Saturday, December 14, 2013

Too Much, Too Little, Too Late

Possibly the best Austin rip-off in the History of, like EVER.

I got a bit of a slap yesterday about a comment in my Podcast, that things are quiet in game-land right now. There is still a great deal going on around these parts, and for many there are a new set of problems quite apart from dealing with the business of playing the game. In fact, people are having to queue to even get online, especially during busy periods, which is odd when I keep being told by the Barneys Naysayers how the Playerbase is declining. Except the thing is, it's like totally not that way right now, because Blizzard have taken all this money off all of the games to make them so much cheaper and are STICKING SHOPS IN GAME so we can like totally buy things and NOT STOP PLAYING. Cher would love it, unless she had a thirty minute queue to get onto her server full of cool kids. The problems Blizzard face have always been peculiar in this respect: server 'merging' is all very well (and we all know that's exactly what this is but this is Blizzard so we don't CALL it that) but it's pretty apparent this normally terminal move isn't spelling the death-knell of the game just yet.

The thing is, this game's always dared to be different.

I read Mr Syp's Bio Break Blog this week and couldn't help but smile at the following:

Granted that the expansion is coming along fast enough, I could totally see Blizzard dropping a Warlords of Draenor bomb just before ESO to rob that launch of some of its thunder.  Blizzard is notorious for doing this, of course, but it’s entirely possible that WoD just won’t be ready and might angle more to a fall release when folks disillusioned with the new games will be ready to return to Mother Warcraft’s comforting embrace.

Quite apart from the fact he illustrates this post with a still from Stripes (10 points!), the concept of 'Mother Warcraft' threw up a number of interesting visual metaphors, and the understanding that I don't think Syp grasps just how important it is for Blizzard not to wait until the Autumn. With a flurry of renewed interest on the #warlordsreleasedate contest this week I know people are looking forward, and it's clear Blizzard's attempt to alleviate the issue of Server Queues (even down to opening free character transfers here in the EU as alleviation) There's a reason I dedicated a third of a podcast to this subject too, this is the break-point in a lot of ways for Warcraft, the Expansion that has everything to prove and very little room to be wrong. There are also potentially an awful lot of people standing by waiting to light their flammable light-sources and to pull out a sharp three-pronged implement on this release: I really cannot believe Blizzard have the luxury of playing the Soon (TM) Card. If there were a Hearthstone 'Make Your Own Card' Creator, [*] this is where I'd make one to illustrate the point :D

The fact that Blizzard's put everything up for sale, pre-Christmas, is also significant: in fact, this is possibly the single biggest push I've seen to get people into the game from scratch, or to encourage existing players to maybe get that second account, which is odd considering that if you end up server merging with someone else there's the possibility two server's worth of players could end up on the same Account anyway. Frankly, at the end of the day I'm guessing what happens is largely irrelevant on that score to Blizzard unless someone finds an exploit. This is, and always has been, a way for a gaming company to make money, and most franchises coming up for their tenth year I'd suspect would be quite happy just being able to bring in the coins on a regular basis. Success isn't relative in this sphere, it's that number on the page that says 'Monthly Subs' and there are very few people still able to tick that box on their Dev MMO Checklist to begin with.

Of COURSE it's not about being a cool kid, or having all the cash. However, I think we can safely say Blizzard's never been Clueless (SEE WHAT I DID THAR) when it comes to understanding how the land lies on these things. As Mr Oscar Wilde once said: 'There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.' As long as we're all still here, there's no worry the game's going anywhere. Give the guys time to sort everything, because it's in their best interests to do just that because without us, there IS no game. Just don't forget that, in the end, what you think is important might not be what the majority believes is. With the server queues however, I think we can safely say this is one issue that they'll want fixed well before the Expansion launches...

[*] This should be a thing, it would make so many people happy.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Alternative Chat :: Time Travel SPECIAL

And THAT's what happens when you say you won't end up with a two week break. However, it was worth it, trust me on this. I reckon this is one of the best podcasts I've done so far (yeah I know, enough of the modesty) but I'd say it's worth a listen for the first minute alone. With thanks to Mr Alt and my 8 year old for the theme tune, it's time for the Alternative Chat TIME TRAVEL SPECIAL \o/

This week, I will be mostly chatting about:
  • Knowing what I'm getting with Warlords.
  • Speculating wildly regardless!
  • How great the Caverns of Time was as a storytelling device.
  • Garrosh's Great Escape.
  • The gloves being both on and off for MMO developers.
  • What Blizzard are up against in 2014.
  • Getting quite emotional (sniff).

Any thoughts or comments, or ideas for which cheesy 1980's synth pop standard Mr Alt can destroy for a future Podcast please poke:

alternativegodmother (all one word) AT gmail DOT com



There will be some notes, but not right now.



Thursday, December 12, 2013


Screenie from MMO Champion. Concern from me.

Yesterday's patch was a bit of a groundbreaker: not only can we now send BoA's anywhere, or buy Vanity Pets IN-GAME, but we're now seeing the benefits of a vast amount of player information finally being made available on a cross-server basis. Of course, a lot of this stuff has been around for a while (it is undoubtedly what makes LFR work, after all) but when some bright spark pulls the data you can't see immediately out into the open and makes an addon to use it (LFRAdvanced) alarm bells start to ring in my head. And when I say that, I would like to remind everyone who ever had their Gear Score held up for ridicule that there is an 'arbitrary' number in the list of additional information you are presented with which we all know exists anyway but perhaps it would be best if no-one actually could see. Of course, you are presented with similar as iLevel... but there's inevitably something more in the mix.

LFRAdvanced's range of data, and a telling comment.

There's already a problem assigning numbers to content, despite the fact that that's the absolute best way of doing things simply. Numbers can be cheated, depending on how said value is calculated. For instance, if the computer only takes the average gear ilevel of everything in your bags (equipped or not) it would be spectacularly easy to 'cheese' if you wanted to dive into an LFR and effectively leech off other people. Ass MMO points out in the article accompanying this: 'The item level is provided by the game, which uses your maximum item level, rather than equipped item level' so you could conceivably deceive the system if you had enough money. Then there is the other, more significant factor at play, borne out by the Challenge Mode experiment. Gear is simply a factor, and it has little or no relevance when presented alongside a superior skillset. It's going to matter considerably less come the Expansion too, but still for the next X months it will be matter very little of people are simply looking at numbers and deciding that the largest single one is the best mark of ability.

This really has to change, and there's part of me that's not sure I even want Blizzard to make that data public to begin with, which is odd, because ideally we're looking for more transparency and not less.

I was involved in a conversation yesterday that happens periodically in the social networks I frequent; the concept of the 'clique' and how perception is probably your worst enemy when it comes to gauging an accurate picture of your place in the World. I can remember even now, as a kid, trying to grasp what it was to be 'cool': was it the way you dressed, or the music you listened to, or was it the friends you knew? After forty plus years I have (just about) grasped the notion that it matters not one jot what others think of you, what is far more important is your own sense of everything around you and how you relate to it. It's the oldest of mid-life crisis 'jokes' but finding yourself really does completely change the way you perceive everything and everyone. Being arbitrarily judged therefore on any one single thing is never going to end up as either fair or reasonable, it requires a wide range of variables to be accurate. Blizzard have given us a number from necessity, because it makes understanding what to aim for easier. Actually, what would have been simpler would have been not to assign a number at all. But when your game is based and dictated by numbers, sometimes there is no choice.


At some point, everything comes down to the balance, the trade-off: is it worth A for B? In the Gaming World I'd suspect the biggest single consideration for most people remains time, and that means if one number gives you a snapshot of a person and their ability, then it's worth a risk. Even though I'd like to spend my time considering the ability of people, most would rather we shut up and pulled. On those statistics then it's fairly clear that the 'Gear Score' model has some real benefits, especially if that value includes the number of items enchanted or gemmed, if they're done correctly, and if the person likes to go afk mid-fight. All those additional factors can be given a numerical value and added to an algorithm, we know this because Blizzard is at least tracking some of them already. I can see by a Guildie friend with no desire to grind a Legendary Cloak from scratch but with dps numbers that put many of our other cloak wearers to shame that it's never just about your gear, but skill can make or break an encounter and there'll never be a way to programme for that unless gear becomes an arbitrary item. The more I think about it, the more I feel that really ought to be the case.

The biggest problem with that, of course, is that then people would actually have to learn to play.

I suppose I should be more encouraged that numerical transparency is becoming more obvious in game, that Blizzard have acknowledged the need to simplify many equations not just for their own benefit, but also for those of the player-base, that to understand what you are and your place in the World is hard enough without needing a fine maths doctorate [*] to work out your weekly reforge schedule. However, we need less judgemental situations and more where the actual ability of players is allowed to shine through. In essence, at least in this respect, PvE could do a lot worse than learn from PvP as an example. Gear needs to stop mattering nearly as much as it does, and numbers need to start reflecting a range of variables and not simply the ones that can be cheated. Everyone should be actually working for their points, not just sitting back and waiting for others to do the work for them.

In my ideal world, you'd not be a number at all. You'd be a free player. [**] Just saying ^^

[*] Or a website, which is probably more the point.
[**] Deliberate misquote, for so many reasons.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

TWIWBM :: Iron Man


Well, look at that. I actually made some progress.

Mount #199. You're Welcome.

Watching this thing fly is actually quite disconcerting, and after a while I began to get queasy: this is what happens when you start making your mounts a bit more adventurous. Obviously it's taken considerably more than the prerequisite 31 days, but now I've made one I suspect I'll be churning out a couple of spares and sticking them in Bankalt Storage for sale in Warlords... because if I'm playing every day, I may as well make the most of the opportunity I'm given. It also encourages me to keep churning out the materials and doing the gathering and if this acts as motivation, then so much the better. I have to say, there was a feeling of immense satisfaction once the final Jard's got transmuted. However having had the discussion earlier in the week, I'm not sure this does actually count as 'fun' in relation to crafting, Blizzard guys. Satisfaction from persistence is NOT perhaps the aim you should be looking for.

This makes me think I should investigate making a Chopper or two whilst I have a L85 Engineer hanging around in Dalaran.

I also now own enough Jard's on the second 90 Engineer to make either a Pierre or Rascal-Bot but lack the Living Steel to complete them, so the main thrust of proceedings in the next week will be the mass production of Living Steel to facilitate this, so that once those two are done I can use both engis as Sky Golem makers. I have three Living Steel Transmuters (one of whom is an Alchemy Specialist) and so that's at least three Living Steel a day if I can keep up with the materials, and I'll be giving that a good go this week. Actually, I ought to get the 85 Engi out of Dalaran briefly and go grind mobs in Pandaria to get the Journal to drop and then I can make it three lots of transmutes on that side as well... /brane explodes.

And this, Mr Street, is just one of the reasons why some players possess so many Alts :P

Of course, this means more Ghost Iron Ore than most people's minds can comfortably conceive, but fortunately this can also be combined with grinding Pandarian Rares who drop bags that can also be full of ore goodies. Then there's the Mogu Grinding which also gives caches that can be full of ore. Plus actually farming it isn't too hopeless either, especially when combined with stuff on the Timeless Isle... and we've not even touched on what the new patch presents us with yet...

I have Heirlooms on at least one other server that I have transferred over the years I'll be happy to get back and update, and then I can use my Justice Points scattered across multiple alts to pick up some items I'm missing. I'm also quite keen to see what this new Shop Thingy looks like, as this seems to me an indication that Blizz are taking the 'purchasing shizzle' thing seriously enough to stick an in-game client in place regardless of the flack it might take. I suspect I'll use it as well. There, I said it. Certainly there's at least one in-game pet they'll be offering that I don't own...

After that, I suspect we'll be attempting to max out more than the three alts I managed to last week with Valor. It's also probably high time I got the Lock out and started attacking the Jewelcrafting Mount issue with gusto...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Digging Your Scene

'What was that? No-one cares about archaeology any more?'

It's a good question. When was the last time you saw anyone give Archaeology any airtime?

It was the Tillers Farm of it's Expansion, let's face it, the great idea that tied in beautifully with all the Harrison Jones mucking about in Uldum stuff. For Pandaria, it's pretty much always sat about as an afterthought, but Warlords presents an opportunity most Explorer's League members would fight you for: the chance to ACTUALLY GO BACK TO THE PAST to see how History became Archaeology. In fact, if I were Brann Bronzebeard I'd be positively rubbing my hands together in glee: a chance to understand the evolution of the Orc race up close? OH YES PLEASE. Yes, I *know* this is an alternative universe we're off to, but really, there wouldn't be ANY relevance in studying what we find...? The question then becomes: on the back of this revelation, what could we expect of the Profession come the new Expansion... because this is one opportunity I really hope Blizzard don't simply ignore.

Though I suspect I may be in the minority with this, it would be fabulous to see my most frustrating waste of time get the same amount of love as the other Professions, by giving it the most fundamental of facelifts.

Time Travel is Ruining the Past. Discuss.

However, there is a basic problem that I can see with Archaeology come Warlords: we're used to digging up the past. Draenor however IS THE PAST. This means we'd be digging up stuff that is completely different to anything else we've so far discovered, which could have some interesting consequences... most significantly the notion it is a past with absolutely no relevance to our timeline at all. I see noted Historians already pointing out we should be concentrating on the fact we're not involved in any kind of alternative-universe shenanigans but what happens if we dig up stuff that directly contradicts the history we already know has taken place, because we've already unearthed archaeological artifacts to confirm it?  No, that's not going to happen, because we've established this past is not linked to anything except itself, so I'm not going to go off on an alternative-universe trip again. Archaeology could however become a bit of a fly in the ointment of the 'virgin' past scenario we're being presented with. You see, the absolute key to this profession's significance is the ability to link the past with the present, to give some context and coherence to the events we're experiencing. I mean, look at how Mantid artefacts help us understand the motivations of the Klaxxi in the game currently... if we're meant to simply arrive and leave this era without affecting any of the past we've previously experienced, wouldn't it be positively dangerous to start digging up even more pre-history that could taint that?

What significance would Archaeology have to us in a place where history effectively has no relevance to our long-term goals?

Is there any point to this skill in Warlords?

Ironically, the potential for Archaeological exploration on Draenor is huge: imagine if we as Humans were able to go back to a period when Human beings were only just beginning to become the race they were without fear of polluting or changing our own timeline. To be able to learn and understand about motivations for actions is a massive slice of wish-fulfillment right there, to grasp the importance of certain key events in changing the outlook or progression of a race is massive. If I played either Draenei or Orc with a measure of seriousness the potential in terms of understanding and enlightenment based simply on the 'present' would be enormous enough to begin with, without delving deeper into the past. Maybe that's the answer to this quandry, if the Devs are looking for a way to keep Archaeology relevant but without it affecting what's already taken place. Maybe we don't dig things up this Expansion, maybe it stops being about what's happened in the past and becomes more about understanding the relevance OF THIS PAST in relation to the larger whole. When all the other Professions get their upgrade, perhaps it's time for Harrison Jones to come out again from behind his desk in Stormwind and throw himself into the action.

Let's not dig up the past any more, let's live it.

We are simply passing through history.
This, this *is* history.

It is time to throw away the theodolites and pick up paper and pencil. You don't discover fragments in Warlord's amended Archaeology Profession, you visit living, breathing places of historical significance and make notes, draw pictures and learn about history from NPC's. Every time you visit a sit and learn, you hand in your Research Project to an Explorer's League NPC (hey, let them be in your Garrison, go on) and they give you a token, which when you've collected a bunch you can then exchange for an item. Maybe it's a better set of drawing equipment to make your Research Projects go faster, or a clue to a quest that unearths a special site of interest off the beaten track, or in a Dungeon. If you want to go dig stuff up you still can, that's in the present, baby, but AS THIS IS THE PAST we should be approaching it in a different fashion. Hell, we should be learning as much about it as possible with this unique opportunity we've been given: there's no Butterfly Effect to worry us here, after all...

I have no problem grasping the context for our next Expansion. However, I have lots of trouble accepting how we will exist realistically within it, based on the past we've already experienced. let's use Archaeology as a way of rationalising that, with the understanding that the present relies TOTALLY on the past, perhaps even more so in Azeroth that anywhere else. I don't want to be digging up the past therefore in Draenor, I want to be understanding it, and there's a magnificent opportunity with this Profession to make it happen.

Go on, Blizzard, give it a try.

Monday, December 09, 2013

To Build a Home :: Professional Widow

Things about other things equals STUFF.

This week's question is very simple: how much will Professions be wrapped around/into the Garrisons 'experience'? Before we start, let me get this crystal ball out...

It's not like we're not experts at speculation, but this week... well, this is a wee bit different. Blizzard have started making encouraging noises about professions changes, that they are discussing an alteration to the way things work, and that makes for some interesting possibilities, that we might see some key alterations to a system that's pretty much remained static since Vanilla. Then we're faced with trying to work out what that might mean: remembering you won't see this feature until you're 90 is probably quite a crucial factor in proceedings. Could it be finally possible that the game will concede that, assuming you've reached that level, that two 'primary' professions are not enough?

Will this mean that we'll get changes from Level One, or will this all be wrapped up in the Garrisons 'package'?

This is not my alt, I mean LOOK AT THAT FISHING SKILL :O

What seems to happen, and what will certainly be the case with your Tillers Farm, is that certain 'features' tend to end up being strictly Expansion-based: once you're done with that adventure, everyone and everything simply moves on and all your hard work is effectively forgotten. If Garrisons are going to have a distinctive professions bias, it is possible this feature may have the permanence of Pet Battles or something like Archaeology (more on that tomorrow) whereby the system is simply amended and updated as time goes on. Certainly making your Garrison phased will allow it to be stuck anywhere, so the potential for expansion over time is there. So, what could we expect? We know we have a Mine as one of four 'starter' buildings, but that has been established to provide raw materials for constructing the Garrison itself. There is no indicator any 'gathering' professions will (as yet) benefit from items available inside your phased area, and part of me doubts that will be the case. I think you'll still need to work outside the confines of your home, its what happens when those materials return with you that matters.

However, linking those materials that you gather in the World to the Garrison is quite simple: we just have to look to the Timeless Isle for evidence of this. Gathering on that Island gives items quite apart from herbs, skins or ore: Timeless Coins drop as well. If we go back to TBC gathering was capable of providing many other items too: motes and special herbs were all part of the deal. I can see a return to additional materials from your basic gathering skills which can be used in your Garrison, which will allow you to 'learn' additional skills on top of the basic ones you are aware of as, say, a Miner. These would only be available at L90 and be part of the Garrison 'experience': they'd form a second 'tier' of skills that you'd be able to live without if you didn't want or need them, and would depend on the secondary materials gathered from Warlords content only. If this was successful I wonder if it would be possible to amend all gathering nodes to allow them to provide secondary materials so that you could expand the Garrison to provide 'Classic' second tier patterns, perhaps allowing back classic recipes from the past using new materials from, well, the present.

Top album. Cover's great too.

Giving you new things to make and do should not ideally detract too much from the actual business of playing the game: already we have a ton of things that you'll be doing inside your Garrison that will stop you actually levelling your character, so pinning too much more on top of that actually has the potential to be detrimental. What I'd make happen is that, once you have maxxed everything out in your Garrison, you'd get the chance to learn a third 'primary' profession as a reward: and when I say learn, I mean have to pay quite a bit of money and do a ton of work in the real world to actually achieve it. I severely doubt any skill will simply just be handed to you (and I maintain this is why your 'free' L90 won't get anything except Fishing and First Aid at max level) because the economic consequences of simply handing a bunch of professions out like that could be catastrophic. Giving us all a third would effectively allow people to reduce alt numbers if they wished, would allow people to maximise the skills they used with something like Herbalism, and would probably stimulate a more controlled form of Economic growth, as this would only take place once Garrisons were maxxed, and not immediately at Expansion start.

In essence, I feel that the Professions part of Garrisons isn't going to significantly change the way Professions currently work... but I've been wrong before. This will all get wrapped around what Blizzard decide to change about the system, and as that's still in discussion... well, who knows. The only way we get to find out for sure is in Beta, and we won't see that now I suspect until next year. If everything changes, then who knows, the Garrison could replace the Professions window as the place where you know what you've done and you work out what needs to be maxxed next. It all depends on what Blizzard are going to change... which could be everything, or nothing at all...

Sunday, December 08, 2013

One Step Forward

That Pet Team need work...

Yesterday, our Guild finished the first wing of LFR on Flex.

This is a Pretty Huge Thing (TM) insofar as we've struggled for a while getting people in the same place, once a week. Yesterday I ended up with four healers, before our registered start time and I knew we'd be onto a winner. You see, we don't push people into playing or indeed taking part, we just put up the signups and pretty much hope. Last night, the fates aligned. It was a very good evening.

In fact, I'd say it was the best evening we've had in Raiding since before Pandaria began.

I spend a lot of time in game not playing with anyone, normally pottering or faffing, and it is often really easy to forget just how awesome playing as a Guild can be, until you get an evening where everything just comes together perfectly and just works. This was also the first evening where I pretty much did the Raid Leading job properly, for the first time since ICC, and I was really rather pleased with the entire thing. After finally dispatching the Sha, we had a good run at the Gauntlet at the Docks and if we can keep up the momentum I'd say five bosses down wouldn't be too much of a stretch for next week.


This is the moment where I suspect most other people would deconstruct their fights, or talk about how well or badly people did at certain roles. I realised quite early on that doing this can have dangerous consequences, especially if you do too much of that in public. Remind me one day to tell you the story of the time I left my finger on the push to talk button in Teamspeak and how the truth is pretty much never a good idea, and that as a result of that I am always cautious with what I say and to who. The fact remains, I don't write this blog as a way to reflect on my Guild's performance, and I don't think I'll ever really want to, save for the fact we're doing stuff we weren't able to do previously and as a result it is brilliant.

I find it rally quite difficult to balance all the personal aspects of the raid breakdown, for starters: I know no-one in our team deliberately turns up to do badly, or cause issues, and pretty much that's always been the case. Everyone is well aware of how much harder anything past LFR is to complete, of what is required of them as a result, and I suspect this is a result of the core of us having been friends since the game began. We've been really lucky in that our recruitment has managed to bolster that with other people who feel the same way we do on most things, but I become cautious of overplaying that card because it is clear that some people don't always 'fit in' with the ethos, such as it is. Needless to say, last night everyone turned up and gave it their all, and we made distinct and obvious progress, and in the end that's really all that matters.

I'd like to thank everyone in my Guild who did just that, who made a difference and meant that, as a team, we move forward. I hope we're as lucky next week but if we're not I realise it doesn't matter, because in the end we'll get there regardless. Needless to say, I'm really proud of everyone who made the effort, and it makes me really happy that I'm GM to so many awesome individuals.

Thank you, all :D