Saturday, February 09, 2013

All Around the World

Below is a tentative unlock schedule. This is of course subject to change and does not reflect patch release dates.

Active – PTR set to stage 0. The Sunreavers and Kirin-Tor will besiege the island from offshore.
Feb 8 – PTR set to Stage 1. You’ll be able to conquer a foothold on the island itself.
Feb 12– PTR set to stage 2. With your help, Jaina and Lor’themar will blast the walls and infiltrate the outer city.
Feb 15– PTR set to stage 3. Daring players can infiltrate the mines and blast open the doors to the Thunder Forge.
Feb 19 – PTR set to stage 4. Block further Zandalari reinforcements by overtaking the shipyard.
Feb 22 – PTR set to stage 5. Fight your way to the Thunder King’s front door! Jaina and Lor’themar will have a ... reckoning.

I don't know about you, but I'm getting a bit nervous about 5.2.

The patch is downloading on your Client as I type. Even taking into account the massive 'does not reflect patch release dates' disclaimer the last bit of 5.2 that wasn't available will be by the 22nd, which means March really is looking likely for the next part of our adventure. They really aren't hanging about with any of this stuff...

The next question then becomes: how long will we really be waiting between stages? If this patch will be followed by 5.3 with the speed 5.1 followed 5.0, would we ideally expect each 'stage' to last a week? Two weeks perhaps? Or will this all depend on the rabid nature of the population of any given server to begin with? I don't have a problem with content becoming irrelevant, this is not my concern, I just remember the Isle of Quel'Dailies being an inceasingly unpleasant place to be as the stages progressed and the relevant areas opened up. in fact, if I'm honest, it was probably that entire process that put the grind into Dailies for me. One can only hope that whatever Blizzard have in store for us it will combine the better features of daily questing with a storyline of the type we've seen happen with the Shieldwall Offensive.

This also presents me with the question of how long I have left to sort 5.1 stuff out.

There's a fair bit to consider too from a personal standpoint: I have a Warlock (Green Fire Quest), 1.75 farms, a Blacksmith and an Engineer still with points to be accrued, plus my Monk project. That's quite apart from the pottering on P and Battle Pets. I may have three weeks before 5.2 drops, which frankly isn't much time for anything really, quite apart from what I've scheduled to write here. It's just making me realise just how serious Blizzard are being about keeping content current and updated, which is not bad for a game which apparently is dead in the water right now. As I said on Twitter when that announcement was made public, 9.6 million of ANYTHING'S not bad going, with the possible exception of red balloons.

This is the first time I've sat down in front of a computer today, having been pretty much 'not here' since breakfast, and I'm struck with the realisation that making lists this time will not be enough, and I'm going to ACTUALLY NEED TO DO STUFF SOON...

Friday, February 08, 2013

Istanbul (not Constantinople)

So where are we flying to EXACTLY?

As we have thrown the Gauntlet of No Content firmly into the dirt with that last post, it seems only fair to get down there with it and have a good old roll around with an issue that has caused a fair bit of contention in this house over the years: pronunciation. Mr Alt's one of those people that, if you still wrote letters into newspapers to complain about bad grammar and general sloppy behaviour when it comes to words, would have run out of red pens a long time ago. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, far from it, and I love the regional discrepancies that certain words throw up: the scone versus scone debate, for instance, is one I hope runs and runs for centuries to come.

There are even more problems when it comes to places that don't actually exist, or characters that have been made up by a lovely person in a building in Anaheim, especially when it's not a name you hear used on a regular basis. One such place is Dalaran.

Ever since Wrath launched, I'd assumed the place I'd log into every day was DAL-LARRR-RAN, that is until Brann got all clever and saved the planet yet again from Algalon. Then we got this video and, to my horror (and that of Mr Alt) we find that not only Rhonin really need to stop putting his inflection in all the wrong places, but he calls this place DA-LA-RAN???1!!1??!! DOO WOT? This clear mispronunciation has been mercilessly mocked by fellow Guildies for quite some time, but I find myself unable to say Dalaran because, frankly, it just feels WRONG. I don't know if this is a regional thing, or a US/UK thing, but it does make me think twice about talking to anyone about zones where I'm not 150% certain of how you might pronounce them correctly, because there is nowt worse than making yourself look like an utter idiot by saying summat the wrong way.

Pandaria itself is a bit of a minefield: is that PAN-DARRR-IA or PAN-DARE-A? Then there's Krasarang (which let's face it on a good day I'll spell wrong anyway) and all manner of Chinese names that are simply ripe for making complete hashes out of. Of course this is all very well and good when it's just your mates on Vent, but it occurs to me that if I ever were to get into a serious conversation with people I don't know about such things, I could just make a complete fool out of myself. I suspect I'd also end up beginning many conversations with the statement 'So, before we start, how do you pronounce 'X'?' so I could just cover my behind. It isn't just Warcraft either, it could be any gaming experiences unique vocabulary: however for that I have a 12 year old who, should I dare say anything incorrectly will just give me That Look followed by 'Mum, you are just utterly hopeless.'

I think, if anyone at Blizzard is bored, it would not be a bad idea to release a definitive pronunciation guide to all the 'difficult' names and places in game, so that, once and for all, pedants like me know exactly what is the Standard Blizzard Form for dragons, place names and annoying floating capital cities in Northrend. I realise it's probably not high on the list of priorities, but I for one would be very grateful.


The BEST version of this song EVER. NO CONTEST.

Some days, you just need cheerleaders.

What, you were expecting some content?

Thursday, February 07, 2013

The Neverending Story

Once upon a time, there were pretty broad differences in dps between the highest and lowest dps classes. Bringing the wrong class could have a real impact on your ability to win a fight. Over the years I think we've gone a very long way toward fixing that, and the gap between the different classes and specs has narrowed considerably. Instead of 50 and even 100% differences in output, now we're usually talking about 5 and 10% differences. At these ranges, skill, timing, and knowledge play a more central role than ever before in determining how much practical damage a class is capable of, and even the classes that aren't topping the charts are contributing essential and meaningful amounts of damage.

Blizzard's success, like it or not, has become a Holy Grail for game designers.

Whenever I see people discussing the merits of Warcraft (even though there will always be those who consider praise on that scale inappropriate) I find myself thinking that luck has a great deal to do with it. However, when I read comments like the one above, it makes me realise that actually, Blizzard really do deserve more props and snacks than they're ever really given, especially in the Gaming community. People may resent success, or (as we discussed yesterday) prefer criticism to praise, but the fact remains that, more often than not, things work not simply through luck, but as a result of a great deal of thought and effort.

How much damage I do has been an issue since this Expansion began, and as another week begins with me having no weapon upgrade I find myself reading the above response and grasping a fundamental truth that had previously escaped me. At NO POINT in the above is gear even mentioned as a factor in meaningful contribution, and although it is something I might continue to obsess about, I'm beginning to grasp that it's only a small part in Blizzard's bigger picture. Yes, there's been a lot of 'fixing' over the years, much of which has annoyed the purists as it seems, at least from certain perspectives, to be narrowing the choices available. We have less decisions to make, fewer specs to choose from, but what's being done is only reflecting what happened with the old ways. Back in the days when you had Talent Trees, a bunch of people would tell everyone else what was the best spec and, if you wanted to do the best DPS, you followed them.

When I write it down like that, I grasp why DPS wasn't much fun 'back then' either.

The key to success would, like it or not, depend on whether you as an in individual could cope with the spec. Forget the output for a moment: unless you were one of those really lucky people who could switch between different means of play with no discernible change to gameplay or ability, you'd have a problem. I can remember a lot of trauma as we progressed through TBC and Wrath content, trying as politely as possible to suggest people might want to switch their talents to give us a greater chance of killing difficult bosses. Ultimately, with the shift to the new six point trees, Blizzard took a lot of the harder decisions away, with a very sound intent. Make everything (as much as possible) a standard output, so that regardless of what you chose to play, any class can bring something to the table. That's no mean feat, and if you're a Warlock or a Monk you're not part of the programme currently, so that's where the nerfs will come next time around. In the main however, the theory has worked.

The gear issue then becomes problematic not on an individual basis, but on a group one. Assuming everyone is rocking similar ilevels, the TOTAL dps output should be sufficient to defeat the content you're working on and, guess what, it does, because you then start factoring in the elements of skill and co-ordination into the equation. It doesn't matter how much dps you do, if you're dead you're a liability because all that gear contributes nothing. Part of my thinking, and it is old-fashioned I realise, is to assume that any one item I wear matters as much as everything I do, and although that is correct to a point, it is no longer the entire equation. Once I stopped worrying about my weapon and started working on other bits of gear, I discovered I could (in a week) update FOUR items that significantly boosted my dps output. It is dangerous to think that there is ever a quick fix to anything in any environment, not until you've considered all the possible options available.

I realise, that without parses and data all this rumination is a little simplistic, but the fact remains that the way DPS contributes to any situation has changed for the better. It is now easy to see who is geared and how that effects output: I don't think that's ever going to be a bad thing, but the key to grasping why that happens isn't simply to look at their spec any more and copy it. The way DPS 'works' has far less to do with the choices an individual makes any more, and a lot more to where and how they play their game. There are far fewer ways to do things 'wrong' too, which some people might argue accommodates the lazy, but I'd argue that this game has always been unforgiving to those who turn up but don't give a certain level of commitment. You can tell who they are regardless of what they wear or what spec they use. The changes we see now are to allow those people who make an effort but sometimes flounder a chance to have a better experience, and to encourage those with real skill and flair to contribute even further to the experience by experimenting playing different classes and specs to contribute as a player, and not simply a toon.

The key to all of this however is Blizzard grasping that they have to keep changing the rules, which in any other circumstance could be tantamount to disaster. Here, it is the constant shaping and remoulding of what is, in essence... well, he can explain it better than I can:

Yes, I said it: DPS is like time-travel: constantly in flux, full of potential and possibility, a neverending story of tweaks and amendments that may frustrate the purists but shows that the people making the game have a far greater grasp and understanding of the potential consequences of change than most of us give them credit for. Yes, they get it wrong, but who doesn't. The key here is that they understand that nothing is ever set in stone, and however frustrating that may become for us playing, it does mean that damage is in a far better place than it has been for some time.

If you are one of those people who yearns for the great days when you could do tons of damage pressing just one button, I'd say you pretty much missed the point. If you want easy mode, other games are available. This one makes you think, and I'd take substance over style any day.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Reasons To be Cheerful

Just as a reminder, next Monday, WoW will turn 8 in Europe, just think about how much your life has changed in 8 years, even if you weren't playing back in Vanilla.

The last few days has been a slog.

Writing every day about something that has become a part of your life can often be hard work. This has a lot to do with the amount of time and effort you are prepared to put into a project over a continued and protracted period of time, and everyone who has that kind of long-term commitment will tell you that sometimes a break is a good thing. Except, in this game, taking a break can be harder than it looks. Maybe it is because of the nature of the Daily Quest, which I'm seeing more and more commentators admit has become a millstone around the neck of players, brokering commitments that can exhaust and demotivate. The Legendary Quest similarly is making people do things that they might have normally overlooked or ignored on a repetitive basis, and I'm seeing similar sentiments. Has this game stopped being enjoyable and started being a job?

I have a couple of friends who read here who returned to the game after pretty much missing Cataclysm altogether: a couple of nights ago I informed one of them that both Scholo and Scarlet Monestary had completely changed, a fact which they met with a measure of sadness, and it occurred to me that as much as it matters where you are in relation to things, it is more about what matters most to you. We return to the land of the subjective experience, where the game continues to appeal to the broadest of churches, simply because the vast majority of individuals taking part here DON'T play on a daily basis to begin with. Those of us who blog or write over a protracted period really do see the game with a vastly different set of eyes to those people who's idea of gaming is a couple of hours a few times a week. It is easy to forget that, and that will have a significant effect on the things we say.

Eight years really is a long time. My daughter is the milestone I use, and when she starts talking about birthday parties I know it is almost time to mark another day in my head. She has never existed in a world where the World of Warcraft did not exist. At least one friend I know met their partner, was married and divorced in eight years. Many people won't remain in a house for that long. When you place markers like this next to an interactive experience, its longevity is always cause for amazement, a fact most people inside playing seem happy to forget when it serves a particular agenda. You want to enjoy yourself, but you can't because of X, and that is somehow the fault of the guys who wrote the game, when more often than not it's how you judge X against a set of criteria that has more relevance to you. I seem to keep having this same discussion, over and over, and it is NEVER the same issue at the core of the argument: PvP, raiding, dailies, even pets come in for criticism. There's always something... and in the end it is because some people just like to be unhappy, often because having that control over a game is preferable to feeling you have none at all.

Even when me and the game have our fallow periods, I am able to grasp the positives. Writing has become my way of rationalising my issues, removing the need for forum trolling or GM tantrums with the Guild. As a tool it has become incredibly useful, and it is why I keep encouraging people to write with honesty, why I will retweet anything on my Twitter feed that I feel has any relevance to the business of being in the game. It's also why I get increasingly wary of those that think that writing will bring their biased or overly-introspective opinions validity: if you want to use words, you need to understand their real strengths, not how they can be warped. Anyone can write, but to be objective about an opinion you have a passionate stance on is a rare gift indeed. There are too many people who feel that criticism is the only tool required to change the world. Oh, if only that were true.

More people need to be happy about the game, it occurs to me. It would mean I wouldn't have to wade though pages of content on what's wrong with things, for starters, and that can only be a good thing. Making people happy tends to occur regardless, of course: people who have no problems don't complain on forums, or tell anyone they're happy only in the rarest of circumstances. It occurs to me therefore that I will take this opportunity to wish Blizzard a happy 8th Birthday in Europe, and say that I'm happy with the way things are right now. Even if my Sha Touched Weapon refuses to drop (or indeed any weapon that's not blue) I get this is how things work, that there has to be balance and that means sometimes you're not the one who's on the heavier side of the scales. I'm fine with that, because when I look at eight years of game play, I know that everything really does even out in the end.

There are always more reasons to be cheerful. You just have to look for them.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

She's Becoming Gold

Quick! After that Whelk!

It's taken nearly three months (as I got my initial find in the first week of release) but I can finally call myself a Relic Hunter. I'm still short the Pandaren Fishing Charm (ironically the only item would be likely to get any long-term use) but I managed to scoop THREE items last night: the Hammer of Ten Thunders, the Staff of the Hidden Master and (from the Glinting Rapana Whelk in the screenie) the Manipulator's Talisman. I have to say that to anyone doing this Achievement that some kind of location tracking is absolutely VITAL: I used Handy Notes (Lost and Found). Other addons are available.

Actually, last night saw me finish another long-term achievement slog:

No, I'm not talking about Steins ^^

I have finally provided enough rice to give my Cookery trainee the leg-up he required and I'll start getting useful stuff back on a daily basis. I'm hankering for a Blingtron on my Engineer (five moar points!) but this will do in the meantime. It also means that, as P pretty much has all her reps done and is working towards her 6k Valor for part two of the Pointless Quest with the Item She Can't Use Coz She Doesn't Have a Sha Touched Weapon, I need some new stuff to do.


I haven't had an achievement push for a bit, it occurs to me, and even though I intend to spend this week doing work on alts (specifically the Monk and getting all 16 plots opened on the second 90's farm) I think extra pointage would be a good idea. What I really need to do is start making a list of what Achievements I can easily complete solo and those which would require me to call in the Cavalry (yes, I'm looking at you.) For now, I have the time it takes to finally knock off the Kalimdor stuffs I don't have...

Monday, February 04, 2013

Just Another Day

So last Expansion, me.

I'd like to apologise for the lack of a post yesterday, due in the main to me being in shock at having P Valor Capped for the week. It also has to do with the fact I really have been rather poorly over the last few days and this morning is the first time I've actually felt genuinely myself since about a week ago. Being sub-par does not make for great entertainment, I have discovered, and it helped greatly that last week I'd already written a lot of stuff that was posted. It will, as a result, take me a wee while to get back in to the swing of things (today was mostly making sure my body works, which it does, mind will be catching up shortly) so for now I will be leaving you with pretty picture, and realising just how much stuff I committed to in my 4th Birthday post that actually needs writing.

This is why it's never a good idea to promise anything whilst on medication.

Oh, and to the people who have asked, the Graphics Budget for February is currently being blown on a Four years of Blogging logo. Don't tell me I don't know how to live...