Saturday, March 29, 2014

Are You Experienced?

Well, there's a question.

When I saw this tweet pop up in the week from the Warcraft Dev Formally Known as Ghostcrawler I wondered what had prompted the comment. It inspired at least one well-known WoW Insider Columnist to pen a response and as the week has continued it's made me consider what I'd deem as appropriate in terms of a 'relationship' with the individuals I am aware are making the game I write about. On a personal level I have a lot of trouble generally dealing with people to begin with, and when you can't be 100% certain of how you relate to people in Real Life trying to work out where things sit in a Virtual World can become even more circumspect. What I do know however, after a fair few years just being on the planet, is many individuals live their lives with a plan. You may not know what that is, or they may not obviously present this to you when you meet them, but deep down there will often be some kind of motivation.

When a Game Dev interacts with you directly on Twitter, there's a better than average chance they're doing that to promote their product.

This interaction may come for several reasons: you asked a question they wanted to answer, you picked up a mistake they'd not noticed, or you have highlighted a concern that is generally felt to echo across the wider player base. It should always be argued on Social Media that if you ask something and get an answer at all you should be very grateful: of all the thousands (potentially) of people who have done the same thing, you were the one who were lucky enough to get an answer. When players do this with Dev Blog Posts and general discussions where interaction with the individuals isn't as instant or indeed transparent (like for instance the upcoming WoW Source 'episode') the results are far less personal and have considerably lessened impact.

How we live 'relationships' in social media, especially with the people who make our games, is becoming a topic of some significance.

Details are everything.

There's lots of different types of tweets coming out of Blizzard right now. Some, like Chris Robinson's pretty much encyclopaedic list of what's happening with characters skins and when are fabulous for those of us who like a long-term viewpoint of what's in the pipeline. However, the very real practicalities of the game numbers, the actual nuts and bolts of the game are somewhat less simple to pin down, which is why you'll get far less detail from the people who, for many people, are more significant in the process of processes. What information comes when is precisely dictated too: I can understand however why, if one person in an organisation is able to give a level of transparency like this, it will appear frustrating to people when others can't. Note please I didn't use the word won't there, and that's a huge difference I think some people fail to grasp. Dev's aren't doing anything to spite you, or deliberately make you throw your toys from whatever moving vehicle you happen to be currently occupying. They're doing their job, and the fact they're prepared to share anything at all with you is something far more people should be grateful for than currently are.

What can confuse some people is the fact that not everyone in a Company will act the same way. In shock news, this is because they are human beings too. Social media allows accessibility, of course it does, but then it isn't just about you in the relationship, it's the person you're interacting with too that has a say in how things go down. Then there's other issues to consider: being a good Dev isn't about having a thick skin or being able to ignore criticism or abuse. It is also about what you are prepared to give back to the Community from your own approach. It isn't just explaining your intent, it's HOW you do it that matters just as much as the message itself. I had a perfect example of this in the week not from a Blizzard Dev, but an Everquest one. What this showed me is that sometimes, going off piste is a brilliant way not simply to show your intent, but to help build relationships with the player base.

My claim. Completely submerged.

Without going into details, I started playing in Landmark and encountered an issue, so raised a ticket. My friend Belghast also cc-d me into a Tweet which he shared with some of the Landmark designers, asking if there were a problem they knew of that explained my issue. Shortly afterwards EQ Director Domino (@pentapod) contacted me directly via Twitter and asked if I was in game and less than five minutes later, there she was in front of me, descending from the sky in my first ever 'approached by a designer' moment. I took her to my claim, she explained my issue, and the problem was solved. All this in less than 30 minutes, IN A BETA. That's pretty impressive customer service, if you ask me, and it also serves to demonstrate a few key factors in how games companies can use Social Media to their advantage. They are an instant way to address issue if you choose to use them that way. It has the advantage of allowing the designer to dictate the terms of their interaction, and can reap massive benefits if you pick people who won't then stalk you excessively for months on end and threaten to boil your pet rabbit [*]. The problem I suspect for many designers is how much of themselves they are prepared to release 'to the public' via Social Media, and what might happen if they pick the 'wrong' person to interact with. As with most things in life, it is a lottery. You pays your money and takes you choice, and with all things your mileage may vary.

Being in a relationship with anyone, however casually, always has its potential pitfalls. Not having relationships however will lessen your overall experience of life over time. Trust me on this. It is often better to feel something than it is to feel nothing at all.

Insert your own caption here.

In answer to Mr Street's question, you'll never totally mitigate concerns about game changes by talking about it, because a percentage of your audience just don't listen to begin with. However, those who do will, I would fancy, appreciate being part of the discussion process. What I think they would appreciate more is to understand why some people say more than others. Although I can grasp there will never be 100% transparency in certain areas of Warcraft's organisation, what might go some way to assuage the people who get upset about lack of information is to do what Mr Robinson has done: establish a timeframe and give people an idea of what to expect, even if that does not come without actual dates to accompany it. Obviously that is easier in some aspects of gameplay than it is in others. That much has become abundantly apparent in the last few weeks.

If you want to interact with your audience, the benefits I'd argue will ultimately outweigh the pitfalls. I don't think you need just a thick skin either, you need a plan and to know what to walk away. If you can conquer social media, the benefits will be many-fold, not simply for your organisation.

The trick, ultimately, will be learning how to manage relationships first, then the details.

[*] Everyone fears the stalkers. You just have to hope.

Friday, March 28, 2014

LANDMARK :: Dangerous Game

Falling towards Apotheosis

Thanks to my good, dear friend Belghast (who you will find at Tales of the Aggronaut) I was given on Wednesday a Closed Beta Key for a release I've been looking at with some interest: EverQuest Landmark. I somewhat jokingly described it on Twitter as 'Minecraft for Grownups' (yes, I know) but having played that game with my kids the parallels are undoubtedly there. What Sony appear to have done here is created a very adult approach to the concept of sandbox construction, and it is clearly doing something right when it can hold and demand my attention continuously for an entire 24 hour period. But therein lies a problem: it is a dangerous game that pushes the player to keep playing because the only way you can progress is sinking time into the process of gathering. Trust me when I say that's what you're going to have to do from the word go, especially if you want to build anything of significance, or indeed make sure that when you build you can maintain what you've created.

Reassuringly normal.

My first surprise was on opening the game, when I was presented with a 'Welcome to Beta' Video. No cinematics here, just an explanation of what I missed from Alpha and then there I was, ready to go. No instructions, no tutorials, just me and some stuff. The concept here is ridiculously simple: if you can dig it out of the ground or chop it down, it's useful to you. In the beginning all you'll have to build with is dirt, because that's the most abundant resource in most cases to begin with and the easiest to 'gather' However, if you want to build you'll need a Claim on which to do so: a piece of land that is yours and which allows you to construct on it. For that you need to make a 'flag', but in this case Belghast was decent enough to provide me with one. But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

Digging for victory.

It is really simple. You start with a L1 Axe and Pick. You can only gather certain materials with these tools, and you do, until you have enough materials to make a L2 Pick and Axe... and so on and so on. As your tools increase in sophistication so does what you gather, and the process you need to make more sophisticated items also increases. To refine and combine these items there is a Spire, in the centre of the Zone you start in. Here is a mailbox, a basic Forge and a Basic Crafting Station, and from these building blocks you can create your Claim Flag. Until you stake a Claim you can't build anything that persists: be careful where you place them, or else you'll end up like me with yours entirely underground and have to dig down in order to begin construction. However, even stupidity shouldn't be a massive hindrance. If you know how Minecraft works, or indeed most Sim-based games, you'll be able to produce something, anything is possible, even with dirt.

Yesterday's work.

My Underground Lair is well into it's primary planning stage, as you can see. I gathered enough raw materials to place a Second Claim above the first one so I can build up as well as down. What you can't see is the whole of the underground area I hollowed out plus a sub basement to the basement 'space' The raised area up to the left will be where Crafting is placed and will extend along the back of the space. There is a token 'Entrance' and that's about it, but I did gather enough materials to make a L3 pick which allows me access to a lot more sophisticated mining and gem options. I was able to do this by 'borrowing' other Claimants Crafting areas (the Spires only provide basic facilities.) However, you will want to use Spires as a way to move between different islands because you'll discover quite fast all the raw materials you require to progress don't exist in your 'starting' area...

And this is where my major problem lies. This already has Mother of All Timesinks stamped all over it.

Don't get me wrong, it is very enjoyable and well made, but the major thrust of the action thus far is you: your time, your effort, and you will need tons of both if you want to produce anything of any significance. In fact I can see this becoming a hugely successful game in that regard simply on the strength of the tools that EQ:L gives you: it's pretty much your imagination and how much effort you are prepared to plough into the results. I was asked two questions by Belghast yesterday: is it fun and is it a good faff? Yes, I undoubtedly had a great time with this: it engaged me and I was impressed by the level of Customer Service the game designers are already prepared to put into making this a success (more on that tomorrow.) However, and this is crucial for me, being able to find the time to build myself will be a problem. This isn't a game to faff in for me, not by a long way. This is a game I'd have to learn, that would frustrate me because I couldn't build what I wanted quickly. I am a lousy trailblazer, and that doesn't make for effective faffing.

Early building efforts were effective, but time-consuming.

This is really encouraging from Sony, on a lot of levels, not simply the obvious desire to make this a community-driven 'adventure' from the word go. Many people are going to get really excited about this, especially those used to sandbox experiences like Minecraft. I would go so far as to recommend that if you can nab a free Beta code from someone already playing, you should do so and go have a poke around. This will be added to my Twitch stream starting next week simply for that reason, because I think it's a great example of what you can do with some simple principles and enough money behind you to make it work. However, for me I can already anticipate annoyance, not because of the game, but because of me. I don't have the time or ability to make this work as brilliantly as it undoubtedly will, but that's not going to send me away at the first hurdle. I will maintain the upkeep of my land (you 'pay' to keep your claims current with Copper Ore) as a result and pop back when I can, but I won't be moving in just yet.

However, I don't begrudge anyone who does: in fact I'll entirely understand why.

To Build a Home :: Red Alert

Diggy Diggy Hole, Diggy Diggy Hole...

As I spent pretty much all of yesterday in a Sandbox (more of that later) I come to our weekly scheduled feature this morning with a distinctly different mindset. That's useful, because it transpires that the topic of the day is Resources (or should that be *are* Resources?)

I should complain more :D

This was big enough news after I posted my column last week to warrant front-page billing on MMO Champion. However it's been fair to say that Actual News [TM] has been very thin on the ground this last week, to the point I was scrabbling for content for my scheduled Azeroth in 5 broadcast. However, this admission *is* significant, because it means no-one will be able to build a head start with a nest-egg. Everyone's on the same playing field. That may not seem significant now, but in light of some comments that have surfaced this morning from another Developer Interview, it is clear Blizzard is not simply looking at the existing player-base when it considers content. In fact, this comment from Alex Afrasiabi was particularly telling:

  • Having to deal with all of the other things that are a part of coming back to the game along with levelling is too much for some people.

This should, of course, go without saying: this game is insanely complicated. It's never been an easy study and it is only when you place it against other titles does it become apparent just how much stuff you need to know to play Warcraft even halfway decently. I don't take this as a criticism of the game, far from it, but it did mean when I was trying to explain what my nine year old daughter needed to do when she started playing her Mage... well, let's just say a lot of detail can be left out, but you miss a great deal of the brilliance of the game itself. If for many players their first point of insertion into the game is going to include the Garrison, the LAST thing you want is to have to need a pile of gold to build from scratch. One assumes this resource is going to work in one of two ways: it'll either be lying around on the ground in huge numbers to pick up and supply your buildings at the base level or you'll be given a Follower/Followers to gather it for you, at a rate that will ultimately be really frustrating for most people but will act as a way of gating the content to ensure you don't have every L3 building the moment you hit L100.

Just be grateful you don't have to build everything from scratch...

Whatever happens, not having to worry about a huge amount of additional work when coming back to the game will be, I am sure for many, welcome news. Now all we need is some ACTUAL HANDS ON EXPERIENCE of the whole shebang to get a sense of what we'll actually be doing when Warlords go live...

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Ninth Wave

Hovhannes Aivazovsky, 1850.

I am, as many of you know, a great fan of context. Take this painting, for instance. I didn't know until yesterday that this composition (The Ninth Wave) was the inspiration for the second side of Kate Bush's 1985 release 'Hounds of Love', which in turn is what was, back in the day, a classic example of the 'concept album.' All the tracks join, and have the theme of a woman, shipwrecked, trapped in the water waiting for rescue. In all of those years, nearly thirty of them, I never knew this painting was the starting point for Bush' inspiration. Suddenly my entire view of the experiences I had as a young woman listening to the album have shifted, subtly altered, all with this single point of context. It's amazing what happens when you learn some backstory, and being blinkered to knowledge will ultimately leave you less of a person as a result.

It doesn't stop us doing it, myself included.

This is the perfect moment therefore to stick my cards on the table and admit I've never read a SINGLE book of Warcraft 'lore' because actually, there are moments when you don't want context to ruin what you create for yourself. I have, I now realise, effectively begun to live in my own Lore-inspired version of the game.

In the beginning, there was the Portal.

There's no avoiding Lore in game, let's face it. You can choose to effectively mute all the faffing about Races and History and The Future if you so desire, but understanding WHY things happen remains fairly important to most. I suspect that why so many people have an issue getting their brains around the whole 'we're going back to the past that isn't actually OUR past it's just a version that saves us having to remake all those globes of Azeroth' conceit that Warlords is based on. In the absence of Ms Golden's novel I decided I'd start making up my own justification for a trip Back to the Past (part two of which should be with you some time next week if my Beta Reader's able to give it a poke) but actually, even when that's released, I'm not interested. I have long been of the assertion that if it doesn't exist in game, it shouldn't be canon to begin with. However, with a game the size of Warcraft, and with the resource base already in place, I realise that's actually pretty narrow minded. However, I'll be brutally honest: I don't care. I don't need to know the lineage of every generation of Night Elf back to the Well of Eternity. Understanding the story shouldn't require a reading list in a computer game, it really ought to be there for you to absorb by osmosis, which is effectively how I've learnt the story of the game in ten years, give or take.

I know that's not the whole story, but I'm okay with that. I also understand and respect the significance Lore has for a section of the community. I just wilfully choose to utterly ignore that. I feel the need at this point to explain why.


I do my best to cope with everything Modern Life throws at me but Damon and the lads were right, some days it's utter pants to try and cope with the utter avalanche of information we're forced to process. The same is often the case when you enter a game: so many things to do, where do I start, what is important... and no more so has that been true during this Expansion. The sheer amount of stuff to do remains staggering, and wanting to do it over and over again on alts after I was pushed through it at breakneck speed on my main... I don't blame myself for detaching from many things during Pandaria, least of all a lore storyline what made me fight a war I didn't want, and then forced me into situations I felt distinctly uncomfortable in. I still feel my faction made all the wrong choices, and the guilt in my mind over the Sha's possession of the land and the population is still close and raw. Even though I know the consequences were inevitable, this does not stop the disquiet. I have followed the letter of the Lore for many years, but now it is not enough.

I need something else, and I won't get it from just getting more background information. Reading is not the answer. Living is.

These spaces intentionally left blank.

I want to remain in this world, but the Lore motivation for doing so is vague and disinteresting. Everything else is fine: friends, gameplay, goals, all remain strong and intact but when asked of my characters 'what's the motivation here?' then I will falter. This is where my own Lore has appeared to fill the gap, a motivation as yet unwritten to pull my Hunter to the Dark Portal when it turns red, that will have nothing at all to do with the Orcs, and likely (I suspect) to be all about the Draenei. It will be a place (I hope) to finally put her demons to rest by combining the story I am given with my own personal spin on events. The fact I am still here and want to do this is the greatest testament to this game I could give: I feel as if my journey isn't done yet, that there are as yet adventures to experience and stories to be told in Azeroth and beyond, but I've switched off the History Channel to do it. I understand how important the past is to our lives, but for THIS life, this journey, all that matters is the moment, the here and now and how I live within that.

In this version of Modern Life I choose to be blinkered, and it suits me just fine.

My farm remains untilled as a result: I know I could be making money, but I'd rather focus on the other things, away from the 'storyline' that Pandaria gave me. My Hunter left the land a while ago and is back living in Stormwind, and that's how it will stay, because I can already hear the Portal's call, and I want to be close when things start to happen. I don't want to miss a thing when it does, because that means it's almost Expansion time, and that makes me enthusiastic and excited, despite everything else that has happened in the last three weeks.

I still love this game: long may it continue, but on my terms.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Alternative Chat :: Episode 20

YES SHE'S BACK and she remembered to bring both her voice and brain with her! In a flash of triumph the Alternative Chat Podcast returns. I know all 45 of you missed me... you *did* miss me, right? :P

This week, I will be mostly chatting about:

  • OMG KATE BUSH TICKETS11!!111!1111!!!
  • So there is NO WARCRAFT NEWS.
  • Don't try and bait me on Twitter, or indeed anywhere.
  • Is there a Beta Client yet? Please?
  • Many a faffle is worth a fuffle.
  • Wrapping characters in tissue paper.

If you have any comments or thoughts on this week's Podcast, or you'd like to abuse me for not having a clue as to what the Hell I'm talking about, please send your mail to:

alternativegodmother (all one word) AT gmail DOT com



I now have a Facebook page. Come LIKE me at


Also, the Podcast is NOW AVAILABLE ON STITCHER :D Keep everything crossed, and we should be back here on April 2nd!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Slow Hand

No small mammals were harmed in the production of this post.

I have a certain measure of empathy with the WoW Insider's Editor's Tweet from yesterday. Warcraft news on his site was pretty thin on the ground, and if he and his team are struggling for content, the rest of us aren't going to fare any better. Monday's MMO Champion front page was (understandably) all about Diablo 3 but they are recycling the same details the rest of us are having to trawl through to find something useful to grab onto. We've not had a Dev Watercooler for at least a week now. Where does that leave us on the Beta Test front as a result? I'd automatically assumed that these Watercoolers would be meticulously pre-planned and be used as a weekly way of clearing the ground for the new product, because Blizzard are great at that sort of thing. Except, its gone quiet.

Do we just need to be patient and stop begging for details?

The Early Bear catches the pickenick basket. FACT.

I invoked Occam's Razor yesterday on Twitter as a way to prompt further discussion on why this Expansion's Beta is taking so long when we already have an actual release schedule [*], and the responses were interesting. Clearly a lot of 'stuff' is being worked on, across a range of different departments, because of the volume of information that's been deliberately leaked from various Twitter accounts over the last two months. We know many features are in some stage of development: Battle pets, quests, raids, Garrisons, PvP are all being worked on and obviously the mechanics for stat and healing changes are already in place in some kind of Internal Alpha Client. But it is all so far away from the group perspective at this point that building a coherent picture of what we are going to see is proving a lot harder than I suspect many have anticipated, myself included. Part of me really wishes I could get to PAX East this weekend so I could get my hands on the working demo of the starting areas, because even that would be a step forward from where we are now as a Community.

The standing joke of Soon (TM) is all well and good, but only remains endearing for so long. However, what if Blizzard isn't actually the problem this time around? Maybe it's us that's not seeing the Big Picture.

Today's Metaphor is ALL ABOUT the Big Picture.

There have been whispers since Christmas, hints of things I suspect Blizzard don't want to over-state because they're going to take the game in a direction that might worry some players. This could be be a New Game, not like the Expansions that preceded it, and I'm not just talking about less Agility on your Hunter's mail legs. Somewhere between Blizzcon and now Garrisons emerged as far more significant than a daily Tillers Farm 'run', but if you were paying attention you'd know that possibility was on the table when the Expansion was announced. The Garrison is the place where WE BUILD AN ARMY to defeat the Orc threat in Draenor. It's been increasingly apparent as time has gone on, and details have remained not simply scarce but deliberately managed and released by key personnel, that your Garrison is a vital part of game proceedings. It's the big-screen TV in that storage unit above: without it, everything will still work, but it won't have the same impact. Without it there's no point having a PC, DvD or indeed Satellite System either, because one won't function without the other.

I'm going to suggest that's why we don't have a Beta yet, either.

Two motivational posters in a single post? Inconceivable!

What we don't have ANY idea of, at least as yet, is how the Modular Storage Unit that is Warlords will look like when it's done. There's all these pieces we have access to, but no overall set of Instructions on how they fit together or interact with each other. This is where the speculation we spoke about last week can become dangerous, because without that definitive final construction spec people could use the modular framework to build a large number of vastly differing games, depending on their own personal conceptions. Blizzard are holding those final blueprints pretty close to their collective chest right now, I suspect because (as has been stated here previously) they're not prepared to show us the finished product until it is, indeed COMPLETED. However frustrating this becomes for writers and commentators is largely academic too: Blizzard will know when they're ready, and when they're going to share.

Between you and me, I'd say the chances for at least some new information this week is probably better than most. D3's finally out, and that means by the end of Q1 Blizzard have released two highly successful games and shoved one into Alpha, which by anyone's standards is pretty damn good going. What you need to understand is that even though Hearthstone is free to play, it has an inbuilt digital revenue stream attached, something I'm fairly sure will already be making a tidy sum and justifying the lack of price tag on the title itself. Plus, Heroes of the Storm's MOBO construction means that players will be dipping into their pockets for characters to purchase too. Frankly, Q1's looking pretty spectacular even from this far away. Warcraft may be the Elder Statesperson of this bunch, but there's an awful lot riding on getting this release spot on. If Blizzard do it right, many will forget the wait we endured to make it happen. Do it WRONG, and... well, this could make Cataclysm's failure look like a weekend's all-expenses paid trip to Disneyland.

This is not NEW. This is DIFFERENT.

If you get five minutes, go read Coke's take on the events of April 23rd, 1985, the day the company decided to change their tried and tested formula, and the consequences that resulted in the about-turn they made seventy-nine days later. The point of sticking this aside here is twofold: people hate change, but they love innovation. You just need to look at Apple as testament to how change can be handled beautifully, and how when successfully paired with constant 'upgrades' makes a product that people crave and demand almost constantly. You could argue Warcraft occupies a similar position in gaming terms: it is the game everyone looks to as a yardstick for MMO development. perhaps even now, inside Blizzard HQ, the designers have struck upon a new formula for Warcraft, that tastes better, makes you feel happier and can tell you the weather forecast for Tokyo at the touch of a button. The thing is, until they decide they're ready to tell us, there really is nothing more to do than sit and bemoan the fact there is NO WARLORDS NEWS.

Eventually, this situation will change. Until it does, I'd strongly suggest you use your time wisely while you wait.


[*] Yes, there's a date. We all KNOW it's not the real date right now, many of us don't like it, but it's there and as long as it remains there's going to need to be some ACTUAL NEWS on when a Beta Client will be available. Eventually (TM)

Monday, March 24, 2014

This Week, I Will be Mostly :: Dancing With Myself


Last week was a remarkably productive one despite the fact I've been the most unwell that I've been for some time. In good news, my voice (which pretty much vanished completely on Friday) is back and at least functioning again, I'm down to a one box of Tissue a day habit (from two) and I've managed a full eight hours of sleep despite the fact I'm still utterly knackered. This week, I am fully aware that I really need to start organising my life in Warcraft with a measure of urgency, and by that I mean clearing out crap, selling things I don't need, and generally sticking one eye distinctly towards the future. There's still no sign either of my Server being merged with anyone else's, so it might be time to start playing other people's AH's with some strategically placed L1 Bankalts for a bit of fun and profit on the Battle Pet front. More on that later in the week. For now, let's talk about food.

My favourite in-game reference.

I've decided to liquidate as much of my food 'stores' as possible into Deluxe Noodle Carts this week, and once they're gone, I will make no more food this Expansion. As it is an incredibly massive faff and we're not managing one Flex a week at present it seems sensible to clear the space, make all the stuff and just use it as is needed. If it ends up I need anything else I'll consider re-farming, but as it stands there is very little point. That means this week there will be some fishing and a lot of material movement from bankalt to P. Once that's done... well, I think we'll be back to levelling. In no particular order, the Priest needs to make it to 90, then the Monk, and finally the Hunter (which I intend to continue doing via Twitch in the evenings as schedules allow.) After THAT? Well, we have a Druid, another Hunter and a Paladin at 85. Yeah, they'll all get done, and I refuse to spend a single penny on any of them JUST BECAUSE.

Yes, I am *officially* a Grumpy Old Woman.

Well, there's a thing.

As there were no healers for Flex this weekend (again) a bunch of us went to Ulduar 25 instead, and 100 Achievement Points later I appear to hold the Realm First Celestial Defender Title for Shadowsong. Twice. Methinks the Armoury is a bit borked, but it'll be fun to throw the screenie around regardless. I also picked up the last two skins of gun/bow I've been missing from the Instance to add to the collection, so that's no bad thing in the long run. I should also congratulate both my mate J (slightly late) and Sarol the Wonder Paladin for both adding Legendaries to the Guild Tally in the last couple of weeks. At least it's a good time for catching up on stuff. Talking of which, I have two new Mogs waiting to go on various alts. Expect pictures this week.

Oh, and tomorrow should be quite interesting as well on the personal front. Watch this space.

Do I even need to say we could really do with a Beta soon? ^^

Sunday, March 23, 2014

WILDSTAR :: The New Frontier

This album. Oh, this album.

There's a reason I chose this title today, not simply because of the awesome that remains as Donald Fagen (hard to believe that was 1983, JUST SAYING) The subject matter is relevant in my context: the threat of the Cold War, the inscrutable enemy that threatens everything you hold dear. I've begun to realise this week that there are some people playing Warcraft who genuinely consider any potential 'competition' as an intercontinental ballistic missile of WoWKiller and, in many cases, simply refuse to acknowledge the existence of other titles to begin with. Well, I'm here to inform you that you can love more than one game at once, if you'll allow yourself the opportunity. The trick is to grasp that, like life, its all about finding the right level. I think the problem with many players is if you can't utterly immerse yourself in a game and get totally lost in the awesome to the detriment of everything else, the designers are doing something wrong.

Welcome to the New Frontier, my friends, where you don't need to be addicted to enjoy yourself.

Howdy *cough* y'all

This is Sharrow. She's an Granok Exile, you'll currently find her on Olyssia in the land of Beta, and I rather enjoy the sound her HUGE GUN OF DOOM makes when I am cutting a swathe through enemies. She is an Engineer, and this is the point where my understanding of the details completely breaks down, because I've only played (probably) twelve hours tops to get this far (I'm L9 currently.) There are a few things I can tell you. I know I won't get professions until L10. I know FULL WELL that if you're expecting me to race for end-game content you'll be sadly disappointed, because I'm already struggling to cope with the content I have. Mostly however, if you're expecting me to sit here and pronounce this game as the one that will stop me playing Warcraft... sorry, not gonna happen. Pretty much the only reason I've lasted this far to begin with is because its similarities to Blizzard's game are noticeable and frankly welcoming. It means I at least have a clue what to do when it comes to gearing and combat, and in terms of engagement, that's utterly crucial.

Where it has impressed me, and continues to do so, is the approach to what my actual 'makes big-assed games for a living' friend referred to last night as the 'kill 10 rats' mentality. In all MMO's, there must be grinding to level, and this one is no different. Where I have been impressed is the means by which that problem is approached and dealt with...

What are you doing, Dave?

I'll spare you the details of the Starting Zones I've been through: needless to say, if they'd not been enjoyable, I'd not have got this far anyway. Using percentages to indicate how far you are through a particular quest however is GENIUS: I am told some mobs give more % towards completion than others. Bonus objectives pop up EVERYWHERE, so much so they can actually become frustrating if you fail to notice you've activated one and your timer is running. However, you can stop and retry just about everything from what I can see, so there is no huge loss. Why we're looking at a cage with a chest on top however is a demonstration of what I've been impressed with Wildstar's approach to loot: it's not conventional. If this were Azeroth that chest would be on the ground. As this is 'Firefly with Aliens' (that's reinforced quite a bit) I have a chest I can't jump to conventionally. I need a boost, and that comes from the purple crystal behind the cage. I scan that with my Robot helper, and then I'm able to get the extra boost on the rock formation to grab my reward. Bear in mind I HATE jumping, and this game's made me do it pretty much since I arrived in this zone. I really enjoyed it as well.

Secret Stash? That's GOTTA be good... :D

My main frustration, especially in what is a pretty packed and buggy Beta world at present, is trying to be a Completist. I've missed SO many things on my journey and the desire to wander off and explore is tempered with the understanding that actually, I don't want to forge on, I want to say I've completed every zone. Tracking this is not yet as simple as it could be, and there's a frightful number of bugs to report (and I'm doing my best to find them all) Whenever I'm asked if a quest is good I'll always respond to the Survey that pops up, and when I finally get a chance to go back and get to L10 (which is unlikely to be until NEXT weekend's event) I will have the mysteries of crafting and professions to unravel. This, I will admit, I am looking forward to most of all.

I get a bag from L1 JUST FOR CRAFTING? GENIUS!

When I showed a screenie of my Interface on Twitter last week, this was enough to discourage people playing because it looks 'just like Warcraft.' In shock news, I'm not judging a game just on an interface, and making it look like the one I've played with for a decade is, I'm sure a deliberate attempt to help orientate players when they begin. It's why all geographical maps use the same legends, after all: it doesn't matter what you use to get to your destination, it's the journey that matters. There is however sufficient disparity to make it a challenge: I swapped skills on my main action bar, made some choices about what I use in which number slot even though I'M STILL CLICKING. I've salvaged things I've looted (no clicking on bodies to loot ARGH) and know the Cookery Recipe I gained as a reward but couldn't learn shouldn't be kept in my bags until I can. Blue items are better than Green items (I got a Blue upgrade from that stash, by the way) and loot in the early zones is as thin on the ground as it is in Azeroth. It is the same but different, and that's not a criticism at all. It is, as it happens, just familiar enough to be comforting, yet original enough to make me smile.

For those of you now expecting me to disown Azeroth and wander off to Nexus, there's about as much chance of that happening as me abandoning everything and running off to become a Hardcore Call of Duty fan. However as any good writer will tell you, the more you read the better you become at discovering ways to formulate your own ideas. Therefore I will warn you that there will be a smattering of WILDSTAR heading posts appearing in the weeks that follow, as there is also likely to be a number of LANDMARK posts as I've been lucky enough to have been offered a Beta invite. The key to keeping things interesting isn't just doing the same old thing day in, day out. Variety is the spice of life, and on the New Frontier simply understanding what the heck is going on is the main adventure at present. People have asked me whether I'd recommend this to players, I'll say this. It's a pleasant, yet familiar change from Warcraft, probably because I've never levelled in it before. I loved 'Firefly.' I love Westerns. It pushes most of my buttons, and I'd rather have something to play for a couple of months that's entirely new content, than spend my money on a pre-order for a game that doesn't actually exist at present.

No, I'm not leaving Warcraft, not even for a little while. Please don't begrudge me some enjoyment elsewhere however while I wait for Warlords.