Monday, June 30, 2008

Wow, Thanks!

A heartfelt "Haha!" and "Thank you!" go out to the kind, anonymous soul who sent me an XKCD T-Shirt. It's the compiling one, which will be pertinent and germane for as long as I live, or at least until we reach exaflop CPUs.

I assume this is an early birthday present, but I also like the idea of a kindly, slightly crazed good samaritan who mails funny T-Shirts to random people. Either way, you've made my world a better place! Arigatoo gozaimasu!

Dance, Dragons, Dance!

Phew! I opened up Martin's A Feast for Crows over the weekend, and finished it just now. His novels become even bigger page-turners as I get further into them.

No time now for a full review, but here's a quickie: exciting book, good plot development, and even better character development. (Though in some cases "character deterioration" may be a more apt phrase.) It doesn't have the unbelievably awesome breathless conclusion of A Storm of Swords, but it's hard to think of other books that do. I do think that the book should really have been about 50 pages longer. Cliffhangers are great, but it helps to at least know what the heck is happening.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Shorter WALL-E

Linux and Macintosh belong together. By working with one another, Ubuntu and Snow Leopard can save the world.

Shameless Self-Promotion

Just wanted to share a bit of really good news. Chris Haseman's new book, Android Essentials, recently went live!

I was flattered when Chris asked me to be his technical editor for this book. I've enjoyed tinkering with Android since it first came out, and had spent far too little time working with Chris lately, so it was a perfect opportunity to collaborate. The entire project felt like working at a startup: lots of experimentation, lots of passion, a great commitment to figuring it out and getting things done.

It's available as an eBook, with a dead-tree version also in the offing. I'm not sure when it starts shipping, but you can already download sample code from the book's web page. Great success!

As long as I'm in carnival barker mode: I don't think I ever mentioned here that I wrote a devX article on beginning Android development. I have Chris to thank for that opportunity as well. You know, I used to cringe whenever someone would say to me, "Wow, you majored in both English and Computer Science? Guess you want to be a technical writer, huh?" After the exposure I've had this year, though, I have to admit that I really do enjoy it. Not as much as writing software, but it may be the next best thing, and besides gaining the pleasure of helping people, I also learn more about the topic than I would otherwise.

Anyways! Right now I'm more or less twiddling my thumbs in M5-RC15 land, waiting for Google to share its top secret new SDK version with the rest of us. Last weekend I dusted off some old projects of mine (old Android projects? Are we allowed to have those yet?), and was struck by how... natural this all seems now. I remember when Android was first released, and it seemed like a foreign land. Intent receivers? Activities? onCreate, onFreeze, onPause? What was a Content Provider, and how exactly did I navigate from one of my screens to another? Now, it's all second nature, and best of all, I can grok why Google did it this way. If you're really interested in this technology, you should definitely check up on the Google I/O sessions on mobile Android. It's an exciting technology, and if the carriers play nicely, this may only be the beginning.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Books! We got books!

I have recently returned from a wonderful weeklong vacation with my family to upstate Minnesota. During this time, I was reminded about how incredibly fortunate I am to have grown up among these folks. If you dropped in at random during the week, odds are high that you would have found at least half of us stretched out reading our books. Now, reading isn't the only thing we do - we had a blast by the lake, went on a long bike ride, explored the nearby small town, spent hours talking and catching up, even participating in a remarkably democratic kitchen. Still, there's no escaping the fact that this is a scholarly family that loves words and learning, and I owe them for any success I've found in life.

This relaxing and serene environment meant that, rather than squeezing in a chapter between a busy workday and necessary sleep, I was able to devote hours to catching up on things I'd been meaning to read. I brought along two books that have thwarted me in the past: Gravity's Rainbow and Midnight's Children. I never did get around to the first (one of these days, Pynchon! One of these days!), but the long stretches available for reading allowed me to conquer Rushdie's aggressively obtuse prose. It was well worth it.

I've been meaning to read Rushdie for a while now. I think it's the contrarian attitude I take towards censorship, and no modern author has been so famously censored as him. Beyond that, though, he was always at the periphery of my modern English lit classes, and several people I respect have spoken highly of his writing in general and this book in particular.

But the language... ah, the language! Now, I am the last person to complain about an author's adherence to the strictures of the English language. I still think that Ulysses is the most amazing book I've ever read, largely because of the phenomenal way Joyce manipulates the language. That said, I fully accept that I never would have finished Ulysses if the book hadn't been required reading for a college course. The combination of external pressure to push through the reading, along with access to resources and insights from my classmates, turned a solitary chore into a collective joy.

Outside the framework of a seminar, I had to motivate myself to get through this book, and it was tough.... I have to admit that up until around page 250 I didn't like the book. I'll get to the narrator in a moment, but even apart from the character of the narrator, the way he expresses himself is an active challenge. He slings together nouns and verbs in series without any connections or punctuation; his sentences run on; he fills expository passages with authorial interjections; and, perhaps most frustrating to me, he uses dialect throughout the novel. Now, I respect Rushdie the author's choice to use these techniques, but it does mean I need to work much harder to understand what the heck is happening, and only recoup some of that effort in better storytelling.

Besides speaking in a scattershot voice, the narrator may be the least reliable I've read. Now, this part I didn't mind so much, and by the end of the novel, it was actually pretty fun. He forgets what he's saying, realizes that events couldn't have happened in the year he described, suggests that he has been exagerrating or diminishing characters to conform to his prejudices, even admits towards the end that he lied about certain things. As long as you view the whole thing as a yarn, it's all in good fun. Now, the narrator is speaking to the reader, but within the text, he is also describing these things to Padma (I think that's her name...), a young woman. He describes how he carefully watches her to see how she reacts... if her face shows she doubts him, he will backpedal and try to convince her; if she is engaged in the story, he will rush onward, spinning out more for her.


The narrator is, really, a cad. He doesn't like himself all that much, even if he does have an inflated opinion of his importance, so I don't feel bad making that judgement. His failures in life seem of a piece with his failures as a writer.

That said, I don't particularly enjoy reading about mediocre, miserable people. So I only started perking up once the book began delving into the more mystical aspects of the story: the special powers held by the Midnight Children. Even though these proved to ultimately be a bit of a red herring, the mere introduction of the supernatural gave the book a charge it was missing. I feel like the start of the book (which begins, excruciatingly, with his grandfather, many decades before the narrator's birth) was trying to get by on portent and clever writing. After Saleem appears on the scene, and even more once he reaches adolesence, the book turns much more into a story... there's meaningful action there, not just words.

Again, the turning point for me came when Saleem snorts a drawstring and becomes telepathic. I fell in love with the book when he describes the nightmare he has of the Widow's hand. It was this passage that convinced me that his prose wasn't an obstacle, wasn't just necessary for this character, but actually could contribute wonderful writing that is impossible in standard proper English. The nightmare contains all the things I complained about before - run-on sentences, stacked unlinked words, etc. - but they transformed the piece and made it a living nightmare that actually frightened me, even as I was sitting on a sunny porch near a beautiful lake. Here's an excerpt:

The Widow sits on a high high chair the chair is green the seat is black the Widow's hair has a centre parting it is green on the left and on the right black. High as the sky the chair is green the seat is black the Widow's arm is long as death its skin is green the fingernails are long and sharp and black. Between the walls the children green the walls are green the Widow's arm comes snaking down the snake is green the children scream the fingernails are black they scratch the Widow's arm is hunting see the children run and scream the Widow's hand curls round them green and black. Now one by one the children mmff are stifled quiet the Widow's hand is lifting one by one the children green their blood is black unloosed by cutting fingernails it splashes black on the walls (of green) as one by one the curling hand lifts children high as sky the sky is black there are no stars the widow laughs her tongue is green but her teeth are black.

Isn't that AMAZING?

The only comparable thing I can think of is the poem Fear by my favorite poet, W. S. Merwin. And that's really special. At his peak, Rushdie is crossing the ancient boundary between poetry and prose. Not content to waste words on merely telling a story, he elevates the language above the story, calling attention to it, playing with it, and making this ultimately a story about words and storytelling.

By the end of the novel, I was very impressed with it as a whole. Rushdie has truly created a unique voice here, and I can understand why this book made his reputation.


The other major catch-up I made over vacation was The Braindead Megaphone by George Saunders. Saunders is my favorite active short story writer, but this is a collection of his essays. I was delighted to find that his essays are just as trenchant, funny, and observant as his fiction. Not only that, they can be just as subversive, creative, and beautiful. He has a wonderful essay on Britain in there, based on several pieces he wrote for The Guardian, and you have to approach it the same way you would approach one of his short stories... it is non-fiction, nominally, but non-fiction with the tongue so firmly planted in cheek that it might as well be fiction. (I think I'm leading off with this essay because it seems of a piece with the Midnight's Children observation above... you need to have a clear understanding of the difference between Saunders, the author, and Saunders, the narrator, to "get" what these pieces are doing.)

The title piece, The Braindead Megaphone, is arguably the most important piece. It is a thoughtful and damning indictment of the present state of the media in the United States, and how our relationship with it has warped the national psyche. I previously agreed with pretty much everything in this essay, but don't think I'd ever previously heard it said so eloquently.

He's also a very accomplished travel writer. His pieces on Dubai were fascinating, both for their early insight (he published these pieces before Dubai became a common topic here), and also for their musings on the role of culture and the future of nationalism. Some of his conclusions reminded me of Neal Stephenson's Disneyland tangent in In The Beginning... was the Command Line. Near the end of the book he visits the Buddha Boy, and along the way experiences the wretched life lived in Nepal. In between he spends more time in Texas than I ever will as he explores the border between the U. S. and Mexico. That piece may be the most interesting of the trio, as he spends time with the Minutemen (many of whom actually sound like nice people) and grapples with the implications of "the immigration issue."

Gosh, I really can't describe every chapter in here... it's all solid stuff. In terms of theme: he also has a few pieces about writing, all of which are excellent. One is semi-autobiographical, discussing "Johnny Tremain", the first good book that he'd read, and how it opened his mind to what good writing meant. The evolution continues with an appreciation of Kurt Vonnegut, who turned him from being a mediocre writer trying to channel Hemingway into who he is today. Finally, he offers one of the most concise and insightful evaluations of Huckleberry Finn that I've seen.

This also collects some of the great "Shouts & Murmurs" pieces that he's done for the New Yorker. If you missed them the first time around, you'll be heartily amused; otherwise, you'll enjoy seeing them again.

It's good to know that Saunders is a man of many talents. He's shown that he can write amazing short stories, great columns, and beautiful essays. Now he just needs to write a full novel, and we'll be set!

Sunday, June 22, 2008


I stand tall and proud. I have faced the Daedra of Oblivion and cast them out of Tamriel. Beating a massive RPG like this is a simultaneously exhilarating and deflating experience... I'm delighted with where I've gone, but a bit saddened that the journey is over.

My overall analysis of the game is that it is an incredibly wonderful achievement that, for certain players, will be nearly undone by its leveling system. As I've previously complained, I was forced to stop leveling up in the game because it increases the power of your enemies faster than your own combat prowess. That major flaw aside, however, the world and the plot themselves are excellent, fully worthy of the Elder Scrolls label.

On balance, I'd say that this game is better than Morrowind. If nothing else, its vastly improved system of fast travel means that you spend more of your time actually playing the game and less time moving from point A to point B. That said, you still spend enough time journeying to new destinations to encounter the amazing beauty of Cyrodiil. The graphics are wonderful, even on my standard hardware, and a pleasure to look at, unlike the often ugly design in Morrowind. The natural scenes are the best; when you climb up a mountain, stop periodically to look back down into the valley, and prepare to be impressed at the sweeping vista laid out below. It looks somewhat like my hikes in Northern California, and I can think of no higher praise.

Combat, while still not a great system, is more interesting than in Morrowind. There is a greater variety of monsters; delightfully, none of them are airborne this time around. I mainly fought with my bow and arrows, and generally enjoyed it... the game is good at providing good sniping positions, and when facing a single opponent you'll usually have a chance to take them down before meeting them face to face. The AI is better than I was expecting; massive Daedroth and Clannfear will charge at you directly, while hedge wizards will summon defenders and run away. Once you figure out the system, it's a little too easy to abuse - on an open field, I could kill nearly any opponent by firing my bow while running backwards away from them - but it does require a combination of skill and strategy to take someone down, along with a strong understanding of your surroundings.

By the end of the game, actually, I was no longer bothering to fight anyone. You can boost your Stealth to around 120 or higher with various augmentations, and as long as there were some shadows around, I could get around most situations. I had to keep reminding myself that this was OK - there are no experience points in the game, so the only things you gain from killing a monster are their loot and some slight increases in your combat skills.

I liked magic more in this game as well. Specific spells were missing; I would have loved to have Mark and Recall again (though I would not trade fast travel for them), if just to have a quick way to exit a dungeon. I kind of miss Levitation, though I certainly understand why they got rid of it. On the whole, though, this was a better system. You automatically regain magic over time, even without resting, and once you gain access to Arcane University can create your own spells. Your only option for enchanting items this time around is also through the University, but prices are far more reasonable than in Morrowind.

Some of the improvements didn't do anything for me. The idea of horses is cool, but in practice, I just used fast travel everywhere. The minigames were annoying, especially for Lockpicking and Persuasion. Which is a bummer, since I took both of those as major skills. Lockpicking in particular becomes useless as a skill after you finish a quest that grants you an unbreakable lockpick.

That brings up another point: unbalanced skills. I had this problem in Morrowind too, though... most people will end up creating a new character and starting the game over after playing for a few hours, just because what sounds cool and useful in a three-line text description doesn't actually turn out to be what you expect. I guess my criticism comes down to a few things. First are skills that seem to just be useless. Obviously this includes weapons and spells that you don't use, but also things like Lockpicking. Next are skills that go up really quickly. I shouldn't complain, but, for example, I got my Stealth up to 100 very early on in the game, just because if it's a primary skill and you usually sneak, it will rocket higher. Finally are skills that affect the overall gameplay. I really regret not having picked Armorer as a primary skill; at the time, I had planned on avoiding combat and thought I could get by without needing a very high skill. In practice, though, that meant that I could not use enchanted weapons and armor (at least not for long - you need to pay others to repair them between quests if your skill is low). And without it being a primary skill, it went up sloooooooowly... I repaired everything I could, but by the end of the game I was just at skill level 37, far from journeyman level. Now, I could have paid for training... but that would require more leveling, and broken gameplay for me again. Anyways! I shouldn't complain too loudly, but I think they can definitely make improvements in Elder Scrolls V.

Some ideas were intriguing, but insufficiently developed. I loved getting companions who would follow me around; they come late in the game, but are very useful. That said, it's very hard to get a melee fighter as a companion, which would be much more useful to me. If you do get one, then they'll never repair their weapons or armor; after following you for long enough (assuming they survive), the weapon will break, and they'll resort to just using their fists. Mage companions don't have this problem, but they are extremely weak, and without having a melee fighter in the party, will quickly fall to your opponents. On the whole, while the follower system doesn't hold a candle to Bioware's RPGs, it does mark a nice improvement over the more solitary gameplay of Morrowind.

The overall scope of the game was as expansive and amazing as I had hoped. The actual main quest doesn't seem to take terribly long, but I spent months on the side quests before turning to it. It's a great system that allows people to be as obsessive or casual as they want, and play the game in whatever style they like the best. Just be careful not to level up too quickly.

Moving towards the meat of the game, let's finish with some


I'd complained earlier about the factions; it actually ended up being better than I had thought once I found the Dark Brotherhood and some other minor factions, but it still is a slight step down from Morrowind. A lot of the "factions" you join are really just quest rewards and don't have the same vast plotlines of the major factions.

One thing I really appreciated was how distinct each faction was. This can be seen in the types of quests they send you on, the rewards, the rules and the storyline. For example, most Fighters Guild quests involve some combination of reconnaissance and combat; every quest will give you a few hundred gold pieces; and the overall thrust of the plot has to do with repairing the maligned reputation of the Guild. In contrast, most Dark Brotherhood quests require deep infiltration and sudden deadly force; you are rewarded with rare magical items or occasional stat boosts; and the primary plot circles around identifying a traitor in the Brotherhood. The Mages Guild is an entirely different beast as well, with you running a variety of errands in the first half, then later gaining access to Arcane University and following a more structured quest line as you investigate the necromancer menace.

Thieves Guild was the most fun, of course. You have a standing quest called "Freelance Thievery" that just requires you to steal and fence stolen goods. The "real" quests are far more entertaining, and lead to some unique rewards.

For each guild, once you completely finish the quests and become head of the guild, you get some extra-special rewards. I think that the Mages Guild may be the coolest: you get access to an enchanted chest that can duplicate ingredients, and can order apprentice wizards to follow you. I was initially disappointed with the ultimate reward for the Thieves Guild, which was a single enchanted item; however, as I became more expert at how to use that item, I came to realize what a cool, game-changing system it was. The other two guilds include regular payments as part of their reward, but the sums are so minuscule that it does not seem worthwhile.

Most of the side quests are associated with factions, but there are a plethora of stand-alone quests and mini arcs. Each Daedric lord has a quest that reflects their own particular personality; Sheogorath and Sanguine's were the most entertaining. Each of those quests will grant an artifact with particular power or unusual abilities. There are a ton of random stand-alone quests as well, some of which are rather interesting. Early on I investigated a discount wholesaler in the Imperial City; stumbling across an abandoned farmhouse may lead to a search for a Lovecraftian unspeakable evil; and a kidnapping will force you to confront a ghost town's dark secrets. Again, I was stunned by the vast variety of content that's just floating out there, waiting for you to stumble across it. Even though I've "beaten" the game and all major faction arcs, I'm sure that there are plenty of quests out there that I just never found.

And last but not least, how was the game's story? For that, peek behind the curtain at some


The plot was quite good, although personally I have to give a slight edge to Morrowind. Still, Oblivion's tale does have the hallmarks of the truly great RPGs: A vast plot that feels rooted in history, requiring you to learn about the earlier ages of the world as you seek to confront the present threat, making your tasks feel like the culmination of an entire universe's history. The early assassination of the Emperor gives a good impetus for everything that follows, and the way that Oblivion gates continue to open throughout the game adds a sense of urgency and dynamism to the action.

In general, characters aren't as fully fleshed out as in Baldur's Gate (nearly a decade later, still the gold standard for a story-driven RPG), but the most important ones do carry sufficient gravitas and depth for their role. Martin is kind of a stock fantasy character, but a good one: the reluctant, noble person who resists leadership but eventually learns to embrace his role. Except for the climax, he feels much like an Aragorn archetype. The Blades are good as well, although honestly I liked their fortress even more... in all the Elder Scrolls games, the Blades are just a little bit TOO perfect, too pure and selfless to take seriously.

I was pleasantly surprised at the end of the game by the lack of treachery. All along, I had been convinced that Chancellor Ocato was secretly in league with Mehrunes Dagon, and at the critical moment would prevent us from lighting the dragonfires. Similarly, I kept expecting the ally in Paradise to turn me in, and was delighted to find that he could more than keep his own in a fight. So the endgame proved to be a bit more simple than I expected, but there's nothing wrong with simple. (Truthfully, I would have loved to face an ending like that in Planescape: Torment, where you actually have a wide variety of available ways to end the game, but that's a standard complaint I have with everything.)

Interestingly, the faction quests felt at least as strong as the main quest. In particular, I think that the Mages Guild plotline could have served perfectly well as the main plot for an Elder Scrolls game. It even had some parallels with the current one: the Necromancers are similar to the Mythic Dawn (in both cases, people drop out of civilized society to make contact with a dark evil that they try to bring into Tamriel); the King of Worms is roughly equivalent to Mehrunes Dagon; and the black soul gem ritual bears a large resemblance to the Mythic Dawn rituals. The early part of this faction's quests seemed relatively plodding, as you are forced to travel to each Mages Guild and perform tasks; but this does force you to get a feeling for the Guild's nature and health. It is interesting to compare the vibrancy and pride of Arcane University, the guild's center, with the bickering, laziness, and incompetence found in the outlying guild halls. The subplot with the Count of Skingrad, a secret vampire, adds another wrinkle to the guild's battle against the forces of the undead. Oh, and Hannibal Traven is a fine NPC, and has possibly the best voice actor in the game.

I think that the individual quests within the Thieves Guild were the most entertaining in the game, but the overall story felt a tad stale. It's yet another variation on Sleeping Beauty, the story of a nobleman who has fallen upon obscurity. Still, the personalities you meet are entertaining, and you do feel plugged into a fun, vast shadowy network.

Speaking of shadowy networks, my reaction to the Dark Brotherhood was quite similar to the Morag Tong in Morrowind. In both cases, my thoughts of "Wow, this is really cool!" battled with the queasy feeling in my stomach. The game makes no apologies: these are evil quests for evil characters. You must assassinate innocents or good people, often in macabre ways; however, the rewards for doing so are quite tempting. I do give Bethesda props for going all-out on this and not pulling their punches; the game is rated Mature, and the Dark Brotherhood alone earns that title. Some of the best quests in the entire game are for this faction. There's a delightful twist on a horror trope when you have to play the role of a serial killer in a house, killing the guests one by one and keeping suspicion from falling on yourself. The overall storyline here was fascinating as well. My one regret is that the eventual traitor is a stranger to you; the endgame would have been much more compelling if you were more personally vested in the other Speakers.

Fighters Guild... well, it was better than I expected. The individual quests were often dull or frustrating - not at all surprising, given the style of character I played. But the larger conflict against the up-and-coming Blackwood Company was well done. I was especially impressed with the quest where you infiltrate the Company and join them on a raid. As I was halfway through the process of slaughtering the goblins in a village, I got the sinking feeling that something was wrong... why weren't they fighting back? Sure enough, when you return to the village later and see the bodies of townspeople lying where you struck, it's a horrible feeling... it made me think of American soldiers fighting in Vietnam, and other places where the glories of heroic combat are abruptly plunged into the darkest pits of civilian massacre. I do think they glossed over the aftermath a little, but the moment itself will stand as a vivid memory to me.

So, taken as a whole, what is the story of Oblivion about? I think I can identify a couple of themes. On a personal level, it deals with taking responsibility and striving for what's important. This is most obvious in Martin's quest, as he comes to terms with the demands placed upon him; however, throughout the game there's a strong emphasis placed on sacrifice. Think of Hannibal Traven surrendering his soul to stop Mannimarco; or Oreyn accepting the humiliation of removal from the Guild as he strives to save it; even Lucien Lechance is, in a very real and grisly sense, "sacrificed" when he tries to cleanse the Dark Brotherhood. In all these cases, people must surrender rank or their very lives; in return, the organizations they have supported can survive.

On a more political level, it's interesting to think about the "invasion" aspect of the Oblivion gates. This becomes particularly intriguing after you enter Mankar Camoran's Paradise and learn from him that Tamriel itself is just another Plane of Oblivion, and that it is Mehrunes Dagon's rightful realm. To put it crudely, the player cannot accept that first possession to land means eternal ownership. Men and mer may be the original invaders, but it is their territory now, and you have every right to stand against the reconquista. The interplay between Daedra and Mythic Dawn is also worth pondering. Among the rare parts of the game that startled me, walking down a city street and passing a cheerful shopkeeper who suddenly pulled a knife and started attacking me ranks very high. It's a dramatic presentation of a fifth column rising in support of an invading force, sort of the mirror image of the insurgency we faced in Iraq. I don't think you can draw a direct parallel between this game and either the War on Terror or the Iraq War, but there are still some resonances when you consider the images of invasion, assaults on nations, the ruined city of Kvatch, and the subtle collaboration between military invaders and their civilian supporters.

So, again, I give a slight edge to Morrowind's story, which dealt with (to me) more interesting themes of pride and humility, but it sure ain't bad!

What's ahead for the future? My list of requests for the Elder Scrolls V includes:
  • More balanced and useful skills.
  • More interesting content for thieves.
  • More interesting and varied characters.
  • A better follower/party system.
  • Better leveling system that scales difficulty to combat prowess and not overall level.
  • More opportunities to make permanent impacts on the persistent world.
On the whole, then, I'm looking for tweaks and improvements. I'd say they have the core game down solid.

I still need to play the expansions, but this seems like a good time to take stock of where I landed at the end of this game. Some vital statistics:

My character was a Bosmer named Cirion. His class was a custom-made class called an "Elite Agent"; primary skills included Marksman, Security, Stealth, Speechcraft, Mysticism, Illusion, and Light Armor. By the end of the game I was a Listener in the Dark Brotherhood, Master of the Fighters Guild, Grand Champion of the Arena, Arch-Mage of the Mages Guild, Gray Fox of the Thieves Guild, a member of the Virtuous Blood, the Knights of the Thorn, the Knights of the White Stallion, and the Order of the Dragon. (I was also, briefly, in both the Mythic Dawn and the Blackwood Company.) My favorite faction was the Thieves Guild. At the end of the game, I was using a Glass Bow with either Steel, Silver, or Elven arrows; I wore all Elven armor, except I pull on Nocturnal's Cowl when in a dungeon or carrying out nefarious needs. (I WOULD wear more enchanted equipment, except for the aforementioned problem with my Armorer skill.) My most common spells cast were Restore Health, Life Detection, and either Starlight (early) or Night-Eye (later). I was level 14 at the end, though I'm sure I could have gone much higher by sleeping. Final Fame was 132 and Infamy was 31; actual Infamy would have been much higher, except that I didn't start the Dark Brotherhood until after finishing Thieves Guild, and wore the Cowl when collecting my rewards. My favorite store was the Copious Coinpurse in the Imperial City Market District; far behind in second place was the weaponry store in Anvil. My favorite city was probably Anvil, although I spent the most time in the Imperial City. I bought houses in Bruma, Chorrol, and Lleyawin, but didn't purchase many furnishings for any of them. By the end of the game I had nearly 200,000 surplus gold. That late in the game, the only use I could get from them was buying arrows and (hypothetically) training; that said, I think I may buy the Skingrad house and fully outfit it, just for the heck of it. I briefly became a vampire, but restored my game when I realized it wouldn't be much fun. I became a Master in Stealth, Marksman, and Illusion. I was an Expert in the remainder of my major skills, as well as Alchemy. I most wanted higher values in Armorer and Mercantile, both of which go up far too slowly. My favorite enemy was the Dremora Kynval. Well, unless the Sunken One counts as an enemy. My favorite companion was probably Mazoga the Orc, although keeping her alive was a pain. My favorite mod was the quest item leveler. I never bet on a match in the Arena. My highest stat was Agility, which (with enchantments) got above 90; my lowest stats were Strength and Endurance. I found a grand total of 14 Nirnroots, most stolen from houses. I was only arrested twice, both times for quests, and apparently somehow stole over 10,000 items (!). I had a single murder, to get into the Dark Brotherhood (others showed up on the Gray Fox's rap sheet), but a surprisingly high number of assaults. My highest bounty was only about 50 before Sanguine's quest, and several hundred after. I owned a grand total of two horses throughout the entire game: the Priory horse, which was apparently killed while I was clearing out a mine, and the Dark Brotherhood horse, which I never rode. My Speed was close to 100, so I rarely needed to use a horse to get anywhere or outrun anything.

All in all, I'm pretty content with how things ended up. I'll probably take a break from the game for a few months, possibly wait for the two expansions to drop in price, then plunge back into Cyrodiil. It's an amazing world, and I look forward to spending more time inside it.