Nostromo n52 Gamepad and WoW

Note: I wrote a more recent article on the Belkin n52te, an updated version of the n52, if anyone is interested in reading a comparison.

It took a about week for me to find the “perfect” WoW button configuration and a week or two more to get really comfortable using the n52 in multiple situations and on multiple characters. Once you pass the adjustment time frame, it really is a great gaming accessory to have, seeing that you can map pretty much every single ability and macro onto your left hand. 

The n52 has 3 rows of buttons (2 rows of 5, 1 row of 4 on the bottom), a D-pad where your thumb sits, a red button above it, a large button below it, and a clickable scroll wheel between the keypad buttons and the D-pad. It also has 3 different shift states (red, blue, green) which can be bound to any button. You can set each shift state to “momentary” (only active while holding the button) or toggle (active until you press the button again). If you aren’t sure what a shift state is or need more information, read the literature on Belkin’s website.

Anyways, I don’t know how useful this post is to anyone, but when I was Googling for information on WoW n52 setups, there wasn’t a whole lot of useful information available. I tried to make my setup as generic as possible to avoid having to tweak settings in the Nostromo software. So swapping ability positions means just swapping where I keep spells on my action bars in game.

Button Configuration
There are basically two ways in which people have the D-pad bound: a. using it to control basic movements or b. using it for shift states (shift, control, alt, and then jump or whatever). I do the former, binding it in this manner: forward, back, strafe left and strafe right (using the mouse to turn of course). Using it to control basic movements is actually what takes the most getting used to, since WASD is the norm. Even if it takes some time to get used to I would recommend binding the D-pad in this way, it will leave more of the keypad buttons open for abilties and shift states.

I have red shift set to momentary bound to the large red button above the D-pad and blue shift on toggle bound to scroll up. Normal (not red or blue) is used for spells and abilities, red is used for the non abilities (the map, social screen, battleground score, bags, etc), blue is bound to the raid icons (aka lucky charms) and other junk.

Shift (top action bar in WoW), alt (self cast), and control (pet bar) are bound to the leftmost keypad buttons on each row. The remaining 11 buttons on the three rows are bound to abilities. I have my most frequently used abilities bound to the middle buttons on the middle row because that is where my fingers naturally rest.

Scroll up is bound to blue, scroll down is bound to the key that switched my action bars in WoW (bar 1 is for frequently used abilities, bar 2 is used for buffs), and scroll click is used for jumping. I have the button on the bottom bound to tab targetting. It seems like it would be a good place to bind jump but it really isn’t since you can’t use the D-pad and press it at the same time (not unless you were born with a second functioning thumb).

End Stuff
Oh by the way: The black hand rest is removable and adjustable; the manual just doesn’t really say how to do it. Hold the n52 firmly on a table and pull the black part straight up, it might require a bit of force. If you have large hands, you can move it down a peg, otherwise just remove it or leave it where it was.

I stated this at the beginning of the post but: the n52 takes some time to get used to, it has a fairly steep learning curve depending on how you choose to bind your keys. Give it some time, it might take a week or two to get used to.

Attached to this post is the .n52 file for my WoW configuration profile if anyone is interested.

Mega Man 2

Mega Man 2 is a futuristic platformer that was released for the NES in 1988. This game is kicks ass, there’s really not much more that I can say (but I will anyways), it’s a classic. 

Though the original Mega Man started the series, it was it’s sequal that popularized it and set the standard for just about every Mega Man game to come. Several improvements were made in Mega Man 2 over it’s predecessor. Most notable: More robot bosses were added, more detailed graphics, energy tanks, and the password system. Mega Man was one of the very few series with an intuitive password system. It was a grid system that involved the placement of red dots, as opposed to writing down a 32 character alphanumeric string (lolz Faxanadu).

Mega Man 2 wasn’t as hard as it’s predecesor, but what it lacked in difficulty it more than made up in awesome level design. Not being frustrating and evil to the point of wanting to hurl your controller through the screen in NES rage isn’t a bad thing though (energy tanks good). It’s reasonably difficult for a notice to average player, but it’s not going to provide you with a Contra level challege. Either way, don’t let that deter you.

The graphics in general look more polished and sylish that it’s predecessor, and adds more distinctivness to the series. The backgrounds in Mega Man 2 are for the colorful and animated without being seizure inducing or distracting. There are a good amount of unique graphics, enough to give each stage a distinct feel. The sprites in this game are also very good. There’s a pretty wide variety of enemies, most of which are creative and well drawn.

Campcom, at least for the games that they made for the NES, set a high bar in terms of sound and music. Mega Man 2 is no exception, each track is memorable and catchy. I would even go as far as to say that it has the best soundtrack of all the Mega Man games. The Wily Fortress 1-2 theme has to be one of my favorite game tracks period.

If I had to make a list of my all time favorite NES games, Mega Man 2 would have to be pretty high up in rank (top 5 at least). It’s still a fun excellent game to play, even now. That’s pretty rare.

World of Warcraft vs Final Fantasy XI

Author’s Note: It’s worth noting that this article is several years old to the point where it’s not too relevant anymore to either game (since this posting seems get frequent traffic off of Google). I’d be interested though, in hearing how FFXI has changed since I originally posted this.

I don’t think I really ever made it clear why I quit Final Fantasy XI. As many people know, I bought and tried FFXI shorty after it was released in the US. Played it for about 2 months, before I got sick of it and quit. In short: It started to bore the hell out of me. Not comprehensive by all means, but just in case anyone is interested in hearing my two cents, a comparison between FFXI and World of Warcaft, and why I’m sticking with WoW.

Gameplay:
I never did, still don’t, and likely never will ever have the time and patience it takes to play Final Fantasy XI up to the higher levels. Despite both being MMORPGs, FFXI and WoW actually differ greatly in play style. This becomes evident very early on. Leveling is very slow, and I can’t emphasize that enough. Leveling in FFXI has to be one of the most painful experiences. Ever. If you have the time, patience, and mentality to spend hours just grinding on things then kudos to you, but overall it’s a pretty boring experience especially since the combat is relatively repetitive.

FFXI is geared almost exclusively towards group play. You can solo up to level 10, and maybe up to level 15, but past that all soloing activity stops cold turkey. A group is basically required in order to do any of the quests. Finding a group to party with is another painful procedure. I often only have time to play in one or two hour chunks, I don’t know about anyone else, but spending those one or two hours finding a group just so I can do one quest isn’t my idea of fun. Even then, the quests really didn’t offer that great of a reward or experience.

Some people like to solo, some people like to group, some people like to do both! One of the most significant aspects of WoW is that you can choose how you want to play, thus appealing to a much broader range of players. Want to play alone? All good, most of the normal quests can be completed under an hour. Want to group? There are plenty of elite quests designed for a full group of players. The duration for most of these are around 2 hours. Want more? For higher level players (level 60), there are raid instances, designed for a group up to 40 players. The quests for the most part are well written, and offer a nice chunk of experience and usually a nice cash/item reward so that it feels worthwhile. Lots of bad Blizzard puns…LOTS. You absolutely can’t miss those.

The death penalty in Warcraft is a lot less frustrating than just about all other MMORPGs, no deleveling, no experience penalty. When you die, you appear in ghost form at the closest graveyard, and must run back to your body. You can also resurrect at the graveyard, but with a much heavier equipment penalty (which will ultimately cost you some cash, but no experience will be lost). The game doesn’t feel like it’s punishing you!

Graphics:
It’s hard to compare the graphics between the two games because they are each styled pretty differently. FFXI is more anime-ish and realistic, while WoW has a cartoony feel. I would have to say that the FFXI graphics in general are better textured and are smoother. The character models are also a bit better than the models in WoW, though they seemed to lack variety. Not enough facial customization 🙁

Graphical comparisons with WoW against other MMORPGs has been a popular discussion. It really does depend on your personal taste I suppose. WoW has a lower polygon count than other MMORPGs, which contributes to its cartoony feel. Some people don’t like that, but I personally think that it adds a lot of character, since it’s appropriate to how the Warcraft RTS games look and feel. Anyone who has ever played a Warcraft game knows this…It’s hard to judge style by screenshots alone. Most of the beauty is in the way the world is designed, the level of detail, the uniqueness that each zone has, and how lively each area is. FFXI just seemed to be missing much of that.

From the beginning, I just felt that Azeroth was more immersible than Vana’diel. Both worlds are fascinating, but Warcraft has 10 years of backstory and history under its belt. From the savanna like barrens, the jungle like Stranglethorn Vale, to the throne room of Lordaeron, it’s all there. (shame on you all who haven’t at least read about Warcraft history on the page. I mean, you should at LEAST KNOW WHO ARTHAS IS D:).

Tidbits:
Several things severely annoyed me about FFXI, the first and most notable one being the ass interface. It just sucks…and it sucks hard. Annoying to use, limited, unintuitive, and hard to customize. It feels like it was designed for use on a Playstation controller, which it most likely was, so it didn’t seem to be optimized much at all for those of us who have the privilege of playing with a mouse. The WoW interface on the other hand is intuitive and very easy to use and customize. Virtually no learning curve. And, with the upcoming content patch, it will be even better (finally adding additional bars into the interface so I don’t have to download Cosmos).

Another important thing: It’s impossible to ALT+TAB out of FFXI, minimize it, or otherwise without automatically being disconnected from the game, and sent to the stupid Playonline menus. This pisses me off so fucking much. Being able to check things online while playing really isn’t too much, especially for an MMORPG. I don’t have all that much free time, so on many occasions, when I do play, I have the game running in the background while I read lecture slides, so I can occasionally bring the game into focus to check on auction and chat with friends. I mean, at least allow me to run it windowed, or god forbid minimized so I can look up quest stuff in Firefox….

Oh yeah, you can jump in WoW. YOU CAN JUMP! Jump over people’s heads, jump off of the Stonewrought Dam and Freewind Post (to your death). Why can’t you jump in FFXI? That’s important… In FFXI, you had to pay an additional $1 a month per extra character. WoW allows you 10 per server. It really_really_is nice to have alternative characters, especially if you want a taste of the different classes or are trying to keep on equal levels with friends.

Thief Deadly Shadows Review

Thief Deadly Shadows is the latest installment in a three part series, beginning in 1998 with Thief Dark Project, and following two years later with Thief Metal Age in 2000. It helps to have at least played a bit of Thief before, but it’s not really necessarily. In any case, I highly recommend the other two Thief games as well (but this review isn’t about those, so I won’t really go into that further unless someone requests me to), if you can somehow find them for retail somewhere.


Thief Deadly Shadows (DS) was developed by Ion Storm, with many of the same team members from the original developers, the now defunct Looking Glass Studios. Now if you remember, Ion Storm was also in charge of Deus Ex Invisible War, Deadly Shadow’s “technical predecessor” in many ways, since it utilizes the same engine in was developed in a similar manner in that both the X-Box version as well as the PC version were developed and release simultaneously.

Note: This isn’t meant to be a comparison between DX and DS, but parts end up being just that since both games are made by the same people and are in a similar genre. Don’t get me wrong, I really did thoroughly enjoy DX. It just provides a good point of reference to go by.

I’m always skeptical when game companies develop both the console as well as the PC version in parallel, because I somehow can’t quite shake the nasty feeling that the effort was being split between two versions, rather than focusing on making a solid PC game, then releasing a solid console version later when it’s good and ready. Not meaning to pick on DX:IW or anything, but it is a prime example of where dual development went wrong. Although I really truly enjoyed this game, it had many flaws and was far from living up to the original Deus Ex. Much of the residual DX skepticism carried over to DS for this very reason, but rest assured: Though DS is not a perfect game, it is very very satisfying and well worthy of the Thief title.

Gripe: This game also inherited one of DX’s annoying inability to ALT+TAB gracefully. Instead of blatantly crashing the game as in DX, it seems that they have disabled this completely. It’s just a minor thing, but annoying nonetheless. Am I the only one who carries on conversations in between sections of game play?

Game play
Thief is often hailed as the first game of it’s kind. Amidst a plethora of first person shooter derivatives, Thief offered a revolutionary type of game play, relatively unfound in most other games at the time. For those unfamiliar with the series, you play the anti-hero and master thief of the night, Garrett, who is by all means very good at what he does.

One of the most unique aspects of Thief is the game play, which was quite new at the time. Rather than being stealth-action like the Metal Gear or Splinter Cell series, Thief is almost exclusively stealth. Even though Garrett is equipped with a dagger and a plethora of deadly items, he’s a relatively slow runner and is not all that great of a warrior in any way. He can hold his own against one guard, maybe even two if you are skilled, but if any more than that arrive, count yourself as a dead man. This style of play forces players to find more cleaver and subtle way of solving mission goals. One of the beauties of Thief is the ability to finish the entire game without killing or harming anything.

Much of the same equipment found in the other Thief games has transferred over to DS, minus the rope arrow, which has been replaced by the climbing gloves. Garrett’s bow acts as his all purpose Swiss Army Knife. It can douse torches, dampen the sound of a fall, set things on fire, and so on, depending on which arrow you have equipped. Supplies are generally pretty scarce in the game, so players will want to think twice about needlessly wasting arrows or other items.

One of the largest changes made in DS is the addition of the city. Basically, there are now two parts of the game: The main missions, where most of the story and “meat” are, and the city, an in between area where Garrett free to explore, fence his goods, and find information leads regarding his next mission. The city is has a beautifully crafted atmosphere, though feels small at times since it is broken up into loading zones based on district. Moving between districts becomes somewhat cumbersome, especially later in the game, as more people seem to be after Garrett’s head. Trying to get from one end of the city all the way to the other got tedious. The city does though give the player a chance to further explore the and absorb the atmosphere Thief world, as well as to line pockets with extra cash and goods.

Each level is broken up into around 3 or 4 different loading sections. In my opinion, the sections seem a bit too small. It doesn’t take all that long to cross from one section to another. It’s fine when there is business to be done in one particular area, but it gets rather tedious when you have to fill objectives between different city districts and such, since the loading time isn’t all that short.

Graphics
As mentioned above, DS uses the same engine as Deus Ex: Invisible war. Even though it looks and performs a bit better than DX, it certainly is not free of problems found in it’s technical predecessor. In general, the DX engine is adequate, but hardly more than that, especially for the amount of resources that it requires. The game textures in DS are pretty good, but could be better. Upon a closer look they appear to be rather fuzzy and not as detailed as they could have been. The graphics in general a great looking, but they aren’t as great as say, Splinter Cell, which ran smoother and looked more detailed in my opinion. On the other hand, the graphics for the Thief series has NEVER exactly been top notch. I don’t play Thief because it’s a super pretty game, I play it because it is a fun game.

DS also unfortunately inherited the oddities found in DX’s physical engine. Even though entire couches and tables won’t fly at the slightest tap as in DX (makes for good humor but poor stealth), item movement seems to exaggerated. The way things feel when they fall or when you toss them into the air for example does not feel right. Whether you are tossing a small cup, or a huge crate for example, the physics seem to light. The way bodies fall is particularly bad, since more times than not they will fall in an impossibly contorted position. Character movements also could have been more fluid, especially Garrett, being a master thief and all. The variety of motions and transitions for the guards and such weren’t all that varied.

Sound
The sound in this game is absolutely beautiful, which is a good thing since it is such an important aspect of the game play. The sound engine is rather good, as to be expected of a game from the Thief series. Footstep sounds travel around the level realistically, and vary according to how fast you are moving on what surface. Special care must be taken when traveling over something noisy like metal as opposed to carpet, which dampens your movement for the most part. In addition, players might want to remember to close doors behind them, since open doors allow more sound to travel outward, in addition to raising the AI’s suspicion.

The music in DS is very subtle and limited to mostly ambient tracks which are just enough to enhance the mood, without becoming intrusive and interfering with game play. It should also be noted that the voice acting in this series is excellent, which is a rarity among games (nothing is worse than a good game spoiled by horrid voice acting). Stephen Russel, the voice actor for Garrett is particularly good. Not overdone and not bland, just the way I like it. Make sure to eaves drop in on some of the hilarious conversations between NPCs.

Atmosphere
The story and atmosphere in DS, keeping with the series’ tradition are great, and really draw you into the game. The plot unfolds as you play, and is interesting enough to keep you wanting more. The story line in DS is connected to the other two games in many ways, but is separate enough to be enjoyable to new players. One of the greatest achievements of the Thief series is the atmosphere it presents. From the industrial feeling medieval city, to the haunt filled ghost ship, it’s all there.

Though loading zones are relatively small, the claustrophobic feeling lends itself well to the flow of the game. Sneaking through narrow corridors actually worked pretty well for Thief, especially since the a relatively small amount of ground is covered in a short period of time compared to DX, or any other game (since there’s no run and gun). This is one of the chief differences between DX and DS. This style of game play works well with Thief where it is just annoying in DX.

If you haven’t already, go pick up this game. Now.

Final Fantasy: Dear Friends

I’m a little off of my posting schedule this week, but last night was an experience of a spiritual caliber. Wow years ago when I first played Final Fantasy 1 in what, first grade? Who would have ever known that I would be in Walt Disney Concert hall, listening to some of my very favorite music, live and with lots and lots of friends. I rode with Sid and met him at the Zot Zone at 3:30.

The concert started at 7:30. but we left earlier to leave time to eat and just in case we encountered rush hour traffic on the way over. Traffic was surprisingly clear on the way over, since we didn’t really run into any problems. Seems that there is more outgoing traffic than in going, which makes sense I guess since everyone is leaving work…not coming.

Walt Disney Concert hall actually isn’t as big as I imagined it would be, but it’s nice. It’s small enough where every seat is a reasonable distance from the orchestra, without feeling too small and boxed in, yet large enough for everyone without being overly grandiose. The acoustics in the hall were absolutely amazing. The majority of us were scattered/grouped throughout Orchestra East (Except for Justin, that lucky bastard who sat two rows from Nobuo Uematsu).

Even though I sat apart from everyone (ordered slightly later than everyone), it didn’t matter! Because, for a night I was surrounded by Final Fantasy fans :D< It was pretty obvious when Nobuo Uematsu entered the hall, because he was greeted by a standing ovation, though only one of many that he would receive that night. The concert opened with Liberi Fatali from Final Fantasy VIII, accompanied by the talents of the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

Cut scenes from the game were displayed on Huge overhead screens. Following that, entered James Arnold Taylor, the concert’s host, also known as the voice of Tidus for the US release of Final Fantasy X. For those who want to know what played last night, here is the song list, according to what was printed in the program guide:

Liberi Fatali (Final Fantasy VIII)
Zanarkand (Final Fantasy X)
Terra’s Theme (Final Fantasy VI)
Theme of Love (Final Fantasy IV)
Dear Friends (Final Fantasy V)
Vamo’ Alla Flamenco (Final Fantasy IX)
Love Grows (Final Fantasy VIII)
Aeris’s Theme (Final Fantasy VII)
Not Alone (Final Fantasy IX)
Ronfaure (Final Fantasy XI) Final Fantasy I – III Medley
New Melody From Final Fantasy VII Advent Children Final Fantasy (Theme)

For the sake of not being repetitive, I will just sum things up and say that every single piece was fantastic. I especially enjoyed the Final Fantasy medley towards the end, since it brought back lots of childhood memories of playing FF1 in front of the NES. Everyone was applauding in the middle of the song when the chocobo theme played <3. A track from the upcoming Final Fantasy: Advent Children was performed after the medley, accompanied by a short video sequence on the monitors (they’re teasing us!). Concluding the concert was the Final Fantasy theme.

After another astounding standing ovation, Nobuo Uematsu himself came up on stage and introduced himself. What happened next…was positively one of the most memorable things ever! Following Nobuo Uematsu on stage were Yoshitaka Amano (did the art for many of the games) and Hironobu Sakaguchi (the producer of the series). All three of them on stage before my eyes! After three fantastic speeches, the three of them returned to their seats because, there was still one more surprise left. The lights dimmed and One Winged Angel played! I honestly don’t think that I have ever been to an even nearly as amazing as this. Music really is a wonderful thing.