Saturday, December 15, 2012

This is the Day

Confidence is a wonderful thing, Gentle Readers. Never believe you cannot do something until you give it a spin: you may surprise yourself in the process. For instance, this week I have found myself with a sick child to deal with and therefore free time but without a great deal of in-game assistance. I am still stuck with a blue weapon, the Tempestuous Longbow, which is as good as I can now get outside LFR and 10 mans. Being 35 Justice Points short of the 1000 points I needed to upgrade it and without any Honor Points to convert, I was at a loose end.

The Full List. I know I can do a few of these... :D

I'd done some LFR and was armed with Mana Buns and a Healthstone, and I decided I'd see who was being offered as the Dalaran Weekly Raid Quest. I've already established via the Raiding with Leashes achievement that Noth, Anub'Rekhan and Patchwerk are doable, but I wasn't sure about my choice this week, Jaraxxus (btw, should Blizz be reading, the 3D boss portrait behind the questgiver hasn't matched now since 5.1, might wanna fix that.) Knowing that Naxx has become a formality and that the Trial of the Crusader is simply a step up, I reckoned I might give this week a go, especially as I'm in a pretty good place with my soloing skills right now.

In the end, the Northrend Beasts were harder...

I'm pretty proud of this achievement, especially as I spent a lot of the Yeti portion of the Beasts fight sub 30k health waiting desperately to bandage. The Snobolds were annoying but not desperately so, and putting the two Jormungar worms together and aoe-ing with traps paid significant dividends. Jaraxxus was easy, and there was no need to worry about adds with a good lump of Stampede burst and my trusty Army of Megagoats (TM) Best of all, I did it on my own.

L25 Guild Bonuses ftw.

I'd forgotten the benefit of living in a max level Guild, and the bonus points I get at as a result. My bow is now as upgraded as it will ever be without LFR GIVING ME A BREAK. However, that's not really an issue when I can hold my own as I can currently. I'm still getting the upgrades too, even if I'm not able to get the drops when I am raiding. The Klaxxi are finally Exalted (as of last night) which means my Peculiar Signet is replaced and (ironically) it is only my weapon that prevents me from snagging Mystically Epic. No matter, it'll happen when it happens.

While we wait, here's a picture of some mid-air scorpids from the Dread Wastes.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are Floating in Space...

Friday, December 14, 2012

Short People

Unsurprisingly, this song caused a bit of a fuss at the time.
This man now sings songs for Disney :p

You're going to have to go with me on this one.

Yesterday, Grandpappy Frostheim decided to sit down and tell everyone why The Burning Crusade sucked. Ironically he spends the last third of his tirade in a Disengage-worthy about-face and tells us about how awesome TBC was in relation to those who choose to diss Outland for their own nefarious ends. I don't blame him however, because 10 million players after eight years should be an indicator (if it was needed) that this game hasn't shot itself anywhere seriously since 2006, despite some pretty Darwin Award-esque moments of perceived stupidity. Frostheim's only doing what happens across the community with frightening regularity, especially when meeting new players in social situations for the first time. There's always going to be THAT discussion, between like-minded Warcraft players, normally accompanied by a good meal and some alcohol (with apologies to teetotaller players) Then the truths tend to surface: who's playing the best class, what's wrong with PvP, which Expansion was the best...

Except none of these expansions have been the best. There, I said it. How can I be so confident I'm correctly asserting myself? That's where the video comes in.

Back in 1977, Randy Newman wrote 'Short People'. He had firmly made a name for himself as a bit of a rebel but was still hugely regarded in the music industry, and this album was full of controversial story-telling, quite the departure from the normal musical fare of the time. I suspect he had absolutely no idea that he would go on to win two Oscars for his score to the film 'Ragtime' in 1981, or that he would then go on to become one of the most respected and successful film composers in history. His most famous work? It has to be a song from a cartoon about a toy cowboy and a toy spaceman. No, that's not it... his work on Pleasantville is nothing short of brilliant. Oh, and remember that this is the man who wrote 'Sail Away' and 'Louisiana 1927'... You see, the thing is with anyone who's continuing to work at their particular craft is simple. You can't judge their best work until they stop.

They've not done yet.

The same is true with Warcraft. The difference between the game and a composer, or an artist, or indeed anyone who becomes notorious for a particular body of work is that there is the chance that one day, it will be over. Either they stop doing it, or time is called and they're off to become one with the Universe. Everything has a logical end unless, of course, you work in Hollywood where you can expect your franchise to be rebooted more times than an Amiga crashed with a Guru Meditation error. For now Warcraft's not on the iPhone or available in an Emulator, and while that remains the case I think it's not the time to start trying to work out what's been the best or worst of anything. One day, I am sure, there will be the opportunity to sit back, light a roaring fire and stroke our collective superfluous body hair as we decide what the Glory Days of Warcraft really were. Right now, I think there are far better things to be doing with our time than comparing who's the Big Kahuna in Expansion terms.

This, of course, does not make for conflict, which undoubtedly is a bigger draw in the long run than 15 different reboots of Superman (no I don't know how many there have been but you can feel free to correct me here.) Having so many versions of the same basic story allows people to hold one up against the other, and comparison is a game the entire family can play. I know I frustrate people when asked to name my favourite X or the best Y but I know well enough in my own mind how things play out. Papa Frostheim says so himself in his opening monologue: TBC was great for some people because that's when their story began. The entry point to any particular shared experience has an enormous amount of significance. After all, if you came in at Episode Four of Star Wars and not at Episode One, your grasp of the experience will differ vastly, and is likely to make the concept of an Episode Seven... well, I think you get the point. Not only are things not done, everyone has a different place where they press 'Start.' It is very hard to truly be objective without a bigger picture.

What people fail to grasp, when this kind of comparison exercise takes place, is the significance of context. I've deliberately peppered this post with a large cross-section of references that work in my own particular context: you, of course, will have your own. Once you factor all that in and then you add Warcraft into the mix, I find it amazing that anyone can seriously pronounce with any measure of certainty that ANY expansion holds Dibs on being best. We can all agree on where Blizzard went wrong  because, as a rule, they admit that themselves. No-one has at any point been able to give a definitive reason why the game continues to be as hugely successful as it undoubtedly is, and that has to be tied up with the fact that it appeals to so many people in such vastly different ways. I think it might be an idea that those who feel they have The Answer remember that 6 x 9 = 42. Everyone can be both right and wrong, because it's their interpretation that counts.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have holes in my Randy Newman back catalogue to address...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Pet Sounds


Cast your mind back a while, where you would have found me lamenting the complete lack of Silithid Hatchlings during a Sandstorm. It appears that my concerns were not entirely unjustified. In fact, in the December 10th list of game hotfixes, the following popped up:

Screenie from Wowhead. Joy unbounded is model's own.

I was in Silithus last night, as it was reset night, in an attempt to track down an Infinite Whelpling. Hovering over the entrance to the Caverns of Time, the arrival of the Sandstorm immediately alerted me that something was up. The graphic effect seemed different, more obvious, and I was immediately filled with a sense of optimism. Yes, they have increased both the numbers and the spawn rates, and there were sufficient pets up for me to eventually find and snare the Rare above, who I feel is now appropriately named. Not only was I able to get one but several Guildies also came in and did the same (proving again that Twitter as a communication tool is pretty damn awesome.) Add to that the Uncommon Infinite Whelpling I found and, all in all, last night was pretty satisfying.

However, a lot of that isn't about what I got, but what I helped someone else do.

My Wee Dwarf Mate. She's ACE.

Last night I helped one of my oldest and dearest in-game friends not only complete AQ40 and BWL for the first time, but also sweep up a ton of the Raiding with Leashes pets. Sadly the former refused to relinquish ANY Battle Pets but it did give me a chance to work on positioning and approach to the fights from last week. It appears that certain people have doubted my assertion that the Twin Emps are soloable because they can't do them: I have nothing to gain by lying here. Needless to say, this week I did have help, and this is likely to be the case until such times both me and the Wee Priestie own the pet these guys drop. Last week, I was able to solo them. Your class may vary. It was a good night for Mogging items, and Nefarion was decent enough to drop an Orb of Deception (always a popular AH item) which prompted me to consider what happens if, as a Panda, you use one? Is it just a change of outfit for five minutes, or does (as ‏@SocoWow suggested on Twitter) the game in fact implode? I suspect I'll be off to Wowhead shortly to find the answer... :D

Needless to say, the Sandstorm Incident makes me think that Blizzard is clearly listening to the concerns of the Battling Community (yes, there is one, stop laughing)  nd that this might in turn lead to improvements in other areas where spawn rates are at issue. Storm Peaks, I'm looking at you now...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Looking for Changes

What I'm playing with. Is it flexible enough?

There has been some discussion in the Hunter community over the last few days over the issue of playability: do we have too many buttons to press? Speaking with my (incredibly stylish) Hunter hat on, I don't think the number of buttons is the problem. After all, I have played a large number of classes over the years and most of them have a lot of stuff you might need to use at any given point for a particular fight.

I think the interface might be the real problem.

I am aware that a great number of people still play with the default layout. The problem is, the basic composition of that particular beast has changed very little since the game was first introduced. More spells have appeared, but there's been no real provision for their accommodation, hence why custom interface mods are as popular as they undoubtedly are. Ironically Blizzard have embraced changes like combat text and spell alerts with surprising ease, mostly (I suspect) because they are a benefit to everyone and don't actually change the basic 'feel' of your screen. This is where I have to remember that I'm only one in (probably over) ten million people playing this game, and for many of them changing that most basic of layouts could be akin to completely destroying their game experience.

So, what could Blizzard do to improve the quality of life for those of us struggling to find a way to have all our abilities to hand?

One way that springs to mind would be allowing more abilities to share a joint CD, which works when you're playing a BM Hunter (Intimidation/Bestial Wrath) and allows the use of Macros to combine abilities. The problem there of course comes with people who don't understand how fabulous macros can be, and the need when designing a game to default to simplicity wherever possible. Adding an extra couple of rows of interface 'buttons' sounds like a really simple idea until you consider that some people play on small screens that are already full with the default layout and that certain specs need to provision buttons for different forms (looks at Rogues and Druids) It really is a minefield for anyone considering any kind of major change, and it's also a consideration that the 'default' screen is almost iconic in itself. What are the other options?

You know, I'm not sure there should be any.

Part of any gaming 'challenge' is the player's ability to adapt themselves to what is being asked of them from the basic game mechanics. The customisation that UI addons give us allows a huge amount of individual choice, far beyond what Blizzard would ever be able to offer because, to make the game work as well as it does, there has to be a standard. The Basic UI has to exist for people to fiddle with it, the indisputable foundation on which everything else can be built and bolted onto. If people are frustrated enough with what they are given, they use their own impetus to go and change things, and I think this is something Blizzard has come to rely on. They have been smart enough over the years to 'cherry-pick' the best addons that have appeared and integrate them into their own UI to help the basic UI experience to be more rewarding and informative. I don't think we should expect Blizzard to change anything: that's our job.

There has been a consistent undertone over the years that the game is being slowly and systematically 'dumbed down' to accommodate a larger (potential) player base. Ask anyone who had to cope with the first iteration of Talent Trees and I suspect they'll tell you that sometimes choice is a dangerous thing: once someone decides that 'that build' is the best for DPS you'll have a hard time justifying playing with anything else. Again this comes down to the irrefutable fact that most computer games are about crunching numbers, and it is the big numbers that most are interested in duplicating. I am not sure I want less choice in what I can do with my Hunter: in fact, I'd like more. I'd love the opportunity to act as a functional Off-tank with my pet, for instance (as I suspect would a lot of Warlocks) I'd love to have the option to dual wield pistols for close-quarter combat and perhaps swap to a ranged weapon when the situation demanded it. I don't want anyone taking any of my abilities away from me, so I am in a position where I will adapt to what needs to be done.

If something is to difficult, you are faced with a fairly simple choice: you adapt, or you don't. I don't think that 'dumbing down' is ever the right answer in situations like this either: you will benefit in the long term from challenges far more than will ever be possible having only a few things to do that quickly become repetitive and carry the chance that you may then lose interest altogether. I think Hunters are in a good place right now, and the challenge becomes not Blizzard's, but ours. If people want to look for change, start with not what is on the screen, but what sits beyond it...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Turn To Stone

Chances of ever having FIVE? Slim to none ^^

5.1 introduced the concept of the Battle Stone to Pet Collectors: there are two varieties. There's the one for 1000 JP from the Valor Guy in Townlong (which upgrades anything below Uncommon) and then there's this fella and it's sub-class accompanists. The Battle Stone is particularly awesome because a) it's bind-free (the class specifics aren't) and b) it's BIND FREE SO YOU CAN SELL IT.

Most people have agreed that the 1000 JP version is pretty much a waste of time if you can upgrade a specific pet to Rare in one hop. These people are clearly not aware of the drop rate of the Blue stones, and unless something changes drastically between here and the next patch, these could be a decent way of padding out your Pet Battle Score your Pet Interface if all you have is a poor quality Mininfernal. Finding Flawless Stones is pretty straightforward:

1. Fight a Trainer and hope one drops in your reward bag
2. Fight in the Wild and hope one drops when you win a fight

I've been battling daily since 5.1 was released and I've had FOUR: one from bags and three from fights (you'll find the stones relate to the family type you've been battling) of which only one was a Flawless without a class bind. At this point, the RNG turns round and throws a bloody huge bag of poo at me (as is often the case in these situations) and I have to accept that there is no hard and fast way of getting them to drop, ANYWHERE. What is there to do therefore if, like me, you're looking for 75 L25 Rares in the quickest time possible and without selling your soul to Blizzard, AGAIN?

I've had a few ideas. It seems only fair to share them with you at this point.

A: Replace and Upgrade Wherever Possible.

One of the great advantages of the now upgraded Blizzard Interface is being able to see pet quality and stats as you fight. This allows the canny to take a moment and check whether pets in any random fight could afford upgrade potential.[*] Remember that many zones aren't just home to indigenous species, there are generic pet types that exist across Azeroth and beyond and often there could be a potential to upgrade a lower level rare to boot. After all, a L5 Cat will take considerably longer to level than a L19 one. Unless you keybind your pet interface to a key (thanks to Gorestalker US-Kargath for that handy tip) it might be an idea to have your mobile device to hand with a list of what pets you possess and whether a specific opponent might be worth keeping. As a rule, if its a rare I'll capture it regardless for a quick look once the fight is done.

B: Keep Moving.

If you're levelling pets, try not to stick to the same zones whilst doing so. Identify the pets you have that could be upgraded and actively seek them out whilst working on others. Again, possessing a list of your captures will be a distinct advantage. Use the Replace and Upgrade Mantra wherever you happen to go, but vary your locations.

C: One In, Two to Play.

The current preferred method to start a L1 Rare on is journey is simple, and has has nothing to do with going back to a starting zone to instigate. I've levelled my Corefire Imp this morning to L14 in the Valley of the Four Winds (and picked up two L21-23 Rare upgrades in the process) The trick is to find the right combination of mobs, and hope for a wee bit of luck. Oh, and I take no credit for this method: many people have pointed it out to me along the way, including several regular commenters on this here Blog. I thank you all for your wisdom as a result.

You'll want to fight in an area with L23-25 mobs. get Your L1 ready to go, and accompany it with two pets you know would be capable of defeating 3 enemies easily. Yes, that is possible in a zone like the Valley of the Four Winds. With confidence you'll be able to replace two L25's with a 25 and another leveller in the 20's. Then it goes like this:

  • Start your fight.
  • Hope the L1 doesn't die on the first 'hit' Actually, this happens far less often than you might think it would, especially with opposition that shields or prepares themselves before they fight.
  • If your L1 does die, abandon the battle, go find a Stable Master and try again.
  • Assuming your L1 survives one round, SWAP HIM OUT.
  • Then complete your battle as normal with your two remaining fighters. At battle's end, your L1 should grab enough XP for 3-5 levels (depending on your opposition and the level of your other two pets) That should make surviving the first hit next time considerably easier.
  • Rinse and repeat.

I'd make the most of this technique, because I'm thinking certain people might consider it a 'creative use of Game Mechanics' and we'll see it stomped on in a later patch. For now, however, it will make the process of getting those little rares bigger with the minimum amount of fuss.

However, by far the best way of getting high level Rares is to go out and capture them. I'd say, at this point in our adventure, that anything Blue is worth having, albeit briefly, especially if your long term goal is to aim for Pro Pet Mob.


[*] I am aware of the growing 'Build vs Quality' discussion going on on that there Internet. It is far harder to grab Rares in the wild overall and I will, in 99% of cases, take a rare over an Uncommon precisely because of this fact and that stones for upgrades are SO BLOODY RARE. Ask me about PvP Pet Battles when I've got 75 L25's under my belt :p

Let's Go All The Way...

This one's for the Instagram posse...

Pet Battling's turning out to be a full-time job. Who knew? ^^

As I don't have either the time or the inclination to embrace the obsessive nature of the Mini Game I find myself looking at ways to maximise the opportunities I do have to optimise the team I have, hence why this morning I downloaded EIGHT PAGES of accumulated data from I did this sorted by level because it occurs to me that, now I have the majority of available pets in my interface, the next most sensible course of action is to convert as many as possible to Rares.

I'm slowly levelling my team to reach the magic 75 pets @ L25, whilst at the same point making sure I have a good spread of pets from each Family. That means I'll be making my own list later that will encompass 7 pets from each school that will get the 'to maximum' treatment and after that I'll just pick five randoms to round things up. This should afford me with the best possible 'pool' of pets to choose from when battling anything new that Blizzard might choose to throw at me this Expansion, working on the (I think) logical assumption that my pets won't be capable of gaining any more levels anytime soon. As has been mentioned previously I could do all of this with a database but I enjoy the feeling of pencil on paper when I work on tasks of this type.

There are some obvious 'holes' in my collection: I have only one Humanoid pet at 25, and he's an Uncommon, so one of my tasks this week (as I prepare to give the Pandarian Trainers a good going over at the weekend) is to raise at least one more: I'm picking the Corefire Imp because a) he's new and b) I've always loved the Imp model. Hazel, my Rabid Nut Varmint 5000 is at 21 currently and once I have the Crimson Geode (he's called Chin, 10 points if you get the reference) maxxed I'll swap the Imp (named Hillman, thanks to my husband) in for a bit of speed boosting. My other highest ranked Humanoid is the Kun-Lai Runt (think we'll call him Harry) at 21 so he'll get next dibs on the action. After that, it'll be a slow and logical ticking off of the various schools in between everything else.

I have been quite laxx on my naming, and with over 400 pets now to cover I feel I have an excuse in that department. I know people name pets after all sorts of things (including other players) but I'm doing my best to ensure my stable is full of target culture references for a 40-summat mother of two children. I suspect that if I spent even a little amount of time browsing other people's naming conventions there'd be some really quite eye-opening moments: if I am typical of the amount of thought and care that goes into the task, there's a lot to be learnt for what you call your pets. It is also a constant reminder (if I needed one) of just how vast an undertaking this entire process has become.  However I do enjoy this kind of challenge, and part of me has half an eye on what Blizzard might have in store in future patches as I do this. It is the perfect accompaniment to my gaming life, and gives me something to do that isn't gear dependant (which currently is most definitely a bonus.)

Those neglected alts will be getting some love soon, but for now I have some very important lists to make... :D

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Joke is On You

Not just the visuals need work...

Player models have been a thing for a while: in fact, every time we get a new race, they rear their heads, torsos and other assorted body parts. The emergence of the 'updated' Gryphon and Windrider in 5.1 has also reminded people that old models can be reworked sympathetically, and we know that right now someone in Blizzard HQ is doing just that. The problem comes, of course, with when we'll see them. I suspect it won't be until every race is complete and part of me thinks that will be a major selling point for the NEXT expansion. However it's not just the visuals that need work.

My husband thinks it's time Blizzard held a Joke Contest.

Some of the /silly emotes are, let's face it, as much a part of the game as Dailies or 5 Man Instancing. However, if the models are going to get a once-over it seems only logical that the things our characters say should do too, and it would be fabulous to get some jokes that not only reflected the changing environment of Azeroth but the real world outside the game. After all, it HAS been eight years... I really think it would be great idea to make this open to the public for entries. Looking at the excitement the current Mega Bloks Contest is generating (everyone wants the Warcraft CE, guys, it's the lure of a Murloc and a Panda) I doubt you'd have any shortage of entries...

However, its not just the jokes that could use some work. There is a lot of scope for new emotes too (come on, who doesn't want to see a /fistbump when you so summat particularly awesome in a Raid?) but why stop there? How about an emote for setting up a Campfire? (Insert obligatory Warchief quote here) How about a random comment or two when you're Fishing? These wouldn't need any work with animations, after all... The biggest change for me, and it would be an overwhelmingly positive one, would be the possibility of introducing a SCOTTISH ACTRESS to voice the default Female Dwarf. There was genuine celebration in this house when I heard Hilda Hornswaggle in Krasarang being portrayed by someone who REALLY SOUNDED SCOTTISH.

As we have several Female Scots in my Guild this also made me wonder... how about Blizzard made this as a contest too?

I know several people who have given their vocal talents to characters in Video Games. What would be more awesome for a fan of the game to become immortalised forever as the voice behind their race of choice? I'm betting they'd be inundated with entries too, and I'm betting their would be those willing to impersonate the current crop of race 'accents' for a chance to become a permanent feature... Surely it would not be beyond the realm of possibility to get people to recording studios in the US and Europe? Maybe even the wonders of the Internet and Skype could capture people's voices for use in the game? It would also be amazing if you could pick a voice for your Dwarf too, maybe from a set of three or four possibilities... no additional animations required here either, just more beautiful Scottish accents!

I have to say I'm pretty happy with the way things are both in terms of models and emotes, but it would be wonderful if the visuals are getting an upgrade that we could see everything move with them. If you're reading Blizzard, this really would make for one helluva Contest. I'll bet you'd have no shortage of volunteers in-house for judges...

Sunday, December 09, 2012

You Can't Always Get What You Want

My Life, In Game, Since Friday.

It is becoming a standing joke: I can't win ANYTHING in Raid Instances: I just get bags. I'm a real handbag lover IRL but in game... not so much. However, as is apparent from the last couple of days Achievements, I can manage some fairly awesome things, often completely alone.

The training of carefully-selected Battle Pets to defeat specific NPC opponents has been hugely successful: Lil Deathy (known locally as Bruce, which should be easy to deduce for those of you reading in the UK) did the business with consummate style and swept Brok away in Hyjal, after which Goz Banefury was pretty much academic. This means I have one more Daily Quest I can complete, and a plan. I was even able to manage one hit at the Darkmoon Trainer before he vanished, and when he returns in 2013 I will be ready for him. Oh yes. I'm also training a Magic and Undead Pet to 25 (to achieve the followup to No Favourites) plus a rare Mechanical to give me at least one max level of each pet type at Rare. My Pet Battle Score puts me in the Top 10 trainers on my Server. I'm happy :D

However, my real joy yesterday came not from battling pets, but obtaining them.

It is at this point I need to thank EVERYONE who has offered me hints and encouragement in my battle to solo Old World Bosses. Particular thanks must go to Katzbalger-Arthas (US) and Jaffle-Cenarius (I assume US, tell me otherwise!) whose tips I took to AQ40, along with some wisdom I'd picked up from the Internets. I bought along my Chimera Pet along for Viscidus, whose Frost Breath was enough with snake traps, Stampede and my frantic button mashing to kill the large blobby mess first try. After that, it was time to try the Twin Emps and with the tip on Widow Venom I didn't even need to pop Heroism on my Core Hound to knock them both off. Of course, there was no pet after all of this but that's not really an issue. I can solo the entire instance, the only restricting factor between me and my achievement is time, and I can do patience.

Hunters, as has been mentioned elsewhere, are Just Awesome.

Oh, and if you're wondering, C'Thun is also very much soloable at 90 for this class, so if you've been wondering about giving the instance a look as your class of choice, it might well be worth a go.

Guess what? :D

Those of you who are regular readers will know I've been working on a purple set of mogging gear for quite some time. As I'm going to be spending a fair bit of time in BWL (Tier 2) and AQ40, think it might be time to clear out some space in the Void Storage and start working on a decent set of gear in my favourite colour... :D

This has been one of the most satisfying weekends I've had for a while, and has involved me ignoring a great deal of the current progression content as a result. Needless to say, if I can't get the gear I want from LFR and 10 mans, I know I'll get what I need from Vanilla... :p