Saturday, June 29, 2013

Winter Trees :: Dragonblight

You asked for it, so here it is. In fact, this is only the beginning, and because we don't do things by half around these parts we're going to be travelling in two distinctive directions with our fiction.

This is the first of what will be a series of vignettes based in the Wrath Expansion, which will give you some back story into these people and their lives before the events of 5.4 begin to play out. There'll also be a stand-alone story that follows 'A Worthy Forfeit' which will act as a taster to what we're all going to 'play' when 5.4 finally launches. If you're confused, I'll be producing a visual guide to who's who in this evolving group and how that line-up has changed 'since Vanilla' whilst linking it to the dedicated Player 5 page.

For those of you who have only played Horde, I'd like to apologise in advance for the Alliance bias in a lot of what follows (for obvious reasons.) I have, where possible, linked quests which will allow you to 'trace' the events that are being referenced in these particular incidents. Wowhead is a great resource if you want to reconstruct such events. Hopefully however you can enjoy what is to come without having played through the questlines...


Title: Winter Trees : Dragonblight

Author: @AlternativeChat

Character/Pairing: The Hunter, the Rogue, the Paladin and some others. See above for contextual explanations. Takes place in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion.

WARNING: Character Deaths are discussed. At length.

Rating: Mild sexual implications and themes. These people are grown-ups, after all.

Summary: You have completed the quest 'An End and a Beginning' [Alliance, L73]

The casualties of war are inevitable, the damage to relationships incalculable. No-one is to blame, but everyone will claim the responsibility.

Disclaimer: All these people live in a computer game owned by Activision and Blizzard. NPC names are specific to the Wrath expansion. The one I play is mine in my mind only.

Massive thanks go to everyone who read this before it was ready. Extra Special Bonus Level Thanks must go to M, who will be getting a separate post all to himself tomorrow.


The snow is grey with ash, burning piles of desiccated bodies spreading low clouds across the already darkened skies. The Dwarf idly sits digging holes in the snow with booted feet. They are the necessary repetitions of a child waiting for a parent to protect her: she still won't accept that guidance isn't coming. The remains of the Legion force stand quietly to her left, steaming mugs clenched in shaking hands. They steal glances, no-one prepared to broach the moment. Silence clings, words lost after the encounter in the Crypt. Everyone knows how badly the push had gone, the evidence lying away near the Gryphons to the right, neat row of bodies no longer warm.

Wintergarde smells rank: death and decay far stronger than any that Thassarian's men could ever conjure. The place is as close to a war zone as she'd seen since Shadowmoon, odour forever burned into her brain: death and loss in one of its many forms. She'd assumed that the Undead would be eliminated with ease, but this campaign was already full of surprises. Cost was rapidly outpacing preparation: the Quartermaster was already out of body bags, casualties forced to lie in a line, faces covered with their own capes. To one side, wrapped in the Dwarf's own cloak, the Gnomish body stood out, purple and black silks against the white fur.

At least the snow would preserve the Warlock until she returned to Coldridge.

The Dwarf is numb, the weather within her far colder than the frigid ambiance. All that remains as a constant is the Gnome's smell, seductive sulphur burn that became her essence. Moments fracture, soul shattered: present and past overlap into disorientation. To her left only moments before, casting Immolations seemingly without end. Constant pleasure from spreading heat: liquefying surface snow, keeping them warm when she'd stand to maximise damage. That wicked smile, sparkling green eyes, sharing understanding without communication, beyond their countless fights, the successful campaigns. They would always return, together, triumphs celebrated at the Slaughtered Lamb with their favourite meal. Sitting for hours, everything and nothing preoccupations between days, the stuff of friendship. Men, their obsessions, their inability to understand everything and anything for convenience. The enemy du jour, the Legion and how dragons were the root of all evil.

A bond unbreakable, formed in the steam and lava of Ironforge two lifetimes ago. The Troublemakers. Brilliant yet volatile, the substance of the Earth. Steady and fiery, dependable yet elusive. Friends until their last breaths, and now beyond.

There would never be another conversation in this lifetime: no more words were possible.

Legion Commander Yorik appears, his face ashen, and the Dwarf doesn't stand, even though she should. She is pleased when he squats down close, implying no chain of command he wishes to push. He has lost almost a dozen good men since the sun came up, and protocol is the least of his concerns.

"I've communicated with Lord Fordring in Valgarde. They're going to hold the next boat back to Menethil so you can travel with the bodies."

This is a concession to her, the Dwarf knows, and she touches the man's arm, the briefest of eye contact all she is capable of in thanks. The bodies would normally ship straight from Valiance Keep, but this re-route would be deliberate: arriving closer to Ironforge than Stormwind, to accommodate her particular request. Her promise to Mirrie was almost forgotten, made in youth and seemingly without relevance, until the moment she knew there was no resurrection coming. If either was to die in battle, the other would return the body to their family. There was a pension to be settled, monies from their quest here: not much, but enough. Gold to pay for the funeral, to help her mother and sister through the hardest of the winter months in the Valley.

War felt a long way away in the Eastern Kingdoms' snow, but the Dwarf knew sorrow was never far from anyone's mind.

She looks up for the first time since she arrived, across to the small group that went in with her and the Legion. The draenei male, Argus, sits on a crate: his large purple mace wedged between massive thighs, engrossed in what she knows is meditative prayer. She'd often reflected on faith to guide her as it did the Paladins, but no revelation had ever moved her to insight or belief. Instead she tried to take calm in respecting the Light, what she'd reconciled as intelligent compromise. Next to him, sitting in the snow as she did was the Rogue, one of the new SI:7 intake. He stares deliberately at the ground, arms wrapped around legs, hugging his body a little too tightly. His leathers were new and insulated: he shouldn't suffer from the cold.

As Yorik returns to the Inn Randall appears, laboured gait saying all that is needed, tired plated limbs dragging through the snow. His hand extends, an invitation to pull the Dwarf to standing, a gesture she wants to ignore but can't. At some point there has to be a discussion with him, and it may as well happen now.

"You need to tell me how you feel."

She closes her eyes and looks for something, anything as a response.

"Numb. I... what do I say? This year can go to the Nether."

"You just keep your promise, P. Don't you dare start locking it away, because it will destroy you."

No-one used her name, not any more. She was P, or Boss, or Ma'am to the Alliance. Her identity had been lost, somewhere between Onyxia and Illidan, her own way to distance from the horrors. Mirrie was always the exception, mimicking her father's distinctive tone, a reminder of their past. Her father. She wanted him to hold her again, wrapping herself in his protective embrace. She would have remained until that day when Mirrie came and told her about Arthas and his Death Knights, and handed her the invitation from the King himself. She'd accepted the intractable truth: death came, but the enemies remained. Those who survived had a debt to pay, to those who had lost their lives.

'They were together.' Randall deliberately blocks the view between her and the Rogue, and she reacts sharply in surprise.

'Since when?'

'You didn't know?'

'Mirrie hadn't mentioned she was with anyone when we arrived, or indeed since. Are you sure about this?'

'I don't ask these things, but he was in her room last night. They weren't working on First Aid skills.'

Suddenly a lot of things make sense. The dangerous sprint away from the melee group, his body an indistinct blur as he desperately tried to bandage her mid-fight. His sudden withdrawal after they'd emerged from the Crypt was completely understandable: Argus had been the voice of dissent on the Legion's tactical decision but she'd expected the rogue to contribute. Both fought so closely behind Randall, who would continue to blame himself for losing threat and not taking the initiative. If it weren't for all of this Mirrie might still be here, joking that her robes would never keep her warm, however many layers she added beneath them.

The Dwarf still rued her trap, incorrectly placed, that could have bought valuable time. Sleep-deprived and unfocussed, her sloppiness only one of their collective failings.

Everyone was to blame for this terrible accident.

'I know you won't want to think about this right now, but he'd make a good fit in our team. He's fast and clearly knows his job. He also did more damage than you.'

Anger flares within her: Randall is a cold bastard to be comparing meters at this moment. There remains however the strength of understanding between them to grasp the need to keep functioning as a unit. As of now they are just three and without another two their progress would be severely restricted. The burrows to the East were teeming with the insect brethren of the Silithid she had taken so much pleasure in exterminating what seemed like a lifetime before. Everyone needed upgraded gear, or the potential for more casualties became a concern. They had to adapt or die, and this was the only life she either knew or wanted. Argus was a good fit, Randall already had him in mind. A rogue would be a sensible choice for the final place.

Footsteps distract her away from the practical. There is yet more grief to attend to.

"I did everything I could."

Yari literally drops into the snow next to the Dwarf, exhaustion etched on her Night Elf features, skin almost translucent in the dullness. The first move is reflex, reaching over to hold the Druid, to console as the sobs wrack through her slim body. P won't cry, silently turning her skin to stone to arrest her own grief, letting her friend's sorrow flow quietly back into the Earth. This must not be the time for weakness. Strength comes before acquiescence, when she stands with Mirrie's family and says the words, throws the first clump of soil onto the tiny coffin. So small a body, but so large a heart, to accommodate and inspire so many. Light in darkness, good harnessing evil. The best of all contradictions. A speech she has already written, but never wanted to give.

'I know you did. We all tried, but sometimes circumstances...'

Both Randall's voice and assertion waver: the Dwarf knows he's having trouble holding himself in check. His hand rests on her shoulder and she senses him shaking. No-one was to blame, but everyone needed to bear the responsibility.

Their moment is broken by the chain of command.

'The odds sometimes cannot be beaten, however hard you try.'

She'd not expected Fordragon to remain, with the construction at the Wrathgate taking up so much time. Rumours were circulating, that there would be a push soon, but not until the pockets of resistance had been dealt with. The Phylactery retrieved from Thel'zan was a vital piece of a far larger puzzle. It was a battle that should have been routine, but nothing was turning out that way in a land where the enemy hid in almost infinite numbers beneath the surface. Had Bolvar not arrived when he had, their casualties would have been far greater.

In war, sometimes death was an option you had no choice but to embrace.

The Dwarf grasps this time that protocol matters, aware the gathered troops have all moved to attention. Even Argus and the rogue are standing, conscious of the significance of her visitor.

"Your loss is great, as is the Alliance's. I would ask you to give this to her family."

Bolvar hands a pension bag to the Dwarf without ceremony, far more gold than should be the norm. By the feel of the leather there are some gems in the mix, hidden amongst the coin. Fordragon's eyes have seen so much horror, such a small loss should not be his concern. As he appraises the Dwarf, something else is at play. Something clearly personal.

'When I heard you were here, I knew I must come and see you myself, to offer my condolences.'

'You know Mirrie's family?'

'I meant your loss, at the Temple. Hammermaster Khorman.'

It takes everything she has not to fall apart where she stands. The last time someone had mentioned her husband she had crumbled sobbing into the rich earth, tears of unmitigated pain into the grass around the Loch's shore. She remains motionless, unable to say anything, staring back at a man who until that moment she knew of only in stories. Lonrim's stories. Told to her as she lay next to him, quietly drifting off to sleep. A life away from this grim existence without him beside her. Without his words of comfort and understanding.

To lose her composure in front of a total stranger would normally be unthinkable, the ultimate mortification. She cannot harden either skin or heart so soon, there is nowhere left to hide, the truth inescapable in its terror. The look on his face is resigned understanding, eyes and face softening, knowing what will follow. Then she is sobbing unhindered into a stranger's stained plate chest, the blood of her friend still fresh as a reminder. He had carried the Gnome from the Crypt himself, and laid her in the snow where she remained.

A desperate question forms, one she finally accepts will remain forever rhetorical.

"Why did you waste your Soulstone on keeping me alive?"

Her words are bitter anguish and Randall reacts, his arm moving to protect. Yari is there too, pulling her gently away from Fordragon, wrapping her coat around them both, trying to shield her from the World. She has no idea how long she weeps but eventually when she stops nobody has moved, many of troops behind him crying themselves, struggling to maintain composure. They were so young, all of them, and she shouldn't have mislaid her temperament, but losing the ones you loved was a horrendous part of this game they needed to understand.

Sometimes it was alright to grieve. It gave Fordragon a chance to inspire them all.

"To suffer the death of two of your loved ones in such quick succession will be a difficult burden to bear, but your heart is strong. Your shoulders are broad and your resolve unshakeable. You will prevail, of this I am certain."

All she can do is nod and finally pocket the pension, which seems enough for Bolvar. He moves without ceremony to Randall and embraces him warmly, before turning to address the troops. A gryphon rider appears from the East, sweeping low, dropping a package into the snow nearby then arching back into the late morning sky. The body bags will have been asked for specially, one in particular. The Gnomeregan crest stands out against the strong linen, another concession she quietly notes.

Unwrapped from her embrace, Yari knows her task is clear.

"I will do this. You should prepare yourself to travel."

The Druid breathes, strength returning to her body, and without another word crosses to the parcel, to help the two Legion Medics already unpacking the contents. The Dwarf forces foot in front of foot, back into the inn, upstairs to her room, but stops outside Mirrie's at the sound of movement.

There is someone inside.

She knows it is the Rogue before she opens the door. He sits, staring out of the window, the remains of Wintergarde almost beautiful in their desolation. She waits, and finally he turns to face her.

"I had to leave. I thought you deserved time with your grief. I'm sorry."

She knows the apology isn't for her. It will be for him, and for the Gnome, the time they no longer had, their life that would remain unwritten. It was easy to see why Mirrie would have found him attractive: dark-haired, blue-eyed arrogance and attitude. Economical, precise and ultimately elusive: the perfect Rogue template. He would have made her laugh at herself, and forget the horrors she'd experienced in Shadowmoon. Of all of them, Grimm had been the most easygoing and relaxed, even in the face of abject terror. She's been perfectly suited to her class, as he was to his. The Dwarf wonders just how much he had invested in their relationship.

"Did you love her?"

"We kept each other warm."

His face is a mask, the convenient default, his eyes harder than the ice that held this continent together. The Dwarf understands the need to couple, that it is just that for many of the Humans. When your life is measured in such small numbers, connection becomes a necessity and not a dance, no focus on detail. In this land, that was probably an advantage. Mirrie would have forced a rethink of any such preconceptions: her legacy would resonate far beyond these frozen lands, memory alive in both hearts and minds.

"I made a promise, that I would return her to Coldridge. Randall will need to remain to find her replacement. I could use the company, if you wish to honour her."

She covers her feelings without thinking, knowing that she can assess him best as they travel. Her brain reacts from reflex, and she confidently expects him to refuse. There is no time for sentiment, because the moment she allows it back into her heart she will be useless, incapable. He doesn't flinch at her bluntness or the request.

"How long before we leave?"

"As soon as the bodies are prepared and the rites given."

He is up and past her without a word, downstairs to the area she knows he had been given to sleep at the Bar. She takes this as acceptance, and is suddenly grateful.

Only then does the Dwarf realise she has no idea of his name.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Only Myself to Blame

A crime it was never used for what it was intended. Allegorical!

Again and again, since Pandaria launched, I've come back to the same problem with my gameplay: time, or the lack of it.

When Blizzard linked all achievements to accounts, it seemed like a blessing in disguise. All your pets and mounts shared across characters was undoubtedly the biggest benefit. The massive drawback however, which has only become clear to me as the Expansion has played out, is the effect that has had on my alt play. There is a world of difference after all between not wanting to do something and not needing to: emphasis has shifted to P as my 'designated main' because, in the playtime I have, there is simply no other option. She's the best geared, I can play her better than anyone else, and she's able to deal with the increase in content difficulty, because that has also become a 'thing.' The quicker I can kill stuff, the more gets done. That means lower geared alts will always be at a disadvantage until I can spare the hours needed to equip them to an acceptable standard. As the man says above, I only have myself to blame.

Back in Cataclysm, levelling alts wasn't nearly as time consuming an option, because I had more of it. This expansion those classes have, for better or worse, simply become professions mules. I feel sad about this because when I had the time to mog them and play with them they were an important part of what I did and what I had become as a player. Yes, I'm alluding to my characters like a child would her dolls, and before someone sits down and cheerfully informs me of the issues that raises in a 46 year old mother of two I'd like to state that, for the record, my life overall is in a far better and more satisfactory place as a result of NOT having the time to play dress-up. However, with one eye on the fact that within the next year that the level cap will probably increase to 95, I understand some work will need to be done. What bothers me most therefore at this stage are the time-scales Blizzard are currently employing to provide content, and (in effect) how long I'll have left to max level everyone in the family.

I'm already out of time, how will I cope when the clock ticks down towards the Expansion?

I've committed myself  to levelling the Lock for the five jewelcrafting mounts this will give me access to (again, achievement-based satisfaction.) The mage needs to be pushed to exalted with the Celestials for bags (one eye on storage issues, always to the fore.) After that, I suspect, it will be an 'as and when' until I arrive at a point where P has gathered the achievements/pets/mounts I want to finish Pandaria with. This inevitably means making some quiet time before Summer Holidays begin for the kids, sitting down somewhere and creating the definitive list of 'Things to Do before the Next Expansion.' My problem, up until this moment, has been how I defined such a list, but it occurs to me that I need to look back to the centralised Achievement window as my jumping-off point. Everything begins and ends there, and has done since the entire shebang was introduced. I'm deluding myself otherwise.

That means, once and for all, deciding what I can realistically do alone, what I know I'm going to need some support for and then *gasp* ACTUALLY ASKING FOR HELP. This is the worst part, because I don't ever do this: I always feel like a fraud, especially when its something that I am sure other people probably solo (on a regular basis) Needless to say, if you're on my Friends list, I may well come to you over the Summer, cap in hand, and do some full-on, unabashed begging. Don't say I didn't warn you... I suspect it won't just be for current content either, there are a number of old-style Achieves that persist on my 'You Really Need To Ask For Support On This One' category. Naxx 25 continues to mock me, for instance. The mount from ICC locked up in that last component of the Meta. All this and more, but until I make the list, nothing happens. Again, time beats me.

Time to stop procrastinating and get writing!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The End is the Beginning is the End

How to make your point in 140 characters.

We have discussed here in the past the notion of server 'identity' and community, something that was of utmost importance in the early days of Warcraft's life. The server has lost relevance over the years as populations have fluctuated and the emphasis has shifted towards matchmaking as the primary means of creating groups for content outside of Guilds. This fact is lamented by many (our featured Tweet as an example) and clearly this is something Mr G. Street Esq. has a measure of sympathy with. What is less clear however is how to deal with a problem that is, like so many of Blizzard's, largely of their own creation.

I know it seems like I've been banging on a lot of late about Vanilla and how, actually, there are lessons to be learnt from the past. In the case of the server community, this was where the rules were pretty much written, using the blood of everyone who collected meat, bandages and leather for the AQ Gates Opening Event. If you wanted one cohesive example of how working together created a sense of identity and co-operation, that was it. However, the flipside (at least on my Server) is still discussed to this day. Guilds were made and destroyed, faction power settled, personal grievances built and shattered. The brilliance of there being just one person who could open the gates was just that: terrible and beautiful simultaneously. However, what it proved on the basic level was simple: if you dangled a big enough carrot at the end of your journey, everyone would at least have a go at stealing a crafty nibble. The right incentive could move everyone to be a part.

What is less clear eight years down the line is what Blizzard could possibly offer in terms of incentives to return server identity when 'virtual' is the buzzword: we all stay where we are, but suddenly a bunch of us get thrown together (whether we like it or not.) The only thing this time around that will cement our community is a hashtag. Sure we can form groups and join guilds, but as yet there is no indication Blizzard will offer anything to make creating a server 'identity' significant, or even essential. However, if they did, what would work as an incentive? Is it even possible to think in these terms any more when so much of the Game's raison d'etre is wrapped around the collection of items, the need to be rewarded for actions. Has entitlement become the final nail in the server community's coffin?


What I think Blizzard is hoping (and this will be tied to the introduction of Flex Raiding using Real ID) is that already existing groups of players will take up the mantle of becoming 'community builders': pushing themselves forward as advocates for events, and encouraging others to take part. Of course, this already happens with frequency on many existing servers, but there are some fairly huge gaps in the 'net' that surrounds the regions. There's also a lot of perceived prejudice on how newcomers are treated (which we have also discussed here) which can very easily be dealt with by the medium of... well, being nice to everybody. In fact, this needs to be the key when everyone pitches up together for the first time. It should really go without saying: if you treat people like dirt,  don't get all upset when that is reflected back at you. Just because the person isn't your sex or is of a different race background or they find their same sex attractive... they're STILL A HUMAN BEING. Just because you can't see them does not give you carte blanche to act like the largest tool in the box. Communities tend to work best when everyone pulls the same way and abide by the same rules.

If that's REALLY something you don't want to do, one player games are also available.

What is less clear at this stage, and I think might be nice to qualify if I were a Blizzard Dev, is if there are any plans in place to try and force a reboot of server communities for 5.4 and beyond. Could there be an Arena Tournament using Virtual Servers as combatants? Could a Virtual Scavenger Hunt be introduced, for instance, where each hub was forced to collect certain numbers of mundane items to win a Monthly prize (maybe a title that existed for everyone to use who took part on that cluster for the month?) Could we have Virtual Server Mog-Offs? The question I think needs to be asked, because if Blizzard are aware that the game's core essence has suffered as a result of the change in game direction, is it their job to change that? Has it now stopped being Blizzard's task to try and instil a sense of both identity and community in the game to begin with? They give us the game to play, after all, is it up to them to provide all the answers, or is this one up to us?

What could Blizzard do to restore server communities, and indeed does it matter at all at this stage in the game?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Catch Me If You Can

Graphics budget BLOWN. Again ^^

There's been a bit of fuss over the Qiraji Guardling in the last week. If you don't 'do' Battle Pets it's probably time to switch off now, but for everyone else... the word 'fiasco' springs to mind. What it has proven is that the modus operandi of Blizzard in response to customer 'complaints' is perhaps not as intractable on certain items as it once was. It also shows that, even after eight years, there are lessons to be learnt for Blizzard Devs on how you compile and present your content.

Before we start our analysis, let's recap what happened on June 21st, at least from where this Collector was standing. Arriving in Silithus several hours before the pet was due to 'spawn' I was met by half a dozen people, across my CRZ. Notice this was well BEFORE the pet was even due to appear. If I didn't know it already, this wasn't going to be a done deal. Like most other people I'd assumed the following:

a) I was the only person who cared about capturing a pet the day it spawned.

b) No-one else would be bothered about doing so and I'd have an unimpeded run at the pet.

c) I was clearly delusional. (No that was just me.)

What Blizzard and I had failed to grasp, and what only became clear in the days that followed, was the number of people who wanted this pet the moment it spawned. What made the Guardling so special? For most, it was the simple fact it was the last pet that completed their World Safari achievement, and by default awarded them the title Zookeeper. After months of hunting down every other pet on the planet, this was the one that eluded just about everybody. I find it amazing that no-one looking at the numbers at Blizzard HQ anticipated this and didn't a) increase the area in which the pets spawned and b) did that before the 21st. Instead everyone arrived to find a tiny area and an even smaller number of pets, plus a great deal of grief and anger. I'm not even going to talk about the PvP servers... ^^

Again, Blizzard became a victim of their own mini-game's popularity, and failed to anticipate the consequences. Threads immediately sprang up on the forums accusing Blizzard of short-sightedness. The standard response was given, to reiterate that spawn rates were the way they were for a reason, and people would just have to be patient but yesterday, in a move that made this player respond with WTF BLIZZ Guardling Spawn Rate FTL :(  that decision was reversed. The spawn rate was deliberately increased, as a response to what was, to all intent and purpose, public pressure. Of course, there will be those who will maintain that wasn't the case, that Blizzard had just made a mistake and chose to rectify it. When CM's were making comments like this prior to the about face however I'd have to say I disagree. No other spawn rates have been changed either, including the Snowy Owl which is the Guardling's 'compatriot', spawning only in the winter months.

This is, at least from where I stand, a worrying development. However, in the larger scheme of things, it isn't actually that much of a surprise.

Battle Pets have become one of the most popular components of the Expansion, perhaps the most popular if my Twitter feed is any indicator. Blizzard have invested so much into this feature one could argue that to not react to the issue of the spawn could potentially damage player confidence and have the potential to drive people away from the game altogether. When considered in those terms, the decision to about face becomes a lot more logical. The problem however is that spawn rates of anything and everything have been points of debate since Vanilla: rare mounts, hunter pets... you name it, if it's had a contentious timer there's been little or no chance of that being altered. People have needed patience, persistence and an unbreakable sense of humour to get the items they've wanted to complete achievements. Changing that precedent could have some far-reaching consequences.

What is more significant is the fact no-one in Blizzard saw this one coming. When people started publicly hassling CM's in May for a spawn date, alarm bells should have rung.  The signs would have been there, in the data, even at that point:

  • The number of people who only needed only one pet in their Safari achievement. When there's a ton of those in my Guild, I know that number's going to be sizeable.

  • Linking this last pet to an Achievement that awarded not simply a the points, but a title, one which would have sizable 'bragging rights' to anyone who gained it as early as possible.

  • Making a big thing of reminding people the pet was about to spawn. (I'm as much to blame about this as everyone else who did, Blizzard perhaps not so much, but releasing the Blossoming Ancient the week before that had the feature of changing skins with seasons was probably too much of a clue for those previously unaware.)

  • Failing to anticipate demand in what has been one of the most popular areas of the Expansion.

Most importantly of all, did no-one consider that making two of your spawns in an achievement seasonal might lead to such an unpredictable conclusion? Really, NOBODY? After eight years of making certain things problematic (*cough* Children's Week PvP *cough*) why NOW decide to cave to public pressure and change the rules? I'm sure that's not what you want it to look like, but from here (and I know I'm not alone in this) it does seem to have panned out that way. Not sure who made the decision on this one, but I'd expect some other 'tough' spawn rates to be altered to bring other 'difficult' pets in line with the Guardling very soon, so we can see that this is a thoughtful and considered change and not a knee-jerk reaction.

This one wasn't up to the normal high standard, guys. The next one will need work.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Female of the Species

Top song, /handwaggle at video ^^

As a rule, I like to pick my battles. Getting involved in many discussions when it comes to the topic of 'women in gaming' make me, I have to say, a little nervous. My outlook is simple: if you can't treat me as an equal to begin with, then I doubt convincing you of anything will either begin or end well. Therefore, a lot of the time, it's simply easier not to get involved. However, there is one topic which consistently annoys and dismays me, and a lot of that is wrapped up with having an eight year old daughter. I've lost count of the number of times she's turned to me when playing a web game or watching her brother playing on the PC or console and asked 'why are their no girls to play?' Undoubtedly her favourite games (Minecraft included) are where she can be a female avatar and 'dress' herself in the way she wants. No, this isn't reinforcing gender stereotypes when the only one you're consistently presented with is male. It's a perfectly natural choice she should be able to make without consequence, and without the need for a flame war or massive amount of recrimination. The problem is, female representation in games is ultimately fecked, and Warcraft is a perfect example.

Where ON AZEROTH are all the women?

Races in game are, of course, adequately represented, but after that... things get a bit murky. I saw a leak yesterday of 'supposed' expansion art for 6.0 (which was news to me but has apparently been around for ages) which suggested female 'forms' for three new races, one of which were the Ogres. This has always fascinated me back since I first ran into Ogres in Vanilla: where were the women? Were they subjugated and made to live in caves? Were they sensible and simply took no part in fighting? How did Ogres reproduce as a result? See, there's a part of me (the rational science bit that comes out when people start questioning Evolution, which is an argument for an ENTIRELY different place) that needs to have both a male and a female of the species present in any environment to make the process work successfully. The only reason we can have Panda cubs running around, telling me with enthusiasm they're learning to grow beards, is because I can see Male and Female pandas exist, and I can do the maths in my head. It's a 12 game, I don't need to have anything else, it's okay. On that point, why don't any girls of any race speak in game either?

I'm distracting myself from the point here: Murloc babies. How do I know what's a female to begin with? I just assume (in this case) that because babies exist there must be both mum and dad present in the process. Just because the females aren't OBVIOUSLY female (and you know where I'm going with this) doesn't mean they don't exist, so logically one could assume that female ogres have existed all along, you just don't know what they look like. The fact they both sound and act like the men is as maybe. This, I suspect, would be how 'lazy' developers would react if asked a direct question. The truth, I would also think, is that every model takes forever to actually make, and if the game was populated with biologically correct versions of every species the game would have failed in Vanilla because it just took too long to code. Cutting a corner for expediency is a sensible move: its only eight years down the line when the game is more popular than anyone else's when these kinds of 'aesthetic' issues come into play.

It's always about the norks :(

Ultimately, the way women are portrayed in games has less to do with what women actually look like (and by that I mean all the beautiful body shapes that exist and not the narrow band certain sectors of the media decide are desirable) and more to do with the notion of what some men THINK women look like. There's a science to this too, basic biology, all wrapped up in the desire to reproduce and continue the species. I get this. I also get the thing about breasts, and skin, and scantily clad. I mean, these two lasses up here are an absolutely PERFECT example of what happens, and as a result what is just not how it should work. PUT THE BREASTS AWAY. Be creative, go read some Encyclopaedias and come up with female models that don't look as if they fell out of this month's copy of a Goblin's Gentleman's Magazine. If you're going to spend hours of time designing this stuff, don't tell me it makes it easier to do if you've got something attractive to stare at, because I'M NOT BUYING IT.  Beautiful does not mean stereotype, it means diversity. The only way things will ever change in an industry that is predominantly male-populated is if these outdated views are finally discarded forever.

If you want a far more intelligent and passionate take on these two, by the way, I'd strongly suggest you go read Apple Cider Mage's take on the introduction of these girls in 5.3. There are two parts, make sure you read both.

In the end, what we see in a game matters almost as much as the game itself, or else all those adverts on websites for 'the fantasy game all your friends are playing' wouldn't exist. Gender stereotyping may be becoming less and less acceptable with each passing day, but it still remains a problem if the people who it is targeted at simply sit back and say 'no matter, someone else can change that.' It's up to us, folks, we have the power, especially in this Community where we KNOW the people who make the game sit up and take notice at criticism. I'd even argue that I'd settle for more bio-diversity in game without having to make this a right-out Feminist issue to begin with. The fact remains, you don't need a label to fight a cause, and you shouldn't get criticised when you feel that images are either misrepresented or simply forgotten for the sale of expedience. There really should be more female models in game: I know I'm not the first person to say this either, what concerns me more is that I might be the last. The only way things change is by constant and respectful pressure. Let me add my voice to this cause, and let me say I will keep poking at every model that Blizzard produce in the future that relies less on the real world for it's inspiration and more on hackneyed stereotype.

I don't think that's too much to ask.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Brilliant Trees

The arboreal improvements to MSV were going well...

For some people, raiding is never current content.

For our Guild, getting ten people out for any content has been problematic since early February, when a series of circumstances transpired which, on reflection, were really badly handled by yours truly. The upshot was we lost key personnel and pretty much the will to raid. It has taken this long (and the introduction of Flex Raiding) to redress that balance. Hence this weekend, ten of us went to Mogu'shan Vaults and cleared the place over two nights: five bosses on the Saturday, and the Twin Emperors on the Sunday. Needless to say, I think I've learnt a great deal this weekend, and all of it is useful. It also demonstrates, if it were needed, that you don't ever just faceroll old content without a plan.

For two of our number, it was the first time in a 10 man since Wrath. For that reason alone we'd decided to take the entire exercise both slow and steady, allowing people to learn fights at their pace, and not to force anyone to do anything they felt uncomfortable with. As it transpires the only major problems arrived at Elegon, and that was simply the execution of what remains a pretty complex mechanic even now (just go into LFR for evidence that's still the case.) The rest of the evening was smooth, professional and ultimately extremely rewarding. There is a lot to be said for watching people who have never fought a boss before pick up the mechanics from scratch and adapt to situations in an intuitive fashion. It is also abundantly clear that having completed LFR is a distinct advantage in understanding a) what happens and b) where NOT to stand. We ended up 5-manning the Spirit Kings to maintain our one-shot record up to that point, and both our newcomers died to damage that everyone else knew to avoid. As an exercise in training, LFR is still a very worthwhile proposition.

Sunday night's Twin Emperors was a learning experience for our new Offtank, and I have to say I was very pleased to watch him grasp and beat the mechanic and allow us the chance to complete the instance. This gives me a great deal of confidence that next weekend's target (Heart of Fear) should be not simply a challenge for the new people but a step up from what they've now seen is the normal difficulty. I think I can see a change in general mentality throughout the entire Roster: you don't have to be raiding the bleeding edge to get a sense of satisfaction from a  job well done, after all. Progression is as much about people feeling comfortable with their place within it as it is the movement itself. With the wealth of potential options now available to 'raiders' it is easy to see why some feel uncomfortable or confused with the number of options needed to be made. However, if you're at the bottom of the pile because not simply of gear restraints but time ones too, the options become limited and therefore not a concern. You simply do what you can.

I am very proud of everyone who took part this weekend and I hope everyone enjoyed the experience as much as I did. For us, this is the first step on a long road which I *hope* in 5.4 will mean Flex Raiding  with friends AND Guildies and a return to the 10 man current content. However, we're not rushing anything. It will happen when it happens, and until then there is the process of bringing new people into the raiding mindset and teaching everyone in the 'family' how we work together as a team. I look forward to that journey, and I have no timer on the arrival. We'll get there when we're ready...

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Good Tradition

The crowd decide: yes or no? ^^

Once upon a time, Server reputation meant everything.

The Server you chose wasn't simply your home. It was the ONLY place you could play in: not simply with your Guild, but the PuG. In the days before LFG or LFR, the only way was indeed to stand around in a Capital City (often for hours) in the vain hope someone would shout into Trade 'LFG UBRS Class Run Must have key' and you could automatically get yourself in because you'd done the Key Quest (oh that extra cash from opening the door /nostalgia) If you were a troublemaker, you got ostracised. If you ninja looted, your name was mud, and it pretty much stayed that way. With the advent of the matchmaking system, individual/guild responsibility for policing servers pretty much evaporated overnight.

Being a 'good citizen' was no longer a requirement to be included.

With all the talk on the new policing system Blizzard has admitted to using last week on the blog, a lot of interesting conversations arose as a result. One, with a Guildie who pretty much missed Cataclysm altogether, made me realise that thinking in the old fashioned mindset has a great deal going for it: she's reticent to go into LFR incase she messed up, and people on the Server think she's not capable of doing her job. She still considers us a single entity, and not the huge conglomerate we have become. Her individual reputation still matters. I do wish that this mindset was something everyone I meet in LFR possessed, effectively silencing the loudmouths and the chancers. There was also a discussion on Twitter that considered how someone who has voted to kick people who have needed on green items might actually end up being penalised for what was, in essence, doing the right thing. I have to hope that Blizzard have considered all the consequences of this system, both good and bad.

In essence, the size of the community has both blessed and damned the game's development over the years. LFR was a logical reaction to the number of people not getting to raid, but it has condemned people away from the server 'mentality' and, in most cases, made the notion of a community useless. As numbers have reduced people have been forced to use other methods of social networking to create new 'virtual servers' of their own, and Blizzard were quick to react to this with Real Id raids, but (ironically) are still tied to the the single server model for current content because of the Server/World First. While that still remained, there was always going to be a disparity. However, numbers have finally forced Blizzard to 'group' servers under a single umbrella (notice I deliberately didn't use the word merge there) and the ability to recruit inside that sphere. You'll still have recognisable Guild names, I don't doubt the same 'brand identities' will be prominent when 5.4 hits. However, will the race lose some of it's significance because of the realisation the server 'identity' has finally been compromised?

I really do feel that the moves Blizzard have made in the last couple of weeks will ultimately be positive in the long run. The problems, at least from where I sit, will come with those people like my friend who still believe that 'reputation' is more important than participation, and I have to say I have a measure of sympathy for that position. If I had my way however, we'd have gone with the full-on Server Merge and made people have to change names and play together, and I know full well I'd be on a hiding to nothing from a lot of people I know for believing this would work. My reasoning is very basic: it isn't the character, it's always the person that matters most. You can 'name' yourself whatever you want but it is the actions behind the avatar that matters, not the avatar itself. So many people, not simply playing Warcraft, could do well to remember it is both deeds and words that make a person. Traditions are important however, and I suspect Blizzard are hoping that Flex Raiding will encourage people back to the 'old days' of community policing and individual responsibility.

The opening few weeks of 5.4 look like they'll be very interesting indeed.