Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Best Kept Secret

Your new best friend. Honest.

As time goes on, the allure of the Timeless Isle will eventually wane (if you're not bored already, and I know there's a few of you around.) However, just stepping foot there will provide you with something: Timeless Coins. Once upon a time, currencies would gather dust once you left the area/patch in which they were introduced. The canny and the smart understand that playing somewhere else does not necessarily mean your money becomes worthless: look at the Argent Tournament for examples of how you can spend old currency to make gold even now. At the Isle, there is a place that serves one purpose, and one alone: to relieve you of coins, apparently for no discernible reward. However, the canny amongst us will already be looking at this small corner of the game world with speculative eyes. In this place, you play a game with the RNG. What you win looks like it could become a mini-game all of its own.

X Marks the spot. Rare spawns model's own.

This is where you'll find Kukuru's Grotto on the Island. It's out of the way, hidden behind tigers and giant rock elementals. Inside is a Hozen called Master Kukuru, and every single variety of chest you'll ever encounter in your travels across Azeroth. For 500 Timeless Coins, you can buy his titular key, and take a chance at opening one of the caches. This is likely to give you one of (currently) four items according to the information I can glean from the Internets:

  • More Timeless Coins
  • Timeless Gear tokens
  • A Burden of Eternity (which will upgrade a 496 timeless token into a 535 item)
  • Bonkers

If I believe what I read and hear, you could be four times more likely to get a Burden of Eternity from a chest spending 50,000 coins than simply purchasing one of these from the appropriate Timeless Vendor. For those people who will be generating many coins therefore, this could be a particularly lucrative sideline. If you're doing this and you're an Enchanter, there is also the opportunity once you have clothed every alt you may wish to to convert the Timeless Gear tokens to Epics for DE. Although there is a spread of armour items I have picked up as a Hunter thus far, I'm seeing a distinct bias towards mail, and if your enchanter is similarly blessed this may well be a means to generate a bit of extra cash. It's looking like a 1.5% possibility of either a Burden or the Battle Pet on current data and as the latter cannot be crated or sold, Pet Collectors need to stick this place on their radar as a matter of interest.

We could really BE in this cave...

This is at least one way for those of you who when you've spent all your coins on the stuff you need to have some fun and maybe strike it lucky. It's a must-gstop cave for any Pet Collector and it could well be the means to guarantee yourself an iLevel of 535 if you never step foot in a single dungeon again before the next Expansion. I warn you however, if the support groups I'm seeing spring up are any indicator, it's quite an addictive pursuit.

You may wish to proceed with caution :D

Living in a Box

Are we living in a cardboard box?

This morning, I will be trying to convince the person to my left, who has never played the game before, to subscribe to World of Warcraft. At the same time the person to my right has already subbed to the game at some point in the past and subsequently left, and I'm hoping I can take to opportunity to try and convince them too that this is the perfect moment to return to the Game. Don't expect me to sell you any great new features like quest hubs and end-game content however. That's not what this game is about.

No, really, all of that's just a passing phase.

What both of you will need to do first therefore is to leave your preconceptions at the door, because half the problem Warcraft suffers from right now is how the rest of the world perceives it. The decision also has a lot to do with you, because if begin your journey believing Warcraft's purely diversion or entertainment, you're mistaken. In fact, the moment you start talking about WoW as 'just a game' is exactly when every issue surrounding it rears it's ugly head. This isn't simply a game, it is a journey, and a lifestyle choice to boot. Not many CD's in a box can claim that as their reason for being, after all. There are a few: pick a first-person shooter and you might occasionally get close. Every fantasy title has it's core of followers, but for most who play the allure is fleeting and never really sticks, because they don't make the vital connection.

There is an ancient proverb that states:

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Beautiful and foreboding, all at once.

What you need to grasp before you even open the box with Warcraft, before you fire up the website, is that this is NOT a journey you will ever undertake lightly if you want to experience the game as it should be, and it CANNOT be completed successfully alone. This may come as a surprise to all those gold farmers out there making their millions unaided across the many auction houses of Azeroth, but without the player base they'd have no game to exploit. The beating heart of this game is what makes the place as brilliant and terrible as it undoubtedly is, pretty much simultaneously, and it is is that which is the first point of contact in our task to make you want to play.

When you pick up the game and hold it in your hand for the first time [*], you bring all your existing preconceptions to the table of what this type of game (MMO) should be like. You'll use your experience of previous games, what you've been told, what you've managed to glean for yourself from literature and from mates. The biggest single issue you're likely to be concerned about is immersion: 'this game's supposed to be really addictive' is a phrase I've heard more times now from random people I've spoken to than I care to remember, and my response to this is ALWAYS the same: that's nothing to do with the game and everything to do with the people playing it. Alcohol, cigarettes, sex, sport... all these things are addictive too, it's about your reaction when it happens. If this game really were that addictive there'd not be a drop off in subs, so let's dismiss that issue and move on. What you do need to grasp, and this is absolutely vital, is that if you want to enjoy the experience as a first time player or a returnee, you should NOT do it alone.

Who you choose to play with when you begin is perhaps MORE vital than where you start playing.

Past and present exist simultaneously. Cosmic, man!

Once upon a time, a Server selection really mattered, because everything you did and everyone you would ever interact with lived on the same server blade as you did: you were an  isolated community. As social networking has become an increasingly significant part of gameplay over the intervening years pretty much none of that matters any more: you can start anywhere and the whole game is available to you, if you know where to look. Blizzard understand that actually it does matter a very great deal who you play with, and that this motivates a great many more decisions than perhaps it was ever aware of to begin with. It has the potential to affect pretty much every single choice you make within the game. That's not just where you play, but what too: twinking alts, running raids, attempting challenge modes, making gold. All of these are governed by not only by the people doing them, but the information they generate and that a new player can access when they begin their journey, or when they return after an absence.

Yes, I'm back to you, returning player, because your choice in starting again or coming back depends more on this than anything the game can give when it loads up in front of you. It isn't Warcraft's job to hook you, it's your choice to be hooked, and that's got more to do with the people playing than it ever had at any point in the game's lifespan. If you don't mind, my newcomer friend, I'm going to briefly leave your journey to one side. I want to talk to our old hand for a moment, because their situation is actually quite relevant at this point.

Enemies come and go, but the basic motivations remain.

You know your reasons for leaving, and every individual's motivation is different. There is absolutely NO POINT in telling you that the game is better or worse than it was when you departed, because it doesn't matter. At it's height the game had as many subs as it did not just because of the content, but because people like you got sucked up in the moment generated by friends (and often family) You weren't just subbing for the gameplay, you came for the experience, and when that soured or went away, for whatever reason, the moment lost its lustre. This may be the grossest of generalisations but there is a basic truth woven within the words: you enjoy something when you're happy. Looking for reasons that you're not happy won't just happen inside the game, that's to do with the Real World too. In the end, if you really want to do anything, you find a way: not because of addiction or compulsion, but because YOU KNOW WHAT MAKES YOU SMILE.

New player, let me tell you something about myself. I've gamed for a very long time, in lots of different ways. I remember personal favourites, and they still make me smile, even (in some cases) after 30 years. If you want to play ANYTHING as a dispassionate outsider that is absolutely fine, but I guarantee you that unless you're prepared to give that little bit extra to what you do, you'll never really enjoy anything as much as you could. Warcraft's Community (deliberate capitalisation there) allows you to do that, if you'll let it. It is very easy to find great places to be and wonderful people to interact with, but you have to take a chance on the unknown, because for you, even after eight years of this game, that's what this is. You don't know what's going on. Fortunately for you however, I can help you, because you see that person over there? Yes, the individual who unsubbed and is wondering whether to come back? I think what you two need to do is get together and talk.

The community spirit in Warcraft is not simply its greatest strength, but it's biggest flaw, mostly because the Internet is a harsh place when the default state is hostility. What needs to happen to facilitate change is for people to move out of their comfort zones and make changes. I'm not going to spend hours trying to convince returnees of the merits of individual aspects of gameplay: there is no point. How you play is SUCH a subjective experience I'd be on a hiding to nothing. To the returning player I say this: leave the past behind. Learn not simply from the mistakes the game has made, but that you have too, and clear the slate. Start with a fresh perspective, and use everything you know to help a new player start their journey. Don't taint them with your preconceptions and criticisms, go back to a L1 character and remember what made you fall in love with the game to begin with, and then pass that on to the new player because this is the BEST WAY EVER to learn a game, from a person who's done it before.

Let the past and the present come together for a better future.

To my new player, I'd urge you to go find an old player to mentor you. Spend time in the Community, join Twitter and seek out Facebook friends. Talk to the people who left, and find out why. Look beyond the criticisms of zones or playstyle experiments, and understand why people stopped liking the game and why people still do. Read guides on being a GM, or playing the class you want to take up, before you even download the experience. Most importantly of all, don't accept the first Guild invite you are given, make the choice of where you are guilded as one of THE most significant choices you will ever make. Ideally, ask your returning player friend to make a Guild with you, and maybe a couple of friends that they know so you can ask your mate who was keen to play. Start from scratch, start again, and see what new things the game has to teach you, because I can guarantee that even now, you will be surprised.

Living inside a game is never healthy. Living life with blinkers on is possible, but never ideal. It's your life, and you've only got one, and therefore what you do here really does matter a great deal. That means if you want to play, you need to give something extra: it won't mean you have to stay glued to a screen, but if you enjoy it then the odd time that you do is perfectly acceptable. If things stop being fun, don't just assume that the game is to blame, because I guarantee that's never going to be the case, though I doubt I'd convince you otherwise, because sometimes its easier to blame the virtual world than it is to do that to yourself. If you've never played, or are thinking of returning to the game... or maybe if you're thinking of leaving, remember that Warcraft is only part of a larger equation that involves you at its heart. For things to work therefore, you have to want them to, and no post I'd ever make will ever truly convince you of that. In fact, most people gave up reading after my first four lines, so for them, I'll sum up my argument for them in three.

If your heart isn't in playing Warcraft, you won't ever really enjoy it. Decide to immerse yourself in the experience, and there is something for everyone. You just have to find your place: remember to take a friend along. In fact, take as many as you can.

[*] If downloaded, use your imagination.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Everything Must Go

Haven't we met before?

This post is not going to be popular.

I returned from taking my daughter to school this morning to find a BT Engineer at work outside my house. 30 minutes later, the Internet had been restored. Two and a bit hours after that, I find myself wondering if maybe I'd missed a memo. I was logged into 5.4, but something didn't seem right.

Something appears to be malfunctioning with my game experience.

I arrived on the Timeless Isle to almost get killed by a bunch of rampaging Turtles that had been tagged by someone else. I kindly helped them dispatch the group and found I'd tagged one that was at least mine. From that, my new LW recipe dropped. Things went pretty much downhill from that point onwards.

Inflation. It's an expensive game.

Looting said mob gave me Timeless Coins. Skinning them gave me more. After a while I wondered if I looked at certain mobs funny whether they'd drop Coins too: after all they're lying around in piles on the ground and hidden in every nook and cranny. Beasts have swallowed hundreds of them, sometimes thousands. All I can assume is that inflation is rampant on a place closed off from civilisation for 10,000 years. Yes, that must be the explanation. Looking at the Vendors, once I'd located them, made me realise that even if these coins flow like water, this isn't going to be a done deal. Yes, there will still be grinding, but when pretty much everything on the Island is skinnable I don't even have to kill anything to make money. I just follow people round who do. Job's a good 'un!

Then I found a chest, and my first piece of bind to Battle Net armour, and it was like another massive floodgate opening. In the time I was online (just under 2 hours) I collected FOURTEEN pieces of armour. Yes, that's ONE-FOUR. Not all of it was mail, there was a good smattering of plate and leather too, only one bit of cloth, but no matter. It almost made me glad I'd not bothered to level all my alts to 90 before 5.4 because if I had I might feel a tad aggrieved right now that Easy Mode just got unlocked and the Epics are flowing like water. Of course because they're BoA it's all your loot, but I can't help but feel that no good will come of this. Part of my brain, the massively cynical portion, wonders if they had a meeting for 5.4 before it was instigated and had a whiteboard where the Devs wrote down all the things they'd done wrong in the game this time around, and right at the top, in capital letters, someone wrote 'GIVE ALTS FREE STUFF TO MAKE MAINS FEEL BETTER.'

Yes, this stuff is only 496, but that level would allow me to, under current circumstances, ding 90, equip pretty much completely in Timeless Isle Epics, and stroll into the ToT LFR queue. Job dun. Why do I feel that's not right?

Why is it that I am sitting here deliberately looking at the utterly massive and hassle-free Island of Loot and wondering what the catch is?

No good will ever come of free Epics. Trust me Dragon, I know.

Part of me doesn't understand why all this has to be done this way. Why couldn't have professions been given better options with recipes and material distribution so we could make our 496 epics more easily and sell them rather than simply picking them up off the ground in a new mythical location? Was it really necessary to stick ALL the fun stuff in yet another hub for 'convenience' when there's AGAIN AN ENTIRE WORLD out there that no-one will see now because everyone is crammed into the same tiny space? Is it really the purpose of 'free' questing just to make everyone obsess about the same X number of items that are cool and give funky effects, but then find they have no-where to store anything? Is this just a case of sticking a Band Aid over the issues that still remain a problem, distracting everyone with massive piles of free stuff in the meantime and hoping we all forget what remains to be dealt with?

The island where you exchange coins for treasure.

I know, I sound like the Ranty Woman in the supermarket who's moaning about how much better things were in the Old Days. You know, when Legendaries actually meant something and not everybody had them, and they required PROPER HARD WORK. Back then it was nearly a YEAR before I saw an epic item. Yes, it's a Free Island of great awesome stuff that pretend not to be quests but still need you to kill stuff to get reputation and rewards. It's the only place most people will see outside an Instance queue until the next expansion rolls around. It is a beautifully-constructed place where everyone can find something to make them happy, but still remains a quest hub. Whatever Blizzard call it, just because you don't have a bunch of exclamation marks to guide you, the effect is the same. What does not seem to be learnt, at least yet, is that it is distracting people with gear and 'fun' trinkets is not the only way to solve the problem of player burnout and dissatisfaction. Like most kids, distractions are only good for the short term.

Maybe that's all this is ever meant to be, if truth be told.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Mulder and Scully

Things are getting strange,
I'm starting to worry...

I woke up this morning, turned on my phone, and discovered that Garrosh was dead.


Once upon a time, I had no patience. This would mean that I’d get very frustrated when US TV shows would air ahead of us in the UK, and back in the late 1980’s the prospect of using the Internet to assuage that was a very unlikely one indeed. When The X Files rose to prominence in the early 90’s I got totally hooked [*] and realised I’d be at a distinct disadvantage in terms of seeing things as they aired for the first time unless I actually moved to America. Remember this is the days of Home Computing online in its infancy: downloading ANYTHING over a 9600 Modem was hardly an exercise in speed and/or efficiency. However, when you need your fix, you become increasingly creative in your methods. I found a friend on a US Usenet group who, in exchange for some hastily-constructed UK Food Parcels was prepared to send me episodes on VHS as they aired. Then the only problem was decoding NTSC…

Online spoilers continue to be a subject of contention: it has been often postulated that a Statute of Limitations should be imposed on any old TV show (or indeed any other work of fiction), that after a certain time has expired you should be safe to discuss what happens at crucial moments. The problem comes, of course, with the fact that for every new generation that joins the Net for the first time, most of this stuff IS STILL NEW. There will be people who don’t know who shot JR, what happens to Sam Beckett at the end of Quantum Leap, that Harry Potter’s male authority figures might not last the entire set of books. At what point is it acceptable to start talking about plot progression, and how long is it acceptable to wait until you drop an S-Bomb [**] into a conversation with friends?


I was reminded this morning of my old 9600 Modem, looking at my phone and wondering if I should even bother trying to download either of the revealed cinematics as a result of Garrosh’s  ‘defeat.’ I wondered how long it should be before I can start discussing my thoughts as a result in open posts. I also realised that the biggest single issue Blizzard has had to deal with this Expansion can be summed up in one word: Expectation. The events that now transpire on the back of this set of circumstances will have real consequences for both sides of the faction divide. Ironically, from what I’ve been able to glean so far, the biggest story progression for the Alliance hasn’t come via the cinematics, but from two panes of dialog that one could almost believe have been added as an afterthought.

Those two panes give us some MASSIVE indicators of where things could go in the future, and fortunately for me I don’t need an always-on connection to access them. Some might consider this fortuitous, rather than simply a concession after the cinematic. Either way, if you watch one thing today, make sure afterwards you go and seek out those two panes, because if I were a betting woman I’d say that this means we’ve been given some fairly significant chunks of foreshadowing. No, I’m not going to discuss them now, because even I understand that less than 24 hours after a major spoiler’s been released is NOT the time to start spouting about the consequences without suitable warnings, and anyway I would actually like to see said Alliance/Horde cut scenes to take everything in context.

Needless to say, I am disappointed at how this story was resolved. My personal expectations were higher, but I am enough of a realist to understand that when Blizzard spend so long setting up a *particular* storyline they will not throw in an 11th Hour Surprise Twist. This ending should make an awful lot of people happy, it will allow a measure of closure for both factions, and ultimately we will all move on to the next Expansion. Whether people are happy or not… well, as has been discussed at length on this Blog before, some individuals will never be satisfied unless a) they have something to moan about or b) they feel that faction bias is being addressed. A constant number of Naysayers will remain regardless. Many will wish the Basic Campfire got the nod. Some will think it’s sad that the Big Bad of the Expansion is dad two days after the Patch launched and some will be amazed it took that long, because that means mechanics this time on Normal took the Hardcore Guilds that long to master. Expectations depend on perception. That’s a lot to consider in the first week.

Ultimately, this means one thing. The next time a new end-game instance boss dies, we’re in the next Expansion. The moment that Big Bad falls, people forget the plethora of things that have been placed before them as entertainment in 5.4 and start looking forward. Once upon a time, a cliffhanger in a TV show lasted you the Summer. Now, you’ll be lucky if that lasts a day. Blizzard know this, and what now remains to be seen is how that expectation is responded to. I may not even have played 5.4 yet but it’s already old news.

The Spoilers are Out There.


[*] I had a BBC 2 TV ‘slot’, such was my obsession. It was just me, talking about my favourite Season One Episode (Beyond the Sea) for 90 seconds. I still have it on a DVD somewhere…
[**] That’s a SPOILER-Bomb ^^

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Final Form

If you're reading this in the EU, there's a good chance we're still in maintenance, and you might be thinking what you've forgotten to do before you load up the newly-updated 5.4 client for the first time. For what it's worth, this is my own foolproof checklist for any new patch:

1. Read the Patch Notes.
2. Check for updated addons.
3. Download what remains of the Patch.
4. Do 1 again because I missed something.
5. Check my addons again because at the speed things are moving someone else may have updated. 
6. Try and log in.
7. Fail.
8. Goto 1

This patch around however, I have looked to improve my quality of life not simply inside the game, but outside it too. I need a way to organise my life, with the many, many alts involved within it, in a clear and precise fashion. Hence the idea of the Ultimate Form of Faffing was born.

Mark 1 Form, gonna get FAR more complicated...

It started simply enough, as something I could use to update my characters progress outside of game. This may seem odd to some people, that I would want to write things down rather than save them in a spreadsheet, but this is what I have always done over the years: filling notepads with things to do and stuff to complete. The form therefore needed to be flexible, but at the same time encompass the main things I want to achieve in a weekly cycle: LFR, updating gear, professions, completing achievements. Something this basic wasn't nearly enough, I realised quite quickly, especially as I shared my work on Twitter and people began to chime in with ideas.


The Mark Six Form (as this finally became) was close to what I was ultimately looking for, but not *quite* there. It encompassed all the various key factors: a gear check, LFR and World Boss reminders, and plenty of space for marking out the various secondary targets. There was even a Faffing Section, because YOU KNOW THERE ALWAYS SHOULD BE. Handing this over to my husband, who is something of an expert in the ways of making my stupid ideas a reality, and before I knew it, I had an A4 copy of my shoddily-created idea. Except, I'd picked up a few issues.

I needed the World Bosses to match with the LFR wings, so the form lasted six weeks for each character that was using it, so there'd need to be a rejig of that part. I'd also wanted the Transmute stuff at the beginning of the professions section, and Mr Alt had failed to notice my Post-it to that end. So, back he went and produced me a PDF of said file so I could share it to anyone who wanted to use it... and here it is :D

When I tried to print this out I discovered our printer needed new cartridges, so I'm still waiting to start using these 'in the field' as it were, so any and all suggestions on how they could be improved/augmented would be gratefully received.

Oh, and in case you wonder what those two big spaces are at the top left: Name and a space for you to draw your character in an appropriately-heroic pose. Don't say I don't think of everything :D

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Day Before You Came :: Vale of Eternal Blossoms

Title: The Day Before You Came :: Vale of Eternal Blossoms

Author: @AlternativeChat

Character/Pairing: The Rogue, the Hunter and mentions of the other people you'll see the next time I write anything.

Rating: Still really safe, honest.

Summary: It's the night before the first push into the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, and a gnome is causing trouble...

Disclaimer: All these people live in a computer game owned by Activison and Blizzard. They own this all, I'm just playing with it, or in this case not. I'm just writing for the time being ^^


Considering the speed with which this piece was conceived, I feel particular thanks should go to Mr Beta Man for taking time out his weekend to poke this with the pointy sticks of correction. Feedback would be better than both cake AND pie.


The Day Before You Came.

He shoves the door open so hard that the hinges separate from the wall.

It's appreciably cooler outside and the air hits him, drawing a moment of clarity from his anger. He doesn't slow down, however, until he's to the edge of the balcony, where the view that meets him jars him back to reality. As the landscape around the Shrine slowly consumes itself in inky black desperation, instinct sparks, and he's searching for their point of entry, the place where tomorrow his group of ten will attempt to take back the Vale for the Pandaren.

The Mage's words ring in his ears, insidious clarity against the desperate nature of their impending situation.

'You're a fool not to indulge the night before a battle that might well be your last.'

Crais isn't sure what makes him more incensed: the suggestion he might die the following day or that he's deliberately avoiding temptation. Deep down he's aware that he's deflecting the real truth, and the alcohol is only fuelling his internal conflict. If it were any other woman this would be academic, trivial; but it's not.

Mage Lieutenant Fizz Goldfellow had fixated on the tension between her and Crais since his arrival last year and the rogue had tried his damnedest to stay silent. Tonight however, enough was enough. The hours before a major push are NOT the time for ridiculous gestures. It is certainly the absolute worst moment to realise you've been fooling yourself for months over a truth you're frightened to acknowledge.

Cold air is sobering him fast. He makes sure never to drink enough ale to dull him when he wakes, just enough to help him sleep because he knows he won't, but Fizz's persistent arrogance riles, eats away at his balance. If Randall had been here it wouldn't have happened, the Gnome's undignified assumptions squashed flat, deemed massively inappropriate under the circumstances. He misses his friend more than he ever has, just because Randall was capable of bringing calm to his chaos, and now he'll have to do it alone. He's lost too much over the years, far more than he's comfortable recalling, and in the hours before such a significant event he could do without having to struggle for equilibrium.

The voice that materialises behind him doesn't help matters in the slightest.

'You gave him exactly what he wanted. I'd have thought you would have learnt by now.'

He didn't hear her approach, bare feet on stone, almost as quiet as he is in stealth. He knows he can't turn around either, not yet. If he does the emotions win, this gets messy and he crosses a line he drew himself the moment she arrived back in Pandaria. She doesn't need to be distracted, and he can't afford to damage the fragile calm they've re-established. In this regard, at least, he can prove to himself he knows the right moment to reveal his true intent.

'Explain to me again why we're taking him?'

He can hear the rustle of soft linen as P shifts, crossing arms over chest, gaze undoubtedly turning from approving to wry amusement.

'Because he's the best there is and you know it. Plus the fact he's not afraid of anything, especially arrogant Rogues who think it's their job to protect everybody.'

Indignation rapidly consumes the fear, suddenly compelling him to point out the flaws in her statement. But when he turns to face her, it all just falls away, and he stares at the woman in the moonlight who is suddenly more beautiful than any words he could reasonably utter. Fate does like to screw with his personal life, he knows, blatantly disregarding the larger stage whenever possible. This is absolutely the worst moment to have to deal with this, which is exactly why it's happening.

As he stands and the anger disspiates, she reads him perfectly. Her softness, understanding, everything is there in a moment of perfect comprehension. Her words are deliberately quiet, reassuringly gentle.

'You don't have to defend my honour, but I'm always grateful when it happens.'

Crais knows this is not the same woman he stormed away from at the Bar. Something fundamental has shifted, not simply because of her concern for him. This is something new at play, quiet purpose in her demeanour. His awareness identifies a palpable fear woven into the determination, a joint understanding that this fight is not like any of the others that have preceded it. The devastation that the dark heart of an Old God has wrought upon this once-beautiful land, a madman who perpetrated the descent into chaos.

This isn't just personal for them both. If they fail, there won't be an opposition left to worry about: this is make or break for both factions. They have to succeed, because balance must be maintained. This is why they have fought for so long.

Without the Horde, there is no Alliance.

Both of them know the stakes-- her so much more than him, or she wouldn't have run when she did. Bringing P back hasn't resolved any of his conflicted feelings, because there's been no time to: the world has moved too fast around them, and now they're stuck in a moment they cannot escape. The only constant they have, remaining reliance and order is from each other-- and the Mage had tried to destabilise that on a whim.

Crais' anger towards Fizz is unnecessary, his relationship with this woman cannot be so easily trivialised. Their combined strength is unassailable by anyone or anything, their greatest potential asset in the days that follow.

The emotion inside still renders him mute, incapable, until she has herself wrapped around him, arms encircling his waist with a firmness that he struggles to fight. She knows how I feel, because she feels that way herself. She will hear his heart, betraying his implacable exterior, and it will not matter if the Gnome was right or wrong, just that this is how she deals with it. He knows how she approaches the battle, that her routine is measured and precise, and it is that definition that gives her the clarity and focus she requires to survive.

Only then does he grasp that she's trying to calm him down, and is having a measure of success. In the mist of all this chaos, theirs is an order that cannot be subjugated by anyone. When she finally speaks again the words resonate into his body, wrapping themselves silently around his brain.

'Fizz is jealous, not simply of your superior combat skills. He knows how good we are together. I just choose for now to deliberately ignore the obvious.'

Now he has to react, to acknowledge their understanding, their first joint progress of the new campaign.

'That's a skill I'm also working on.'

At this she pulls away but maintains contact, hand on waist, deliberately static. These aren't overtones to intimacy, because that's ridiculously inappropriate the night before something this important to the entire continent. After all they've done, he's eventually interpreted the true path to enlightenment. That's got to count for something.

He has to tell her out loud, so he can hear the words and grasp that whatever else happens in the days that follow, he just took an important internal step forward.

'I begin to understand the significance of picking your moments.'

When she smiles at his eventual grasp of the obvious he wants to kiss her, but knows he won't even try. Instead he focusses on the feeling, that thrill that one day he could, fuelling a rush of energy he has to fight to control. The power from her, that she is able to generate in him, is quite unlike anything else he has ever known, and that she must feel this as he does. This is why they keep coming back, to each other and to the fights.

Without her, there is no him.

'That's as maybe, but I'd appreciate you remember that Fizz is on our side and maybe finally cut him a break?'

He doesn't want to talk about the Gnome any more. He's already focussing on the morning, tomorrow's task, capturing the momentum to carry with him as strength for his labours. Briefly he extends his arm and pulls her back into his chest, breathing in her scent, committing it to memory so he can find her in the heat of battle. She holds him in response but this time there is a change, the softening of her body, a pliancy and acquiescence which tells him all he needs to know.

There will be another time for this. They will make sure that happens.

P looks up at him, suddenly serious. She too is refocussed on the matter in hand.

'We need to have the strategy sorted for the insertion into the Vale, and Argus is panicking. This is bigger than anything he's handled so far and his Alliance counterpart could use the reassurance.'

Crais looks down at her and is comforted by how much he loves it when she talks business.

'You think I am the man to sooth nerves?'

'You are the Rogue who has already given us an edge with your reconnoitres. We'd not know the corrupted elemental was down there were it not for you. Come make them feel as confident as you are, especially Fizz. I know he'd not pick a fight that dumb unless he was scared.'

'That's all it was?'

Now she releases him, and puts deliberate distance between them, This is an intentional disengage, because she's going to say something that she couldn't if they were close.

'This is the time for preparation, not for indulgence. That's all that matters.'

She turns and walks back to the Inn as Crais watches, allowing himself one last moment to think on their possibilities. He's good enough to hide behind his own professionalism, albeit briefly. When she stops and turns, looking back and waiting, only then does he go to meet her.

Tomorrow, they will use their balance to return harmony to this continent.


Monday, September 09, 2013

It's Raining Again

My problem is none of these things. :(

Those of you following Twitter will be aware of the ongoing saga of our internet connection. We'd had absolutely no problems (and more importantly no indication there was a problem) since we returned from holiday. Yesterday however, all of that changed.

About 5.30 yesterday afternoon, as I was doing the ironing, our internet vanished. I knew it had gone because the DSL light on our BT Openreach Box simply blinked out of existence. Everything else was absolutely fine, so I dug out the paperwork to phone Sky and expected to simply get the line reset.

The moment the Sky operator asked me why I was asking for my Fibre to be looked at, the alarm bells started ringing. According to them I was still a normal Broadband customer, despite the two days of notes on my account that advised to the contrary, that my Fibre box was self-installed as a result of the mixup you guys are already aware of that happened back when the changeover initially took place. I was phoned back later that evening to be told that as it was Sunday no-one could help me any further and I'd be treated as a priority in the morning.

However, what I was made party to made me realise that this time our connection wasn't going to instantly reappear. Sky had failed to inform BT that the 'work' on the line had been satisfactory and that they'd taken over control of the account. Because it was working, no-one had told BT the outstanding maintenance job that was initially scheduled wasn't necessary. BT had then assumed there was no longer a need for the job and at the same time for the fibre line, because Sky was still listing us as a Broadband customer. As a result they had shut it down.

This morning I've spoken to three Sky CS reps, and the story is the same. The ONLY way to get BT to turn the line back on is to schedule a new 'installation' date. Currently the wait time is a fortnight, and getting yourself inserted back into the front of that queue would require the sale of souls from a small South American country. There is NO WAY, despite the fact that Sky is 100% at fault for this for them to move any faster than they are because currently there aren't enough people doing the job. Wait times for 'escalated' cases are currently four days, so (if we're lucky) we might get a call on Thursday. MIGHT. It's more likely to be Friday however and even when that happens, we have no indication of when things will be turned back on.

It's not like we could go to another provider either, because BT OWN THE FECKING LINE. This is all about getting two huge multinationals to talk to each other, in a timescale that is acceptable to the rest of humanity. For them, it doesn't matter that there's a patch on Wednesday, its all about getting the hundreds of thousands of people who want fibre broadband connected to keep their monthly averages up.

So, how am I posting this now? Well, I worked out how to make my mobile phone a wireless hotspot which means I at least have access to the Internets in 10 minute bursts to check e-mail. It will mean I can post blog entries (no pictures for a while, you'll have to imagine stuff) but for anything larger I'll need to drive 15 miles to use my husband's connection. It means that there'll be no 5.4 news from me immediately, but don't worry, I'm working on getting something lashed together somehow, because I refuse to be beaten by companies who don't do their jobs properly and make me suffer as a result.

It also means that giant pile of ironing’s finally going to get finished this week ^^


Use your imagination :D

I have no internet (again) at home thanks to two massive multinational corporations refusing to adequately communicate with each other. Therefore I am posting this from another substantive restaurant chain who happily provides free wi-fi in exchange for an obligatory advert and the hope you'll buy something largely unhealthy from their menu selection [*]. This has made me think about the nature of communication, and how without the Internet I'd not be writing about gaming. This in turn led to a larger reflection on the investment of time and effort into playing things.

My son is a fairly decent barometer for what gets people excited online (he's all about that VR headset right now, for instance) and he takes a very dim view of 'entertainment' like Candy Crush. He's also surprisingly aware of the nature of these game's addictive qualities and how game designers 'use' the need to complete a level/move forward as method of separating individuals from cash. In the end, despite what some people might believe, there is always a choice. You don't have to buy an extra life, your gaming experience will not be less rich and fulfilling if you choose NOT to pay the money. The decision really does remain yours. What all companies who offer such incentives are playing on is the hope that to get what you want you'll take the easy way out. When time is worth more than 99p and your mates are all ten levels ahead on you according to Facebook...

With 5.4 due in the US in 24 hours, Blizzard have finally conceded to themselves that giving people the monetary option to advance their aspirations in certain parts of the World is a sound financial move. There was a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth when this was all over the news what seems like years ago, but the reality at this point is that time is beating Blizzard on several fronts. However loyal their static 'core' audience may remain, to maintain the current level of financial investment will mean not simply keeping the regulars happy. Blizzard needs to do what very few MMO's have ever managed when their subscription base has begun to decline. Bringing subs back will be considerably easier if the player knows that leveling to 90 is academic and the least of their problems, because for a nominal fee you can simply buy your way there with ease. When all your attractive content sits at max level, the journey to reach it is half the battle.

The ever-present question of whether Warcraft would move Free-To-Play continues to be raised, and when 5.4 has settled I'd expect the prodding to begin anew, because the next time we receive a major content patch it will be to prepare us for the next Expansion. I'm seeing people assume we'll have a year to wait before that happens but we know that time is a bigger motivator than Blizzard may yet be willing to admit. Blizzcon will be all about the future, and I suspect that many will be surprised how little time will elapse before we're playing not simply in vastly stat-reduced gear, but with a new and longer journey to complete level cap. There's lots of expectations been challenged with Pandaria, and I have no doubt the rule book will yet again be re-written when it comes to The Next Bit [TM] What is needed is a constant movement forward, and no time to sit and get bored, because the moment you do something else will come along and capture the collective imagination, and at this stage in their 'game' that's yet another priority on the list of 'Things Not To Let Happen Before the Next Expansion.'

For now I'm using the time I can't have online to do all those important Real Life tasks that often seem less attractive than playing and are put aside in the days running up to a new patch. Hell, at this rate I don't even know if I'll be online for Wednesday or not. No matter, things will continue to rumble on without me because, like it or not, one person alone is not enough to stop the behemoth that is Warcraft from moving ever onwards. As long as it keeps everyone happily distracted, things look like they'll be staying on track for quite some time to come.

[*] In an ironic postscript, even the wifi outside is broken. However undeterred I now have a personal Wireless Hotspot using my phone. Some days, you just have to think a LONG way outside of the box :D

Sunday, September 08, 2013

HUNTER WEEK :: A Girl and His Cat

Not even mildly effective. GIEF MOAR CAFFEINE.

Things have been FAR too serious around this Parish for the last few days. Time to fix that :D Let us talk at some length about my favourite pets.


Since the Hunter stable was increased to FIFTY slots, I have had half a mind to make a day of wandering about about, picking up a selection of new animals. Of course I never *quite* get around to it with everything else, but it WILL HAPPEN OH YES. For now however I content myself with a selection of useful/cosmetic pet skins, and the knowledge that every pet I pick has a reason for being stabled. Let it not be said that I don't love them all, plus every one has a story to tell. To that end, here are some of my utter favourites.

Here since TBC. TRUFACT.

Polar's been my staple bear since TBC began. He ran through pretty much everything soloable with me for years. He was also the companion that helped me get over the THING WE DO NOT SPEAK OF with my first ever pet [*] and so was a constant right the way through until the end of Wrath. I will admit I miss feeding him anything edible (great thing about bears, they'd eat everything you threw at them, no need to hunt around for a meat or cheese vendor, just pick edible stuff off the ground, throw it at him, job done.) If memory served that also included mage food which was doubly useful. He doesn't get out as much as he used to as he's getting on in years but I always take a moment once in a while to check on his well-being.

Built like a Tank. Obviously.

I've had a Sherman in my stable, as a Scorpid,  since the first days of the Arena. The skin has changed over the years (this is the rare spawn from Uldum, I believe) but the job has always been the same, to get behind people, poison them and be bloody awkward to kill. You'll notice that names are as important to me as the pets themselves, and this one came from probably the most difficult ex-Guildie I ever had to deal with. This therefore is a constant reminder that you are only ever as good as the last thing people remember you for, and if that's being a right royal pain those memories are never happy. Again he doesn't get much time out these days but stands as a reminder to a time passed that although I remember fondly, I'd not want to return to.

Looks beat stats. ANOTHER TRUFACT.

Ever since Mogging has been a 'thing' I've kept an eye out for specific pets to match my current outfits. Yes, I know. Just live with it and accept that if ever there was a pet that so utterly matched my current mog, it was this one. This is Julian: when I tame another Direhorn (which I will) it will be called Sandy and if you get THAT obscure British Cultural reference I will be happy to award you with a plate of cookies. Needless to say this is my go-to tank of choice currently and between us we're a pretty effective solo grinding team, even more so I suspect in 5.4. This pet is the reason why I'd love the chance to have a 'real' pet tanking spec for Hunters (but I saw what happened when that was mooted for Locks and I can't see Blizzard granting us both our wish.) For now, I'd expect this to be the Team of Champions on the Timeless Isle. I may actually be getting slightly excited now for 5.4. Don't tell anyone.

Instant Heriosm. Just add Awesome.

Finally there is Gromit, my Core Hound since I could tame one. This is possibly the most useful pet in my stable for the business of slapping things as quickly as possible, and I have lost count of the number of times that vital boost in DPS has saved the day and my repair bills. I should not be faster at popping it than actual classes with the ability in LFR either but more and more often now I am the one who gives 24 other people a debuff. Sort it out, people. This is the reason I remain BM for the time being until I start raiding full-time again and swap back to Survival when needed. Frankly, having this as go-to is ridiculously OP for solo play. In fact, by current stable shows just how useful pets can be in that regard for situational abilities.


Heinz is my Spirit Wolf of choice for self heal, massive mastery boost and all-around top quality gubbins. Julian and Gromit you've met, LeoSayer (IT'S THE HAIR) is my Quilen who award a Battle Rez in combat (yet more useful) and Ghost is my Water Strider which I use when fishing. This is pretty much my perfect 5 slots for the current life I lead: of course I have a selection of other Useful Hunter Buffs (TM) I can bring to the table if needed but for now, this is a decent spread of both utility and fashion-conscious accessorising.

Who was it that said Hunters were vain and shallow creatures? ^^

[*] Go listen to the end of my Behind the Avatar podcast. I'm not saying it again :P

Alternative Chat :: Episode 00

After probably more faffing than can possibly be healthy, I'd like to present Episode 00 (call it a Pilot) of the Alternative Chat Podcast.

I've been pretty much forced to go to Soundcloud to get an embedded player (curse you Google and your need to keep everything in the family) but actually it doesn't look too useless and Mr Alt tells me that all the hip kids use Soundcloud anyway, so it can't be too bad. If anyone has any problems with listening or downloading this please let me know (I've assumed you can download directly using it!) If not I'll be using my great mate @ReliqEU's hosting services for 'hard copies' of each episode, and if you want a direct download link, you'll find it here:

I'm pretty much an utter nublet to this particular game so any/all comments/criticism/abuse/praise (I can but hope)/chocolate will be VERY gratefully received. To say I'm nervous about posting this is, I believe, the MOTHER of all understatements :D


If you wish to contribute to the Hunter Community Expansion Revamp Project (HCERP), please check out this post on the WHU Website.

Quest Details and rewards for 'Celestial Blessings' (iLevel 600 Cloak of Awesum) can be found here. I did a Google search for my particular challenge, there are plenty of helpful guides around to choose from.

Places to go for details on 5.4 Crafting Mats and what you'll need to be doing with them. I'll be off there shortly with a pencil and paper.

Until next week: enjoy and PLEASE LEAVE FEEDBACK :D