Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My Saga Begins!!!

5:25 am, I got my invite to early game access in Star Wars: The Old Republic! Good thing I woke up a bit early so I could play before work. Work really is going to get in the way of my adventuring. Such a nuisance.

I've decided to start with a Jedi Consular, and I'll choose Sage as her advanced class. But I've already created eight characters, so I have many to choose from and switch between. Once my brother gets into the game (he didn't pre-order until some time in the past month, so he'll be getting in later), then I'll be playing other characters with him.

Fun times...

Monday, December 12, 2011

I heart Jiminy

I'm a fan of ABC's new show Once Upon a Time. It's one of my favorite new shows this season. Now, Prince Charming is very handsome, dashing, and, well, charming, yet I find myself crushing on Archie Hopper aka Jiminy Cricket. It's all BioWare's fault, training me to fall for his sweet, soft, smoky voice. Oh Jiminy, come whisper softly in my ear. Be my conscience--or better yet, cozy on up and let's forget about our conscience for a little while.

That is all.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

To Read or Not To Read: Revan

Last month, the Star Wars novel Revan by Drew Karpyshyn, set in the era of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, was released. I am torn about whether or not I want to read it. I love KotOR, and I really want to know Revan's story. But at the same time, I'm not sure I could stand to read this book.

The rest of this post will contain MAJOR SPOILERS to the video game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. If you haven't played it already, you're probably never planning on playing it, since it's old. Even so, you should stop reading this post and play it now. It's awesome, and holds a special place in my heart. So go. OK, if you're really sure you don't mind being spoiled, read on, but really, I'm talking about what is one of my all-time favorite plot twists, so I am loathe to spoil it for anyone. Last warning. All right, here we go.

In KotOR, I became very attached to my player character. I imagined an entire origin story for her, building on the meager class-based background provided, which was that she had been a smuggler but was now a soldier for the Republic. My imagined back story basically amounted to the worst kind of trope-filled fan fiction, but I liked it. So, when that fateful moment came on board the Leviathan, and I realized that my imagined back story was just that--imagined--that my character was actually the one-time Darth Revan, her true memories wiped and rewritten by the Jedi, I felt her devastation. My slave-to-smuggler-to-soldier-to-Jedi memories were a sham. I wasn't the noble Jedi I thought I was. The trusting relationships I'd developed with my party members were built on lies. I wasn't sure which was worse--the fact that I had once fallen to the Dark Side and was responsible for a terrible war, or that my present self was a half-fake person, programmed by the Jedi to be their puppet.

At this point in the game, I was so taken aback that I literally stepped back from my computer. My heart was racing and my face was flushed. The metaphysical questions that buzzed through my head right then, and over the course of the next few days, were what made the gaming experience so amazing. Who am I? Am I Revan? Is Revan still a part of my psychology? If I'm not Revan, then who am I? Just a person the Jedi made up? My experiences are programmed--is my behavior programmed, too? Am I any better than a droid? Struggling to answer these questions bonded me with my character. Regardless of whether she was Revan or the the name that I had chosen at character creation or both, I felt a connection with her that is hard to come across in games.

Knights of the Old Republic 2, which featured a different protagonist (known as "the Exile"), left Revan's fate a mystery. Revan went off into the Unknown Regions of the galaxy in search of something that would be a great danger to the galaxy. Did she ever find it? Did she ever return? For a while, I hoped for a KotOR3 to round out the story. Eventually it became apparent that KotOR3 would never happen, as BioWare was planning an MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic, which would take place a few hundred years later. The MMO is awesome, but it's not the conclusion to Revan's story that I was hoping for. So along comes the novel Revan, written by none other than the lead writer on KotOR, promising me the insight into Revan's fate that I so crave. There's only one problem: In the novel, Revan is a man.

Yes, I've known this for a while, but "canonically", Revan is a man. Typical. It's no secret that most video games (the ones that don't have pink covers) are targeted towards young men. Games have male protagonists far more often than female protagonists, so in the cases where the protagonist's gender is chosen by the player, it should only be expected that the "canon" or "default" gender would be male. In the Baldur's Gate novels, Gorion's Ward is a man. Default Shepard and Hawke for the Mass Effect series and Dragon Age 2, respectively, are male; they're the ones featured in the trailers and posters and other promotional materials. It should be no surprise, then, that the person standing front and center on the SWTOR cover is a male Jedi (Note: It may turn out that he's actually an NPC in the game--I haven't played it all yet--but I interpret him to be the hero into whose shoes you the potential buyer are supposed to imagine stepping). I love your female protagonists, BioWare! You should let them out more.

To be fair, the Exile of KotOR2 is actually canonically female. This doesn't make me feel much better for two reasons. First, KotOR2 wasn't BioWare, it was Obsidian, so BioWare--you're still not off the hook. Second, the Exile in the game was constructed in a strange way so that she the character knew things--important things about her past that had major effects on the game's main plot--that I the player did not know. I had to wait for a big reveal towards the end of the game to have someone else tell me what my player character had known all along. Though she was a fascinating character (it turned out, once those NPCs told me), I never was able to connect with her because I felt like I didn't know her. Strangely enough (or not so strangely), KotOR2 is the only game I've ever chosen to play through with a male character (on my second play through). I think it was because of the disconnect that I felt with the protagonist that I was finally able to let go and not have to see myself in the player character.

But it's not just me feeling neglect on behalf of my female Revan (and all those other female protagonists) that makes me wish that Revan had been made canonically female. I actually think it makes the better story. In canon, the male Revan develops a romantic relationship with the Jedi party member Bastila. No offense to anyone who played that romance and liked it--it's your game, after all--but I find that love story totally sketchy. Three reasons why Bastila would not have fallen for the player character:
1) She knew you were Revan. Sure, that means she knows that you were once a great Jedi and a brilliant general, but you also were weak enough to fall to the Dark Side, and once there did terrible things (e.g. started a war against the Republic that has claimed countless lives), before being defeated by the Jedi.
2) Even if she believed that you were different from Revan, that you were changed and a better person now, she'd know that it was all because of how she and the other Jedi had designed you. She'd see you as a sort of fascinating construct. It takes a twisted mind to fall in love with her own creation.
3) She's a Jedi. She was raised to be a Jedi from a very young age. She's lived by the Jedi Code for as long as she can remember. She's always known that love is not in the cards for her. If there was any reason to resist falling in love with someone (see points 1 and 2), she would have every reason to resist.
OK, so maybe Bastila was weak (I don't think that's fair to her character, though), or maybe your player character is just that damn charming. I admit that I never played this romance, so maybe they wrote it in a way that it worked--BioWare does understand good character development, after all. But I think it's a stretch: a good way to feed the fantasies of the players, but not the best story.

Now let's consider the romance that a female Revan has with pilot Carth Onasi. He doesn't know that you're Revan, or a "made-up" person, until you do (actually, a few minutes before you do, but who's counting?). He's not a Jedi, he's single, and he has a tortured past. Prime romance material, with none of the deterrents Bastila had. You have two thirds of the game to develop your relationship with him--mostly just a strong, trusting friendship, with a little flirting sprinkled in--before the bomb is dropped on it. How my character's relationship with Carth progressed after her true identity was revealed (both with in game dialogue and my own dialogue-in-my-head) was another important part of what made the gaming experience so amazing. Of all your party members, Carth takes learning your identity the hardest; after all, he lost his family--and entire home planet--to the war you started as Revan. But ultimately he learns to forgive you, to see you for who you are now, not who you were--even if you can't. The romance is never "consummated" in the game, not even with a kiss, but when he says "I think I could love you," it's enough.

Even if the Bastila romance isn't as sketchy as I tried to make it seem, it can't have the same depth that the Carth romance has. Once you realize your true identity, Bastila disappears from your party until the end of the game. If you manage to win her back, you only get that one conversation of reconciliation before you have to move on alone towards the final battle. The Carth romance just makes the stronger, truer, more dynamic story. That is why I so passionately wish that Revan had been made female in canon.

My love for the character of Revan makes me want to read the Revan novel. But my love is in no small part specifically for my Revan, a female Light Side Revan, which makes me not want to read the Revan novel. It's not just fans of female Revan, though, who will feel alienated by the Revan of the novel; anyone who played the protagonist with Dark Side choices will find the Light Side hero at odds with the Revan they know and love. The great defining characteristic of games--the beauty of interactivity and player choice--is inevitably lost when the story is translated to another medium (Revan as a choose-your-own-adventure book...that would have been awkward). A male Light Side Revan likely satisfies a plurality of players, possibly even a majority, so it's probably the smart choice for canon and for the novel. But it's not the best choice.

Will I read the book? Maybe eventually. Maybe I'll just read a summary of it, so I can know what happened. Maybe playing SWTOR will give me enough answers. To BioWare's credit, as far as I got in the SWTOR beta, they made it clear that while Revan is generally believed to have been male, Revan's gender is in fact not entirely certain. A bit hard to believe that in a technologically advanced society, 300 years would be enough time to forget a historical figure's gender, but it's explained that the Sith (and maybe Jedi as well) tried to downplay Revan's story and importance. Well, that's BioWare throwing us female-Revan KotOR players a bone. A small bone with little meat, but I'll take what I can get.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My weekend as a Sith Sorcerer

This past weekend I was lucky enough to participate in another weekend beta stress test of Star Wars: The Old Republic. It. Was. Amazing. So amazing that by Sunday night, my boyfriend had declared "I hate SWTOR". I made him take it back, but I can understand why he was jealous of the love and attention I had lavished on SWTOR over the three days prior. While I enjoyed my first SWTOR beta test weekend, this one really got me hooked.

There were two main differences that made this weekend better. One was the simple fact that I had more time. The first weekend, I'd only been able to play Saturday and Sunday. This past weekend I had access from Friday morning until Monday evening--and Friday was a holiday. With more time, I was able to get one of my characters much further in the game than on my first weekend. This meant I had more skills, making the gameplay itself much more fun. I also got to see more of my character's storyline, which in typical BioWare fashion was intriguing, exciting, and entertaining. The other difference was that this weekend, I finally played SWTOR as the multiplayer game that it's made to be. My brother also got into the beta weekend, so we teamed up and adventured together. The first beta weekend, I played alone, as I am used to doing with BioWare games. And it's fine that way. But this weekend, I came to appreciate how great it is to enjoy a BioWare game with friends. Really, really great.

This past beta weekend had staggered start times, so while I got in on Friday, my brother didn't get in until Saturday morning. This was perfect, though, because it would give me time to catch my Jedi Consular up to the point in the game where his Smuggler from the previous beta weekend was. By Friday night, I had a Jedi Shadow waiting in the space station, all ready to team up with his Gunslinger (these are Consular and Smuggler advanced classes, respectively).

But the universe had other, more sinister plans for us. A bug with the beta made it so some characters created in previous beta weekends couldn't sign in anymore, and his Gunslinger was one of the casualties. Luckily, the other character he'd started, a Sith Warrior, was pretty close to the point in the game where my Sith Inquisitor was. Because they start on the same home worlds, we were able to team them up together immediately. And so I began my weekend as a Sith Inquisitor.

The Sith Inquisitor is awesome. If you get the game, I highly recommend this class. I said in my previous post that the Inquisitor storyline was addicting because you are repeatedly told how worthless you are and how you're going to fail and die, fueling your anger and making you more determined to succeed. This eventually gives way (not-so-suprising spoiler) to you becoming Lord Zash's apprentice. Lord Zash is intriguing as the most...amiable...Sith Lord I've come across. Evil and conniving, to be sure, but really quite pleasant and charming. She may try to kill me at some point, but for now, I'm just enjoying training under the coolest Sith master. I want to be just like her some day.

The Inquisitor gameplay was also really fun, particularly once I got my Advanced Class (this happens as soon as you leave your starting planet). Sith Inquisitors can choose to become Sith Assassins, using double-bladed lightsabers and stealth, or Sith Sorcerers, who can heal and make a whole lot of lightning. I chose to become a Sorcerer, and I don't regret it. As soon as I became a Sorcerer, my Whirlwind ability (which traps an enemy in a whirlwind) was extended from a measly 8-second duration to a whole minute, and my ranged spells were extended from 10 m to 30 m (a huge difference). Not only is a 30-m range much more convenient than 10 m, but it also means a lot more eye-candy lightning lancing across the screen. I didn't make it far enough in the game for my specialization in the Sorcerer's Lightning skill tree to become very significant, so I was also a relatively capable healer for my level, which was nice as well. A double-bladed lightsaber and invisibility would have been cool, too, but I really loved my Sorcerer abilities.

Playing alongside my brother's Sith Warrior, I was actually able to witness his class's storyline as well. You're allowed to accompany group members on their class quests, as long as your characters are not the same class (this avoids story inconsistencies: Wait, I thought I was Lord Zash's apprentice!). When you're in someone else's class quest area, you become a "spectator", meaning that you can't participate in any of the conversations or make any decisions. But you can participate in the battles. There are some situations where you may feel a bit like an intruder (as Lord Zash reveals some secret plan to me, she doesn't blink at the fact that someone is there eavesdropping), but seeing another storyline--and having someone else see your own story--really enhanced the experience, in my opinion.

All of the side quests are open to all classes (within a given alignment--Empire or Republic--of course). Conversations related to these quests become multiplayer conversations if you are in a group: each person selects a response, and invisible dice are rolled to determine whose response is spoken. This can be potentially contentious in situations where you're making decisions--to kill or not to kill a captive, for example--but you just have to put up with luck not always going your way. At least the game knows your intentions, so even if your group ends up killing the captive, if you had wanted to save him, you earn Light Side instead of Dark Side points. It's all worth it, because the conversations are more fun with more voices. It gives you something to think about, hoping that your own response is the one chosen, or nodding in appreciation when a companion says something witty or cool.

The truth is, my brother and I made terrible Sith. I would sometimes choose cruel, evil-sounding dialogue, but when it came down to it, we were both softies and almost always made Light Side choices when such situations arose. That's a nice thing about SWTOR. You can be a good person working for the Empire, or a bad person working for the Republic--whatever you want (though you're never allowed to switch sides entirely). And the plot is structured so it still works: At least as far as I got in the game, no plot line was ever derailed because I was too nice or merciful--just shifted, perhaps. This is the great thing about BioWare games in general: having plot choices. Even a person like me, who hates being mean in video games, can find a place in the Empire.

At the very end of the weekend, my brother and I earned our own personal star ships. It was extremely satisfying. Now I can't wait for the game to be released (December 20!!!) so I can get back there, and see what comes next. As much as I love the Inquisitor, though, I still really want to have a Jedi Knight, and Jedi Consular, and Imperial Agent, and Smuggler... There are so many good choices in SWTOR, really anyone can find a place--or multiple places--in the Star Wars galaxy.

Monday, November 14, 2011

My weekend with SWTOR

I had a fantastic weekend playing in a beta test of Star Wars: The Old Republic, but alas, it was all too short. I'm kind of going through withdrawal now. I cannot wait to go back, whether for another beta test or for the official launch of the game next month (less than a month now!).

There are eight different character classes to choose from in SWTOR--four on the Republic side, four on the Empire side--and they each have different personal stories. I ended up starting five different characters, though that spread me thin and I didn't make it very far in each of their stories. Here are some brief thoughts on each one:

Jedi Consular - This one had a sort of typical prologue story, as far as I got, in that I was a promising young Padawan going through trials to become a Jedi. The tests, though, were atypical--rather than something out of a Jedi textbook, the Force was "guiding" my trials; that is, the plot kept thickening and my master would continue to send me out pursuing new leads. The gameplay was fun, but I did end up dying a number of times. This was the first character I played, and I played solo, so I guess dying happens. At least the penalty for death didn't seem so bad.

Jedi Knight - I made this character but didn't play her more than five minutes--enough to be given my first quest, but not enough to complete it. It was mainly interesting to see how her prologue fit alongside the Jedi Consular's. See, each character class shares an origin world with one other character class: Jedi Knights with Consulars on Tython, Smugglers with Troopers on Ord Mantell, Sith Warriors with Inquisitors on Korriban, and Imperial Agents with Bounty Hunters on Nal Hutta. That means that at the beginning of the game, you can only team up with one other class type. From my brief experience with the Jedi Knight, I saw how this works: Side quests generally are shared by both classes, so you can team up for those, but the main quests remain different. The main quests are structured, however, so their locations are similar, making it convenient to accompany someone on their main quest because you can probably complete your own without going much out of their way. At least, that was what I was able to gather with this short experience.

Smuggler - Basically, I was a female Han Solo. I felt pretty cool, and man did I look good in those striped pants. The smuggler also had the most enjoyable recovery skill--while the Consular, for instance, stood there meditating for a few seconds to recover health and energy, the Smuggler would do a variety of things like spin her pistol, throw and shoot a coin, etc.

Sith Inquisitor - I found this one's story to be the most addicting, because the guy giving you orders keeps telling you how worthless you are, how you'll never become a Sith apprentice, you're going to die because you're a weakling, etc. You can feel that good old Sith anger seethe inside you: Just you wait, I'll complete this task, and the next, I'll become an apprentice, and then I'll be a Sith Lord and make you sorry! Very fun.

Imperial Agent - This one has a very cool story from the start, where you're basically going under cover as a pirate, changing accents and manipulating people for the good of the Empire, kind of like some shady CIA agent. You also sound rather like Lady Hawke (Jo Wyatt). I'd known that the Republic Trooper voice was done by Jennifer Hale, but the familiar voice coming out of the Imperial Agent was a pleasant surprise.

One thing that I hadn't realized until I played my multiple characters in the Beta weekend was how closely classes from the two different alignments mirror each other. I knew the classes kind of matched up (Trooper-Bounty Hunter, Smuggler-Agent, Knight-Warrior, Consular-Inquisitor), but I didn't know that most of the skills themselves, even if they have different names, match up as well. Who knew that hurling a series of rocks at an opponent using the Force (Consular) had the same effect as Force Lightning (Inquisitor)? I guess it makes sense from a game perspective, giving you the freedom to choose your side regardless of what kind of play style you enjoy, but it was a bit unexpected.

I don't think I'll say any more, other than that I had a really fun time playing and my quick sampling of five of the different characters has not helped me decide which one I'll start with when the game officially launches. I have received an email saying that I'll be invited to another beta test some time. Next time, I hope to team up with someone, because that's kind of the point of an MMO, right?

I'll leave you with one image I came across in the game:

My character (blue hair), some guy I'm talking to, and a couple bystanders.

Edit 11/22: I just got another testing invite. Not sure of the dates, but possibly for this weekend. I'm so ecstatic that I get another fix! It's already an addiction...

Friday, November 11, 2011

Guess who's a SWTOR tester now?!!!

Yesterday morning, I got the email I'd long been waiting for:

You Have Been Selected to Test Star Wars: The Old Republic!

Eeeeeee!!!!! Following a brief squee, I suddenly became worried that this email had been sent out by accident, after an incident a month ago or so when I panicked upon receiving an email asking for my feedback on testing thus far. Frantic spam box searching occurred before I took to Twitter and discovered that there were a lot of other people having the same issue. The SWTOR team sent out an apology email a day or two later.

But this new email was an invite, not some strange message implying that I should already be testing the game. I quickly followed the link to confirm my place in the testing, and to assure myself that it was a real invite. I'm in. Turns out, the testing I've been invited to is just for this weekend. Yes, we're only a little over a month away from the game being officially released, and yes, it's only for one weekend, but still I'M SO EXCITED!!!!

I downloaded the game, and hopefully everything will run smoothly enough. If all goes well, I will be lost to the real world, in a galaxy far, far away, as of 1:00 PM Hawaii time today. See you all on Monday.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fall 2011 TV series

In past years, I've done posts on which shows I plan to watch in the new TV season. I never did that this fall. Now it's November, and basically everything that's going to air this fall has already started. So, I figured I'd do a post on what I think of the shows that I've watched. Some I've been keeping up with religiously, watching the first night it's available online. Other shows I've seen a few episodes of, and may watch more if I find the time. Others I may give up on. Mostly, I've been a bit disappointed with this year's freshman shows. We'll start with those.


New Shows

Pan Am
I love this show. I'm a couple episodes behind, but only because it's not a show the Housemate watches (loser). See, most of my TV-watching time is during dinner (and lunch on the weekends) which I have with the Housemate, so any show that he's not interested in gets pushed aside, and I have to find my own time to watch it.

Pan Am is probably my favorite new show this season. I love the period setting, the world travel, the glamour of it all, even if it is exaggerated (I don't care). Of the six main characters, I loved about half of them right from the start, and the rest I've warmed up to in recent episodes. The show is funny and fun, but can also be surprisingly moving, as I found myself tearing up a bit on behalf of Colette in the Berlin episode. Anyway, if you're at all inclined to watch this sort of show but haven't given it a try, I highly recommend you check it out.

Terra Nova
I so wanted this to be good. I still do. It's just they keep being stupid about it. I'm no writer, I don't know how to fix it, but I can spot bad choices when I see them. First, they chickened out in the pilot by tacking on an awkward scene in which Mira (Christine Adams) and some other Sixer discuss Taylor's son, basically saying "See? We already have answers to our mysterious mythology, we promise." But that scene somehow managed to make the mystery both less mysterious and more confusing at the same time. Then you had that terrible conversation between Mira, the evil(?) Sixer leader(?) and hero Jim (Jason O'Mara) that went something like this:
Mira: You seem useful. Be on the right side of history. Make the smart choice. Join us.
Jim: But I like Terra Nova. It's a new beginning, and all that good idealistic stuff.
Mira: You're naive if you think that's really what Terra Nova is about.
Jim: OK, I'm listening then. What is it really about?
Mira: You know, you'd think I'd tell you because I'm trying to convince you my side is the smart choice, but the writers are telling me we can't give away too much of the mystery yet, so instead I'll just say, "You'll see."
Inexplicable. Side plots have been pretty lame, too, perhaps reaching a new low as Jim and littlest daughter Zoe spend the whole episode trying to get out of what is essentially a personal theater room. Why does that room only have an emergency door release on the outside? Is it a prison cell or something? I've been in walk-in fridge rooms, and they have emergency releases on the inside, because that is the more awkward of the two sides to get stuck on. And why would someone construct an access shaft that's only large enough for a small child to fit through? Did Hobbits build the place? And how many different scene cuts do you need to spend on these people figuring out how to escape that room? The only thing that could have made their plotline exciting would have been if there were ACTUAL spiders in there, trying to attack them.

OK, I should have saved my Terra Nova rant for its own separate post. Contrary to how it may sound at this point, I'm still enjoying the show, and I watch it every week. But I do so hoping that it will suddenly get better. They have a beautiful, interesting world to explore and some good characters. They just need to figure out what they're doing and use them intelligently.

Person of Interest
I like this show. I don't love it as much as I'd hoped, but I think they've been doing a pretty good job with it. I think my main issue is the cool, detached manner that Jim Caviezel gives hero Reese. It makes scenes with him that don't have any action a little...boring. Without more passion, I find it hard to really become attached to the character or the story. But I'll keep tuning in for now.

The New Girl
I really wanted to love this one, but after three episodes, I've just been a bit disappointed. There have been some good laughs, and I like some of the characters sometimes, but just not enough. Only if I find myself with a lot of free time, or hear that it's gotten much better, will I catch up with this one. I think Zooey Deschanel is a talented, funny actress. I just wish the material she got were better.

I started this one late, but now I've seen three episodes and I have to admit, it's totally a guilty pleasure show. Watch beautiful people live extravagant, glamorous lives, and see the nasty ones take nasty falls. Like Pan Am, the Housemate doesn't watch this one, so I have to find time to catch episodes on my own. I may watch some more episodes at some point, but only if I'm caught up with everything else.

Once Upon a Time
I wasn't entirely sold after watching the pilot, but after watching the second and third episodes, I'm loving it. If any show challenges Pan Am as my favorite new show of the season, it's this one. The characters are fun (especially the Evil Queen), and the fairytale premise is intriguing. I just wonder how they can keep the plot going. I guess time will tell.

Another disappointment. It's not bad, but it does suffer from characters being unbelievably stupid from time to time. It's also a bit hard to believe how many fairytale-creature cases Nick and his partner pick up. Does this reflect a universal percentage of perpetrators who are actually fairytale monsters? If only a Grimm is well suited to take out these creatures, does that mean that the rest of them, who get other detectives assigned to their cases, go free? It's one thing when a certain detective is well known for being good at "these sorts of cases", and gets called in from around the city or state to investigate. Alternatively, they could explain that this city is a fairytale monster haven. But they need some sort of explanation, because at the moment, it just doesn't make sense. There have only been two episodes, so I'm willing to give it some more time. If it gets better, great. If it gets worse, I may start tuning out.

Returning Shows

Favorite show on TV right now. It's a bit frustrating at the moment (vague SPOILERS) with the new altered storyline, but things are definitely progressing in an exciting way. I love it.

This was my favorite new show of last fall, and I think it's still going strong. The formula has changed a lot since the first season, and that took some getting used to, but change is good. It keeps things interesting.

How I Met Your Mother
Fun, lovable characters, and I've been enjoying Kal Penn's recurring guest star role this season. And, as I've already explained, I really liked their Ewok episode. Ted can take as long as he wants to find their mother.

Big Bang Theory
The other of the two sitcoms I watch. It's light and amusing, and I like the characters. They've had a couple good cameos so far this season, and they FINALLY admitted that maybe, just maybe, there might be one or two women out there who actually like comic books. Progress.

I think I've only watched the first episode, maybe two, from this season. The Housemate has given up on it, so I find it's a good one to catch a couple episodes of while I'm beading, since it doesn't exactly require my undivided attention. I'll have to see more before I decide what I think about this season.

Yes, the Housemate and I are still hooked on Merlin. It alternates between painfully silly and surprisingly grim, and I really wish the characters would learn to recognize traitors (Look! He's smirking! All the time when bad things are happening! Why doesn't anybody see?????), but somehow I love it still. I like fantasy and Arthurian legend (even perversions of it), and I've fallen for the characters. Also, James Callis was in an episode this season. Oh, how I miss Baltar.

Walking Dead
This is a good show, but it's also distressing and depressing. If the Housemate weren't such a big zombie fan, honestly, I might drop it. It just never leaves me feeling good. At least it's staying interesting.

This is Chuck's last season. We were lucky we got it this long, seeing as it was renewed only by the skin of its teeth the past couple seasons. I'm finding the current plot very frustrating. I understand why they wanted to switch up the Intersect a bit, keep it fresh, and didn't want to make things too easy for them, but it still pains me. Still, I've been with the show long enough that I'll see it through till the end, which I trust them to wrap up in a satisfying way, given that they have advance notice of the series finale.

Covert Affairs
I'm so glad we didn't have to wait until next summer to see more of this show. I love it so much. Annie, Auggie, and Joan are great, and the filming on location that Annie gets to do is beautiful and refreshing. So many shows try to make L.A. look like other cities in the world, who can blame the Covert Affairs folks for rubbing it in: "See? We really went to Paris! Not a set! And this? Yeah, we went to Venice. For real!" Fun, delightful show, and lighter and more realistic than my other two returning favorites, Fringe and Nikita.


Well, I think those are all the shows that I've seen this TV season. Any other shows I need to pick up this fall before I fall too far behind?

Friday, October 28, 2011

How I Met Your Mother and Ewok Appreciation

There are two sitcoms that I watch on CBS: How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory. Between the two of them, there's no question which is geekier. In fact, I think it's pretty safe to say that Big Bang Theory is the geekiest, nerdiest sitcom on television. Now, I love BBT's constant mentions of Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, the Justice League, Game of Thrones, etc. (by the way, Leonard was right to bargain down Stuart for Longclaw in a recent episode--his initial quote of $250 is $10 above the current price on Amazon). But Leonard, Sheldon, Howard, and Raj's nerdiness is kind of the main point of the show. The geeky references are expected.

The five friends on How I Met Your Mother, on the other hand, are not so obviously geeky. They have a wide range of professions: teacher, lawyer, architect, reporter, and whatever it is Barney does for Goliath National Bank. They spend a good chunk of their free time socializing at a local bar. The three who aren't married have a steady stream of relationships (though the frequency of romantic partners varies wildly). They seem like fairly normal people (except for Barney) that you might expect to meet in NYC. They'd be a really cool group of friends to hang out with.

That's why I love it so much when HIMYM lets its geekiness shine through. Ted is the only one of the bunch with a classically nerdy job, as the enthusiastic architect who perhaps overestimates architecture's universal appeal. It's a position I appreciate and relate to. I saw right through the joke when Ted, in response to Robin's question of what famous people would be at the architect's gala he was attending, answered "Lenny Kravitz. He's a rock star." (After an excited Robin manages to weasel her way in, it turns out he was actually referring to Leonard Kravitz, some wizened old--but famous in the architecture world, we are assured--guy). Yeah, we have our own "rock stars" in oceanography. You haven't heard of them.

Ted and Marshall both have strong geeky streaks. They have been known to hold the occasional sword fight, and to play with an Indiana Jones whip. In a recent episode, a photo of Marshall, Lily, and Ted dressed for Halloween as C-3PO, R2-D2, and "the robot Luke's Uncle almost bought from the Jawas", respectively, highlighted Ted's role as third wheel. There have been other Star Wars references before--I recall Ted calling "dibs" on a girl who compared the snowstorm outside to Hoth. Star Wars is, I suppose, a popular enough franchise to be only borderline geeky, though I'd say dressing as an obscure Star Wars character or naming any Star Wars planet crosses the line into true geek territory. Still, I don't think there have been any geeky references as ongoing and central to a HIMYM episode as in the recent "Field Trip", (Episode 7.5--I'm a couple weeks behind, I know).

It all starts when environmental lawyer Marshall complains that his boss seems to be going soft...like a teddy bear. Ted proposes that maybe his boss is being like an Ewok: "Cute and cuddly around the village but once the battle starts it'll smash in your metal skull with giant swinging logs." Barney's new girlfriend Nora enters to hear mention of Ewoks and declares her distaste for them, which leads Barney to conclude he can't date her anymore. This culminates in a slide show that Barney prepared all about Ewoks (anatomy, culture, etc.), ending with a graph explaining why he can't date someone who doesn't love Ewoks:
Return of the Jedi came out in 1983. Anyone older than 10 at the time found them overly cute and cloying. Anyone under 10 at the time loved them because they reminded them of their teddy bears. Thus, given Nora's hatred of Ewoks, she must be over 37, a far cry from the 29 she claimed to be, not to mention a bit old for Barney's tastes. Barney's Ewok Line slide:

As it turned out, Nora was in fact 29, she was just a latecomer to Star Wars, having not watched it until the previous year. So really, Barney's Ewok Appreciation Rule should be amended to account for this:
Anyone who dislikes Ewoks must have been over 10 years old when they first saw Return of the Jedi.
I wonder how often this actually holds up. I have certainly encountered both Ewok-hating and Ewok-loving people. Whatever their reasons for loving or hating them, I'm curious how many of them fit this rule of age when first introduced to Ewoks.

I certainly fit the rule. I've always loved Ewoks. I don't know exactly how old I was the first time I watched Return of the Jedi, but I was definitely a well-established fan by the time I went to Disney World at age 7 and rode on Star Tours (I remember posing for photos with someone dressed as Wicket, and my younger brother bought an Ewok stuffed animal). So I was at most 6 the first time my parents let me watch it.

What about everyone else? Maybe I should set up a poll, but at least sound off in the comments where you fall in the Ewok debate, and let me know whether you fit Barney's Ewok Appreciation Rule.

As an extra Easter egg for us Star Wars fans, there was also a scene in which Marshall's co-workers can be heard singing "Yub Nub" in the background during an office party. I laughed pretty hard when I recognized it. And here's a video of Barney's full Ewok slide show. During the episode he just clicks through most of it, but the kind folks at CBS put the full size images into a clip for your viewing pleasure:

I particularly like the "Ewok Styles" slide (some of them look familiar...), and the "Ewok Diet" slide, showing Han Solo. Also, apparently their average weight is 50 kg, but their average fecal deposit is 49 kg. Lovely.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Joss Whedon and Much Ado About Nothing

Some time in the past couple days, news broke that Joss Whedon is working on a film version of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing and has, in fact, already finished principal photography for it. Being the busy guy he is, it was surprising that he had time for another project. Also somewhat surprising was the fact that no one knew about it yet. We did know, at least, that he is a fan of Shakespeare, having held the occasional Shakespeare reading at his home.

Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof receive top billing as Beatrice and Benedick, respectively, and the film is filled with actors we know and love from all corners of the Whedonverse: Nathan Fillion (Dogberry), Sean Maher (Don John), Fran Kranz (Claudio), Reed Diamond (Don Pedro), Tom Lenk (Verges), and Clark Gregg (Leonarto). But beyond the full cast list, we know very few details.

I'm sorry to say I've never read the play Much Ado About Nothing, I've just seen the movie version with Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh. But I'm very interested to see how Joss Whedon's version comes out. The one image on the website certainly has me intrigued. See the movie website here:

and read about this news at Entertainment Weekly here:

I'll have to keep my eye on this one.

The coolest thing at the SOEST Open House

This past weekend was extremely busy for me, between two barbecues, the Hellrush event in Hellgate, and, most importantly, the SOEST (School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology) Open House. As a graduate student in the Oceanography Department, I was obligated to help out with this biennial extravaganza in which professors and lab groups in SOEST set up displays, demonstrations, and interactive exhibits catered to the general public both inside and outside a cluster of ocean- and Earth science-related buildings on campus. Some local organizations (e.g. Waikiki Aquarium, Bishop Museum) join in the fun by setting up their own tents, and thousands of people attend. Friday is mostly groups of school children K-12, with more family crowds on Saturday.

Open House is nuts, but it's pretty fun. I bounced back and forth between my own lab group's exhibit (a wave tank demonstration) and helping out with that of another lab group that I frequently associate with (density demonstration--how a glider controls its own density--and internal wave tank). I was also able to see some of the other exhibits--more than I saw at the Open House two years ago. There was fish painting and other cute little crafts. There was a demonstration of the effects of pressure, where you use a syringe-type mechanism to pump air out of a little chamber with three or four mini marshmallows in it: they get noticeably bigger, which is pretty cool. The flashiest exhibit was the Explosive Volcano demonstration, where they explain how gas coming out of rising magma builds up pressure under the surface of the Earth until it's great enough to burst out (this is how Krakatoa and Mount St. Helen erupted, but not the way that the volcanoes on the Big Island are erupting). For the demonstration, they poured liquid nitrogen into a plastic water bottle, capped it, then quickly duct-taped it to two bricks, dropped it in a plastic trash barrel partially filled with water, put a beach ball on top for good measure, then gave it some space. We covered our ears, and about 10 seconds later BOOOOOM!!! Water splashes out of the barrel, beach ball flies up a couple stories, sound is heard across a large part of campus, and they show us the mangled remains of the water (nitrogen) bottle. Fun stuff.

Still, the COOLEST thing at the SOEST Open House 2011 had to be the remote-controlled fish balloons. I'd never seen one before, but the moment I laid eyes on the big, cute clownfish balloon swimming down the hallway, it was like Where have you been all my life? On Saturday, I tracked down the exhibit where the fish was living (apparently the dean had bought them, so they didn't actually belong to just one lab group), and I had my turn flying it around the room. It was so fun, and the novelty never wore off. Sadly, I didn't have my camera, so I have no video footage of my flying fish balloon encounter. So I'll give you this video from the fish balloon website so you know what I'm talking about:

Apparently they're called "Air Swimmers", which seems pretty appropriate. The balloons are filled with helium, but given the weight of the items attached to them they are very nearly neutrally buoyant. Ah, the magic of neutral buoyancy. With the remote control, you can make it flap its tail left and right to propel itself forward, or make it turn right or left with a single flap right or left, respectively. A weighted device on the underside of the fish slides forward and back, also controlled by remote, to make the fish tip forward or up, allowing you to make it "swim" down or up. And with that, you have a simple yet ingenious and fascinating toy that swims through the air.

They do have a few limitations. First, they'll deflate after a while (their makers claim they'll stay inflated maybe two weeks), though you can just get them refilled, I suppose. If they pop, you'll have to buy a replacement balloon. Also, they don't compete well with any sort of breeze. They're probably best indoors in places with high ceilings and lots of space to move around.

Seriously, everyone loved these balloons. Children, adults, visitors and scientists. In the short time that I spent with the balloon, I heard several children suggest they wanted one for Christmas--and several scientists say they wanted one too. I was one of them. They're available on Amazon for $39.99 (both the clownfish and shark designs), but so far I've refrained. I'm still trying to picture how well it would work in my own house, which isn't very big and doesn't have high ceilings. But I'm very tempted. I swear I'm not affiliated with Air Swimmers and do not mean this to be an advertisement for their product but... these are so AWESOME! Everyone should have one! That is all.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dragon Age: Redemption - Episode 2

I promise I won't be posting all six episodes of Felicia Day's Dragon Age: Redemption here--you can find them elsewhere--but I got so excited with this second episode that I have to post it, too. OK, so the first episode was a little slow, setting up the main storyline, introducing the main players. But in this episode they get to the fun stuff: main characters interacting, plus a visit to a Dalish village. Rather than read my description, why not just watch it?

See it on Felicia Day's blog here. She offers some commentary about the actors and the filming.

I really like Tallis's developing relationship with Cairn. We get a much better sense of their personalities in this episode than we got with just those brief glimpses in the first. Seeing what the phylacteries the Templar use to track escaped mages look like was nice as well, since we don't see them in use during the games, to my knowledge. But Josmael, the Dalish First, was my favorite. Apparently not so great at protecting, but he really wants to prove himself. And you know he's a mage all along, but when he shows off a little magic at the end, I have to admit that I kind of squeed. So cute. Though you know Cairn isn't going to like it...

Can't wait for the next episode!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Happy Dragon Age: Redemption Day!

We've waited a long time for this, but it's finally here. The first episode in Dragon Age: Redemption, Felicia Day's six-part web series set in BioWare's Dragon Age universe, was released today!

First, I'll link the trailer, which actually came out last week:

A fan of the Dragon Age games herself, Felicia Day was understandably thrilled when she got a call from BioWare asking her to write and star in a live action Dragon Age web series. And those of us who are fans of Felicia Day and Dragon Age (there are quite a lot of us) were thrilled as well. There's even downloadable content--Dragon Age 2: Mark of the Assassin--starring her character Tallis available starting today. She gets to be in a video game! How awesome is that? (Yes, I'm getting a bit of vicarious geek pleasure out of the whole thing.)

They got some great people to work on the project (Doug Jones!), and considering the shoestring budget they had, the costumes, makeup, and sets look amazing. The episode is frustratingly short, as is too often the case with web series. I can't wait for the second episode to come out next week!

The story and setting will be more familiar if you've played Dragon Age 2, but it's not required--a few screens of text at the beginning tell you what you need to know about the world. Well, without further ado, here's the episode:

Click through to the YouTube page to show your support and "Like" the video.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Willow's Guide to Pottermore Potions: Video tutorials

Willow's Guide to Pottermore Potions

My Pottermore username is WitchWillow140, so I take that to mean I'm a witch named Willow (how very Buffy). And this is my potion brewing guide, complete with a cost and time analysis for potion brewing. It turned out quite a bit longer than I'd originally envisioned. I don't intend anyone to read it in its entirety, but hopefully if you have questions or are experiencing some issue or other, you can find the necessary answer. If you find any mistakes, or things that have been changed, let me know.

This guide is broken into the following sections:
1. The Basics - If you've never brewed a potion, read here what it's all about.
2. The Ingredients - Where to find all the ingredients used in the 6 potions currently available.
3. General Tips - Advice that could be useful on any or all of the potions.
4. Potions Walkthrough - What you need to know to get you through the brewing of each potion.
5. Potions Cost/Benefit Analysis - OK, so which potions should you brew? I do a simple mathematical analysis to determine which potions give you the most bang for your buck--or for your time.
6. Video Tutorials - I've started doing screen captures of my potion brewing, narrating with helpful tips. If you want to see rather than just read, check these out.

Video Tutorials

I should have done this sooner. Sometimes it's easier just to watch and follow an example than it is to read descriptions, tips, and explanations. So, if you want to see some potion brewing in action, you've come to the right place.

To start off, I've only done a video tutorial for the Wideye or Awakening Potion. It's possibly the most popular potion, since it's the most cost efficient of all the potions, and it's not as hard as a couple of the others. If people find this helpful, I could do videos for some of the other potions. So let me know what you think!

Wideye or Awakening Potion

For best quality, go to full screen and select 720p.
This is the link, if you'd like to see it on YouTube.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

I'm not sure who organized it or why this date was chosen, but I learned through ThinkGeek that today is Ada Lovelace Day, in celebration of achievements of women in science and technology. Ada Lovelace is often considered the first computer programmer. Her notes on Charles Babbage's proposed Analytical Engine in the 1840s contained what is recognized as the first computer program, an algorithm intended to be processed by a machine.

I'm wearing my Ada Lovelace t-shirt from ThinkGeek in honor of the occasion:

Also keeping with the theme of the day, here's the code that I've recently written and will be debugging today:

In case you're curious, it's a third order upwind horizontal advection scheme to be used with POM (Princeton Ocean Model). At the moment, it runs but after a few hours in simulation time starts churning out completely unrealistic values. I don't know why. Hopefully some good programming mojo for Ada Lovelace Day will rub off on me, and I'll fix it today. Though I should probably stop blogging and start coding if I want that to happen.

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Update: Pottermore, Hellgate, camera, SWTOR

Sorry I've been quiet for the last couple weeks. I've been busy at work, and I have several other diversions that have been occupying my free moments, instead of this blog.

As you may have guessed by the extensive Pottermore potions guide I posted two weeks ago, I've been spending a fair amount of time on Pottermore, honing my potion brewing skills, mainly. Dueling still seems to be down, so potions are the only way to earn House Points at the moment. I now have about 140 potions. While they take a long time to brew (the shortest one has to stew for 80 minutes), they don't require very long periods of active attention (maybe 3-4 minutes each). Still, if you add it all up, I've spent a fair amount of time brewing potions...and even more time in the Ravenclaw common room message boards, giving potion advice, general encouragement, and answering (and asking) some riddles. They could use some changes to the site (especially a REPLY option to comments, so we could find responses to our questions), but I still think it's a lot of fun.

My four-year-old laptop PC broke down in August, but two weeks ago I finally managed to install Windows on the MacBook Pro I use for work. My games are all on an external hard drive, so I can't play them from my office (definitely a good thing). I have to take the laptop home, boot it up in Windows, and plug in the external. It's been working pretty well so far.

At the moment, I'm using it to play an old-ish game: Hellgate. Two and a half years after I mourned the loss of Hellgate: London, it has come back from the dead, having lost the "London" from the title (but not its setting). It is largely the same in its undead form, slightly Asian-ified, less silly, a few poor translations here and there, but most significantly it has new locations...which I haven't reached yet (still too low level). I could go on about Hellgate, but this subject deserves its own post.

In other news, I finally got my new camera! My old camera, a Panasonic Lumix TS2, which at just over one year wasn't actually old at all, broke while I was scuba diving on the Big Island. Yes, I broke a lot of expensive things this summer (spent $700 repairing my car, too). The great tragedy in the camera breaking was that I didn't get any photos from my otherwise perfect and amazing birthday (dolphins and manta rays came to my party!). On the bright side, though, I'd bought the extended 2-year accidental damage warranty (phew!), and it was totally covered. I mailed it in to the Panasonic Customer Care people, they (eventually) called to tell me they couldn't get a replacement (the camera has been discontinued, I guess), so they'd be sending me a check for the full amount I'd paid for the camera last year! I was shocked. I'd been prepared to argue with them to convince them it was covered in the first place, and at best I'd have expected to be refunded the current market value of the camera. This was pretty ideal. I turned around and used that check to buy this year's model, the Panasonic Lumix TS3, which I found for less than the price of the TS2 last year. In addition to having higher quality video and a greater underwater depth limit (40 feet) than the TS2, it also has a GPS. In case, you know, you go hiking in the jungle and want to know the exact spot that you found a certain banyan tree. Or whatever. Hopefully I'll have some nice new pics with the new camera soon.

Last but not least, I was thrilled at the big announcement of the past week: The release date for Star Wars: The Old Republic is set for December 20, 2011. I'm so excited! I've already pre-ordered my copy, and I'm still hoping I'll somehow get in early for testing. On the Imperial side, I'm most interested in the Sith Inquisitor and the Imperial Agent. On the Republic Side, I'm most interested in the Smuggler and the Jedi Knight. And the Jedi Consular. And the Trooper (mainly because of Jennifer Hale). Oh dear, but they all sound so good! I think it'll come down to me starting the characters and seeing which ones draw me in to their stories and make me fall in love with their NPCs. Knowing BioWare, though, that's likely to be all of them. Yes, I'm in trouble. But it's a good kind of trouble I can't wait to get into.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Willow's Guide to Pottermore Potions: Cost/Benefit Analysis

Willow's Guide to Pottermore Potions

My Pottermore username is WitchWillow140, so I take that to mean I'm a witch named Willow (how very Buffy). And this is my potion brewing guide, complete with a cost and time analysis for potion brewing. It turned out quite a bit longer than I'd originally envisioned. I don't intend anyone to read it in its entirety, but hopefully if you have questions or are experiencing some issue or other, you can find the necessary answer. If you find any mistakes, or things that have been changed, let me know.

This guide is broken into the following sections:
1. The Basics - If you've never brewed a potion, read here what it's all about.
2. The Ingredients - Where to find all the ingredients used in the 6 potions currently available.
3. General Tips - Advice that could be useful on any or all of the potions.
4. Potions Walkthrough - What you need to know to get you through the brewing of each potion.
5. Potions Cost/Benefit Analysis - OK, so which potions should you brew? I do a simple mathematical analysis to determine which potions give you the most bang for your buck--or for your time.
6. Video Tutorials - I've started doing screen captures of my potion brewing, narrating with helpful tips. If you want to see rather than just read, check these out.

Potions Cost/Benefit Analysis
Note: This guide is only current through Philosopher's Stone. Given the new ingredients available for free in the recently added chapters of Chamber of Secrets, this will need to be recalculated. 7/14/12

Not all potions are created equal. Their ingredients cost different numbers of Galleons, they take different times to brew, and now they give a different number of House Points for a successful completion. If you want to brew at least some of all the potions, for completeness' sake, that's fine. If you want to stick to the potion you find easiest, that's fine, too. But here's the math on the costs--in time and Galleons--and benefits of each potion.

All right, so we see that you can earn points the fastest (most points per hour) by making the Antidote. But it's one of the most expensive ways to earn points, second only to Herbicide. If you're worried about Galleons (there is only a finite sum you can get, at least for now), then you earn House Points at the cheapest cost when you brew the Wideye Potion (see my video guide here). On a budget, you can get over three times the House Points by brewing Wideye compared to any other potion. The others, by the numbers, just aren't worth it.

Of course, this all assumes that you always succeed on each of these potions in one try. I don't think Wideye or Awakening Potion is too hard, but it is more complicated than the Antidote to Common Poisons. Ultimately, do whatever potion you feel best about doing.

That's all for now! Phew, I kind of went on a bit...Hopefully I haven't put you to sleep--but I do have an Awakening Potion for that. I'll try to update this if things change. If you find mistakes, have questions, or have advice of your own, let me know in the comments.

Willow's Guide to Pottermore Potions: Walkthrough

Willow's Guide to Pottermore Potions

My Pottermore username is WitchWillow140, so I take that to mean I'm a witch named Willow (how very Buffy). And this is my potion brewing guide, complete with a cost and time analysis for potion brewing. It turned out quite a bit longer than I'd originally envisioned. I don't intend anyone to read it in its entirety, but hopefully if you have questions or are experiencing some issue or other, you can find the necessary answer. If you find any mistakes, or things that have been changed, let me know.

This guide is broken into the following sections:
1. The Basics - If you've never brewed a potion, read here what it's all about.
2. The Ingredients - Where to find all the ingredients used in the 6 potions currently available.
3. General Tips - Advice that could be useful on any or all of the potions.
4. Potions Walkthrough - What you need to know to get you through the brewing of each potion.
5. Potions Cost/Benefit Analysis - OK, so which potions should you brew? I do a simple mathematical analysis to determine which potions give you the most bang for your buck--or for your time.
6. Video Tutorials - I've started doing screen captures of my potion brewing, narrating with helpful tips. If you want to see rather than just read, check these out.

Potions Walkthrough
Before brewing a given potion for the first time, I was very nervous not knowing what it would ask me to do. For each of the potions, I've offered a summary of the directions so you can get an idea of what you're getting into, as well as my tips. I won't give word-for-word directions, just what you need to know to make the potion (the in-game thermometer and timer, for example, should guide you when you're heating the cauldron).

Refer to the General Tips for more detail on some of the actions you'll need to perform. The potion book will show you what each of the ingredients looks like, so don't worry if you don't know Lavender from Valerian.

Important note: All brewing times listed here are for the pewter cauldron. If you're using a different cauldron, make sure you note whatever brewing time it tells you!

Cure for Boils
You can practice this one without any risk of losing points or wasting ingredients or cauldrons, so hopefully it's not a big deal.
-Add 6 Snake Fangs to mortar. Each pinch of Snake Fangs has 3 fangs, so you only drag and drop twice.
-Crush ingredients.
-Transfer 4 measures from mortar to cauldron.
-Heat to the target temperature range for 10 seconds. You'll definitely want to use High to get it to the target range. As soon as the thermometer turns green, turn it to Low. This one doesn't take fine control--just let it heat on Low until the 10 seconds are up, then turn it Off.
Note: I hadn't brewed this potion in a long time, but I just tried it again in the practice mode, and it seems that the effect of the heat settings has changed. Now, you have to keep it on High in order to maintain the high temperature needed. If it gets too high, turn it to Low or Off to bring it back down. I haven't confirmed this in the non-practice setting, but I assume it's the same. I swear this used to work--I have 24 Cure for Boils potions to prove it.
-Wave wand.
Brew for 45/39/34 minutes (pewter, brass, copper cauldrons, respectively).
-Add 4 Horned Slugs to the cauldron.
-Add 2 Porcupine Quills to the cauldron. You can position these horizontally over the mouth of the cauldron so they fall in more quickly, though you're unlikely to run out of time on this step.
-Stir 5 times clockwise.
-Wave wand.

Antidote to Common Poisons
This was my favorite until they changed the points system (they used to all be worth 5 points), probably because the short heating time makes it very quick to brew. I think it's possibly easier than Cure for Boils, but the Unicorn Horn does seem like a steep investment.
-1 Bezoar to mortar. Make sure it counts the 1 added before moving on to next step.
-4 measures from mortar to cauldron.
-2 measures Standard Ingredient to cauldron.
-Heat in target range for 5 seconds. So short you don't need to go back and forth. Use High to get it to the range, switch to Low, and once it approaches that top bar, turn it Off. It'll be done before it leaves the temperature range.
-Wave wand.
Brew 40/34/30 minutes (pewter, brass, copper cauldrons, respectively).
-1 pinch Unicorn Horn to cauldron. Take the pinch by grabbing from the narrow tip of the Unicorn Horn on the left. Once I grabbed from the thick base end and it thought I clicked my wand, which was hidden behind the horn. It ruined my potion. Very inconvenient.
-Stir 2 times clockwise.
-2 mistletoe berries to cauldron. These are bottled but easier than liquids, because you can clearly see each one falling out, and they don't fall out too fast. Tip over the cauldron edge and watch them drop.
-Stir 2 times anti-clockwise.
-Wave wand.

Forgetfulness Potion
-2 drops Lethe River Water to cauldron. It comes out smoothly, so it shouldn't be too hard to measure, as long as you hold it from the top and watch the counter. Happens quickly, though.
-Heat for 20 seconds. This is on gentle heat, and a very small range at that, so you'll have to switch between Low and Off every three seconds or so.
-2 Valerian Sprigs to cauldron.
-Stir 3 times, clockwise.
-Wave wand.
Brew 60/51/45 minutes (pewter, brass, copper cauldrons, respectively).
-2 measures Standard Ingredient to mortar.
-4 Mistletoe Berries to the mortar. I find it easiest to rest the bottom of the bottle on the cauldron and tip the top of the bottle over the mortar, then stop once you've seen four berries fall (rather than bringing it all the way down to the mortar). The trick is making sure you don't accidentally drop any into the cauldron while you're carrying the bottle over it.
-2 pinches from mortar to cauldron.
-Stir 5 times, anti-clockwise.
-Wave wand.
Fun fact: The River Lethe (pronounced "Lee-Thee") is from Greek Mythology, one of the five rivers of Hades. Any who drank its waters would experience forgetfulness. "Lethe" means "oblivion", or "forgetfulness".

This may be my least favorite potion, because not only do you have to buy all three ingredients, but the second stage (after you've spent so much time brewing) is tricky; it's the only one where you have to add an ingredient while the cauldron is heated.
-4 Lionfish Spines to mortar. These are in a bottle, but you can count how many are falling out. They come out faster than Mistletoe Berries, though. Be careful to hold the bottle steady as you move it over the cauldron so that you don't spill any into it by accident (frustratingly easy to do).
-2 measures Standard Ingredient to mortar.
-Crush some more.
-3 measures from mortar to cauldron.
-Wave Wand.
Brew 60/51/45 minutes (pewter, brass, copper cauldrons, respectively).
-2 measures Horklump Juice to cauldron. This bottle has a tippy bottom, so put it back on the table carefully.
-Heat for 10 seconds.
-2 blobs Flobberworm Mucus to cauldron "while it's still on the heat". I hate this step the most of all the potions. Flobberworm Mucus is the worst, it comes out in little globs that may or may not count as 1 measure (maybe this was a bug they'll fix?), so you just have to watch the counter. And it's kind of slow. Plus, you have to add it while it's still on the heat??? When the heat timer is finished, get the temperature to the highest within the target range. Turn off the heat, grab the bottle, and tip over the edge of the cauldron. I interpreted the directions to mean that it still needs to be in the target heat range when they're added, but I think that as long as there's ANY heat (the thermometer is still showing), the potion will work.
-Stir 4 times clockwise.
-Wave wand.

Sleeping Draught
The second stage of this potion brewing is hard because you have to heat for one minute, meaning you're likely to be crunched for time at the end. This was the first "real" potion I attempted (not counting the practice Cure for Boils). I panicked at the end because I was running out of time and apparently didn't stir it correctly. Fail.
***I've encountered a glitch a few times in this one where the Flobberworm Mucus does not move--you can't pick it up, as if it isn't there. To avoid this problem, try making your very first step to simply pick up and then put down the Flobberworm Mucus somewhere else on the table. This seems to help "remind" Pottermore that the Flobberworm Mucus is there, so it won't forget later on. Or something like that. Glitches don't necessarily have logic ;) ***
-4 sprigs of Lavender to mortar. Make sure to position these so that no part of the Lavender is hanging over the edge of the mortar (they're very long). If too much falls outside the mortar when you let go, it won't count. Try dropping it in when it's aligned vertically.
-2 measures Standard Ingredient to mortar.
-2 blobs of Flobberworm Mucus to cauldron. I usually find that 3 or 4 drips need to fall before it counts as 2 blobs.
-2 measures Standard Ingredient to cauldron.
-Heat 30 seconds. Another one with a small heat range, so you'll have to switch back and forth between Low and Off about every two seconds or so. It's annoying, just be patient.
-3 measures from mortar to cauldron.
-Wave wand.
Brew 70/60/53 minutes (pewter, brass, copper cauldrons, respectively).
-2 measures Standard Ingredient to cauldron.
-Heat for 1 minute. Definitely blast this one on High so it can reach the high temperature it needs to cook at as fast as possible, then turn to Low as soon as the thermometer turns green. You don't have to switch back and forth between Low and Off too often, but it is for a whole minute, so you have to pay attention. I recommend trying to time it so that at the end of the 1 minute, the temperature is near the bottom of the target range; the faster the steam dies down the better, since it can make things a little laggier. Also try to time it so that for the last three seconds, you can just let the temperature fall and remain in the target range, so that you can have a Valerian Sprig in your hand ready to drop in when the timer disappears.
-4 Valerian Sprigs to cauldron. Fast. The low sand in the hourglass might be making you nervous at this point, but keep with it.
-Stir 7 times clockwise. You may have in your mind that cauldrons should be stirred slowly, like they always seem to be in the movies (Double, double toil and trouble...). Now's not the time for such sentiments. 1234567 quick! Just make sure the stir counter registers it. If you're about to run out of time, a 10 second counter will pop up. So you're not really in trouble until that happens, but it should be enough time to finish stirring.
-Wave wand. As long as you click on the wand before the time is up, I think it should work.
***If you're still having trouble completing the potion on time, try adding the Valerian Sprigs and even stirring while the cauldron is heating. Make sure it doesn't over/under-heat still, but as long as the thermometer doesn't turn red again, you should be fine.***

Wideye or Awakening Potion
The first stage of brewing this potion has a lot of steps, but at least the second stage is very quick. If you're going to mess up one stage, might as well be the first, before you've wasted all that time brewing.
-6 Snake Fangs to mortar. Each grab from the fang bag is 3 fangs, so only drag and drop twice.
-4 Standard Ingredient to mortar.
-6 Dried Billywig Stings to cauldron. Why does it dribble out of a bottle if its dried? It's a mystery. This can come out fast (the steeper you tip it, the faster). Make sure you're tipping it over the cauldron lip and have control, so you can yank it away as soon as you need to. Hold it steady as it drips so you can watch the counter steadily approach 6, then remove it as soon as it gets there.
-Heat for 30 seconds.
-Crush stuff in mortar.
-4 measures from mortar to cauldron.
-Stir 3 times clockwise.
-Wave wand.
Brew 55/47/42 minutes (pewter, brass, copper cauldrons, respectively).
-2 sprigs Wolfsbane to cauldron. Fastest if you hold them horizontally across the top before letting go of them.
-Stir 3 times anti-clockwise.
-Wave wand.
See video tutorial here.

Willow's Guide to Pottermore Potions: General Tips

Willow's Guide to Pottermore Potions

My Pottermore username is WitchWillow140, so I take that to mean I'm a witch named Willow (how very Buffy). And this is my potion brewing guide, complete with a cost and time analysis for potion brewing. It turned out quite a bit longer than I'd originally envisioned. I don't intend anyone to read it in its entirety, but hopefully if you have questions or are experiencing some issue or other, you can find the necessary answer. If you find any mistakes, or things that have been changed, let me know.

This guide is broken into the following sections:
1. The Basics - If you've never brewed a potion, read here what it's all about.
2. The Ingredients - Where to find all the ingredients used in the 6 potions currently available.
3. General Tips - Advice that could be useful on any or all of the potions.
4. Potions Walkthrough - What you need to know to get you through the brewing of each potion.
5. Potions Cost/Benefit Analysis - OK, so which potions should you brew? I do a simple mathematical analysis to determine which potions give you the most bang for your buck--or for your time.
6. Video Tutorials - I've started doing screen captures of my potion brewing, narrating with helpful tips. If you want to see rather than just read, check these out.

General Tips
So now you have all the ingredients. What do you need to know about brewing?

When you choose to brew a potion, your potion book will give you the directions for it. You must follow them precisely, in exactly the right order (there's some rumor that certain steps can be switched in order without messing up the potion...but I say, don't chance it). Some of the steps can be tricky, though, and there's always a timer running, so you have to be efficient. If you find you have trouble with any particular type of step, here's my advice on each thing that the potion directions might ask you to do.

Adding ingredients
As I see it, ingredients can be separated into two categories that affect how they're added: "bottled" or "handled".

Includes: Unicorn Horn, Snake Fangs, Porcupine Quills, Valerian Sprigs, Lavender, Bezoar, Horned Slugs, Wolfsbane
Handled ingredients are the most straightforward: You see the item on the table, you grab some with your cursor, drag, and drop into the mortar or cauldron as directed. Be aware, though, that they drop slowly, so you might run out of time if you drop them from far above the mortar or cauldron. Let go of them as close to the top of the mortar/cauldron as you can. The other thing to be careful about is making sure the added ingredient is counted before you proceed with the next step (because the ingredients take time to fall). Watch the counter next to the mortar/cauldron, or check that the step is crossed off in your potions book before moving on if you want to be extra cautious.

These are trickier, because you have to pick up the bottle and pour. Hold the bottle by the top so it's easier to control, catch the lower portion of the bottle on the outside of the cauldron/mortar lip, and tip it over the edge into the cauldron/mortar (see following picture). Watch the counter that pops up to the left of the cauldron/mortar, get a sense for how quickly the counter is going up, and pull back as soon as you've poured enough. Be steady with the bottle as you place it back on the table (if you move too fast, it could start spinning and spewing its contents all over).

Crushing Ingredients
This is one of the easiest steps, but since time is of the essence, it pays to be efficient. I recommend holding your cursor just above the back lip of the mortar, in the center (the pestle should also be behind the cursor here). Then click like a madman. Stop as soon as the "fineness meter" turns green. There's no reason to crush beyond that, even though it gives you a little leeway if you feel like clicking a bit more.

Heating the Cauldron
You get three buttons: Off (blue), Low (orange), and High (red). They all respond quickly, so don't worry about it heating up more after you've pressed the Off button (as those of us with electric stoves may have found frustrating in real life). When a cauldron is heated, a thermometer pops up to the right. Two horizontal bars on the thermometer indicate the range (min and max) that you must heat the cauldron to. Once the temperature reaches this range, the thermometer turns green and a counter starts, showing how many more seconds you need to keep the temperature within this range.

In the interest of time, I recommend you always start by heating the cauldron on High, as it takes a long time to increase the cauldron's temperature when it's on Low. As soon as the thermometer turns green, switch to Low. As the temperature is about to reach the top bar of the target temperature range, switch it to Off. Once the temperature is about to reach the bottom bar of the range, switch it to Low again. Repeat as necessary until the temperature timer goes away (indicating you've heated it long enough).

DON'T let the cauldron heat up ABOVE the temperature range after the timer has stopped (and obviously not during, either, or you've ruined the potion). This is especially important if you're about to wave your wand, because while it's waving, you can't change anything. Overheating can blow up your cauldron, causing you to lose 5 House Points AND the cauldron itself! Just remember to make sure the heat is Off when you've finished with the heating step.

Stirring the Cauldron
This is also pretty straightforward, provided that you can keep clockwise and anti-clockwise (aka counterclockwise) straight. The spoon starts on the left, so you've completed a stir once you return it to the left side of the cauldron. A counter also pops up to keep track of your progress. It can seem a little odd trying to stir something that's horizontal in a 2D image (you'd have to stir into the page to do it properly), but just click the spoon handle, then make smooth clockwise or anti-clockwise circles (in the 2D plane of your screen) around the cauldron edge (you don't have to be exact--I usually make circles as big as the whole cauldron), and you'll be fine.

Edit: I haven't confirmed this, but it seems some people get a stirring glitch and have found that when doing anti-clockwise stirring, the spoon needs to start on the right side of the cauldron. If you're getting errors in stirring you don't understand, you might want to give this a try. Move the spoon to the right, and then start your stirring.

Wave the Wand
Easiest step of all, which always happens right before the end of both the first and second stages of the potion brewing. Click the wand lying on the table (you can always find the tip of it all the way to the right), and it'll wave itself for you. Just don't let the cauldron heat be on when you're doing it.

Leave the Potion to Brew
After you wave your wand the first time, it tells you to leave the potion to brew for X minutes. You MUST return between X and 2X minutes from then, or your potion will be wasted. For example, if it says come back in 50 minutes, you must wait at least 50 minutes to finish it, but if you don't come back before 100 minutes are up, the potion will have failed (you will get 0 points for your time, effort, and resources).

Cauldrons and Brewing Time
The amount of time a potion takes to brew depends on the type of cauldron you use. Pewter is the slowest, then brass, and copper is the fastest. See the Potions Walkthrough for exact timing for each cauldron.

Consult the Book
It took me a couple potions to realize that I could reopen the potion directions by clicking the book on the table. Be careful with this, though, because the timer does NOT stop while you're reading the book (even though the timer doesn't START until after you click out of the book at the beginning of the potion brewing). Still, it's a good way to make sure that a certain step registered correctly; once completed, the step will be crossed out in the book. It's also good if you've forgotten your next step. Professor Snape wouldn't have to refer to the book more than once, but you can use it as you need to ;)

If You Mess Up
If you make mistakes while brewing, then when you wave your wand the potion will start to emit green smoke, and it will tell you you've failed. The same happens if you run out of time. You'll get 0 House Points and lose those ingredients that the potion called for, even if you didn't get to the step where you were supposed to add that ingredient. It's sad. If you mess up very badly (I hear overheating the cauldron does this), you may blow up your cauldron, losing it (have to buy a new one) and 5 House Points. That's very sad.

If you know you've messed up your potion, you may be tempted simply to close the window, or click away to the comfort of your Common Room. This isn't a bad thing, but you should know what it does. The short story is that you lose the potion. You get 0 House Points, though no Owl notification about it. If you were in danger of exploding your cauldron and losing 5 House Points, then this is definitely preferable. However, Pottermore will still think you are brewing that potion. If you go to the Potion book tab, you'll see the "Brewing" button next to that potion. If you go to the Cauldrons tab, you'll see the "This potion requires your attention" link. Click on either (button or link), and it will take you back to your potion table, and force you to start that same potion over again. If you meant to give that potion another try, then great, but if you wanted to give up on that potion and try a different one, you'll have to let the potion game get to the point that it tells you formally that your potion brewing failed (quickest way to fail, I think, is to wave the wand without having done anything).

The slight exploit in this occurs if you've just run out of one of the ingredients in that potion. When you return to give the potion a second try, it will remove one of each of the three ingredients from your ingredient inventory again, UNLESS there is no more of that ingredient to remove. Under normal circumstances, it wouldn't let you try to brew that potion without replenishing that ingredient, but since it thinks you're ALREADY brewing the potion, it's not going to stop you. For example, say I use my last Valerian Sprig while trying to brew a Sleeping Draught. I accidentally add too much Flobberworm Mucus to the cauldron, so in frustration I navigate away. When I return to the Cauldrons tab and click "This potion requires your attention", it makes me start the potion over, removing one more Flobberworm Mucus and one more Lavender from my inventory. But it doesn't take any more Valerian Sprigs.

This isn't a hugely useful exploit, and it may be a glitch they'll fix in the near future. I'll update if I ever learn this has changed.

Note: Refreshing the page while brewing because you made a mistake does the same as clicking back, then returning to the potion: You get to start all over, but you lose ingredients again.

If Pottermore Messes Up
At the time of writing this, Pottermore has been a bit buggy. Sometimes when it has told me I finished the first stage successfully and now I should leave it to brew, when I click "Come back later", the Cauldron page tells me that the potion requires my attention, and I have to start it all over again. Sometimes for whatever reason it doesn't let me click on the Flobberworm Mucus--it was as if it wasn't there. The other glitch I've seen happens when I accidentally click on the mortar powder instead of the pestle multiple times, which freezes up the pestle, spoon, and wand graphics. If you just pretend they're still working and click in the right places, though, you can still get the potion done. And sometimes it says I've done something wrong that I really know I didn't (such as adding an ingredient to the wrong container--usually a pretty noticeable mistake). Other people have experienced their own problems. All I can say is, be patient. Hopefully they'll fix the glitches soon.