Mad cycling friends!

I have fantastic taste in friends and mine are all awesome — but sometimes they do very mad things.

Example: Go check out The Race Against Time where a friend of mine is blogging about his plans to cycle from Lands’ End to John O’Groats in 6 days (ie. one end of the UK to the other — according to Wikipedia a typical time to cycle it is 10-14 days) to raise money for charity. It’s also a very worthy charity, The Bishop Simeon Trust, which works to relieve poverty in South Africa.

And the other reason to check it out is that he’s a great writer and a fantastic cyclist and it’s probably going to be very interesting as a first person account of a very challenging ride.

Brief encounters: Free Realms, Metaplace, Galactrix

a href=My journey in Free Realms continues to be one of discovery. This week I finally figured out how to take screenshots whilst simultaneously failing to take any good ones. Funny how that goes.

To take a screenshot: F12

To remove the UI (so you can get a clean screenshot): F10

If using Windows XP, screenshots will be stored in C:\Program Files\Sony Online Entertainment\Installed Games\Free Realms\ImageCaptureOutput

(NB. If the program actually asked you before it installed where you’d like it to go, this might have been more obvious — this is one of the minor side effects from it being such a seamless install.)

I’m approaching FR from an exploring point of view, so if I find myself getting bored or distracted from one activity, I just go and do something else. So it’s quite interesting for me to check what levels I have in different careers because it shows which minigames I most enjoyed:

Higher than 15: Card Duellist, Miner, Blacksmith

Higher than 5: Wizard, Ninja, Pet Trainer, Adventurer

Higher than 1: Brawler, Archer, Warrior, Chef, Postman

So this week I did try out a few of the combat careers, but was put off by the grind. I think this would be much more fun with someone else to play with. But given FR’s total lack of a working friends list, continuing awkwardness of befriending people you actually know, and my lack of being able to persuade my other half/ sisters to play, that will going to have to go on the back burner (for me at least).

I have liked the little mini combat encounters and dungeons that I have seen. But the 2* difficulty ones that you get after level 5 are harsh to solo on my little wizard, who doesn’t get any crowd control until level 10.

Miner and Blacksmith are both more solo friendly. I’m impressed that Tobold has hit level 20 in both, I was finding Blacksmith fun in small spurts but rather grindy overall. It doesn’t help that I still don’t much care for smelting. However, fun in small spurts is what this game is all about for me. I don’t need long sessions and I think it works best if you approach it like a bag of licorice allsorts (ie. just grab a handful of different flavours and see what you get).

I also tried out the Pet Trainer this week, although have still resisted the urge to buy a Pookie of my own (next week I’ll try to get a picture of her side by side with my cat to show the similarity). If you don’t own a pet — which costs real money — you can ‘borrow’ one for 20 mins at a time to train with. I was able to get to level 7 in the first 20 minute session;  the pet animations and sounds are absolutely enchanting, even to a tomboy like me.

I particularly love the way that the pet really gives the impression of slowly learning its new trick. And the trainer (ie. you) is so obviously trying to encourage it.

I’ve decided to limit myself to a similar monthly spend to a regular MMO with Free Realms to see how it goes. I may well buy the pet next month. I noticed that some cost more than others and note in the flavour text that they help you with treasure hunting. I’m guessing that this means they’ll help you sniff out collections when you are out in the world with them, but have not been able to test this yet.

In the spirit of getting more value from my paid month, I also exercised my option to make an alt. Two things I noticed here:

  1. With the alt, I was given the option to skip the tutorial. Hurrah.
  2. Male characters get the option to have cool tribal type face markings and female ones get make-up or sparkly hearts/flowers/butterflies? I’m not making any specially feminist snark here but I know that as a kid I wasn’t into girly stuff and I don’t see the point in limiting options. Plus who is to say that some boys might not want the face sparklies?

In any case, congratulations are due to the Free Realms team for having achieved a million signups in a very short period of time. They’ve made a great little game and thoroughly deserve it. (They also celebrated this with a new loading screen which no longer shows the character with the guitar ;) ). Now, about that friends list …

Metaplace is now in open beta

If you like building stuff, check out Metaplace. I haven’t had a lot of time yet to experiment but the little starting tutorial will give you a flavour for the power behind the tools. As is often the case with tutorials, there seems to be a huge gap between where the tutorial stops and what  you really want to know to do the things you want to do. But I’ll be amazed if a prolific fan community doesn’t spring up to fill in the gaps.

So… Galactrix

I’ve had a couple of train journeys worth of Puzzlequest Galactrix which is not enough for a proper review (even by my lax standards). But I am really liking the ideas behind it, and it does have the freedom of movement I want to see in a Space-type game — that sense of ‘I can fly anywhere in the galaxy!!’.

But crikey it does spend a lot of time saving and loading data. Does the DS have no RAM or is the DS port just  too ambitious/  unoptimised for that platform’s requirements? (One of my jobs in my last place of work was porting code/ drivers from specialist hardware to PCs or vice versa but you don’t need to be an expert to see when the job is … a bit lacking.)

Still, I’m having fun and that’s all I really ask from a game. First impressions from Galactrix — money well spent!

What makes a good games shop?

First up, thanks all for the discussion yesterday. It’s been interesting and I know I’m thinking about my assumptions.

Second, thanks muchly to Ixobelle for cleaning up the header here.

Back to the topic, I had a really unusual experience yesterday in a games shop. Ever since I was a teenager buying comics and RPGs, I’ve felt like an outsider in games and comic shops. The token female. Even when I knew lots of other women were into this stuff, somehow they never seemed to be in the shops. Games shops themselves have always been a small corner of male-dominated geekery.

Truth is, since I started playing MMOs I don’t buy other games all that often – I have to be very sure that I’ll want to play it enough to find the time. Or else it has to be cheap in the sales, or else maybe an old, classic game that I’ve wanted to play for ages but never got around to. Or a DS game.

The DS is actually the only current gen console that we own, because it’s just perfect for train journeys, of which I make several a week.

So on this occasion I was in GAME because I wanted to pick up a couple of copies of Puzzlequest Galactrix. Puzzlequest (ie. the prequel) never sold well in the UK, but surely part of this is because it was hard to find  on the shelves in shops? I don’t know how many people buy from brick and mortar shops rather than online,  but guessing still a majority.

I don’t know what went wrong with the promotion. A good puzzle based DS game with a fantasy theme really shouldn’t be a hard sell. It’s not like GTA: Chinatown which failed to sell because the people who own DSs don’t want to play GTA.

So I was happy because not only did I find a copy, but it was also in the sale (presumably because it didn’t sell as well as expected – perhaps the total lack of promotion was a factor there too?). So I went to the counter to ask if they had another copy and the guy behind the desk asked if I was buying it for myself. I said I was, and he brightened; we had a quick chat about how great Puzzlequest was and how disappointing that it hadn’t been more popular.

Do you know how unusual it is for an employee of a games shop to treat female customers over 30ish as if they were actual gamers and not just buying for a child or partner? VERY.

Funny thing is, I had to go to the other branch of GAME in town to pick up the second copy  since I’m not buying a copy of Galactrix for myself without getting one for my husband, that would be a cause of minor household friction, and the guy behind the counter there was pretty much the same. So either

  • they’ve all had solid diversity training
  • all GAME employees like Puzzlequest (to be fair, it’s a good game)
  • or if a woman over thirty comes into the shop and buys a puzzle-based DS game, odds are it’s for herself. (ie. games shop employees have a good knowledge of gamer demographics and this was a shoe-in).

Whatever it was, I like it.

Now of course, we can buy over the internet, where no one knows you’re a dog. So we can avoid those pokey little holes stacked high with shelves of games for consoles you don’t own, where people act like you don’t belong. But if they can make me feel more as though I’m part of a community of hobbyists, I’ll be more likely to spend time there and if I spend more time there, I’ll spend more money there too.

Busy on Saturday? In London?

If you’re in London on Saturday afternoon (9th May), feel free to drop into the Cittie of Yorke for  a drink.

I’m going to be hanging out with Arbitrary, friends from Warhammer Online, and BoG readers. The aim is to chill, chat (probably about gaming but who knows?), drink, and maybe play a few games.

She’s summed the plans up much better than I could. Anyone who wants to come is invited! And as a bonus, it’s one of the prettiest pubs in London.

After 5 pints of beer, everyone looks like their character

This weekend found me nervously sitting on a train running through the glorious Oxfordshire countryside on the way to our alliance/ guild meet in Bath. The weather was fantastic.  Lambs bounced around in fields, pale blossoms studded the darker trees, the grass was that particular vibrant shade of green that  you only get in countries that have a lot of rainfall, and the train was full of people travelling to visit friends for the long holiday weekend. It probably would have smelled nice too if it hasn’t been for the diesel fumes.

England can actually be very pretty if you catch it on that one sunny day in late Spring. But that still doesn’t excuse Wordsworth (I still have issues from having to study him at school). Bath is also  beautiful, all built from the same sandy-coloured limestone and elegant Georgian architecture. On this occasion, we were there for the company and for the beer. Both of which were consumed in abundance.

There is no word for the feeling you get just as you walk into a room in which there will be several people you know very well even though you have never met in person. Maybe in the past it might have been like this for people who had spent years as penpals, pouring out their hearts to each other on paper. In the internet era, it happens more and more often.

There’s a brief pause as you look over at the guys in the corner (do they look geeky enough? do you look geeky enough?), then suddenly everyone is talking at once and you sit down — among friends.

Maybe it crosses your mind briefly as to whether people look the way you were expecting. Some will, some won’t. But miraculously, about 30s after everyone starts talking, it completely ceases to matter. I’d love to say more about what we actually talked about, of course much of it was about the game, about our alliance raids, about our character, and then it drifted and we were talking about ourselves,the news, the beer, and I just remember looking up to see that suddenly it was eight hours later and we were discussing what to do for supper.

More things I learned from the guild meet:

  1. People often will gossip about the guys who aren’t there. But if you aren’t there you will never know if you were the one they were talking about, so it probably doesn’t matter.
  2. It is very difficult to resist the temptation to poke the raid leaders for raid leader gossip.
  3. People are much more relaxed when they have been drinking.
  4. You will never be angry at someone online again after you have hugged goodnight drunkenly at a guild meet. Well, not until the next time anyway.
  5. You will feel closer to the people you have met iRL.
  6. If you get a chance to go to a guild meet, do it!

A little bit of housekeeping

I’ve rearranged the furniture here slightly, swept away the spiders, and found 50p down the back of the couch (WIN!).

Main changes are that because they’re relatively popular, I’ve put the links to my warrior fury and protection guides onto their own page so that visitors can find them more easily, and also set up a page for links to my reviews of new MMOs.

Also, I’ve set up a feedburner news feed for the blog RSS with a new link/ icon in the right hand margin — this won’t affect the current RSS at all. If you do want to switch (or subscribe), the new feed will update new posts much more quickly and will also make things more portable so that if I do ever decide to self-host, you won’t have to change anything to keep up.

I’m happy to take suggestions for anything else I could do to make my witterings easier to follow. And thanks to everyone for all the support and comments. I feel like  such a noob at this ;)

Look at these … blogs!

Honest Scrap Award

Honest Scrap Award

I feel awkward, and proud, and very humbled that Larisa@The Pink Pigtail Inn has nominated me for a blog award. And I’d like to thank my cat, the colour yellow, the plastic armoured landshark on my desk, and all three of my readers. I love you all!!

This is a meme, and a made up award, but the reason it’s meaningful to me is because it came from a blogger whose work I love and who continues to be a huge inspiration to me here.

And I couldn’t be happier to have a good excuse to write about some of my favourite blogs.  The meme part is totally optional, by the way, if it’s not your style.

Here’s the Rules

  1. When accepting this auspicious award, you must write a post bragging about it, including the name of the misguided soul who thinks you deserve such acclaim, and link back to the said person so everyone knows she/he is real.
  2. Choose a minimum of seven (7) blogs that you find brilliant in content or design. Or improvise by including bloggers who have no idea who you are because you don’t have seven friends. Show the seven random victims’ names and links and leave a harassing comment informing them that they were prized with Honest Weblog. Well, there’s no prize, but they can keep the nifty icon.
  3. List at least ten (10) honest things about yourself. Then pass it on!

My Picks

I have a loads of blogs on my reader. Although some of the news blogs are great, and I love that you can pick up the RSS feeds on your favourite commercial sites, my favourites by far are the personal blogs.

So for me, what makes a cool blog is the personal touch. I like to be able to feel the personality of the writer come through, and that means people who write with passion about subjects they care about.

I can’t pick Larisa again (although the rules don’t actually say that, leaving open the possibility of an endlessly closed loop. Not the world’s greatest rules algorithm, but I geekgress ;) ), but what reaches out to me from her writing is how darned good she is at expressing her feelings for the games and people she writes about. As someone who always feels a bit awkward writing about myself, I really admire that. She’s a warm, kind, funny, thoughtful writer and person, and I got all that just from reading her blog.

Anyway, enough of that, here’s some picks:

Waaagh! — Anyone who follows the Warhammer blogs will know Syp’s megablog. I’ve always admired him for the strength and consistency of his writing, and for being so good at putting across the genuine enthusiasm he has for the games that he plays. He’s also been fantastically supportive to the Warhammer community, check out his Thursday links posts in particular. He also runs a blog about other MMOs called Biobreak; I hope Champions Online is everything you’re hoping for!

Player vs Developer – Green Armadillo shares my fascination with why people behave the way they do in online games. He focusses on how people respond to rewards and incentives, and even though I don’t share his love of pets and achievements, it makes for some great writing.

Tanking for Dummies – WoW has about a gazillion blogs all focussed on specific classes and specs. I do read a lot of warrior blogs (since Spinks is my main at the moment, and it’s fun to keep up with what other warrior players think). Some are hardcore, some are enthusiastic, some are informative, some are just nuts and I’m picking TfD because Tarsus is all of those things and he makes me laugh.

The Greedy Goblin – What really makes Gevlon’s writing stand out from the crowd is his philosophy of life, gaming, and economics. The blog reminds me of Freakonomics; and as well as discussing making gold in WoW, he also talks about player behaviour from an economic point of view. It makes me think, and I like that in a writer. He’s also very honest in his analyses of when he tried something and it didn’t work.

Killed in a Smiling Accident – Every so often you come across a blog that has a really strong writing tone, even though the writing is shared between a few different people. The KIASA chaps are so English that it hurts, and we love them for it. They also mix it up with some very insightful writing about the various games that they play, and they make me laugh. So there!

Wizards and Wenches - Another WAR blog. Regis wins my blog design award. I know he spends a lot of time tweaking it and it looks fantastic. He’s also a really strong and entertaining writer, which is the other reason you should read it. But it’s also the best looking blog I know.

Nerf the Cat – Arbitrary is another writer who is very good at expressing her feelings, even when she’s feeling down or frustrated. But whatever you do, don’t nerf the cat.

Ten Facts about Me

  1. I ate roast sparrow (on a stick) when I was in Japan.
  2. I have a PhD in digital signal processing.
  3. My character’s full name is Mrs Spinks. What happened to Mr Spinks? He ran off to join the Defias Bandits, no one who knows Mrs Spinks is surprised.
  4. My cat is a tortie who is coming up on her 17th birthday and came to us from a shelter. If you’re considering a rescue cat, do think about getting an older one. They’re just as sweet and much less work.
  5. Earl Grey. Milk. No sugar.
  6. The last TV show I watched was the first episode of The Apprentice.
  7. I almost always watch TV via the PVR, so I record programmes I like  and watch them later when it’s more convenient. ie. does not conflict with gaming :)
  8. I once played Aouda Fogg (the Indian woman who married Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days) in a live RP and had to learn how to put on a sari.
  9. I am a voluntary advisor at the local CAB.
  10. It was my birthday last Wednesday. Hurrah!

The sixth sheik’s sixth screenshot…

So I’ve been tagged by Tarsus to post my sixth screenshot. And this one is a real blast from the past (I hadn’t even figured out how to hide the UI).

Aside from the fact that the UI and raid frames fill up most of the screen, you’ll see that there are 40 people in that raid. And a dead dragon’s head in the background.

This is a screenshot of the first time my old (first) raid guild killed Onyxia, and it was taken in 2006. I was playing a human priest at the time – I don’t remember what the staff was (I did later upgrade it to Benediction, like everyone else) but the robe was Tier 0 and I was very proud of it. It dropped from the last boss of Upper Blackrock Spire.

The screenshot itself is very nostalgic for me.

I remember all the names from the raid frames. The guild was called New Dawn and had only just formed on Moonglade EU. I also know that some months or even years later, after all the inevitable raid drama, many of them ended up either in different raid guilds or different servers or just leaving the game. For those who stayed, we did end up dipping our toes into Naxx before TBC, and then split up a few months after the first expansion came out. But when this screenshot was taken, the guild was very new and we were all very excited just to be there.

Sic transit gloria mundi

And I will tag some more bloggers with this meme too! If I tag you, post the 6th screenshot in the screenshot folder of your game of choice:

Arbitrary at Nerf the Cat

Esri at Gaming Granny

Syp @ Waaagh!

Ysharros at Stylish Corpse

Pixelated Executioner

And Copra at BullCopra

Hello World!

I’m Spinks and this is my blog. <insert random facts about me> I like pigeons, RPGs, the colour yellow, MMOs, waffling about game design, apricots, Muse, boardgames, and advising people to do what they were probably going to do anyway. I’m English and female and used to design mobile phones (DSP engineer). And I play games! Also I picked this wordpress theme because I liked its name rather than because I’m in love with the layout (but it seems harmlessly neutral).

I’m going to be waffling about MMOs and game design here. But not as regularly as I used to do on the Book of Grudges with my sister and Hawley.

I may also post amusing links on any topic and talk about other things, I’ll see how I feel.