Friday, July 31, 2009

Dollhouse: Epitaph One and Pilot review

Note: I've previously reviewed the first season separately, so if you haven't seen it, you might want to look there. This review is just about the extra episodes on this DVD set.

Last night, I got the Dollhouse Season 1 DVD set in, and immediately sat down to watch Epitaph One, the unaired 13th episode. First off, I want to warn people who might buy it: do not buy the Blu-Ray version of the season unless you want to for reasons of archiving the rest of the season. For Epitaph One, the grainy video that it's shot it (to good effect, mind you) would probably be a waste to get on Blu-Ray.

OK, that said let me do the non-spoiler review first. When the episode opens, you're thrown into a flash-forward. I won't discuss what's going on, as that's a minor spoiler, but the episode happens from the point of view of Felicia Day's character (you'll know her from Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog, The Guild and some rather persistent appliance commercials). She's perfectly cast, here, as the every-woman thrown into extraordinary circumstances.

As the episode progresses, it switches between the flash-forward and (from their point of view) flashback. Some of the flashbacks are from before the series, some are soon after the first season's events and some are quite a bit forward. All of them are pretty amazingly significant, and frankly you might be squeamish about knowing so much about where the story is going. Myself, I'm an old Babylon 5 fan, so I recognize the technique. Straczynski took great pains to show us clips from Babylon 5's future that would lead us to believe that events unfolded in one way, only to show us a far more interesting path to get to the same signpost later on. So, I'm not worried that Whedon (either of them) just spoiled his own show. I do, however, enjoy where he wants to see it turn.

Performances all around are phenomenal, but special note must be made of the actor who was given the sweetest bit of work in this episode, and really rose to the occasion: Fran Kranz as Topher Brink gets to play a scene in which he gets to break through everything we've seen of the character before, and do something radically different. It's so effective that I might actually have a hard time seeing the character the same way again. Just perfect. Everyone else who was involved did a fine job, given that they were being yanked around between filming this and Omega (an episode I now I have new respect for, understanding its constraints). Eliza has to recite a fair amount of Russian, and while I don't speak the language, she emulated the accent well enough that I could have taken her for one of my Russian co-workers.

The episode ends on a song (played over the scene, not a musical number), and what a song it is! Episode authors Maurissa Tancharoen & Jed Whedon also wrote and performed the song, Remains, which should, IMHO, earn them a Grammy. It's the perfect combination of vocal performance and meaning-layered lyrics with an almost droning musical backdrop that makes me think of the theme from The 4400 (one of the other very few TV scores I've purchased).

In conclusion, the episode is slightly shaky in ways that aren't always easy to put my finger on. It's filmed very differently and follows the main characters in ways that we're not used to. It also introduces many events without context, so you have to work to keep up. Still, it's worth trying to compare to other episodes, and I think it comes out well, there. Omega and Man On the Street were better episodes overall, but Epitaph definitely ranks well in the series. One thing I will complain about bitterly: Jed and Maurissa are now married. That's great to hear and I'm happy for them, but that's where it should end. There are details on the commentary that I don't think I needed or wanted to be privy to. Also on the commentary are some spoilers that I think should have been left as hints for the fans, rather than explicitly called out. One deals with an imprint that I think gave away too much. So the commentary is probably worth skipping.

On a brief side note, I want to mention the pilot (Echo) before moving on to the rest of the spoiler-version of the review. You've seen much of this episode, because it was chopped up and sprinkled liberally over the rest of the series. However, it's well worth watching. The only down-side is that, when you're done, you'll be grinding your teeth and ranting about how Fox killed the best possible pilot for this series. One that, in all likelihood would have yielded a much larger audience for the show. Bastards.

OK, moving on to spoilers:

The episode opens with Felicia Day (how else?) and quickly establishes the survivors' fear of "tech." Side note: they do a good job of introducing these not-quite-new terms that have evolved over the last 10 years. Nice touch. You see, the world is now a flaming ruin, left over after the Dollhouse tech was used as a weapon. In an instant, half the population of every major city was turned into an army and used against everyone who "didn't answer the phone," as Topher puts it. So horrible was the aftermath that it's driven Topher insane. Later in the episode, this leads us to his flashback, which is easily the most powerful scene of the episode.

All of the players do amazing jobs, but you certainly are left wanting more Echo. Of the excellent performances, I feel I should call out Adair Tishler (Molly Walker on Heroes). For a young actress, she manages to pull off her own duplicitous role and then play Echo beautifully. I was stunned, and it's just too bad that she won't have a part to play in the rest of the series!

The core development of the episode is definitely the fall of modern civilization to the Dollhouse and how that came to be. It's also clearly the central plot of the series overall. What we're shown tantalizes, but they do make it work well. Finally meeting the head of the Dollhouse (well, sort of, given that he's in Victor's body) was a creepy moment. He's clearly insane and power-hungry. He's also clearly devoid of even a shred of morality. Perfect combo.

If nothing else, this shoestring-budgeted episode has convinced me that Dollhouse season 2, which is going to be on a financial diet, will do well indeed. These are people who know how to make good TV on the cheap. Of course, if Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog didn't convince you of that, nothing will.

So go! Grab yourself a copy of the DVD set and enjoy!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Apple: An Android's Best Friend

Today the news came out that Apple has removed all Google Voice-related apps (including one from Google) from their App Store for iPhones. OK, that's a lot of buzz words, but what does it mean? It means that Apple has told Google and others that they're not allowed to write apps that customize the iPhone for use with Google Voice (hereafter GV). This would have included making calls from your GV number, making calls through the GV international calling plan and easing access to GV voicemail and other services.

Apple has been playing this game with Google ever since the release of Goolge's phone platform, Android, but today's move might well be the last straw for consumers. Google Voice is an extremely popular service right now, and I don't see any competing offering coming from Apple any time soon. Users want email transcription, numbers that ring multiple phones, call screening and all of the other features that come with GV. They don't want to hear "Apple doesn't think you should get that."

I know that this cements my departure from Apple products, though to be fair it was their treatment of Google Talk and Latitude that had me pretty much over the fence, especially after the disastrous launch of the Google Latitude Web app that has iPhone users looking over their Blackberry and Android-using friends' shoulders. I won't be extending my iPhone contract, not out of protest, but simple pragmatism. I can't afford to use a second-class device, and with the release of phones like the insanely sweet Sony Ericsson Xperia X3, HTC Hero and even the low-end phones that HTC and Motorola are about to push out, that will certainly be where the iPhone finds itself. Without access to Google's apps (which they're willing to hand to whoever want them, mind you), the iPhone is going to stop being the phone that technophiles like myself urge their less-savvy friends to use, but it's not all about Google. They're just getting more press than most of the companies whose apps get kicked out of the App Store for varying and seemingly arbitrary reasons.

In the past couple of years, I've probably convinced ten or more of my friends and relatives to buy iPhones either directly or just by example. What happens when people like myself stop using it, and move to more open platforms like Android? Has Apple seriously considered where this is leading?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Getting Google Gears To Work With Firefox 3.5.1

Google Gears works fine with Firefox's most recent security update, 3.5.1, but you actually have to convince it of that as of the current release of Gears (

In order to "convince" Gears that it's allowed to run, you need to first install it from the Gears site. This will not run, but it will install the files. Then, find the file called "gears.xpt" under your Firefox user settings directory. On my Linux system, this is under my ".mozilla/firefox" directory a few levels down under some very funky directory names with lots of letters and numbers... that's OK, just find the file using whatever your OS uses to search for files.

Once you find that file, look in the directory one level above it for another file called "install.rdf". Load this file up in the text editor of your choice (notepad, vi, emacs, whatever), and look for the line that sets "maxVersion" to "3.5".

Got it? OK, here's the crazy complicated part... add ".1" to the end of "3.5". That's it. Save the file and restart Firefox. You should be able to bring up the Tools -> Add-ons dialog and verify that Gears is installed.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Dollhouse Epitaph One Song: Remains

Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen have a new single out from the epilogue to Season 1 of Dollhouse: Epitaph One. The single is called Remains, and it's a nice bit of mood music that sets up a rather dark expectation for what is to come. Personally, I can't wait to see the DVD!

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm: Worgen and Goblins?

Yet more news pours forth from Blizzard's best marketing outlet: datafile updates. In this week's data-leak extravaganza two new masks for the Halloween event were put into the datafiles. For those who don't know, every Halloween, World of Warcraft holds an in-game event known as Hallow's End. One of the items that players can randomly get from participating is a mask that they can place over their faces in order to disguise themselves as another race (the masks look like masks, they don't transform your character or anything). These come in flavors of each of the playable races, one male and one female. In the recent update, two new races were added: Goblin and Worgen (werewolves). I've touched on the reasons that Goblins will likely be a playable race in a previous post on Cataclysm. However, Worgen are a bit of a surprise.

If true, this would throw current speculation about factions into question. If Goblins were going to be the only new race, then it was clear that they would be able to choose which side they'd play on. However, with two races, they could choose a faction for each race or proceed with two neutral races. There's no way to be sure, so we'll just have to await the Blizzcon announcement.

Worgen male model from the original game

A Worgen as they appeared in the original game. Image from WoWWiki

Again, for those who don't know: Worgen are imports to Azeroth from another world, summoned to Azeroth by a mage who wished to use them as an army to fight the undead Scourge. It's not clear what their society is like or if more of them are coming to Azeroth. They cannot transform into humans by default, though some were cursed with such transformation by Arugal, the mage who summoned them. Their natural form is that of a large, humanoid wolf with a muscled, but gangly appearance. In the masks that have been datamined, it's clear that Blizzard has come up with a much softer appearance for the female version. So far, only male Worgen have appeared in Azeroth.

One other hint that suggests that Worgen are being added as a playable race would be the interview given by one of Blizzard's designers, in which he said that prior experience had shown that players need to be eased into new races and given an attachment to them in the game before they appear. Note that Worgen appeared in Northrend for the Wrath of the Lich King expansion for what appeared to be a throw-away return of the arch-mage Arugal as a servant of the Lich King. Certainly if they were being "seeded" as a playable race, then this sub-plot makes more sense.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Dollhouse Season 1 Review

Update': I now have a review of the extras from the season 1 DVD up.

Update: I wrote this with the target audience in mind being people who had never seen the show, and were considering it for DVD purchase. Then it hit Whedonesque ;-) So, to those who have seen the show: there are extras including the unaired epilogue episode titled "Epitaph One" on the DVD set which make it worth getting, even having seen the aired episodes.

Now that the Dollhouse: Season One DVDs are about to come out, I feel it's the right time to post a review. If you haven't been watching the show, this is Joss Whedon's latest series. He's the creator of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Firefly (which became the film, Serenity) among other work. He's earned a reputation among the science fiction and fantasy fandom world as a "geek's geek" who can bring humor and drama to mainstream television without watering either down. He's also a fan of tackling hard problems. He started with the unlikely heroine: the quintessential stereotype blond cheerleader, put her in a dark alley with a scary monster and... watched her wipe the floor with it's creepy carcass. In Firefly, he tackled the western in space... a hard sell by any measure.

Now comes Dollhouse. This show's premise is simple: there are a group of people who have figured out how to replace someone's memories and personality including complex skills like fighting or hostage negotiation. They then "zombify" supposedly volunteer subjects, give them a blank slate for five years (or so they say) and periodically rent them out on assignment to the rich and powerful for everything from sexual encounters to something akin to special forces operations. It's all a matter of what you want or need and what you can pay for.

Needless to say, this is a tough subject. It's pretty hard to sell protagonists who work for a slavery ring that rents men and women out as mindless slaves. Of course, some in the Dollhouse aren't very likable. Some are, and this leaves you wondering why they're willing to do what they do. But ultimately it all comes down to the dolls themselves, and the show stands or falls on the shoulders of its main character played by Eliza Dushku: Echo. She's a doll, and she's not quite right... she's starting to wake up from her technologically induced stupor that the dolls are put into between assignments. Gradually, throughout the season you get more and more of a sense of who the real "Echo" is, and what she's going to want to accomplish.

The other characters aren't throw-aways. There's Topher (Fran Kranz), the genius behind the process that creates the dolls and gives them the memories and abilities they need for assignments. He's a bit of an odd character. Of all of the members of the Dollhouse, he's the one you might expect to be bothered by what they do, but he seems to be too enthused with the technology to realize what he's actually doing. In short, he's a tragic character, and I'm sure that in future seasons, he's going to have to make some hard choices.

Next up is the FBI agent, Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett), whose career is on the rocks because he won't give up on the Dollhouse, which he alone believes exists. His arc is complicated, and I can't get into it without spoilers, but suffice to say that he's our Window into what the Dollhouse really is and why it exists. As he learns more, so do we.

I could analyze all of the supporting characters, but suffice to say that they all do excellent jobs, and each and every one of them deserve to be on the show.

So, is it worth buying the season one DVDs? Yes, I believe it is. This show has a lot going for it: rich plot, witty dialogue and a cast that just keeps on giving. It's also been renewed for a second, though lower-budget, season that I have high hopes for.

For his part, Whedon has said that the show definitely is going somewhere. It's not just an episodic excuse to explore the whims of the rich and powerful. Certainly such was not the case with the first season, but he seems to be implying that the series has a much more complicated story to tell. Here's hoping it's as rewarding as the first season!

Retrospective: Babylon 5: The Lost Tales / Voices In the Dark

Overall: An uneven, but promising start: 5 out of 10

Babylon 5: The Lost Tales - Voices In the Dark is the first installment of the Lost Tales, direct-to-DVD series, a spin-off and continuation of Babylon 5. It is written and directed by series creator, J. Michael Straczynski. My first impression of the two stories (loosely gathered together as Voices In the Dark) is that Straczynski suffers from being too aware of his story, while directing it. There are no frills in these episodes. No prop that wasn't absolutely needed for the shot. No extras that aren't required (a lone Minbari wandering the halls in the background of one shot is almost a shock). Straczynski hits all the beats of his story with the precision of a long-range artillery gunner, but we're left without any sense that the story is connected to the larger concerns of the station and the Alliance.

But, this isn't a negative review. Overall, I'm glad to see B5 back on the screen, and even the characters that I didn't like from the series are a welcome sight. The station is newly overhauled for high-res CG rendering, and it shows. The graphics are all stunning. The virtual sets are masterful. There are hints at what has happened to our favorite characters who don't appear (including knowing nods to those whose actors have passed away). This is Babylon 5 of the quality that we came to expect from the TV show, but updated chronologically and technologically for the modern TV audience.

Over Here

The first story, Over Here, centers on Lochley (now a Colonel), a priest and a maintenance worker who may or may not have a problem requiring said priest. This story feels like it runs about 15 minutes too long. It also lacks one thing that Straczynski is well known for: a balanced, and unbiased view of religion. The story leads the viewer to one and only one conclusion which Lochley drives home in her final log entry. As a fan of the show, this seems deeply troubling, but that might be the desired effect. I'll cover this a bit more in the spoilers section, below.

Over Here features two excellent guest actors, and if you buy this DVD for no other reason, the performances in this story should be the one. They do evoke the sense that the series tried to convey of a somewhat troubled humanity trying to find its new place among the stars, and they do so in a single, small room with very few visual effects to fall back on. For the most part this story is just a conversation.

The directing, on the other hand, is the least impressive aspect of this story. As both writer and director, Straczynski has no one to tell him that the script won't shoot well. There are a number of scenes that feel wasted, and the hand-wringing scenes at the end feel as if the characters are trying to explain their decisions to the audience, rather than work through them for themselves.

As the first installment of B5 since the fifth season (or the movies if you count those as part of the series), this is a disappointment, but be sure to read the spoilers below once you've seen it. I think Straczynski has plans for the elements set up in this episode, and I don't think all is as it would seem.

Over There

Over There is the second of the two stories, and takes place roughly immediately after the first story. It follows President Sheridan, a reporter (who appears only briefly), Galen the technomage, a Centauri who is in line to the throne and Colonel Lochley (only in the second half). This story has two things that I think fans have wanted to see again for a long time: Galen and Starfuries. We get to see space battles (albeit very briefly) and a city on Earth ... If you recall the series, you'll know that an Earth city appearing on-camera is usually not healthy for said city.

The pacing is much better in this episode, though it suffers even more from the feeling that this is the story as it was remembered, years later, and not as it happened. Again, there are very few people in the background, and again it is the appearance of a Minbari extra (two, actually) that drive home the emptiness of the hallways and rooms we're herded through. Boxleitner brings Sheridan back just as we remember him. He's calm, measured, somewhat impish, but always ready to shout down those whose motives he deems unethical.

Galen's technomage character is as much an enigma as ever. Effortlessly bypassing the President's security (something I would have like to have seen discussed), and appearing to him several times. Galen's wispy, almost lyrical lectures get a bit thick at once point, but Woodward is up to the task of putting a human face on the overwrought technomage.


Ok, now it's time to get into it. Please don't read on unless you've watched the episodes.

Over Here

The first story, Over Here had better be setup for the rest of the series. Straczynski has never endorsed a religion on the show, and here he does so with gusto. Now, being a long-time fan, I see a human inhabited by a powerful entity, capable of displaying illusions across the spectrum of senses, and spouting religious dogma... my first thought is: Vorlon. This is further driven home by the fact that someone looking an awful lot like Kosh appears in the opening credits. Of course, Lochley sees this through her own religious filter (and recall that she wasn't present for the Shadow War), so we should not be shocked that she fails to reach the same conclusion. As the introduction to the idea that there are powerful beings trapped on Earth, this is an interesting story. On its own, it's a rather disappointing violation of what we fans thought were the ground-rules.

There's also the exposition toward the end of the first story. There's no reason at all for Lochley to have wanted to explain her reasoning to the entity. There's no reason for them to have even entered the room. It felt horribly pointless and anti-climactic. It doesn't help that Scoggins is unconvincing as the domineering leader of a military installation.

Over There

The second story, Over There (and what is with these names, anyway?) helps us to understand more about what's been going on in the B5 universe. We now know why Vir is in line to the throne. We know that Galen is communicating with the technomages again (if we believe him). We know that Franklin and G'Kar are out, exploring beyond the rim together (a nod to the two actors who passed away recently). These are all elements of the B5 storyline that fans have wanted some answer to, and I think it bodes well for the series that Straczynski realizes that these revelations are important to us.

The all-to-brief space battles and destruction of New York are welcome returns to the sort of galaxy-shaking upheavals of the original series, and the Starfury sequence reminds us that this was the series that knew how a ship should move in space.


Now that Straczynski does not plan to direct further episodes, I think this series has a shot at being as good as the orignal B5. It's not that he's a bad director, it's just that he doesn't seem to handle the split-duty of writer and director well. It's also clear that the budget for these episodes was not terribly large, another attribute that will hopefully be rectified in future installments.

It's an uneven, but promising start to what I hope to be a long and interesting series.

The future

As I've said, JMS needs a director. The original series had Janet Greek (And the Sky Full of Stars, Signs and Portents, Chrysalis, The Coming of Shadows, and many others of the series' early, best episodes), Mike Vejar (Comes the Inquisitor, War Without End: Parts 1 & 2, and many others of the series' middle, best episodes) and David J. Eagle (Severed Dreams, The Very Long Night of Londo Mollari, and many others of the series' later, best episodes). These three would make a formidable team for future installments of TLT. What I think they brought to the show was an ability to take the really crazy stuff that JMS wrote and bring it together into a coherent episode with enough of the "the world" behind it to make it feel real. TLT needs that if it's to continue to do well. I think JMS knows how to pull this rabbit out of his hat. He could write a Point of No Return or Chrysalis for TLT, but he must swallow his pride and admit he needs help from someone who can temper his vision. If he cannot, he'll be our modern-day Heinlein: a brilliant author who won't let his work be edited by those who know what his audience truly wants and what's just self-indulgence.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Starting Off With World of Warcraft Lore

Recently someone asked me how they would get started learning about the story behind World of Warcraft. It's a good question, and one I'd like to preserve the answer to for others.

First off, the basic answer is W0Wwiki. This site is the one, comprehensive resource for everything related to the story parts of WoW. When it comes to gear or specific quests, it's often not the first place you want to look, but lore is WoWwiki's thing.

For some excellent entry points to WoWwiki, try:
As you can see, the story is huge, and once you have a taste for it, there are books and comics that take off from there and tell several stories that parallel the in-game events.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Joys of Blogger

Today my article about the upcoming expansion to World of Warcraft made the front page of Slashdot, a popular geeky news site. It used to be that "getting Slashdotted" was a sure-fire way to cripple your site. These days, not so much. I wouldn't have even noticed if it hadn't been for my Analytics graph going all flat-line with today being a spike a couple orders of magnitude from the norm. Services like Blogger help to keep those of use who feel the urge to write up and running no matter the load. It's the primary reason I don't run my own site (well, for blogging anyway) anymore.

Perhaps this will spur me to finally get rid of my old Wiki and replace it with something run on better hardware.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Avatar: Fan Reactions That Don't Make Sense

I was browsing some info on Avatar (the upcoming James Cameron film) on Coming Soon recently when I cam across some very odd comments. I just thought I'd review a few of these to clear the air, lest anyone foolishly make the same mistakes:
"There's gonna be a lot of angry people asking for their money back because they thought this had to do with the Nickelodeon "Avatar: The Last Airbender" character and the upcoming M. Night Shyamalan trilogy"

First off, let's get past the name. Avatar is a name that Cameron selected something on the order of 10 years ago, when he first conceived (and was quite vocal in the press about) the project. I don't think that anyone will be walking into the theater with the expectation that the blue-skinned aliens have anything to do with The Last Airbender (or its live-action remake) If this were a tiny indie film for which there was nearly no publicity, then sure, but that's not the way Cameron's films are released (see Aliens and Titanic for counter-examples). Anyone going to see Avatar will have been flooded with advertising telling them exactly what the film is about.

OK, on to the even stranger:
"Avatar? this is such a fake name! This is so a freakin Alien movie. James Cameron? Sigourney Weaver? God who r they kidding?"

Now, obviously this person is just suffering from an overdose of caffeine and needs to take some deep breaths, but there's an important point to be made here. If you're going to this film expecting Aliens (not Alien, that was Ridley Scott and Sigourney Weaver), then you're going to be rather a sad panda. Both Weaver and Cameron are done with that storyline, and neither one of them would have been terribly interested in working on a re-hash. In a recent interview, in fact, he said that he and Weaver had had a conversation about this and that she wanted to stay away from playing Ripley all over again.

What worries me most about this film is that Cameron is too enthused with the technology. He's had some pet projects that his effects people have been hammering out for 10 years to make this film, and I'm left wondering if the net result will serve the story. I look to Abyss and Terminator 2 with hope in this respect. In both films, astonishing special effects were used to strong effect to serve the story. I'll hope that he continues to bring this level of craftsmanship to Avatar. One of those projects is the creation of a photo-realistic digital actor and scenes. Now, this might not seem revolutionary in the wake CG characters in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, The Matrix Reloaded and other notable films, but remember that digital acting is still a relatively new field, and currently requires a massive effort to incorporate into a film. If Digital Domain manages to make it not only photo-realistic, but easy to reproduce, then we'll truly be entering the age of the digital actor.

Anyway, here's hoping it's worth the wait!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, Maelstrom and Goblins

The Maelstrom in an early World of Warcraft world map
So the scuttlebutt is currently that the next expansion to World of Warcraft will:

* Be announced at BlizzCon in August
* Be titled "World of Warcraft: Cataclysm"
* Involve the Maelstrom (that big swirly thing and associated regions in the middle of the world map of Azeroth)
* Be released sometime in 2010

So, what do we know about the Maelstrom? Well, it's one feature left over from the so-called "Great Sundering" which occurred about 10,000 years prior to the current day in WoW, and currently houses the city of Nazjatar, home city of the Naga and Queen Azshara. They are, in turn, opposed by the Makrura in their capital city of Mak'aru.

Outside of the Maelstrom lie a few locations of interest which would likely be a part of any expansion involving this region. Collectively these are known as the South Seas and include a number of interesting locales, but none more important to the rest of Azeroth than Kezan, home of the Goblins of Azeroth's main city, Undermine.

So we have the greatest of the Night Elf antagonists (now that Illidan has been killed), Azshara. We have the Goblin capital, and we have the numerous islands of the South Seas. So what can we tell about an expansion involving all of these? Here's what I think is coming:

Goblin tinkerer reading a tomeGoblins will be a playable race. I'm not the first to think of this, but I'm pretty sure it's coming. I believe that this will be the case because they have very explicitly been a huge part of WoW since launch at every level. They have outposts in starter areas like the Barrens, mid-level areas like STV and Tanaris, Outland, Northrend... everywhere! They exist as level 1-80 NPCs. This makes them unique in WoW in terms of being a non-playable race that are heavily involved in every area of the game. Their homeland was also one of the earliest concepts for the game.

Now that Blizzard has added faction-switching to the game, it seems pretty clear that they're clearing the way for a future with more fluidity between the factions, and a neutral Goblin race would definitely be in line with that. Of course, players can't be neutral (PvP would be rather messy). Instead, some factions of Goblins will have to ally themselves with the Horde and others with the Alliance, while the bulk of them continue to maintain their neutrality. I suspect that Undermine will be a Dalaran/Shattrath-like hub city, supporting a thriving population of players and NPCs, and perhaps solidifying the neutral auction house as the primary venue for trade in the game?

But, I digress. Back to the Goblins. I suspect that there will be no new hero class in Cataclysm. Why? Because Blizzard is bending under the weight of balancing PvP as it is, and every class added represents 3 new talent trees full of possible over-powered or under-powered PvP and PvE interactions with the existing classes. A new hero class would also allow players to have high-level Goblins on day one, making all other Goblin classes far less likely to be played during the first few months of release. Instead, I expect they're going to skip an expansion or bring in a hero class in a later patch. The Goblins will certainly be Warriors and Rogues. Those just make obvious sense. Priests, Mages and Warlocks are also likely. Beyond that, we can clearly say that they won't be Druids or Paladins. Shaman isn't in keeping with the lore, I believe, but they could probably come up with a reason to do it. Death Knight is possible, but unlikely for the reasons stated above.

They will likely start in new areas, specific to their chosen faction, and will either end up going to Undermine or directly to the old world via airship around level 20 (similar to the way Blood Elves and Draenei worked in The Burning Crusade). This means that, outside of Undermine itself, Blizzard will only have to create four zones (or perhaps two large zones with Alliance and Horde sub-areas) to support the new Goblins as they level.

Now, the big question: when? My guess is aggressive to say the least: early 2010. Let me lay out a likely timeline:

August 2009: 3.2
October 2009: 3.3 / Icecrown raid on the Lich King
December-February 2010: 4.0 alpha/beta testing begins
February-March 2010: 4.0 lands
March-April 2010: Cataclysm lands about 1 month after 4.0

My guess would be that they will raise the level cap 5 or 10 levels (I don't think they want to keep cranking it up 10 levels every expansion, though... it could even be zero!) Then there will be a series of patched-in dungeons much like the previous expansions. At least one of these will be Uldum, wherein we will learn that Goblins were actually created by the Titans, much the same as Dwarves, and that they too suffer the "curse of flesh". Note that this was foreshadowed by Blizzard's Drysc who said, "I find the door still interesting as something has obviously broken out. Was there something meant to be contained within Uldum, to be forgotten, that's escaped?" Yes indeed, folks, something was contained therein, and it escaped.

The Eye of the Maelstrom itself will probably be an open zone, but Nazjatar will likely be the final raid dungeon of the expansion with the fight against Azshara culminating the content.

So I've stuck my neck out far enough... I'll sit back now and see what comes.

Note: images in this post are owned by Blizzard, with special thanks to WoWWiki, which is where I got them.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Boston 2009 4th of July Fireworks From the Office

Boston 4th of July 2009 fireworks over the Charles River

Boston 4th of July 2009 fireworks over the Charles River

I work in Kendall Square, and there's a really wonderful view from my office's kitchen area. Last night we watched the fireworks from there, and it's just the perfect view. There were some odd moments, though. For example, we noticed at one point that the Sheraton Hotel in Boston had some kind of light display going on. There were three rows of pulsating lights along the building, and they all pulsed in unison... it became a bit disturbing when we realized that that was actually the room televisions, all tuned to the simulcast of the fireworks, and therefore all changing brightness in unison.

The other bit that I found strange was watching so many people get worked up about Neil Diamond. Now, I was never a big fan of his, but even still I can see why he had a fan base 30+ years ago. What boggles my mind is how that translates to what I saw last night. Oh well, he clearly enjoyed himself, and while I always thought America was a little too blunt, the songs he sang were good ones.

My gallery of fireworks photos from last night is fairly small. I used my PowerShot S1000, and while it's capable of excellent night photos, getting it to focus correctly is a battle of wits, and I may have lost. Anyway, enjoy what I have, and I'll try to get a better setup next year (hopefully, I'll have the T1i by then).