Creative X-Fi Fatal1ty FPS

I picked up a new toy for my computer last Friday. I started turning the backgound music in WoW back on because it just sounds absolutely rich and phenomenal in comparison to my old Audigy. Just FYI: The X-Fi Xtreme Gamer is pretty much the same card as the Fata1ty FPS, just $100 cheaper and without the front audio panel and remote. What can I say? I like shiny buttons…

I guess my only major complaint about the card is that the X-Fi uses a shared audio input/output "flexijack" for all non speaker related connections. So if you have multiple devices, a microphone and whatever else, you will probably have to swap them in and out. That isn’t a problem though if you have the front panel.

Word of advice to anyone trying to enable use of the maximum number of sound channels in WoW: It’s disabled by default for some reason. Go into your WoW directory, open the WTF folder, and then open "" At the very bottom of the file, add this line:
[code]SET SoundOutputSystem "1"[/code]

Otherwise, if you don’t have a sound card that supports 128 sound channels, keep moving the slider down one tick at a time until you can hear things /shrug. I’m not sure why they aren’t labeled, it’s sort of annoying.

Also, a lot of people seem to be having crackling and popping issues with Creative cards (X-Fi included) and nForce 4 boards. I haven’t had any of these problems yet, knock on wood, but there isn’t a good solution to this problem yet to my knowledge, so it is something to keep in mind if you are thinking of purchasing one.

18 Grouping & Instance PuGing Tips

In an attempt to make PuGs suck less:

  1. Clearly define loot rules before the run starts and stick with them. Nothing creates more drama than loot issues. Don't forget to state rules for: Recipies, BoE epics, BoP epics, resource nodes, and chests.
  2. Don't be greedy, it will drop again. The only thing that people seem to like less than an asshole is a loot whore (or both!). Need is defined as: An item that is a direct upgrade. Something that you (not a guildmate and not a friend) can immediately use.
  3. Class balance: Some of the instances are quite class sensitive. A party of 5 priests isn't going to work very well. Invite smartly.
  4. Repair your gear and buy any regeants or consumables that you need before joining a group.
  5. Make sure that you have enough time to complete the instance before joining or starting a group. In general, set aside 1.5 to 2 hours of consecutive playtime.
  6. Let people know if you need to AFK and for how long. If you have to AFK frequently or for longer than 5-minutes, you probably should have stated so at the beginning or not have joined the group.
  7. Use the raid symbols to mark targets (the lucky charms). For example: Skull = kill, star = sheep, circle = trap, and so forth. Marking everything makes CC heavy runs infinitely better. Don't forget to CLEARLY define what each symbol means ahead of time.
  8. Establish a kill order, use a main assist, or at least change the raid symbols on the fly to key your party members in on what mob to kill next.
  9. Let everyone know what you are doing before you do it.
  10. Don't break CC. Don't DoT the sheep, don't consecrate the traps. Please.
  11. If you haven't done an encounter or are new to the instance let everyone know. If you are the party leader, you might want to ask everyone this question. It's better to tell people than to wipe because you didn't know what to do.
  12. Make sure that everyone knows their role in the party (politely). If it's not bleeding obvious you might want to make sure everyone knows who these people are: Main tank, Off-tank (if needed), Main healer, Assist healer (if needed), Crowd Controller(s).
  13. Play your role appropriately. If you are tanking, do so with a sword and board not dual wield. "I can hold aggro better this way" isn't a valid excuse. If you are the main healer, put on some healing gear and throw some heals out when needed. Letting your party members die because you suddenly decided that going shadowform was more intersting isn't a very good thing to do either.
  14. Know the instance or at least read a summary of the boss fights. Don't be afraid to assert yourself if people need someone to clue them in on what they need to do.
  15. But that said, don't be bossy. No one likes an elitist asshole.
  16. It's probably a good diea if everyone can comprehend enough English (or whatever your server's primary language is) to understand basic commands and explanations. I've had…problems with this issue in the past.
  17. Don't wander off on your own and don't wander ahead of the Main Tank. There are often stealthed mobs, mobs with a large aggro range, or mobs hiding around a corner just waiting to gank a clothy or aggro your entire party.
  18. Don't TOUCH anything. Don't click on anything with the cogwheel mouse icon and don't talk to any NPCs. Doing so might prematurely start a boss encounter.

Above of all, just have fun. This list is just a general guide of my personal opinions, not the holy WoW bible.

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.

Paladin Approximate Threat Generation

Even more WoW math, though I didn’t have time to check it over. I should just move all of of these posts into one large tanking guide, but that’s for another day when I’m bored. I don’t know the threat generation for warriors, but they have plenty of threat guides that list approximated values (I am pretty sure that Wowwiki had one). Our threat values are harder to calculate since they aren’t fixed values. This is pretty much just theorycraft by the way, take it as you wish.

I’ll run up a chart comparing warrior threat generation and paladin threat generation as well as one comparing various weapon speeds/spell damage values…one day in theory :P. This page assumes a 1:1 ratio between each point of holy damage and each point of threat without Righteous Defense. Also assume the following:

  • Weapon speed: 1.8 (…because that is the speed of my weapon)
  • 3/3 Improved Righteous Defense (1.9x threat vs 1.6x)
  • 200 spell damage
  • Average Unmodified Damage: (Base Max Damage + Base Min Damage)/2
  • Recall that all threat modifiers are now multiplicatives as of patch whatever

Judgement of the Crusader at the maximum rank will add up to 190 spell damage. So, just use 190+200 spell damage for the calculations instead of 200 (note to self: make another chart for the JotC modifier). I didn’t list Seal of Vengeance because I don’t really use it often. I find it hard to keep up on most mobs…that or the mobs just DIE before SoV stacks high enough to generate meaningful damage or threat. SoR is much more reliable. That’s just based on my findings/gear/guide though (it’s not like it’s hard for paladins to aggro anymore, power to us!).

As a comparison, an average rank 14 Frostbolt does 655 damage. That’s 655 threat, without talents or aggro-reducing buffs, assuming a 1:1 ratio.

Spell Damage Coefficient Average Unmodified Damage Damage after modifier Threat
Seal of Righteousness 9.2% per 1.0 weapon speed (1-hander) = 9.2*1.8 = 16.56% 78 16.56%*200 + 78 = 111.12 1.9 * 111.12 = 211.128
Judgement of Righteousness 73% 218 73%*200 + 218 = 364 1.9 * 364 = 691.6
Holy Shield (35% additional threat per block) 20% (5% per block) 155 per block 5%*200 + 155 = 165 per block 1.9 * 1.35 * 165 = 423.225 per block
Consecration 95% 598 95%*200 + 598 = 788 total (98.5 per tick) 788 * 1.9 = 1497.2 (187.15 per tick)
Avenger’s Shield 10% 548 10%*200 + 548 = 568 (per target) 1.9 * 568 = 1079.2 (per target)

The Attack Outcome Table & Damage Mitigation

Edit 11/7/07: This page is a little old and confusing. Updating it with the 2.3 changes and what not at some point.

Assumed Information
When I say defense by the way, I am talking about defense skill not defense rating. The same goes for block (block value increases the amount you block, block rating increases the frequency). Assume that all statistics on this page are calculated for a level 70 player with maxed out skills against a level 73 mob. This page is only relevant for white damage.

  • Player Weapon Skill: Level * 5 = 350
  • Player Defense Skill: Level * 5 = 350
  • Boss Mob Weapon Skill: 365
  • Boss Mob Defense Skill: 365
  • Critical Hit: Against a player with a defense rating equal to the mob’s weapon skill (350 vs 350), the mob has a 5% chance to crit.
  • Crushing Blow: Level difference * 5 = (73 – 70) * 5 = 15

The Attack Outcome Table
When a mob hits you there are 7 possible outcomes: Miss, parry, dodge & block. All of these items are mutually exclusive, meaning that you can either block OR parry OR take a crit. You can never block crits, parry crushing blows, etc. For the sake of organization, I’ve separated these outcomes into two categories:

Avoidance/Mitigation: Miss, parry, dodge & block – ways that you can mitigate or completely avoid attacks.
Actual Mob Hits: Crits, crushing blows, normal hits – types of attacks that you can receive if they are not avoided or mitigated.

The green items are good: Green outcomes that mean you have either avoided or reduced the damage of an attack. The red ones are bad: Red outcomes that mean you have either taken a hit from the mob that either does normal damage or increased damage. Ignore Critical Hits for now and assume that it’s at 0%. Crits are reduced via defense, (at 490 defense you are uncrittable) I will explain that below.

The table is calculated in this exact order. So when you make the green items larger, the red items on the bottom get “pushed off” of the table, starting with Normal Hits. When all of the Normal Hits get pushed off, Crushing Blows will start to get pushed off. Ultimately, your goal is to increase the green items to the point where there are no red left. That means that ALL attacks against you will either be misses, parries, dodges, or blocks.

  Possible attack out comes (against lvl 70 player by lvl 73 mob)
Miss: Base 5% + 0.04% * (Your Defense – 365)
Parry: (see your character stat window)
Dodge: (see your character stat window)
Block: (see your character stat window)
Actual Mob Hits
Critical Hit: 5% – (0.04% * (Player Defense – Mob Weapon Skill))
Crushing Blow: 15%
Normal Hit: Whatever is left, 100 – (Miss + Parry + Dodge + Block + Crit + Crushing

Attack Table Keynotes:

  • The entire table must add up to exactly 100% at all times. So, if your total Avoidance/Mitigation is 70%, Actual Mob Hits will be 30%
  • All items on this table are mutually exclusive, meaning that for example, a block can never be a critical hit and so on.
  • Furthermore, the outcomes are calculated in this exact order: Miss, parry, dodge, block, critical hit, crushing blow, normal hit. So, even if you increase your Avoidance/Mitigation to 80% and decrease Actual Mob Hits to 20% (let’s just suppose that the mob has 0% to crit you), your chance to receive a crushing blow will still be 15%.
  • In order to eliminate crushing blows completely off of the table, you will need to completely eliminate the mob’s chance for an unmitigated and unavoided hit.
  • Your goal, as a raid tank, should be to increase your total Avoidance/Mitigation to 102.4%.


The 1-Roll Theory
The current theory is that, the server generates a single random number, then compares it against the hit table to determine the attack outcome (there are literally tomes of speculation and theorizing on this topic, but that’s not what this guide is for). So with this information, we can construct an outcome table for our fictitious tank:

Timmy the Tank’s stats
Timmy the Tank’s
attack outcome table
(server side)
Miss: 10% 0 to 9
Parry: 20% 10 to 29
Dodge: 20% 30 to 49
Block: 20% 50 to 69
Crit: 5% 70 to 74
Crushing: 15% 75 to 89
Normal: 10% 90 to 99

Explanation: A (level 73) mob attacks Timmy, in doing so the server “rolls” one random number between 0 and 99 in order to determine how Timmy responds to the attack. If the server generates a 52 Timmy blocks, if the server generates a 78 Timmy receives a crushing blow, and so on.


Mitigating Critical Strikes
Every point of defense increases your critical strike mitigation by 0.04%. So, against a level 73 mob, 490 defense will render you immune to critical strikes. That would be: Base 350 + 15 (to compensate for the 3 level difference) + 125 (to compensate for the mob’s base 5% crit chance).

490 is also the CAP for defense in relation to critical strike mitigation (unless they raise the maximum mob level beyond 73). Tseric was quoted as saying, “At 490 defense, the math caps out. ” What this means is that: Once you achieve 490, Defense will not reduce critical strikes any further. It will though, still increase your miss, parry, dodge, and block chance.

Resilience also decreases crit chance as well as crit amount, but it’s a PvP stat…so don’t bother collecting it. Remember that Defense not only decreases your crit chance (to 490 at least), it also increases your avoidance/mitigation…resilience only affects crit. 490 Defense is also really pretty easy to achive in pre-raid gear.


Eliminating Crushing Blows
A crushing blow is a hit that is 150% of normal damage and can only be dealt by mobs (not by players). It occurs whenever a mob has 15 or more points in Base Weapon Skill over a player’s Base Defense (in other words, a level 73 mob vs a level 70 player :P).

So if you have skilled your character’s Base Defense out to 350 (base means 350 WITHOUT any gear and WITHOUT any talent bonuses), only a mob with a Weapon Skill of 365 will be able to hit you with a Crushing Blow; in other words, a mob of level 73.

Unlike Critical Strikes, there’s no real way of directly mitigating the percentage of Crushing Blows that a mob will deal. BUT, as explained above, since all outcomes on the hit table are mutually exclusive, you can completely eliminate crushing blows with 102.4% Block + Miss + dodge + Parry


Where Did The Extra 2.4% Come From?
For each level a mob has over you, 0.2% needs to be subtracted from Block, Parry, Dodge, and Miss. It’s basically comparing your base defense (350) to the boss’ base weapon skill (365) to my knowledge. Just think of it this way: Every point of defense that you have increases your miss, parry, dodge and block….it’s something similar in an opposite way.

All Burning Crusade boss mobs are at level 73, that is a 3 level difference. So you need to subtract 3*0.2% from your dodge, defense, parry and miss. That is a total of 4*3*0.2% = 2.4%.


Mitigating Normal Hits
Normal melee hits that is. Level 70 reduction formula: Reduction Percentage = (AC / (AC+ 10557.5)) * 100. Caps out at 75%

Raid Tankadin Gear Requirements

A list of gear goals that I am currently working on for self future reference. Might also be useful if there are any prot paladins reading as well. Because of our itemization, it's hardest to achieve the health and avoidance goal…that is what I am having trouble with now. Unfortunately, much of the current paladin tanking gear is heavy on int and mana/5, which in a heroic/raid setting is not really what we need (damage mititagion is by far more vaulable).

I'm currently 7/47/7…not really sure why I bothered putting any points into Holy. Will in the near future need to respec to 0/49/12, leaving out the 5% Parry bonus in Retribution was a very bad thing to do.

Health: 10k unbuffed bare minimum, hearing of paladins that have 11.5 and even 12k unbuffed o_O. We have a base deficit of around 3k health in comparison to warriors and bear druids.

Mana: Around 6k unbuffed is good enough because of the mana recieved from Spiritual Attunement. In normal 5-man dungeons I tend to run out of mana if I'm not careful, but in heroics I am getting healed so damn much that most of the time, I am sitting on almost a full blue bar…and that's while spamming every single holy damage spell that I have.

Spell Damage: 200 is sufficient, any less than that then you will have trouble holding aggro, any more and you will be gimping your damage mitigation. A lot of tankadins make the mistake of overfocusing on spell damage, at the expense of more valuable stats (stamina, block, etc). You really don't need all that much if you are full prot.

Defense: 490 is the magic number to negate all critical strikes. Once you reach this goal, start focusing on pushing dodge/parry/block to 100% avoidance. The math: All mobs 3 levels or higher (raid mobs are level 73) have a chance of landing a crushing (150% damage) blow on you and all mobs have a base 5% chance to crit. 365 (mob level * 5) + 125 (to compensate for the 5% crit) = 490.

Avoidance: It's the crushing blows that will get you. Blocked hits can't be crits (not an issue with 490+ def) or crushing blows and neither can dodges or parries. In order to become immune to crushing blows you will need your dodge, parry, and block percentages to add up to 100%. Recall that Holy Shield increases your block by 30% while active (10 second duration and 10 second cooldown).

Amount needed per 1% damage avoidance at level 70:

  • Block: 7.9 block rating per 1% block
  • Defense: 14.7875 defense rating for 0.25% to miss dodge parry and block
  • Dodge: 18.9 dodge rating per 1% dodge
  • Agility per 1% Dodge: 25 (paladin)
  • Parry: 31.5 parry rating per 1% parry
  • Miss: Base 5% + 0.04% * difference between mob's attack rating and your defense.

Holy shield gives you a 30% bonus to your block, 35% if you have the epic libram from running heroics (I need 11 more badges, sigh). So, in order to achieve 100% block you will need block, dodge, parry and miss to add up to 65%. Assume a total miss of 10%, so 55% between block, dodge, and parry.

I need 6.78% more avoidance, 11.78% without the libram in order to completely push a crushing blow off of the hit table from a leve 73 mob. I hit 10k HP earlier this evening, would like more. I can probably sacrifice some spell damage and intellect to make a few of these goals, those are over qouta…made some bad geming choices.

These values might also be affected by other attributes, not sure. Didn't finish reading up on all of the formulas.

I Think This is Version 7?

It’s been several months to a year since I’ve last posted. I’m actually posting this entry as a test on a Drupal test account to make sure that nothing screws up when this site goes live. Changes made: Updated to Drupal 5, dumped the old Drupal database, separated the guild site onto new domain, didn’t bother reskinning a new theme (the default theme looks nice and is sufficient).

The old database had 7 years of blog entries, ported from 3 or 4 different blog/content management systems, from around 3 different hosting sites. I was somewhat reluctant to dump it but honestly, most of it consisted of MySpace quality blog entries. Though, I do however plan on porting over any articles on the old site, any images, and any content that I deem useful or interesting in some way.

Actually, when I have the site configuration and all the modules set up to my taste, I might just swap this installation with the current one that is up on the main page, and delete it whenever I am finished porting junk over.

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.

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!

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:).

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.

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.

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.

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.