Like most people who’ve made their career in IT I’ve spent a great deal of my spare time dabbling in things that (I hope) could potentially lead onto bigger things somewhere down the line. Nearly all of them start off with a burst of excitement as I dive into it, revelling in the challenge and marvelling at the things I can create if I just invest the time into them. After a while however that passion starts to fade into the background, slowly being replaced by the looming reality of the challenge I’ve set myself. In all but one cases this has eventually led to burn out, seeing the project shelved so that I can recoup and hopefully return to it. The only project to ever survive such a period was this blog, but even it came close to being shut down.
Shown above are the stats for this blog over the past couple years and each of the big changes tells a story. As you can see for a long while there was a steady increase in traffic, something which constantly drove me forward, to keep me writing even when I wondered why I was bothering. Then the slow decline started happening and I honestly couldn’t tell you why it was happening. Then I stumbled onto the fact that 20% of my visitors were disappearing between the search engine and my site, indicating that my blog was just loading far too slow for most people to bother waiting for it. Migrating the server to a new host saw an amazing spike in traffic, one that continue its upwards trend for a very long time.
Of course I eventually got curious as to why this was and found that that the majority of users weren’t visiting my site per se, they were just incidental visitors thanks to Google’s Image search. I had figured that this wouldn’t last, dreading the day when the hit came, and when it did the drop in traffic was significant and brutal. Indeed I had come so close to one of my personal goals (20K visits in a month) that losing it all was a big hit to my confidence as a blogger. Still the always upwards trend continued and motivation remained steady, that was until the start of this year when, inexplicably, I took yet another hit.
Try as I might to diagnose the issue the downward trend continued and, unfortunately, my motivation began to follow it. It all came to a head when my site got compromised and I inadvertently deleted my entire web folder, leaving me to wonder if it was worth even bothering to resurrect it. Of course I eventually came to my senses but I’d be lying if I said that my motivation for this wasn’t in some way linked to the number of page views I get at the end of each day.
I had mulled over writing this post for a long time, not to start a pity party or anything like that, more as a catharsis for my current situation. Honestly I had felt that there was something wrong with me as I should have been doing this for the love of it, not for the ego stroke reward that a page view is. However reading over Scott Adam’s (creator of Dilbert) treatise on how to be successful struck a cord with me, showing me that I’m not alone in being motivated by passions that ultimately get dashed by the lack of success. This blog then was the example that getting results is the way to keep yourself motivated and it should come as no surprise that it went away when the apparent success did as well.
For now I’m simply taking it day by day, continuing what I’ve always been doing and enjoying the act of writing more than the pageviews. It’s been helped somewhat by the fact that I’ve been able to make some changes that have directly resulted in little bumps in traffic, nothing crazy mind, but enough to show that I’m on the right track. It’s going to be a long time before I reach the dizzying heights that I was at just under a year ago but hopefully those numbers will be genuine, a real reflection of the effort I’ve put into this place since I began it almost 5 years ago.
16 years, that’s how long its been since the first release of Diablo yet I can still remember some of the moments with it fondly. I can remember the first time I wandered down to that level and physically leaping out of my seat when the butcher first growled “Aaaahhhhh fresh meat!” when I dared enter his lair. I spent many hours attempting to get further and further into the dungeons and only after pairing up with people I had never met before online was I able to progress further and ultimately defeat Diablo. My time with its sequel released 4 years later was a much more social affair with many LANs dedicated to pushing our characters through the 99 levels that it offered to us. Today I find myself back in that same world again, playing through a world that’s been with me almost all of my gamer life. One that I’ve become very fond of.
Diablo 3 takes place 20 years after the events of Diablo 2. Deckard Cain and his niece, Leah, are investigating an old prophecy that’s foreboding a great conflict between man and the terrors of hell. During his investigation a star falls from the sky towards Deckard and his niece and destroys much of the cathedral leaving only a hole into which Deckard falls. You, known only as The Nephalem, have come to investigate the falling star and arrive at the town of New Tristram to find it under siege from the undead. So begins your long journey, one that draws many parallels to the past releases.
There’s something to be said about Blizzard’s approach to the visual and auditory nature of all of their games. They’re never on the cutting edge of graphics (which I was very thankful for as half of my time with the game was spent on an almost 2 year old MacBook Pro) but they never feel as dated as other games who attempt the same style do. Their heavy use of stylization, clever lighting effects and heavy use of perspective makes the low poly graphics feel like they’re a lot more detailed than they actually are. This also means that in heavy battle situations even those with modest computers won’t be playing through a slideshow, something that has always worked in Blizzard’s favor.
Like all their games the accompanying music, foley and cinematic cut scenes help to elevate the Diablo experience further. Blizzard really are no slouch when it comes to making cut scenes that are tear-inducingly beautiful and the ones in Diablo are no exception to this rule. Russell Brower, the man behind nearly all of the music in Blizzard games of the past decade, has done a fantastic job with Diablo 3’s music which aptly sets the mood for the entire game (bar one level, but I’ll get to that later). The voice acting is also done well although I felt the dialogue was a bit of a let down in some parts but that’s no fault of the voice actors.
Combat takes wild swings from being a breeze where you feel like an unstoppable killing machine to the disastrous lows where you spend 10 minutes and many deaths trying to beat a single enemy or elite pack. Granted for the vast majority of the game (everything up to Act III/IV hell for me) you probably won’t struggle bar getting a pack/elite with a rather nasty combination. Even then it’s usually a quick change of skills and a repair away from being a walk in the park again. Failing that all you’ll need to do is take a quick trip to the auction house to be able to elevate yourself out of the current rut you’re in, so long as you’ve got the requisite cash of course.
The itemization in Diablo 3 seems to work well in the beginning with upgrades dropping left, right and center. However as you progress through the levels you’ll notice that upgrades start to come further in between, leaving you wondering what the deal is. For the most part its because up until Inferno difficulty most items that drop will be below your level and thus won’t be much of an upgrade. The auction house goes a long way to mitigate this, as does the fact that there are no soulbound items, but that also means you’re somewhat reliant on it should you want to progress at a reasonable rate. Granted this isn’t that bad since semi-decent upgrades can be had for a pittance if you’re willing to search and wait but it is starkly different to the way it was in the previous installments in the Diablo series.
The gem system is back but instead of relying on the Horadric cube to do all your combining and upgrading of gems you instead have your very own artisan that can do the upgrades for you (for a fee, of course). To get better gems you have to pay to train him and as you progress further you’ll need to seek out additional items in order to upgrade him and the gems he creates for you. Gems are also infinitely resusable which is a welcome change as now you can spend quite a lot on crafting good gems and not have to ditch them when you get a gear upgrade (or delay that upgrade because of the gems). This also means that the secondary market for gems is somewhat non-existent as all you need is a friend who’s run Inferno once or twice to come into your game and shower you gems they don’t need but are godly to you.
The crafting system starts off as being a wonderful alternative gear path allowing you to convert unwanted items into crafting materials that can then be used to craft items. All of the items are random however meaning that there’s a very high chance that you’ll create a piece of equipment that you’ll have no use for (which can then be turned back into mats again, if you so desire). Since the investment cost at the lower levels is, funnily enough, low you can quite easily create multiple items and usually get a hit that’s an upgrade. Additionally you can also train the blacksmith to create items that are a higher level than what you can current use, giving you something to look forward to as you level. I did exactly this all the way up to level 30 or so, and that’s when crafting started to fall apart.
The investment cost at higher levels starts to consume all of your available gold should you chose to keep pursuing it. Additionally the material requirements start to ramp up as well meaning that you can craft fewer and fewer items the further you progress. This means that chance starts to play a much bigger factor in whether crafting is worth it or not and in my experience it stats to lose its luster very quickly after level 30 or so. The base idea of the crafting system is sound what it needs is some finessing to make it less prone to rolls of the dice when the investment required for crafting each item is so high. If you’re an action house wunderkid this might not be so much of a problem, but not everyone who plays this game is.
The talent system has been streamlined extensively, taking heavy cues from the improvements that had been made in the upcoming World Of Warcraft Mists of Panderia expansion. Instead of the typical talent tree with 3 different play styles segmented neatly by the different tabs they dwell on Diablo 3 instead goes for an ability based system, allowing you to pick and choose the abilities you want to use and then augment them in specific ways. This streamlined approach appears at first glance appears to be a vast simplification of the traditional RPG system, one that had the potential to remove a lot of the diversity from the game. The actual result is far from that with Blizzard reporting that the most common build is only used by approximately 0.7% of players. Even with my extensive amount of play time in this game I’m still finding myself experimenting with different skills to see if they’ll give me an edge in damage or survivability, something that I had only thought would be possible with traditional talent systems.
Many of the set pieces feel like they are done either for the fans or in spite of them. Much of the game feels a lot like its predecessor with the progression through levels (town/rural -> desert -> keep -> heaven/hell) being eerily similar. Thankfully the environments feel fresh and distinct from their counterparts in Diablo 2 so it doesn’t feel like they’re just 3D renderings of the former 2D sprite based environments. The rainbow unicorn level (I.E. the not “cow level”) is one that was obviously done in reaction to fan’s bellyaching around Diablo 3 being too colourful when compared to its predecessor. This is the one place where the music is just plain wrong but that’s just part of the whole experience of this particular level.
The story of Diablo 3 is definitely above the level I’ve come to expect from most AAA games that only have it as a side note to the main game of multiplayer but somewhat lacking in what I’ve come to expect from Blizzard. The Diablo world, and its current incarnation, is not short of lore and back story for nearly every main character and NPC that you come across. However, and this may be because of the character class I played or not, I never really felt any empathy for the characters apart from Deckard Cain (the only one who I can remember being in past Diablo games). I also never really felt any driving motivation for my character either, mostly because of the way he interacted with the main protagonists.
Whilst a lot of the NPCs would show fear and doubt my character never showed a lick of hesitation when it came to talking down to prime evils or even supposed members of high society. After a while it started to sound more like bravado than anything else which was only compounded by the fact that many of the other characters acted somewhat irrationally towards him (like Azmodan saying at every turn that I would fail, even after I had completely decimated his army). The other classes might have been better but this combined with the lack of empathy for any of the characters meant that I didn’t really care that much for the story. I don’t hate it, I’m just indifferent to it.
So it’s at this point in the review where I look back at the game and ask myself “well, was it fun?”. The beginning stages of Diablo are very enjoyable especially as you get your first rare drop or you completely kit yourself out in blues for the first time. It gets a whole lot better with friends too as the multiplayer experience has been streamlined and integrated perfectly. Still I couldn’t help that feeling I had in the back of my mind, one that I used to get when I was playing World of Warcraft at max level. Sometimes I feel compelled just to do things for the sake of doing them and towards the end as I was approaching 60 I started to wonder why I was doing it. Granted this was at the end of a probable 20 hour binge over the course of the last 4 days, so I was probably just burnt out on playing.
Diablo 3 feels like a game that was made for the fans. The settings and the gameplay instantly dredge up that nostalgia feeling whilst keeping the experience fresh and exciting. Whilst I don’t believe there’s nothing in this game for those who haven’t played before their experience won’t be the same as that of long time fans of the series. I’m not sure if I’ll roll another character but I’ll definitely be joining my friends when we set out to conquer Inferno mode.
Diablo 3 is available on PC right now for $89.99. Game was played through the Normal, Nightmare and Hell difficulties with the Monk class reaching level 60 with around 32 hours of total play time.
I’ve noticed that whenever I start a project or define one of my dreams there’s always a couple stages I go through. Initially I’ll get an idea about something (this blog is a good example) and I’ll muse over it for a while. During this time I’ll do some research on it, discuss it with friends which gives me a really good grounding from which to work on. Then comes what I believe is the hardest part, which is actually getting off my ass and working on bringing this idea into reality. After working on it for a while something interesting usually happens, and this is what I refer to as “The Transition” whereby I’m no longer driving myself to achieve this goal, it’s driving me to completion.
More recently this came to me whilst doing my daily CrossFit work out. I’d completed the routine for the day and this is when I’d usually just pack up and leave. After thinking about leaving for all of 10 seconds I immediately thought I could easily do another 10 minutes and the best thing was I wanted to. Now up until this stage I’d been making myself do the workout of the day and not really adding to it, as per usual I was doing the minimum work required. That day marked a change in my attitude towards doing these daily workouts and the transition from me driving myself towards the goal and the goal motivating me.
What usually triggers the transition for me is when I start to see measurable results from the effort I put in. I find it hard to start anything that I can see immediate or short term results which is why I always split most of my long term goals up into smaller ones so that I don’t lose motivation. Some of the time though I’m lucky enough to discover something that doesn’t require small short term goals to keep me motivated, like my dream of becoming a pilot and eventually an astronaut. Although I’d class dreams as separate entities from goals, as they pose their own set of challenges.
But that’s a post for another day! 🙂
Way back in my college mathematics days I came up with a simple yet highly philosophical theory about people’s motivations, goals and the direction that they take to get them. I came up with it initially when tackling the problem of parking somewhere, and the seemingly strange way people would attempt to park as to avoid walking too far. The idea came from the basic mathematical principle that the shortest distance between two points is always a straight line. Take the example we have below, a typical car park with the destination labelled:
Now, the typical behaviour observed in this kind of situation is for the first row (1-1 through 1-6) to fill up first, as they are perceived as being the closest to the destination. However, this is not the case, if we draw in a circle originating from the center of the goal we’ll see the direct straight line distances between the spots and destination, shown thusly:
The distance to the destination is actually about the same for 2-1 and 1-3, however most people would only take into account one dimension when thinking about the shortest path to their goal, and 1-3 looks much more attractive then 2-1.
This theory applies to almost any endeavour that someone may undertake during their lifetime. The quickest path to your goal is always the one with the smallest amount of deviations from the path. You’ll notice people who don’t reach their goals are often distracted from their desired path easily, and instead end up taking a wobbly path to their goal instead of heading straight for it. I’ve known quite a lot of people who are very successful despite their experience in a field and when questioned about it the response is always the same: “I knew what I wanted to do and I just went for it”.
I thought about this idea constantly for a long time and I ended up asking myself, do mathematicians lead significantly different lives to “normal” people? The question is inheritly flawed, as all of us lead decidedly different lives from what anyone could call normal, and I’m sure we all have different definitions of what a normal life entails. Rather, I came to the conclusion that depending on what your passion is in your life your perspective will change because of it. I’m an IT engineer and as that all my problems get framed in terms of technology and processes. Someone who is say a nutritionist will frame their view around keeping their mind and body healthy and so on. It’s an extrapolation on that old saying, when all you have is a hammer all your problems look like nails.
So, whatever you do in your life look for the straight line. Keep your eye fixed firmly on the goal and start walking directly for it, you’ll be suprised how quickly you can achieve something when you don’t let other distractions get in the way.