Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Imperial Throne Hall

Imperial Throne Hall on Dromund Kaas.I haven’t posted anything about games in a long time and seeing how our February is really short on posts I decided to put a couple of words in about one of the two games that I play on somewhat of a regular basis — SWTOR — Star Wars: The Old Republic. It’s an MMORPG.

Imperial Throne Hall on Dromund Kaas.I think most people play a Star Wars game that happens to be an MMO. I on the other hand actually play an MMO that happens to be set in Star Wars universe.

Imperial Throne Hall on Dromund Kaas.One of the features of the game is that you have a number of Strongholds which is essentially player housing. You get an empty set of walls and you can design and decorate the place as you wish.

Imperial Throne Hall on Dromund Kaas.All the decoration pieces are limited and some are very hard to find or are extremely expensive via credits and GTN — in game currency and player market, auction house. So I was only able to have one Stronghold decorated as I liked. I never gotten into doing another one since I had only single copies of certain nice and rare items that I would want to have in any Stronghold.

Imperial Throne Hall on Dromund Kaas.But back in November BioWare decided to go through a server merger which had an unexpected pleasant side-effect. All the decorations got merged together from all the servers that you had characters on. And it used to be so that when you would transfer one of your characters to that server all your decorations would copy over as well. I happened to have done that with 5 different servers.

Imperial Throne Hall on Dromund Kaas.So ALL my collected items have gone up in quantity by a factor of five. It’s probably not very fair to the people who actually used to buy multiple decorations, but knowing BioWare it’s not going to be fixed ever and hopefully is impossible to do to begin with.

Imperial Throne Hall on Dromund Kaas.Long story short — I was able to setup a second Stronghold for my characters. My original one was on Nar Shaddaa and this new on is on the Imperial capital world of Dromund Kaas.

Imperial Throne Hall on Dromund Kaas.I’m just posting screenshots of one themed room that I wanted to do for a long time — an Imperial Throne Hall. A judgment of a captive Jedi by an Empress.

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Sunday, January 28, 2018

2017 Fitness Summary

Yearly medals.Longest daily streak.Before January turns over to February I wanted to post an update and summary of my fitness activity for the last year. There have been a number of changes with regards as to how things stand since my last update and not all things are as I hope they would be. On the positive side though is the fact that my weight is hovering steadily between 162 and 163 pounds — the lowest it has been in years.

I have decided to end my daily 30 minute, 400 calorie workout streak after 393 days. One of the factors was the fact that after getting Peloton at the end of April all the instructors kept making it clear that rest is as important as exercising. All this was confirmed by the fact that I’ve developed pain in my left calf which would not go away until I’ve started taking rest days.

I also believe that what Apple Watch promotes and rewards — hitting your goals on daily basis — or no medal for you — is ultimately unhealthy. I like the idea of reaching goals and it helps me stay with some exercise regiment, but I think the concentration should be based on daily averages instead of daily numbers. In fact my daily averages are higher than my daily goal even with exercising every other day.

A step in the right direction was an introduction of monthly challenges which are in fact based on averages in the latest Watch OS update. I think that daily race needs to eliminated entirely.

Yearly statistics.Typical Peloton workout.With regards to Peloton itself — the machine makes it much easier for much harder workouts. It actually is very easy to race your heart into zone 4 (out of 5) and it makes it essentially impossible to do very low impact exercises. Not in the sense that you technically can’t do it, but in the sense that it makes it fun to push harder.

However some of these factors and dropping a daily routine makes it hard to make oneself to get back on the bike. So I think towards the end of the year both Alёna’s and my stats have suffered.

So here are the 2017 full stats:
MertricUnitsPer DayPer MonthTotal
Active Energycalories46313,544162,535

I don’t do a lot of walking. I make that up by my time on the bike. Alёna’s walking numbers are a lot higher:
MertricUnitsPer DayPer MonthTotal
Active Energycalories45313,494161,939

Pretty impressive numbers if I do say so myself. However if January is any indication 2018 isn’t going to look nearly as good.

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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

March and April Fitness Stats

March move goal medal.April move goal medal.March was a pretty regular months with our regular regiment of daily exercise on our recumbent stationary bike. We haven’t taken our real bikes out a single time, but I did a 20 minute workout on an elliptical machine to get a one time medal that Apple Watch gives out for several common types of workouts. I do hate elliptical. I just don’t find the machine pleasant at all. Never did.

I also hit a 500 daily move goals on March 24th. The medal is awarded for 500 total move goals — they don’t have to be consecutive. Here are the overall stats for March:
MertricUnitsPer DayMaxTotal
Active Energycalories54175716,761

One time medal for doing a workout on elliptical.500 days of hitting a move goal.April was quite a bit different from our usual months. First 10 days of the month we spent in Costa Rica. At first I was planning to visit a gym on daily basis to hit my goals, but on the very first day we discovered a daily water aerobics class that would usually last for about 30 minutes — exactly what I needed. In fact I remember that such classes occur pretty much on all such vacations, but we never paid any attention. Here we participated daily.

I also tried doing a swimming workout to get another one of those one time medals that I mentioned above, but swimming is hard. I barely eeked out a 15 minute swim and haven’t attempted it again. I just need more practice to keep myself from standing up from time to time to take a break. Later on when we got home I came to a realization that out of all possible activities I have never gotten this type of medal for something as trivial as running.

My crazy run stats.End of April.So I went for a 15 minute run. I had a profound experience — running is HARD. I guess the muscles that get worked on a recumbent bike do not help at all while running. I was intentionally moving at a slow pace. I did finish my run having my heart peak out at 170 BPM at one point — which is very high and very unusual for me, 184 being my advisable max. I averaged out 164 BPM for the whole run. My muscles were incredibly soar for the next 2 days. As I said — profound.

Also as I mentioned earlier we have placed an order for Peloton Bike right after our return from vacation, but more on Peloton in a future post. By buying the bike we also got early access to Peloton iOS app that has all of the classes available that we could stream to our TV via AirPlay and Apple TV. So we took a 2 week break from our spinning and concentrated on core training — stretching, arms and leg workout, lower back and abdomen. We even did some Yoga.

Here are my April statistics:
MertricUnitsPer DayMaxTotal
Active Energycalories52774315,817

On April 28th we got our Peloton Bike delivered. What a difference it is compared to our previous machine. So far we are enjoying it quite a bit, but we’ll have to wait a couple of month for a final verdict.

March stats.April stats.My weight is holding steady. I was at 167 lbs at my last check and my current move streak is at 330 days.

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Saturday, March 18, 2017

January and February Fitness

Activity app medals.One of the days.When I posted my year-end fitness stats back in December I had to use three different applications to extract and tabulate the data from HealthKit. And that’s not counting Excel to calculate averages and max values. It took a lot of effort.

But soon after the year started I wanted to install an app for my dad that would let him view his stats in a better way than HealthKit presents it in. And while doing it I got an ad for another similar app which I did not see before even though I did search for these things. It turned out to be perfect.

The app is called HealthView and is a great dashboard for HealthKit data. Even though the app is a little buggy — sometimes it takes too long to update and loads the data from a wrong date or crashes — it still lets you view your stats in a good, beautiful, clear way after a few restarts or reloads.

HealthView dashboard. Day view.HealthView dashboard. Month view.My move (the number of days I achieved my calorie goal on) streak is currently at 278 days. Here are my numbers from the first two months of this year. January is first table, February is second.
MertricUnitsPer DayMaxTotal
Active Energycalories52382516,233

MertricUnitsPer DayMaxTotal
Active Energycalories5811,27216,276

HealthView metric drill down. Month view.Activity app. Filling in the circles.At this point we do the most of the work on a stationary bike. We did put a real bicycle on a trainer in the begging of the year and it was a lot more pleasant. However it was sadly producing way too much vibration and living in the apartment we just didn’t feel at ease working out in this way. We’re thinking of investing in a much more high quality stationary bike than our current one.

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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Cannondale SuperSix EVO 105

2017 Cannondale SuperSix EVO 105.After spending more than 6 months on stationary bike spinning pedals every single day and after putting our real Cannondale Synapse on a trainer we thought that we’re ready to get back on a pair of real bicycles. As I said we’ve already had one very good cycling machine from a couple of years back, so we needed to expand our current road bike collection by one more unit.

Shimano breaks.I did some research and with my mind made up we visited our favorite local bike store. The owner — Allen — was in and he is our favorite guy to work with. I had my heart set on 2017 Cannondale SuperSix EVO 105 racing road bike. And what do you know — they had the exact model in my size handing on display. I took it for a spin around the block and I knew I wanted it.

Shimano components.For future reference I want to attach some pricing information — as it turned out to be useful this time around. The MSRP on this particular bicycle was $2,199 without pedals until very recently when Cannodale dropped it to $1,999 several weeks ago. Allen sold it to us for $1,700 with pedals included. Essentially this is aluminum price territory of CAAD12.

Clip-in side of the pedal.So as it becomes clear from all of the above SuperSix is top of the line carbon frame from Cannondale’s racing line fitted with Shimano 105 componentry. It’s as stiff as CAAD12, but does absorb more shock from the road. Our Cannondale Synapse was more of an endurance bike and we had it refitted and adjusted for Alёna free of charge by our shop.

Platform.As for the pedals — I went for something similar that I had before. This particular pedal has a clip-in mechanism on one side and a platform for any other shoe on the other. Since I haven’t ridden on a bike with cleats in a long time I wanted to have this option. Now we just have to stick with this and put some serious miles on these bikes.

Some stickers removed. Work in progress.

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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Fitness Year End Update

Activity app medals.My current streak.During the past year I have taken up a rudiment of daily exercise in order to stay more fit. As we get older it gets harder to keep our weight in a good range without some effort. That combined with a sitting job is asking for something to be done.

The hardest part is getting motivated to stick with something from day to day without finding excuses of being too tired or too lazy and so on and on to skip a day. For me Apple Watch has played a role of a huge motivator. If I miss a day I miss out on weekly, monthly and other “medals” that Activity app hands out.

Activity calendar. Exercise, activity, standing.Exercise log.And so I have been doing at least 30 minutes of exercise starting from the 1st of May without a fail and meeting my calorie daily goal every single day. For me I needed two things to be able to stick with it. First is getting calories burned with a path of least resistance — stationary cycling machine at home.

And to make those minutes fly by a game of HearthStone on iPad — TV doesn’t occupy the mind enough and minutes drag on. HearthStone makes the minutes fly by while you are thinking of the strategy for your next move against another human being on the other end.

Some statistics for the data that I have tracked — at first I wasn’t recording everything, but I’ve been trying to keep everything logged for the last 6 months or so:
ActivityUnitsDate RangePer DayMaxTotal
Walkingstespsyear to date3,72620,6301,362,737
Active Energycaloriessince May 1st468965114,653
Cyclingmilespast 6 months6.9415.281,208
Excerciseminutespast 6 months46.091408,411
Walkingmilesyear to date1.859.54677

Weight loss — from 176 lb to 165 lb at 5′ 11″:
Weight Chart
Some other observations: Activity app is a killer feature of Apple Watch for me. I could easily give all other niceties up if I could track the fitness data with some smaller device like a thin bracelet or a ring in order for me to be able to wear my mechanical watches.

I also have just received a trainer designed for a real bicycle in order to make sure I’m working the right muscles as opposed to our current stationary bike in which one sits in an unnatural position. I haven’t had a chance to test it out yet. I plan to do it in the next couple of days.

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Saturday, May 2, 2015

Heroic Blackrock Mountain

Heroic Blackrock Mountain cleared.This past Thursday the last wing of Blackrock Mountain has been opened. The bosses on normal difficulty are quite easy to beat. It would typically take me one try. Normal difficulty Nefarian took 3 tries, because the mechanic was not fully clear at first.

Bosses on the heroic difficulty are extremely hard for the most part. Not only does it take multiple tries to tweak the deck, but the luck of the draw plays a big factor too. The deck building for these bosses was the most interesting part for me. Actually figuring out what the weakness of each boss is to exploit it.

Special card back reward for clearing Heroic Blackrock Mountain.The only deck that I wasn’t able to figure out on my own was General Drakkisath, where all cards cost 1 mana, you are capped at 1 and he is at 2. Another super hard one was Dark Iron Arena which I won purely by a lucky Unstable Portal into Lord Jaraxxus.

The bonus for beating all heroic bosses is a special card back — so it’s purely cosmetic. Making everyone beat some of these close to impossible bosses for actual cards would not be in the spirit of Hearthstone, where anyone can be successful without spending a cent of actual money. My previous favorite card back was the one I got for clearing Heroic Naxxramas. Now I’m sticking with this new one.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Hearhstone Update

My latest Hearthstone stats.Tomorrow Blizzard is releasing a second adventure mode expansion for their free-to-play card game Hearthstone. The expansion is going to focus on defeating the multitude of bosses and their minions that reside inside the Blackrock Mountain. Blackrock Mountain is actually the place we used to raid during our World of Warcraft days, when it took 40 people to defeat anything.

Lucky pack.Meanwhile I wanted to post an update on our past and current adventures in Hearthstone. We never really stopped playing. Sometimes we play more, sometimes less, but all throughout these months we’ve been enjoying this great game where a typical match takes from 10-15 minutes.

Angry Chicken win.Sometimes I start to lose interest, but my favorite Hearthstone podcast — The Angry Chicken — starts the fire again. The podcast is named after one of the most worthless cards in the game, but it was really fun when I made it work and won a game with it. That one was for Garrett, Dills and Jocelyn.

Rank 6.Alёna mostly prefers Arena mode (although she plays ranked too), as do I. But sometimes I play on the ladder for a while. My best result ever was reaching rank 6. Maybe one day I’ll make it to legendary, but I probably don’t have the skill nor the time to do that.

Lucky pack.One of the big draws to the game is getting as many cards as possible, which in turns allows you to build good or fun decks. Fun decks often lose, but they are fun — like my favorite Priest Madness deck which keeps stealing everything opponent is trying to throw at you and using it against the opponent. Back to the packs — sometimes you get complete junk, or stuff that you already have. However sometimes you strike gold — when every card in the pack is great.

10 wins in a row in Arena.The maximum number of games that you can win in Arena is 12. However we never got that far. My best run was up to 10, but it only happened once. I had a lot of 7s and a couple of 8s. Sometimes on very rare occasions you lose with 0 wins. That never feels pleasant, but for some reason on several occasion now the game gave me a legendary card as a consolation prize in the pack after such lose.

Defeated Curse of Naxxramas on Heroic difficulty.And a while back, when Blizzard released their first expansion — the Curse of Naxxramas — I beat it on Heroic difficulty. It’s been a lot of fun to build decks specifically to play on each boss’s weakness. That’s why I’m looking forward to playing through the Blackrock Mountain, which brings 31 news cards with it.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

MMO Keybinding

Young Lord Skаf.I’ve come to a realization that I’m a gamer after all. Took me twenty years to finally admit to it. But more often than not I’m playing something. Computer games are making my mind run amok. The more complex the game the more fun it is. I love the “theorycrafting” aspect of all gaming and MMOs will certainly have that — learning how things work, how to be more efficient.

Skаf's talent build.From all my close friends I probably spend more time with computer games than anyone else, save one guy. And that one guy who in my mind was a super-gamer all the time that I know him (close to 20 years now) has lately decided to “degamify”, therefore leaving me to playing all by myself. Come on, dude! Regamify! Yes, you.

Darth Skаf.Anyhow, long story short — after approximately a year long break I have reactivated SWTOR. Since the early days of WoW I’ve only been playing PvE — Player vs Environment. After I was left all alone in SWTOR I decided to try my hand at PvP — Player vs Player. And did I end up loving it or what? However I faced a big problem stemming from a fact that I’m a clicker — a person who keeps clicking on their abilities instead of using keybinds — keyboard.

Skаf.Clicking worked just fine in PvE, but at PvP everything is moving at a neckbreaking speed. At the same time I always gravitate towards melee characters. And by the time I would reach somebody and start executing my rotation by clicking my abilities that somebody would be long gone or I would be dead. So that didn’t work at all. My solution was to switch to a ranged class that had the longest reach in the game — Sniper.

Agent Glаz.I was often able to be on top of DPS charts with my clicking. Those numbers could’ve been better and my survivabilty would’ve been better if I wasn’t clicking, but it worked. However the thing with Sniper is that you’re playing like a stationary turret. You just sit there and shoot. PvP game objectives often don’t revolve about being top in DPS and being a turret you’re not bringing too much utility to your team.

PvP match scorecard.I created a new character that I wanted to try for a long time now — Sith Juggernaut. Juggernaut is a melee class that can perform a role of a tank, but has a potential to put out decent DPS and has a decent level of survivability. But in order to be effective the clicking had to stop. So after all these years I’ve made an effort to teach myself to use a keyboard starting from level 1 with my new character.

Final look.Now being at level 55 I feel extremely comfortable with keyboard. I play blind without having too look anywhere at the screen and I do ZERO clicking as far as abilities go. Mouse is used for moving and sometimes targeting, although in vast majority of cases I target with the keyboard as well.

Juggernaut has incredible mobility and control of the situation with multiple jumps and defensive cooldowns. I can confidently go pretty much against any character and dish out a serious beating. For a change I feel in complete control in most situation.

UI, Keyboard and Mouse Setup

The first step for me to get comfortable with the keyboard I’ve redesigned my UI. I layed out my action bars as the 4 rows of the keyboard. This way I can easily monitor when my cooldowns are up and my fingers learned where to go because the layout of spells is exactly the same as the layout of buttons on the keyboard.

First UI attempt. Too much clutter.Second step was to unlearn turning with a keyboard. This is easily achievable by unbinding some of the default settings. The standard setup is W, S to move forward and back; A, D to turn; Q, E to strafe. I got rid of binds for S, A, D. If you are not used to strafing much yet, I would remap Q and E to A and D. But my mnemonic memory was already hardwired to Q and E, so I let them be. In addition to that I shifted them all by one key to the right to free up another easily reachable row on the left side of my standard hand placement.

Keyboard. Diagram built via WASD Keyboards site.I also did bind Shift+W, Shift+E, Shift+R (my movement keys) to some abilities that are not used over and over again. My standard defensive and DPS (damage per second) rotations are bound to the rest of the keys around those movement keys.

User interface. Final version.My standard damage dealing rotation goes in a circle around the movement keys. D, 2 is bound to starting of a fight. And then S, F, G, T, 5, 4. Defensive CDs are on A, C, Y, 3. Situation control is on Z, X, V, H, Shift+W, Shift+R. Utility spells are on 1, Q, B, N. Everything is extremely easy to reach and I do not have large hands. And everything gets used.

As I said earlier mouse is used for turning, by holding down the right button. I also mapped several key important spells with short cooldown, lots of damage and a little bit more reach to side buttons on my mouse. 4 and 5 from the list above are those spells. And I mapped one additional defensive spell to the 3rd most comfortable buttons to hit. It’s nice to see somebody casting something massive on you and reflect it right back to their face with a click.

Skaf. Another angle.A couple of words on the mouse itself — after some consideration I have bought a gaming mouse. (Spoiler: I didn’t like it.) I was picking between Razer Naga (12 buttons on the side) and Razer Naga Hex (6 buttons) — having Razer BlackWidow keyboard that I do like very much after getting used to it. I went with the Hex edition because there is no way I was going to use 12 buttons on the mouse. And button placement felt too crowded. Even 6 seemed like an overkill.

Razer Naga Hex mouse.After trying Razer Naga Hex for a week I hated it. My hand hurts, buttons are still not very comfortable to hit, mouse is not well designed ergonomically and it had a wire. I went back to my trusty Logitech and I love it. Four well placed buttons and the hand is relaxed and well placed. Razer Naga Hex went back to the store. This rarely happens to me — returning something.

And that’s pretty much it. Hopefully this a little bit of a guide will be helpful to somebody like myself. It definitely will improve your PvP performance. And I am truly enjoying playing my character.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Last Word on Hearthstone

Opening a new pack of cards.A couple of last thoughts on Hearthstone. At least for the time being. The game is enjoyable. I was able to amass a nice collection of cards and have achieved a rank of 12 (from starting 25). It’s not great at all by any real standards, but that was my best and is decent enough for my first TCG game.

Overall statistics.I’ve stopped playing it about 2 weeks ago. The main draw for me was opening new card packs and adding something new and nice to my collection of cards. At this point I’ve got a lot of good deck worthy cards. Most of them actually barring the legendaries. The only useful legendary that I actually did get is Ragnaros the Firelord.

My best Arena run.When you play Arena and at the end you open up a pack of cards and all of those cards are already in your collection you lose interest. At least I do. And when that happens time after time after time — well, you stop playing. Again, this is all normal and not a knock against Blizzard or anything. It’s just the way it is for a game of this type.

Super annoying murloc zoo Warlock.However I did build pretty decent fun decks for almost all classes. My big exception is Druid simply because I just did not get lucky with any good Druid cards. They are just not coming. My favorite classes in the long run are Mage, Hunter, Shaman and Paladin. My previous favorite Priest just doesn’t do very well with the way things currently are. Warrior can do really well, but it needs to have a ton of legendary cards to be effective.

Some Priest domination.The most popular decks in the current meta are Warlocks and “Miracle” Rogues. I don’t enjoy playing “Hand” Locks and “Zoo” Locks are just annoying. For “Miracle” Rogue deck to work you need a specific legendary which I do not have.

My highest rank.And that’s pretty much it. However there is a big expansion coming which is right on the horizon. Maybe I’ll give it another whirl when that comes around. Also Alёna still plays some Arena games from time to time. I do still love opening new packs with her when she gets them.
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Monday, April 14, 2014

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

A won match.A couple of days ago I by pure chance discovered a new game that I ended up finding quite a bit enjoyable, through a promotional email that Blizzard tends to bomb me with. The game is called Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft and it’s a digital collecting (trading) card game.

I always felt that I missed out on the whole Magic: The Gathering thing back in the day. Because of that when Blizzard produced World of Warcraft Trading Card Game I happily jumped on it.

Playing with Priest deck.However for somebody as casual of players as my friends and I are there were several problems. First of all to keep the game somewhat fresh one has to constantly be pumping money into it. Once the initial thrill of facing your friends with your newly formed deck ends and you become familiar with their play style and their stronger moves it stops being as much fun. It also is the only way to stay competitive against other players.

Playing in clubs against other people we simply wouldn’t have time for now and after taking prolonged breaks it became hard to remember all the moves and rules. This probably sounds lame to some real trading card game fans, but that’s what it is.

Hunter.All of the above things are not a problem with a digital game. You still have the thrill of opening new packs, but you can earn them without spending any real money. You can obtain them through in-game currency which is earned by doing quests and winning games.

The game itself is free to begin with as well. You get to build your custom decks from all your cards for different classes without having to reshuffle real cards and taking them apart and putting decks back together.

Almost finished.You get to compete against the computer with pretty good AI and best of all you get to face off real players online. And all the rules are really easy to figure out since the game basically doesn’t let you do what you can’t do and it keeps score for you and when you start it guides you through an easy to understand tutorial.

At the beginning you get one class and a crash course that makes you easily get the rules. Then you unlock other characters of other classes and then you build a couple of custom decks and compete. I started out with a priest, but now I’ve gotten pretty good with my hunter deck. I like the synergy that a lot of cards in the deck have with each other.

Unlocked characters.There is also an Arena mode and a ranked game-play. I tried both and they are also equally interesting. I can say that for such a simple game that can be played in as little as 5-15 minutes at a time it is a pretty damn addictive and fun strategy game. Now I need to coerce my real friends to join it and try it out so we could face off against each other.

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

LEGO Jedi Defender-Class Cruiser

Jedi Defender-class Cruiser. Front.Arosha’s most favorite toy has been and is at this time his LEGO set. He loves building all kinds of things out of it. A year ago we ordered a much more complex LEGO set and built a Star Wars Sith ship. He was quite small and didn’t have much patience for it back then.

Arosha. Helping with the build process.Lately we have been not going anywhere on the weekends because Anna is still sick, so we sit at home. Alёna suggested that we should order another set and put it together to pass the time. So we did. We ordered 75025 Jedi Defender-class Cruiser which has 927 pieces.

Me and mini-me.Arosha is still too small to be able to build it, but he was sitting near me, helping me pick out the right pieces and kept making up all kinds of stories about bad guys, good guys, lightsabers and so on. We built it over the past three days and evenings. The ship came out well.

Ship and new characters.
Side view.
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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Sniper Glаz Zorka.On January 2nd of this year I have reactivated my SWTOR subscription since I was longing to play some MMORPG again. Sadly, by this time all of Eldar’s guildies including Eldar himself have abandoned the game and I was left to play all alone, but I ended up playing for quite a long time and having a lot of fun while doing so.

I kept meaning to write down some thoughts on the game for a while now, but couldn’t get around to doing it. Now that I’ve lost interest again — 8 months later — I decided to take the time a jot some of this down anyhow.

When I left the game the previous time the game was at 1.1 with patch 1.2 looming. At the time I rejoined the game it was at 1.6 with 1.7 on the horizon. Needless to say “Star Wars: The Old Republic” has gone through a lot of changes and I was a complete noob again. I’ve read all the missed patch notes to catch myself up.

Imperial Agent Glаz.I learned that my level 50 Mercenary (named Hahz) mechanics were ruined soon after I left the game and have never been fixed. Also I learned that if you do level any class to level 50 you will get the buff from that class on all your other characters no matter the class. I had a Marauder (named Zhah) in lower 40s that I never finished leveling and I figured I’ll start with him to finish the class story and get the buff for whoever I was going to play next which I did.

Assassin Sith Inquisitor Trаh.In the process I realized that I’m not enjoying playing a melee class at all and that I had much more fun playing my Mercenary back in the day. I also read that sorcerers where quite underpowered and that left me with the only choice of Imperial Agent. I wasn’t quite sure which advanced class to pick — Sniper or Operative. I did a lot of reading and even though I really liked the idea of stealth on Operatives for a new type of gameplay the consensus was that Operatives excel at healing and not DPS, which I wanted to play. Also if they were to do DPS it would be in close quarters — melee in other words.

Sniper DPS chart.I did level an Imperial Agent to level 6 a long time ago, so I picked him up and started playing. By the time I hit level 10 I made up my mind on going with a Sniper and was I right or what. I completely fell in love with the class mechanics. All the things that I disliked about the class before — like cover mechanics and the actor’s voice — turned into the thing that I ended up enjoying the most. On top of that, Sniper gets an advantage of 5m on every other class in the game — 35m attack range, which makes it truly the best and the deadliest ranged DPS class in the game.

As I was leveling I decided to jump into a PvP game to gain some commendations for some nice looking moddable gear and really surprised myself. The thing is that I’ve always hated PvP. However with my Sniper I started posting top DPS numbers in pretty much every game I played. I was deadly and hard to kill. In most cases I could go 1 on 1 with an enemy and come out on top. PvP became insanely fun.

Sniper DPS chart.What also made the Sniper fun was the fact that the best companion type for any DPS class — a healer — wears exactly the same type of gear that a Sniper does — gear with a main stat of cunning. This gives you an ability to upgrade your most important companion’s gear with hand-me-down stuff every time you update your character. For solo-play that was huge. At this point my Sniper (named Glаz by the way) has mostly top-end Conqueror gear and my healer (Dr. Lokin) has the next best thing — Partisan gear. No such progression is possible with any other class.

Sniper Marksmanship Spec.So to sum up — Sniper is still my very favorite class to play at PvP and solo-PvE — as in dailies to get tons of money. My Sniper has the top end PvP gear with top-end purple augments on each peace of gear. He is a level 55 and I like playing the Marksmanship spec the most.

Jedi Sage Krеm.At this point I decided that I need to run up either a Sith Inquisitor or a Jedi Consular to the top lever to get my Sniper the last class buff. After a bit of consideration and figuring out that I can actually mail myself stuff even if I’m playing a Republic side I made a Jedi Consular to experience the game from the other side. I also decided to play him as a Sage and become a healer — something I’ve never done before.

Sage healing chart.I ended up having a quite bit of fun with him as well as it’s a completely different type of gameplay. I also was able to post top healing number in PvP games on consistent basis. Of course not being able to kill anyone in PvP is a bit annoying. I got my Sage named Krеm to level 55 as well after the expansion hit. I got him in mostly Partisan gear, but I didn’t play him nearly as much as I played my Sniper.

Sage healing chart.Somewhere in the process of all this I got invited to a PvP guild aptly named “PvP” on Republic side and had a blast playing PvP games with a bunch of cool guys who know what they are doing. It’s much more fun to play with a team, especially in PvP when you can coordinate your attacks over voice-chat. They had a mirror guild on the Imperial side and I played many games with a guild master of the guild — lots of fun.

Sith Assassin Trаh.Somewhere along the way I also created a Sith Inquisitor character who I ended up liking a lot — story-wise and his personality-wise. Since I already had a Sage (or a Sorcerer) I turned this guy into an Assassin with stealth capabilities. I played him as a Deception tree DPSer. Even thought I didn’t enjoy the melee aspect of it I sure loved his ability to capture game objectives by surprising his enemies. I got him to level 55 as well, but didn’t get too far as far as the gear goes. He is aptly named Trаh — a fitting name for an Assassin.

Jedi Guardian Trasta Tatrasta.At last I have another character named Trasta who is a light side Jedi Guardian. I was playing him as a tank, but never found any guides for this spec and this class and therefore didn’t grow to love him. For me half the fun, if not most of the fun comes from the theorycrafting part of the game — understanding the mechanics, the specs, the stats and learning to build and play the character optimally. With the lack of the guides the fun is just not there — that’s a big problem for a game that is losing popularity, unlike WoW that keeps going strong.

Jedi Sage Krеm.As far as stories go I liked them in the following order (SPOILER ALERT): Mercenary — quite boring — find and kill this guy, find and kill that guy; Sage — also boring — heal this guy, heal that guy, I’m so good I’m just going to heal everyone; Sniper — a lot of people find his story to be the best in the game, but I didn’t find it to be anything special — a couple of unexpected plot twists, but nothing exceptional; Marauder — a nice dark political power play with his master; Assassin — also a very strong and fun dark story about his spectacular ascent to the Dark Council itself.

That’s pretty much all I wanted to say. The game is fun and I wish it to keep doing well as I can definitely see myself reactivating my account sometime in the future again.

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Friday, February 8, 2013

LEGO Star Wars Sith Fury

LEGO Star Wars 9500 Sith Fury-class Interceptor.This past weekend Alёna and I were walking around Manhattan and stumbled upon an official LEGO store near the Rockefeller Plaza. We went inside and I was overwhelmed by a strong urge to get something for myself and build it. Of course the prices on Amazon were better, so I ordered myself a set when we got home.

Finished version. The back wings, front and back doors open up.About a year ago I spent a bit of time playing Star Wars: The Old Republic MMORPG and I actually has reactivated my account recently. So I decided that building something from that familiar setting would be nice — Sith Fury-class Interceptor which comes with Darth Malgus and a pair of Imperial troopers. The set consists of 748 pieces.

Building process. Arosha was helping.I must say that I haven’t played with something like this in ages. I loved to build things out of Soviet LEGO imitations when I was a kid, but they kits and were nowhere as elaborate and even those were nowhere to be found. I had a few very simple sets. I was worried that I would find it too hard to put everything together, but the instructions were very exact and easy to follow.

Arosha's helping.I think I’m a LEGO fan now. Arosha was “helping” me through some parts of the process. I see a lot of LEGO sets in Arosha’s future.
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Friday, June 8, 2012

Of Diablo III

Progression.Now it’s been some time since I’ve started playing Diablo III and I have to say that it did not disappoint. I was somewhat unsure of whether I will like it or not after playing WoW and SWTOR which are very different from Diablo type of games.

For one thing I really liked the aspect of MMOs in that you gain new skills as you level and you keep using most of them till the end. I remember that being much of break for me coming from Diablo II, the break which I liked. Diablo III is very much like Diablo II in that sense, but it actually is a very nice change of pace after all MMOs.

My level 60 Barbarian.You only get 6 skills at any given time and each skills has a sub-skill which modifies a given skill in one way or another. You can change the active skills as many times as you wish. For example you can use one build for clearing the dungeons and a completely different one to bring down a boss.

The pace is completely different from the MMOs that I’ve played and is a very welcome thing. When you have to mostly pull 1 by 1 in an MMO here you just jump into the huge herd of monsters and smash away — the more the merrier. You basically never have to stop for a break — you just plow away.

Achievements.Obviously the biggest difference is the fact that Diablo, while can be played with friends, is built as a single player game. It means I can complete it on my own time fully without having to worry about finding a group. But it also does support cooperative play, which we tried with Eldar, although we didn’t have much time.

Besides leveling, gearing your character and progressing through the story the game comes with tons of achievements for players to … ehm … achieve. Getting as many of them down as possible is another very fun aspect of the game for me.

My Wizard.My favorite class to play at the moment is Barbarian — a melee DPS class. Although all classes in the game are pretty much DPS classes, since it is meant to be a single player game after all. At this point I’ve finished the story on Normal, Nightmare and Hell. However when I step my foot into the final stage — Inferno — I almost get taken apart by regular mobs and I ain’t got nothing on elites.

The problem with melee classes is that you actually have to be able to get into the thick of it and be able to sustain all the damage that is being dished out to you. Ranged classes on the other hand can avoid damage altogether if the player is proficient at kiting the mobs.

Secret level — the land of killer unicorns.Anyhow, as far as I’m concerned, I might not play much longer, but it was money well spent. It provided me with hours of great entertainment. Although I might try leveling a ranged class as well to 60 — should it be a Wizard or a Demon Hunter?
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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Diablo III

Diablo III. Collector's Edition box.Two days ago I’ve finally decided that I want to get Diablo III. Even though it will be very different game from WoW and SWTOR I think it is something that I might enjoying playing even more since it is meant to be a single player game. I have a lot of history with Diablo.

The first Diablo was actually the very first RPG game that I have ever played. RPG is the only type of game that I would play these days — and that’s been the case for a long time now. I’ve just never been interested as much in any other genre of games. Diablo II1 was actually the first game that I have bought — first one was given to me by an old friend. I played it all through to the end, later on bought an expansion and finished that too.

Diablo II and Diablo II Expansion.So I figured that I’d like to get a Collector’s Edition of the game. But as often is the case — procrastination (putting off the decision to the last moment) resulted in CE version being sold out everywhere — Amazon, Best Buy, etc. I decided to just stop by a Best Buy store in the morning on my way to work, ask if they have CE available and just get a normal version if not.

My Best Buy of choice for today’s morning was a store located near the Pennsylvania Avenue in Brooklyn. I pulled into the parking lot, got out of my car and the door to Best Buy got unlocked right in front of me. I walked in and proceeded to the gaming section. Asked about the CE version and was told to wait while a lady would check for me. She came back with 2 boxes and said that it’s all that they have.

Contents of Collector's Edition box and in-game items.Right at that moment another sales guy run up and said that she can’t sell any to me since these were pre-ordered. She said that she checked and no pre-orders showed up. The guy told her to not ring it up since he wanted to go and check himself. She decided not to listen to him. I swiped my credit card and the transaction went through.

At that moment this guy returned — yelling: “Stop! You can’t sell these! They ARE pre-ordered!” Her only reply at that point was — “Oops!” I wasn’t letting this game out of my hands. Yet another sales guys showed up with a receipt showing that he had pre-ordered both of the copies. I took that as my queue to get lost and left.

Artworks book.I actually didn’t expect it to be rare, but right after I bought mine I phoned our local store at Caesar’s Bay and another one near my office in Connecticut and neither one had any in stock. So I’m pretty happy with how that turned out. However the moral of the story is this — never pre-order anything at Best Buy.

I haven’t played the game itself yet, but just wanted to share this little moment of joy with you all.

P.S. I have a couple of guest invite codes — allows a friend to play through Act I of the game that I can share with you if you want it. I gave one of them out to Andrey already.

Zhah the Barbarian. My first character.

  1. Released on June 29, 2000. []

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