Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Coming Soon to an Overgrown Wild Near You...

In an announcement, Blizz said that Dire Maul would be released on October 15th, ahead of the Phase 2

I don't think we're in the "we're bored" levels of Classic yet, but considering that the player base is wanting PvP in the worst way, this is likely a bone thrown to keep us preoccupied while the rest of Phase 2 is being completed.

While I've done a full Blackrock Depths clear in Wrath, I've never done a full Dire Maul clear at level. That ought to be fun.

My only question now is, how are we going to distinguish Dire Maul from Deadmines in LFG? I guess Dire Maul will have to be "Dire", because otherwise there's going to be a lot of disappointed L60s when they join a "DM" group to discover it's populated with L20 toons....

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Doing This Because I Can, I Suppose

Being a Stealthie means you can get yourself in trouble.

As in "I shouldn't be in this zone and I'm gonna die" trouble.

I've mentioned this before, so it shouldn't be a surprise that I snuck into Western Plaguelands before I hit L30:



Or that I snuck into Feralas and was chased by Tauren guards around Camp Mojache. (Sorry, no pics there, because I was too busy trying to stay alive.)

Or that I was running up to the Cenarion Sisters outside of Shadowprey Village in Desolace, and a Troll guard from the village aggroed on me, even though I could (I thought) barely see him. (Still no pics, but I could swim like 40 Naga were after me.)

Or that I got waaay too close to the Dragonkin in Bough Shadow, because I forgot that it existed in Ashenvale.

***

Still, there's that sort of getting in trouble, and there's the "getting in trouble" you get from a superior.

Back when I first started with Az, I reached Dolanaar and met with the Rogue Trainer there, Jannok Breezesong. I thought him a slight bit loopy, as if Phoebe from Friends were reincarnated as a Male NE Rogue, but essentially harmless. But after you reach L10, he gives you the quest called The Apple Falls, in which he confesses his, well, obsession with a Night Elf named Syurna in Darnassus. He recruits you to deliver a rose to her, which doesn't sound like a big deal.

Well, trying to find Syurna without using a mod such as Questie proves challenging. You can --and I did-- spend a lot of time wandering around, with the "If I were in with Rogues, where would I hang out?" running through my head.

Craftsman's Terrace? Nope.

Warrior's Terrace? Nope.

Some secret lower level in an Inn? Nope.

Some secret section of town, close to the Temple of the Moon? Nope.

At about the point where I was thinking that maybe they were holed up in waaaay up in the Northern section of Darnassus, far north of the Cenarion Enclave, the little dot appeared just as I crossed the bridge.

The Cenarion Enclave? Are you kidding me?

But where..... I spotted a tree to the left, with absolutely no guards nearby but a couple of people in a platform above. I quickly climbed up the tree and discovered a Poison Vendor, but no Syurna. I scampered down the path, turned around, and found the opening I sought, leading down.

This is it, I thought, as I followed the curved passage downward. Damn, they hid themselves well.

At the bottom of the passage it straightened out, and I could see Syurna in the distance. And she was not pleased.

"Isn't this wonderful," she purred as I approached. "You've brought flowers for your own funeral."

Oh Shit.

Even though I'm now in the 30s,
when I drop by I still feel... inadequate.


Since I'd never leveled an Alliance Rogue prior to Cataclysm, I wasn't certain what would happen next. But it turns out that she had a job for me, which involved pickpocketing a demon.*

Yes, that became pretty standard and sure, she may be an NPC, and "just a trainer", but you know, that quest certainly colors my perception of Syurna to this day. I don't have a similar opinion of Mathias Shaw, even though I really ought to.



*And if you know that quest, said demon is hanging out on the edge of a branch dangling out over the edge of Teldrassil. Given my ineptitude at maintaining my balance in game (and out of game, really), this was not quite an easy task.

EtA: Fixed the word "town".

Thursday, October 3, 2019

You Just Keep Being You

One of the things about WoW Classic is that in it, like Vanilla*, your reputation as a player matters.

If you act like an ass or a jerk, you'll find yourself being shunned.

Oh sure, there's plenty of people on an individual server, and there's --on average-- nothing that keeps you from finding other people to group with. That doesn't mean that word won't get around, however. Guilds can spread word among members, and outlets such as Reddit can spread word about people who act like an ass.

And then there's just word of mouth.

I was waiting for the ship from Menethil Harbor to Theramore, when I saw a player jumping around and challenging people on the dock to a duel. And yes, he eventually dropped a duel invitation to Azshandra, currently sitting at L35.

The toon in question was L56 Warrior.

I immediately declined. He could wipe the docks with my carcass with that level disparity.

The toon didn't care, as he just went to the next person in line while we piled onto the ship for Theramore.

"It takes a real jerk to challenge someone significantly lower than yourself," said someone out loud.**

The toon ignored her and challenged an L46 Pally.

"Just how old are you?" the Pally responded, and declined the duel.

And the toon came right back to me. I declined again. "He could kick my ass all over the place," I whispered the Pally. "What's the point in that?"

"He's probably a kid," came the whispered reply.

"Or maybe he came from ArcheAge or something."

The ship to Theramore docked, and we disembarked. The Pally gave me a Blessing of Might, which I thanked him. "Hey, if you're looking for a guild, let me know," he said. "We're a bunch who behaves like adults."

"Thanks for the offer," I replied, "but I'm going to stay independent for a while. I've been involved in some pretty spectacular guild breakups in Wrath and Cata, so I'm reluctant to get back in one."

"Sure, np."

***

Being guildless means that I get a lot of guild invites. While that may sound like I'm being barraged by random toons out there spamming people with invites, it's not like that.

Okay, it is to an extent, but not like what it was being guildless in Wrath.

Let me explain.

When I was guildless in Wrath or in parts of Cata, the sheer number of guild invites --at least 2-3 every session in late Wrath-- forced me into turning on the Auto Reject for Guild Invites.***

I don't have that issue now. I do get the "WoWGold111----whatever" Chat Channel invite on an average of once or twice a week, but that's not that bad. And I've only had a handful of direct guild invites to reject as well.

But what I do get are people asking me to join their guild via whispers.

A lot of them are exactly what you'd expect, a slightly more polite version of a guild recruiter spamming Guild Invites. I'd say that all of the random invites took my polite "no thanks" for an answer, which is a good thing because I'd rather not have to block people.

The rest are guild invites that I'd actually consider, because they arose organically out of grouping up with people. A successful 5-man instance, random grouping out in the wild because people need assistance, and other groups that came out of sheer serendipity would end with an exchange of Friending and/or a guild invite. Those are the ones that are hard to say no to, because those came out of respect and appreciation for the accomplished task.

***

And yes, I have been grouping up in MMOs, far more than I've ever done since roughly 2015 or so. Classic has done that to me.

I think that part of it is that the people coming into Classic are more open about requesting help in Zone Chat, but it's also the knowledge that there is no LFG option in Classic that forces people to group out in the open. Sure, there will be the guild groups out there, and the larger guilds won't have trouble getting people to join to fill out an instance, but the smaller guilds will struggle and will need to go onto Trade Chat or Zone Chat to get slots filled.

For the most part, however, I've yet to join a guild group to work on an instance. But I've discovered that the Golden Rule**** applies in Classic far more than it did once LFG appeared in Wrath.

As an example, the other day I was holding my own in Arathi Highlands, picking and choosing my quests/enemies based on whether I was over/under leveled against them. Someone in Zone Chat asked for help in taking out Myzrael, as the adds were a big problem. I knew that I ordinarily too low a level to help out, but I figured that I was just a meatbag in a fight like that and if I died, no big deal. So I said as much in Chat and got an invite to the group. The decision was made to ignore the adds and simply burn down Myzrael as quickly as possible, and one of the group volunteered to heal. We started the quest, Myzrael spawned and declared her treachery --bad move, Big Lady-- and we beat her to shreds.*****
You can tell that this is WoW Classic
as opposed to, say, TERA, because
Myzrael is clothed. Or at least more
clothed than some other MMOs.


Afterwards, we all went on our merry way, and I eventually ended up working on the Witherbark Troll quest. I found a Mage there on the same quest, and we agreed to team up to finish the quest more quickly. To get the Shadow Hunter trinket as part of the quest, we eventually made our way into the cave, and we accidentally pulled an extra Shadow Hunter at the same time a Headhunter wandered into the fight. Things looked grim for us when another player appeared and helped us beat off the Trolls. Who was the other player? The player I helped earlier with Myzrael.

***

This doesn't mean that there aren't bad PUGs out there, and I've been in 5-man groups that got frustrating because there were issues with Hunters rolling need on everything, people wanting to go without waiting on the casters to drink, etc. But for the most part, I've found those to be far more the exception rather than the rule in Classic.

I think that it's the knowledge that people are --by and large-- working together has made Classic more enjoyable than I expected. My main desire with Classic was to see the zones and quests as they were originally meant to be, but I've discovered that the community that people loved to talk about "back in the day" actually is present. I consider that a bonus, but something that'll keep me playing longer than I expected.





*And to a lesser extent BC and early Wrath. Once the dungeon finder dropped, all bets were off.

**I'm paraphrasing here, and likely editing the language.

***The guild invites were very much a WoW thing, as in LOTRO the mini-Reds and I have our own guild, and with other MMOs (SWTOR, ESO, AoC, etc.) I never got hit up for guild invites. I'd say the most often I'd ever see as far as guild invites goes was in the early days of SWTOR, but even then that was a rare event.

****"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Or, in it's Internet equivalent, "Don't be a Dick."

*****Having two Rogues provide interrupts on a regular basis helped a lot, too.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

On This Day...

...in 2009, Souldat posted PC's first blog entry. I'd already posted the long, sordid details in the last post.

In lieu of cake, have a cookie:


Friday, September 27, 2019

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been

Truckin' got my chips cashed in. Keep truckin', like the do-dah man
Together, more or less in line, just keep truckin' on.
--Truckin', The Grateful Dead


In August 2009, I was having a Livejournal mail chat with Souldat's wife when she broached a specific topic.

"[Souldat] and I were thinking of playing World of Warcraft again, and I was wondering if you wanted to play," she wrote.

I'd heard of WoW --it had penetrated the popular consciousness several years ago-- and I knew of its reputation among gamers. Namely, that it is one of those games that ends up consuming your life if you're not careful.

Still, I was happy to be asked. I'd joined LJ less than a year ago --mainly so I could read and comment on SF&F authors' LJ pages-- and I'd made a few new friends online.* But this was the first time one of them had asked me to essentially hang out with them online.

I figured I could at least try the game out, and so I spent one Saturday watching as World of Warcraft slowly downloaded** while the rest of the family watched National Treasure.*** And just when I thought it was finished and I could at least make sure my account worked by starting the game, it began downloading even more stuff.

"Just what have I gotten myself into?" I wondered as I took a bit of heat from my wife for not watching the movie with the rest of the family.

The WoW website didn't exactly help me that much, because the history of Azeroth began thousands of years before the era of WoW, and I kept losing track of who was who while perusing the history. "Okay, is Illidan a good guy or a bad guy? And what about this Burning Legion? And the Scourge? And the Plague?" I had so many questions, and but I figured I should be polite to Soul and his wife and keep them to myself for the time being.****

***

Those first few game sessions were, well, chaotic at best.

Soul and his wife were saints with me as I fumbled around, not really understanding how things such as headsets integrated with a game that took up a full screen and already had taken over the PTT button for its own use. In 2009, I was far more used to games such as Civ III than games that required quick reflexes, so my fumbling and flailing was made all the worse by switching game genres. My first WoW sessions were so awkward that I had my headset hooked up to my work laptop behind me, and every time I wanted to talk I had to reach behind me and press the space bar.

After a couple of sessions I left the sound on, but all it took was about 10 seconds of what I thought was silence when Soul told me that he could hear my breathing. (It didn't help that I had seasonal allergies at the time.) So I learned about dialing back the microphone's sensitivity, which I'd never had to deal with because I used telephones/cell phones for work.

But eventually, after a class suggestion by Souldat to switch from a Priest to a Paladin --the former being too squishy for someone more acquainted with the D&D Cleric class-- I began to enjoy myself. However, I was still pretty self conscious about my online persona, and the first time I followed Soul into Orgrimmar I had the feeling that everybody there was watching me as we crossed the gate. This awkward feeling was made worse when I was accosted by a random player trying to hit me up for a charter signature, and I had a few moments of terror, not knowing how to respond, before the guy went away to pester somebody else.

It was then, in mid-September, that Souldat contacted me outside of the game. I was sure that he wanted to say that the WoW thing wasn't working out for us, and I steeled myself  for what he was going to say.

"Would you like to start a blog with me?" he asked.

***

The idea, Soul pitched, was that we'd write from the perspective of two different people in the WoW experience: I was the newbie, and he was the experienced player.

Soul really didn't have to pitch this very hard, because I looked at the blog as a chance to improve my writing skills.***** I've had ideas in my head for stories, and I've started writing a novel numerous times, but I've never been able to get more than halfway through the a story. Blogging, I figured, would allow me to actually finish something for a change.

But there were two big questions that we needed to answer before we started: what blogging platform to use, and what the name should be.

I personally preferred Livejournal, since that was what I was most familiar with, and I figured we could make that work going forward. Soul, however, researched the most popular blogging platforms and decided that Blogger would require the least amount of maintenance to keep going.# Given that he'd done the research, he didn't really have to push hard to convince me.

But the name, that was a problem.

I couldn't tell you just how many blog names we tried out, but it was over 15 for certain and probably closer to 30. Each time we'd come up with a name, Soul would try to see if the domain was taken, and inevitably it would be rejected. The names themselves are now a blur, but among those that were tried and rejected included Parallel Views and Different Perspectives. The latter was well after the first dozen or so, when we were running out of ideas.

Now, I can't remember exactly who came up with Parallel Context, but when Souldat put the blog name in, it was actually available. So Parallel Context it was.

***

I'll freely admit that Soul put the blog together and I was --more or less-- along for the ride.

While I had a LJ account, I never really considered posting in a blog on a regular basis. It's not as if I had a lot of time set aside to write to begin with, and committing to a blog would mean I'd have a self imposed deadline on top of all of the other family and work commitments I'd have. Sure, there was going to be that initial burst of activity, but sustaining it is the key to making a blog that lasts.

And there's that promotion thing.

Soul had reached out to some bloggers he liked and mentioned that we were starting PC, and after a few posts into the launch we managed to get on a couple of people's blog lists. Meanwhile, I worked on integrating Google Analytics into the site, so we could see just how many people were viewing the blog after our outreach. And the result early on weren't encouraging: the numbers were disappointingly small. Like "this is us shouting into the void" small.

Oh, and during all of this, I was learning how to actually play WoW, so I wouldn't have anyone yelling "Get gud, scrub!" at me while playing the game. Hillsbrad Foothills and Tarren Mill taught me the true meaning of what being on a PvP server really was, and I can't say I was really thrilled. Sure, there was the adrenalin rush of trying to hide while being ganked by a swarm of Alliance raiders from Southshore, but the concept of "we're all in this together" took a real hit during those days. My work schedule and the kids' school schedule meant I was best off playing in the early morning, which meant that I was on at 5-6 AM EST on a server meant for the US West Coast.

That means... Say it all with me now: "Nobody was on while I was learning how to WoW."

I had the freedom to fuck up and nobody was around to see it.

Afterward, I'd return to being a normal husband and father, but during my lunchtime I'd write for the site.

Early on I decided to try to write a post at least once a week, and between Soul's and my output we kept the blog on a steady pace.## Still, there was this big WoW/MMO ecosystem out there, and we didn't know how to really break into it to have our voices heard. Soul suggested a few blogs for me to read to a) help me improve at WoW and b) so that we could learn how to blog better. But for me, I decided that I wasn't just going to read, I'd comment as well.

But that assumed that I knew what the hell I was talking about. So back to playing WoW a bit more to muddle my way through.

***

I think it was way after I dinged 80 for the first time in Wrath that we finally had a breakthrough. I'd made some post about a 5-man PUG fail and why they fail the way they do --that much I remember-- when I discovered a comment from "Tam" making some thoughtful observations.

"Holy crap!" I exclaimed. "Is that who I think it is?"

I followed the name back, and sure enough, it was Tam from Righteous Orbs, who (along with his friend Chas) at the time ran one of the most well read WoW blogs.

My brain processed the information, but I still couldn't believe it. It was as if Geddy Lee from Rush called me up and said that he, Neil, and Alex were going to be in town and wanted to know if we could hang out.

Somewhere in my amazement I clicked back to see the Righteous Orbs Blogroll, and sure enough the words "Parallel Context" was in there.

Other blogs added us shortly thereafter, such as Larisa's The Pink Pigtail Inn, and our readership began to increase. What I also found was a community of MMO bloggers who were supportive of each other and promoted each other's work. Almost all of them were more social media savvy than Soul and myself, as they took to Twitter to promoting each others' blogs and utilizing Facebook and Google+ as well.

I thought things were looking up, and that we'd get the active site we'd always hoped for, but I didn't reckon on life. Or the video game development cycle.

Blogs faded away, such as Righteous Orbs and The Pink Pigtail Inn, due to burnout. Those two tore a huge hole in the WoW blogging community, as they were the watering hole for WoW bloggers where you could see an accurate and current list of blogs. When PPI in particular shut down, PC suffered a huge hit in readership; something around 35-40% of the views came from PPI as a starting point. Blog Azeroth and Orcish Army Knife have tried to fill the void, but the WoW blogging community also suffered hits from the divisive nature of the WoW Cataclysm expansion.#### Others gradually faded away as real life intervened. Soul himself has mostly moved on as he and his wife bought a house, started a family, and have been kept busy every since. Soul still plays, but not nearly as much as he used to.

Even I dropped my WoW subscription toward the end of Mists, when I realized I wasn't having fun any more, and I focused on other MMOs instead.

***

Yet here we are, almost 10 years in, and PC is still around.

What have I learned over the years?

  • That I could live on 4-5 hours sleep for an indefinite period. I tend to get my best writing done late at night or early in the morning, when everything is quiet and I can just focus. 20 years ago, I used to get up at 4 AM and get into work by 5 AM just so I could get about 3 hours of uninterrupted coding and analysis done without interference from the hustle and bustle of the day. Ever since, I've treasured the night as when I'm most productive. 

  • That I don't have to look for approval to write. I used to worry about things such as pageviews and building PC into a real site, but I finally figured out that PC is a real site. I don't need to ask for approval to post articles, and I don't need to worry about how a post might impact the readership at the site. After all, what readership? I know our pageviews quite well, thankyouverymuch, and I know what our number of readers is, give or take about 10-20 people. I've never bothered with monetizing the site, because I'm not an Influencer and I don't seek to profit off of my friends.

  • That persistence is just as important as talent. A blog isn't an easy thing to keep going, year after year. The sort of persistence in keeping a blog up is the same sort of persistence found in a Ph.D student, who keeps the dream alive of getting their Doctorate, through force of will alone. My university degree is in a scientific field that almost requires a Ph.D to get to do significant research, so I've known more than my share of Masters and Doctorate students. And the one thing the successful ones all had was the persistence in getting the work done, day after day and year after year. They weren't necessarily the smartest in their field --I can easily think of examples of the "smart person who never finished"-- but they were persistent. They never gave up. And with this blog, there are times when I thought about shutting it down, but then I've told myself I'm not giving up on my creative outlet.

  • That MMO bloggers are a weird breed. We see things that happen in MMOs and think "that'd make a great blog post". We see Gen Chat discussions and get inspired to write something. We take goofy screenshots because hey, the blog.

  • That MMO bloggers are family. I found people whose blogs are long since in mothballs, but I still talk to them on a regular basis. My fellow bloggers have been through a lot, through weddings, births of their children, and even deaths in the family. Small victories as well as crushing events. But the MMO blogging has kept us together. I exchange Holiday cards with several bloggers, and we chat about life. I've laughed with them, I've cried with them, and I've been willing to listen to them pour their guts out over what's been bothering them. Because that's what family does. You may not be able to choose your genetic family, but you can choose your online family. I'd like to say that I chose these bloggers as friends, but I know what the reality is. They chose me.

***

So here's to an (almost) 10 years.

To people who have shared the journey and have moved on.

To people who still come by and say "Oh crap, what is that guy up to now?"

To people who share the same weird passion for putting themselves out on the internet for a living.

To Parallel Context, the blog that almost didn't have a name.

Sometimes the light's all shinin' on me,
Other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it's been.
--Truckin', The Grateful Dead





*Online friends weren't a new thing to me; I've been on the internet since before the WWW was a thing. It's that I'd not kept up with the SF&F community since the GEnie online service imploded, and the community had a large presence on GEnie.

**We had a 2.5MB download connection back then. I suppose you could say that "I was unprepared" for the size of the download.

***DON'T get me started about the historical accuracy of that movie. When I first watched it, with my wife, I had to go walk into the kitchen to keep from blurting things out in the TV room. I was told my face turned a bright shade of red numerous times.

****To be honest, I still have questions to this day, but they're more of the "why did you decide to make the history this way, rather than another way?" variety. There are plenty of times when I think that the history of Azeroth sprang from somebody's homebrew D&D campaign that was created when the players were attempting to be worldly and sophisticated.

*****Despite my output here, roughly 4-6 posts per month, I do like to write; I just don't force myself into constant writing when I know it's just not going to work out.

#Blogger's restrictions are far more of a nuisance these days, when most of the blogging customization tools are written for Wordpress. Every time I look into changing the blog around, I run up against Blogger's limitations, and I really don't have the time to spend writing custom code for Blogger itself to do what I want it to do.

##We had also added a third blogger on two separate occasions, but both of them didn't last long. One had a particularly dislikeable post and both of us called her out on it, and she kind of vanished shortly after. We lost the other due to real life issues pulling her away.

###We ran the instances with 3 people, given that Soul was much higher in level than the content and was --at best-- a middling healer. Soul's wife provided ranged DPS as a Mage, and as long as we weren't overwhelmed by adds we did okay.

####Looking back, I can see that a lot of WoW bloggers that I read vanished over the course of Cataclysm and Mists, and I don't believe that was an accident. I've heard from quite a few people in groups in WoW Classic how they dropped their subscription during those two expacs, and it would make sense that the WoW blogging community merely reflected that.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

When I Want to Annoy my Wife, I Play ABBA

When someone in Trade Chat said "This isn't a true Vanilla experience because nobody is dancing on a mailbox," I took that as a personal challenge.

Sorry, I'm not planning on making a gif out of this.

"There," I said. "I'm dancing on the mailbox in Darnassus."

"It needs to be in SW for it to count," was the reply.

Challenge accepted.





EtA: No, I'm NOT planning on making GIFs out of these. Corrected the caption.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Old Friends Reunited

One nice thing about getting back into WoW via WoW Classic is running into old friends.

Yesterday I logged in to take care of some items*, and found Ancient, from the blog Tome of the Ancient, online and playing in Classic on Myzrael-US.

"Ancient!"

"Red!"

She was questing in Darkshore, waiting to ding L20 on her Druid, and also waiting for Therylune to respawn in The Master's Glaive area. I was in nearby Ashenvale, so I quickly ran over and had a short but great reunion in-game.
Ignore the dreary atmosphere, that's just
Darkshore for you.

I'm a few levels higher than Kitwynn so I offered to help out, and we spent the next 10-20 minutes talking and killing Twilight's Hammer flunkies, just like the old days.


Therylune took a long time to respawn,
so we had ample time to chat

I couldn't stay long, as I was going to be a taxi for the youngest mini-Red (marching band competiton) while our exchange student was hanging out with some of her fellow exchange students and hosts, so the reunion was definitely short. But since we both play on the same server, I hope we'll group up more often and just have a fun time relaxing. And killing baddies.

Because WoW, you know.




*And I finally got into a Deadmines run!! Two actually, but I'll post about those another time.


EtA: I was so excited to post this that I forgot the title. Oops.