Google+ ALT : ernative: 05/04/2014 - 05/11/2014

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Turn It On Again


Making news after a decade? HELL YES.

I try and cast quite a wide net for my 'news' posts on any given day, and my search this morning pulled up this gem from yesterday. 'According to an insider involved with Blizzard and their annual convention' (which could be anybody from an admin assistant at the Anaheim Convention Centre all the way up to Rob Pardo) Blizzard have a new MMO up their sleeves, which they intend to announce at Blizzcon this year. The thing is, the company had everything from a new MMO to a bid to buy out the Seattle Seahawks [*] up their sleeves for the best part of a decade. If Azeroth Choppers hadn't convinced the general populous that *anything* is possible with these guys, I'm not sure what will (though rumours of a special episode of 'Void Storage Hunters' cannot at this time be confirmed or denied.)

Fact remains, these guys are a living definition of evolution.

You only need to look at the plans for the new 'Curse of Naxxramas' expansion for Hearthstone or the Alpha development of 'Heroes of the Storm' to understand that if they're not moving forward, there's a problem. Although there may be some of us lamenting the lack of any Warcraft news, as we discussed yesterday that's a game that, at least right now, isn't the overriding priority or the only part of Blizzard's arsenal of gaming weaponry. At some point this game too will be a memory of the past, and I'm betting Blizzard will want to continue going well after that point. To make that happen, there needs to be a continuous process of development. At any point, at any given time, companies from Apple to Zoopla will be looking forward to the Next Big Thing [TM] I cannot believe Blizzard are any different.

That means new stuff is going on all the time.


That's five months ago...


Michael Booth is a Game Director at Blizzard. According to this article from BlizzPlanet Mr Booth's speciality is First Person Shooters (with a side order of Zombies) and looking at who else was being sought in connection with this project, it's quite easy to grasp that this could be Blizzard looking to move into a market that's more familiar to their brethren at Activison. In fact, there's a game that EXACTLY fits that bill, but it never actually happened. StarCraft: Ghost was imagined all the way back in 2002. They'd probably want to change the secondary title, but it is entirely possible this gem could have evolved and might yet appear in a new form in November. There's always very little information immediately available from Blizzard but I saw a Tweet in late April go out for people to test *something* and at least one person on my Twitter feed was on the Blizzard campus on April 29th (presumably) to do just that. Mr Booth hasn't posted to his account since early February. I'm going to guess he's quite busy as a result :D

However, that's not an MMO. The 'title' that was going to succeed Warcraft was, and presumably still is, referred to as 'Titan.' Interestingly, an article on exactly that subject turned up YESTERDAY on Kotaku:

The whole thing's only four paragraphs. Take 3.


GameRant's 'source' looks like it could well be the 'Blizzard Staffer' that Kotaku reference (needless to say, the Linkedin profile no longer exits.) The speculation is that this could be Titan-related, but it is just as likely our Mike Booth-helmed project could be what the profile was referring to. On the current Blizzard Entertainment Career Opportunities Website there is also an opening.. but for what?


Oh I say. Click the link for the full job description.

Blizzard are always moving forward, continually developing their products. Look at the surprise and amazement that met the Heroes of the Storm trailer at Blizzcon LAST year: that's publicity you simply can't buy. I can see the company wanting a 'surprise' reveal like this for Blizzcon 2014, especially as there is a good chance there'll be no obvious announcement for the NEXT Warcraft expansion this time around.

So, anyone like to speculate what we'll get in November? Will Blizzard go down the First Person Shooter path or can we finally expect to see the reveal for Titan? Or is this all simply a pointless exercise? After all, if the right Blizzard employee Tweeted he's played something new and loved it, how many people would assume it was referring to the company's latest outing? The company are news just for turning up for work most days. Should we stop speculating and simply let them get on with their jobs?

Sometimes, things happen together for a reason. We just have to decide whether that's relevant or not.

[*] This is the one thing I can completely guarantee there's absolutely NO EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT :D

Friday, May 09, 2014

ABC


Over the last couple of weeks there's been a discussion going on between me and a certain person on my Twitter feed on the nature of what Alpha and Beta Clients, especially in relation to Warlords, will actually entail. It made me wonder this morning: is this is the very start of the process with Alpha Client notes? Should I even be seeing these to begin with? As a result I went and did a bit of research. Fortunately for me, Wikipedia had a diagram to explain:

All very logical.

Okay then. So Warlords is in what I've been seen referred to as a 'Technical' Alpha in the same way as the Heroes of the Storm MOBA. They even have a graphic:


O RLY?

Looking at other releases I am aware of away from Blizzard (Landmark and ArchAge both spring to mind) Alpha has taken on the mantle of something quite special, away from what I suspect was traditionally a testing period where nothing went outside the Blizzard Campus and its employees. Alpha appears to be a place where gaming companies will pick and choose from their playerbase or from particulars sectors of the gaming community in order to get their game 'tested' in a way which will provide them with a far wider range of feedback than perhaps would normally be the case in simply a Beta. However, as has been the case with Blizzard's pre-order campaign, players are being increasingly asked to part with cash for the privilege.

This appears to be the dawn of the age of the Paytester, an idea Blizzard pioneered themselves with Mists of Pandaria.

Both Landmark and ArchAge, which have a lot in common (sandbox, self-construction worlds with inbuilt secondary crafting and gathering systems) have attracted players and interest via the use of Founders Packs: pay a set sum and you're in the game at Alpha, playing content long before anyone else even gets their hands on a finished product. This gives players a vested interest in what is produced even before the general public get to play: it helps the gaming company generate world of mouth interest via Social Media and through the gaming press. It also means that if the gaming company does something the founders don't like their displeasure's also likely to be aired in the same channels. It puts the responsibility on the company to listen to it's 'paying' testers in a far more significant fashion than might transpire during a large access Beta event.

Most importantly of all, it allows the gaming company working capitol to continue their development efforts.


ArchAge Founders Packs. Operators are standing by.

Blizzard used the Annual Pass method last expansion around in much the same way as the Founders Packs are working now: pay for 12 months of game time and we'll give you guaranteed Beta access. So why are so many people disappointed with the results when so many players got to test the game? There's a fundamental difference between Blizzard and everyone else that often gets overlooked when considering why they do the things they do: time. This game's a behemoth in MMO terms, and what is abundantly apparent is that what works for other titles won't work for this one. There's also one major issue that the 'large' Beta threw up, and why letting player buy into certain concepts is actually very attractive for gaming companies: feedback.

Obtaining information from players is great, but it's not as useful as the right or very specific feedback, especially if you have systems you're deliberately trying to test. Making sure you're targeting groups who you know will give you the specific responses you're after is something Blizzard have become very adept at over the years. You only need to look at the YouTube and Twitch streamers Blizzard targeted with the Heroes Alpha to grasp they're pushing product in distinct directions. Letting people play your game, whether they pay to do so or you specially invite them, is more likely to produce positive results if you're listening to them from Day One. I strongly suspect that's why they ignored the Annual Pass this time, and instead decided to gather their working capital in a far more subtle fashion. The net result however is pretty much the same.


They tried to break us, looks like they'll try again...

This time, paytesters have been given the most precious commodity Blizzard can offer: a L90 character. That means, come whenever we see the Release Candidate on the Live Servers, the one million people who paid to pre-order a copy can come back from whatever they're doing and simply take part in the finished product from the first moment it launches. All the work will have been done and they'll be able to experience a game that a selected number of players will have made great for them... because the lesson Blizzard learnt from letting everybody play last time is that it means that many are far less likely to want to stay around to begin with.

The people paying for Founders Packs have a vested financial interest in the outcome of the game, so they'll stick around to make that investment worthwhile in their minds. That's why so many people played Beta before Pandaria: they'd paid for it, so they were going to take part... but for many it spoilt the experience of the game proper. This time however, Blizzard have managed to get people not to pay for the 'chance' to beta the game but to take a 'guarantee' of an instant start on new content come release, which is clearly a far more attractive and time-effective solution for many players. There is no paytesting required here any more. Blizzard tried that idea and it didn't work, so now players are simply provided with something useful in exchange for the product itself. There was also clearly a lack of useful feedback on gating gear to rep grinds and dailies too from that massive exercise for Mists. One suspects testing will be FAR more focussed this time around. What Blizzard require this time is a different approach on many fronts, and that looks like it's going to happen.

But only when Blizzard are good and ready.

Listen to what the man says...

The Chief Creative Officer of Blizzard Entertainment, Rob Pardo, gave a talk on Wednesday 7th at MIT as part of their Media Labs Conversations series (details are here) This Tweet stood out for me in a selection of notable comments on the Blizzard philosophy to game production, and it's a telling statement on how gaming companies understand the significance of 'product' for consumers. I'd suggest checking out this Twitter Search term timeline too, because it's interesting to see how non-players react to Pardo. What is apparent, even after almost a decade, is that the corporate culture of Blizzard as a 'brand' is very much front and centre. Yes, it matters about player choices, of course it does, but the bottom line remains continually intractable. These guys are here to make money from you and me. How they do that is a constantly evolving process, and sometimes what works for one company won't for another.

Paytesters may be the future: it is hard to tell with the speed at which gaming changes. Wildstar is already promising players a means to pay for real-world subscriptions using in-game gold, and you can be sure Blizzard will be keeping one eye on every such innovation, but the other firmly fixed on maintaining the integrity of its product. Although there will be those who will say that allowing players to buy 90's for cash is already a step too far and a compromise of what the world of Azeroth is all about, the company are simply responding to the understanding of what their players want. Gaming is a very fast-moving world, yet Blizzard refuse to be compromised. What matters is their brand, and if it's going to take until December 2014 to get Warlords right, then that's what is going to happen.

Like it or not, this will be ready when its ready.

To Build a Home :: A Musical Joke


Two weeks since an Update. See below.

It has gone suspiciously quiet on the Garrisons 'new information' front. With the exception of a couple of developer tweets, there's been a conspicuous lack of data for us to look at of late, but that's actually not a surprise when you consider what's already been made widely available for analysis. The foundations and basic structure of the feature are established in the Alpha Client, but what clearly lacks is the content. That's going to take time to actually produce, probably many, many weeks. It is easy to forget that normally we're playing the game and not noticing the development process as it happens. This time around the process itself is very obvious. We just can't see the result. At least, not yet.


That's sanitation covered :D

What was very apparent when the Alpha initially appeared was the complete lack of any actual playable content linked to the concept. Considering how important we are now told the Garrison will be in your levelling experience (but remember, it's not mandatory to your playstyle, simply to the fabric of the game's construction this time around) it was always going to be a bit difficult to release a workable client without all the Garrisons stuff actually in place. What wasn't clear initially, but appears to increasingly possible, is that this feature may well have only been in the planning stage at Blizzcon. All those screenshots? It's not beyond the realms of possibility that these were just mockups of what the designers were hoping would be a final product. It's not unusual in certain circles to do this anyway, advertise things that don't exist as a way to gauge the feasibility of their production. There's many an April Fool's gadget that's begun its life that way...

Buzzfeed brings the imaginary goods to the yard. Go take a look.


As we note at the top of this article, it's been two weeks since we've seen an Alpha Client update. Blizzard seemed keen this week to make some important changes on the PTR, presumably to keep people engaged with the Legendary Quest whilst they continue to develop this feature. The longer we wait for new information the more obvious it becomes how much of a work in progress this entire endeavour has become. With one million units sold the clock is most definitely ticking for Blizzard: they have to come up with the goods, but the only timescale is that they'll have it on the table by (at the latest) December this year. That's still seven months away. A lot can happen in half a year...

GO RIGHT AHEAD WORLD :D


However, I'll be unable to play for a week in late May. Don't worry, you'll still get Blog content, I'll just not be able to access a machine with a working copy of the game. That should pretty much guarantee that HUGE MAJOR THINGS will happen in that week. Until it does however, feel free like @FlyDraenei to blame me for the lack of actual news... :D

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Spirits in the Material World


Oh aye?

It was, on consideration, probably inevitable that this was going to happen. This new spell has appeared on the 5.4.8 PTR overnight, which is undoubtedly linked to the 'Legendary' Trial of the Black Prince Questline. What isn't as yet clear (and I'll bet you 10g there'll be a Blizzard Blog on this) is what 'increased' actually means in terms of rates or indeed where these items actually drop from. There's also an accompanying spell which the smart posters on Wowhead are already suggesting will only be relevant whilst the Test of Valor component of the quest is active:


You wish this was permanent.

However, as Mr Alt remarked this morning as he passed me and saw my subject matter for the day:

'Where's the spell to trivialise the PvP Component of the Questline?'

Whichever way you look at it, however, this quest isn't nearly as legendary as it was when we began the Expansion.


It's a load of rubbish. NO, IT IS.

Ask 100 people why they play this game, and you're likely to get as many different responses in return. Question those same people whether what they can offer in terms of healing, tank ability or damage matters or not and there'll be far fewer responses. Yes, for most people playing being able to contribute really is an issue. That means having this cloak, which is legendary to add kudos to the wearer, is something everyone should really want to posses going into the NEXT expansion, if only because it will make the process of levelling easier as a result. It maintains all those key factors on paper that make it seem as if the process of obtaining it matters, that this is still a Legendary Journey, but in the end it's just another questline and another farm, which Blizzard is further trivialising to incentivise players to take part whilst there's no new content. There, I said it.

However, when all is said and done, that's the game at the end of every Expansion anyway.


No actually YOU'RE LATE, I was early *pout*

If you've been here since Launch Day 1, and many of us have, your perception of this whole shebang is considerably different from the slackers who pitched up a month ago players who decided to experience the content now. It is difficult to tell if there are indeed people arriving this late in the day too, as the sub figures Blizzard released on Tuesday tell us 200,000 already took their toys and wandered off in Q1. However, when you can boast one million people have bought your Expansion pre-order, sight unseen, it probably doesn't matter what you do with the existing content to begin with. The more likely explanation for this introduction of the two new buffs to the PTR is to allow players with multiple alts a far easier time of it doing what is considered by many one of the most time consuming elements of the process. However, until the PvP portion gets trivialised (or indeed removed) this won't be enough for many, myself included.

I'll stick with one cloak and be happy, thanks very much.

In the end, it boils down to understanding why you're playing the game. Gear has always mattered, despite however many people will tell you this is not the case. Being powerful also matters, and the legendary bestows on it's owner a boost in power that cannot currently be ignored. A year down the road however? Pointless. Trivial. A way to keep people engaged in content and at their computers whilst Blizzard design the next part of journey. However, the colour and the name did once have a significance, but that seems to have been largely forgotten with this particular item. I'm looking forward to the day when I can take this off and throw it away, because I will... assuming of course Blizzard don't concoct some cunning plan to make it relevant again. Yeah, I know.

Needless to say, people will still farm in Warlords for Thunderfury or the Thori'dal for some time to come. I'm doubting anyone will do that for the Pandaria Cloak...

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Alternative Chat :: Episode 24




Two weeks in a row. PHEAR my mighty and regular podcasting skillz! So, what's on the menu this week?


In this week's episode you'll get:

  • I finally 'did' Garrosh.
  • Blizzard incentivising!
  • I *know* it's the Call of Duty franchise, not Modern Warfare (console nub)
  • Making gold in dungeons is gonna change.
  • Queuing for stuff is sometimes enjoyable.
  • The GREAT BIG TIMELESS ISLE PLAN.





If you have any comments or thoughts on this week's Podcast, you need any help on Blogging or you have a Transmog item you'd like me to design an outfit around, please send your mail to:

alternativegodmother (all one word) AT gmail DOT com

==


NOTES.


I now have a Facebook page. Come LIKE me at http://www.facebook.com/alternativeblog


Keep everything crossed and I should be back here on the 14th :D

Did it For the Money


Well, well, well...

It used to be a standing joke, back in the days of Vanilla.

A cursory /who Maraudon on any given day would reveal a number of oddly-named Hunters (always this class, the #1 Choice for Chinese Gold Farmers) who seemed to spend their lives inside the instance where, unsurprisingly, they would farm. A LOT. Regardless of the stigma, it has long been the preserve of a certain type of player to run instances like this for their contents: whether it be for reputation, cloth for Tailoring, items to DE for Enchanting or raw materials to gather in dungeons like Underbog or Slave Pens. The removal of chests from TBC dungeons some time ago was an acknowledgement that farming these places remained a lucrative source of cash for those for whom botting (automated programmes) is still and effective form of gold creation. However, this statement above from WatcherDev yesterday (in response to a poster who noted the utter absence of item drops below Rare quality when farming the Black Temple) shows that Blizzard's finally taking an interest in how much cash old instances will generate: we're not just simply considering the gold from bosses any more, either.

It is a reminder that everything has a value for someone in Warcraft.


Not that kind of farming...

It is perhaps not unsurprising, considering Blizzard are actively encouraging L90's to farm classic instances like Molten Core for items, that there would be some thought given to the net gains away from Transmog and rare drops. Whatever the 'fix' is that is now in place, one genuinely wonders how it will be able to distinguish the difference between a legitimate player and a bot. One assumes that the number of times one enters an instance will come into play, but there will be those people who are taking advantage in the relaxation of entry restrictions (one can now enter the same instance ten times in an hour as opposed to five) to legitimately 'farm' items such as mounts (which is entirely possible in Cataclysm normal instances such as the Stonecore where a mount drops from either normal or heroic from the second boss.) So, does this mean in future expansions we'll see less trash generally in instances or simply a reassessment of what drops from mobs and its relative value?

The thing is, as Blizzard have clearly learnt with the Timeless Isle, people love rewards, and are prepared to go to fairly extreme lengths to obtain them.


The bane of many people's existence. FACT.

The Monstrous Spineclaw's a classic example of how the Timeless Isle's spawn mechanics will keep people coming back again and again if it's not about a guaranteed return every time. The pet that drops is rarer than hen's teeth, but vital for one achievement and essential for anyone collecting Battle Pets. That means there's a pretty strong chance you'll find people farming the Isle long into the L100's and beyond if only for the chance of these items which will (presumably) maintain a sale price on the AH long after their actual content has lost all relevance. You only have to look at the Argent Tournament to understand how the battle pets sold there continue to have a long-term worth. What is less clear however is the relative value of the items when offset against the actual time farming them. This, in the end, is the key. Given a choice between farming Instance A ten times in an hour or waiting for Spawn B and only the *chance* of a drop, the smart goldmaker's going to take the easy option every time, because there will ALWAYS be some residual value from the stuff nobody wants and that is simply handed to a vendor.

It is therefore not really surprising Blizzard's beginning to investigate ways to curtail this form of cash generation.

What is perhaps more concerning, at least in terms of a company which prides itself in transparency and communication, is that this was a 'stealth nerf' which is now only coming to light because someone complained on the Forums. In retrospect it is probably not a surprise, but it does indicate that expecting to be told when something changes in game is never a given, especially if related to areas of gameplay which could have financial implications in the Real World. It should also be a salutary warning to those who like to make their money with simple repetition, whether legitimately or otherwise.

Blizzard are watching you.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Communication Breakdown



Just so we're clear.

It was probably inevitable, considering the lack of hard facts that actually exist surrounding the Garrisons 'feature' in game currently, that people would be confused about exactly what it is they're signing up for with the concept. For instance: there appears to be some misunderstanding, even after it has been reiterated by several people in different places, about the 'participatory' nature of this entire experience to begin with. The problem, undoubtedly, is that word above, especially when used by a Blizzard dev in an interview:

Having a garrison is mandatory, but what you do with it is up to you. It will work well with the story that you experience while leveling, but if you level with dungeons you can catch up on your garrison later.

Mandatory, for many people, conjures up images of Dailies you can't skip in order to access gear, with reputation grinds deliberately engineered to ring-fence content. However, pretty much everyone involved in the Garrison construction at Blizzard has said what WatcherDev reiterates above in the last couple of weeks: the feature is simply built into the brickwork of the game. It is only one of many ways you can enter Draenor, and it is certainly not the only way. It has been provided to present players with an alternative means by which they can level, as an 'upgrade' from the simple business of questing. It is access to a part of the Warlords experience that many people hate to begin with. This is what 90-100 will encompass if you decide to trust Blizzard on spec and embrace the new form of questing they will present, that links your levelling to other experiences such as crafting. For those who just want to level using Dungeons or using PvP, you'll want one of the other doors. When Blizzard use mandatory in this context, it is to the structure of the game they're making and NOT to your individual experience.

On reflection, a better word to use in this context would probably have been 'integral' (thanks @eljeppy :D)


Many entry points. Same basic result: L100 :D

Blizzard really, REALLY want you to play their Garrisons feature. Trust me on this, it will be made as attractive as possible in order to convince as many people as Blizzard can to experience the content. Its potential attractiveness will be in the same vein to their decision yesterday to award a guaranteed heirloom to anyone in 6.0 doing Garrosh in the Siege when they kill him for the first time.  This is what is known as incentivising, and it will be Blizzard's hope that you'll want to take part in the experience at least once as a result. Tying it to the Professions experience is one way to get a lot of people on board: giving people means to customise it is another. However, what Blizzard as yet have failed to be able to do is convince people of its worth as a tool for levelling. There's a really good reason for that.

It doesn't actually exist yet.

This is your Mage Tower.

This is where I have to tell you that you're going to have to take both Blizzard, and me, on trust. I'm watching the feature slowly appear in the Alpha Files. I'm becoming aware of how closely this will integrate with questing and professions, how it will build into something quite unlike anything people have seen in Warcraft before. The fact I'm incredibly excited, STILL, even when I see people getting angry about the fact it appears you won't be able to bypass it, should tell you that I can see a bigger picture here, but only because I'm sitting on the Garrisons construction site and taking notes. I can see all the potential plus points, and I can also make some fairly educated guesses as to the pitfalls. All these doors are in place, but the building is far from finished. Until I'm let inside to observe build quality, my guess is pretty much as good as yours, but the fact remains, this is Blizzard's way of changing the basic quest experience from 90-100.

In that regard, and at least in my mind, Mr Hazzikostas is indeed correct. Garrisons for me will be mandatory, because I want to experience this new feature up close, at first hand, and see if Blizzard have cracked the task of making levelling over multiple alts an entertaining one.


Only with Rested Bonus.

The problem with Garrisons currently mostly boils down to perception: how people see them, how they grasp comparable game tasks currently, what their play style is. There will be those who argue that a lot of this is down to how Blizzard deliver their information, and undoubtedly without a solid explanation from the company on what is what, misinformation will continue to exist. However, the only sure fire way to quash any of your issues in terms of understanding?  Give players something to use for themselves. In this case, that's still a product who's development is very much 'in progress.'

Taking things on trust from Blizzard is not something some players will ever do.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Vogue :: The Disappointed


Dressing up can be difficult...


Sometimes, try as you might, nothing goes right. Take my original idea for my rogue's updated outfit, for instance. It looked FABULOUS in Mog It, but when I discovered the chestpiece was BoP (and you had to be an Elemental Leatherworker to make it) the whole thing got a bit messy. So, I went back to first principles, and I decided to focus on items I could actually craft, first and foremost, with a 'signature' item as a starting point. In this case these are the shoulders, available for Justice Points from a vendor. Of course, they're a Druid item which makes the need to use them as a Rogue even stronger than normal. Why does that happen?


She's never comfortable posing, this one...

Browns and yellows are quite easy to source for Druids. The blue glow from the skulls caused a bit of a moment until I remembered the Gem-Studded Leather Belt (which I think I've only made about twice) has a blue gem as it's centre. After that, it's all about complimentary items, and the mask appeared at the 11th Hour as a must-have addition because, heck, SHE IS STILL A ROGUE. The glow of the weaponry was what finally decided this colour scheme. It compliments perfectly with my enchant glows, and nothing says 'exact match' to me like this when it happens. In the end, however, I wanted something that was distinctive as a look but believable for a rogue. I think I've achieved that here.


Yellow glow for yellow runes... :D


Full list of Transmog Items is as follows:

FICTION :: Salvation, Part One: Sunrise




If you've been following my Fiction Series, you'll know we're waiting for the Expansion, and that portents are already forming of something out of the ordinary from the Blasted Lands. This is the moment where it is time to introduce you to the rest of P and Crais' five man team, and to start giving a little background to their lives as well as those you already know. Without further ado, it's time for a series.

To get yourself prepared, read the Prologue to this opening episiode here. A link to the previous series, Origins, is here.

==

Title: Salvation, Part One

Author: @AlternativeChat

Character/Pairing: Introducing one Master of the Arcane and a Junior Priestess. That gives you four team members, our Main Tank gets the Spotlight in Part Two. There's artwork of this lot coming too, if you're patient, so you'll be able to see who I'm taking about...

Summary: 'This is stupid.'

Disclaimer: All these people live in a computer game owned by Activision and Blizzard. The one I play is mine in my mind only.

We wouldn't be here if it were not for M, who ironically has become my boss James Bond stylee because without him there IS NO MISSION BRIEFING. Many thanks for forcing me to make sense, and helping an understanding of a larger Universe as a result.

==

Sunrise.


'This is stupid.'

Fizz Goldfellow mutters as he sits on the supply crate, legs not even making it to its edge, staring with mounting irritation at the Dark Portal. It remains as it had since he arrived three days ago, as consistent and natural as a gateway to another part of Space could ever be expected to appear. They are undoubtedly the same stone guardians, the steadfast swirling green lake of fel-generated sorcery. The scene around them, however, is nothing short of organised chaos. 

Two armies fill the area, a strip of well-trodden, dusty red earth dividing as uneasy peace binds. In the cold early morning only the occasional strikes of lightning to the north disturb the silence, the soldiers and workers still asleep in hastily-reinforced encampments constructed along and up the crater walls, patchworking landscape over and across contested territory all the way back to the Swamp of Sorrows.

Even if Fizz can't see any change in the Portal itself, he can taste the alteration in the fabric of reality: this place is no longer the same, not by a long way. His perception was only part of a body of mounting evidence: the Cultists who had settled here after the Cataclysm vanishing without trace a week previously, the demons that they worshipped also disappearing suddenly and inexplicably. This is a sign, no doubt about it, but of what remains to be seen, and Fizz is no fan of waiting for anything.

The Tauren on patrol across the divide raises a hoof in greeting, a gesture Fizz welcomes as something positive during his last minutes on watch. Herne is his name, Goldfellow remembers him and his sister from Orgrimmar. Their memory prompts a warm smile and a large wave, despite not wanting to think of the recent past, the uncomfortable feeling it gives him from beard to toes. Mind games are normally his speciality and to have himself played during the Siege was an uncharacteristic sign of weakness. To be victimised by, of all things, an Old God... not since C'Thun had he been so deluded. That was probably the reason he detested sand as much as he knows he still does.

'Nothing has changed.'

The disappointment in the voice to his left turns smile into impish grin, despite himself. Of all the people he'd never expected to share his annoyance, Alyse was pretty much at the top of the list. The Night Elf dejectedly slumps down at his side on another crate, almost shoving his early morning tea into his hands. Aromatic warmth makes his small hands tingle and nose twitch.

'Now I understand why you feel so cheated, Master Goldfellow. When I sleep I dream only of the bloodshed in Durotar. What prayers must I offer to be a party to what approaches?'

Fizz knows Master Crais and his Party Leader are wrapped tightly to the Portal's pull, and he has his own theory as to why. The desire to cause mischief, even this early in the day, rises unchallenged. He turns to the Priest with his most suggestive leer firmly fixed in place.

'I'm told your sensitivity to all of this is about emotional attachment, how entangled you are in the feelings of those around you. Maybe you and I could-'

'NO.  Stop it, troublemaker.'

Six months ago Alyse would have slapped him across the face just for the suggestion. The strength of camaraderie that ties them, however, is enough for him to simply suffer a dead arm and consider it a worthy response. She didn't really punch him that hard either, and Fizz knows he can push his luck with her without worrying she'll take it badly. If it were any other day she'd then argue he should respect her enough not to do it to begin with, but it's just after dawn and she's clearly too preoccupied to care. He's reminded again of the last days of Orgrimmar, her weariness when she thought no-one was watching, and the past tastes bitter in his mouth.

He sits silent, waiting until she relaxes, ready to protect her as he had when they'd stormed the city. Those last days under the Horde Capital had changed many things, not least the strength of their commitments to each other. The five had never decided a name for themselves, even when Admiral Taylor had prompted they should, so she could use them as a symbol of what the Alliance had wrought from the chaos. He doesn't want to be known as anything except a Gnome with a talent for the Arcane. But now he has a designation, along with the priest, the paladin, the rogue and the hunter. They are collectively referred to as 'Salvation' by the Alliance public relations machine, and that is why they've been here since what the same body is calling the 'Blasted Lands Phenomena' began. 

Being present, however symbolically for now, is undoubtedly good for Stormwind's flagging morale. With the Priest present that means his tenure for the night is complete: with the briefest of touches to Alyse's shoulder, Fizz climbs off the box and heads back to his tent. He understands the public face is all that really matters at this juncture anyway, yet he doesn't enjoy being made into a metaphor for anything. Walking away, he turns to stares back at the Portal and yet again wishes he understood more about what was to come.

He stops dead as he sees a figure materialise at the event horizon.

==

This Week I Will Be Mostly :: A Clean Break


SPRINGTIME!

Yes, it's that time of the year, when a woman's fancy turns to CLEANING PRODUCTS. It is time to clear stuff out, Ladies and Gentlemen, and it won't just be my house, which is making Karazhan look like a front page spread from'Homes and Gardens' magazine right now. Characters need love too, and as I now own twelve L90's it is high time to sit down and decide who does what for the remainder of this Expansion, which is likely to take us all the way through what is traditionally one of the quietest periods of Warcraft gameplay.


Akama? This is the arrogant fool?

This means for P that I'm going to clear out the Questlog, finally, including this epic journey to the Black Temple which has now rewarded me with an instant teleport to Shadowmoon Valley (wonder if this will work in the past as well?) I have two remaining Cataclysm levelling zones to complete (Ferelas and Thousand Needles) and after that, well, it's Archaeology and then group stuff for achievements. My Bank and Void Storage cannot hold any more items of Transmog, and if I want to keep running old instances for mounts I'm pretty much resigned to the fact I'll need a second alt to do this who actually has some space for gathering. Unsurprisingly, my hunters are the best geared currently of all of my alts and so there'll also be an effort this week to gear to a standard where they can be used as a Primary Gatherer.


Inside and out, Temple Stylee.

There will be some fiction today (finally) and hopefully a FOUR PART SERIES will be appearing in this Parish at some point this month [need to design a graphic.] There's also long-overdue mogging breakdowns for the Druid, the Rogue and the Priest to be attended to. After that? Well, it's all a bit fluid, really. Kinda trying NOT to get all bogged down in huge planning at this point in time, until it's actually clear what kind of schedule we're working on for release. At some point, after all, Blizzard will actually have to commit to an actual date. Until they do, I'm attempting to be as relaxed as possible.



Things to make and do...

At the back of my mind there is always the realisation that someone, somewhere, ALWAYS has something they *could* be doing. Take P, for instance, who is now 22 recipes away from everything on the schedule (and no, I'm not race changing just for the Kodo Hide Bag) A few of these I suspect I won't see until I can go back and solo Pandarian content but the rest are fair game, which is why the backdrop of that screenie is the Sunwell. This is the kind of activity that is perfect between bouts of RL Cleaning, and which is why you are likely to see me doing this quite a bit in the weeks that follow...

Sunday, May 04, 2014

ALPHA :: New Shoes


ALL CHANGE HERE.


It is already apparent, if the Wowhead Interview with Ion Hazzikostas is any indicator, that Blizzard is all over the business of clarification for the upcoming Expansion. The man will be doing another interview with Final Boss today, but yesterday's post (from an interview Olivia Grace did on Friday) has given the strongest indicator yet that loot is now not something you upgrade or simply buy from a vendor. As the tweet above suggests, raiding will no longer be necessary for raid 'level' loot either, which is going to come as good news to many people. There's a fair bit of Garrisons news in this interview that we'll be covering at the other place, but for now I want to look at what we could be expecting from rewards come Warlords. Time for some more bullet points:

  • Blizzard publicly acknowledge there are are two kinds of players: Solo who will run dungeons for Raid Finder, and groups who'll engage Heroic 5 mans for loot to prepare for Normal/Flex/Mythic. Heroic Dungeon gear will circumnavigate the need for LFR.
  • There will be no vendors for gear in Warlords. Valor will be used for 'other things'. That means you'll be able to get everything you need from the game world without a farm [*]. This would appear to include Epic crafted gear, which will still require many days worth of work to obtain.
  • Lack of Valor is pushing Blizzard to address loot delivery mechanics. Duplicate rewards may well become a thing of the past as the Bonus Roll system is being made more intelligent. Extra Loot tokens will also be awarded differently, and will be available singly as well as being offered in exchange for a currency. Yes, they'll come from Garrisons.
  • There is an acknowledgement that Dungeons need to be revamped mid-expansion, or new ones introduced with better loot than the 'starter' versions. We could therefore see 'Mythic' versions of Warlords starter dungeons halfway through an expansion as a result.

I can see in this some very clear indicators that Blizzard are indeed listening to long-term criticism of the loot system: how it operates, how you need to work for your items, and how frustrating it can be to have piles of currency and nothing to spend it on. Reducing the significance of currency therefore is no real surprise. It's also no real shock that players will be given access to single bosses if they so require. The phrase that jumped out from even the brief summary Wowhead provided: Raids will give you options to skip just to a certain boss everyone needs. That means, once the 'World First' thing is out of the way, teams will be able to gear and play in a manner that would either allow them to prepare for the next Raid Content, or simply enjoy what they have. Gearing specific characters should become significantly easier, while at the same time casual players should be able to pick and choose the encounters they want for the last item of gear they need.

If this all of this actually comes to pass in Warlords, Blizzard will have people running back to the game in their thousands.


Last one to the Starting Zone SMELLS OF CHEESE.


Personally, I welcome anything that means you can make your own choices when it comes to where your gear is sourced from. Although Guild Loyalty and commitment are all very well and good, the days of only gearing with your raid team for most casual players is long gone: oQueue and Battle.net Tags mean that if you have the inclination to get out and play, the loot is there for you to take. Giving multiple options for sourcing is sensible, and as long as the loot systems genuinely reflect the ability to be shafted by random numbers that some of us know only too well, then I really cannot see anyone getting upset about these proposed changes.

Keep EVERYTHING crossed we get to play with the changes sooner rather than later...

[*] Nothing to do with the Tillers, obviously.