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You Win or You Restart/Discard.

Now here’s a Super Mario land that Bob Hoskins would’ve been more at home in — Game of Thrones, Mario-style.

In related news, Reddit users craft a GoT deck for Blizzard’s impressively addictive Hearthstone. Many more here.

Update: Now, Hyrule gets the same treatment.

Warlords of Draenor (Aaaahoooo).

He’s the hairy, hairy orc who runs amok on dwarves. Lately he’s been overheard in Orgrimmar. You better stay far back, he’ll rip your lungs out Jack. Huh, I wonder if he leveled tailor. Aaahoo, Warlords of Draenor, aahooo. And, yes, that song’s been in my head since, over the past weekend, Blizzard announced the fifth and most recent Warcraft expansion. I was in for Outland, Northrend, the Cataclysm, and Pandaria — I’m up for another tour.

Leeroy Rides Forth.

Warcraft has grown to be one of the most popular multiplayer online role-playing games. Taking an almost kitchen-sink approach to fantasy, it is part fantasy, part science fiction and — depending on the game you’re playing — includes elements such as dragons and orcs, zombies and werewolves, aliens and spaceships.

After years in development hell with Sam Raimi, two of my hobbies converge anew as Moon and Source Code director Duncan Jones grabs the reins of the Warcraft film. Said Jones in 2010: “I’m hugely jealous of Sam Raimi. I really believe World of Warcraft could be the launch of computer games as good films…[I]t’s not worrying about how the game plays, it’s about creating the world of the game and investing the audience in that world.”

570 Channels (And Nothin’ On).

“‘We don’t know whether the media multitasking is causing symptoms of depression and social anxiety, or if it’s that people who are depressed and anxious are turning to media multitasking as a form of distraction from their problems,’ Becker said in a statement.”

And here I thought Netflix and Warcraft went so well together: A new Michigan State study finds a correlation between depression and multi-tasking media. I wonder if the obverse is true also. One of the many reasons I love seeing a movie in the theater is that (ideally) nothing else but the film is impinging on my attention.

Z0MGP4NDAS.


About that time again…Blizzard releases the official trailer for Mists of Pandaria, dropping September 25th. Still not sold on the pandas, but I’m looking forward to a more cohesive xpac than Cataclysm, where it seemed most of the best work was put into revamping the 0-60 content and the 80-85 stuff felt more like a throw-in.

Now You’re Playing With…Pandas.


We’ve explored an alien planet. We’ve thrown down the Lich King. We’ve witnessed the End of the World. And now…we consort…with kung-fu pandas? At Blizz-Con 2011, Blizzard announces the next WoW expansion: Mists of Pandaria, and, er, yeah. Not feelin’ the pandas, guys, sorry. (But, yes, I’m sure I’ll be playing it anyway.)

Those Real Life Achieves.

By one estimate, Dr. McGonigal notes, creating Wikipedia took eight years and 100 million hours of work, but that’s only half the number of hours spent in a single week by people playing World of Warcraft. ‘Whoever figures out how to effectively engage them first for real work is going to reap enormous benefits,’ Dr. McGonigal predicts.

But, then it’d be work, would it? At any rate, scientists and game designers try to figure out ways to tap into the world-changing potential of gamers. “‘Gamers are engaged, focused, and happy’…’One of the most profound transformations we can learn from games is how to turn the sense that someone has “failed” into the sense that they ‘haven’t succeeded yet.’“

This used to be my Playground.


That’s great, it starts with an earthquake…On its 6th anniversary, and a little over two years after Wrath of the Lich King, the World of Warcraft is shattering into pieces this morning to make way for Cataclysm on December 7th. [Cinematic.] In other words, the original 2004 release is being completely revamped and updated, and the Old World that I and 12 million other people have been traipsing about in for the past several years is disappearing forever.

(This posed a poignant question for long-time players last night — Where do you go when the world ends? I myself parked my undead rogue on the grave where he was “born” four years ago, atop a hill in Tirisfal Glades, so he could watch the decline from a hazy distance.)

As usual, I’ve got a lot of games on my plate at the moment — CoD: Black Ops, Fallout: New Vegas, Civ 5, Starcraft 2, and DJ Hero 2. I’m still only halfway through Red Dead Redemption, and everything I’ve seen from the Kinect (and particularly Dance Central) suggests it’s a game-changing device in its own right. Still, for what hours I consign to gaming, I usually just keep coming back to WoW. It’s a quality production, through and through.

Distracting Shot/Feign Death FTW.

When the moose attacked them, Hans knew the first thing he had to do was ‘taunt‘ and provoke the animal so that it would leave his sister alone and she could run to safety…Once Hans was a target, he remembered another skill he had picked up at level 30 in ‘World of Warcraft’ – he feigned death.

Anyone who’s pugged more than twice in WoW knows the phenomenon of the “huntard” — the little kid who’s not-so-adept at handling his character (almost invariably hunters, and beast-master hunters at that.) Well, it’s not this kid: A 12-year-old Norwegian boy saves his sister from a moose by employing WoW tactics. (And if he managed to Tame Beast I’d be really impressed.)

Love Songs ’10.

A very happy Valentines Day to you and yours. To keep tradition going for its sixth year here at GitM — ’05, ’06, ’07, ’08, ’09 — time for the yearly musical valentines from yours truly.

First off, in keeping with the usual once-a-year romantic status-update, you’ll be happy to know that this 2010 post actually comes with 44% less whining than usual. (Yay, and there was much rejoicing.) I am still single on this end, as per the norm, which means my trusty sheltie sidekick is once again holding down the official valentine spot. (Aw, he got me Bioshock 2. How did he know I wanted it?) But, having at last escaped the egregious emotional, financial, and general personal sandtrap that is late-term gradual school, it’s safe to say I’m in a much happier place these days. And, since returning to DC, a town that’s been swell to me so far, I’ve at least been taking a few swings at the plate lately. So, no wallowing this V-day. I’m in a pretty good place, all in all, and hope springs eternal. In any event, on to the music:

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Hang with me in my MMO,
So many places we can go!
I’m better than a Real World quest
You’ll touch my +5 to Dexterity Vest.

What role do you want to play?
I’m just a click away, night or day.
And if you think I’m not the one,
Log off, log off and we’ll be done…”

But can she kite the adds? First off, as always, I offer some quality cheese: Singlehandedly raising unrealistic expectations for gamergrrls the world (of Warcraft) over, The Guild‘s fetching Felicia Day scored a massive (multiplayer) online hit last summer with the supremely catchy “Do You Wanna Date (My Avatar)?” In some ways a peppy, poppy update to Kraftwerk’s “Computer Love” (which led off the order in ’06) this was one of two songs I heard in the past year that I knew — immediately — would make it into this post.

Now, having spent more than my fair share of time MMO’ing over the past few years — everybody say hi to Jacklowry — it’s safe to say that the bubbly, infectious enthusiasm that drives this track isn’t really a huge part of games like Warcraft. (In fact, everyone usually seems vaguely depressed — There’s a reason why some of the biggest facets of WoW-life are “grinding” levels and “farming” mats. If you take it seriously, it sorta becomes a day job.) But, all that being said, Day and The Guild crew know their WoW — how ’bout a little tank-and-spank? — and they’ve delivered a ditty that works as both a fun and knowing riff on the MMO life and a silky, effervescent pop song all on its own. Great job, y’all…Lvl 80 rogue lf healbot pst?

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You told me you loved me,
Why did you leave me, all alone?
Now you tell me you need me,
When you call me, on the phone.

Girl I refuse, you must have me confused
With some other guy
Your bridges were burned, and now it’s your turn
To cry, cry me a river.”

Don’t it make you sad about it? This song probably needs no introduction — most everybody knows it, and I’m sure a lot of people are totally sick of the durned thing. Still, since the last song, however cheesy, is already a gamer standard and perhaps not nearly as embarrassing a guilty pleasure as I’ve tended to offer in years past, I give you JT’s “Cry Me a River.”

It’s easy to playa-hate Justin Timberlake, and to be honest, I think I can only name three or four songs of his anyway. Still, I’d argue this well-crafted track and “SexyBack” put JT as the truly deserving 21st century pop heir to, say, Stevie Wonder or Michael Jackson. He’s got the pipes, he’s got the beats, he’s got the production values, the dance moves, and the marketing savvy, and to my mind “Cry Me a River” just holds it own as a classically catchy pop ditty. And when the scorned lasses of this world roll out Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” as their peppy post-break-up standard on the dance floor, I in turn will call forth this track, Pokemon-style. Game on.

*********

I loved you in the morning, our kisses deep and warm,
your hair upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm.
Yes, many loved before us, I know that we are not new,
in city and in forest they smiled like me and you.
But now it’s come to distances and both of us must try,

Your eyes are soft with sorrow,
And I know when to say goodbye.

While I threw up some Dylan in both ’06 and ’07, I try not to repeat artists just yet for these V-Day posts. Still, while the sublime “I’m Your Man” — which quite possibly can’t be topped as a V-Day song — was part of the 2007 mix, I’m going with Leonard Cohen’s “That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” this year from Live in London. Not only because it is beautiful, but because, frankly, I played the hell out of this record over the past year.

When he’s at his best, as he is throughout Live in London, Cohen’ sheer rawness — his naked, direct emotion — cuts like a knife. He’s not one to dabble in misdirection, or to try to obscure his feelings with extended metaphors. He just goes right to the heart of it, every time.

With that in mind, I much prefer this version of “That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” to the original 1967 version. At times, the young Cohen sounds too callow to me. It took years, even decades, for his voice to catch up to the power of his poetry. And the slight change in lyrics here — Now it’s “I know when to say goodbye” — helps push this ballad from petulance to poignance. It’s one of many transcendant moments on this superlative album.

*********

Well I could sleep forever
But it’s of her I dream.
if I could sleep forever
I could forget about everything…

And, really, who doesn’t love sleep? As a love-song sorbet of sorts, here’s The Dandy Warhols’ “Sleep.” Like Brian Eno’s “By this River” and Hot Chip’s “Crap Kraft Dinner” (written up in ’09), this is one of those songs I find endlessly soothing. It could just play on and on like this for twenty minutes and I’d be blissfully content…perhaps eventually nodding off, fading away into the wilderness of dream…

*********

I’m so tired, of playing
Playing with this bow and arrow
Gonna give my heart away
Leave it to the other boys to play
Been tempted for too long

Go on, give me a reason to love you
Give me a reason to wanna be your man
Give me a reason to love you
Give me a reason if you can.”

As I said back when hyping Third in 2008, Portishead’s Dummy was one of those ubiquitous albums for a few years there in the mid-nineties, with the most memorable track therein possibly being “the second single, “Glory Box.” I include the late guitarist John Martyn’s cover of “Glory Box” here not because it’s an improvement on the original — they’re both amazing — but because it captures so well that song’s hothouse sultriness, while managing to sound quite different in the end (and switching the gender dynamic.)

Also of note on this subject: Portishead’s “Scorn,” the ice-cold B-side version of this same song. I love how it completely inverts the sensation of the original tune, just by switching the beats involved. Now, the whole song plays out atop that sensual, brooding oil-tanker rhythm only heard when everything goes wobbly in the original version. And, conversely, only in the climax of this mix are the original lyrical strings heard, like a moment of clear-thinking grace before the hammers descend anew. (The Youtube of “Scorn” below cuts out the end, unfortunately, although you can hear the whole mix here.)

*********

“A love-struck Romeo sings the streets a serenade
Laying everybody low with a love song that he made.
Finds a streetlight, steps out of the shade
Says something like, ‘You and me babe, how about it?’

Juliet says, ‘Hey, it’s Romeo, you nearly gave me a heart attack!’
He’s underneath the window, she’s singing, ‘Hey la, my boyfriend’s back.’
You shouldn’t come around here singing up to people like that…
Anyway, what you gonna do about it?”

You and me, babe, how ’bout it? Now, if forced, with a gun to my head, to pick the Dire Straits’ absolute finest hour, I’d have to go with “Sultans of Swing”, that testament to resolute keep-on-keepin’-on long after the crowd’s gone home and all the midnight oil is burned. Still, their brief retelling of “Romeo & Juliet” is an unabashedly lovely song indeed. (Full disclosure: This was, in fact, the favorite tune of one of my former ex’s, a long, long time ago. But, no plagiarism here. I ended up earning this streetlight serenade’s stripes myself…the hard way. Anyway, let’s move on.)

There are a lot of covers of “Romeo & Juliet” floating around — Indigo Girls, The Killers, Edwin McCain — but none of ‘em really do the simple beauty of this song justice. Also, the original Dire Straits video is also online, but frankly it’s so bad and ridiculously Eighties-ish that it detracts from the timelessness of the tune. No wonder they later plunked down big dollars for “Money for Nothing“…

*********

“Looking from a window above,
It’s like a story of love
Can you hear me?
Came back only yesterday
Moving farther away
Want you near me…

All i needed was the love you gave
All i needed for another day,
And all i ever knew,
Only you.”

As I’ve said ’round here many times, I’m a big Depeche Mode fan from way back. (Their “Here is the House” went up here in ’06.) And I think they became a better, darker, richer band in 1982 with Vince Clarke’s departure after Speak & Spell, when Martin Gore took over the songwriting full-time.

Still, with all due respect to melancholy Marty, Vince Clarke always had a way with a happy three-chord love song that the minor-key-obsessed DM never ever really got back to. Case in point: Yaz’s “Only You” (as well as almost all of Erasure’s many hits over the years.) There are no regrets or guilt or religious allusions or teenage scared-stiff-of-sex angst or black cars driving around in the distance. It’s just a simple, very pretty ode to that one special person.

There are a lot of very good tracks on the better of Yaz’s two albums, Upstairs at Eric — “Don’t Go,” “Situation,” and “Winter Kills,” for example. Still, I’d put “Only You” as the pick of the litter: It’s the perfect blend of Vince Clarke synth-pop and Alison Moyet soul.

*********

“Love is a delicate thing,
It could just float away on a breeze!
(he said the same thing to me)

How can we ever know
We’ve found the right person in this world?
(he means he looks at other girls)

Love is a mystery, It does not follow the rules!
(this guy is a fool)
(he’ll always be a boy, he’s a man who never grew up)
I thought I told you to shut up…”

The first time you get dumped, it feels like a tragedy. It just plain sucks. The second time, it…well, actually it’s even worse. And by the third or fourth time, you start to really wonder what’s wrong with you. But, after enough iterations of the dismal cycle, as the Conchords’ “Carol Brown” points out, it does become farce. And a really funny one, for that matter.

Along with Felicia Day at the top, this is the other song I knew I was going to post here this year as soon as I heard it. The Flight of the Conchords’ second season included a lot of really hilarious tunes: “Hurt Feelings” (and its reprise), “Too Many Dicks on the Dance Floor,” “Fashion is Danger.” But “Carol Brown” is, imho, their magnum opus. It’s funny on its own terms (as well as a great riposte to Paul Simon’s smarmy “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.”) But, more importantly, it’s just a funky-sweet song with truthiness to spare. (The Michel Gondry video is great too.)

I’m sure most of y’all out there know the old Annie Hall joke: “This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, ‘Doc, uh, my brother’s crazy; he thinks he’s a chicken.’ And, uh, the doctor says, ‘Well, why don’t you turn him in?’ The guy says, ‘I would, but I need the eggs.’ Well, I guess that’s pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y’know, they’re totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and…but, uh, I guess we keep goin’ through it because, uh, most of us…need the eggs.

That’s the gag that “Carol Brown” gets so well. The whole song is a litany of ugly dumpings for most of its run. But every time that peal chimes (at 1:15) and the angelic chorus kicks in for the first time (“He doesn’t cook or clean…“), you can hear exactly why Jemaine — and so many others of us, for that matter — keep leading chin first regardless. Carol Brown took a bus out of town…but I’m hoping the next gal sticks around.

*********

That’ll do for ’10, I think. Have a safe and happy Valentines Day, everybody. I’ll see y’all on the flip side. And, until next year…

UAV Ready for Deployment.

News you can use: How to unlock all the titles in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. With my strict gaming regimen freed up until WoW’s Cataclysm expansion comes out, MW:2 has been getting a lot of run lately in Casa Berk (as have Left 4 Dead 2, NBA 2K10, the GTA IV expansions, and Batman: Arkham Asylum.) Then again, given the millions of copies sold on opening day, I guess I’m in good company.

Saving Warlock Ryan (before he wipes the raid.)

“‘The aim is to adapt the game, rather than a previously conceived story written within that world. “We want to be really faithful to the game,’ Raimi said. ‘We would have our writer, Robert Rodat, really craft an original story within that world that feels like a ‘World of WarCraft’ adventure. Only obviously it’s very different ’cause it’s expanded and translated into the world of a motion picture.‘”

Sam Raimi discusses his upcoming World of Warcraft film with MTV, and discloses he’s hired Saving Pvt. Ryan screenwriter Robert Rodat to pen the film. Well, if it’s going to be a wipe, it’ll be an A-list wipe. (Speaking of WoW, I myself quit the game pretty much cold turkey upon moving back to DC this summer, but I could see myself getting snared back in by the next expansion pack, Cataclysm, whenever it drops next year.)

Hotter than Reality By Far?

While much of the geekglobe, including yours truly, are still happily grooving along this week to Felicia Day’s elite-level earworm, “(Do You Wanna Date My) Avatar,” the King of the World has upped the stakes by releasing the teaser trailer for his much-anticipated film of the same name. (Several stills have popped online too, including first looks at Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Stephen Lang (late of Public Enemies), and Giovanni Ribisi. Notably missing: Zoe Saldana.) The Avatar trailer drops at 10am EST.

Update: Apple/Quicktime is failing at the moment, but French MSN has come to the rescue. So, wait, it’s World of Warcraft Draenei replacing Dune‘s Fremen on the forest moon of Endor in 3D? Agh, screw it — you had me at James Cameron.

Drag Me to Orgrimmar.

“‘At its core, Warcraft is a fantastic, action-packed story,’ said Raimi. ‘I am thrilled to work with such a dynamite production team to bring this project to the big screen.” This is old news by this point, but just to get it down for the record: Sam Raimi is confirmed for the upcoming World of Warcraft movie. Sigh…I get out, they keep trying to pull me back in.

Ulduar Ascendant.

If you’re in any way WoW-inclined, I’m sure you’re already aware of this. Nevertheless, Warcraft patch 3.1 drops today, meaning (at long last) a new 14-boss raid, dual specs, more achievements, and sundry other post-WotLK content is now live. [Patch notes.] This won’t mean a thing to the uninitiated, of course. But, for the 11 million or so folks out there who are of the WoW persuasion, I think I speak for us all when I say: If I never set foot in Naxxramas again, it’ll be soon enough.

A Bottle of Jack.

Is this a dagger which I see before me? No, actually that’s a dagger rogue. A christmas present from my brother and sister-in-law which arrived just the other day, this stealthy fellow in the glass case — a lvl 80 undead rogue, for the non-WoW inclined — is a 3-D sculpture (or “rapid prototype,” to be more exact) of my (main) World of Warcraft alter-ego, courtesy of the folks at FigurePrints. (I chose the name JackLowry from here (Jack) and here (Lowry) — everyone on-server usually assumes it’s a Bad Boys reference. Fine by me.)

Apparently, obtaining a FigurePrint is rather difficult at the moment — due to high demand, you have to win a lottery for the privilege of buying one. I can see why. It’s a pretty cool and detailed little sculpture, and it’s just the perfect size to make for some tastefully nerdy desk flair in your home or office (and/or to use as a dogwhistle to smoke out your WoW-playing colleagues and co-workers.)

You can get a sense of the size of the statue from the Jack-and-Coke pic below, and, as you can see, he’s already playing nice with President Obama (whom, unlike Jack here, I’ll liberate from the packaging someday.)




I’ll see you on the fjord.

Some news the Obama administration may want to contend with when considering any plans to boost American economic productivity right around now: Amid the slew of high-profile new games coming out of late (Fable 2, Fallout 3, Gears of War 2, Call of Duty: World at War), Blizzard’s much-awaited 2nd WoW expansion, Wrath of the Lich KIng, drops tonight at midnight. In other words, that serious drag on the Internets tomorrow, as well as the frantic clicking sound you’ll be hearing in offices and cubicles around the world, is eleven million people frantically trying to be the first to level from 70 to 80. (I myself plan to take a slightly more leisurely pace with WotLK, meaning I’ll probably stop playing through the coming weekend for such relative luxuries as food, sleep, the monthly library book sale, and the new Bond flick.)

Update: [Note: If you're not among the WoW-inclined, just skip over this paragraph.] Ding 80, as of Sunday evening during the Obama 60 Minutes. So far, I’ve been extremely impressed with the art direction of Northrend, as well as the imagination put into some of the quests. (Lots of fun nods throughout too — See, for example, the Lost hatch in Sholazar Basin, the Time Bandits quest in Zul’Drak, or the time-travel paradox from Infocom’s old Sorcerer game in Dragonblight.) That being said, I am slightly afraid they’ve made the game too easy to allow more (re: bad) players to access end-game content. I guess we’ll soon find out…

Something Rotten in Northrend.

Alas, the pride of Lordaeron has succumbed to darkness…and why do I get the sense I and 24 of my friends are going to have to do something about it? The impressive new Arthas-themed trailer for WoW: Wrath of the Lich King is now online.

We’ll Always Have Orgrimmar.

I have no pride, I have no shame…and I’m not above pimping for Blizzard Entertainment every so often if the price is right. So, as my MMORPG of choice is trying to build out its network prior to the coming expansion, and are now offering various goodies to veteran and signee to do so, send me a note if anyone’s thinking of taking the World of Warcraft plunge. On the upside, it’s relatively cheap and addictive entertainment. On the downside, did I mention it was addictive? Don’t say I didn’t warn you if your life takes an Aqua Vita turn.

When they came for my rogue, I said nothing.

“The cultural and behavioral norms of virtual worlds and gaming are generally unstudied. Therefore, Reynard will seek to identify the emerging social, behavioral and cultural norms in virtual worlds and gaming environments. The project would then apply the lessons learned to determine the feasibility of automatically detecting suspicious behavior and actions in the virtual world.” The Director of National Intelligence announces a project to uncover terrorists in World of Warcraft and other MMORPGs. It seems the US government has finally awakened to the catastrophic dangers posed by Bin Laden’s vast army of h4x0rs and ninjas. (Via Yglesias, where the game-savvy commenters are already having a good deal of fun with it.)

The Devil You Know.

“We have company.” Big Red, Selma, Pa Bluth, Abe Sapien, & co are back fighting Cthulhuian monstrosities (and what look to be Warcraft blood elves) in the new trailer for Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army. I said of the first one that del Toro deserves another chance to tell a crackling Hellboy story without being burdened with all the origin stuff. So, hopefully, this’ll be more fun from the word go.

WoW, here we go again.

Whoosh! That giant sucking sound you’ll hear in a few months is the free time, productivity, and normal sleep cycles of 9 million people around the world suddenly being consumed within the vortex of another ten-level grind…Blizzard announces Wrath of the Lich King, a forthcoming second expansion pack (a la Burning Crusades) to their popular and addictive MMORPG. [If you're not a WoW player, just skip over the rest of this entry -- it won't make any sense.] Right now, my guild is done with Kara, has SSC essentially on farm, and is now plugging through the Eye (Void Reaver on farm, Al’ar recently down, Solarian and Kael’thas to come.) (As for my own character, I’m pretty well-geared these days — all of Tier 4, starting Tier 5 — and still reference EJ’s handy rogue spreadsheet whenever a possible upgrade falls.) So I expect we’ll be getting bored with Mt. Hyjal and the Black Temple at right around the time the new continent of Northrend drops. Well-played, Blizzard.

Is This Thing On?

Hey all. So, quiet around GitM of late, sorry about that. Chalk it up to dissertation fellowship deadline season, that insomnia-in-a-box known as Burning Crusades (ding 70), wintertime anomie, or any or all of the above. But hopefully I’ll be better about posting around here this month. I’ll try, in any case.

LFG UBRS Scholo Mara Strat?!?

A pause for breath: One short week before The Burning Crusade starts consuming my non-dissertating/blogging moments and late-night hours anew, I’ve made it to level 60 on the ridiculously addictive World of Warcraft (with an undead rogue by the name of JackLowry, in case you were interested.) I tried Second Life around the same time back in November and didn’t really get into it, but, oh my, WoW is gaming crack, the most virulent stuff I’ve experienced since Civ4. If you haven’t tried it, be warned.

You are entering a world of pain.

“Teamwork and competition do make the game much more fun, but everybody’s stuck in the same grind. With little at stake, your quests feel less like Frodo and Sam’s trip to Mordor than a night shift at Hardee’s. Every new level brings more of the same, and fatigue sets in the 10th time you’ve run through the same high-level dungeon, or when you’re trying to crack level 38 but can’t bring yourself to kill another goddamn swamp jaguar.” Also in Slate, Chris Dahlen calls out World of Warcraft (while, unlike too many contrarian Slate pieces, offering valuable suggestions for improvement.) I only recently tried out (re: binged on) WoW for the first time — I’m at Level 29 and climbing — and he’s got a point. The game is good, addictive fun, but I do wish there was more Infocom-style problem solving involved and less repetitive point-and-click pixel-bashing.

Warehouses of Warcraft.

“‘We’re like a stock exchange. You can buy and sell with us,’ says Alan Qiu, a founder of the Shanghai-based Ucdao.com. ‘We farm out the different jobs. Some people say, “I want to get from Level 1 to 60,” so we find someone to do that.’” Via a friend in the program, the NYT examines Chinese online gaming factories. “Most of the players here actually make less than a quarter an hour, but they often get room, board and free computer game play in these ‘virtual sweatshops.’

help tehy ganking me.

The World of Fellowship of the Ringcraft, a.k.a. Tolkien meets Worlds of Warcraft. I haven’t played WoW or any other MMORPG myself, but this is still pretty funny if you’ve done any sort of online gaming. (Via Triptych Cryptic.)

Ready to Serve.

Slate‘s Clive Thompson reviews the most recent wave of MMORPGs, namely City of Heroes and World of Warcraft. The latter has already consumed several of my family members, and, frankly, I’m just afraid of it — my gaming binges are bad enough without adding an open-ended MMORPG to the mix. Sounds fun, though…

Only a Pawn in their Games.

Well, thankfully the expected post-Christmas gaming binge only lasted one month instead of two — I can now look upon the promise of February with nary a high-end gaming product to keep me from my academic business, pleasure reading, blogging, and/or other pursuits. (Well, that is until Day of Defeat Source or, God forbid, Civilization IV rear their heads. I also hear good things about World of Warcraft, but am too fearful of the egregious time-suck that would undoubtedly occur if I started getting into a well-done MMORPG.) A quick roundup:

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas: As clever and immersive as GTA III and Vice City, but I thought San Andreas suffered in some ways from slight overkill (particularly in the food/clothing/weight-room character maintenance and the drawn-out travel times between cities.) That being said, having recently replayed the first two forays on XBox, I think my San Andreas experience was hindered by the graphics capability of the PS2, which made the scenery look muddy or devoid of color at certain times of day. (The fact that puppy Berkeley had long ago chewed my PS2 controller joysticks into jagged, thumb-wounding sculpture probably didn’t help either.) San Andreas is undoubtedly amazing, but I’d probably recommend Vice City first to GTA newbies, at least until the XBox port comes out.

Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords: I spent the first week of 2004 doing very little but playing KotOR I, and the first week of 2005 followed the pattern. The game play hadn’t changed much — ok, the game play hadn’t changed at all — but both KotORs traverse the divide between puzzle-based RPG and action-game nicely, so I actually quite enjoyed this second installment. Obviously, I’m also a sucker for the Star Wars bent to these games — At the very least, they’re more fun (and often better-written) than the prequels. Now if only LucasArts would bring back Sam and Max

Halo 2: As noted everywhere, the multiplayer is really something else — even if I have yet to figure out how not to get endlessly slaughtered by trigger-happy 12-year-olds. Yet, I actually found the single-player campaign both somewhat dull and hard-to-follow. As this Slate article suggested, the Covenant storyline seemed pretty intricate, but damned if I could figure out what was going on half the time. To be honest, I think I prefer my FPS’s on the PC anyway, since, unlike in games like Call of Duty or Day of Defeat, I rarely feel I have any sense of the hitbox on Halo 2…I’m just blasting away and hoping I’m doing damage. Which leads me to…

Halflife 2: Now this is a first-person shooter. HL2 benefited from being the first game I played after procuring a mid-level Radeon graphics card, but still…while I never got around to the recent Doom 3, I can’t remember being this amazed by game graphics in a very long time. (I may have to go back to the original Prince of Persia from 1989.) With HL2, it really seems that game-makers are starting to find their way through the Uncanny Valley. And, while the single-player is on the short side, the 1984 meets Pink Floyd The Wall storyline is great fun, and the physics of the gravity gun really expand the boundaries for environment interaction in these sorts of games. In short, Halflife 2 was worth the wait.

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