Help a Bear nom chatta chatta!

The Bear family is taking a vacation in a few months… to Chicago.

Cassie is pondering getting a new family cell phone. We’re seeing tons of reviews, but sometimes nothing beats expert advice… and you’re my favorite bunch of experts.

What we do, being a family of budget-conscious type folks, is use T-Mobiles’ pre-paid phone plans. Our minutes last for a year, there are no monthly charges, it works really well for us. The people we generally call are each other or close family members, or use them for emergencies. A $100 time card lasts a looooong time. We don’t text, either. ūüôā

What Cassie is interested in are a few of the new internet-capable touchscreen phones T-Mobile has available. Their plan for pre-paid is that if you use the internet on the phone, it costs $1.49 for the 24 hours you used the internet. So, if you were on vacation for, say, a week, and you’d like to be able to do map searches, find places to eat, bus schedules, museam times, whatever, we’d only be out $10 or so and have full internet that whole week. On top of the cost of the phone, of course.

What makes it hard is seeing pictures of phones and reading descriptions of features and checking out the reviews written by people we don’t know. We’d like some actually knowledgeable people to give us their thoughts.

The two phones Cassie is liking at the moment are the Nokia 5230 Nuron, and the T-Mobile Comet with Android browser. They’re both in the $100 price range, which, again… we’re a family on a budget.

There is also a Samsung Gravity at the moment, which looks to me to be a really pretty phone.

The Nokia is an older phone touting built in GPS and the ability to save maps on the 2 gig internal memory. There is also mention that with a Nokia downloaded app, you could use it connected to your laptop for internet browsing on the go. The Comet is Android based, and has a capacitive touchscreen, and built in WiFi internet, which presumably means that if we were in areas with Wi-Fi hotspots, we wouldn’t have to use paid minutes to browse the internet.

I put it to you folks… any of you familiar with any of these three devices? I’d sure hate to buy a pig in a poke, and then find out we chose…. poorly.

Shades of the greatest Lore post of all time

I’ve had a lot going on in my head about World of Warcraft lately.

I’ve taken kind of a “let’s just be friends, I’d like to see other people” break for a few weeks, while I think about our relationship.

The results of my time away, basically, is that I’ve come to a startling¬†conclusion;¬†World of Warcraft is the greatest game of all time. It may even be the greatest potential game of all time.

I’ll post my thoughts on that stuff later in the week. I’d like to make sure I provide some lunch time “I’m bored” reading material for you, after all.

Right now, though, I’d like to talk about one of the most enduring signs of greatness; how well something stands up to the passage of time.

But I’m not talking, as you might think, about World of Warcraft itself. I’m talking about a blog post discussing the lore within it.

There was a post about the Lore of World of Warcraft that was published in January of 2010 by Shades of Grey, whom you might know better as Anne Stickney, celebrated writer of WoW Insider fame.

It was, even at the time, a legendary post. Brilliant insight, keen observations, excellent deduction and prophetic visions all tying the lore and story of World of Warcraft together in ways that were nothing short of revelatory.

The post brought things together and gave us a clear vision not just of what had come before and where it all fit together, but showed us where we might be going once the Sundering and the Cataclysm came.

The post brought Titans, Old Gods and Internet Dragons together as one cohesive ongoing story stretching across the ages… a story we were right in the middle of.

It’s been a year since that post was published. The Sundering, the Cataclysm, these events it spoke of have already come and gone.

In the wake of all these changes in the experienced content of the game, how well does Shade’s post stand the test of time?

I invite you to go, read that post in it’s entirety, and then take some time to really think about the game you’ve been playing since Cataclysm was released. With your hindsight goggles set to full power, let all those pieces fall into place, and look at the bigger picture.

While you’re there, why not express your appreciation for her writing in the form of a comment?¬†Comments are the coin which a writer cherishes, a coin that is spent in the warmth of the heart.¬†It’s shine never tarnishes, or¬†loses it’s luster. Although you get some asshats every once in a while that is the proverbial wooden nickel.

It’s been¬†a year. I think it’s time to show Shade that she may have won our hearts with Internet Dragons, but it’s her mastery of all that is Warcraft Lore¬†that continues to win our minds.

Spicing it up with the Bear Chef!

Just for the purpose of messing with search engines, let me be clear… I ain’t the bare chef.

This post is inspired by one of my favorite blogger-type people, Pacheco, the writer of two blogs I adore…

One discusses her exploits in World of Warcraft, whilst the other showcases her passion for cooking and enjoying fine meals.

The two blogs are… wait for it…

Hello Tauren!, and BACON GRAVY

With a name like Bacon Gravy, you know it’s going to be good. ūüôā

Through her blogs, Pacheco has shared with us her passion, her spirit, her craftiness, and sometimes, when we’re lucky… her recipes.

In her honor, I will hereby share with you one of my personal, lovingly developed and ultra-specially secret recipes.

Now, I’m not a skilled chef, or any kind of chef for that matter. When I develop a recipe, it’s not with an eye towards culinary skill, cutting style, or fancy techniques. You can rest assured, what the Bear Chef brings to you, you can safely reproduce in your own kitchen at home.

I don’t aim for fancy, I don’t even aim for¬†stylish. I aim for “Damn, that’s good. Got any more¬†chips?”

This recipe I share with you now is my personal recipe for garden-fresh salsa… if your idea of garden fresh is, “I’ve got a decent grocery store down the street.” And I don’t mean Whole Foods, either. Yes, you could use the fresh produce from a farmers’ market, but you know… somehow, for my recipes, buying your stuff in the most easily accessible, laziest way possible actually helps enhance the flavor.

Try it! I’m not kidding.

The Bear Chef’s Salsa

Tools needed:

  • Blender or food processor with a pulse cut setting.
  • Large, clean bowl with easily sealed top (plastic wrap is fine).
  • Sharp knife and cutting board.
  • Refrigerator or cooler with ice big enough for the very large bowl.


  • 3 or 4 Jalapeno peppers, each around 3″ long
  • 6 to 8 cloves of garlic
  • 1 medium onion (white is fine, Vidalia provides a delicious enhanced sweetness when in season)
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 12 to 14¬†Roma tomatoes
  • 2 to 4 branches celery, sticks only
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 orange bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup red cooking wine
  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt

Optional ingredients:

  • 1 habanero (for more intense heat – see below)
  • 4 peaches as an alternative to the red cooking wine (see below)

Clean and place the following ingredients in a blender or food processor:

  • Garlic cloves, peeled.
  • Cilantro leaves, chopped.
  • 2 (two) Roma tomatoes.
  • Red cooking wine
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt

Pulse the blender to bring the contents to a finely minced state; about 1/16″ bits. Consistency should be kinda gloopy, but still have a bite. Place entire blender contents in the very large bowl.

Add¬†ALL the rest of the¬†ingredients¬†as diced 1/4″¬†bits to the bowl as follows:

  • Bell peppers –¬†discard¬†all inner seeds and stringy bits before dicing.¬†
  • Celery stalks.
  • Remaining 10 to 12¬†Roma tomatoes.
  • Jalapenos –¬†Discard the seeds for milder salsa before dicing. Include seeds for a hint more heat. (For stepped up heat, add to blender section exactly one habanero¬†without undermining flavor.)
  • Onion – peel before dicing, do not use 1″ of core.

Stir all ingredients in bowl with a spoon very well, ensuring that all diced components get sauced up by the blender marinade. Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate for no less than one hour to chill. Liquid will settle in bottom; mix again after first 30 minutes and return to fridge.

After one hour, salsa is chilled and ready for eating. Remove bowl from refrigerator, DRAIN and discard excess liquid that has settled to the bottom, and set out¬†with some serious snacking chips. If you’re slow getting that salsa eaten, liquid may accumulate in bottom again; drain if it gets too¬†messy for you.

Alternative recipe change:

If you love salsa, but, like my very good Mormon friends, do not drink or use alcohol, there is a variation I’ve tried that has worked well.

From the list of ingredients, remove the 1/4 cup red cooking wine. In it’s place,¬†get¬†4 fresh peaches.¬†Peel and remove the seeds from all peaches. Use one peach as a replacement for the¬†red cooking wine in the blender section of the recipe. Take the three remaining peaches,¬†dice into 1/4″ bits and add to the bowl with the other ingredients.

There you have it!

This recipe has served me very well. Salsa is one of those foods that, much like pizza and BBQ sauce, can be totally different depending on where you go. I have never really cared for the salsa you get in stores that is a boiled ketchup sauce style paste. I love chunky, chilled garden fresh salsa chopped fine enough to really pile a lot of different flavors onto one chip.

I hope you take the time to make a batch, and let me know how you like it!

This is the Bear Chef, saying… Allez cuisine!

Girl Genius contest complete – Winners announced!

The Girl Genius contest is now complete.

Congratulation go to our two winners!

In first place, as determined by your votes, is David the Fireballing Mad Science Teacher, you clearly struck a nerve with the evil gleeam in your eye. Or was that just reflected fire?

In second place with a commanding following was¬†Wren for his stirring composition highlighting his urge to experiment on anything that comes near him… I have to wonder if he experimented on himself first to make sure it was safe BEFORE modifying his cat Wendy, or if it was the other way around.

I prefer to think that he modded himself first. That’s just how I roll. ūüôā

As the winners, both of these fine folks will have Girl Genius volume 1: Agatha Heterodyne and the Beetleburg Clank winging their way to their respective doorsteps.

I’d like to thank all of the contestants for their fine work and urge to mad science, and for taking the time to get involved and have fun. I really liked all of your submissions.

Really, thank you all.

And to my readers who voted, a hearty thank you as well!

Son of a… damnit, I KNEW it!


Oh, you bastards.

I knew they were going to do it as soon as I did it, but this is just too damn mean.

I mean, I just… I JUST… threw them out.

Those damn-blasted idjits.

Do you have any idea?

Oh, those rotten bastards.

Cassie and I, for 8 characters now, have leveled through and stuffed odds and ends in our guild bank in the Cata stuff. We’ve got an entire tab just for food crap.

We had stack after stack after stack of Murglesnouts in there.

After leveling Cooking to max, Fishing to way up there, and getting tired of a full bank, I decided to search Wowhead to see just what those Murglesnouts were good for. Because in game, hey… I sure as hell hadn’t found any use for it. It’s the trash fish of Cataclysm.

It’s so worthless I’m surprised there isn’t an Anthony Bourdain special on TV showing him eating Murglesnout offal prepared 10 different ways. That man is absolutely fearless about food. I’m sure you could get him to eat some Murglesnout. Talk up the cultural history of the Naga, spin some bullshit about their exotic cuisine, toss some Murglesnout heads in a bowl and put it in front of him… he’d eat it.¬†

I mean, you can’t even use it easily to feed your hunter pet! You can’t stick it on your tool bar, God knows I tried, so unless you make a specific macro to feed your pet the fish, it’s just chum. No, it’s worse than chum, at least properly applied chum gets you some fish you want!

So I search Wowhead, and the consensus is… Blizzard screwed us. High drop rate for a useless fish.

So, yeah,¬†I threw all the Murglesnouts out, and I was damn happy to do so. I didn’t even sell the damn things. 75 silver a stack? Yeah, save it, you big spender, you. I guess vendors realized it was a worthless damn fish too, huh? And here I figured anyone stupid enough to pay me 10 gold for some dissolved crap I found in a shark’s stomach was stupid enough to buy anything.

Then, today… TODAY!!! The announcement comes out… “Oh, yeah, that new recipe on the PTR?¬†Scalding Murglesnout?¬†Yeah, let’s make that use x3 Murglesnout. It won’t give you any buffs, but, y’know, at least you’ll have some food you can PUT ON YOUR BAR TO FEED YOUR PET.”

Oh, kiss my big bear butt, you wankers. I know you were watching my bank, just waiting for those hundreds of fish to go bye-bye. I know it. You’re spying on me, and this is proof!

What? Oh, this hat? Yeah, tinfoil really helps reflect the beams nicely. You’ve got to get the angles of reflection just right, though. If you don’t, the beams only refract through the tinfoil at an angle and spear you in the brain anyway. It’s not like tinfoil is ablative, you know. That’s where those other nutjobs went wrong. They put on the tinfoil hats to protect themselves, but they didn’t get the angles right, so all they did was call attention to themselves, and sure enough, they got beams targeted at them that made them go nuts.¬†


DCUO: It Coulda Been a Contender

So, I’ve got some time in DC Universe Online now. You know, that game I bought last week with such high hopes.


First off, if you are thinking of playing it, do yourself a favor and try it with a controller. They make some very good USB controllers for the PC, assuming you’re not going to play it on a PS3, where I hear it’s very smooth.

Here’s my deal with the game.

The super powers are a deal breaker for me.

There are lots of little things, but in the end, the choices of super powers, compared to other super hero games I’ve tried like Champions or City of Heroes, simply blows.

I mentioned in a previous post how much I liked the concept of the power system, and that remains true.

In fact, let that be the driving theme of my feelings for the game; I love the concept of nearly everything they’ve done.

It’s the choices they made in execution of those concepts that have made it a game I simply can’t stomach. I’d rather sit and stare at the wall than play DCUO. Or, do what I’ve done the last few days, and enjoy reading some nice books, try and watch a movie or two, that sort of thing. I even logged into WoW for a little bit, and after the misery that is DCUO, wasn’t THAT a shock to the system!

I’m not going to talk about the things I liked, because I’ve done some of that before. Well, maybe I will a little, for some perspective. This is a “why I am not going to play out my free time on a game I spent $40 on” post. Or $50, I can’t remember. A whole lot of money when the only other non-WoW game I bought in the last year was Starcraft 2. (Portal doesn’t count, I got that for free on Steam).

First off, again, the power choices.

Yes, the concept is great. Instead of choosing a couple of power sets, and having all of your in-game abilities be tied up into them, DCUO breaks it down into three areas; combat skills, movement skills, and power sets.

So you get to choose your main combat style  and movement skills independantly of the power set you choose. This could potentially give far more combinations, right? Well, it does.

Even better, you can learn more than one combat style. You can start with Brawling, be a strong two fisted puncher of doom, and when you hit level ten place points into a whole new second style, like Martial Arts or Bows or Dual Pistols.

And investing points in your abilities, why, that feels very smart too. Each point invested in a combat skill unlocks new fighting combos. On the Mouse control, this can be left click/left click, or left click+right click, or left click/left hold, or left-click X5/left hold. That kind of thing.

Spending points on the powers in your¬†trees also gives you more abilities, but those aren’t activated by combos. Those are on your number bar, and you can have up to 6 active to use at any one time. Plus, of course, a soda pop.

And let’s not forget the extra shared “Iconic” power tree, where all the awesome super powers of the DC Heroes can be chosen by you, once you’re high enough level. Like Heat Vision, or Super Strength, or Wonder Woman’s Lasso 9for a ranged pull to get airborne targets down to you) and many others.

So many options!

But then again… not.

See, again, that thing about six slots for active super powers? Yep, that’s it. No matter how many points you put into new powers, you can only have six of those abilities on your bar to use.

Sure, some of the powers, and all of the Iconic¬†powers chooseable after level 22, are Passive. You don’t need them on your bar to get benefits. And that’s good, since there are so many powers in your own darn trees you’d like to have available, but… you can only have six. So choose wisely.

But even that’s not a deal breaker. It’s annoying, sure. You’ve unlocked all these super powers, you’ve grown more powerful, you’ve gained levels… but you can’t use most of them,¬†because you can only have six on your bar at a time. ¬†

You know, if I’ve been using an exploding wall of fire to push enemies back for 15 levels, I don’t really see where, by getting more powerful, I suddenly can’t use it anymore because there are other things more useful to my role in raids, and I can only bring six powers to the party. What, I’m a first edition Mage now, and I can only memorize six spell slots a day? Really?

But not a deal breaker. No.

No, the deal breaker on powers for me is the six categories you get.

I’m playing DC Universe Online. The tacit implication in their tagline, the next hero is me, is that¬†I get to be a hero in the DC Universe, similar in theme to the heroes I’ve grown familiar with from the comics.

Not exact, but similar.

Some categories seem like no brainers. The Green Lantern Corps. The Sinestro Corps. Any of the new colors of power rings, in fact. There is a built-in possibility of new characters being entrusted with a power ring.

Is that realized? Nope. The players in chat in the game all ask if you can be a Green Lantern, and the answer is generally, “I’ve heard that may be coming in a future content patch.”

Does that sound familiar to anyone?

‘Hang in there baby, the next content patch is coming. It’ll all be roses and lavender on that hallowed day.’

For anyone familiar with the heroes and mythos of DC comics over the years, I’d like you to really think about the six super power themes you get to choose from.

Fire (tanking). Ice (tanking). Mental (Mob Control with illusions). Gadgets (explosives and cloaks). Nature (attacking with plants and shapeshifting into Wolves or Pteradactyls). Sorcery.

Those are your six available power sets. .

Think about those six… and tell me how prevalent those themes really are in the DC Universe. Aside from Beast Boy, are there really that many flying Pterodactyls running around? Err, flying around?

What it ends up feeling like, is that they looked at existing super hero games, and said to themselves, “We can’t use any of that; come up with something different. Something we own, or something the others haven’t grabbed yet.”

Sure, you can think of individual heroes and villains that have one of those power sets. But the way the combinations are set up actually makes it very, very hard to have a hero that feels… cohesive.


Simple. Combat and movement powers use SKILL points, and super powers and Iconic powers use POWER points.

Power points come from leveling. Period. SKILL points, used to improve your combat styles and buy more powers from your movement tree, come from both leveling AND you get new skill points by completing achievements.

Oh yeah, that’s a fact. If you like to pursue Achievements, you’ll gain skill points to buy extra combat and movement powers early. There are many, many achievements, including exploration of the zones.

But what does this mean? It means that super powers and iconic powers are either passive or have to share those six power slots on your number bar… but your combat styles AND movement abilities ALL use combos.

Yes, you can buy more combat styles… but this just adds lots and lots of combos that you have to memorize to do things.

Still only six active powers to use in combat, though.

What you end up with is a hero, patterned after the Flash, that theoretically has super speed running, lots of speed related combat attacks like tornadoes and running around enemies, brawling to beat ’em up fast, and so forth. But in reality, as you level, you MUST use your super powers as well if you hope to survive the brutal grind of combat.

And the more combat abiltiies you learn, the more combos you must master, some of which are silly long chains, but still… only six powers on your number bar.

So, your dream of playing as the Flash? Yeah, unless your vision of the Flash uses gadgets, flame blasts, ice lances, turns into a nightmare monster that looks exactly like EVERY other nightmare monster hero, or blasts with sorcery, you’re not going to last long enough to get those movement skill attack combos to memorize… which don’t unlock until level 9.

Speaking of the combat…

You remember those jokes about “kill 10 rats” from Everquest?

Umm, yeah.

The quests feel as thought they tried to be fun and imaginative… but the streets are so choked with bad guys that respawn instantly that you literally could not walk a block in the game without fighting something… something exactly the same as the other 20 somethings you already fought.

If you really, really, really want to revisit the days of endless exhausting grinding on mobs to get 10 kills, 10 drops, 10 pieces of info, 10 interrupted power converter machine activations, 10 samples of drug, 10 victims rescued, 10 structures smashed, 10 gadgets deactivated…

…well, this is the game for you.

I have found that this game, for me, is at it’s best when I simply go out for a run, or to fly. Or to use acrobatics to hop. The movement is a lot of fun. As long as I don’t involve myself in more mindless combat, it’s cool.

I understand that if you really love PvP on PvP servers, this game rocks, big time.¬†Don’t get me wrong, if you’re not looking for any kind of DC Universe themed character, if you just want to get some visceral action in with a fighting style game on a PvP server, seriously, this thing is supposed to be the shit, and I can certainly see that.

I don’t PvP, so I think I might be the wrong dude for this game. ūüôā

So, I addressed the deal breaking crappy core power sets, the monotonous combat against PvE…

Ah! The costumes!

It’s another great concept.

You are a new hero or villain. There is no Billy Bobs’ Tri-County Costume Shop operating in the Gotham City limits. You put together something silly or kinda limited when you just start out, right?

Well, that’s the way it works in game, too. Your starting costume choices are horribly limited. It seems very strange.

But then, as soon as you start playing in your first starter mission, you learn why.

There are loot drops of equippable costume pieces in the game.

Let me repeat that, because I think it bears repeating.

Enemies you vanquish have costume pieces you can loot.

There are many, many costume ‘sets’ you can collect, one random piece at a time.

Guess where the cool looking costume pieces come from?

I know¬†I talked about this before, but in reality it’s amazing. I mean, sure, you can sort of rationalize killing a demon prince and getting a honking big flaming sword, right? And World of Warcraft has done a nice job of having weapons and armor that bosses in raids carry as being available as loot… the appearance of the item anyway.

But how do you rationalize an enemy Brainiac robot having a really sweet looking pair of running boots with the Flash wing symbol? A pair of boots that, when equipped, activates a ‘Flash style’ movement speed glow on your character?

I’ve mentioned before that one of the truly great new ideas that DCUO implements is being able to activate the appearance of any item you have picked up, independantly of what the stats of an actual equipped item may be.

That is very, very awesome. It is truly the single biggest success in the game. If you are lucky enough to get the costume pieces you truly love, that makes the perfect “you”, you can go through your entire game life looking like that, no matter what loot you ever get dropped. Not only that… but when you set your character’s color palette, the new loot costume pieces you pick up, when equipped, are set to match your chosen palette! Everything you ever equip will match in color… but be different styles. And yes… you can change your color palette at almost any time you’d like if you’re not quite happy with it. And you can change an individual item to have a custom color profile. It’s a quite powerful tool, and a friendly design to have your hero look just the way you’d like.

So long as you were lucky on costume drops, that is.

But… you’re still a DC comics super hero chasing loot drops from enemies like trinkets, rings, weapons,¬†cloaks and stuff. No, I swear to you, I am not making this up.

It just all keeps mounting up.

I am intentionally NOT talking about the constant errors, disconnects¬†and bugs.¬†Or the almost completely unusable chat system. The reason being, they will fix them in patches. They MUST fix them in patches soon. The chat system in particular is horrendous. Just, wow… talk about testing a vocabulary. Abominable? Atrocious? Unconscionable? Malicious?

I keep coming back, like a tongue on a loose tooth, to that costume loot thing. Even now, as I openly deride it’s cynical draw on the collector in us, I still feel it’s allure.

I made a Speedster/Fire/Brawler I was having lots of fun with. Liked my costume, modeled it after the character my son made and enjoyed. My regret was that bits of the costume, like the cowl and boots and gloves, didn’t have little Flash style wing thingies.

I actually got a Purple epic drop, out of nowhere, those aforementioned Flash style winged-boots. I was able to get a little closer to the perfect costume I originally envisioned.

I felt the pull then. Chasing the loot drops. Hoping for that next one that’ll be even cooler.

Oh yes, I can certainly feel the pull of a game that encourages you to complete collections… and gives you character improving skill points when you complete exploration or collection achievements.

In my more cynical moments, I wonder if someone took a cold, hard look at how to attract and retain those addicted to collecting stuff.

I tried so hard to like it. I kept sticking my head in the sand, saying, “Well, maybe this next hero. Well, no, try this one. Okay, this one. YES! This is the one!”

But the further I get, the more I just feel like a big old sucker for spending the money.

It finally came to a head when I logged into WoW for a moment just to remind myself what the heck I’d been doing there, anyway…

And the WoW game colors and style and beauty, after staring at the drabness of the DCUO world for a week, almost mugged my eyes with their awesomeness. It was like, “Oh wow, so THAT’S what vivid colors and beautiful art design looks like. I’d forgotten. Thank you for reminding me, Samwise.”

It’s true. I feel like a sucker for having bought DCUO.

Not because it’s not a good game, because I’m sure that, after a while and some content patches, it WILL be an awesome game. Plus, it seems like it’s really built for kickass high speed low drag PvP, and it does have some great concepts that just need to be tweaked up some more.

Some folks in the general chat clearly were in cloud nine playing it… mostly on their controllers, I’ll admit. ūüôā Lots of folks deliriously happy with it, and more power to them.

No, I feel like a sucker because the only reason I bought it was to try and find something new and different for a little while… and I just walked away from it feeling tired and irritated by the overall experience.

Your Girl Genius Contest Contestants!

I’ve had five¬†imaginative entries for the Girl Genius Mad Science contest.

Just as I’d hoped, the entries were fun, free spirited, inventive and¬†cool.¬†I couldn’t be happier. You’re gonna love ’em.

Here’s the deal. I’m going to post the entries, along with a brief description from the creator. At the end of the post, once you’ve seen all five entries, there will be a poll. Sinply choose your favorite.

The top two poll fan favorites will be declared winners one and two, I will mail them their prizes, and everyone gets the recognition they deserve for their awesome ideas.

First contestant:
Robotic Wren and Wendy

This is my hopefully “good” entry, me (Wren) and my cyber-kitty Wendy. My wife did all the photo work, while me and the kitty got to play dress up!

Second contestant:
David the Fireballing Mad Science Teacher

My alter ego is that of a science teacher ūüôā Somehow I’ve convinced a reputable organization to allow me the responsibility of crafting the minds of their young ones. I haven’t put too much effort into learning how to photoshop my pics, so I’d like to send in a real one. A student got a great shot of me in the prep room at school one day.

This shot is my facebook profile pic and most of my WoW friends have made some mage jokes. The coolest thing about it is the look on people’s face when they see you do this for the first time. The second coolest thing though is launching huge fireballs off of your hands.

I haven’t done any digital alteration of this picture save for maybe adjusting contrast or lighting.

I like to think that I have a bit of an alter ego when I’m at work in front of young minds, and I think some of them may see me as a bit of a mad scientist. If they think it’s cool and keep exploring science, then I’ve done my job. Hope you like the picture, Dave.

Third contestant:
Commander Braithwick and the Ghost of Hades by Ron Ward

Due to the length of Ron’s¬†text story entry, I’ve placed it at the very end of this post (after the poll), and you can read it, in full, by clicking on the “more” tab.

Fourth contestant:
Mad Science Mech Mouse! by Tesh

This is an idea I’ve been sitting on for a while, and just finally put into digital paint tonight. There’s no background; I tried but couldn’t find anything I liked that would fit into the schedule I have. ūüėČ

So, here’s hoping you like it! There’s definitely some backstory here, but in a nutshell, this is a small autonomous ‘bot that has managed to scavenge some repair parts… of bone. It’s best not to ask quite what critters died to provide this little ‘bot with its gear, or how they died. It’s enough to know this is a scavenger ‘bot in the deadlands of the Northwatch. Well, that, or nightmare fuel like the stuff in the 9 movie. Later, Tesh

Fifth contestant:
The Fruit-Fed DeLorean by Symbiode

I made this the other day in Garry’s Mod, then I remembered you had a contest (or your blog reminded me ūüėČ ). It seemed Mad Science-ey enough, hope you like it!

Okay, that’s all five contestants’ entries. I think you’ll agree, they all show creative, inventive mad science flair. ūüôā Now it’s time for you to do your part… vote for your favorite! The poll will be up¬†until Tuesday night January 25th (midnight Central US time)

Which was your favorite Girl Genius contest entry?


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I think my brain be about to explode

I’ve talked about the KDWB morning show we’ve got here in the Twin Cities in past posts.

When you’re on the way in to work, it’s nice if you’re listening to crazy people to distract you. At least, sometimes.

This last week, crazy acquired a whole new meaning.

I’m not going to ruin it for you. Instead, I’m going to encourage you to hear the hilarious segment on your own, if you choose. I’ll link how to get there towards the bottom of the post.

A brief setup of just what this is I’m begging you to listen to.

KDWB does this thing they call “War of the Roses“. They encourage people who suspect their significant other is cheating on them to call in and give them the cell phone number, and explain why they’re so suspicious.

Then, the show calls up this subject’s cell, pretends to be from the subject’s cell phone company, and in exchange for answering a quick 3 question survey, they’ll mail a dozen ‘romantic long stemmed roses’ to anyone the subject wants.

Obviously, the point is to see who the person will choose to send the roses to, all the while having the suspicious person on the line ready to break in abrubtly and go psycho on ’em, and the other person can get all defensive, and a relationship implodes live on the air for all of us to enjoy.

There cannot ever be a good result from this, as, even if the subject under investigation¬†chooses to give the roses to the right person, as the morning show crew will still take delight in letting the subject know that they weren’t trusted by their significant other, and so now the subject typically goes on the attack and the caller becomes the defensive one, and you get to listen to it all boomerang around.

And yet, week after week, people still call in wanting to be on War of the Roses.

It would be amazing if it wasn’t so depressing.

Typically, I don’t enjoy the segment on the show. This isn’t my kind of drama. But this week, this week was different. It was veeeery different.

This last week, KDWB had a War of the Roses segment with a caller named Denice. The original show went on the air Thursday, January 20th, and it was epic. But then there was a follow up with Denice that I listened to on Friday, January 21st, an update on what happened after the whole thing blew up on Thursday, and that took the entire event way past epic and earned it a coveted spot as a legendary event.

I invite you to go to the Dave Ryan in the Morning show on KDWB’s podcast/download page, and scroll down the page to the sidebar showing War of the Roses clips.

I implore you to listen to the War of the Roses: Denice segment dated Thursday, January 20th, and then, once you’ve wiped the tears of laughter from your eyes, listen to the War of the Roses: Denice Update segment immediately¬†afterwards.

I know it’s a pain to follow links, but I’m telling you; listening to these two clips will be well worth your time.

The (Un)Holy Trinity


Thanks go to the MMO Melting Pot for clueing me in on a kerfluffle in progress¬†around the blogosphere. I tend to miss these things, as I’m an old, out of the loop kind of Bear.¬†

From what Rebecca said, Tobold wrote a post recently that has inspired other people to write their own posts, either in support or condemnation.

There’s always some kind of drama in the blogosphere,¬†so I’m not too sure what this particular¬†kerfluffle is really all about. (I do love that word, I think kerfluffle shall¬†be my¬†word of the day.¬†Not to be confused with¬†the word ‘fluffer’, which, as we all know, is someone who¬†heaps¬†praise on the writers of WoW Insider in the hopes of being linked to.¬†Right? That *is* what a fluffer is, right? Hold on, let me just check the urban dictionary… whoops! Oh, really? Wow, okay, moving on…. ya know, on second thought, that really is a fairly apt, oh never mind…)¬†

Umm, right, the kerfluffle. As far as I understand it from the Noisy Rogue’s post, the big to-do is something about Tobold saying that DPS only get to have their¬†selfish fun because other responsible¬†people step up and do the nasty, undesirable¬†jobs of tanking and healing. Furthermore,¬†if DPS want to be socially responsible,¬†then they have a¬†duty to step up there and take a turn as the¬†tank or healer their own selves, whether they like it or not.

Yeah, I paraphrased mightily, tongue firmly in cheek. What I did was take a perfectly innocent quote, and read into it with¬†the utmost of paranoia and suspicion, looking between the lines, above and below the lines, behind the lines, and coming up with my own damn lines as well. My version sounds kinda BS, doesn’t it? But that’s what some people seem to have read into it before they teed off.

Right up front, I want you to know that I don’t really care what all the drama is about, or what Tobold was really trying to say, or whatever. He knows what he was trying to say, and I’ve been on the blogging front long enough to know that while I always know what I meant to say in a post, that doesn’t always translate into the words on the screen. Did he mean whatever it was in the way it’s been taken? Only he knows, and only he knows whether he’s satisfied that he got his point across or not.¬†Plus, you know,¬†maybe he’s right.

I like to tank. I love to tank. That is the part of the game I have always loved the most. And, that is the part of the game of World of Warcraft I do not currently¬†do at all, because I will only tank for people I know, and enjoy playing with. If I were playing on Horde side, there are folks there I like playing with and I would tank for them if they so desired. I’ve been focused on Alliance side since the expansion released, though, so I haven’t.¬†I will not tank for strangers, not because it’s hard, but because every time I’ve tried there is a person that is a rude little obnoxious asshat… and I refer you to my comment above about being an old kind of Bear. Life is simply too short and too precious to me to waste my time dealing with punks, so I don’t.

That being said… Tobold has a valid point that since the current system has fewer tanks and healers looking for groups than there are DPS, it provides a good source of conversation on why… or, better yet in my opinion, a constructive¬†discussion on what could be done differently, if anything at all?

I’m planning on taking¬†a crack on speculating on ways it could be changed. Not for WoW, but for another MMO design looking to try a different approach to what is ‘known and accepted’.

As I like to say, even a blind squirrel gets a nut once in a while. Who knows, maybe I’ll actually have an idea worth something. Don’t hold your breath, though.

Whatever else you care to say about it, Tobold clearly wrote a successful post, because here I am writing a post inspired by it. Sorta.

I’m really¬†more inspired by the central idea behind it all; the relationships between tank, DPS and healer, and what can be done about it.¬†

For any of my readers that have played MMOs in the past, the dynamic is a familiar one; challenges are designed to be too difficult for any one player to complete on their own. A group is needed for victory. The challenge typically has villains that do too much damage for someone who is not a healer to live through, does too powerful a single attack for anyone not a tank to survive even with a healer, and has too high a health for anyone not a DPS provider to burn down before the juice that keeps those heals going runs out.

So, roles are decreed; a tank to survive the big hits and keep the big bad’s attention; a healer to keep the tank alive through all the damage, and a DPS (or more) to do enough damage to defeat the big bad before the healer’s¬†mojo runs out.

Thus, the unholy trinity upon which so much of our MMO group gaming is based.

Where we often see a disconnect, is that our MMO play experience is not IN a constant group. It is a combination of solo play with just occasional group situations.

When playing solo, most encounters are designed favoring a playstyle that delivers high damage output in a very short period of time, burning down individual bad guys quickly to move on to the next one. Thus, the most common and friendliest playstyle for solo players, by design, is the DPS role.

This means that, also by design, in order for a tank or healer to rise in the game, someone has to step outside of what they already know and are familiar with, the DPS playstyle, and take on a brand new role they know nothing about and have no previous experience in.

What is even more intimidating, often¬†they have to do this in front of a live studio audience, who may have varying degrees of experience on how to play themselves… along with varying levels of civility,¬†patience and compassion.¬†

And the final catch – while you can stack on more DPS players, as many as you’d like to increase the groups’ damage output, the overall success or failure of the entire group often rests on the shoulders of the tank and the healer. If the tank fails to hold the attention of the big bads or the healer fails to heal the people who need it as fast as they need it, then the DPS players or healer, who BY DESIGN are far squishier, will fall.¬†Generally, once players start dying, the group will fail. Nobody likes to lose, and strangers can be downright vicious and cast blame far and wide when it happens.

Is it any wonder that, no matter how fun you try to make the healing or tanking roles, there shall always be¬†people who refuse to try it? For fear of failure, fear of looking stupid, fear of letting other people down, fear of ridicule, fear of something unknown, fear of the expressed rage of others at a loss, fear of the consequences of not being prepared enough or ‘good’ enough.

Is there a problem with this system, or is it fine as is? Does it maybe just need some tweaks?

I think one fundamental issue that could stand to be addressed is how tanking and healing are roles that do not come into play in an MMO until it’s time for a group. Until that first group, there is never a time when tanking or healing are a valid, fun, successful playstyle.

If, through some combination of changing classes or encounters, the healing or tanking playstyles became both fun AND equally as effective as DPS to play solo, then I think you would see more people getting skilled in using them, and thus have a lot more confidence in those roles going into a group.

Tanking as a viable solo playstyle has already been done before, and people loved it. People who play World of Warcraft are already familiar with the concept of the person who levels as a tank, usually as a Paladin.

Why? Because Paladins, once upon a time, had both good survivability AND self-healing abilities, and although their damage output was lower than standard DPS classes, they could damage multiple bad guys at the same time. A leveling Paladin tank would just gather up lots of bad guys, and by damaging them all at the same time, burn them down slowly but as a big group. Yes it took them a long time for the fight to finally end, but overall, they killed enough extra enemies that it all kinda evened out. 

Even at the time, it wasn’t a very consistent way to level. The biggest reason being, you need areas your level that have lots of enemies close enough together that you can gather up a group. With single target fights being the norm for soloing DPS players, you didn’t see that kind of arrangement at every level of the game.

How could you make leveling as a tank a more attractive solo option? By placing more bad guys in an area that can be gathered up, and have those opportunities at every level of progression. Also, you could encourage it by increasing the ratio of physical bad guy to stationary spell casting bad guys. This would let you gather up lots of bad guys that will dutifully chase you around, but leave you one or two spellcasters that will let you practise silencing/line of sight pull techniques on them.

So, sure, you could modify your game world a little bit to accomodate the player wanting to level as a tank. Keep the enemies spread out enough for single target DPS style players to move through without being swarmed all the time, but have enough of them just close enough to each other that a leveling tank could gather a bunch up without too much trouble, in every zone they adventure in.

That is a game adjustment that would help encourage more leveling tanks, and in the process remove some of the fear from new tanks joining a group for the first time.

But what about healing?

How do you set things up so that healing is a valid playstyle?

I think one way to address that issue is to eliminate healing as a seperate role. Incorporate it into the management all players have to handle for themselves.

I’ll get back to that point in a minute, and let you build up your anger in the meantime over the very suggestion, by getting back to tanking. ūüôā

I¬†think another change that I’d love to see done is that tanking should be¬†an option every class should have.

Let’s look at World of Warcraft¬†for some examples of what I’m talking about.

During the Burning Crusade expansion, a lot of players took pride in finding ways to perform as a tank with classes that were traditionally DPS only.

The most famous of these was the Rogue class, which has the option to activate abilities that increase their chance to Dodge incoming attacks very successfully, for a short duration of time.

The challenge for these Rogue players was in arranging encounters so that they could get all the killing done before the duration of the especially high Dodge wore off. The tanking also usually required gear chosen for it’s very high Dodge boosting stats.

There have been many players who, of their own initiative, tried to force a DPS class into tanking, and succeeded. How much more successful would it be if the designer of the game gave them intentional tools to do that tanking properly?

What’s the biggest role of the tank? Is it to survive incoming damage? No, because a Mage with Ice Block can do that as well for a brief period of time, and so can a Hunter with Feign Death.

The main duty of the tank is to keep the attention of all of the big bads on him, and off of the rest of the group. Only after that is health important.

If a player can keep all of the big bads on him alone, AND survive the fight, that player has accompished the role of a tank.

So, two aspects of the tank to duplicate amongst the classes; a way to hold the attention of bad guys, and a way to survive that attention.

Anyone who has played World of Warcraft for any length of time around a Paladin tank knows that, even when fully specced as a tank, sometimes a Paladin would just be utterly unable to hold the attention of the bad guys. As soon as people started shooting, the bad guys would go running wild.

Why? The Paladin has a special ability that they can choose to turn on or off called Righteous Fury. The sole function of Righteous Fury is to make everything a Paladin does cause increased Threat. Heals, damage, anything that any character could do that would normally cause Threat (the effect that gets the attention of a bad guy) would have the value of that Threat significantly enhanced. Enhanced high enough to normally overshadow anyone else in the group.

It’s a “I’m the tank now, dog” button, and Paladins that forgot to activate it would find themselves quickly ignored as the DPS players, with their higher damage output, attacked the bad guys.

My suggestion is, why not offer¬†all players an “I’m the tank now, dog” ability? Something they can activate that intentionally boosts the Threat value of everything they do.

But go beyond that. That same ability could incorporate a multiplier to the player’s¬†health, providing the boosted life that tanks often need. It could also turn on a ranged Taunt ability, something that only a player with the “I’m the tank now, dog” ability active could use. (You know, to prevent those accidental taunt tag teaming). And of course, with ITTND on, there would have to be a downside, or people would run with it on all the time. So, as soon as it goes on, your Threat output may go up by 400%, but your damage output would be reduced by 400%. You are holding attention and surviving, not being a one man death machine.¬†Boom, instant higher threat, higher survivability, and a reason not to use it when you want to do lots of damage. Sure, you could level using it… you’d just need to grab up 4 or more enemies to kill at one time to make up for your reduced damage output.

But there is more to being a tank than threat and health. There is also having a unique way to feel like you’re tough to bring down.

World of Warcraft has shown us that it is possible to have tanks designed around something other than shields and plate armor. Rogues have long effectively survived some nasty stuff using their long cooldown abilities. Remove or reduce some of those long cooldowns, and give them a threat increaser, and they’re a ready made tank.

Druids had their high armor value to reduce all incoming (physical) damage. Warriors and Paladins had their Defensive Stances, Shields and Swords to Block and Parry.

Hunters have a pet they can send in, in their stead. That never has worked very well for consistent group situations, mainly because there are limits to how powerful the pets are designed to become for fear of PvP balance issues. Having a toggle for a tanking mode that dramatically reduces damage output while increasing threat output and health/armor would go a long way to changing that, especially if the Hunter could use their Misdirect to their pet as a Taunt. How fun would that be? A long distance tank, seeing when their pet lost aggro and taunting the mobs back to the pet? It can already be done with Intimidation, and traps help control enemies very well. Hunters are just so close to being tanks, they can taste it. 

With these examples, it’s easy to see that if this was the direction a design team wanted to go, it could happen.¬†

There are so very many things that could be tweaked a little bit to every existing class in WoW to accomplish the goal of giving an option to perform the tanking role; hold the attention of all the bad guys, and survive incoming damage.

As long as damage output was drastically reduced while tanking, and the focus was put on generating high threat instead, it wouldn’t even be a destabilizing influence on most PvP situations, especially if you could only change into that tanking mode while out of combat.

But what about the healing role? I hope you held onto your anger and are ready to unleash it on me now ūüôā

Why not remove dedicated healers entirely and put the responsibility of self-healing squarely on the shoulders of each player?

Again going back to an existing example, currently the Rogue class in WoW has a very interesting experiment going on. Recently a new spell was added, giving Rogues a heal over time capability.¬†Recuperate is a¬†new Rogue finishing move, giving the player the option to¬†choose to use¬†combo points¬†on a self-healing “Heal over Time” spell instead of on increased damage or on speed boosts.

Similarly, Paladins with their new Holy Power combo point system can use those points on an instant cast heal spell called Word of Glory.

With some modifications, such a system of self-healing choices, sacrificing damage output in exchange for self-healing at various rates, could be used to replace the traditional healing class entirely. After all, how much damage is taken, who takes it, and at what rate is directly controlled by the game design team.

But the only way it could work would be if the dedicated healing classes were no longer an option, and every class had valid ways to choose to either heal themselves OR do damage/generate threat.

If you give just a few classes the ability to self-heal, and keep the dedicated healing classes, you’ll quickly run into what Rogues are seeing now; changes to the effectiveness of Recuperate as the designers try to find a ‘sweet spot’ that let’s it be helpful while the Rogue is alone, but isn’t too powerful when there is a healer nearby during a raid.

Many challenges in MMOs like World of Warcraft right now are balanced around trying to find ways of keeping dedicated healing classes busy/occupied during a raid. Because the design is built around the trinity of tank/DPS/healer, then a healer has to be there. But, if there isn’t enough for the healer to do, the healer will be bored and not have fun. So encounters are intentionally designed with¬†more kinds of damage, more things that need to be removed like Curses or Poisons, bigger spikes of sudden damage that may kill the tank instantly to keep you on your toes, a limited resource like Mana to manage so you have to stay aware of what’s going on at all times, all sorts of complexity just because there has to be a healer role, and that player has to be kept busy.

If you remove the dedicated healer role from the design equation, you remove the need to design encounters to intentionally tax healers to the edge all the time. You can cut back on the massive damage spikes, and force each player to be responsible for his or her own cleansing of curses, or of moving out of goo that causes damage, or of sacrificing damage output temporarily to regain some health when needed… or of choosing to push harder on damage, trusting in the defeat of the boss before they die.

You bring the responsibility back squarely on the shoulders of the players… and you also¬†force them to use their judgment, with nobody but themselves to blame if they die, unless they pulled threat from the tank.

I know that World of Warcraft is far too developed and fine tuned to ever go in that kind of radical direction.

What I do hope is that someday we will see a game designer take a hard look at the unholy trinity, and decide to see what would happen if healing were the responsibility of each individual player, instead of just one or two in the group.

I also think it would be a lot of fun to see a¬†game where leveling as a tank was an option for every class, and thus the question in any group would never be “who here can tank?”, but instead “which of us wants to tank this one?”

To misquote one of my favorite songs; “Glory be to God that there are no more of us, for one of us could tank it all alone…”