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May 2008

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We went to Chicago a few weeks ago. I liked it.

There's an inescapable charm to "real" cities, one that's magnified for me by the fact that I've lived in North Carolina my entire life. When I travel, I almost always find myself wishing I lived somewhere else. Chicago had this effect on me, as did Boston and Manhattan.

One thing I found very interesting about the city was the mix of old and new structures dating back to the late 1800s. The fire, of course, had left Chicago a blank slate of sorts - the truly old structures were mostly destroyed. But the timing proved fairly beneficial to the future of the city - as the old structures were wiped out, new higher density structures moved in to take their place. The internets will in fact tell you that Chicago was home to the world's first skyscraper. Many early skyscrapers were constructed there, many of which still stand today.

When fantasizing about moving, there's an immediate practical concern that can bring things to a swift halt - that is, the cost of housing. In this respect I found Chicago pleasantly surprising - it seemed like mortals could actually live there, whereas Manhattan felt like a playground for tourists and the wealthy. $300k for a 2 bedroom condo in downtown Chicago may not sound like a bargain for somebody used to North Carolina prices, but it's actually workable in theory. Compared to a comparable place in Manhattan, which could run you 7 figures easily, it's downright cheap.

Transit is another concern. Chicago of course has the elevated trains, which seemed pretty functional, but we also got around via car a good bit of the time. I'm a major proponent of mass transit and alternate transportation, so the rail system is a major attraction for me. Such things can only really prosper in areas of high density, which means we'll probably never see such a system in the Raleigh/Durham area.

Anyway, it's something to think about, especially as temperatures creep up to near 100 here in NC in early June. Global warming is only going to make Chicago more attractive and NC less so over time, so now might be a good time to beat the rush...

A bit of background - I picked up WoW again shortly after the Burning Crusade expansion was released. I took it really easy this time, and it took months to get my Paladin to 70. After that I played alts and such, but now I'm pretty much done with it again.

In the meantime, I've found a game to look forward to - Age of Conan. I really hadn't thought much about this game until a couple of weeks ago, when I was lucky enough to score a slot in the PvP beta weekend. In this preview, we could do the PvE intro quest up to level 6, and then were whisked away to level 20 and PvP land.

First off - I had very few graphical problems or performance issues. It ran really well on my rig (nothing fancy, Intel quad + 9600GT + 3GB), although I had a couple of crashes over the weekend.

The graphics really are massively better than WoW's. I enjoy the art style in WoW as much as the next guy, but that game definitely feels dated compared to AoC. AoC may not look as good as some single player games, but it looks a LOT better than the other MMOs I've played.

Character appearance and customization options are great. Tons of sliders if you're into heavy duty appearance customization, and a nifty little body type matrix if you just want to get it done. The female models are hawt, and the males look vicious. The gear on the level 20s looked decidedly cool, and the materials looked believable.

I like the AoC universe - it's dark and gritty and brutal. The intro quest tells you right off that you're not in happy fun land. No killing rats and crap to get your first level here.

The combat system is good, for melee classes at least. Moving around intelligently matters hugely in PvP. I'm worried that spellcasting is going to be rather lame in comparison, but I like the direction they've gone with healing (at least at level 20, healing was all about AoE spells).

All that said, I have some doubts. 80 levels seems like an awful lot, and I have no sense for how long the higher levels will take. Loading screens definitely suck, and you get them all the time - death in the PvP minigames sends you through a loading screen before you even resurrect. There are also a ton of unknowns that only the closed beta folks know the answers to, and they're still not able to tell us about them. I also wonder what role PvE gear is going to play in PvP at the higher levels - we know there will be 24 man PvE raids, which I find horribly disappointing.

Despite that, I'm glad I pre-ordered. I'm still really looking forward to this game. We could only do the intro quest up to level 5, and then we were sent to level 20 and PvP land.

After countless frustrations with wordpress, I've decided to create my own weblog. All the old content should have been migrated, all the old URLs should still work. Maybe.

For those who don't know, the "blog" is the rails equivalent of "hello world" - it's the first application in pretty much any rails tutorial. However, I've tried to be far more "feature complete" than in any of the tutorials, and I'm fairly happy with the results so far.

That said, this is a work in progress, and a learning exercise. Please let me know what you think.