Saturday, August 03, 2013

Let's Go Round Again

Okay, folks. I'm off out today (day in London Town with family + good, dear friend) which would NORMALLY mean I'd leave you unposted for the day... but actually, I'm going to break an unwritten rule instead and repost something I briefly mentioned yesterday, because I think the point I made over a year ago is worth repeating. Rest assured, Normal Service will be resumed tomorrow... but for now go back to the day just over a year ago when the Higgs-Bosun particle's existence was finally confirmed...


Special Relativity.

First Published July 7th, 2012.

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

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

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

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

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

It has to be about facts.

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

Time is what really matters.

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 02, 2013

Flannel is the Colour of My Energy

I don’t think this will change any time soon but I must say that I sympathize with what you’re saying, This isn’t a “special snowflake syndrome”. Sure, there might be a little bit of that involved, but it’s mostly a matter of perception, and perception is a very important factor in driving motivation.

If a colour is associated with rarity, that colour becomes important by itself, and that’s something that only the most old school players probably understand, still feel, or miss.

I've realised this morning that an awful lot of the problems in-game are, in fact, my fault.

No, it's not your fault, really! Blame me!

After eight years, there is a PHENOMENAL amount of baggage for Blizzard to drag around behind them. However, in most cases, they're already so over it that they're off thinking of new and awesomer (even a word?) shiny things to tempt us with. The problem isn't them, it is most definitely us, and by that I mean all the people who remember when Epic was properly Purple and who still own the t-shirt to prove it.

There's a shirt for that. Go buy it now.

The 'here since Vanilla' brigade are, for the most part, absolutely the worst group of people to try and please. They're bringing every preconception and more to the table, expecting everything to have some kind of relevance back to the past whilst simultaneously making the future easier, shinier and distinctly more fun to play... except of course, it won't be, because Vanilla was better. We've had this argument so many times now we've gone the same colour in the face as that shirt: it wasn't better, it was just DIFFERENT. Actually, in many cases it was far, FAR worse and trying to rekindle the feeling you had when you walked into Ironforge for the first time is unlikely to ever happen because... well, that is the past, and you've changed. That's the key. I even wrote what I think is one of my best posts about just this subject. There is no way to recapture those special moments, because they have passed into history.What remains are your memories, and unless Blizzard are going into business with Rekall Industries, you're never getting that back in game.

Just add Daniel Craig. Job dun!

What remains therefore is the understanding that even with eight years of source material, Blizzard will get stuff wrong. There are those who would argue that with a monthly sub we shouldn't be paying for wrong, it should all be right, but then we find ourselves in the realms of 'pleasing the majority' which is all a game can ever reasonably expect to do. It isn't one person's decision, which goes back to Mr Street's comment above: this is a game created very much by committee. Those people all know the weight of responsibility AND history behind them, and in the end you have to trust that they're not sitting and deliberately trying to upset us. No, REALLY THEY'RE NOT. If you are one of those people who feels that they've got some entitlement to complain 24/7 because you pay a sub... well, actually you don't. Go read the Terms of Service. If you don't like what you're being presented with, it is probably far easier just to stop playing and walk away... except after eight years, where do you go?

Other gaming platforms are available. GO ON.

Part of the problem is the ingrained nature of this game for so many of the people who have played it. They just can't stay away, and keep coming back to pass judgement. Some don't play but still write about the game, as they realise that this was something they enjoyed being a part of... except its not the experience that captured them. It's the community, and that's why so much fuss continues to be generated over LFR's behaviour matrix. That's why people complain about how bad things have become: it's not the game's fault, that's the people playing you need to poke. For every good person that remains so many others have moved on, and as the player base reduces down over the years, the bad becomes more apparent than the good because so many people have taken positive experiences away with them. The game is just that, remains the same basic set of pixels it has always been, the perception shifts because of the people who are looking... or not. Gaming for many people isn't about analysis to the Nth Degree, it's about winning and doing the next thing. What changed isn't simply your perception of Warcraft, it's also the community's approach to gaming.

Don't blame Greg if stuff is bad. Don't blame Goldboy99's DK for ruining your LFR experience (well you should report him regardless, but I'm building to a climax here so run with it ^^). Don't even think about blaming Canada, because they're an ex-British Colony and you'll have me to answer to. If you want to blame anyone for why things are different, why not start with yourself to begin with, and work from there. You might be amazed at what happens if you do.

Thursday, August 01, 2013


Not immediately what I appear to be, but always the same. Discuss.

Possibly the biggest bonus on the back of my Podcast appearance this week (still available to listen to here) is the reinforcement of the fact that I'm not alone. That may sound a bit daft considering I write a daily blog and have what is quite obviously an audience for said posts, but you need to bear with me on this while I explain to you the notion of self and perception of said notion in a wider context. See, I can even make my own shortcomings sound good, and that's a life skill I've been working on for absolutely decades. Part of this is wrapped up in the understanding that I am anything but a stereotypical gamer, despite the fact pretty much my entire life has, in one form or another, revolved around gaming.

Forget for a moment the very obvious issues: I've never considered my sex in equations like this, I am a person who plays games. Normally the issues with that perception comes from other people, and I am well aware of the potential arguments that are wrapped up in this particular subject. That stereotype is one I like to simply ignore, which might not make certain people happy, but I only consider it to be an issue when it becomes one. Most of the time I am pleasantly surprised at how people react, and  I hope that is a trend that continues. I want to stand and fall by my words here, or else they'd never see the light of day, and it has been hugely encouraging to see how people not only respond to the topics discussed but that it sends other people in different directions and encourages more writing as a result. In that regard I wonder if I am a stereotypical WoW Blogger: I certainly cannot get my brain around the intricacies of theorycrafting, but I know what I'm good at, and I know what is bad (quite apart from standing in crap.)

Part of me wishes I could be a better writer about Hunters: I've tried on several occasions to hone my writing to match the style of the more famous bloggers of that ilk, but then I realised an important truth: I don't enjoy it. It's simply not what I am, and if there's one intractable truth that surrounds good writing, it is the notion that you should write what you're good at. That means being able to consider the consequences of changes to talents and abilities, but being singularly incapable of providing you with the maths as to why. Doing that is an important provision for many other people to take your work seriously, so I will happily admit that's never going to be something you'll ever see me covering. Frankly, I'm quite relieved about that as well. Knowing your shortcomings is as important as being able to try and deal with them. Maybe if I'd started this journey a decade ago, or didn't have two children to consider, but really there are more important skills (from where I sit) to be learnt.

Then, we have the GM stereotype that I'm also desperately trying not to typify. I've not been a particularly adept wearer of the title in the last month, and I intend to improve that situation this month, working on the theory that come September we may finally have some new content to deal with. Right now I am probably only running our Guild in name only, which doesn't seem to be bothering anyone too much (and so therefore I could argue I'm doing an okay job because no-one has as yet complained.) However, I know enough about how this particular job works that this is no way to run anything, and the best management is pro-active even in the fallow periods. Part of my task this month therefore is to try and make the Guild a better place to be in, and to try and encourage people to start participating in more group activities as a precursor to new content when it arrives.

Finally, and most importantly at this point, is the stereotype of me as a Casual Player. My play time is at its lowest point in eight years, but this is possibly the happiest I've been about Azeroth for many, many months. August is going to be when I address the issue of picking single achievable targets and completing them, which is quite hard when some of those involve an immense amount of in-game time. No matter, I will find a way, because I'm NOT a typical gamer and I don't fit into niches either easily or without considerable complaint. I fully understand the need for other people to label what is around them, why they desire to place names to things so the can understand what they are and how to deal with them. I've become quite adept at sneaking away when people start labelling, but the most important lesson I've learnt over the years is to try and understand why those labels get stuck to you to begin with. As I do like to remind you all, every day is a school day. Learning why things happen is a life skill that even applies in virtual environments.

I am many things, but in the end I am always playing this game, until they switch off the servers and tell me to go home. That fact will never change. I simply adapt myself around that fact.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

See the World

Travelling as a metaphor for... well, life.

Those of you who don't recognise the above screengrab will wonder what's going on this morning: I spent a portion of yesterday with my kids becoming acquainted with the game that is Journey on the PS3. Except, many people will argue it isn't a game to begin with: you can't die, there is no right way to complete it (though it has the prerequisite trophies) and, most importantly of all, as an interactive experience you have no real way to associate with anyone you may 'play' with until your journey is over. Frankly the entire thing is impossible to describe, you have to play it to understand not simply the beauty of the experience but the complexity. It is undoubtedly unlike anything you will ever pick up on a console and even if the actual game itself doesn't grasp you the music is worth seeking out as possibly the most atmospheric accompaniment to anything I've heard for some time.

This gave me considerable pause for thought, especially on the back of the discussions yesterday concerning in-game accountability. Here I am presented with an experience where the only way to communicate is with a series of musical notes. I have no idea of the identity of the people I 'meet' in game: the only indicator comes when we are close enough to interact. If a person deliberately stops and 'helps' me to find a particular path (or as happened last night the location of items to be awarded with a trophy) and then accompanies me to the end, of the game, I feel a far greater sense of empathy and companionship than I think has ever been the case with random grouping in Warcraft. By NOT knowing who I am with and being made to consider my actions visually and entirely different set of responses are triggered.

Is it fair therefore to judge individuals on past behaviour when it is just as likely that they could act in a completely different manner dependant on individual circumstances? Could affording utter anonymity to people be an answer, so that you are forced simply to consider actions and not previous deeds?

The biggest single problem with that argument in Warcraft is that it is a game that pretty much relies on communication to function, and once to place that caveat into play the notions of simply working on action become largely redundant, because of the goals the game drives people towards. You require not simply an ability to play, but gear and consumables and in most cases a group of friends with whom you can rely on to complete the tasks asked of you. Most importantly, death is a constant that isn't simply inevitable, it is also costly and often frustrating. Because the notion of 'winning' remains at the core of the experience, there have to be complex choices made, and consequences inevitably for such decisions. It also means that long-term issues and flaws become significant, and need to be accounted for.

However elegant and beautiful it may be to consider a world where everything worked in moments of cinematic and artistic perfection, the reality is that life is harsh, and people are often harsher. While even the most embittered individuals may have their moments of salvation, the truth is that being accountable continues to matter, especially when many (often hard-worked) hours are needed to kill bosses. There are lessons to be learnt here, especially for those who believe the moment should be the only thing that matters, and that judging anyone on past mistakes puts that person at a deliberate disadvantage. It is the lesson that many people could do well to be reminded of whenever they feel the need to tell the world online of what's going on in their life at any given moment.

Unlike people, the Internet has an extremely long memory. It remembers far more than most of us would probably feel comfortable with, not simply in cached pages. Pictures on ancient bulletin boards we have long-since grown out of, discussions in forums we would rather forget. Yes, you may keep changing your name but all that stuff never goes away, and it is amazing what algorithms are now being written to tie all the disparate stands of our lives together to appease both advertisers and governments. If the future of our lives is online, then learning how to manage that presence responsibility is vital, especially when it comes to the consequences of our actions. That means being made accountable for whatever we might do, even when playing a game.

I'd love to live in a world where something like Journey could be a foundation for a gaming world where helping each other is the default state. However, that's unlikely ever to happen (at least in my lifetime), and so we do need to push for some more aggressive methods of policing. It may be unpleasant for some, but the reality of the situation we now find ourselves in is that accountability has to matter, and it has to be a state that everyone is prepared to embrace.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Walk Idiot Walk

Self-conscious poseage (is that even a word) FTW ^^

Those of you who don't read me on Twitter may not be aware that, at the weekend, I was interviewed for a Podcast. If you want to listen, you'll find it here:

I have to say, I've been genuinely amazed by the reception. Someone said to me before I took part that its pretty easy to distinguish who loves their game and who doesn't when you listen to them talk about it, and it appears my passion for this eight year old behemoth remains undiminished. I really got quite stressed out about the entire experience (both before, during and after) and I've still not yet plucked up the courage to listen back to myself as yet, but the feedback I'm getting from those who have is unbelievably positive. It has even been suggested that I might want to start my own Podcast on the strength of this performance: I'm still quietly stunned at that revelation. I'm also not sure what I'd do if I did, but needless to say I'm thinking about the possibility, with 'thinking' being the operative word.

What this has made me think is that being more public about things isn't necessarily a bad idea.

There's a fabulous article from Olivia Grace on WoW Insider from yesterday on the issue of getting angry about stuff online. One of the issues I touched on in the Podcast, when asked what I'd add to the game to improve it, was a means inside the interface to force more accountability from players. I'm still not sure how or what could realistically be done to make this happen, but I do understand that being anonymous is not acceptable after eight years. People need to stand up and be counted. Changing your name or swapping servers in order to escape from bad behaviour should not be acceptable any more. There should be a record of who you are and what you've done, and that record should follow you regardless, and then you need to be prepared to live and die (metaphorically) by your actions.

Of course, there are many who rely on anonymity for other reasons, and those individuals would not want a record of server transfers and name changes for legitimate and understandable reasons. For this reason alone being completely transparent may not be as popular a move as it should be, but part of me hopes that there is a middle ground that can be found on these issues. The major problem is the disparate strands of information that exist which would need to be linked together to allow a system that not only keeps track of your history but can report a version of said timeline to the public. Again, I sense this would need to be built into a new game's interface, rather than clunkily added to an existing one, which is why part of me hopes Blizzard is watching and listening for Titan.

I'd like to thank everyone who's commented and been so encouraging about my steps towards 'going public' and I hope that there can be ways found to make accountability a bigger issue for Warcraft and online generally. It's a big enough issue that if someone like Blizzard can come up with a solution that works, its likely to do far more to re-energise the game's subscription base than adding any amount of new content could ever achieve...

Monday, July 29, 2013

Back for Good

Not a bad weekend, all told.

This weekend has seen possibly one of my Dearest Old Friends make a brief return to these shores from his expedition to an ex-British colony, and has been accompanied by more 5 man instancing than I've probably involved myself in since Pandaria launched. It has also made me aware how much the nuts and bolts of playing this game have changed for me over this Expansion: once upon a time Heroics were all we'd have if you wanted to pile on the points. Oh how starved of possibilities we were then in those halcyon days: now it's Scenarios and LFR, but frankly very little beats the fun and games that the five man brings. I miss them, and their possibilities, and frankly I hope Blizzard brings them back with a vengeance. I'd even allow you to make Heroic versions of all my favourite dungeons too, as a concession to the 10th Anniversary.

What remains however is that expectation and acceptable reward have altered in the last 18 months, perhaps more than I'd ever really grasped until I went back into Dungeons, which for three out of the five people I was playing with (in their minds) is the only way to grind their points. Having lived through this expansion, my notion of choice may have changed for ever, but my gut tells me two inescapable truths:

  • This game is great when you play it in a five.
  • Offering me better gear in a 25 man party isn't necessarily the best idea.

Scenarios are fabulous, don't get me wrong, but not when you're playing with a married couple as friends, who'll both want to play with the other. Okay, this is a fairly specific proviso I'll grant you, but fives does at least allow for a bit of flexibility. It's also allowing me as a vastly overgeared DPS the chance to carry two considerably lesser geared individuals through at speed and the opportunity to collect points and other items. Of course, their options are still severely limited because a ton of the gear they'd currently need to progress is locked behind reputation thresholds (I know that changes in 5.4, but that's little use right now.). They're also both limited with only having a couple of hours a night: no complicated Lion's Landing or Barrens rep grinds for them. Ideally, once everyone in our party hits 470 iLevel we should be in LFR... except...

Raiding with Strangers isn't everyone's idea of a great night out.

I can absolutely see why Flex is going to be as huge as it inevitably will be, simply because you will have the ability to make a conscious decision as to who you raid with. It is, as many people have said, what LFR SHOULD have been at inception. There are those who will happily just get in a queue and take their chances (Mr Alt is solidly in that camp, he just sees points and possibilities) but there are many (like my married couple friends) who are not as easily convinced. I don't blame them either, I've been in some pretty unpleasant LFR's since Dragon Soul. However, if you take them in the same mentality as banging out a ton of 5 mans, then it's absolutely no different, except the loot is infinitely better (assuming you get any) and the rewards far greater (assuming you stay until the end.) The problem, of course, comes when you run out of useful upgrades. For the rest of my 5 man compadres this has to be the way forward from this point onwards. Convincing them of this will be an interesting exercise.

This makes me wonder how Blizzard intend to make things work using this pretty extensive range of gearing 'functions' when the next Expansion ships. Can we expect more Solo scenarios in the levelling process? Will five mans be an expected part of proceeding to LFR and Flex, or will we be offered alternatives to that 'traditional' journey? I suppose what we will get is more choice, but will it be too much or not enough? I think the biggest key this time around won't even be what we have to do to get better gear, but the gear itself... gating stuff behind reputation was not exactly a popular choice last time around...

Is it time for an announcement yet?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Two Tribes

Oh arsecakes :(

Perception, we have discussed at length, is a curious beast. Choice too has a lot to do with where you are when it happens. I'd always considered the decision to make Pandas eligible to both races as far more to do with the lore of the game and a lot less about denying anyone the opportunity of playing one. It would appear my thinking may have been flawed. It is interesting to grasp that having one race to chose from last time around may not have been as complicated a decision as it might first have appeared. What this now makes me wonder is what we might expect as a result of this statement for the upcoming expansion.

I feel that returning to the game's roots will be on the cards.

The Horde v Alliance conflict remains the beating heart of the game, and long may it continue, but in Pandaria we have seen one side destroyed and the other surprisingly reticent to take advantage. In fact, for a long time, the only concern of the Alliance was revenge for actions in one place. Clearly the Pandaran's love of balance and harmony is all very well, to a point: if we are going to continue living in an Us v Them world then having one side severely handicapped against the other will make for some very predictable (and possibly not optimal) outcomes. Once the dust settles in Orgrimmar, we already have indicators that things will change, but nothing more than that. When the next expansion is announced, does this mean we can expect two new races this time around and a return to the good old-fashioned Faction bias?

I'd say yes... and no.

There's been a lot of muttering on the back of some interviews Mr G. Street Esq. did whilst he was in the Far East last week. Many of those focus on hints that we could be getting a new class come the next Expansion: the Buffmaster/Buffmistress. From a purely production point of view, just having one class again this time around would mean the minimum amount of work required on animations and artwork, especially if (as was the case with Death Knights) there is no new race introduced to boot. However, I'm not sure Blizzard can afford to scrimp on artwork this time around. In fact, with the drop in subs and the news that production staff were moved away from Titan and back to Warcraft makes me think they know they have to bring the boys to the yard in numbers this time around. That would mean two new races, but then I stopped and thought. What if they simply diverted all their efforts to re-creating every existing Warcraft race from scratch?

What if the selling point in this 10th Year Anniversary Edition of the game ISN'T NEW RACES but is the finally-anticipated reworkings of all the existing models?

The question has to be, could Blizzard afford NOT to have new races as every expansion previously has used them as a major selling point. I can see many people crying foul if we didn't get at least something new but the problem then comes with the addition of every new race that it makes the old ones look lame and pale into comparison.... and those 'old' races are still HUGELY popular. The problem however comes with getting the changes right: make too much of an alteration and people will lose their bond with the characters they play. Its a really delicate balance but if Blizzard hit the spot, I think it would be fabulous. I mention this now too because the 'work' on character models hasn't been mentioned a lot, if at all of late. I think we might be gearing for something big.

In fact, part of me can't help but thing it really is too quiet on the Major News front of late, but I suppose this is only to be expected in the Summer Months. We should probably just stop all of this idle speculation and wait until August is over, because as soon as we head into September I can GUARANTEE things are going to get really interesting...