Saturday, July 07, 2012

Something About You...

I don't normally do Challenges, mostly because I'm not that great at them. However, Battlechicken's July Challenge is one I'd have to go some to screw up. I need to talk about myself.

Actually, you know, that is often an issue. I don't do self-promotion very well. I used to be all out there, all the time in my youth, but then I learnt a harsh lesson. There is a time and a place for everything. Since the birth of my second child things have been decidedly different in my mind and across my life. Post Natal Depression highlighted issues I knew had existed well before my children were born but I refused to deal with, and I was forced to do an awful lot of re-assessment. As it transpires, I reckon that this was probably the best thing that could have happened (two car accidents during that time notwithstanding ^^) and now I can say with a fair deal of confidence that I am a far better person all round. So, there's one thing you didn't know about me. Here's some of my more notable highlights:

  • I once gave J. Michael Straczynski an award. He's quite tall :D
  • I designed an official website for a cult UK TV show, long before such things were popular. I went to Pinewood for the show's wrap party. The Bond fan in me squeed for weeks afterwards.
  • I've been on TV twice. I had an entire show on BBC2. It was only five minutes long, but still... ^^
  • I went to the US to see 'The Phantom Menace' the week it was released. So disappointed was I with what I saw that I went next door in the multiplex and saw 'The Mummy' to cheer me up. It was a far better film.
  • I won tickets to go to the Royal Premiere of 'ET' in London. Diana, Princess of Wales smiled at me.

If you want more personal stuff, you could ask me in the comments and I will consider an answer. Just be careful what you wish for... :P

Special Relativity

Science has had a bit of a revolutionary week. Suddenly we know what gives everything in the Universe that wants it the ability to possess mass. Last week, the existence of one particle was only speculation, and now we know it's real. That's pretty damned amazing.

Knowledge is a startling thing, and it is easy to forget that without it people can feel many things: angry, frustrated, disillusioned. Those people who are perceived to be more intelligent than others can be bullied for being 'different', but without those people the Universe would really be a staggeringly bland place, if we'd even discovered the fact we were in a Universe at all. Everything is relative, never forget this. You can't simply look at things in isolation, there always has to be the understanding that actually it's an infinite existence and, like it or not, everything is rather inextricably intertwined.

Hence we come to the game, to a comment left by Kurn on my Attunements thread and a series of exchanges on Twitter. @soetzufit this evening asked if people's experiences of the end of Cataclysm were the same as those at the end of Wrath. One of her comments immediately struck a chord:

Let us go back to the days of Vanilla. Depending on your experiences, it was many things. Most people agree that it was something rather special: the beginning of a game that would, one day, become a hugely significant experience for tens of millions of people worldwide. No-one knew that at the time, least of all Blizzard. What was apparent, and it shines through in so many other people's telling of 'their' Vanilla stories, was the way people first met and played together. Without Voice Chat, or addons, and in large groups which would be impossible to organise today. It was that way, of course, because that was the ONLY way. Those friendships that were forged, that (for many people) remain today, came from the those special moments... except they weren't then. Back then, that was the game. There was nothing to compare the experience to, no benchmarks except in other MMO's where nothing quite like this had ever happened. The 'universe' was still just this one small place with nothing else to commend it but the fact that individual experience shaped so much of most people's early history.

The Twitter comment stopped me in my tracks: the game changes, of course it does. It is altered to respond to the demands of those who play it, and wish to continue doing so. Blizzard have bent over backwards to make this happen in Pandaria, but still I see people saying this is not enough, and that we need a return to the days when we all had to learn for the first time. Except those individual perceptions of what made the game great are a long way from what the game has now become. Returning it to the previous state is impossible, because that has passed. History has come and gone. Learning from the past is what keeps Blizzard on top of its game, after all. Reinvention happens every two years or so, much to the annoyance of those people who'd love their game to remain the way they remember it... except that can't really happen. People change. Their priorities shift, their ability to play the game and do everything else... and here we see the bigger issue. The issue of the game's faults, of its failings or strengths, needs to be separated from what the players see as their experience of it. We need to go back to basic scientific principles to consider the real ramifications.

It has to be about facts.

We must put aside our emotional responses. We must forget the anger and the joy, the elation or defeat, even if they are key factors in what makes Warcraft such a significant experience. If you really want to understand why things change, then the basic facts are what we should deal in. Vanilla was clunky, badly made, it took time to do anything of note, and time is a luxury most people can ill afford to waste. When riding became too slow, we got flying mounts. Quests started to give us transport between hubs as standard. No longer did you need to travel to a Meeting Stone, LFG took you there instead. All of the improvements that have occurred are, in essence, quality of life upgrades via time management. If Blizzard want to make a quest line a challenge... it takes longer.

Time is what really matters.

Think back to the last occasion where you saw someone leave the game, and think about why they went. Did they spend too much time playing? Was there not enough time for other things? Did the person feel that the game was taking over parts of their life, or that other things were simply more significant in the overall scheme of things? In the inevitability of linear existence you make choices based on a myriad of different factors but it doesn't stop the clock from ticking. Everything has a relative place in your overall chronology, and the key to you remaining with the game as a part of your life has to be because it is able to fit into your life in a fashion that allows everything else to continue along with it. Blizzard know this, of course they do, and as time becomes ever more precious as you get older, whether it be with kids or life changes or simply just with the fact you are moving forward, the onus becomes not simply what you do, but how long it takes you to complete it.

Blizzard know those who'll farm until their fingers bleed. They know those people who'll log for raids 3 times a week. They know how many people farm herbs in Tol Barad. These facts are the key, the massive amount of data that is the game itself, the numbers and the spreadsheets and the data fields that are their facts, at their disposal. In Pandaria we will see faction rep run in a completely different way as a result. There'll be no need to get reputation for enhancing your gear. If you want to spend all your time wandering the land and finding lore you can do that too and this time you'll be rewarded for it because, I think you'll find, Blizzard worked out a way to make more people happy by spending as much time as they want playing. This could be the biggest masterstroke of all. If you want a Legendary this time, you have to go through to the end. Every patch. No exceptions. Blizzard understand the nature of time only too well, and they fully intend to exploit it.

In order there is always chaos. The idiots and the wasters and the fools remain, slowly being weeded out by bans and group pressure and the same methods of self-policing that have existed since Vanilla. The people who want to cause trouble simply will. Those who don't want to learn won't. Just because they start their journey now doesn't make any real difference: if they are lucky and meet other people who take the time to stop and think, who try to educate, then maybe some of them will be saved. Perhaps their experience will one day be remembered as fondly by them as those who began so long ago... the experiences are totally relative, after all. It depends where you begin the journey. What all of us need to remember is that the only way to really understand why things change and what makes things work is to divorce ourselves from the emotional issues and simply consider the facts. Blizzard has all of those at its disposal. If we think they're reading them wrong we tell them, and in most cases they go away, consider the situation, and realise that maybe they weren't considering everything as well as they could be.

Relative to everything else you could be playing right now, this game still has an awful lot going for it. We just need to remember to look at it in context.

Friday, July 06, 2012


You'd not think it now, but today has been all about precipitation. It started raining a little after 5am here and didn't stop until 2pm, and when your kids have a day off school that makes life a bit frustrating. However, its now a lot more like a July evening should be and while they are out making the most of what's left of the day, I can take the opportunity for a bit of a faff roundup. You get Madonna for free to boot, before she went all wibbly. This is my favourite Madge song, by the way. It's the bit at 2.39 that gets me EVERY TIME.

Anyway, I digress. Bullet Point Faff Update incoming!

  • Four alts have done a complete LFR run. Two more have Part Two still to do. Lowest iLevel is now 375 on the Horde Hunter. The Mogged Hunter lucked out in LFR2 by snagging BOTH APPROPRIATE WEAPONS. I've also managed a couple of decent upgrades , and will need to spend the weekend grinding mats for gems and required enhancements.
  • I have started to formulate grinding strategies on alts for cash, finding areas where I can combine a couple of tasks simultaneously.
  • I did a One Hour Treasure Pot Grind on P this morning, am going to do the same with the Mage Tailor later to see how much more cloth I can garner.
  • All my Dreamcloth is now on CD.
  • All my Transmutes are on CD.

All in all, despite not feeling 100%, I seem to have gotten quite a bit done... :D

Thursday, July 05, 2012

The More Things Change...

Sure, the old attunements were bad, are you claiming it is only possible to do long boring ones? They can be updated for 2012 without being the same as vanilla TBC, attunements should introduce players to playing their class well to progress this journey of character progression is much more engaging and enjoyable than the current 'see the content' journey.

There're almost infinite perceptions of what's considered "playing a class well". What might be acceptable for you as an individual, might not be even close to what should be acceptable for another player, or might be even way too much for a completely different player.

If you ask what's playing a class well to a hardcore PVP player, a Hardcore raider, a casual PVP player, a casual raider... you'll get different answers from all of them.

Sometimes, I wonder whether I'm just getting too old for all this.

A great deal has changed since Vanilla. This fact is a) unarguable and b) subject to massive debate, and herein lies the paradox which this game has become after seven years. To understand exactly how much HAS changed in that intervening period requires either an extensive session with Google or for you to have ACTUALLY BEEN THERE.

I said it. I even blew my font size up specially.

I'd say it is a fair bet the poster to whom the blue response is directed at above has been around as long as I have. They will have seen a lot come and go, and more significantly they will have put up with it all. I have, for over a year of game time, done the same thing... despite the moaning and the frustrations and the sometimes downright annoyance that I CANNOT DO THIS. After seven years of faffing I'm still utterly rubbish on certain days, regardless of how well I think I can play any of the classes at my disposal. This is where the argument of 'player education' ultimately falls down: every player, however awesome you/they/forums/Reddit may think they are, (can and) will have wank days.

That's the way it is.

Therefore, when the question of 'player education' comes up (and it does, time and again, on countless blogs I read, normally accompanied by common sense commentary and hands-in-the-air despair at people JUST BEING STUPID) I can't fault CM Draztal's argument. Trying to design the game to keep the maximum number of people happy is no mean feat, after all. Even though player numbers in raid instances may have dropped dramatically in the last few months, the player base is still here. I see them on Twitter discussing their latest projects, or rolling alts on new servers, or deciding in many cases to go play on the US and EU servers where they don't have toons because D3's Global Play option has expanded the world even more. I may spend a lot of my time when online in the daytime alone but that hasn't changed because there are less people, they just all work and I'm cheaper than child minders at home with kids. It was like that in Vanilla too, but back then things were a lot less about making life easier for players like me.

I'd like to think of myself as smart casual. I do the fluff stuff (pets, mounts, achievements) but I can bring the tools to the job when needed. I learnt not to stand in shit from Garr, not because it is cool to say that but because that is where I began my education. I started in MC, it could have been Tempest Keep or ICC but the fact is I wanted to play well because I felt an obligation to the other 39 people involved, even if seven of them were AFK at the time. Most of Vanilla really was wank back then too. People like to remember the past as a better place because it gives them license to complain about how slack standards have become and how the present is never as good as what you remember. Trust me, these people are not remembering the bigger picture.

Whatever Blizzard do to ensure as many bases as possible are covered, Pandaria is going to upset someone. What I will say, and this much has been obvious since testing began in beta, is the amount of complaint about what we will be getting has (at least to my eyes) been reassuringly small. When there have been flashpoints I've seen Blizzard come to the table with a great deal of willingness to listen and to address the issues. The account mounts about-face is one such example where Blizzard listened to criticism, and changed their stance. We know now we'll get a transitional patch to apply (I assume) new talent trees and glyphs which should give lots of people an opportunity to grasp their class before Pandas come to stay. For those of us who will be relearning our class for the fourth time, spare a thought for the many who may (and likely will) take longer than you to grasp their basics. Its a long learning curve, and after seven years I'm still not totally there...

Things weren't easier when there were attunements. Playing your class well isn't about being told how, its grasping the mechanics for yourself. Ultimately, whatever Pandaria drops in my lap, I reserve the right to whine vaguely about how hard this is and then grow up, before getting down to learning my trade all over again. That's what makes a good game, in my opinion, the ability to make you want to learn how to beat it, and to do so with a measure of style to boot.

Bring it on, Blizzard. I'm ready.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

I am (The Lore)

ADVISORY: This post discusses spoilers for the expansion, some of which may impair excitement and surprise of your Warcraft experience. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

2000AD or GTFO

One of the reasons I love Warcraft is the Lore.

I'm not great at remembering lots of details, but I'm pretty good at the Big Picture. When a conversation started up on Twitter earlier about how Pandaria fits into the 'Current Gaming Situation' I found myself thinking (and recalling) far more than I realised I had grasped from the last few months of absorbing beta information. Even if the Pandarans began life as a joke, their place in Warcraft 3 lore was long established. Let us return to the Third War to begin our story...

Without the Pandarens, there would be no Orgrimmar. It was with Chen Stormstout's help that Rexxar, Hero of the Horde was able to finally establish the Orc's stronghold in Durotar. The panda had only come to Kalimdor to find ingredients for his latest brew, but inadvertently found himself between the warring orcs and the humans over the settlement of... yes, you've guessed it, Theramore. It was during this period that Jaina's father died at the hands of the orcs. Stormstout remained staunchly neutral throughout, vanishing as mysteriously as he appeared...

...and the Orcs have never forgiven the Alliance for remaining in Theramore. Garrosh especially has become increasingly militaristic on Kalimdor, with the arrival of Deathwing corresponding to a distinct escalation in military activity down the eastern coasts of the Barrens and across the ravaged zone itself. I've run the 1-60 questlines in these areas and what is immediately apparent is the Horde's lack of regard for either life or land. Lots of people get blown up, thanks to the Goblin's arrival as allies. Everything points to Theramore as a flashpoint once again, and even if I didn't know that's exactly what's going to happen thanks to my time on the beta, it wouldn't be hard to guess.

Possibly a spoiler. Possibly just a bad hairdressing job. You decide.

Deathwing's extended flypast also had the effect of exposing Pandaria to the rest of Azeroth, covered as it was by a self-imposed shroud. This 'mist' was placed on the lands by the last great Pandaren Emperor in the days before the first sundering, but came at a cost... but that's not the entire story. When you begin your life as a Pandaren in the expansion it is not on your homeland...

Traditionally neutral, the fact that Pandarens take sides (for me at least) is of considerable significance. They do not initially come to join the battle between Alliance and Horde, they come to teach Azeroth of themselves and their home world, and to learn more about the mortal races. The two contrasting 'recruitment' cut scenes that a Panda will undertake (depending on what side you choose) show two military leaders with vastly differing agendas, of which pandas are simply a part. Instead of being a race with a grudge (as both the Worgen and the Goblins were) they arrive with a pretty blank slate. It is going to be your job to discover about their past, and from what I've seen of the beta, there's a lot of dark secrets to investigate.

There are plenty of great bloggers out there who are already putting in the hours with the more detailed lore speculation. I am clearly a shabby amateur in comparison to the @Shadesogrey and @_Rades of the world, whose dissections of what has happened and what could be to come are well worth taking time out to read with a cuppa and suitable amounts of reflection. However, if I can gather just this from a couple of months and 10 minutes with Google, it is apparent that even the most lazy lore lover could do a lot worse while we wait for the Expansion to actually arrive than go do some digging...

Just remember, once you've read it, you're spoiled, and some out there are worth coming to with the element of surprise. Tread carefully...

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

[TSW] My Money's on Norma

Don't mess with me. I have a homemade sword :D

It has been a long time coming, but finally we have a post about another MMO. You'll see any subsequent posts marked with [TSW] so if you want to skip them, you'll know what they are.

As I was away at the weekend I missed the official launch of The Secret World, but this morning I finally got to play for a couple of hours. I have to say, I'm rather taken by what I've seen. I'd already decided I would take the path of a Templar (you have three 'race' choices on entry, including the Illuminati and the Dragons) and I'd played a little of the beta to know how your character is introduced. The starting sequence is, I must admit, not the greatest of preludes into the world you will find yourself immersed in but it is not long before it abundantly apparent this isn't normal MMO territory any more. No fantasy worlds, no elves, but a distinct reality break. I find myself in London to begin my training but its a capitol that has a bloody great big Templar facility within it, that does not look out of place but feels strange.

In fact, that's a good metaphor to describe all of my early playtime: I know this is a game, but the foundation in reality, and its quite deliberate nature keeps me off balance. My character has been transformed by an insect, and now I wield power that I need to learn to understand, and then harness. The initial training mission does that rather well, and the end of the first sequence sent the hairs on the back of my neck up (whilst simultaneously reminding me of the Caverns of Time ^^) I have entered a world where my normal rules still apply, but in which I am now at a distinct advantage. The interface introduces everything at a measured and easily graspable pace (with videos to explain my skill choices) and I feel I have far more understanding of my first characters abilities and possibilities than I ever did when I rolled my first hunter in Azeroth.

I have finally escaped the gravity of training and, via the wonders of the World Tree (and some wonderfully-looking Steampunk-themed giant robots) have what passes for a hearthstone. Next stop: New England and Zombies. LOTS of zombies, and an introduction to the 'quest' system (they're missions) If I wasn't aware of what I've set myself up I can access a web browser INSIDE the game and I can automatically configure Facebook to report my progress. Yup, Toto, this most definitely isn't Azeroth any more...

I realise I've only made it as far as Elwynn, so really can't comment in too much detail on the mechanics of the game. However, I can say the following:

  • I have not been frustrated once
  • I can understand what I have to do without referring to a guide
  • The crafting system looks interesting (and owes more than a nod to Minecraft)
  • I haven't died yet (\o/)
  • I am really looking forward to seeing how all this pans out
  • I want to learn more about the world I am in

As yet I won't be dropping everything just to play TSW, but it doesn't mean that the potential isn't there because I think it is. I'm not a seasoned pro gamer, this is my 'training wheels' period after all, but I like what I see. There is distinct potential,  and I for one am glad I'm on the side of the good guys... or am I?

There is a lot to find out. I'm rather looking forward to the journey :D

If It's Tuesday...


I sat down last night with a large pile of Post-It notes and a plan.

I have a shiny new Warcraft 'book', in which I have hand-written a list of what I'd like to do and what I think is achievable before the Pandas arrive. Actually having goals on paper makes them more real than just in my head or on the PC, and it shows me (as I like my visual cues) exactly what I have left to do. This therefore gives me a really good idea of what there is I can still finish in game without a) dying of boredom and b) setting completely unrealistic goals. This means, I know (or have been reminded of) the following:

  • I have 11 L85's, geared between iLevels of 397 to 360. Two are as well dressed as it is possible to be considering current restrictions. Everyone else now has a clear idea of what items they need to be at the 378 'standard' I have decided on.
  • Four alts have enough Blossoms to make it worthwhile doing some flamework today and tomorrow to grab Captured Flames for storage.
  • I have three transmutes a day I'm not using. This will be remedied.
  • Many alts have secondary professions that need finishing. DON'T MENTION FISHING.

Some of my gearing requirements are fairly specific (weapons for two alts, trinkets for three) and with the two recently-dinged hunters there's enough slots that need replacing to make running LFG a better option initially to get raid ready. I faffed with the Pally last night and she's now at 83 and I realise that I'm probably going to need to get a spec that does some actual dps or die of old age before I hit max level. Needless to say, I'm working on it.

There is also a page of 'this might be an idea if you get really stuck' suggestions: in no particular order:

  • Look for missing recipes
  • Reach Level Two with either of my Vanity Guilds
  • Sort everyone's Glyphs out so they have them all learnt before Pandaria
  • Get more pets (especially Mechanical Chickens and BoP hard to find ones)
  • Take Tailor to finish Firelands Dailies so she can make EVEN MORE BAGS
  • Make Water Walking Potions

... plus there are many, many more. However, my first priority this morning is firing up The Secret World and getting started on a new character...

Monday, July 02, 2012

What to Do While We Wait For Pandas (TM)

You could make a chair out of Pandas. Hang on, someone's got there first... ^^

It may not come as a surprise to any of you to hear that I'm not a great fan of waiting for stuff.

I have however accepted (finally) that Blizzard's not going to rush the release of Mists. We won't get to see the Cinematic introduction until August 16th, and as it was seven weeks between the Cataclysm Cinematic and release... We could still get lucky, but part of me cannot help but thinking that Blizzard, when they have a plan, will not be dissuaded from their path. Other game releases are irrelevant, they'll release 'when they're ready'. When will that be then? 'Soon.'

I think we need summat to do while we wait :D

I was away this weekend and took the opportunity whilst away from the game to make some notes. There really are a ton of things that can be done, quite apart from the mundane or immediately obvious. There's also some RIDICULOUS IDEAS NO DON'T DO IT and we'll get to them at the end but first, let us deal with some basics:

  • Get the Family geared to an acceptable standard for Mists.

    Once we get to Pandaria, starting area quest rewards are ilevel 372. Currently running Hour of Twilight Heroics rewards 378, LFR slightly higher. I don't think it would be beyond the realms of practicality therefore to get everyone in 378 as standard. I am especially thinking of trinkets and weapons as high as possible, which would mean pushing everyone towards LFR if I can (yes, I'd do it for the good of the toons!) I'd also want to make sure that everyone is optimised as much as possible: Mr Robot for reforging, but possibly NOT blue gems for the lower end of the family. I can cut greens for slots in those people for whom raiding is not likely to happen, especially as gear is likely to be replaced quite quickly in the early weeks.

  • Set a 'realistic' gold goal for each alt.

    With the news that the Traveller's Yak will now set me back a whopping 120,000g before discounts I find myself thinking that if this is going to be a mount all my toons will benefit from, they all ought to contribute to the cost. To this end I intend to push every character to make 25,000g using their particular skills. This will a) give me some interesting articles for the blog and b) sharpen up my ability to turn over cash in a controlled fashion. I'll do my best not to use any addons (with the exception of Gatherer which frankly everyone with a gathering profession should own as standard) and I certainly won't be using any AH 'helpers' so hopefully those of you reading who struggle with gold making might be able to pick up some tips and tricks.

    If I can crack this (and assuming we do have a long wait for Mists) that would be enough to buy two Yaks with change for a couple of normal Yak Mounts on top :D

  • Build up an 'Item Pile' for sale in Mists.

    I believe the more savvy of gold makers call this stuff  'stock', but don't mistake me for someone who knows what they are doing :P The Black Market Auction House's siren song is already calling to me, and there's (now account-wide) Panther Mounts to consider. YES I KNOW I'M GOING TO NEED TONS OF CASH FOR MISTS, so I may as well be ready to cash in when the flood gates do finally burst open. I won't be selling my raw materials in those early weeks, so I'll need something...

I have plenty of gold ideas, some more unconventional than others. I'll stick my basic plan down here this week, and I'll be doing my best to capitalise on my sleepy server in the coming weeks to make sure everyone starts their push towards my aims. Right now, with the Darkmoon Faire in town, it is time to make sure everyone who could use the +5 hikes to their profession skills get them. There's also the matter of Midsummer to consider, with alts wandering about with blossoms which could be converted to pets, and Ice Chips possible in every Ahune bag....

Oh, and if things get really desperate, I could level more alts to max fishing. I have three now, with two others within 30 points of 525...

We could REALLY do with new content VERY SOON... ^^