Dragging My Niece to H-E-L-L and Back!

For two years now Dipper has been trying to get me to play The Secret World. I tried it and loved the concept – it’s like playing a horror film or book. Everything is true – the Boogeyman haunts an amusement park with a dark past, Cthulhu knows your helicopter out of the sky, and the world is controlled by a series of secret societies. (Not to mention the other really creepy mythology of the game, but I don’t want to spoil the fun for anyone – until another post, that is.)

I recently started playing in earnest with the release of Secret World Legends, which is a re-vamp of the game. Most of the original missions and storyline are still present, but Funcom tweaked the game. Combat is more streamlined, as is the tutorial process. Having experienced the old game to a degree, I feel able to say with confidence that the new iteration is much more fun for the new gamer. My brother, who has played it since it was in beta, is very much in love with the game. He hasn’t (to my knowledge) come across anything in the new game that he’s displeased with.

In any event, Phoebe watched Dipper play, and wanted to give it a whirl. She hopped on an alternate character that he had created and took off! She loves playing in the Maine-esque Kingsmouth town, which is populated by a haunted ship called the Lady Margaret, zombies, and other weird creatures. As Phoebe progressed through the game she wanted to start running dungeons. My main character is at the maximum level (50) and is able to take her through the first dungeon. In the first dungeon, you and your team are tasked to explore the wreck of the ship The Polaris (which is what gives the dungeon it’s name). As you fight through a series of bosses, you come to realize that the ship was besieged with horrible creatures and…..well, I won’t spoil it. Suffice to say Phoebe runs that dungeon on a daily basis and still isn’t tired of it yet.

Once she reached the level to do the first of the three H-E-L-L dungeons, she asked to be taken through. We joined up as a private team and entered. I’m a close-range fist weapon fighter (think Wolverine with cotton candy colored hair and teacher clothes) and Phoebe rocks a shotgun – hammer mix. When I say she rocks out, I really mean it. Those readers acquainted with any kind of raid or dungeon run know that sometimes when you’re taking a lower level character around, you’re stuck doing EVERYTHING. Not the case with Phoebe. She’s literally right in the middle of the fray, shooting and smashing her way to glory. (Though her motivation might come as a surprise. You can use in-game tokens to purchase digital pets for your character. As of right now, Dipper’s alt character has almost every pet you can purchase from a vendor, and Phoebe’s character on her own account is quickly gaining in the contest.)

One of the best things about playing video games with Phoebe is listening to her reaction to the content. Secret World Legends is definitely for mature players, though thankfully she skips through most of the cut scenes. In her eagerness to wipe out as many digital enemies as possible, I’m never sure how much of the story line she picks up while playing. However, she is a fast learner in terms of the raid mechanics. The first time I took her through I died while fighting Recursia. Recursia is a big-breasted dominatrix-style succubus who does not die easily. While fighting her, minions are released from a circle around her. If they get to her, she gets stronger. Well, I tasked Phoebe to keep the minions down since they don’t really fight back, they just move inexorably towards their destination. I was more worried about Phoebe than I was my own situation, and I got careless. I died – which in this game means the other players either have to kill the boss they’re battling, or die too. I was freaking out because I was sure she was toast. Much to my surprise, she jumped in with rabid vigor and destroyed Recursia with two swings of her hammer. I didn’t realize I’d died with so little of a window to go. I congratulated her, and she basically told me that she was pissed Recursia had killed me. Phoebe never fails to warm my heart.

She’s also eagle-eyed. There are little tidbits you can collect in all the zones called lore. Lore are little pieces of the mythology and story of the game and it’s inhabitants. Usually I’m pretty good at picking up lore, especially when running a dungeon with Dipper. Even so, Phoebe is extremely thorough and we were able to get two lore I didn’t have before. I have to check later, but I’m reasonably certain that I now have all the lore for the first H-E-L-L dungeon.

If you’re wondering why H-E-L-L is written letter by letter, that’s all Phoebe. For the longest time she wouldn’t say it because she thought it was swearing. Ever the teacher I tried to explain to her that it depended on the use.

Me: “Phoebe, ‘hell’ isn’t a bad word.”

Phoebe: “Yes it is. You just want to hear me say it.” (Her refusal to swear is endearing, and we are all patiently waiting for the innocence to fade and her vocabulary to become more colorful.)

Me:“Well, yes and no. It all depends on how you mean it.”

Phoebe: “Mhm….”

Me: “No, really. If you’re telling someone to go to Hell, it’s totally cursing. If you’re talking about a Hell dungeon, well, Hell is a place on the game map. It’s also a place some people believe in. In which case it’s a proper noun.”

Phoebe: “Mhm….”

There will be no taking Phoebe for a fool. I meant every word of what I told her, but she’s wise beyond her ten years and she had to take some time to think on it. We’ve progressed to the point where she’ll ask to go to the hell dungeon, but it’s more of a whisper. She’s still not totally comfortable saying it.

If you’re wanting to join in the fun, you can download Secret World Legends for free here or through the game client Steam. My previous post  about the game The Park is also a game in this series. There are some in-game purchases, and if you want you can become a monthly Patron, which allows you to teleport around the map at no cost, as well as other benefits.

If you want to find me in-game, send me a message and I’ll tell you who I am. Just don’t expect Phoebe to want to play – she’s web-smart! I’ll never forget the day a random person tried to group with her. Dipper and I were talking and we heard her yell, “Ew! NO. Why would he do that?!” Dipper and I were freaking out wondering what was going on, and when we realized that she didn’t want to group with another player we almost died laughing. The sheer indignation that someone random would actually think she’d accept their invite….it was nearly Victorian in her disdain! I would have given almost anything to have been there in person and not listening over a phone! On a serious note, thank goodness she’s smart about online interactions. While it’s true there are plenty of good people online, I don’t trust everyone’s intentions. (She may not be my niece by blood, but she is by heart and soul, and I’m very protective of her.)

Stay tuned for more news from Secret World and the H-E-L-L dungeons! I’ll be periodically posting our adventures. Especially considering Panda and I now have enough computers at our house for Phoebe to experience her first LAN party!

 

An Apprenticeship

From the very beginning, technology has played a large role in the relationship I have with Tkout. The picture of us on the left is from Astronomy Club Fall Campout 2009, a few days after we started dating officially in October. We were playing Left 4 Dead with our friend Maverick, part of whom you can see sitting on the top bunk. We put tapestries in front of the windows because we were playing during the day, and we played on the XBOX Tkout had just gotten for his birthday a few weeks prior.

What’s even funnier about all of this is that when Tkout and I met, we were at a LAN gaming party at my college. (LAN is a local area network. Basically a bunch of nerds hooked up to the same network to share files, game, and hang out in the same space. It’s super fun! Go if you have the chance!) I digress. Tkout and I had met originally at the LAN while playing a first person shooter game called F.E.A.R. In the game, you’re on one of two teams, and you’re running around killing the other players. Tkout and I hadn’t met formally until he decided to run a full round with our mutual friend Plastiqmanb with no weapons. Just kicking and punching. I was an easy target because I’m terrible at those kinds of video games, so Tkout kept finding me to raise his kill count. I finally looked up and yelled, “Who the f— keeps kicking me!?” A really handsome face with dark eyes and hair raised up over the computer and Tkout waved. Before anything else could be said, he made a few keystrokes, and my character fell dead. Again. From a terminal kick.

When we were first getting to know each other I used to play World of Warcraft on a beat-up laptop. (For those of you that aren’t familiar, World of Warcraft is an MMORPG, or massive multiplayer online role playing game). Tkout’s first grand gesture was to build me a really nice gaming computer. It’s a gesture he’s repeated several times, always making sure I have a really nice gaming rig and peripherals (mouse, keyboard, etc.). The picture to the right is my current rig, which has purple LED lighting. He knows I’m a sucker for color and light, so he bought me a mouse, keyboard, and mousepad that change colors. The colors are dictated by the software that comes with the peripherals.

I have always appreciated the computers, but I think only superficially. Until last night, I didn’t have a real appreciation for what he was doing for me. I didn’t see the computers for the gestures that they really were.

Most of the movies and TV shows we watch are on digital media on our PLEX server. That allows us to stream our content from our computers, and makes it easier to watch than trying to hunt down a physical copy. Tkout doesn’t like to leave his computer running constantly because of the wear and tear on the parts, but I don’t mind. I don’t play games as often as he does. Well, we decided to make a PLEX server together. Basically, a bare-bones computer setup that would house all of our digital media so that we could stream it. I wanted to build it with him because I have a job as a desktop technician, and it’s handy to know how to build a computer if you’re going to go about fixing one. I also am looking to get the CompTIA A+ certification, which is equivalent to a low-level college degree in computers. Fully one half of the test is geared towards the actual hardware. Building a computer and interacting with the hardware is a great way to learn what the parts are and their functions. Also how they work together.

Before he builds a computer, Tkout spends hours reading through tech articles and comparing components until he has exactly what he needs for his purpose. That’s why he bought the parts by himself. Eventually I hope to be able to pick out parts, but I don’t know enough just yet. Yesterday we sat down and he went over the parts of the motherboard. He explained about the history of the components, which doesn’t sound like much, until you know that he taught himself. From scratch. In a time when you couldn’t just go and YouTube or Google the answer. I’m in awe that he knows so much, but he takes it in stride. He’s been there for the explosion of the popularity of the home computer.

He referenced how computers used to be, in terms of where the chipset could be found, or what its function was. I knew a little because back when Microsoft ME (Millenium Edition) came out (in 2000) I had my first home computer that I could take apart and re-image and generally play with. My parents were worried I’d break it beyond repair, so my meddling stopped. But it gave me a small background from which I’m launching my current career.

Tkout is an absolute wizard. He works with such patience, attention to detail, and skill that I was literally in the presence of an artist. There’s a reason for everything he does, and every piece of equipment that he uses. He’s also patient with me, and answers all my questions without getting annoyed. That doesn’t seem like much, but I’m inquisitive to a fault, and wind up dragging him down a rabbit hole of questions.

We also got a few laughs out of building the computer. The picture to the left is part of the motherboard. If you look closely, you will see EATXPWR written in white letters. I asked him what “eat x power” was. He couldn’t stop laughing. I forgot exactly what it means, but I know it’s excellerated ATX something-something. Good thing he takes things in stride, because that’s just a taste of the questions I was asking.

Just because I can, I snagged a picture of Tkout as he was fitting the solid state drive into the computer. He’s wearing his t-shirt from MassiveLAN, which is a charity computer gaming event we attend twice a year. (If you’re interested in finding out more and attending, check out the website here.) The weird red stripes behind him are the red LED lights shining out the side of his computer.

We aren’t done building the computer, and we also have to get the hard drives ready with all of our digital media. I asked Tkout to wait for me, because I want to be involved in every step of this process. He’s very excited, because for years he’s wanted to share his passion with me. He has lived and breathed computers for over a decade. Truth be told, I am glad he’s taken me under his wing. I don’t think that any course or book could teach as in-depth and hands-on as he does.

Over the years I’ve had friends and family ask why I’m ok with him being a gamer. There are basic positives, like gamers tend to stay close to home. They also tend to introduce their friends to their wives and kids. We have several friends at MassiveLAN, which is a family event and has something to offer for almost every age. Now that I’ve had the time to sit down with him and watch him work, I appreciate Tkout’s skill for what it is. I also understand why he chose a career in computers, and I’m glad that I’ve made that move as well.

If you’re wondering why there’s a picture of Zelda snuggled under covers, it’s because even our family pets enjoy the gaming household. Zelda is comfortable snoozing on the futon in the basement with Chloe, our cat. They know we are near by for kisses and pets, and we are all home together.

I’m not sure if we are going to work on the rig tonight or this weekend, but rest assured, there will be another post detailing the progress of this journey. I can’t wait to see what mischief we get up to in the next round of the build!

 

Pirates, Zombies, and Epic Narcissism, oh my!

the ghoul archipelagoIt’s a great time to be a zombie fan! Newcomer Stephen Kozeniewski wows with his latest, The Ghoul Archipelago, recently released by Severed Press.  At it’s most simple, The Ghoul Archipelago tells of a power struggle between three men after the zombie apocalypse. One wants to convert everyone to his relgion. Another wants to be the lone military power. The third wants to extend his sphere of economic influence. Still sounds pretty simple right?

But wait! Let’s add in the wild cards, shall we? A crazy smuggler captain named “Howlin’ Mad” Martigan. And his miscreant band of sailors. A local ruler, the Rani, who has the mouth of a 13 year old boy, the wisdom of Princess Diana, and the charm and wit to quickly become one of the most interesting characters in the book (though she isn’t in it for very long). A collar called the Sex Drive, which allows the wearer to delve deep into their most forbidden fantasies all at the push of a button. Eve Smith, the only woman who can wrangle her boss’ irresponsible tendencies, and is the spine, brains, and heart of Sex-Drive Multinational. Don’t forget Tuan Jim, who is loyal to no side but always winds up in the right place at the right time. Last but not least, we have the Lazarenes – a slavering band of zombies that reside in the reverend’s church, as “living proof”of God’s promise of everlasting life.

Kozeniewski’s tale reads like a Discworld book, with all the humor and astute observations of the world we live in. The characters are real for their sheer absurdidty, and I would be willing to be that the reader can identify with most of them, having spent time with their real-life counterparts. I know I can. (And if any of you happen to have ever been to a LAN party, you’ll most likely find the Captain and his crew seated behind the computers around you!) Don’t get too attached though, Kozeniewski also shares George RR Martin’s ability to introduce and kill characters on a whim. No character is safe, and the person you think is the main character, I guarantee it’s not. As far as I could tell, there was no main character, and it made the story infinitely more interesting because Kozeniewski could spend time developing all the characters equally. My favorite kind of book is one in which all characters are so realistic, that I feel any one of them could be based on a real person. I love guessing who the main character is, who is on the author’s kill list, and who isn’t going to survive another paragraph. Kozeniewski definitely doesn’t disappoint!

The Ghoul Archipelago is a really interesting book. Before I knew what hit me, I was already at the end and wondering when a sequel would be coming out. That’s not to say that the book was incomplete, because it wasn’t. It’s just that I can’t wait to see what will happen to the survivors next, and what kind of world they’ll chose to build for themselves in the future.