard to explain how addicting this game is.  The cartoon graphics are engaging.  The angry birds are very funny in looks and sounds.  The pigs are funnily “piggy”.   There are many levels.  Some levels are easier than others, but with practice you always get it.   This is one of the great games of all times.

Angry Birds. Those birds sure are angry! October 2010

Angry Birds. A pig in a piggie fort! October 2010

Pocket Legends, a big game on a little phone

Spacetime Studios, http://www.spacetimestudios.com/

Pocket Legends is an MMORPG, a massively multiplayer RPG, role playing game, very similar to games played on the PC.  You take on the role of a bear warrior, a cat enchantress, or a bird archer.  You join with other people to battle monsters and acquire money or objects that you can use, such as weapons or clothing.

There are towns where you can meet with other players and receive your quests.  There areas where you and around four other players go on quests.

Pocket Legends will automatically group you with people. You can also start a quest and have people join you (they always do), or pick a group and join them.  Quests are short.  You can get something done in about fifteen minutes.

It’s possible to chat with other people in the game, but it’s awkward.  You don’t have a keyboard and you have to move your player on the screen and shoot weapons or cast spells or heal other players (auto attack works well).   I really like this game.

Pocket Legends. Intro screen. November 2010

Pocket Legends. My character. November 2010

Pocket Legends. In town. November 2010

Pocket Legends. I get a reward. November 2010

Pocket Legends - my group defeated an enemy. November 2010

I’ll keep you updated on new games I enjoy, as I find them.

Watching a TV series that tells a story, my Droid phone, the TV series Lost

When I watch a television series that has an overarching story, I like to watch a season all at once, one episode after the other.  I’m less distracted and able to focus.  I watch the episodes more carefully if I watch more than one episode at a time.  Some things are annoying — I don’t need the constant repetition of what happened in previous episodes.  I can’t do this for a show like Rubicon, which is wonderful, but very very slow.  I didn’t do this for The 4400 – I loved the show too much, weak middle seasons and all.  I watched each episode of The 4400 as soon as it came out.  I did this for Heroes (still one season to go) and Stargate Universe.

One of the risks is that you end up missing some seasons.  This happened to me with Battlestar Galactica (the new series, 2003 – 2007) possibly the greatest science fiction series of all time.  I was doing fine, watching a season at a time, but I was way behind.  Then I holed up at a hotel in Rolla, Missouri, for a day.  I was driving from California to Pennsylvania and I needed a break.  I needed to both relax and focus on something.  The last season of Battlestar Galactica was on TV (one episode after the other) so I got my takeout food from Panera (thank goodness for good chain restaurants, predictable and tasty) and I watched the last part of the last season in my motel room.  So now I know how it ends.  I still have to watch the seasons I missed.

One of the best ways to watch the episodes is, oddly enough, on my smartphone, my Motorola Droid.  Even big beautiful shows work out well.  The picture on the Droid is beautiful, and the sound is great with headphones.  I hold the screen close to my eyes (I’m nearsighted) so that my field of vision is filled with the show.  It’s convenient, immediate, and I can watch the episodes anywhere.

This brings me to the TV series Lost.  When Lost first came out I watched the first season and part of the second, and then, for some reason, I stopped.  But Lost is a cultural phenomenon, it’s compelling, and it’s great TV.  When I watched Lost, I liked the mix of character driven individual stories with an overarching story full of mystery and science fiction elements.  I felt that I missed out by not watching Lost.  So, when all the seasons were available, I watched all six seasons of Lost on my smartphone.  Doing this filled up all my free time.  There were nights I didn’t get much sleep, but I’m done.  I would have never gotten “done” if I had not watched the show on my beloved Motorola Droid.

Most shows that tell a story end in a way that I think of as very modern, the way we do fiction now.   The story comes to something of a conclusion, but it also continues.  Not everything is wrapped up neatly.  The characters and the world continue.  You have some insight into the world and the characters, but you get the feeling that everything and everyone will continue without you.  I like that.

Neither Lost nor Battlestar Galactica ended like that.  Both had definite, “we can’t go back, we are done” endings. The ending to Battlestar Galactica seemed right to me, “deus ex machina” notwithstanding, something I don’t usually like.  I didn’t feel that way about Lost.

I hated the ending to Lost.  The ending felt fake, and it felt forced, a way for us to feel happy for the characters.  I felt manipulated.  I realize that all fiction manipulates your emotions – that’s a writer’s job, but this manipulation felt too obvious to me.    I also didn’t like the good versus not good (didn’t exactly seem evil) mythology of the island – I thought it was boring.

I think ending the series with season four would have been great, though it would have needed some rewriting.  Not everyone would have ended up perfectly happy, which made it seem more real to me, science fiction elements and all.  I would have been left wondering what happened, which would have been fine with me.  Another way to end would have been to keep the series ending, ending with Jack closing his eyes, but don’t include those extraneous meeting scenes, show Jack’s final minutes on the island and that’s it.  I’d make the ending music pensive, less uplifting.  The ending wouldn’t have been shiny happy perfect, but the ending would have still come full circle, referencing the first scene of the series.  It looks like the writers tried to do that, but then they just couldn’t follow through, which was our loss.  I don’t feel it’s a show’s job to reassure me that everything is wonderful after we die.  Don’t go there.

I’m not as bitter as the following writer, and I liked the ending to Battlestar Galactica, but this article makes some excellent points.

http://www.tvsquad.com/2010/05/26/tv-101-why-lost-decided-to-end-on-a-note-of-gobbledygook/

I’ll end with a few pictures

View from the parking lot of the motel where I watched the last season of Battlestar Galactica, July 2009

Watching Lost on my Motorola Droid smartphone. October 2010

Droid Love, it’s like Palm love all over again

In February 2010 I bought a Motorola Droid smartphone.  I’m way into Droid love, which is like tech love, but more specific.  The Motorola Droid is a wonderful thing.

Even more wonderful, all this Droid love takes me back to the old days of the Palm PDA (personal device assistant!).  I loved my Palm devices.  I had a number of them, starting with a Palm Pilot and ending with a Palm TX.  I remember the websites, the print reviews, and the endless talk about what to get for your Palm.  These devices are all about apps, about what you put on them.  Most of the apps I put on my Palms were either inexpensive or free, just like the Droid.

I was a member of a Palm user group.  We had monthly meetings at Palm company headquarters.  2001 to 2005 were especially good years.  There were refreshments — pizza, cookies, chips, soft drinks and water. There were demos of new apps using a projector, with magnification and special lighting.  New devices got passed around.  We exchanged tips on how to do things.  My Palm user group was in Silicon Valley (northern California) but there were Palm user groups all over the world.

I went to three Palm development conferences, which were extra fun because I had no business or work relationship with Palm.  I took notes, using the Palm I had at the time.  Memories.

PalmSource Expo 2002.  The general public could attend.  Here’s the press release I copied to my calendar: “The PalmSource Expo, which will open its doors to the general public on Wednesday and Thursday, showcases the hottest new Palm Powered™ devices, software, peripherals and accessories – all in one place. More than 100 exhibitors present everything from handhelds, smartphones, and other mobile devices, to some of the most innovative travel, personal information management, education, entertainment, health, lifestyle, hobby and game software available for any platform”.

Wow – takes me back.

PalmSource Developer Conference 2004.  I went for one day because I got an affordable one day pass on eBay.   I still have the notes from the conference, note I took on my Palm.  Reading my notes – interesting – there’s starting to be a focus on “wireless” – that too takes me back!  In the old days, you got data on your Palm by connecting it to a PC.  Wireless was a new thing.

PalmSource Mobile Summit & DevCon 2005.  I went for free because I spent part of the time doing volunteer work, counting the number of people in a conference room.   We got a mini flash drive for attending.  We got PDF files of the talks, and MP3 files of the Computer Outlook Radio talk show, the shows that were done at PalmSource.   There are 17 sessions of about 20 minutes each, all talk.  Maybe we had longer attention spans in 2005.  I’m listening to one now, the interview with Howard Tomlinson from Astraware. The speakers are clear, but I can hear the conference going on in the background.   Howard is talking about Bejeweled for the Palm.  I still play that game

It was a Palm thing, now it’s a Droid thing. The Droid makes me feel the same way, though I don’t belong to a user group where we meet every month, and I’ve never been to an Android conference.  For a look at Droid love, look at the droid forums on http://www.droidforums.net.  People talk about the Motorola Droid and about other Android OS phones, with the save loving and obsessive zeal that I’ve seen with the Palm.  And the OS is open source and you don’t have to go to one place for apps, though the Android market is quite nice.

Here’s a picture, not of my Droid, but of my Droid case, taken with the Droid.  This was supposed to be a temporary case.  I didn’t even save the name of the company that made it.  I like it so much now I’m going to keep using it.  It’s colorful, it protects my Droid and it’s made with recycled products, whatever they are.  I brought the plants and the pots they are in from California.

Droid Case with my California Plants, March 2010, Pennsylvania

I love my Droid.