Monday, January 31, 2011

The Search for Fuel

If you're anything like me, then you are constantly on a search for the perfect gaming drink. No matter who you are, if you do any extensive gaming at all then you can agree that nutrient intake is all but essential to the experience. Over time my tastes have changed. I used to consume vast quantities of diet soda, and sometimes still do, but since I usually play in the wee hours of the morning that caffeine consumption is not conducive to sleep before work/class/errands/life. Sometimes I drink instant cappuccinos (very high in caffeine) while other times it is Sprite or some other caffeine free soda. In the most recent months I've taken to keeping a supply of those sparkling, flavored waters in the fridge for such occasions. Today I thought I'd share my most recent addition to the list - custom teas. Generally I'm a big fan of English Breakfast, Lady Grey, Earl Grey, and Black Current teas. Every once in a while though they get old. A few weeks ago I discovered an old teabag of Hazelnut Vanilla tea in the corner of my cabinet. Once the flavor-of-the-moment a couple of years back, no one apparently makes this flavor anymore so I began to look for custom sites. Above is my most recent order from Design a Tea. The current cup of Amaretto Strawberry is pretty awesome, but I don't know if this is the next incarnation of gaming fuel yet. Allow me a few more cups and then maybe a decision can be reached.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

DA:O - A Cursed Past

The Lady of the Forest is not amused.

Perra and Friends wandered into the Brecilian Forest last night, and in doing so encountered the Dalish. Since this major leg of the game was completed all at once, this shall be a longer, image heavy post. Of the four and a half main quests in Dragon Age that of the Brecilian Forest is perhaps my second favorite. My first would be the search for Andraste's Ashes. I don't care for the Ruined Temple, but an inexplicable affinity for the Gauntlet certainly exists. (I'm not certain that the quest for Andraste's Ashes can really be considered a main quest, but it is too long to be a side quest. Since it is essential to story progression, it is the "half" here.) Of all the main quests, this one is cloaked in the most in shades of grey. While certain decisions are clearly "good" or "bad," depending on your outlook, there is no true winner no matter what you decide to do. As an individual I love it when things are white and black, but grey storytelling is all the more compelling since it reflects reality. Ask me sometime about CDProjektRED's The Witcher. Now there is a game you can't win. No matter what path you take there are always unintended consequences. That, however, is another discussion for another day.  

As before, spoilers follow so continue reading at your own risk.

The Sega Genesis

Growing up the only system I ever owned (and even then it belonged to one of my siblings) was the Sega Masters system. From diaper wearing basketball players to Hang On, there are a lot of fond memories attached to that console. To this day my family still makes fun of the umpire from Great Baseball who cried "Faaa!" every time someone hit a foul ball. My next door neighbor had the 1st gen Gameboy, NES, SNES and subsequent Nintendo systems, but something I never had a chance to play was the Sega Genesis. Maybe it's due to my recent acquisition of Greatest Hits: Sonic Mega Collection Plus for the PS2. Perhaps it is due to a recent bout of retro nostalgia brought on by over indulgence in AVGN reruns. Whatever the case, I currently possess a burning desire to finally purchase the Genesis 1 and lock myself away for a caffeine fueled marathon. Practicality and grad school time restrictions dictate that this shall have to wait, but that doesn't mean that it won't happen. Consider it part of my non-existent bucket list.

Friday, January 28, 2011

DA:O - Amusing Oddities

Every once in a while I run across items or names in Dragon Age that make me chuckle. Below are a couple of ones that caught my eye during the last week or so.

Find this in the Caverns while searching for Andraste's Ashes

Dragon Egg - This is one of those "say what?" moments. You loot the dragon egg expecting to receive a baby dragon or the egg itself. Instead you discover Lifedrinker and a Small Clear Ice Crystal. What kind of magic is this? Even more to the point, what kind of logic does this make? Open egg, receive jewelry. Did you ever read that French fairy tale The Blue Bird where a princess comes into the possession of four magical eggs? One of her eggs contained a coach pulled by mice and another contained a chariot pulled by birds. That is what this egg makes me think of.

(The Ice Crystal only appears because I have the Stone Prisoner DLC installed. I do not remember what is in its place when Stone Prisoner is not activated ... if there is anything else at all.)

Loot from a chest in the Village of Honnleath (Stone Prisoner DLC)

Olaf's Prized Cheese Knife - This dagger is a source of never ending amusement for me. Not only is it the oddest looking cheese knife you will ever meet, but Olaf apparently loved this "knife" so much that he locked it away in a random chest and let someone else keep the key on their person. Oh yeah ... that villager's dead and Perra had no problems with looting his body.

Purchase this armor from Legnar in the Orzammar Commons

Shadow of the Empire - Purchasing this armor unlocks the Codex Entry "Shadow of the Empire" which reads
The Crows of Antiva may be the most famous and most expensive of Thedas's assassins, but they are not the most active. That dubious honor belongs to the Shadows of the Emperor, the personal cadre of killers employed by the throne of Orlais. This armor was made for use by the Shadows whenever the Grand Game should wander out of hand.
Dragon Age lore aside, however, we all know what this armor's name alludes to. Stuck? I'll give you a hint.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

DA:O - The Cure, the King, and the Bloodmage

By the grace of Andraste be healed!

So here's the deal. Since I suddenly had demands on my time, not a lot happened the other night except the healing of Arl Eamon. The Sacred Ashes (surprise!) worked and the healing scene was followed by interactive conversations sandwiched between extended cut scenes. Even though this sequence involved very little actual playtime, the cut scenes imparted a good deal of plot advancing information. The minimal conversation also wrapped up Jowan's mini subplot. This post will be shorter than others since I've just a few thoughts to impart, but the next post will follow our heroes as they enter the Brecilian Forest.

 For the moment though, here there be spoilers so read at your own risk.

Monday, January 24, 2011

DA:O - Here There Be Dragons and a Dwarf Reborn

So ... dragons. I'm thinking they're significant, yes?
Perra's quest for the Urn of Sacred Ashes comes to an end. Surprisingly, this search for a human religious artifact forces her to reflect on the dwarven life she's left behind and who her future self will be.

It goes without saying, but spoilers follow so continue at your own risk.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Zork - The Old is Made New

The Zork Anthology is now available on for $5.99! What a great way to finally have these text based classics on your modern computer while supporting a fantastic company.

It comes with the following:
- Zork I, Zork II, Zork III, Beyond Zork, Zork Zero, and Planetfall
- 2 manuals
- 7 additional documents
- 5 maps

The game is available for purchase here


Saturday, January 22, 2011

DA:O - Confusing Cold Killers

All I was trying to do was walk through you're friggin' temple!

*This post may contain spoilers ...
depending on what your definition of "spoiler" is.*

Perra fought their way through the Ruined Temple tonight. As they steadily progressed through waves of blood thirsty cultists a couple of things came to mind. No matter how many times I've played through this dungeon, there are always a few things that make me scratch my head a bit. Today in lieu of posting a play-by-play I shall discuss these issues below.

Interior Snow - Ice one expects. Old stone structures are famous for moisture collection. Centuries of dampness + very cold temperatures = ice. Snow, however, I'm not certain I can get behind. Where does the snow come from? The Ruined Temple's roof is largely intact and holes in the walls are at a minimum. Nonetheless, its entry, side corridors, and living quarters are all but buried under piles of snow. More puzzling is the fact that the temple's Main Hall is all but devoid of the substance. It is here, the Main Hall, that there are trees and roots growing through the walls, leaving gaping hole to the outside world in their wake. Why are these rooms not covered in snow while the entry hall (which is preceded by a snow/mud room or sorts) and its adjoining hallways are buried in it?

Random Beasts & Missing Loot - Why does the bronto you fight in the lower levels not drop any loot? There is a bear in the Brecilian that does the same thing, only that one is "protecting" a corpse with loot so I figure it's a trade off. Elsewhere in the game slain brontos and other large animals generally drop loot of some sort, yet this one is the exception. He is not protecting anything of rare value nor is he accompanied by individuals who drop significant loot. If there is no real reward for killing the bronto then why have him there at all? Even more to the point, how the heck did the cultists maneuver this bulky, aggressive animal through the temple's small hallways and keep it from ruining their other possessions? They have no special cave for it, no special room designated for it, and no special containment plan in place for it. What the heck is this beast doing there? Why does it live with them? Is it their twisted version of a pet? It just seems so out of place. I'm so confused.

Refusal to Bury - Why is it that the cultists never, ever, bury the intruders they kill. "Weylon" left the corpse of his name sake to rot in the back of Genitivi's house. I'm pretty sure the thing was covered in cobwebs, and the body had been there so long that it was virtually unidentifiable. Can you image the smell? One quest you can accept at the Gnawed Noble leads to our hero dumping body bags down the Chantry well. If the underworld can dispose bodies there without anyone noticing them why can't the cultists? How on earth did "Weylon" explain away the horrid smell of putrid flesh when the rest of Genitivi's house was all but spotless? Plus, of all the cultists we meet along the way to find the Urn, "Weylon" is the only one who actually attempts to hide the fact that he's a murdering bastard. Are you telling me that he can find a way to morph his body into that of another human being, but can' take the time to throw away the evidence of his kill?

When it comes to the Village of Haven everyone appears more than a little off. As a result the shopkeeper's strange actions are really not all that strange - nor is the fact that a Redcliffe knight is rotting away in his backroom. Since the village scares away their few visitors and collectively kills everyone else, this random dead body isn't much of a shocker. I mean it's not like the shopkeep will be censured for his actions or has anything to hide. Even so, the corpse is left just chilling out by a table intended for eating. Was there no other place to put it? With no evidence of ice or snow in the village one can expect that the soil isn't frozen. Why doesn't he bury it? I mean seriously. Do their cultists texts contain an edict prohibiting the sanitary disposal of enemies? Why on Earth would you leave a dead body to rot in the back room of your business where the stench will turn away customers and make you gag on a daily basis?

Of all the non-burials discovered during this quest line, the Fallen Knight (seen above) makes the most sense. It is lying in a cold, frigid environment where rotting is kept to a minimum. Moreover, the mountaintop's ground is clearly too cold to allow an easy burial. From that point of view sequestering your slain enemies in an unoccupied room within the Ruined Temple makes a lot of sense. On the other hand, it's kind of creepy.

Senseless Archival Methods - I have no clue what these cultist are keeping in their archives, but if the Ancient Encrypted Scrolls of forgotten verses and multiple Scrolls of Banastor are any indication then these shelves house some very old, irreplaceable documentation. Why then do the cultists allocate some of the most snowy/icy rooms for archival space? Even more to the point, why on Earth do they leave piles of books and documents lying on the ground. According to Denerim's Sister Justine the Ancient Encrypted Scrolls are beyond priceless. Granted she is overly passionate about her work but the point still remains. If that is true then how can the cultists store the scroll with other water sodden texts directly atop a mound of snow. I can't even begin to imagine that amount of moisture in the temple's library and work spaces. These senseless storage methods bug me every time. At the Circle of Magi, piles of books and priceless texts was understandable since the tower was a battle zone. Here, however, the temple is only a battle zone when intruders cross the threshold - a rare occurrence at best. Furthermore the entire Main Hall is all but devoid of snow and ice. Why did they not establish their archives there?

Cultist Life - Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of the Ruined Temple is the cultists themselves. Who are these people that so willingly live atop the mountain, in a snow laden ruin, amongst sodden literature, and very few beds. According to a little boy in the Village of Haven older boys and men reside up the mountain. Given that the temple is a religious center it is understandable that a portion of Haven's population would reside there in order to meet certain demands (demands = things Perra has yet to discover in the adjoining caverns). However, these "demands" are in no way strenuous enough to require all of Haven's men to live in a freezing cold, crumbling stone fortress. If generation after generation of cultists have lived here then why has no effort been made to spruce things up a bit? There are no creature comforts except fo the occasional small fire. All Haven did was transport a few beds and chests up the mountain (approx 1 bed/10-20 cultists). Essentially these men are simply lounging around waiting for an occasional visitor to cross into their territory so they can slaughter the out-of-towner. These guys are insane.

Coming Next - The caverns and the gauntlet. Let's get those ashes to Arl Eamon posthaste.

Perra is carrying the Dimension Seven 2H ax and Alistair is carrying Dragonkiller 1H sword from Rah2005's Some New Items mod.

Friday, January 21, 2011

DA:O - Visitors Unwelcome

Well Hello There Secret Door

Haven is quite the inhospitable town. Sparsely populated by gaunt villagers shooing you from the town, and a little child chanting creepy poems, the Quest for the Sacred Ashes looks even less promising that it did when cultists randomly attacked Perra outside of Calenhad's Spoiled Princess. There is not much dwarf specific plot-wise to share at this point in the game, so what follows is merely a quick overview of Haven itself. 

It goes without saying that here there be spoilers.
Continue reading at your own risk.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mass Effect

Mass Effect (the first) came in the mail today as well. Now my post-DA:O gameplay is set and ready to go :) The game suddenly, inexplicably jumped in price from like $7.00 to $42.00 on Amazon a couple of weeks ago. With the jump all the games everywhere else jumped as well (ebay,, etc). I was able to find a brand new European copy (which I've read works fine in the US and even seen sold through American retailers) for very cheap though so I snapped it up before anyone else could. I don't know how that will effect game importation from ME to ME2, but I'm willing to play the two as separate games if need be.

Image: Source

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

DA:O - Deceptive Deception

With Redcliffe restored to order Perra decides it is time to look for the Urn of Sacred Ashes that the arlessa insists is her husband's only chance of survival. Whether Andraste's Ashes are everything they are cracked up to be remains to be seen.

*Warning! Here there be Spoilers. Continue at Your Own Risk*

Lying "Weylon" is a Lying Liar

Saturday, January 15, 2011

DA:O - Bring Out Your Dead

The Dead are Alive ... for Now
A number of things set Perra's efforts to clear Redcliffe Castle apart from all the other playthroughs I've done before. First of all, she chose the Templars over the Mage's Circle and effect of this action is seen before the Castle stage is through. Second of all, Perra has chosen to include Alistair in the fight. For some reason all other characters (completed stories and false starts combined) have left Alistair in camp in favor of Zevran, Sten, or Shale. It is a little unclear why this has happened since enlisting Alistair to help liberate his childhood home makes a lot of sense when you think about it. His presence does not seem to make a whole lot of difference one way or another, but his comments in game make it clear that he is a conflicted man.

*Here There be Spoilers - Read at Own Risk*

Friday, January 14, 2011

DA:O - A Village in Need

Morrigan Disapproves (-5)
*This Entire Post is Pretty Much a Spoiler - Read at Own Risk*

Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2 came in the mail today and is now sitting pretty on the shelf. Once my most recent playthrough of DA:O/DA:O Awakening is finished then it is on to Planescape: Torment. I expect to actually invest time in Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 this summer but we shall see how long my weak will power holds out. It has been a while since I played an RPG that was not rooted in high fantasy (I think Knights of the Old Republic II was the last one) so this should be interesting and I'm quite excited at the prospect.

Image: Bioware

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Let's Visit - falling awkwardly's "Metaphysics of Morrowind"

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is without a doubt my favorite video game ever. I could talk about this beloved game until the cows come home, which one day I might actually do, but today I want to highlight falling awkwardly's four part series on the Metaphysics of Morrowind. Very informative and very analytical, anyone with an interest in the Elder Scrolls series or Morrowind should check it out. This series is a perfect example of how thought provoking and involved RPGs can be when people take the time to understand the lore behind the game. Below is Kateri's statement of intent and links to the series' four parts.
Some time ago, I was asked by David Carlton if I was interested in assembling a Critical Compilation on The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind for Critical Distance. I liked the idea, but research appeared to confirm my initial suspicions that, despite its rampant popularity, reams of fanfiction and endless debates about the lore, there is relatively little critical writing on Morrowind that has survived the vicissitudes of the internet since its release in 2002. This made me sad, so I thought I’d better write some!
- Kateri, falling awkwardly

DA:O - The Dwarf Commoner and Returning to Dust Town

Perra returns to her abandoned home in Dust Town after joining the Grey Wardens.
Dragon Age Origins is a fascinating game. No matter how many times I play it (two complete playthroughs of the core game, one playthough of Awakening, and numerous false starts) something new is uncovered. Even though I've only ever finished it with a female Human Noble, up until recently I had at least played every other origin story - except that of the dwarves (commoner and noble). Here is where I must make a confession. If one were to look at my RP history one would discover that all my successful characters have been human. While elves fascinate me (don't they fascinate everyone?) it is often very difficult to figure out their approach to the world and the extent to which their prejudices and belief should change and transform over time. Yet even though my elven characters are rarely successful, I at least give them a chance. Dwarves and sentient beasts, however, are another story. They never even have a chance. It's not that I have anything against these races per say, but their general mythology is usually so far removed from my frame of reference that I historically have had little confidence in ever understanding their characters. That changed last week with the creation of Perra, a Commoner Dwarf from Dust Town.

*Spoilers Ahead - Read at Your Own Risk*