Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Game Review: Torchlight 2

By Grease Coakes

For Xmas my brother got me Torchlight 2 from steam and I have been playing on and off since last month. For fans of Diablo 2 and 3 this game is a welcome addition to the dungeon crawler mouse clicking genre. Where Diablo 3 seemed fun at first, but it got stale and repetitive every time I played it. Torchlight 2 seems fresh every time I play it.

The Alchemist from the first torchlight series as a magic blasting class was corrupted by the Ember Blight coming from the Heart of Ordrak in the original Torchlight. The game progresses as your character chases after him as he creates chaos in his wake. So far as I play through the game the first act is basic plains. The second act is a desert, and the third act is a forest.
The four characters you can play as are the engineer which is your melee brawling character. The berserker is another melee class using animal based attacks. The ember mage is a wizard class, and finally the outlander is a gun toting ranged class with some magic ability. The Outlander is my main character as he seems the most fun (in my opinion) to play. Not to say the other characters aren’t fun either as I dabbled in the other classes
When you create your character you’re not stuck with one character appearance as you can pick out hair color and style and skin tone along with the gender of your character.
Like the first Torchlight you have an animal as your sidekick to go to town and sell trash and help you fight the baddies that stand in your way. In the first Torchlight you could only pick a dog or cat as your animal ally. In the second Torchlight you can pick from many more including a panther, hawk, badger and owl along with the original dog and cat and you can also change the animal fur color as well. You can also feed your pet fish from fishing that change your pet into different kinds of animals to boost kitty’s fighting ability like an armored crab or a mole that can stun enemies. Fishing itself isn’t hard or time-consuming so fishing for your pet is rewarding to give your pet a fighting edge.
One thing I can say about Torchlight II is how fast your character levels up. Whereas Diablo 3 you slowly level having to repeat acts to level up the game pace in Torchlight II is just right as it seems I progress through the game and level up at a rapid pace. In addition to that I was happy to play through the game as I got a fair share of treasure to sell as fodder and weapons and armor to boost my character. Green is good, blue is a lot better and orange is legendary. Your pet gets gear too as collars and tags.
The difficulty level is just right too. A turn off from Diablo 3 was that towards the end of the game it was no fun to play anymore as my character died if a bad guy sneezed on him. As I’m in the third act now the game play difficulty is a happy medium. Sure I die now and again, but I’m not dying constantly. A definite plus in the game is I’m not punished for dying. When I die I’m given a choice to go to the start of the dungeon I’m at costing some gold, or start back in town costing nothing. The no-brainer choice is use the town teleport scrolls as I progress along and start in town losing no gold. No cash eating repair bills in this game. 
Each time I level up I get 5 points to assign attributes such as focus to increase magic, dexterity, and Strength speak for themselves and Vitality to boost hit points and defense. Using the outlander I was dumping a lot of points into dexterity increasing his critical strike chance while throwing the rest into Strength and Vitality and rarely in focus. So far this seems like the right way as my outlander named chair is shooting down baddies pretty well. 
You also receive a single point to put into your character build. Thinking this is a gun toting character I put a lot of my points into gun abilities (Warfare) boosting his rapid fire (right click on the mouse) among other ranged attacks. Plus I have been boosting his overall damage using dual wielding pistols and increasing his attack range and damage. So far it seems like a winning strategy. As you level up new abilities are available like a rain of poison arrows that do a LOT of damage in a certain radius but this was only available when I hit level 42 chair is now near level 50 in the third act. The other characters have skill trees as well with different abilities as the embermage has fire arcane and frost to play with for example.
Something that helps keep the game fresh is like the popular game "World of Warcraft," in-town NPC/s ask you to do quests to progress through the game so you’re not mindlessly killing monsters to gain experience/gold/gear. Makes you wonder sometimes why those lazy NPC/s can’t do the quests themselves. On top of that the bosses so far were a thrill to fight. They were tough making me constantly guzzle potions to keep my hp/s and magic up but they always dropped great gear and gold.
There are slots to place gems in armor and weapons for elemental damage or adding to your elemental defense against say poison or fire. Also enhancements you can pay an NPC to enchant your gear that is expensive, but worth your gold. Torchlight II gives you plenty of ways to boost your character
All in all I’d say Torchlight II is a blast to play with the option to play with others, but for now I’ve been killing baddies solo wanting to progress at my own pace. I may try a multiplayer game with another character like my embermage, but for now I want to keep shooting down bad guys on my outlander. The only flaws I can think of are that I can only repsec three points on your character’s skill tree if you want to change. The music is okay, but not amazing. However the sound effects make up for it. If you get the chance buy Torchlight II from Steam and have a ball killing baddies and more.
Grease Coakes

Friday, January 18, 2013

SL Newser Reporter Breaks into Published Fiction with "Ginny"

By Grey Lupindo
          Long-time SL resident and SL Newser reporter Grease Coakes just published his first book, Ginny Griffin's First Day of School.  Grease is traveling around SL as a pink avi to promote its publication and the brave little girl who is the protagonist.   We met early one morning at my home on Syzygy to discuss the book and Grease’s publishing journey.
Ginny Griffin’s First Day of School is about Ginny Griffin, a third grader who moves with her parents to Spoonville, a totally furry world.  Because she’s the “new kid” and doesn’t know anyone, she's scared to go to the new school.   “But Ginny certainly has an exciting first day of school,” Grease explained.  “It's not a run of the mill day.”   The little griffin learns bravery as she goes up against incredible odds, although Grease wouldn’t reveal what specific hazards she encounters.    Those revelations would spoil the book for readers.     
While this is his first published book, Grease has been writing for many years.   “I remember as kid I wrote some and read a lot,” he said.    He has also been writing and publishing a lot in SL, both as a reporter and on other projects.    As we discussed his book, it became obvious to me that Ginny Griffin wasn’t the only one who faced incredible odds and triumphed.   Here is part of the interview that I conducted with Grease. 
Grey Lupindo:    Is this a book for young readers or one for parents to read to children?
Grease Coakes:  At 18 pages, I would think that children could read to themselves.  Or perhaps adults could read it to their little ones.  Or, adults could read it themselves for kicks.  Adults might relate to Ginny's struggle with their first day at a new school. 
Grey Lupindo: How did you get the idea for Ginny's story?
Grease Coakes: I always thought it was neat looking at those Richard Scary stories.
Grey Lupindo:   Oh, yes.  I remember those.
Grease Coakes:  So I thought, wouldn't it be neat to write a story with similar characters?   I associate pink with girls so I made Ginny pink.  Her mother is pink, too.  So it's in her family.”
Grey Lupindo: Yes, very appropriate.  ....  Is this your first children's book?
Grease Coakes: Yes, but I have written other stories.  A lot of them aren't meant for children. 
(At this point I see Grease smiling.)
Grease Coakes: I sell myself at tail sales for furries to use my writing services for less savory themes.
Grey Lupindo:  Oh...well...moving right along....What surprised you the most about the process of writing a children's book?
Grease Coakes:  It was a lot harder than I thought to get it published AND hard to look around for an artist to draw the cover picture. ... I knew a publisher via her phone number found off a website. She was supportive and helpful, but in the end she told me she would not publish my story.
Grey Lupindo: It's very hard to publish, especially in the last few years.
Grease Coakes: Yeah, it is.  Plus I had to keep editing and changing it as I got feedback from my friends.  So I've been working this story since my inception in SL, which is what... 5 1/2 years now.
Grey Lupindo:   Did you do the cover?
Grease Coakes:   Oh, goodness no! I can't draw worth a booger.   Perri Prinz told me about her friend Lampie.   I looked over her website and her pricing.   I think her artwork is simple and colorful, but also very professional and neat.
Grey Lupindo:   You said you received feedback from friends.  Were young readers among those friends?
Grease Coakes: No, this came from an old friend in SL. She read it over and hated the ending so I re-wrote it altogether.  I showed it to other friends, and they liked it.  But I think they were biased in my favor....   This friend was honest saying this won't work.
Grey Lupindo: The original ending?
Grease Coakes: Yeah.  I ended the book too easy, with not a lot of conflict.   This time I made it more exciting and more believable.
Grey Lupindo: Ah, yes. It's hard to make your characters suffer.
Grease Coakes: But also my characters have to grow.   I mean as a child just doing what your parents tell you is suffering.  Or being pushed around by the school bully.  No one person lives a carefree life.   Life doesn't work that way.
Grey Lupindo: Is there any bullying in this story? That seems to be such a hot issue right now.
Grease Coakes: There could be.
Grey Lupindo:  Is there anything else that you want readers to know about your book or the writing process?
Grease Coakes:  All I can say is, if you believe in yourself and apply yourself, anything is possible.  If you keep at it. I mean I could have just given up when someone didn't draw my picture for me after I paid in Lindens.
Grey Lupindo: Did that happen?
Grease Coakes:  Yes, it did.  And when I IM’d her, she gave me a rude response.
Grey Lupindo: How terrible!
Grease Coakes: I said the hell with this.   Let me look for someone else.  Luckily when I ran into Lampie, she was very professional and very swift.
Grey Lupindo:  Who is the publisher? How can people buy your book?
Grease Coakes:  That's easy.  They can go to http://www.lulu.com/shop/john-krauss/ginny-grffins-first-day-of-school/paperback/product-20635273.html    I have the link in my picks, too.
          Ginny Griffin's First Day of School is available from Lulu Press for $12.00 U.S.    

Grey Lupindo

Monday, January 14, 2013

News and Commentary: "Graphics Card" Griefing Attacks on Club Show a Serious Problem

By Bixyl Shuftan

Griefers have been a problem in Second Life probably since the beginning. Usually they're bored, immature individuals whom get their kicks out of pranking or harassing people. Little pests. But recently I've heard some news of some incidents that had me worrying.

Since first getting about the Grid, I myself have seen a number of examples at sandbox areas and the Luskwood community. One moment, a guy's peacefully building in a public 'box, and the next his work is surrounded by giant male organs with the N-word being shouted out repeatedly. While visiting Luskwood in the past, on occasion the place was flooded with squares showing some image, usually lame or obscene, or pictures of Mario. The response from the Lusk furs was a collective "Here we go again," and they'd turn off Particle images in their Preferences while an administrator got rid of the emitter. And a couple times while at a Live TV broadcasting, some character walked onto stage and began showering the set with particles. Both were quickly booted, and a little editing erased any traces of inconvenience to the show.

Usually these malcontents have simply been an occasional annoyance that pops up time to time. Although these particle storms could cause one to crash on occasion, the effect was mainly distraction and some lag. Although "The Herald" reported on them repeatedly, other newsletters and blogs have tended to do so sparingly. The most noted article about grieving by our predecessor paper, SL Newspaper, was when the Woodbury sim was hit by grieving attacks. The sim had a strong reputation of being a griefers hangout, so I couldn't help but chuckle at the equivalent of someone robbing a thieves guild. Since then, maybe a sentence or two of some philistine trying to disrupt a 9-11 memorial service.

But earlier this month, I've heard about some incidents of griefers whom truly were a serious problem for a location.

Junkyard Blues is an outdoor club that's been in business in Second Life for several years. Over time, a community has sprung up around the place, as well as shops, and some smaller additional clubs. According to an article written by Yordie Sands in her blog, the location was the target of a series of grieving attacks. Not the "Mario Mosh Pit" and the like that pestered Luskwood and other places, but using devices that I had never heard of until reading her post about an announcement by Kiff Clutterbuck, one of the owners.

These attackers used a particularly nasty kind of tool called a "sim crasher." Another name might be "graphics card crasher." Not only could they take the sim offline, but these things would cause peoples' computers to crash by overloading their graphics cards. Sims were sometimes offline for hours or the next day until Linden help during business hours could bring them back online.

Staff and patrons alike began expressing worry that these attacks might cause actual damage to their computers. Not to mention regulars and casual visitors alike began to stay away. They wanted to just relax and listen to the music, not deal with constant threats of harassment. Then came a new wrinkle. The management was sent a message by one of the griefers demanding money in order for the attacks to stop.

This was now an extortion scheme, one with the continued livelihood of the community as stake.

Aside from bringing crashed sims back online, Kiff stated the Lab was no help at all, "All that was available from Linden Lab was the invitation to file abuse reports, one by one, on each individual who attacked us, if we could even give then a name. And then we'd see the same people we reported returning to do it again." The attacks continued day after day, one show being crashed four times. Finally, the decision was made to make the Junkyard Blues club, and most of the community's sims, members only. Visitors could still drop into the one sim open to all, talk to a volunteer, and get a tag after a look-over.

The problem with this solution: making a place members-only can put a limit on traffic. Fewer people able to drop in money in a club's tip jar, fewer potential customers at the stores. Eventually, Junkyard Blues will lift their group membership requirement. But not until they feel the coast is clear.

To add insult to injury, it was soon discovered that "sim crashers" were available for sale on Marketplace. No only was the Lab not doing anything about the attacks, it wasn't doing anything about items for sale on Marketplace openly marked for griefing!

Why is Linden Lab not enforcing the rules it set down for its virtual world? Why is Linden Lab not helping it's customers?

Sims can cost big money, $300 US dollars a month in tier. If a griefing campaign like this results in a place closing down, that's less money for Linden Lab. If stores and clubs are unavailable for residents to frequent, that's less people buying Linden dollars. That's what this kind of mess directly costs Linden Lab. Indirectly, well, Linden Lab not enforcing its rules about harassment *and* dealing with criminal activity makes people less likely to want to invest time and money in Second Life.

Why Linden Lab isn't acting, we residents can only guess. We've long joked about Linden incompetence. Some people I know have wondered if the Lab can be lazy at times, not wanting to deal with issues even when they have the time and resources. Or perhaps they're simply having Second Life "treading water" while they look for the perfect "shared creative space" for the masses more suited to watching reality TV than figuring out the Grid's learning curve.

Oskar Linden's dismissal in November also raises a few questions on the matter as in his words "the root of it was complaints from a griefer whom I had banned from a private testing sandbox that I managed after he was harassing people and threatening to crash them and the region." A Linden fired for protecting residents against griefers? The Lab has been distancing itself from the residents, and it's believed they strongly dislike its employees getting involved with the residents. But has this unofficial policy gone to the point that even protecting residents from griefers is forbidden?

Or perhaps this is an example of how bad the dysfunction at the Lab has gotten. On the Second Life Universe forum thread Oskar Linden announced his dismissal, one poster commented "your firing is an example why employees 'freeze' when trying to make decisions on their own …" Another thought, "The result will surely be that the few surviving LL employees will do even less banning of griefers now. Why bother ARing grievers now, as the poor drudge who deals with your AR will be scared to take effective action."

So perhaps that the assault on Junkyard wasn't dealt with by the Lindens was a consequence of Oskar's dismissal: they were afraid what supposedly happened to him from banning a griefer would have happened to them. If so, the Grid's residents could truly be on their own when it comes to these troublemakers now able to crash people's computers, whether it be taking the "law" into their own hands, getting the help of a vigilante group, or bite the bullet and "hunker down" until the problem goes away like Junkyard did.

Yordie Sands did mention one possible solution: the Lab offering countermeasures for sim owners against griefers. Someone commenting on her article suggested residents had already made some countermeasures, but there was some debate on how effective they were, one wondering if they tended to attract griefers instead of being a shield.

So how could this end? Honour McMillian wrote in her blog the end result could very well be someone taking Linden Lab to court over it's failure to enforce it's terms of service. Crap Mariner commenting on her article wasn't so sure if many residents had a big enough investment in the Grid to get a lawyer on the matter. But if one of the few large land barons ended up the target of griefers and the Lab did nothing, then the Lab could very well be hit with a lawsuit.

With the Second Amendment being debated in the US in real life, the Junkyard incidents could very well be used by the pro-gun side in any debate in Second Life. Rules against the ownership of weapons are no help to the public when those in charge make no real effort to protect the public from those who buy or make them anyway and then use them with impunity with no fear of punishment.

I contacted Kiff Clutterbuck about the attacks, but he declined to be interviewed, "I think for now we are sort of burnt out on it."

Sources: Yordie Sands, SL Universe, Honour McMillian

Bixyl Shuftan