The Universe of Battletech

I’ve talked before about world building, specifically within the universe of Tribes.  World building is extremely important and the more you work on the world that your characters inhabit, the better. While some world designers only go far enough in their world building to create what’s needed, others go well beyond the call of duty in order to created a rich, elaborate depth.  One very good example where this is the case is the universe of Battletech.

Two Mad Cat Battlemechs

For those that are unfamiliar with the tabletop game Battletech, here’s the basics.  In Battletech, you pit your army and wits against your opponent’s.  Like many tabletop games you move small models, called miniatures, around on a battlefield grid.  What sets Battletech apart from other war games is that your army consists of huge lumbering war machines called Battlemechs, or Mechs for short, piloted by MechWarriors.  These great monstrous machines are the ultimate combat unit, raining destruction in their wake in the form of lasers, long range missiles (LRMs), autocannons (ACs), and particle projection cannons (PPCs).

The creators of Battletech could have stopped at this point with the lore.  All you really need to know is that two sides are at war and they use Mechs to fight each other.  Thankfully, this doesn’t even come close to scratching the surface of the Battletech universe.  To start off, they have a deep history reaching back centuries before the era in which the tabletop game is set.  History about the migration away from terra, and the settling of other planets.  There’s a whole line of events about what has happened in the Inner Sphere, including all the factions, territories, and wars that have rages over the centuries.  Then, there’s the Clans, a group of MechWarriors who fractured away from the Star League, a doom alliance of the Inner Sphere houses, and created their own Clan order in a distant star system.  Later, the Clans would return in the Clan Invasion, or as the Clans called it Operation Revival.

All of this is still just scratching the surface and I’d need pages to go into any real depth.  There’s so much history and depth that Battletech has even spawned a series of Battletech novels, each one pulling from known Battletech history and adding more of its own.  Each of the rulebooks is also filled with short stories between their sections and if you want even more gritty details of the history there’s a whole series of Historicals that can be purchased and read.

The Battletech TechManual

While a historical background is fantastic, my favorite part of the Battletech universe is the technical information.  While the Total Warfare rulebook gives you a small taste of a few technical details, the real treat is the TechManual.  This book, while providing construction rules for the game itself, is filled with in universe descriptions of all the technology used by all sides.  From how Battlemechs operate to the operation of the various weaponry, it’s packed to the brim with lore for technology geeks like me.  As an added bonus, the Technical Readouts, which provide new units to play with, have information on the history and technical details of each unit they offer.

The Battletech universe tends to draw enthusiasts in and surround them with elaborate lore.  Thanks in part to this deep rich lore, the Battletech universe has managed to move beyond being just a tabletop game.  Everything from videogames to novels, to even an RPG, has come out of the universe that Battletech has created.  I can’t help but think that it can only get bigger.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to read the TechManual.

Of Mice and Men

Last week I went over the keyboards I’ve used and there was a few ups and downs, but, overall, every keyboard I’ve used has been good.  This week I’d like to talk about all the mice I’ve owned, and boy are you in for a treat.  My mice have been a disaster.

My mouse history starts off benign enough.  The first mouse I used was a Dell mouse.  Just like my Dell keyboard, it came with the Dell computer I owned.  From what I can remember, it was your typical boring mouse.  It was low dpi, had a generic laser sensor, and got the job done.  In fact, I used this mouse on a Windows server I ran not too long ago.  I can’t remember exactly why I stopped using my Dell mouse and bought a new one.  If I had to guess, it was because I wanted something “better”.  I wanted a gaming mouse.

Logitech G5 Mouse

The second mouse I owned was a Logitech G5 and man was it a good mouse.  I don’t have records of when I purchased this mouse, but I believe this is the mouse I used the longest, and arguably the most reliable gaming mouse I have own.  It only had one problem, its scroll wheel.  At times, the scroll wheel would rest between two notches.  When this happened, it would repeatedly scroll up and down randomly until you scrolled and firmly set it into a notch.  Most of the time I could avoid this issue, but eventually I got fed up and stopped using my G5.

Logitech M500 Mouse

On my birthday in 2009 I purchased myself a Logitech M500.  The M500 was a marvelous midlevel gaming mouse.  I can’t remember any problems with this mouse.  The only reason I never bought a second one was that the dpi was too low (1000 while I favor playing at 1600-1800).  This mouse worked flawlessly… until I killed it.  Yep, somehow I killed this mouse.  I knew it was on its last legs when it started randomly disconnecting from my computer.  Then, one day in mid 2010, it rolled over, died, and never communicated with another computer ever again.

Logitech G500 Mouse

With a dead mouse, I was forced to acquire a new one, a Logitech G500.  The G500 was basically a newer version of the G5.  It had some new color styling, a higher dpi sensor, a few buttons were moved around, and they added a frictionless mouse wheel mode, but other than that, it was a G5.  I liked this mouse, I liked it a lot.  At least I did for the five months the cable lasted.  It was manageable at first, but by December of 2010 the cable had frayed in half and I had to hold the cord against the mouse’s body at all times to stop it from disconnecting.

At this point, you’re probably thinking this is the end of the G500.  I won’t blame you for thinking that, but this time around I was smart.  This time, I RMAed the bastard.  Logitech’s costumer service was well done, quick, and easy.  I didn’t even need to mail the defective one in, which was a welcome surprise.  I got my new mouse and everything was great, dandy, and sparkles for a total of 25 days.  You read that correctly, it took 25 days for the second cable to fray and go bad.  By this time, I had made the executive decision to not buy another Logitech mouse.  This cable problem was the last straw.  I had had enough problems with their mice that I was done with Logitech products.  I like to think of this period as the great Logitech exodus.  The G500 was the last Logitech product I bought, and I’d have to think long and hard before buying another product from them ever again.

Razer Imperator Mouse

In late January 2011 I made the switch to Razer and purchased a Razer Imperator.  This mouse looked nice, felt fantastic in your hand, and had an absolutely horrendous sensor.  The sensor on this mouse was just plain crap.  I never quite felt that my Imperator mouse moved exactly where I told it to, and worse still, it would wobble.  At times, I’d stop moving the thing and the cursor onscreen would continue to wobble, jittering away, slowly shaking its way toward the upper right corner.  I thought about RMAing my Imperator, but decided it was more likely a defect with all Imperator sensors.  It had been a short three months, and it was time for a new mouse.

Razer DeathAdder Mouse

Finally, in April 2011, I bought the mouse I am currently using, a Razer DeathAdder.  This mouse is a world better than the Imperator, and has lasted longer than all my Logitech mice, excluding the G5.  I would recommend the DeathAdder to anyone looking for a new mouse.  I even bought a second one for my laptop.  The only complaint I have, and with my luck there’s always something, is that I no longer have a middle click, having worn mine out completely.  One of these days I’ll get around to RMAing the sucker and then, hopefully, the replacement mouse will last just as long as the first.

That’s the end of the disaster that has been my mice.  Most of them barely lasted six months before I had to get a new one, especially the Logitech ones.  In little over a one and a half year period I owned five separate mice.  The only thing I learned from my purchases was that I’m never buying Logitech ever again.  Speaking of Logitech, I realized while writing this that all my Logitech mice have had a “5” in their name.  The designers at Logitech must worship that number or something.  Maybe it’s a fetish, or, if my luck has been any indication, a curse.  The curse of the Logitech “5”.

Of Keyboards and Men

Throughout the years I’ve owned three keyboards and a little over half a dozen mice for my computer.  Being a gamer, the mouse I use it very important, and recently, with me doing even more writing, my keyboard has become almost as important.  Next week I’ll be talking about the mice I’ve owned.  This week however, I thought I’d share my keyboard history with you, and give you my thoughts on each of the keyboards I’ve used.

I’ve only used three keyboards in the history of owning my own computers (which would be about the last seven years).  I’ve run the gambit with these three keyboards, first starting with a generic Dell that came with a Dell computer, then moving onto a gaming keyboard by Logitech, finally ending in a recent purchase of a professional mechanical keyboard.  With each purchase I ended up looking for something different.

I started off using a Dell keyboard that came with the Dell I owned.  It had no thrills, just a cheap $15 PS2 keyboard.  This is the keyboard I used the longest and I used it because it was what came with my computer.  It was years before I changed keyboards and the only problem I ever ran into was my computer beeping at me when I hit too many keys at once.  One of the main things I do on my computer is play computer games and I would say at least once a week I would have my computer beep at me as I tried to do to many things at once while playing.  If it wasn’t for this problem, I’m not sure I would have ever looked for a new keyboard.

Logitech G110 Keyboard

With my first true keyboard purchase, I decided to try a gaming keyboard to see if they lived up to their name.  I settled on a Logitech G110 Black Gaming Keyboard, coming in at a whopping $64.  Believe it or not, this is the second most expensive keyboard I’ve bought.  The first thing I should mention is that the G110 solved my too many keys at a time issues.  Unfortunately, that and a volume control wheel are the only two things that were stellar on the G110.  With a distinctive soft touch feel to its keys, you received little to no feedback that you’d actually hit them making it somewhat annoying to type on.  I also remember the keys sometimes registering that I’d released them before I actually had.  This was especially true for spacebar, which gave me a few troubles while skiing in Tribes: Ascend.

The only other thing I learned from the Logitech G110 was that whenever you see the word gaming tacked in front of the word keyboard it only meant unnecessary added features.  For instance, the G110 had backlit keys, which, while nice and somewhat pretty, is unneeded.  It also had media and macro keys, neither of which I ever touched.  The only feature that I consistently used was the volume control, which was very convenient.  It was because of the bloated features, and also the soft touch keys, that I started to look for a new keyboard and eventually purchased the keyboard I’m currently typing on.

Das Keyboard

After hearing about the wonders of mechanical keyboards from people in the Starcraft community, I purchased one in February of this year.  I settled on a Das Keyboard Model S Professional Silent Mechanical Keyboard (what a mouthful).  The Das keyboards are billed as professional typist keyboards and the one I got cost me a remarkable $138.  Surprising, considering the keyboard has no backlighting, no media/macro keys, and no volume control.  It’s just your typical 104-key layout.  Of course, this is what I wanted, just a good, solid keyboard.  I do miss the volume control on the Logitech though.  Thankfully, I was able to make volume up and volume down hotkeys that are a good replacement using AutoHotkey.

The Das keyboard may have no thrills, but it does, in my opinion, have the features that matter.  First off, it has n-key rollover, meaning every key on the keyboard can be hit at the same time and they will all register.  No more computer beeping.  Second, it has mechanical keys, Cherry MX brown mechanical keys to be exact, which are a dream to type on.  They are described as having no click noise (hence the “silent” in the keyboards name) and a slight bump when you press them.  They are silent with no click, but they really don’t have a bump, at least not what I thought a bump would be.  Bump is too strong a word.  They have a hard to describe feedback to them that lets you know they have been hit and the hit has registered.  You can just feel that the key has been hit.  Definitely the best feeling keys I’ve ever typed on.  Thanks to these mechanical keys, I never have to worry about keys not registering. As long as this keyboard lasts for years to come, and with its sturdy construction it should, it was worth the price.

My new keyboard purchases have all been due to me feeling I needed something better and each one has been an upgrade over the last in some way, shape, or form.  I’d recommend both the Dell and Das keyboards to anyone.  The only reason I wouldn’t recommend the Logitech is because of the unnecessary features.  All of my keyboards were good keyboards and they all still work perfectly with no known defects.  This is in vast contrast to my mice, which I do not have a good history with.  If you liked hearing about my keyboard history, wait until next week when I will talk about my disaster of a mouse history.

The Four Act Play of Diablo 3

This last Tuesday I finished Diablo 3 on normal difficulty.  It took me sixteen hours and I had a blast.  I’ve seen a lot of critiques of the gameplay and game itself around the net.  I figure if you want to read about the gameplay aspects of Diablo 3, you have a plethora of blog posts and reviews to choose from.  So, instead of going into gameplay, let’s talk about story.

Act I

The Diablo 3 story is split into acts, giving it almost a play quality.  Each act has its own unique setting and atmosphere that sets it apart from the other acts.  This somewhat helps to break up the feel of the game and make otherwise continuous dungeon crawling stay fresh longer.  Sprinkled throughout each act are minor cutscenes, with major cutscenes placed between the acts.  These cutscenes, along with short in-game conversations between characters, help advance the story.

The story arc itself is close to being well paced, but leans toward slow.  Throughout the acts the story slowly builds until it reaches its peak at the end of Act III.  It is then quickly and succinctly wrapped up in Act IV.  I will admit that by the end of Act III, I was glad it was almost over.  This slower pacing was mainly due to quest dungeons taking awhile to fight through, and with the plot points mostly between the quests, plot advancement can feel as few and far between.  It probably didn’t help that I was going out of my way to complete every side dungeon I found.  It’s possibly that the pacing feels better if you only stick with the main quests.

Diablo III Opening Cinematic

I’ve seen some people describe Diablo 3 as not being your story, but an interactive movie.  While it is most definitely not your story, as things happen a certain way no matter what you do, I don’t see it as a movie, but instead, as a play.  When I think of movies, I think of fancy camera angles and flashy effects.  It’s a look through a window into another world, framed exactly as the director wants it to be seen.  Except for cutscenes, there are no fancy camera angles or fast motion in Diablo 3, just characters delivering there lines and playing their parts.  The game is not a window that the audience looks through, controlled as a director sees fit.  It’s a stage with backdrops and sets where the actors perform their play, and every audience member sees things from a slightly different perspective.

The closest Diablo 3 gets to being a movie is with its cutscenes.  The major cutscenes at the beginning and end of the game, and between each act, are done in gorgeously prerendered 3D.  Each of these cutscenes is its own mini movie, and are filled with flashy, but not overdone, special effects, and epic fights scenes.  The smaller cutscenes, usually placed throughout an act and narrated by your player character, are done in the style of an ancient scroll with faded paper backgrounds and ink drawings.

Wizard Opening Cinematic

One final small touch that caught my attention was how lore was presented.  Lore is any other information that isn’t directly related to the main story and helps to flesh out the world.  Where most games either force lore into the main story, or have you going out of your way to read paragraphs of information out of a journal, Diablo 3 takes a slipstreamed approach.  As you play the game and encounter monster, a button in the corner of your screen appears alerting you to new lore.  When you click on the lore button, a short voice over talking about a creature you just fought is played while you continue fighting through a dungeon, never interrupting your play.  Journals, written by various characters, are also dropped from containers throughout dungeons.  When you pick them up, you are once again presented with a quick voiceover, done by the character who wrote that journal, informing you of back and side story, all without stopping gameplay.

Overall I enjoyed Diablo 3’s story.  While a bit slow paced, which might have been my own fault, it kept me interested until the end.  I don’t think I’ll be playing the story completely through again without skipping conversations, but I will be watching cutscenes whenever they come up, they’re just too badass to skip.  For a game with so much focus on gameplay, the story was more than adequate.

The World is in the Details

Multiplayer video games have been around for a long while and have become one of the most popular types of game out there.  There’s something about competition and being able to play with or against other people instead of just against a computer.  While some games throw the player into a free-for-all competition of every man to himself, many more place players onto teams.

In team multiplayer games, players are most often separated into two sides.  In order to distinguish enemy from foe, the two sides need to look different.  In many games, even popular ones such as Halo, the two sides are differentiated by color.  These color differences are enough to serve their function of team identification, but when developers pay closer attention to team details, a whole new layer can be added to the game.

In the Tribes game series, which is exclusively multiplayer, the developers made the effort to have each side look completely different.  Player armor isn’t just a new paint job with a different color slapped on.  Each team’s armor not only has its own color scheme, they also have their own insignias and even the models are different, giving each team a unique look rarely found in other games.

The Diamond Sword (left) and Blood Eagle (right) pathfinder armor.

In the latest incarnation of Tribes, Tribes: Ascend, they take these differences much farther.  While in past games there were minor differences in armor models, in Tribes: Ascend each team’s models are completely different.  They have even made each class have different armor, though all armor on a team keeps the same style across all classes.

Even the flags are completely different.  The Diamond Sword flag has a stylized metal sword running through it.  Its colors are almost metallic with a hint of blue.  In contrast, the Blood Eagle flag is adorned with an eagle crest on the top of it and its coloring is very, very red.  Even the flag stands themselves are different, leaving nothing but their general flag shape the same between them.

The Diamond Sword (left) and Blood Eagle (right) flags.

To cement these differences between the teams even more, the announcer for each team is voiced by a different actor.  The Diamond Sword team’s announcer is a strong woman who calls the Blood Eagles “butchers”.  As a strong opposite, the Blood Eagles announcer is voiced by a man who speaks of the Diamond Swords as “sand rakers”.

What’s even more exciting to me is that Tribes: Ascend doesn’t yet include the tribes of Starwolf or Children of the Phoenix.  Hopefully Hi-Rez adds these other Tribes to the game and makes them just as different and diverse as Blood Eagle and Diamond Sword.

All of this detail and team diversity builds a world in which the Tribes universe can firmly exist.  It brings everything beyond just a multiplayer game and gives the players subtle hints as to the nature of the conflict between the two fighting sides.  The backstory, if you give it a little thought and pay attention to the clues, starts to build itself without any in your-face-lore, thus making it all the more intriguing, pulling you deeper into the game.