May 2011


I didn’t much like Dragon Age Origins when I first got it (see here and here), but I decided to give it another try (otherwise known as “I’ve played everything else except for Fallout NV and I’m kind of sick of chatting to NPCs there”).  I’m liking it much better, partly due to the fact that I’m playing it on Easy.  I still don’t like the combat system, so I don’t care that I’m not good at it.

It still has some lag issues… periodically I have to exit and restart the game.  And sometimes it gets better when I save the game… I’m guessing memory leak.

Alison tries to use ranged attacks so as not to be always covered with blood.

I’m playing as a Mage this time, which is also an improvement.  For one thing, the offensive spells are pretty good… Alison does about 50% of the party’s damage; also you just get more to do during a battle as a mage.  Also, the game has some pretty weird elements, and these tend to be the best parts: the Mage origin story, the Fade, the Gauntlet… when the game is eccentric it’s good, as opposed to moving room by room through a medieval building clearing out monsters.  For instance, one of the Fade quests involves shapeshifting in order to fight or move around, which is pretty cool.

 
You get plenty of both… it’s a big game.  Probably not as big as Oblivion, but as an example, one of the main quests involves defending a village from the undead, then fighting your way through the castle, then a lengthy excursion into the Fade (the spirit world) to knock off a demon.  And then you have to go to the capital, then to a village in the highlands to fight cultists, then fight your way through a ruined temple, then pass a few spiritual tests.  This is more involved than closing an Oblivion gate.
 

Your party must approach Andraste in their underwear. I am not making this up.

I’m also having less trouble keeping people happy this time.  Last time it seemed like Morrigan disapproved of everything.  But she’s happy as a clam now; it helped that I knocked off her mother.  I’m romancing Leliana, or trying to… I haven’t been able to unlock her personal quest yet, and I hope I didn’t miss the appropriate dialog trigger.

Some of the character banter is a lot of fun.  Most of your companions are at least somewhat sarcastic.  Morrigan and Alistair used to tease each other a lot, though they’ve calmed down a bit.  I missed this sort of thing in Mass Effect 2, where companions were much more silent.

The worldbuilding is… not overwhelming.  I like the Fade, but Ferelden itself is totally a Standard Fantasy Kingdom.  The French accents for the neighboring country of Orlais are a nice touch though.  I’m in elf country now, and they’re all sylvan and shit; I’d like to play a game sometimse where the elves have names like Khrumgh.

The face models are pretty, but the bodies are a bit odd.  Overprominent clavicles, massive shoulders, and huge hands.

Wow.  Are you a Republican crowing, or a Democrat worrying, that 2010 marked a fundamental shift in the electorate toward ending entitlements and giving the money tp the rich instead?  Look again:

The Republicans spent two years expertly managing a campaign to win the 2010 elections.  They made, however, one huge mistake: they won the 2010 elections.  That seems to be the clear lesson of the chart (which tracks preferences for a generic candidate for Congress), which shows them declining about as steeply and as quickly as the Democrats did after 2008.

They’ve made a bunch of missteps along the way, all of which come from thinking that the electorate had suddenly embraced their vision, rather than that it was lashing out at the incumbent party in a recession.   But the real mistake, I suspect, was joining the Democrats in incumbency; now they too can be blamed for the way things are going.

I found the chart over at Jon Chait’s blog; he’s also turned up the worst picture of Trump yet

And while we’re on politics, here’s a good article from Conor Friedersdorf warning his fellow conservatives that the big entitlements– Social Security and Medicare– are popular and have been political Kryptonite whenever Republicans convince themselves that they need to be destroyed.  Destroying them, in fact, would be a pretty sure route to having them re-enacted.  Paul Ryan may be eager to see senior citizens rooting around in trash cans for something to eat– the sight that impelled Francis Townsend to begin the movement that led to Social Security– but it’s been a losing strategy since FDR, though one that the GOP just can’t stop itself from trying once a decade.

Strangely, Friedersdorf writes an entirely reasonable article, chiding conservatives essentially for their “unwillingness to accept reality”, and then throws in one bit of lunacy himself.  He talks about conservatives “reining in big government” as “a vital task!”, and yet he’s just spent an article explaining that the big government that we have is pretty much here to stay.  The federal government is an old age insurance agency with an army.  It’s as big as it is because the American people like it that way.

I’ve updated the proto-Eastern page to include the relevant information on Luxajia– sound changes and vocabulary.

There’s also a nice new languages map (actually it’s the one from the new atlas).

Luxajia is a Čia-Ša language; specially a Čia one.  It replaces “Lufaša” in earlier Almeology.  The Great Reclimatization hit Luduyn hard; Gurdago had to be moved to the opposite coast, and its history was pretty much entirely rewritten.  As Gurdago took over the Čia region but not the Ša region, the best-known language had to be from the Čia family.

In addition, I took the opportunity to work out ‘real’ Čia-Ša names.  Both halves of the double-barrelled name mean ‘people’; it’s cognate to PE *gens and thus to Verdurian ženLuxajia is named for Luxae, ‘bend (of the river) city’; the –e comes from Old Skourene .

My original intention was for the Čia-Ša languages to be monosyllabic; I didn’t do that, as I already have two monosyllabic languages over in Arcél.  Luxajia has a strong preference for roots to be no longer than two syllables, though.

This doesn’t mean I’m done with the Luxajia grammar… only with those words that derive from proto-Eastern.

I’ve been working on my Mandarin.  One thing I’ve found is that just knowing more words is a Good Thing.  It makes the grammar portions of the text, as well as the readings, much less intimidating.  I wanted to do the same for my knowledge of characters, so I created a set of flashcards.  Unfortunately it seems to fail on IE9, which is merely the world’s most popular browser.  Safari and Firefox handle it fine.

(Anyone have ideas?  Other pages with Javascript work fine, like this one or this one.  Other pages wtih Unicode, like the link below, work fine.  Does IE9 fail when the Javascript has Unicode in it?)

Update: thanks largely to alert reader hakaku, this is fixed.  Apparently it wasn’t the Unicode; it was the string handling.  IE must interpret byte by byte and then outsource the execution to the Philippines, or something.

While I was at it, I updated the Zompist Phrasebook in Chinese to Unicodify the pinyin (and to get rid of the horrible Word formatting that bulked up the page).

I’ve been in news junkie mode since last night.  All the Internet blowhards are busy doing what they do best, so me too!

In such circumstances there should probably be a 24-hour free zone for basic emotional expression.  In other words, don’t be a prig and lecture people that they shouldn’t be happy or use the occasion to pursue your favorite hobbyhorse. 

What will change because of Osama’s death?  You can make a case for “nothing”, that both terrorism and counter-terrorism will continue, and nothing really changed when Saddam was captured.  But being cynical isn’t a guarantee of being right.  This could have many effects.

  • In many ways Osama was past his sell-by date, who looks more out of touch than ever given the Arab Spring; but he was an active and charismatic terrorist leader (unlike Saddam, who was obviously not organizing the Iraqi resistance).  There’s a cachet to successfully thumbing one’s nose at the infidel; getting shot instead is just not as romantic. 
  • Some terrorists may attempt reprisals… but if Osama wasn’t able to hit the US hard since 9/11, he’s not going to be more successful at it when he’s dead.  (Guzman’s capture didn’t lead to any huge counter-attack in Peru.)  Large-scale attacks require very careful planning, and if people rush them into operation they’re likely to flub them.
  • This is a huge victory for the special forces– and more broadly, for the view that the best response to terrorism is intel and highly focused military missions, not generalized war aiming at occupying entire rogue states. 
  • Osama was living in a comfortable town less than a mile from the Pakistan Military Academy.   We needn’t jump to the conclusion that the Pakistani government was aware he was there… but if it wasn’t, it was instead spectacularly incompetent.  Whatever game Pakistan is playing suddenly looks a little dumber.
  • We’re slowly leaving Iraq, and now we have a good reason to shut down the war in Afghanistan too.  Karzai has hinted as much already; instead of reactively attempting to beat him into being the able ruler he obviously doesn’t want to be, why not take him at his word, declare victory, and leave? 
  • It’s not going to win Obama the election– it’s too far away– but it may help him win the next few months.  You’ve probably seen the pic of Obama in sunglasses with the label “Sorry I took so long on the birth certificate… I was too busy killing Osama bin Laden.”  A bunch of shameless demagogues, starting with The Combover, suddenly look even more frivolous and petty. 

In short, this could provide some closure to the overreaction that was the “War on Terror”.  Some folks depicted 9/11 as an existential threat that justified endless war and a vastly increased security apparatus; we’ll be living with some of their mistakes for years, but Osama’s death is a good time to dial back the anxiety.  Counter-terrorism is important, but it is not the Cold War all over again.

I’ve been replaying Portal 2, and there are more opportunities in the early levels to get a look at Chell than I’d thought.  So here’s one:

Looks like she even found some lipstick

She really does look much less stressed-out than in Portal.  Maybe GLaDOS is right and she really does love testing.

 
(I wish they’d let you look down and see her, as you can do in Left 4 Dead or Mirror’s Edge.  I was replaying the latter last night too; I don’t think any other game I’ve played gives you the same visceral feeling of being inside that (hot) body.  The screen sways with your steps, blurs with your movement, you hear the panting of fast running, slaps of feet as you jump or wall-run, grunts as you slam into things.)

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