Friday, November 25, 2011

Meanwhie, Back in Azeroth: "The Mists of Pandaria"

World of Warcraft, the most popular of the Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games, has been in the news recently. A few days ago, it was for it’s Chuck Norris TV commercial. But before that, in October Blizzard announced their plans for the next expansion for their bestselling game: "The Mists of Pandaria.”

To begin with, a new PC race is introduced, the panda-like Pandaren. No this isn’t some “Kung Fu Panda” joke. Longtime players are probably familiar with the Pandaren Monk companions (most often seen in capital cities). As it turns out, they were originally created years ago as an April Fool’s gag. But the response was so popular, they were included in the Warcraft III game. Rumors of them soon to be introduced in World of Warcraft persisted for years, as well as rumors of complaints from China. But at Blizcon 2011 in October, the word was official.

The racial traits of Pandaren, at least according to current plans, include twice the stat benefits from foods, in addition to starting out with 15 points in the Cooking skill. Their rested experience will be twice as long as other players, and take 50% less damage when falling. The Pandaren’s background describes their homeland, Pandaria, as being secluded from the rest of Azeroth and its fighting. Beginning Pandaren PCs start out as among a group of explorers on the back of a giant turtle. The Pandaren are neither Horde or Alliance, but unaligned. After some time progressing, new Pandaren characters will need to choose which faction to support.

Pandaren were provided by Blizzard with an interesting background. Naturally, much of their in-game cultural background is based on that of China, with elements of Daoism and Tai-Chi used as inspiration. Much like the Tauren, they have a respect of Shamanism. Similar to the dwarves, they have a love of alcoholic beverages, brewmaking considered a revered tradition among them.

A new class of character is introduced as well: the Monk. They are available to all races except for the Worgen and Goblins. Monks have three specilizations: Brewmasters, which can take more damage, Mistweavers, which are healers, and Windwalkers, whom deal more melee damage. They can use staves and fist weapons, in addition to one handed maces, with Mistweavers being able to use off-hand items. They wear leather armor. They use a new resource bar, a Chi-bar, which is described as being similar to the Energy bar for Rogues.

The Talent system is being described as “entirely redone.” Talent trees are being replaced by being granted another specialization ability every few levels. Plus, every fifteen levels a talent point that can be spent on one of three talents. There will also be Challenge-Mode dungeons, requiring players to complete them in a certain time. There are also plans for Scenario battles, where players team up to accomplish a goal such as capturing or defending an area. Then there’s the “Pet Battle System,” which will do doubt get the attention of “Pokemon” fans. All those companion pets which are currently just for show will be able to fight and level, as well as able to be traded on the Auction House. As of now, Mists of Pandaria is planned to have nine new dungeons, and three new Raids. And players will be able to level up to Lvl 90, with adjustments to profession skills.

There is one change that will be a bit upsetting to some players. All classes are losing their secondary weapons, which means hunters lose their melee items (though will be able to shoot point-blank), and other clases lose their raged weapon slots, though warriors and rouges can throw their weapons, and casters can use wands in their main hand.

Blizzard got an enthusiastic response to news of the expansion at Blizcon. Since then, reactions have varied, as one can tell from the WoW forums. Joystik called the expansion an interesting move in new directions. They quoted game lead designer Dave Kosak, "What we're trying to do is find other ways to incorporate other playstyles into the game and give everybody something to do. ... We have this big, giant, incredible world -- what else can you do in it?"

But “Pandaren” and all its changes are about a year away most likely. Until then, WoWers still have some new content coming up, which we’ll be covering in our next article about World of Warcraft.

Images from Blizzard.
Other articles at PC World, Joystik, WoWWiki, ING

Bixyl Shuftan

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Images of Imagine Peacefest

IMAGINE PeaceFest was a respite from Occupy protests, where global solutions are envisioned, and Second Life's most fabulous talent converge in spirit of peace, love, and harmony. An eclectic melange of art, music, poetry, politics, and positive thinking, IMAGINE PeaceFest was a 3 day weekend, over 50 hours of events on dozens on Second Life regions.

Second Life's best and brightest and most talented, all turned out to bless us with their special human gifts. Donations went to READA, RAWA, and One Laptop per Child, important and under-reported small causes, where our Second Life contributions really do make a big difference.

Amazing Second Life immersive artist, Artistide Despres, stood alongside a huge hand peace symbol on New Caerleon region.

The IMAGINE MUSIC stage was set up by Gary Kohime and Pixels Sideways at New Caerleon for IMAGINE PeaceFest.

Bankers on the run!!!

Leading the parade of Occupy Movement protest marchers.

Famous photographic artist Gracie Kendal joined us at IMAGINE PeaceFest. Her new book 1000+ Avatars is in production. At the Peacefest, she declared that if you had your portrait taken for her first book, 1000 Avatars, your picture is definitely published there.

Epic artist, curator, and Second Life builder, Trill Zapatero comes out in her Occupy outfit for IMAGINE PeaceFest. Her RAWA and Afghanistan builds kicked off the festival, and on Sunday she hosts the RAWA BoHo Hobo Fashion Show of authentic and inspired traditional designs.

Photons of Imagine and Peace radiate from a large hand in peace symbol, sending a message of love towards the heavens.

The IMAGINE PeaceFest home page is at .

Any1 Gynoid

Article & images originally on CNN.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Four Years of Reporting

It was four years ago this month in which I started writing about the Grid as a Second Life reporter. It had been just weeks since my time as a newcomer had come to an end, having taken a greater interest in the virtual world, logging on more frequently, finding a hangout and making friends, and ditching the newbie ringtail in favor of the Lusk red foxboy. I wanted to learn more, so began searching the ‘net for websites related to Second Life. It was this search that led me to Second Life Newspaper, run by founder JamesT Juno and Editor Dana Vanmoer, and began reading it daily. I took pride in keeping up with real-life news, so felt keeping up with it here would only help.

In October 2007, I came across a notice calling for “Reader Submitted” articles and pictures. I responded by sending some amusing screenshots along with noteworthy personal accounts. It wasn’t long before James and Dana called me to their office for an interview, and offered me a job. Needless to say, it was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse. I would do more than just read the news, I would take part in reporting it.

And the rest, as they say, is history. With my first payment, got a trenchcoat and hat to look the part of a “Fox Reporter,” standing out in the SL Newspaper staff. I continued to produce at least one article a week, along with at least one picture for a cartoon, which added a little humor to the paper. Although some writers specialize in one field, such as music, I preferred to cover a variety of topics, reporting on the various people, places, and events across Second Life. Sadly, real life caught up with James and Dana, and SL Newspaper closed. In response, Second Life Newser was created for most of the remaining staff to keep reporting on the news. But I now had a new role: editor.

Second Life has changed quite a bit since I began writing on it. Back then, it was still somewhat new, and it was being talked about warmly. In the BBC News website at the time, one reporter was describing his experiences of creating an avatar, getting past Help Island, and going about the Grid. Politicians such as Newt Gingrich appeared via an avatar to make a speech before residents. It even made network TV a few times, most notably in an episode of CSI that was a cooperation with Second Life. Viewers saw the police track down a killer in the virtual world, and on the grid residents got a chance to play a CSI game. Companies from Honda, to Circuit City, and most notably IBM appeared on the Grid.

As the years went by, Second Life didn’t make real-life news so much. It has gotten a little attention for veterans getting help there recently. But unfortunately people seem to know of it more through someone getting in trouble through a love affair on the Grid. Talking about it with real-life friends and co-workers, most have a hard time understanding what it is. One guy kept calling it a “porn site.” Another I talked to was interested only in it’s seedier aspects. People have been much more familiar with World of Warcraft, and especially Facebook.

My own personal experiences in Second Life have also changed over time. When first writing about the Grid, I had only recently found a couple hangouts and a group of friends. Over time, I’ve lived in a few estates, taken part in a few communities, become part of a combat RP, helping run a few virtual clubs, taken part in the Relay for Life, and gotten to know many friends and talented individuals. People like Pooky Amsterdam and Delinda Dyrssen have made a name for themselves showing what one can do with Second Life. Other talented individuals, such as Lomgren Smalls and Alleara Snoodle, prefer to work more quietly behind the scenes, such as at eh Relay for Life.

And of course there’s the people I’ve been writing with. I’ve had a number of interesting people I worked alongside with at SL Newspaper, some of whom I had the fortune of joining up with me at the Newser such as Gemma Cleanslate and Grey Lupindo. I’ve had a number of interesting people on the team along the way, and more recent arrivals such as Netera Landar and Xymbers Slade show there are still more people interested in writing about the Grid.

Writing about Second Life has been no small challenge, but it’s been an experience well worth it. And I’ll continue for as long as I can.

Bixyl Shuftan

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Xymber Slade's Horoscopes for November

It's been a while, I know. To celebrate the passing of Halloween I did a 5 card spread for each sign instead of a three-card like I normally do. Consider this one good for the rest of the year, and I'll post a ten-card for each sign at the end of January to be a "2012 incoming" spread.

Capricorn (12/22–1/19), Magician upside down, 3 of Swords, 3 of Cups, Wheel of Fortune, Queen of Pentacles upside down: Things screwed up, but they got screwed right back down. Many bullets were dodged and will continue to be dodged. Don't put any resources toward long term projects; nothing is stable right now and there's a saboteur in the works. Fortunately said saboteur is affected by the same unstable environment and will not be effective.

Aquarius (1/20–2/18), Death upside down, Ace of Swords upside down, King of Wands upside down, 4 of Swords upside down, Judgement: Cut ties to the previous chapters in your life. It's all dead weight for a variety of reasons. An older man in your way is too established and has his resources too defended/protected and has friends in high places; go around him rather than through him, or if you can't go through him, get away from him as much as you can. They will fall soon enough and you will be able to step in and clean up their messes, both political and material. But do not directly engage this older man.

Pisces (2/19-3/20), 6 of Pentacles, 10 of Cups upside down, 7 of Wands upside down, The World, 8 of Wands upside down: Lots of talk, talk, talk, and very little action that accomplishes anything. You're not doing anything wrong, simply keep trying and keep yourself out of the interference of those who are strutting around like they own the place (even if they do).

Aries (3/21–4/19): Ace of Cups, 7 of Cups, Death upside down, 4 of Wands upside down, 2 of Swords upside down: Take advantage now of all that you can and "test" all routes of potential before committing to one (and only one) particular road). Once you pick a road you cannot go back. Don't make plans from home; do them in social spots. Plan for between-a-rock-and-hard-place situations.

Taurus (4/20–5/20), Star upside down, Page of Wands upside down, Death upside down, 3 of Swords upside down , Hanged Man upside down: Simply put, don't push your luck in relationships or business. You're at a low point right now, best bet is to just run, hide, and retire until things thaw out in the spring of next year. All Stop, instead of Warp 9.

Gemini (5/21–6/21), 3 of Wands upside down, Death upside down, 6 of Cups, 8 of Swords upside down, Temperance: A trojan horse is about to go off but it's too late to stop it; people were lulled into monotony and blind to the obvious and now it's the snake's turn to strike. Patience rather than fighting back will be the name of the game here.

Cancer (6/22–7/22), 6 of Pentacles upside down, 8 of Wands upside down, Ace of Swords upside down, 8 of Cups, 2 of Swords: What seems like a profitable venture likely will not be (either through fine print or people not wanting what is being sold) so leave yourself an escape route before you're stuck between a rock and a hard place leaving you without resources.

Leo (7/23–8/22), 7 of Pentacles, 7 of Cups, Knight of Wands, The Lovers, 10 of Swords upside down: There is a LOT of good potential here, but that one person you seem to have a good connection with? There's a nasty flavor of betrayal behind them. Your new friends might not be so friendly, so don't let them lull you into a false sense of security.

Virgo (8/23–9/22), 10 of Swords, 10 of Wands upside down, Page of Wands upside down, 7 of Pentacles upside down, Page of Cups: You got set up. There was nothing you could do, so do not worry. This is an "it's not you it's them" series of events that drain your resources. Let them have their fun; karmic payback does exist and will be felt full force. Whether the trouble makers involved learn (or ignore) the lesson is another story.

Libra (9/23–10/22), 5 of Wands, 10 of Swords, Ace of Wands upside down, Justice upside down, The Moon: Secrets and gossip will have more of an impact than the petty fighting for position everyone is doing. The road currently traveled seems like a good one, but things have to be "unlearned" before they can be learned properly. Justified Karma is a bitch, so watch your actions no matter how minor they seem.

Scorpio (10/23–11/21), 7 of Pentacles, Justice upside down, Knight of Pentacles upside down, The Sun upside down, The Chariot: Resources spent now will bear fruit but that fruit will be coveted with everyone biting off a tiny bit off as "their little secret share." If not stopped, when the fruit gets big, the bitten-off chunks get just as big. The new year will start with a roller coaster of events, so be ready for them after a "cold snap."

Sagittarius (11/22–12/21), Tower upside down, Knight of Cups, 7 of Wands, Ace of Cups, Hermit upside down: A fall from grace and a collapse of whatever was held dear leads to better connections... a "knight in shining armor" pulls out a victory from nowhere (infurating those who set up the fall in the first place, setting the stage for petty revenge later on, so be careful) but only if it's done -quickly- after the fall. If there is a "complete" loss of things, don't give up and don't be intimidated by those in power.