Saturday, August 02, 2014

BETA: You Wear it Well

Just *because*...

There's still a bit of drama floating around my 'what you look like doesn't matter' discussion from a while back, so it might seem a bit odd as a result that I've turned up here this morning, leading a post with this Mog for my Legendary Cloak.

First up, I didn't actually plan this look, it just happened: I've been wearing a different outfit (1-60 Vanilla quest rewards post Cataclysm) for a bit without a cloak and I've honestly begun to miss it. Because the orange status means I can't mog over it I am forced to use that as a basis for what I created but in the back of my mind I didn't want to farm, because I can't. I have no space left for mog items so the plan was to use stuff I had (including a tier token for the Rift Stalker's chestpiece) but in the end the shoulders are a craft and I'll make the space, because in this case I think this look has raised my bar for what I can do with existing items.

Having this retweeted by a Blizzard member of staff last night made me realise that other people like it too, which gives me a lot of hope that what I'm doing does indeed have some value.

Running in the Family

My son (DK of DOOM above) has picked up my love of Mogging, when he understood the process allowed him to look the way he wanted, and not the way the game dictated, and this is an important lesson I really hope Blizzard are beginning to grasp matters to an increasing number of people. What I'm also hoping happens (and there were mumblings it might for a while) is a system similar to that which exists in Diablo 3 could be applied to Warcraft: if you've looted an item it becomes moggable to your character. There are so many items I've trashed over the years I'd love to be able to use on my character and I can't, and to be able to regain access to them all and not have to worry about space? It would be a fabulous move forward.

The signposts are there.

For those of us who Mog, the signs are rather encouraging regardless in Warlords. Quite apart from the four full sets of Orc 'clan' armour that will be available via Garrisons Perks, there are a number of 'Cosmetic' items already in the game files with the possibility these will match generic items for matching purposes. It's not yet clear how these items will work, but I'm pleased to see that at least someone in the development process is considering the possibilities available. It is unsurprising that there are not more Mogging options on the table, in the general scheme of things this part of the game ranks quite low in the list of 'important' features, but it is genuinely heartening to see that steps are being taken to install it as part of the Warcraft landscape.

You keep sticking these features in, Blizzard. I'll keep using them.

Friday, August 01, 2014

All That I Am

As of today, I am no longer a Guild Mistress.

I'd been the GM of Renamed since... well, I'm not entirely sure. I bet someone could work it out exactly but I *believe* it was sometime in TBC. It's been at least eight years, possibly more. My tenure has covered TBC, and Wrath, Cataclysm and finally Pandaria, and I decided now was the right time to step down after a sequence of events that made me realise that the game itself as a part of my Guild not only had stopped being enjoyable for me, but that I've moved away from many of the people that were expecting me to encourage and support them as they entered Draenor. That timeline began with something I thought would bring the Guild closer together, but demonstrated to me that actually, my leadership skills were no longer capable of inspiring support.

When I made the decision after consultation with officers to change our name back in April, I wasn't prepared for the depth of anger that accompanied it from some quarters. I'll be honest and admit I still don't understand why the people who got upset did so quite so vehemently: it's just a name. What mattered more, at least to me, was the meaning that was attached to the people INSIDE the name. I thought there was a depth of understanding and connection that it appears, at least for some, simply no longer existed. There were a number of  reactions that I will admit reduced me to tears: how could people be so passionate about the Guild's title but seem to have little or no interest in anything else that went on within it? Were they angry that I should have asked them first and not gone ahead with the process? Quite possibly, but the fact remains that for vast proportions of time those with an objection were not as involved as others, who both encouraged and welcomed the change and my efforts to push the Guild forward.

It was becoming clear that what people expected of me and what I was capable of offering were beginning to diverge, and that the change I'd suggested might not be the real cause of the problem.

The Guild has been lucky enough to pick up a number of new recruits via my activities here and on Twitter, and I am very grateful for those people who have arrived and have made a positive change to the environment. However, it was beginning to become clear that there were some recruits who wished to join us without necessarily signing up to the standards and aspirations that existed after nine years as a 'core group.' In fact, there were those who clearly want to be just a 'social' part of the setup and nothing else. Of course this is absolutely fine, but getting people to give back and improve on what already exists matters a great deal to me. I get very frustrated at those who simply sign up to 'hang out' when I'd hope everyone has arrived to become an active and contributory part of our Guild.

My problem currently is pretty simple: I'm finding it really hard to live up to the standards I set for everyone else. When you can't do that when in charge, it is probably time to give another person the chance to set new benchmarks. There is also an issue that has been bothering me, and I feel I need to make a point about this as a result.

I don't think people should be basing their choice for picking a new Guild on the fact I do a Podcast or write a Blog. A Good Guild (IMO) doesn't need people joining to cash in on celebrity, it requires raiders and casual members willing to positively contribute, making it a better place for EVERYBODY to 'live' and 'play' in. It ought to be about how people add to the 'community' by joining, not what they turn up to consume. This was bought home to me when I watched a conversation with another Guildie unfold on Twitter, a person then subsequently follow me, and our conversation then not opening with pleasantries but with a blunt request to join the Guild. I could have simply directed this person to our website and let them fill in an Application Form, but I stopped and found myself thinking this wasn't the way I thought things should be. I would want people to join our Guild because of everything it is about, and not simply because of the notoriety of Guildies.

If I didn't know it already, then the post I wrote on the 16th of this month pretty much bought it home to me that the game has simply stopped being as enjoyable as it once was. Writing about what makes something 'fun' in game has always been particularly difficult as I realise, over the years, many things ceased to be enjoyable, mostly because I was the one who had to sort out the crappy stuff when it stopped being just that. Flex has at least made the issue of numbers for content an academic one, but encouraging players to regularly attend or give 110% is not easy when you're doing neither yourself. For me, in that respect, Alpha came around just in the nick of time because without it I'd have found it impossible to keep myself engaged in current content. Anyone who looks at the Blog should see this, and when we made progress in Flex a few weeks back I knew that if I wanted to to keep taking part, it was simply as a raider and not even as an Officer.

I have to be honest: I'm tired and I need to find a way to get my groove back in normal content, in ANY content. I'm not stepping down because I just want to play Garrisons either: I know this is the right moment for someone else to wear the title. I have pretty much given everything I have.

It is also high time I stopped obsessing about game choices and started making my own personal ones as a priority, especially when it comes to writing. I want to try and publish my own fiction this year and with Warlords coming I don't want to get grief if I choose not to log because I decide to write instead. I need to become a REAL dirty casual and give the responsibility to someone else for a change. If I can raid I will, but I'd like the opportunity to pass if that's okay, and to not feel guilty at doing so. I'm happy to give help and advice, but in the end I am going to admit that I need some 'me' time, to be selfish away from Renamed, and work on what matters most.

I am also more than willing to accept if the new GM decides to change the name back.

I've paid for three months worth of Guild Website 'time', in the hope it will encourage the new GM and the rest of the Guild to re-engage with each other. I am aware of players doing progression in Guilds on other Servers and players who may well be remaining from a false sense of obligation. I think this would be a great time for everyone to take a step back and re-assess their priorities, and decide where their future lies, whether it be in game or not. What is most important, at least for me, is that people can no longer claim this is 'my' Guild and 'my' rules, even though it has never been that way from the word go. It made me sad that when the name change went through it was easier to use me as a scapegoat and decide it was my individual decision and my judgement that was at fault than looking at the bigger issues I was attempting to remedy.

However, what's done is done, and it is high time everyone moved on, including me.

I'd like to thank Magnus for taking over the position of GM: like the rest of the Officer team (which still includes my husband) the new GM is utterly amazing and I am very grateful for all his help and encouragement over the years. I hope that my honesty with my decisions doesn't cause any issues: I still want to be a part of Renamed because the people who make it up remain very much my friends, and I hope that will not change as a result of my decision. Most importantly of all, I just want to thank everyone who's been part of what I have done in game since I began this journey, and I will remember every single moment with a sense of wonder, that we could achieve all that we did together for as long as we have.

To everyone else, here starts another chapter in my love affair with Warcraft.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Gone Til November

Read that tweet again. Carefully.

I am not here to make a comment on the delay of the Blood Elf redesign, because frankly I reckon they look far too good already and being made to wait a bit while the rest of us catch up to their standard is no bad idea. I saw this Tweet and the only thing I read were the first seven words, and was glad to see that finally someone inside Blizzard's actually admitted the work is done, and stuff is actually being planned for after the Expansion.

Look, someone actually went on record and told us this is the end of the Development Process.

This immediately begs the question: when is this actually going live, then?

Important dates incoming

Tomorrow, rather worryingly, is August. That means Gamescon is two weeks away and there are a number of people tipping it will be here that Blizzard could showcase something significant like, for instance, Warlords Opening Cinematic. As if to emphasise this point, Blizzard have even created their own dedicated Gamescon page. I reckon there's a better than average chance of the Cinematic in a fortnight, but as I type the Beta isn't exactly ready to go in terms of content. I've got Twitter confirmation of that as well:

Not done yet ^^

But this gets us no closer to answering the question, does it? Well, there are some practical considerations we can now bring to the table. This product will need to be physically shipped to places, because not everyone gets their gaming digitally delivered. That manufacturing process is going to take time to complete: let's give that an eight week window, because that is probably an exact science by now, especially when the key data has to be burnt to CD. Then there is the understanding that everyone will need a bit of time with the new abilities and changes to get used to them, so we've been promised a pre-Expansion patch, and there's not even been a sniff of movement for that on the PTR realms. One assumes they'd have to come down and be re-patched, and as Siege will be appearing on that in Mythic Mode for people to play with (presumably) one assumes they'll want to give us all a bit of playtime on that front too.

Would a month be enough? Hard to say, but even if the PTR was patched next week and we got the PTR live early August, physical product creation means that September is now pretty much out of the question, and the closer we get the Blizzcon, the more likely Blizzard won't want to release anyway. Why? Because there's the matter of the race for World First to consider, and we already know raid content will not be available immediately on release.

Important enough for a Documentary.

There's an overriding practical consideration here too: many of the people who'd be racing for World First are likely to be at Blizzcon, with tickets and accommodation already booked. I doubt the last thing Blizzard will want is their content out while the event is live, because most would probably be at home wanting to play it, and this means that the Warcraft portion of the event can be used as a massive advertisement for what is coming, and how if we all buy Warlords Blizzard will promise a bunch of incredibly cool stuff in upcoming patches to absolutely make it worth our while staying around until the end.

That means it is mid Novemeber and we have nothing new. However, most significantly of all, November is when Warcraft celebrates its 10th Birthday. Even though there are new items for Hallows End, I reckon it'll be Pilgrim's Bounty you'll get as your first new Holiday event for Warlords. My heart wants September so we get Brewfest and Hallows End, but looking at the item levels my head is saying that Blizzard are going to play their Joker and we'll get mid-November with World First happening over Christmas because... well, just because. I know it isn't what anyone actually wanted, but this is is how it will end, because Blizzard launches when it's ready (TM) and that means in the month they began.

Warcraft launched in the US in November 2004. The 10th Anniversary Expansion will do the same in November of 2014.

However, I'd not listen to a word I say. I've been making inaccurate predictions for almost a year now ^^

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Alternative Chat :: It's Not Ready Yet

Just... just don't ask. Listen to the explanation while I go get some honey and lemon, okay?

To Build a Home (BETA Edition) ::
Long Walk Home

Yes, I *know* its not Friday but summat else is happening then and this seems like as good a time as any to do this post :P

An important move?

In the latest Beta build of the Expansion, players are now rewarded with something interesting for establishing their Garrison on Draenor: a second Hearthstone. There's an entirely practical consideration for this move, as it happens: as we have explained before, your Garrison is effectively instanced content. That means that should Instance servers collapse it makes practical sense to have an exit route, and that means setting your *main* Hearthstone somewhere else. I'm betting that Blizzard would like me to do that in Ashran, but that's a blog post for another time. What I'd like to consider now is the question of just how much customisation are we actually likely to be handed in our Garrisons come the feature going live. The signs are already here that Blizzard understands the possibilities available, it is whether we'll get them on release or somewhere down the line...

/chinstroke. Capture from Wowhead.

The allure of totally customisable content is not to be overstated: many people I have spoken to since Garrisons were mooted at Blizzcon have stated they hoped for something akin to The Sims in terms of flexibility. The reality, of course, is that in a ten year old game where the focus of interest is a long way away from building your own house, it is probably unrealistic to expect Blizzard to drop everything to make this happen. However, there are definite indicators inside the Beta that there is wiggle room on the notion of DIY game construction. Blizzard have baked a set of Transmog only sets into part of the Garrisons Perk mechanic, for instance. You'll want to aim fore a Level 2 Dwarven Bunker if you want access to four distinct armour sets that can only be purchased with items that drop from the various Clans across Draenor. These items are also BOA, which means yours truly will be collecting all of them for use at some point in the future.

Orcs again from Wowhead. Nice Plate.

However, we're not talking about making your character look spiffy here, our concern is with your Garrison, which for a while in Alpha looked as if it would have little if anything to lend itself to true player customisation. Then Monuments appeared, which will allow you to display your prowess in various fields of attainment that are not simply limited to Raid Bosses killed (am liking the monument that marks you gaining maximum skill in all the crafting/gathering professions.) Getting access to the L3 structures (albeit briefly) has also given some hints of the possibilities that we could have in future: they're not huge, but it is a start:

Note the Crest and Wall Hangings, customisation fans.

My take on player housing is pretty simple: if it was truly the plan to allow people their own place in game, then I'd be the one organising the tables and chairs here as well as what went on those empty banners. As it is, I'm betting I'll be able to display on those banners the crests of the Factions I like the most, and maybe eventually be able to display a Dwarven crest above the fireplace as opposed to simply an Alliance one. It is going to be a long haul, I suspect, especially with the amount of artwork that will be involved to make all these possibilities become a reality, because as we have discussed before this isn't a game being built from the ground up, this is new things being bolted onto a pretty established framework. However, what has become apparent during this development process is that Blizzard have grasped the significance of customisation in the mindset of players.

Ammo. In development...

...and flaming shells in production.

We're seeing a distinct shift of emphasis away from rigid options for player outfits. It is not unreasonable therefore to suggest that this change may well extend further into your Garrison than simply the wall hangings and statues, but it will need time, and Blizzard will rightly be reticent to commit massive resources to such undertakings until they are convinced this new feature will be a success.

For now, we can only sit and wonder what possibilities might be on the table after Warcraft's eventual release...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

BETA: Your Game

I posted a Tweet last night without context. I'd like to come back to it this morning:

This was made in response to a raft of comments (Twitter and US Beta Forums) regarding Blizzard's stance on 'mob tapping': you know, when someone hits a mob before you do and it goes grey, which means they get the kill and you don't. Here's the Official Response on the current state of play from Watcher, and it makes a lot of sense in an overall context. You ought to work for your loot, most of the *important* mobs are tag-free anyway and Blizzard has a lot of systems in play to allow mobs to spawn faster or 'more dynamically' (depending on how you define this) However, the problem for many people isn't the griefing or the possibility for exploitation, it is their own computers that let them down, and it has absolutely nothing to do with any notions of asocial or antisocial behaviour.

As an example, let's talk about the starting quest for your Garrison in Shadowmoon.


I've done the foundation quest a fair few times now on both sides of the Faction fence and on every occasion its been an inconvenience. The mobs I've killed drop little or nothing of value, but they are inherently persistent and the spawn rates are frankly stupid. There's either no mobs or I've killed the eight I need before I've cut down the regulation number of trees. In all honestly, if these mobs are being used as a 'gate' for me to establish my presence they're doing their job, but it might just be an idea to remove them altogether and just make do the logging quest, because those are items shared with everyone else anyway, and the time taken to do that quest is me moving on foot.

Ironically the reticence on Blizzard's part to not make all mobs taggable seems to be tied up with the fact that this encourages people to group for World content, except it doesn't, in probably 80% of cases people don't give a flying fish about anything but themselves. I'll tell you exactly what happens in all the other times:

  1. I get a group invite from someone I don't know, refusing to explain why.
  2. If I accept the invite no-one talks to each other until the person that made the group gets the prerequisite number of kills.
  3. If I'm lucky, they then thank me before they leave, with me no closer to the competed total.

Of course I could stand up for myself and insist that we finish the group for everyone, and I'm betting this is exactly what Blizzard hope the 'decent' people will do in situations like this, that self-policing will encourage the process of making the Gaming World a better place. Ironically, in the days of Vanilla this is exactly what used to happen on my Server. I made many of my friends in exactly this way, randomly questing in parts of the world, and meeting people along the way. We'd group and talk, and we'd forge friendships that still exist today.

Ten years on, a lot has changed in the gaming world, but people still resent the need to group with strangers to finish their content. Maybe it is because Blizzard keep giving them reasons to play alone in so many other places that they've gotten used to doing that as a preference.

Mixed messages.

It is very easy to solo everything these days, so much so that Blizzard actively encourage this in Legacy content. This playstyle doesn't need any help, and it can be done at any hour of the day or night, and it allows the game to maintain a measure of longevity that it would never otherwise possess. Ironically with your Garrison you are given a number of buffs which make playing solo possible against increasingly harder mobs to boot, but still Blizzard politely insist you have to wait for a mob spawn or ask for a group in the world. If you were in an instance everyone tags everything, and this seems to be the direction Blizzard wants to push players anyway. Why therefore do we need to keep this 'soft gating' as a standard? Mostly because Mobs Give XP and ironically, this is the oldest method of all to keep players from getting to the cap in less than a day from launch.

After all, the last Realm First on my server didn't quest their way to maximum XP, they killed the same mobs over and over again to reach 90. If everything was tag free, a VAST amount of content would become pretty much pointless overnight. As a result, I'd not expect Blizzard's stance to change any time soon.

Some things never change.

My problem is simple: there are too many mixed messages currently on how people should play and what ought to be encouraged to do in game. The biggest one is the most concerning: Blizzard have made clear that unless grouping players take the EXACT same set of quests (and place identical buildings) as each other when levelling Warlords Garrisons, specific content is likely not to be available to all players when grouped. The way this part of the game has been constructed appears to actively discourage the group mentality in favour of individual flexibility, and if this is the case then telling people they ought to group for mob kills is... well, ridiculous. I think it may be time to consider a consistent approach to gameplay that either pushes people to group from Level One or pushes the focus to individual choice and not forced utility.

More than that, it is high time that players were made to be more accountable for their actions and not less. That doesn't need to happen in optional group content, it needs to be stricter when grouping is mandatory. How we fix this problem however... that's a blog post for another morning.

Monday, July 28, 2014


All about the Visuals...

After the Reset Button on Friday, I got some time yesterday to plough through some levelling. It must be said that the Server generally is considerably more stable than it has been at any point in my development experience: the transition between Garrison and Shadowmoon is now virtually seamless. I have now noticed that certain followers do not 'appear' if you take quests in a particular sequence, and I'm beginning to understand the significance of the Bonus Objective in the business of levelling quickly. These 'Crossed Swords' areas on maps are where a player is asked to kill a certain number of mobs (and contain silver spawns and/or vignettes, as is the case with Torvath's blade) give very good XP, and are currently farmed to extinction on Beta. I shouldn't have to spawn camp in Draenor, but last night I was forced to, and that needs to be looked at.

There's something you don't see every day.

I've also discovered the L100 only area in Shadowmoon, which I suspect will be played out across all the Zones in one form or another. We've been promised a lot of End Game Content that isn't 'normal' from the Developers, including the concept of the 'weekly' quest:

Yes, there is a Plan.

We've not given much thought here as to what happens when we've hit the cap, but clearly Blizzard are already on the case. I also note the use of the words 'female' and 'Warlord' in the same sentence, and await further developments with interest. Our Blood Elf and Draenei compatriots above are clearly part of another 'story' and I'm tempted to go on a bit of an exploration spree to see what I can turn up for myself. Needless to say, I am becoming fully aware of just how much there is to do in Draenor, and how little time I have to explore as a result.

I'm also aware that Garrisons may require a bit of a rethink in terms of characters and motivation for levelling them. The Ore and Herb 'bags' that were dropping to allow me to complete work orders have been removed from the game (intentionally or otherwise) and without a working mine I have no means to progress the Alchemy Lab or learn new patterns. What this has made me consider is just how I'd expect to progress crafting without a solid raft of raw materials at my disposal from the word go, and that it might actually be an advantage to have a character with only two gathering professions maxxed as someone who is run through 90-100 as a matter of priority, so I don't have to wait for my Mine and Herb Garden to be at capacity to make the most of professions.

Needless to say, I'll be thinking about this at length this week and you can expect a Blog Post at some point, because with the number of professions I have to level, I think it might actually be worth some pre-planning before we hit Warlords proper.

Entertain me.

Finally, I could do with finding a way back to Ashran that doesn't involve me being forced to set my hearthstone there. No, I don't want a Mage Tower either. What I do need is some time to get everything that's going on a chance to sit in my brain and find a decent level of connection... ^^

Sunday, July 27, 2014

BETA: Look at Me

Compelling visuals.

Yesterday evening I had a really interesting couple of hours guesting as a voice on Group Quest. One of the subjects we discussed was the 'new' Warcraft logo that has been 'designed' as an accompaniment for the movie (a trailer of which was shown at the San Diego Comic Con yesterday which I'm hoping will eventually see the light of day.) Of course, for a traditionalist like me this logo has absolutely no connection to the Warcraft I know and love, and this is EXACTLY the point. I'm not the one being 'sold' to by this logo, it is all about snagging an audience that's never played the game and knows zero about the franchise. That is their lead-in, not mine, because I'm already a guaranteed bum on a seat.

Visuals matter, as we discussed on Friday. They have a significant effect on how people view and grasp your product. They are also possibly one of THE most intensive parts of the gaming construction process, and when you are running out of time on your project and have your eye on a specific release date, sometimes they'll mean some tough calls on what stays in your product and what goes. That's why you've got a picture of Ashran up there and not Karabor (or Bladespire), and this will be the underlying argument behind shifting the Alliance (and Horde) faction bases away from the homes they were initially promised during Blizzcon. You were told you'd have them, but as we discussed last night on Group Quest we've been promised a great deal that's never, ever come to fruition.

Approach by air.

This Expansion is about a sell: new features and a new way of playing the levelling game via the Garrison. In the latest Beta Build, as soon as your Garrison is established, you are sent on a Quest to Ashran where you will pick up a follower. There you are met with the architecture and buildings you yourself will be able to place and shape inside your own structure when you have completed your questing experience: The Mage Tower, the Inn, the Dwarven Bunker are all there in their completed magnificence. The new Faction bases at Ashran are a trailer for your Garrison, and the Alliance one works really very well, especially against the backdrop of Draenor. The visuals are compelling, and very well placed. This is what my races can build on Draenor, and so can you if you take the time to complete the set of tasks the Garrison presents you with.

New does matter.

There are a number of us who have pushed for changes to the architecture of the game as well as the characters that inhabit it, and this high definition version of the client is going to raise some questions about what Blizzard leaves behind. After all, it is not just the buildings that have changed in this new world: when you walk or ride in Draenor, plants and grass make a rustling sound and actually move as you pass through them. These are subtle changes but affect the whole continent, and will make going back to the Old World particularly jarring for some. Will these changes be applied retroactively to everything Human in the Alliance? Is the plan to produce a set of architecture for every Horde and Alliance race and then go back and apply it to the old World to slowly bring everything to the same standard? It is probably too early to tell, but certainly the potential is there.

I understand the disappointment of players over Bladespire and Karabor. The buildings are still there however and there is nothing to stop Blizzard from retroactively populating them during the Expansion, but the designers have, by their own admission, run out of time. All the art you see above was produced for the Garrisons and is freely available for immediate use, and has the added advantage of reminding players that if they like this style, it is theirs to command in their own structure to boot. Ashran serves a number of different purposes therefore as Faction hub, and I have to applaud Blizzard for a subtle and clever use of game resources that will help market this new hub as a genuine replacement for the originally promised location.

I still won't live there, but I certainly won't be adverse to a visit :D