Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wanna run a BG? Um, what time is it?

No, seriously.

I've some time off this week, so my AV runs have been split into two separate groups:  early morning and mid-afternoon.  And believe me, there's a huge difference in group personality between the two times of day.

The early morning runs are quieter with less chatter, and more attention paid to details.  Call outs are the norm, defense and back-caps are common, and you'd better run in a pack if you're a glass cannon (aka Mage).  People actually thank you for the Lock cookies, Feasts, and Rituals of Refreshment.  If you say "need 1-2 more to defend SHB", you'll actually have 1-2 (sometimes 3) toons appear from nowhere to assist in defense.

Mid afternoon, on the other hand, is an exercise in confirming stereotypes.

I've rushed in, taken Iceblood Tower, and then watch everyone else as they moved on en masse.

"Need 2-3 more to defend IBT."


When the inevitable backcap happens, a flood of recriminations spits over BG chat.

"You @#%&ing idiots!  What a fail group!"
"Somebody go back and get it!"
"Get it yourself, retard!"
"Doesn't matter, we can win pulling with two towers up."

When THAT strategy doesn't work, you get:

"What a fail group!"
"Yeah, healers suck!"
"You're tanking in Fury Spec, you idiot!"

Oh, and did I mention the 3-4 people who hang around the BG entrance, waiting for the free Honor?

Why the huge difference in group personality?

I can think of one reason:  the early morning runs aren't populated with the teens/college kids that the latter runs are.  After all, those folks are probably sleeping in until noon anyway.

If that's the case, then shouldn't the 5-man LFD runs mimic the BGs?  You know, I don't know, given that I haven't run LFD in ages, but it wouldn't shock me to find that out.  My experience from previous times, however, is that LFD is such a small sample and such a mixed bag that you never know what you'll get.  BGs, having larger numbers and are quixotically quicker than your average LFD run, tend to take on distinct group personalities.  And when those personalities change --due to an injection of teen hormones, for instance-- the result is noticeable.

Dealing with the mid-afternoon crowd isn't too difficult, just keep your expectations low and ignore most of BG chat.  Well, and also console yourself in the fact that the current AV queue time is 1-2 minutes.  At least you're not waiting 1/2 hour for LFD to pop.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

How to Feel Like an Old Fogey

It's the end-of-the-year rush on at work, so I've had less and less time the past week or so to actually jump on WoW and play a bit.  That said, I did get some good AV time in.

Since colleges in the U.S. are now on Winter Break, you can find an AV run fairly quickly at all hours of the day.  The drawback is that the BGs are populated with college (and to a lesser extent) high school kids.

Remember the old EDS commercials about herding cats?  No?  Here's a reminder:

That is what BGs during Winter Break are like.

All the more reason to find a friend and group up with them, even across servers.  Even in as big a sprawling BG as AV is, a group of three working in concert can be enough to turn the tide.

Now, who among my WoW friends gets up waaay early or has insomnia?  Hmmmm.....

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Two Sides to a Coin: Part 5 -- Alliances and Conclusions

We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately.
--Benjamin Franklin

WoW has a history of using organizations that welcome all races and factions to propel an overarching story to completion.  In Vanilla WoW with the Qiraji, there was the Cenarion Circle.  In Wrath, you have the Argent Crusade, the Ebon Blade, and the Ashen Verdict.  Cataclysm has brought the Earthen Ring to the forefront, and the Burning Crusade had the Shattered Sun Offensive.

Unlike the other groups from other storylines, the NPC component of the Shattered Sun is composed solely of Draenei and Sindorei, with the Naaru as a guiding hand.  The two races which drove the major storylines of Burning Crusade banded together at the Sha’tar’s request to lead the assault against Kael, Kil’Jaeden, and the Burning Legion.

Oh, all was not Pollyanna in racial relations on Quel’Danas.  There were the digs against each faction (“…Cryer.  Oh, I’m sorry, I meant Scryer.”), which provided a look behind the veneer of amicability.  I found the selection of Scryers to spy on Kael’s forces served a twofold purpose:  while a Blood Elf could spy upon other Blood Elves more easily, at the same time those Blood Elves could also be seen to be more expendable than Draenei.

Nevertheless, the Shattered Sun could not have succeeded without significant buy-in from both races.  You had to be able to trust the person next to you to do their job, whether Draenei or Sindorei, for without that trust the entire organization falls apart.

I’ve said before that I’ve wanted to see more ex-Argent Crusader involvement in a post-Wrath world, because a group that accepts everyone allows their members to see behind the faction/race to the individual.  When you’ve fought alongside someone of a different race or faction, it is difficult to see them as an enemy.  To my disappointment, the only big storyline that focused on this came out of the Ebon Blade and the Andorhal quest chains. 

Then again, we didn’t see anything come out of the Shattered Sun Offensive, either, but you still see Sindorei and Draenei training together and chatting around Shattrath.  You can still watch Lady Liadrin come before A’dal and redeem the Blood Knights.  You can watch children of both races playing together in the Lower City (the only place you’ll find Draenei and Sindorei kids in Azeroth outside of Children’s Week).


When I started this exploration, I figured I’d get a post or two out of it, nothing more.  I sure wasn’t expecting to get five, and yet here I am.

I hope these posts have given you some food for thought.  If you are on a RP server, maybe this will provide some hooks for your toon’s backstory.  (Guilty confession:  the first time I took Nevelanthana into Magister’s Terrace at-level and we downed Selin Fireheart, she walked over and kicked his corpse.  “You always were an arrogant ass, Selin,” she said.  And I don’t play on an RP server, either.)

One thing I would encourage people to do is to give the other side a try with an open mind.  I think that if you do, you might be surprised.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Two Sides to a Coin: Part 4 -- I'm No Angel

Listen, don't mention the war! I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it all right. [returns to the Germans] So! It's all forgotten now, and let's hear no more about it. So, that's two egg mayonnaise, a prawn Goebbels, a Hermann Goering, and four Colditz salads.
--Basil, Fawlty Towers

I’m sure that you’ve done some questing in the Cata zones, and you’ve come across Twilight’s Hammer minions doing Deathwing’s work.  Or maybe you’ve been in Scourge infected areas where the Cult of the Damned gathered.  Ever notice how the so-called “goody two shoes” of the Alliance is well represented?

Now, that’s no real surprise, given that Blizzard wants to demonstrate both the global nature of the threat faced (whether it be by Scourge or Deathwing), and how no race is immune to the siren song of power.

What is interesting, however, is the reception given Tuluun, the sole Broken at Azure Watch.  The sneers and contempt from the surrounding Draenei are striking, given the constant exhortations from random NPC Draenei to “Open your heart to the Light” or “Be kind to those less fortunate”.

Oh really?

To say the Draenei are a wee bit hypocritical here is an understatement.  However, this disconnect between words and actions, particularly concerning the Broken, are nothing new.

The Broken and the Lost Ones represent a conundrum for the Draenei:  they have been corrupted by Fel energies, and are unable to contact the Light.  For most Draenei, that is a worse fate than cutting off both arms and legs.  I’ve often wondered if the Draenei expected the Broken to commit suicide or something should that happen, but the quest chains don’t really say.  What picture they do paint, however, is one that shows the majority of Draenei are unable to relate to their ‘cousins’.

There is the obvious racist contempt found in various Draenic locations throughout Outland, yet the Draenei’s belief in racial superiority manifests itself in other ways.  In the Alliance-only quest chain in Zangarmarsh, a player attempts to convince the Feralfen tribe of Lost Ones to join with the Draenei, yet they refuse and instead want to forge their own destiny apart from being “Redeemed”, as Elder Kuruti put it.  When informed of the Lost Ones’ decision, Anchorite Ahuurn at Telredor is confused:  “They refused? They are welcome to choose their own path, of course, but their choice surprises me. I would think that all the Draenei, including the Broken and Lost Ones, would still remember that we're all a part of the same people.”

The same motivation that pushes the Anchorite to disguise a player as an Arakkoa blinds him to the reality that if you stopped treating the Lost Ones (and the Broken) as less than an equal, maybe you would get a more desirable result.  Not everyone who has been corrupted wants to be Redeemed, but if they do, they want to do it on their terms, not someone else'.


If the Draenei’s blind spot is their racism toward the Broken and Lost ones, the Sindorei’s blind spot is to their own personal addiction, magic.

Oh, they know about it.  Everybody and their brother knows about the Sindorei’s addiction to magic and how it helped lead Kael and Co. first to Outland and then into the arms of the Legion.  From practically the first moment a Blood Elf player begins to explore Sunstrider Isle, they are forced to deal with their magical addiction and the consequences of failure in the form of the Wretched.

And yet, if there’s magic to be found and/or exploited, the Sindorei are there.

If there’s an easy way to cure their addiction, there’s some Sindorei working on it.  Remember Magistrix Elosai, the exiled Blood Elf in pre-cata Thousand Needles, who was working on her own version of methadone to cure herself of her addiction?  In the end, she accelerated the addiction process, turning herself into one of the Wretched ala Jekyll and Hyde.

You’d think that with the recreation of the Sunwell the Sindorei wouldn’t need to seek out more magic to slake their thirst, but the Reliquary proves otherwise.  You can find them throughout the post-Cata Old World, hunting down titan and pre-Sundering relics and fighting off the Explorer’s League in the process.  Sure, they're taking the relics for "safe keeping"; they wouldn't even think of using the magic held inside for themselves...

The sense of denial in the Blood Elf actions makes me roll my eyes at times.  I’m often reminded of a drunk pounding down shots of bourbon, all the while proclaiming that “I have willpower!  I’m fine!  Just one more drink and I’m good.”  In that respect, at least some of the Felbloods are honest in their cravings, like when Selin Fireheart drains one of the nearby crystals in Magister’s Terrace:  “My hunger knows no bounds!”


In the end, these flaws in the BC races’ character serve to make them more realistic, although the temptation to stereotype all members of a race remains strong.  Both races aren’t perfect, and neither race should be perceived as such.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Two Sides to a Coin: Part 3 -- On the Brink of Oblivion

The dark times will pass.
--Blood Elf NPC saying

The Naaru have not forgotten us.
--Draenei NPC saying

When a new Blood Elf player quests through Eversong Woods, there are a few themes running through the zone.  The Amani trolls are on the move, the Wretched seek magic –any magic—to feed upon, and there are malfunctions with the existing Sindorei magics.  Oh yeah, and there’s the Scourge.

The Sindorei live with the Dead Scar plowing straight through their homeland, and the Scourge rise up and assault the outskirts of Silvermoon and Fairbreeze Village with regularity.  Such is the life of the Sindorei, struggling with the constant reminder that racial oblivion is only a few Rangers away.

On the flip side, Azuremyst Isle is like watching a World of Warcraft version of Swiss Family Robinson play out.  You have the shipwrecked Draenei, attempting to survive and create makeshift living arrangements.  There are the interactions with the native, mutating wildlife, and there are first contacts with the Furbolg, Night Elves, and Humans (who also have their own ship up for repairs).

Then there are the Blood Elves in Amman Vale, the Naga close to Odesyus’ Landing, and the traitor in the midst of Odesyus’ crew.

The Draenei are clinging to the edge of survival, and all it takes is a little push and they teeter over the edge.

Both races have suffered near extinction as the Burning Crusade opens, yet they have shown remarkable resilience.  The Draenei are in an alien world, putting the pieces back together and forging new friendships.  By contrast, the Sindorei are forsaking their old allegiances (and the Light) that they believe failed them in their hour of need, turning instead to the Thrall-led Horde who at least offered a very lukewarm hand of friendship.* 

Even in Outland itself, both races have the will to keep going.  The Draenei ruins scattering the landscape are testament to what they have lost, yet Shattrath is still alive.  For the Sindorei in the form of the Scryers, they not only have to fight the Legion and Illidan, but their own people in what amounts to a bloody civil war.


However, their resilience and bitter experience has also given both races a singular focus on defeating their enemies.

Forget about Velen and Ishanah.  Seriously.  No matter what they say, pay attention to the Draenei out in the field in the BC zones.**  With very rare exceptions, they zero in on the Sindorei, whether they are allied with Illidan, Kael/Burning Legion, or the Scryers.  In Bloodmyst Isle, the elements of the Burning Legion (the Satyr) and the Naga are merely secondary to the Blood Elf incursion; nothing else really matters.  The Draenei in Aldor Rise are constantly spying on the Scryers, expecting this whole “fealty to the Sha’tar” thing to be a Trojan Horse.  And it’s not like the Scryers haven’t noticed that distinct lack of acceptance, either; like the Arcanist Adyria says while you’re given the tour of Shattrath, “I'm a Scryer, I always watch what I say. More enemies than allies in this city, it seems.”

Can I blame the Draenei for being so suspicious?  No, not really.  It’s very hard to accept having to fight alongside your enemy, and the Aldor no More quest chain really hammers that point home.

While the Draenei are watching the Sindorei, the Sindorei/Scryers have their eyes on the Scourge and their former friends in Kael’s forces.  Circumstances won’t allow them to forget –not with Undead showing up at their doorstep every five minutes or so—and they have no inclination to do so anyway.  The focus of the entire Ghostlands quest chain, to kill the Scourged traitor Dar’Khan Drathir, serves as a reminder for a new player as to what the Sindorei had to go through.  (Well, as if the Eastern Plaguelands being effectively impassible was enough of one already, that is.  In a post-Cata Eastern-Plaguelands-is-no-longer-L60 world, it’s still way too dangerous to make a run for it.  Believe me, I tried.)  If you didn’t know any better, you’d think that the Blood Elf starting zones were designed for Wrath of the Lich King rather than for Burning Crusade.

Once a player gets to Outland and Shattrath, however, that focus turns almost completely on Kael’s forces.  Just like how the worst fights you get in are with siblings, the Scryers are locked in a do-or-die fight with the one group that knows them best:  their own kin.  The Scryers who set up shop in the Sanctum of the Stars next to the Kael led forces at the Path of Conquest did so by design.  Who better to watch and disrupt the plans of the Eclipsion forces than those who fought alongside them?  Just like in Netherstorm, who better to infiltrate the Sunfury forces there than their brethren?***

The specifics are different, but the results are the same.  You don’t see the Draenei or the Sindorei talking much about the Orcs (or Fel Orcs, for that matter) in Outland.  They both live in the present, against their very real enemies.  Ironically enough, such a focus and a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” helped with the creation of the Shattered Sun Offensive on Quel’Danas far more than any platitudes could have done.

*Yes, I’m well aware that the Sindorei abandoned the Alliance in favor of isolationism at the end of the Second War, but this is about their personal perceptions.  And besides, during the Third War, Garithos pretty much poisoned any residual feelings between the vast majority of Sindorei and the Alliance.  Never underestimate the power of prejudice.

**Quel’Danas excepted.

***There are some Scryer/Horde only quests in Netherstorm in which you infiltrate the mana forges to eavesdrop on the Sunfury leaders inside.  On the Alliance side, this is replaced by the Aldor No More quest chain.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Two Sides to a Coin: Part 2 -- The Corruption Story

“Ray, when someone asks you if you are a god, you say YES!” 
--Winston Zeddemore, Ghostbusters

The racial origins of the Draenei and Sindorei are well known, but one aspect of their history bears repeating:  were it not for the Burning Legion, neither would exist in their current form.

Certainly the Legion had a hand in shaping all of the Azerothian races, but their influence is most directly felt on the Elves and Eredar.  Were it not for the Legion, the Draenei would still be Eredar.  Maybe they wouldn’t be on Argus, as Sargeras doesn’t really like people saying ‘no’ to him, but the division would never have happened.  Likewise, the Elves might not be so dominant in Azeroth as they were during the rein of Azshara –the Old Gods would have seen to that—but there would be no Queldorei were it not for the Legion and the War of the Ancients.

The temptation and corruption of an individual/race/nation is a standard tale in SFF circles, and it is used repeatedly in WoW to great effect.  You could argue that with the frequency of its use, the corruption tale is a sort of Murphy’s Law in Azeroth:  anything that can be corrupted, will be corrupted.  The Eredar were corrupted, and those who refused the Gift of Sargeras fled, renaming themselves Draenei.  On Draenor, some Draenei were corrupted by the exposure to fel energies, becoming the Broken and Lost Ones.  The Elves were also corrupted multiple times –first most of the Highborne, then the Sindorei—and each time only a fraction of the race resisted corruption.*

Now, I kind of glossed over the division between the Queldorei and the Sindorei, since that division had less to do with the direct hand of the Legion and more with so-called ‘normal’ forms of division:  racism, addiction, and political disagreements.  Some of the Queldorei were holdovers from the disagreements on High Elven isolationism after the Second War, others refused to debase themselves by allying with Illidan and harnessing fel energies, while still others were not directly exposed to Garithos’ racism.

That split aside, the Burning Legion had a direct hand in forming the two BC races as they are seen today.  The main difference between the two races is that the Draenei’s corruption happened in the distant past, while the Sindorei’s corruption is revealed over the course of the Outland questlines.

A Draenei player has a big leg up on a Blood Elf player in this discovery process because Kael’s Blood Elves are their primary focus in the starting zones.  Blood Elf players don’t even know Draenei exist until they reach the Dark Portal and see one for the first time.**  A Sindorei player, remember, has a starting zone that says “we need to get out of here” and “AAAH!! The Scourge!!”  Outland is presented to a Blood Elf player as a Shangri-la, while a Draenei player knows that things are not well in the state of Denmark.

Once a player gets to Hellfire Peninsula, the discussions of the NPCs at Falcon Watch and the Temple of Telhamat prove to be very telling.  The Sindorei are already grumbling about how Outland was supposed to be a nicer place than it’s turned out to be, while the Draenei are trying to reconnect with the Broken and warning people to avoid Falcon Watch.  There’s disillusionment and caution, yet without focus.***  In Hellfire or Zangarmarsh, you don’t see non-allied Blood Elf NPCs as the enemy –even from the Horde side—until the conclusion of the Raging Colossi quests and you discover that Kael’Thas was behind the giant crystal shard.

It’s only when a player reaches Shattrath and is presented with the story of the Scryers that the corruption tale takes off, but the way the story is presented one could easily interpret Vorenthal’s vision as referring to the Sindorei’s association with Illidan rather than the Burning Legion.  The quest lines through Terokkar, Nagrand, and almost all of Shadowmoon continue to hide Kael’Thas’ involvement with the Legion, leading a player to believe that the Legion is merely attracted to the Draenei and the Fel Orcs, with Illidan as a nice bonus.

One could make a very successful argument that the Draenei’s suspicion of the Scryers was borne from experience –not necessarily on Draenor itself, but from many years of dealing with potential enemies.  However, given the frequency of how the corruption story plays out, why the Draenei fail to see its effect in the Scryers remains puzzling.  If the Draenei are immortal as they are hinted to be, then you’d think that the older ones at the very least would recognize what is before their eyes.  In a way, this disconnect is implied in the ‘Aldor no More’ quest line in Netherstorm, where the youthful Draenei Kaylaan has become disillusioned and is unable to call upon the Light.

In Netherstorm, the Socrethar’s Seat quest chain culminates the big reveal that Kael is in league with the Legion, and the side quests associated with it flesh out that even some Sindorei who didn’t join with the Scryers are refusing to associate with Kael anymore.  You would think that at this point that the Aldor would be more accepting of the Scryers, but that had to wait for the Quel’Danas/Sunwell expansion.

Nevertheless, a corruption story is a corruption story, and although it is cloaked in the complexities of allegiances to both Illidan and (for the Sindorei from Quel’Thalas) the Horde, the fall of the Sindorei remains a high point in the Burning Crusade quest lines.  The Quel’Thalas and Scryer Sindorei have discovered the fall of their brethren at the hands of the Burning Legion, just as the Eredar experienced eons ago. 

Did the Sindorei set themselves up for it?  Sure, just as you could argue quite successfully that the Eredar did as well.  Sargeras was no slouch, and the fallen Titan knew exactly what strings to pull to get a race such as the Eredar to ally with him.  Just as with the Sindorei, most of the Eredar willingly agreed to an alliance with the Burning Legion, and from the looks of it, they don’t exactly have buyer’s remorse.

*In the interest of completeness, the Orcs were corrupted multiple times as well, first the division that caused the break by the Mag’har, and the later division by the Frostwolf clan.  However, the Orcs were redeemed at the end of Warcraft III, which is out of the scope of this analysis.

**Unless they run into an Alliance player while out and about or they invade an Alliance settlement.

*** If anything, the Apothecary in Falcon Watch is the most repulsive character in the zone for the experimentation on a captured Draenei.

EtA:  Corrected a plural issue, and replaced "that" with "than".

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Two Sides to a Coin: Part 1 -- Introduction

“I hate the Space Goats.”

“Blood Elves are gay.”

“Draenei are stupid."

“BE women are designed just for oversexed teenagers.”

“Female Draenei are like looking at J-Lo with a tail.”

“Blood Elves aren’t real Horde.”

“I go out of my way to gank the Goats.”

“When I see a BE, I want to punch them.  Pretty Horde my ass.”

Sound familiar?

If you’ve played WoW any stretch of time, you come across a lot of strong feelings about the two Burning Crusade races.  Sure, there’s plenty of love for them out there, but there’s been just as much (if not more) hate.  These two races rarely seem to inspire a ‘meh’ reaction from the WoW crowd.

I’m a bit of an odd man out in that I not only play both races but I actually like both of them.  I recently finished the Loremaster of Outland achievement on Tomakan, and I can now share a belief that’s been growing on me the past year:  the two races have enough in common that they could be considered fraternal twins.

Yes, I know, this is a bit of a departure from a previous post of mine, but that post concerned the low level experiences of both races in the Old World.  That post still remains valid because Blizzard didn’t change things very much for both races in the post-Cata Old World.  As for the entire breadth of Draenei/Sindorei lore present in WoW, consider the following racial history:

  • Tempted by outside powers, the majority willingly turn to Darkness.  As a reward, they are granted tremendous power.  Those who refuse flee.
  • Finding a safe haven, they rebuild a semblance of their prior life.
  • Invaded and decimated by outside forces, what remains clings to life support.
  • These outside forces are the focus of their ire to the exclusion of almost all else.
  • Convinced of their superiority, the race has a blind spot the size of New Jersey.

Now, which race am I talking about?

Anyone?  Bueller?


What I intend to do the next few posts is expound upon how similar the two races are, so that maybe they can be seen in a different light.  I’m going to focus upon the in-game lore, because that is the lore that gets the biggest dissemination in WoW.  If you play WoW, you have access to the in-game lore; not everybody is going to read the books/comics or watch the DVDs from the BC Collector’s Edition.

Of course, I’m not finished with Alliance side Loremaster --I might miss a few isolated things in the post-Cata Old World-- but I’m reasonably confident that I’ve got most of the Draenei/Sindorei in-game lore covered.

Hopefully, these posts will help a player gain some insight into these two BC races, and encourage people to explore the in-game lore for both sides and come to their own conclusions.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Paizo to License Pathfinder MMO

Well, this is an entertaining development.

Paizo, the company that created the pencil and paper RPG Pathfinder*, has contracted with Goblinworks to create a sandbox MMO called Pathfinder Online.

Here's the link to the Paizo blog.

I suppose it wasn't too surprising that if World of Darkness and D&D found their way online that the current best selling PnP RPG would eventually get there, but I guess I was thinking that they weren't going to branch out in that direction.  However, there's a long time between here and any supposed release date; just ask World of Darkness.

*Known around RPG circles colloquially as D&D 3.75.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Musings for a Wednes Thursday

Given all of the (rather obvious) Cthulhu influence in the WoW-verse, I'm surprised that HP Lovecraft's estate hasn't been asking for a cut of the dough from WoW.  Well, if the estate went down that route, I guess they'd have to tackle Hentai too, and I'm not so sure I'd really want to see that brought up in a court of law.


You never know when a conversation might turn to MMOs.

I was in a meeting the other week when I was talking with a fellow employee.  He's always been the sober, stern type, the sort that if there was an entry for "dour" in the dictionary, his picture would be there.  He never talked about anything --anything-- other than work while I was within earshot, but he took one look at my laptop's screen and exclaimed "Ah ha... World of Warcraft!"

My screen is typically covered in IMs, server console windows, and a few other apps, but the telltale "W" in WarCraft from the background pic was visible at the top.  "You play?" I asked, surprised.

"Oh yeah, but I don't get the chance to play a lot.  I don't think I've ever gotten a character to max level.  You?"

"I've got a few at max level, but playing has been kind of low on my priority list these past few months."

He chuckled.  "Imagine that!"


I sometimes wonder about celebrity endorsements.

We're all familiar with the "What's Your Game?" series of WoW commercials, starring people such as Mr. T and William Shatner.  However, I hadn't realized just how long ago those ads were until I saw a commercial starring (among others) NBA player Derrick Rose for the new Assassin's Creed PS3 game. 

Do celebrity endorsements in the computer gaming world actually work?  To me, it seems more to highlight how mainstream computer gaming is than anything else, but maybe some people do pay attention to what games their favorite celebrities are playing.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Invisible Wall

It's been a while.

When I logged on the other day, I found not only some Halloween quests in my queue, but some Brewmaster stuff as well.  I hadn't played for an appreciable stretch of time in well over a month, and I still haven't logged into my Horde toons since, oh, early October.  This isn't due to any real lack of desire to play, but merely my credo of keeping my priorities straight.

My overall absence from the game is due to a combination of factors, but the primary ones can be summed up in two words:  family and work.  It was kind of a perfect storm, really, where work amped up right at the same time that the family got really busy, and I'd end up hitting the hay later and later at night.  Since I play early in the mornings, less time for sleep on the one end meant I had to make it up somewhere, and my WoW time suffered as a consequence.  About halfway through my disappearance from the servers, I finally admitted defeat and let my sub lapse for a little while.  Hell, if I wasn't on to play, why pay for it?

Well, this past week I finally resubbed and logged back in.

You know how Larisa over at PPI once talked about how she'd gone away (on vacation or something) and then came back to find that she couldn't remember how to play at all?  Well, that is no lie.  The first few battlegrounds I got into I swear I was doing little better than hitting a button --any button-- hoping it would score a hit.  About all I was good for was announcing when there were incs or taking away the enemy's attention on the healer.  If anyone had listened in on that first early morning, they'd have heard a steady stream of "no, TV comes after I get the 3 HP...  Dammit, I hit Exorcism again!  Stop it, you moron, use your CDs!  Now why the f*** did I blow both the trinket and Divine Shield?  He only hit you once!"

Times like this, you kind of wonder why I logged back in in the first place.

(Of course, talking to yourself is one of the first signs of senility, and as the Old Man around the WoW bloggers I frequent since Larisa retired, I'm sure I'm letting myself up for a bunch of retirement jokes.)

To be honest, I did kind of question myself a bit about resubbing.  After the first week or so, I found that I didn't miss it quite so much, and I could quite easily keep up with what was happening on the blogosphere and on the guild website without actually needing to login to the game.  Was it a sign of an addiction that I wanted to resub just because?

Maybe, but then again, maybe not.  Interacting in the blogosphere or on a website (or, yes, on Twitter) isn't the same as in-game interaction; there's a voyeuristic feel to reading about people's exploits or general chatter, and an unspoken but omnipresent barrier involved.  If you're not out there, interacting in-game, you're just a spectator.  Grab some chips and the remote, and you've got an evening in front of the tube watching a reality show.

But really, what is more interesting:  reading about people interacting in-game, or actually being in-game?

Some people (/cough Rades /cough) could write about killing ten fire elementals and turn it into epic prose, but the rest of us aren't so gifted.  We need context, we need grounding, we need the interaction itself to make our words come alive.  You can mention that "I finished my last Firelands dailies!" or "I finally got that Netherwing Drake!" and those who have a common reference can appreciate it.  If you don't have that, they're just so many electrons cluttering up the interwebs.

The irony is that I'm talking about playing in a virtual world when there are likely some people out there saying "Go outside!  Enjoy a physical world for a change!"  Well, yeah.  You've got a point.  And yes, I do go outside and enjoy the wilderness, such as it is in my part of the Midwest.  But this isn't a blog for my outdoors foibles, and it misses the point.

If I wanted to merely read about people playing WoW, that's all fine and good, but the fun of WoW is actually playing the game.  It's a shared experience.  People respond to the game --and the other players-- with the entire wide range of emotions because the game world is a living, breathing thing.  Perhaps WoW has more than it's share of detractors due to it being the 1000 lb gorilla in the MMO world, but if people didn't care, everyone would yawn.  MMOs live and die by the passion they stir in their players, and the players themselves are a large part of that.  When an MMO generates merely indifference, then the barbarians are at the gate.

As for myself, I decided to resub because I missed the interaction with friends and fellow bloggers/guildies online.  Sure, I tend to play when the servers aren't exactly busy (or are filled with insomniacs), but they're busy enough.  And the lunchtime crowd can be plenty fun too.

And naturally, right after I resubbed, I came down sick with a very nasty virus.  As I lay on the couch, dosed up with Robitussin and Ibuprofen, I kept muttering "....don't it just figure?"

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


...I'z busy right now.

Will post soon, but real life has been beating me with a clue stick.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

PvP "Hybrids"

The thing that I do find most intriguing is the concept of the kinda-sorta PvEish version of BGs.  Imagine the PvPish zones in Grizzly Hills, and instead of a loosely connected set of dailies, convert them into an "event", and that's what you'll get in this new PvP hybrid.

In practice, I'm not sure how well this will work, and whether phasing will do the job as needed.  Think of Tol Barad, and how that has dropped off like a rock.

I was thinking about this, and how the smarter thing that Blizz could do would be to create a PvP option where --if selected-- you'd buff up the non-Boss NPCs in Alterac Valley and add NPCs as needed in the other moderate to large BGs.  That way the NPCs wouldn't be a pushover, and you could theoretically turn AV back into the epic battle of old.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mists of Pandaria = PvP Land and Other Musings

The title is my first opinion in a nutshell.

If you don't like PvP, I suspect that you're not going to like this upcoming expansion quite so much.  PvP has been carrying the Alliance v. Horde conflict for quite a while now, and I don't expect that to change.

When the stated goal of an expansion is the conflict with the opposing faction, PvP will become more important, and possibly more important than raids.
The racials of a Pandaren are very interesting from a PvP standpoint too:
  • Bouncy: reduces fall damage by half.
  • Inner peace: double rested XP.
  • Gourmond: +15 to cooking.
  • Epicurean: double stats to food buffs.
  • Quaking Palm (from the live stream): Puts a target to sleep for three seconds.
Quaking Palm is very PvP oriented, as is Inner Peace.  (Just wait around the Capital City and queue for BGs.  Watch the XP rack up!)  Bouncy is kind of meh, and Gourmond and Epicurean equally favor PvE and PvP content.


If we complained about Outland being out of date before, I guess we ain't seen nothing yet.

Outland will now be more out of date than the Old World would have been when Cata dropped.  Northrend almost as bad, and the Old World will be filled with Deathwing references.


In case nobody was noticing, Inner Peace means that Pandaren will rocket through the leveling system.  Add a few heirlooms, guild perks, and....


My previous post about "quests-on-rails" and the effect of making the leveling secondary is going to be even more pronounced in the upcoming expansion.  When Blizz explicitly mentions that they're focusing more on max-level content for this expansion, then you know that leveling has taken a back seat to the WoW experience.


WoW Pokemon?  Are you kidding me?

Is Blizzard losing subs to Wizard 101 or something?

If there's something that's going to land on the cutting room floor before the game goes gold, I expect this will be the one to get the axe.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Changing Quest Design Philosophy

As I've previously documented, I've played around with a few other MMOs in addition to WoW.  Certainly WoW takes up the majority of my time, but I do like to putz around when the mood takes me.  While I've tinkered a little bit with Rift, my experiences are primarily with Lord of the Rings Online and Age of Conan.  Those two and WoW form the bulk of my MMO experience, and what I've noticed is that the quest emphasis on WoW has evolved in a direction that seems, well, more Diablo-like than anything else.

I've read on several occasions that you'll be able to finish Diablo III playing solo.  Yes, you can bring your friends along for the ride, but on the normal setting you should be able to beat the game all by your lonesome.  Now, take a look at how WoW's quest lines changed from pre to post Cata.  Sure, there was a lot --a lot!-- of meandering quest lines that got cleaned up, but think about what also changed:  any requirements for teaming up.

The last vestiges of group quests are found in the Outland and Northrend zones (including the BC racial starting areas).  The new post-Cata quest chains are all on rails, too: you have to do them in sequence, no exceptions.  This means you zip right along, heading straight up to L60.  Things get a wee bit diverted in Outland and Northrend with the lack of updates to those areas, but the L85 Express kicks right back into gear once you hit the Cata zones.

The first few times you level up to L85, that's not a big issue.  You can quest, you can run instances, you can run BGs.  You can even heavily incorporate herb gathering and mining into your leveling experience if you feel like it.  But after a while, you start to get tired of seeing the same zone in the same order again and again and again.  Yes, the phasing is cool, and you do have a visible impact on the world.  And yes, the quests-on-rails is a consequence of that design decision.  However, a side effect of it is the lack of group play when you're out questing in Azeroth.

Let's think about this for a moment.
  • A design that emphasizes --and encourages-- solo play until you get to max level.
  • Due to the speed of leveling, the emphasis isn't simply on playability, but on how quick you can get to max level.
  • The quests-on-rails environment is all about telling the story --the same story-- which is completely locked in to this expansion.  This means that if Blizz were to create another expansion that had an impact in the two main continents of Azeroth, this entire environment would have to be redone, the story rewritten.
Doesn't this all mean that the "new" Old World is set up to simply get players to max level as quickly as possible?  It sure feels like it.

I'll give Blizz the benefit of the doubt in that I'm sure they wanted to tell a good story that couldn't be told without a complete revamp of the Old World, but the law of unintended consequences has re-emphasized that all the action is at max level.  Being out in the field is a solo affair, and unless you play in a PvP realm, there's not a lot of interaction going on in Azeroth.

Now look, I know quite well you can turn off XP and goof around as much as you want.  But I have tried to slow down advancement on a few of my toons while still collecting XP, and unless you spend your time in zones far below your class, it's almost impossible to not level up while questing.  And fairly rapidly, at that.

A side effect of Blizz's current quest design philosophy is that it is so jarring to move from Azeroth to Outland and Northrend, where the quest-on-rails simply doesn't exist.  That's why the upcoming adjustments in leveling in Northrend became so necessary: they were the brake on the L85 Express.

However, never has this design philosophy been so evident as when you leave WoW and enter another MMO.

LOTRO is a lot like 'old style WoW':  there are mostly solo quests out there, and you can do them in any order you want (within reason, naturally).  You're not locked in all the time.  LOTRO also doesn't have a bunch of small quests as part of a large chain, either; it's all one long quest, but it's broken into sections without having to subdivide into mini-quests.  There are some group quests as well:  people hook up for those quests, and they're done ala pre-Cata WoW.  The leveling is at a more sedate pace, which matches the tone of the MMO.  Sure, people will want to play WoW because they loved the story found in the books and Warcraft I-III, but not as many as you might think.  In LOTRO, however, the story is the primary draw, and Turbine knows it.  If you spread out the pace of leveling you can immerse yourself more fully into Middle Earth, and you can be more social with friends.  End level raiding isn't their primary design emphasis.

Now Age of Conan...  That is a horse of a different color.

AoC does have a neat little trick called offline leveling that allows you to level more rapidly once you're past L30, which is perfect for those who choose to accelerate their movement to max level.  But if you choose to level using questing, you're in for a surprise.

Once you get past the Tortage starter area, the number of group quests really goes up.  Sure, you have a lot of individual quests to work on, but AoC practically pushes you into group cooperation with the way the zones are designed.  The Cimmerian area Connall's Valley has the Vanir deployed more like an instance than anything else, and their movements are a lot more detailed than I've seen in WoW.  As I've commented before on the AI, enemies are far more sensitive to nearby attacks and use real tactics to give themselves the best possible advantage.  For some quests it becomes absolutely necessary to work in a group, even if the quest itself isn't flagged as a group quest.

With AoC the focus is not only on creating a more demanding quest line, but one that encourages group cooperation.  AoC shares a similarity with LOTRO in that the journey is important enough to encourage immersion, but the approach to get people involved in the journey is different.  The net result, however, is that both MMOs slow down leveling; their devs don't focus the MMOs to getting the player to max level as quickly as possible.

This upcoming week, we'll hear about the new WoW expansion from Blizzcon --and if you don't think we'll hear something, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you-- and I wonder what Blizz will do to counteract the heavily story-laden Star Wars: The Old Republic juggernaut.  Will they orient themselves even more toward end-game raiding, or will they go off the quests-on-rails and change their quest focus again?  I guess we'll find out soon.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dancing With Myself

The inspiration for this post came from my perusal of the Badlands this morning, when I came across a Worgen Warrior off in a corner near Lethlor Canyon (not to be confused with the other Worgen who was doing the same Rhea's Egg questline as I was). 

This particular Warrior simply decided to start dancing.  Just for the hell of it.

I've been playing for a little over two years and I've seen some strange things, but this isn't what you'd expect to find at 5 AM.

Then again, is there ever a good time to be seeing strange stuff in WoW?

Like the guy who had his attacks set up via a macro so that he starts by yelling "Go go Power Rangers go go!"  (I've come across him twice via LFD back when I was on Stormscale.)

Or the Goblin with the name of Snookie --yes, in honor of that Snookie-- that would shout every minute or so: "Where's the beach?"

Compared to this stuff, I'm kind of an ol' fuddy duddy.  (And get offa my lawn, too!)  But you know, one of these days...

Like maybe I'll create a Hunter with a pet named Scooby just so I can yell in the Halls of Reflection "Zoinks!!!  Run, Scoob!!" 

Or maybe that Hunter will go around with a gun, saying "Say hello to my little friend!"

Or I'll level a Rogue so I can quote lines from the Barenaked Ladies' song "The Ninjas" in a BG.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Not Exactly Feeling the Love

I've been watching the class changes in the 4.3 PTR, and I'm less than thrilled.  The three class/specs that I play --Ret Pally, Frost Mage, and Affliction Warlock-- have either got a big ol' batch of nothing (Frost and Aff) or a slight mix of buffs and nerfs, ending up in an overall nerf (Ret).  (Druids have been hit by a nerf bat too, now that I think about it.)

What's enjoying the spotlight these days?  Holy Spec Pallys, for one.  Fire Mages, for another.  Destro Warlocks.  Warriors.  Shamans.  Holy and Disco Priests.  Hunters and DKs got a smattering of love, too.

It's still way early, but it's not looking so good at the moment.

Well, at least Rogues don't have anything new.

EtA:  OH!  The most important thing (at least for me) in the PTR is that the Alterac Blitz achievement will no longer be needed to get the Master of Alterac Valley meta-achievement.  I just don't see how one team can get the Blitz if you've got two groups of 40, especially since it takes a couple of minutes to go from one end of the BG to the other.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Guardian Cubs and Gaming the System

Given the imminent release of the Guardian Cub in the Blizz store, does that mean that the Guardian Mount (aka the glowing sheepdog) wasn't so annoying as the Sparkle Pony?  After all, you'd think that there would be a market for the Blizzard version of My Little Pony as a pet.

I've seen enough of the brouhaha concerning the saleability of the pet on the AH, I have to ask just what the big deal is.  It's just a pet; it's not raid tier gear.  Having one won't imbalance the game any more than someone paying for a faction change just to sell pets cross faction.  Either way, the money will indirectly go for gold.  Why don't you hear a hue and cry over that?

Yes, I do get the slippery slope argument, and how blatant the "money for gold" aspect is.  (And so is selling a copy of the Collectors' Edition of the game on eBay just to access the exclusive pet, but I digress.)  But as minor as this is, gaming the system is nothing new to WoW.

There are always methods to game a system.  The WoW gold farmers are one method; faction changes are another.  Automated auction software that has more in common with day trader software is a third.  Automated leveling software, which sells prospective buyers on "the game only really starts at max level", is another.

But in the end, what all these methods do is to get a player to a point in time, whether it's with a pet, or gold, or gear.  A pet is strictly vanity, but gold and gear are a different matter.  Whether they obtain it by cheating or not, the player is then expected to actually do something with their gear.  Or their gold.  Or their newly minted L85.  Just amassing the stuff doesn't mean a lot in WoW terms, because flashing bling and a few silver will get you an apple from the fruit vendor in Shattrath's Lower City.

Failed pugs and raids are littered with people who didn't know how to play their class in that environment.*  If you gamed the system to get into Firelands raiding, your (lack of) skill will be on display for all to see.  I've been in too many 5-mans wherein poor undergeared me out DPSed toons with the latest gear found on the AH for me to think that gear = skill, and I'm sure I'm not alone.

Besides, who really cares when you flaunt your dubiously obtained gear?*  After all, vanity gear is just around the corner, and people aren't going to care if you've got T20 gear on you because people will be too busy outfitting themselves in T2 gear instead.  I mean, there will be people who will raid wearing a wedding dress, I can guarantee it.

If after all that you're expecting me to say some platitude about how someone who games the system is only hurting themselves, well, I'm not.  Because that's not true.  People get their accounts hacked in the name of keeping gold farmers' coffers full.  Raids, BGs, and 5-mans fail because of these shenanigans.  Just because you can game the system doesn't mean you should.

But in the end, the Guardian Cub controversy is a tempest in a teapot which is distracting from the more insidious methods of gaming the system.  Stop worrying about the Cub, because that's not where the action will be.

*This is different from people who leveled their way to L85 and then tried to get into instances/raids/BGs.  For starters, they know a bit about the mechanics, just not how to play a toon in a group format.  The person who let a leveling service take care of their toon from 1-85 missed out on a lot of critical lessons on how a toon's abilities work.  And believe me, it shows; we all can spot the DPS who keeps Righteous Fury on when playing.

**Remember people showing off their e-peen and their proto drakes perched on the Dal fountain?  Do you remember their names?  I sure don't, and I doubt no more than a few people do.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Is there an Adult in the House?

When you reach that magical mark of L45, the grind through BGs suddenly becomes worth it.

I clicked to join the queue, waited a few minutes, and the pic of a Frostwolf Orc and Stormpike Guard Dwarf filled my screen.

"Ah...." I sighed in content.  "Alterac Valley.  The best BG in the game."

Then my Lock ported into the loading tunnel and was greeted by farts, belches, nose pickings, and some guy yelling "I'm running around naaaked!!!"

I was playing Alterac Valley with 39 teenagers.  Yay me.

(I mentioned this to Vidyala from Manalicious, who happened to be logged in at the time, and she said "Did you see that strip from The Oatmeal about that?  Oh wait, you posted that, didn't you?"  Art imitates life, I'm afraid.)


For my money, AV is a great learning Battleground, and probably the best starter BG for someone who has never tried BGs before but wanted to test them out.

Before anyone points out the value of creating an alt just to try Warsong Gulch at L10, yes, I'm aware of that as an option.  That method of getting your toes wet in BGs does have advantages, namely that you start to learn the PvP capabilities of your class at the beginner level, and your skill will grow over time as you gain in abilities.  However, starting at whatever level your toon is at (presumably max level or at least L45) and queuing for Alterac Valley has advantages too:
  • You are one of 40 players on your side.  If you screw up, odds are good that you're not going to drag down your team much at all.  With WSG (and to a lesser extent Arathi Basin and Eye of the Storm), one player's mistakes are far more costly to your side.  What this means is that in AV, you have a little bit of license to try things out and not worry about messing up too much.
  • In a large BG such as Alterac Valley, there will always be someone more poorly geared than you are.  From quest greens through the latest Ruthless Gladiator set, all types can find a home in AV.
  • AV has pretty standard strategies (zerg and turtle being the most common), so you don't have to know the intricacies of the BG to contribute.
  • There is always someone attempting to complete the external AV quests, particularly at the lower levels.  This kind of ties into my first point in that AV is forgiving enough that one or two people will wander off and not impact their team so much.  Now, I'm not talking about the in-BG quests you find to go and bring back gear to quest givers at each base --I haven't seen anyone do that in a long while-- but the "Capture a mine" and "Defend a tower" quests.  While this isn't a big deal in today's WoW, back in Vanilla it was a moderately big deal to get the trinkets from the Frostwolf or Stormpike factions, and completing the quests helped get some of that rep.  Besides, if you play Arathi Basin and you complete that starter quest, you're probably thinking "oh yeah, these BG quests aren't a problem."  Until you head into gnoll caverns and have to fight your way through against monsters 4 levels higher than you, that is.
  • When in doubt, help to capture a tower.  Graveyards are a bit trickier, because there are times when it makes more sense to not capture one, but towers are always ripe for picking.
  • The natural tendency of a newbie PvPer is to travel in a pack, and that is perfect for a big BG such as Alterac Valley.  Stick with the pack as much as you can, and you lessen the chance of getting jumped from behind.  For clothies, I can't stress this enough.  Rogues and Hunters love clothies, particularly stragglers.
  • If you're really lucky --or unlucky, based on how quickly you want to play the game-- you can witness the elemental summoning.  I haven't seen it myself, but it does happen from time to time, and there's nothing like having a raid level boss on your side.
  • Honor per game is better than almost all of the other BGs.  Since there are no vehicles to worry about ala Isle of Conquest or Strand of the Ancients, Alterac Valley is a big ol' backyard brawl.  The honor will add up very quickly, particularly in a series of quickly resolved zerg games.  And yes, that means that even if you lose you'll get some decent honor so that you can buy PvP gear more quickly.  (And yes, I meant quickly.  I did say it three times, no?)


Back in AV, I ignored the excesses of the hormone driven crowd and followed along until Snowfall Graveyard, when I peeled off to cap it.  A feral druid pulled in next to me and asked if I wanted to stay with him to defend it.

"No," I said.  "There's no need.  It's a disadvantage for the Horde to take this; we're better off going to Tower Point instead."

"Okay.  You lead."

We reached TP to find that the rest of the group had pushed on ahead, so we darted up the ramp and waited.  A priest arrived for support just as "the Horde have captured Snowfall Graveyard" scrolled on screen.

"They actually took the bait," I said.

"Yeah," the priest replied, "you know they're going to lose when they can't resist taking it from us."

A swarm of Hordies came charging up the ramps, and all we had to do was hold out for 20 seconds.  I was spamming every fear ability I had while the priest got knocked off the ramp.  The druid got two on him and I feared one away.  My succubus disabled one and Howl of Terror procced again.

10 seconds.

I got hit and stunned and quickly used my trinket in combo with Death Coil.  The feral had two more on him, and a Tauren Sunwalker came barreling in.

5 seconds.

I cast Fear.  The cast bar crawled across the screen.

"Come on....  Come on...."

The Sunwalker turned to the Feral just as I feared him.  He ran out the room.


The feral died.


Howl of Terror procced just as the two on the Feral turned to me.  I mashed the button so hard I was sure I broke the key.


A Judgement hammer struck me and left me with around 50 health left.

Boom!  Flames exploded around the tower, and I whooped as the Sunwalker finished me off.

"GJ on TP!" the designated tank hollered.

Ah, Alterac Valley.  Such fun indeed.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

We Don't Make the Class You Play... We Make the Class You Play Better*

 It's been said by quite a few internet pundits that the Paladin is the easiest of the WoW classes to play.  While I don't know whether that's the case --I could make a good argument for Arcane Mages taking that slot-- Ret Paladins are certainly one of the least "button heavy" classes to play.

One of the big knocks about Ret Paladins in Wrath was the lack of any real rotation.  The "rotation" a Ret Pally had was the equivalent of a giant game of Whack-a-Mole: whatever ability was off CD was the button you used.  Sure, there were a few choices here and there, but in this case perception was indeed reality.  Cata actually introduced a rotation (of sorts) to Ret, which boiled down to

Crusader Strike -> filler -> Crusader Strike -> filler -> Crusader Strike -> Templars Verdict

with a few items such as Inquisition, Zealotry, and Avenging Wrath inserted as needed.

This is not very button heavy.  (Stop laughing, Arcane!)

With Ret, once I took care of some basic keybindings and a few macros, there wasn't much to do.  Since I don't raid, I'm not too concerned about squeezing every last bit of DPS that I can out of my rotation.  I know the spec, so as long as I can work it well enough I'm fine.  Even a Frost Mage isn't that button heavy, particularly once the keybindings and macros are settled into place.  In PvP, it's all about CC and driving the other side batty.**

But when I started leveling that Warlock, my laissez-faire attitude hit a brick wall.

With Adelwulf, there were not only a lot of buttons, but you get them all launched at you in quick leveling succession.

By L20, I knew my old button system was in trouble.

By L30, it was just about untenable.  My fingers ached, and I knew that if I didn't overhaul my keys I'd get a serious case of carpal tunnel syndrome, not to mention being completely incompetent.

Of course, that meant that my old keybinding setup had to be thrown out the window, which is why I balked at the task for so long.  Muscle memory was going to be a bitch and a half while I settled into something reasonable. 

My first attempts went poorly.  Oh, I knew what I wanted from a Warlock angle so that was easy enough, but I didn't expect how much trouble it would be to reorganize my Ret keybindings into something I could use effectively.  In my first run after keybindings 2.00, I ran Q through AV.  Or rather, Q bubbled his way through AV.  I'd placed Divine Shield too close to a button I hit more often, and I was accidentally spamming DS the entire run.  Iteration 2.01 didn't go so well either, as every time Art of War procced I hit the wrong key and had to look away from the screen to figure out what I was doing wrong.

Not good.

Iterations 2.02 through 2.17 were incremental improvements until I finally got to the layout I liked.  Main attacks on top, debuff removal and cc stuff below that, and rarely used spells on the bottom.  There were individual quirks about my setup, like having Exorcism and Hammer of Justice use the same finger as before --but keys on different rows-- kept me from accidentally blowing a CD on something I wanted later.  (Trust me, it all makes sense in my mind.)

Turning to Neve, I balked.  PvP and PvE spell emphasis on a Frost Mage are different enough that I really didn't want to work on it.  Like ever.  But when you can't even find your main spells once you login, you have to do something.  And I'll be honest:  I haven't really finished the job of reorganizing Neve's keys into something that feels natural, even after iteration 2.13. 

Even that half baked key setup, however, is much easier on my hands.  My fingers don't ache after a couple of games of WSG like they used to.  And when I remember where everything is, I can hit the keys more quickly.

If it weren't for trying out that Warlock, I'd probably never have reworked all of this stuff.  Amazing how something good can come out of a class that wallows in its use of evil.

I do have one side effect of all this work, however:  my left pinkie has a disturbing tendency to accidentally hit the "Sleep" button on my keyboard***.  Talk about Imps and their tricks.  /grumble

*This is a wordplay on an old series of commercials for the chemical company BASF, whose tagline was "We don't make a lot of the products you buy, we make a lot the products you buy... better."  Here's a link to a 14 year old commercial via YouTube:  1997 BASF Ad

**If I've got at least three Alliance trying to DPS down Neve in WSG, I consider that I've done my job.  When 1/3 of your team is chasing after one person who isn't a FC, then the rest of your team is freed up to do the dirty work.

***Which, naturally, won't stay disabled.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Permanent Death and Other Musings

Okay, question time:  Was there ever a time when you cared about player death, and if so, when did you stop worrying about it?

I've been thinking about this question ever since I've started GMing a Savage Worlds campaign for my kids.  When I laid out the ground rules for the pulp-style campaign, one of them asked what happens if their character dies.  I told them that if a character dies, the character isn't coming back.  They'll have to start with a new character with an appropriate amount of experience for the group.

In an MMO such as WoW that concept of permanent character death goes against one of the core tenets of the game.  The entire point of raiding is to attempt, wipe, and attempt again until you manage to down the boss.  The raids, instances, and group quests are designed with that in mind.  If you're appropriately geared for one of these scenarios, there is a great likelihood of your toon dying at least once.  And don't get me started about PvP, given that the entire point of a lot of PvPing is to "gank before you are ganked."

However, trying to switch gears and play a pencil-and-paper RPG can be a bit jarring.  Even for my kids, who play Wizard 101 and the LEGO family of video games, your toon always came back.  To say that it doesn't, and you'll just have to live with it, took some getting used to.

(Or even trying to play an older CRPG such as Baldur's Gate I/II, where you learned to save right before each battle because if you lost your main character, it was game over.)

Coming from the "permanent death" background, it took me a good long while to get over my toons periodically dying.  Conservative play?  Ha!  I played at so glacial a pace that I didn't move into the Ghostlands from Eversong Forest until my toon was high enough level that all of the enemies were green in difficulty.  Obviously, I got over this playstyle  once I started getting ganked with regularity in (pre-Cata) Tarren Mill, but vestiges of the "take it very slow and don't ever ever ever rush in" style remain.

If I were a WoW player first, I'm not sure if I would ever make that leap to pencil-and-paper RPGs.  Not because of the technology, to be honest, but the fact that my (essentially) immortal toon created unrealistic expectations about what PNP gameplay was like.  However, I would also have expectations that the Big Bads in a PNP campaign would require specific capabilities to be used at specific times, and that my party members would be required to maintain a certain level of damage output.  That's a ludicrous expectation, but if you look at WoW or LOTRO or Rift or any of the other MMOs out there, this is the design reality.


In a pencil and paper RPG, story matters.

Sure, you've got your hack and slash campaign nuts out there --"You enter the door to the room and inside you find three red dragons!"-- but to the majority of people who play PNP RPGs, campaign plots as well as the interaction between PCs, NPCs, and the game world are a big part of why they play RPGs.

I'm sure there are plenty of other lore nuts out there playing WoW (Hi, Rades!), but I've known far more people who play WoW who really don't care too much about the story at all.  Just give them something to kill, and they're happy.  Raids?  BGs?  It's just a 2011 version of Wizard of Wor or Super Mario.

"Hey, so this is where Millhouse Manastorm got to!" I exclaimed when I found him in Deepholm on Neve.

"Who?" a guildie asked.

"The Gnome you ran into at the end of the Arcatraz, the one whom the Sha'tar sent you to rescue."

"lol Q, I don't care.  I just want to push buttons and kill things."

In a PNP RPG, however, it does matter because your party has to figure things out and decide what to do.  There's always a different way to skin a cat in a FTF RPG, while the technical limitations of an MMO dictate that you can't deviate from a specific quest goal.


Heard around Azeroth:


(Two clothies and Quintalan (me) reached the Alliance flag.  I'm the only plate wearer and we all have about the same Resilience, so I grabbed it.  We hit the tunnel just as a Prot Warrior made it to us.)

Warrior: Give it to the mage.

Mage: No!  Don't give it to me!  You take it!

I tried to drop the flag, but because I'd been screwing around with my key bindings --and let's face it, I rarely carry the flag in WSG at all-- I'd deleted that button by accident, and popping a bubble was on CD.

Warrior:  Come on, drop it!

Me:  I'm trying, my bindings are screwed up!

Mage:  Fuck it, just go!

We headed straight out the door and blasted our way through the first wave of Alliance players.  The second wave consisted of two Holy Pallies and two Rogues.  The Resto Druid with us did his best to keep me up, but I eventually died.  However, just as I died the Censure DoTs killed off the Rogue that was on me.  The Prot Warrior scooped up the flag and raced up our tunnel to cap it.

Me (from the graveyard): Well, that's one way to drop the flag.

Warrior:  Hey, it worked.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Just Like Old World Azshara

Back in April, I compared Burning Crusade with Cataclysm and hit upon what I felt was a weakness with Cata:  the lack of a continuing story for Goblins and Worgen.  I've spent the months since then exploring the Old World under the guise of leveling herbalism, and stopping for quest lines along the way.  The more I've explored the Old World, the more I've become convinced that those new races have been my biggest disappointment with the expansion.

The starting zones held so much promise, as did Silverpine and Azshara.  But outside of those zones, there's the occasional bone but nothing really meaty to dig into. 

From the starter zone, the next logical location for a newly minted Worgen was Darkshore.  And there was nothing there for the Worgen.  Oh, there was plenty going on --hey there, Malfurion-- but nothing much Worgen-centric.  Ashenvale, the center of so much old Worgen lore, only has a couple of Worgen present, who are completely interchangeable with any other race.  If you make it all the way down to Feralas, for a few brief moments it looks like the Worgen are going to have a lot to do with zone.  But the three Worgen there, just like in Ashenvale, could be substituted for Night Elves or another race entirely.  The fight with Cho'gall?  That was all Night Elf.

Ironically enough, if you want Worgen lore in Alliance heavy zones, you have to go to Duskwood and Raven Hill.  Or you could visit the contested Blasted Lands, where there's a Worgen encampment in the butt-end of the Azerothian universe.

The Goblins fare little better, but that's also due to having to share Azeroth with the Steamwheedle Cartel.  There's only so many places you can stick more goblins, although Blizz's love of Trolls seems to dispute that phenomenon.  Blizz seems to have solved some of the Bilgewater Cartel Goblin issues by getting rid of some of the Venture Company spots and replacing them with Bilgewater Cartel instead (like, say, Stonetalon).  But the Horde Goblins end up with only a few bones, and they get the "they're the Horde's Gnomes" treatment instead.

Both races have such great and complete beginnings that it's a real shame to see them so utterly forgotten once you leave the starting zones.  It's like seeing the Draenei and Blood Elves' treatment in the Old World (pre-Cata) only to reach Outland and....  there's nothing for them there.  Can you imagine Burning Crusade without those two races at the forefront of Outland, or the Death Knights (and Knights of the Ebon Blade) missing from Wrath?  Well, I can sure imagine Cata without either Worgen or Goblins, and it wouldn't be very different from what we have now at all.

Cata was ambitious, no doubt about it.  Reworking the Old World, adding two new races, incorporating new zones/storylines, and hefty rewrites of a lot of the class mechanics were a tall order.  And I'm not even counting the things that were left on the cutting room floor, such as releveling (aka grouping with lower level toons), the Path of the Titans, and Arathi Highlands.  But the Goblins and Worgen are a lot like the post-Cata Arathi Highlands; they're incomplete. 

New races are one of those core features of an expansion that once announced, you can't back out of.  While Path of the Titans and some other areas (flying in the BC starting areas) were on the optional side of things, once you say "we're going to have two new playable races!" you can't really backtrack without a sizable portion of the player base revolting.  A playable race becomes --by its very nature-- a core feature of an expansion. 

The least Blizz could have done is add more Worgen/Goblin content in the expansions to continue the story.  They certainly seem to have no trouble doing that with Trolls, so why not with the pride and joy of Cataclysm?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Note to Self...

...when a BG pops and you've just finished fending off the Dark Iron Dwarves at the Brewfest Grounds, you might want to take a pass on that BG.  Unless you like trying to run WSG completely smashed, that is.

"There'sh four in their basesh wif the efcsh ...hic!"

(It was entertaining right up until I died that first time, which gets rid of the "drunk" debuff.)


Some people are never satisfied.

This morning, I finished up a Strand of the Ancients run wherein we didn't lose a single demo, but people were still yelling "fail!" in BG chat right up until we finished.

As was traditional, I checked the stats at the end, and those people were the ones at the bottom who weren't healers.


Rades over at Orcish Army Knife had a brilliant idea for the Naked Dungeon Challenge, which got me to thinking.  Now that you can run wargames, why not have a naked BG run between two teams?

It sounded like a great idea, until I realized what it might end up like:  The Lingerie Football League

(Yes, it appears to exist.  No, it's not like the Women's Football Alliance, which is regular full contact American Football.  My sister-in-law played for a year on the Kentucky Karma as a WR, and she'll tell you that the women who play in that league don't mess around.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Humor Alert: The Oatmeal

An LJ friend (and MMO player) pointed me to this entry by the online comic The Oatmeal.  Given my playing habits, I can appreciate the humor:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Miscellaneous PvP Musings

The long slog through leveling an Affliction Warlock via battlegrounds has hit a turning point.

I finally reached L44 and gained access to Howl of Terror.

While it's not an immediate panacea, it does give me two instant cast fear spells in my arsenal, which you almost certainly need given that Kitty Druids and Rogues can down you in two strikes.  But being able to actually protect a flag carrier by scattering enemies for a brief moment in time is a wonderful feeling.

It's almost as much fun as that first time I reached out from beyond the grave and took out that Hunter who failed to shed my DoTs after he killed me.

Believe me, after having seen tons of losing fights in WSG, I'm happy for just about anything right now.


You can put the Paladin on the shelf, but you can't take the Paladin out of the player.

By now, you'd think that I'd have weaned myself off of my tendency to wade into the thick of a melee and blast everyone from point blank range.  On a plate wearer, that works great.  A clothie, not so much. 

But in extreme moments of "get the EFC! get the EFC!" or "zerg inc BS omg" my rationality goes out the window.

I've found the life of a Frost Mage can get very... entertaining... when you're running around like a nut using Cone of Cold and Frost Nova (and Deep Freeze) to cc everything in sight.  And at max level with a decent amount of PvP gear, you can drive the opposing faction batty.  I've had a Prot Warrior, a Priest, and a Rogue beating on Neve, yet I was still able to take out that Disco Priest before I bit it.  In a small BG such as Warsong Gulch, keeping 1/3 of the opposing faction occupied while your flag carrier zips on by is a great thing.

I'm looking forward to the day when I can hang in there a bit longer on my Lock, so I'm not just a glorified pin cushion.


I don't know what it was about today, but the 'bots were all over the place in the early morning BGs.

For example, I was on Neve in Eye of the Storm, holding down the Fel Reaver area.  I'd watch as the Spirit Healer timer popped, and two Tauren on kodos would ride up, keyboard turn around where the buff was, and head straight for the middle area.  A few minutes later, they'd be back.

Just when I was about to say something, a Night Elf Resto Druid rode up and attacked FR.  She laid down a healing circle and, well, not much else.  I quickly DPSed her down before any more Alliance showed up, and three minutes later she was back again.  After a while, I just shrugged.  At least nobody was yelling and screaming in BG chat, and the fight ended up being a very close one with the Alliance pulling it out in the end.
 I guess you could say that their 'bots beat our 'bots.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Where's a Tourniquet When you Need One?

Rohan over at Blessing of Kings has been pondering the differences in WoW's endgame between extended players (dedicated raiders) and transient players (occasional raiders and non-raiders).  While I acknowledge the differences between the groups, Rohan's suggestion to use the LFR tool --and make those fights easier-- doesn't sit well with me.  I couldn't put my finger on why until I saw the WoW login screen mentioning the Diablo 3 beta and I read Spink's post on the Diablo 3 Character Builds.

Blizz is losing some of its subscriber base, and I suspect it is the transients that are leaving in greater numbers.  Why?  Because of the changes Blizz has come out with lately:  the Call to Arms feature and the upcoming Looking for Raid tool.

Who benefits the most from Call to Arms?  The people who run instances.  Who are the majority of people running instances not named Zul these days?  Not the extended players; they've moved on.

Likewise, the LFR tool is targeted at a very specific group:  the transient who wants to be an extended player but can't due to other issues (can't raid when their guild has raid times, etc.)  It allows these transients to become extended by bypassing the old raid pugging mechanism with a minimal amount of fuss.

But what about those transients who want an endgame of their own, separate from extended-style raids?

That's where Diablo 3 comes in.

Diablo 3 is geared toward transient players, while WoW is designed for extended players.  Trying to create a separate endgame for transient players in WoW is like the proverbial square peg in a round hole, it just won't happen because the design philosophy is different.  In WoW, the entire point of endgame is the raid, and anything else is just not happening.  If you want to have a transient endgame, Blizzard has a nice software product just for you:  Diablo 3.

Sure, extended players will play Diablo 3 too, but the main target for the game are those transient players who want an endgame, something that WoW won't satisfy.

If Blizz can keep departing transient players within the Blizzard product line by selling them on Diablo 3, then Blizz'll be fine with that.  It all comes down to money, and as long as the money stays within the family, then things are good.  Blizz won't have to worry about declining subscriptions with WoW if Diablo 3 is a smashing success and people pay gobs of real money for items to use in the game.

Besides, there's always Titan.

EtA: Corrected a grammar issue in paragraph seven.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

It's All in the Mindset

The LOTRO experiment seems to have fizzled out.

Not that I'm complaining, mind you, but I am a bit disappointed.  The kids seemed to like interacting with Middle-earth well enough, but once they started the F2P version of LOTRO I started hearing the same complaints:
  • "I can't find the quest giver!"
  • "The buttons are too hard!"
  • "I can't see where I'm going!" [aka "I can't adjust the camera!"]
  • "My friends aren't on here.  I keep hearing about [fill in the blank] instead!"
Fixing those first three come with experience.  After all, I should know about the learning curve for an MMO.  Now that last one...

The Mash-up of Genres called Wizard 101

This was the first game I began hearing about from my kids, about how their friends are on it, it's free to play, and that it's a lot of fun.

What I heard was "blah blah blah KIDS ONLY blah blah blah," which set off alarm bells in my head.

Any place that advertises itself as a "safe place for kids" you have to be extra diligent with, because that's the sort of place that predators gravitate toward.  Are there predators on WoW?  Sure, but they have a harder time identifying their prey there.*  A place that is "kid friendly" is almost too good to be true from a predator's point of view, so as a parent you have to be extra vigilant to make sure that things remain (relatively) safe.

Wizard 101 addresses these issues by restricting what players can say via chat.  If your account identifies you as being below a certain age cutoff, for instance, you are limited to only some standard phrases.  You can still friend people and connect with them, but communication is minimal.  Above a certain age, you can chat normally, but certain phrases are replaced with a "..." if you are the incorrect age to read it.  Some words, as you can imagine, are completely off limits and won't appear at all in a chat session (they're marked red when you type).

This is all well and good, I suppose, until your kid creates an account and deliberately changes the age to be older than he or she really is.  That's when things can get a bit hairy, and adult supervision is needed to ensure that your kid isn't trying to subvert the system.  What was it that Winston Churchill once said about it being impossible to make something foolproof because fools were so ingenious?

These concerns aside, if you thought that toons looked pretty generic in WoW, you ain't seen nothing yet.

In Wizard 101, you enter a rather suspiciously Harry Potter-esque world as a young wizard --and yes, variation between toons is kept to a minimum as far as boy/girl tweaks.  So if you've seen one wizard, you've almost literally seen them all.  Your gear will change over the course of your time spent in Wizard 101, so if you want to look at least a little bit different, the gear is the way to go.

The game world has a feel of Harry Potter Meets Anime, with a dash of Technicolor brightness thrown in for good measure, so make of that what you will.

The gameplay is a bit of a weird combo between a regular MMO and Magic the Gathering.  You can pick up quests, run around the game area using the mouse, and do all sorts of generic things you're used to in an MMO.  The one major difference, however, is the combat system.  You initiate combat by running into an enemy (or dueling with a fellow player) and then you enter a magic circle.  Multiple allies and enemies can join the circle, so be careful how close you are to enemies before engaging.  When you fight, however, you fight using a deck of magic cards (hmm, sound familiar?) in which you play a different card each round to attack an opponent, buff yourself, heal yourself/others, or debuff an opponent.  The card's power is dictated by the land cards markers on the side of your dueling circle location.  You fight until one of you is defeated or retreats.

The game is F2P, but does have a subscription option which allows you access to a lot more of the game world.

Taking a page from WoW, the quest titles have a lot of quips in them.  Additionally, certain characters from some old fantasy novels (such as Dorothy Gale from The Wizard of OZ) are present in the game.

When I tried this MMO out, I kept wondering how on earth this company hasn't found itself sued by multiple groups yet, but time will tell.  The kids seem to find the game interesting enough, and they have schoolmates who play, so we'll see how long this lasts.

How to Ignore your Mouse in a few Easy Steps -- LEGO Universe

LEGO Universe recently jumped on the F2P model, opening up a limited section of its game to people with accounts.

Considering that the kids have quite a few of the LEGO PC games, it didn't shock me in the least that they wanted to try this game out.  What did surprise me was that you used an actual keyboard to maneuver around LEGO Universe instead of a gamepad.

Or a mouse, for that matter.

Whomever came up with the idea of using keyboard-only commands for LEGO Universe needs to get a swift kick in the butt.  Even my kids had major issues with that before they acclimatized themselves to using the keyboard commands.

You also don't have a lot of control over the camera, either.  You can tweak a few things, but like most of the regular LEGO games you're at the mercy of the camera's zoom capability.  The LEGO games give me a headache for that reason, and LEGO Universe was no exception.**

While I popped a couple of ibuprofen, I studied the game and the chat system.  Or lack thereof, in the case of the latter.

If you're taking advantage of F2P, you can't use chat.  Period.  Just get used to the idea that you can do a few basic emotes and that's it.  Supposedly LEGO Universe has active mods to act as police officers, but since you can't really do much in the F2P version of LEGO Universe, I'd not worry about that.

You also are very restricted in your name creation, although the LEGO minifig configuration is much better than what you get out of Wizard 101.

Okay, the LEGO minifigs are cute.  And the gameplay is a bit like what you find when you cross an MMO with one of the LEGO video games.  But can't these people just throw gamepad support on this game?  Or at least mouse support?

But what do I know; the kids find it fun enough.  And that the camera is on automatic seems to be fine with them too.

*Unless you get on Vent, of course.

**No, seriously.  I can't play FPS's either for that reason.  Dramamine helps, but it's not a panacea.