Sunday, July 31, 2011

Playing to Your Strengths

"Play to your strengths."

"I haven’t got any," said Harry, before he could stop himself.

"Excuse me," growled Moody, "you’ve got strengths if I say you’ve got them. Think now. What are you best at?"

--From Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

When you stand in a bunker in Alterac Valley, waiting for it to be destroyed, you have plenty of time to think.

Oh, I'm constantly moving my viewing screen around, checking for the inevitable attempt to retake the thing, but aside from the occasional nerd rage there's not much going on at 5 AM.  Most guildies are asleep, and those that aren't just came off of the graveyard shift and will be hitting the hay shortly.

This morning, however, I was still turning over something in my head that I heard on the Double O Podcast yesterday.*  Oestrus and Ophelie had on Vidyala and Voss from Manalicious and Sword and Board, and they were discussing guilds and guild leadership.**  The topic, while entertaining, didn't really apply to me; I'm not a GL/officer and don't plan on being one.  However, a statement made by one of them got under my skin.  The discussion had shifted to the officer corps and how some people take care of certain aspects of the guild, like fish feast preparation, without being an actual officer.  One of the panelists --Vid, I think-- mentioned how thorough their guild interviewer was, and how he's good enough that he was considering making it his career.  It was a minor point, but that got my attention.

How often are we advised to improve our weaknesses, but play to our strengths?  At work, certainly.  In sports, hell yeah.  In an MMO?  Um....

Yes, you can solo an MMO and do it successfully.  I'm living proof of that.  However, when you make that step into an instance, a BG, or a raid, the game changes.  It's no longer about you as the hero, but the team.  Then the question becomes:  what do you do well that can help the team?  Or guild?  Do you even know what it is you excel at?

Sure, maybe you've got that DPS rotation on automatic pilot, and you can just sense when some adds are zeroing in on the healer, but what else can you do with that attention to detail?  Can you help the prep work for the raids?  Does the guild need gems cut and ready to roll?  Enchantments available?

Are you good at organization, helping to line up raid and BG groups?

Do you communicate in an instance or BG, or is your 'communication' limited to "yoo all suk!"

Do you stop and help out the lowbies from time to time?  If you're on a PvP server, do you defend Grom'gol or the Rebel Camp from gankers?

Do you know how to make a killing on the auction house?  Why not apply that knowledge and help the guild's coffers?

Really, the choice is up to you to do what you want in-game; nobody is forced to do this.  But if you enjoy what you do, and you do it well, you expand the enjoyment of others in the game.***

And believe me, I hate-hate-hate a Polyanna attitude, but this is just common sense.  You can work on your weaknesses, but odds are good that you'll get more satisfaction when doing what you're best at.

*I used to be able to listen to podcasts on a regular basis, but meetings have been steadily consuming my work time to the point that anything more engaging than background music --and yes, a WoW soundtrack counts as background music-- will just get ignored.  That's a shame, as I've not had much of a chance to explore the WoW podcasts out there.

**Vid is the GL of Business Time/Moonrunner(US), and her husband Voss is the raid leader.

***Well, except for that ganker loitering around Forest Song that you took out, but he got what was coming to him, right?

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Bit of Nostalgia

(Apologies to Bowling for Soup and their song 1985)

Liese just hit the wall
She never had it all
Firelands dailies all day
Her GL’s MIA
Her optimism ceased
When BC was released
Only been with one guild
What happened to her goals?

She was gonna be a hardcore raider
She was gonna get world firsts
She was gonna dance around
On C’thun’s bloody corpse
Her sparkle pony is now the enemy
Looks at her stable of toons
And nothing, has been…
All right since

Cata and Outland
Way before Northrend
There was AQ and MC
And Naxx was still in EP
The newbies in her guild
They tell her she’s a greybeard
Cuz she’s been playing since
2000, 2000, 2004

Woo Hoo Hooooo!
Woo Hoo Hooooo!

She’s done all the classics
She knows every boss
Four Horsemen, High Priest Thekal
And even Princess Huhuran
She cleared Maraudon
Not a big Stonecore fan
Thought she’d get Exalted
With the Frostwolf Clan

Where’s the Tier 2 gear from Nefarian?
And when was Thrall replaced by that guy in Grommash Hold?
When did the Alliance get Shamans?
Whatever happened to Rexxar, and Bolvar
They’re not where they were before

Cata and Outland
Way before Northrend
There was AQ and MC
And Naxx was still in EP
The newbies in her guild
They tell her she’s a greybeard
Cuz she’s been playing since
2000, 2000, 2004

Woo Hoo Hooooo!

She hates expansions, they make no sense
When did Dire Maul become a mid-level instance?
And when did Blood Elves become playable?
Please make this stop, stop, STOP (tick tick tick) and remove

Cata and Outland
Way before Northrend
There was AQ and MC
And Naxx was still in EP
The newbies in her guild
They tell her she’s a greybeard
Cuz she’s been playing since
2000, 2000, 2004

Woo Hoo Hooooo!

Cata and Outland
Way before Northrend
There was AQ and MC
And Naxx was still in EP
The newbies in her guild
They tell her she’s a greybeard
Cuz she’s been playing since
2000, 2000, 2004

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Zen and the Art of Losing in a Battleground

There was a time, in the distant past, when I ran as a Holy Spec Paladin.

It's now hard to believe, given that I DPS almost exclusively, but I have healed instances on both Quintalan and Tomakan.  Nothing since 4.0.1 dropped, but I retain some of the trappings of those days on my UI, with Healbot and Decursive being the prime examples.  Like any good Ret Spec is capable of, I can step up in emergencies and heal in an instance when the Healer drops.  I may not look pretty doing it, but at least I can hold my own with Ret's limited mana.  (And I look much better healing than tanking.  Ol' Twinkletoes Redbeard doesn't exactly strike fear in the hearts of trash mobs.)

In spite of all of that, I have been tempted to switch to Holy Spec when I see absolutely no healing in sight in a BG.  I figure, 'bad heals is better than no heals', but then I remember that Quint's Holy Spec gear is stuck somewhere between T9 and entry level Cata greens.  I suspect that Neve would have more armor on her than Quint in his creaky old Holy Spec gear, and when I last looked at Tom's Holy Spec gear I laughed when I found items dating from Uldaman. 

Well, it was a thought.  And believe me, after running WSG on my furball dozens of times, you can just tell you've got a winning or losing situation based on the number of healers.

A good tank or two can make up for a dearth of healers, but having three good healers in WSG can make a team an unstoppable juggernaut, tank or no tank.  Sure, you have to still play smart and not have everyone running off in different directions*, but your odds of winning just went up by a huge amount.


I'd like to say that I'm an expert at BGs, but come on.  I merely run them.  The experts are the ones that use my toons for a doormat.

My poor furball and his oversexed Succubus sidekick got caught in a WSG buzzsaw last night.  After about 5 minutes into this particular run, a pair of Rogues, a kitty Druid, and a Holy Spec Pally set up a tent and went camping at the Alliance graveyard.  No matter what we did, we could only barely get to the edge of the graveyard before we got sapped, sliced, and diced.  The few times I escaped, I ran into the secondary tier of the rest of the Horde crew who had set up a Worgen-dog stand.  I lost track of the number of times I died, and since the Horde side was content to rack up HKs, the game dragged on until the time limit.

And then, a measure of vindication.  The end screen popped up to deafening silence.

The game ended in a tie.

I laughed bitterly when I saw the number of times I died:  21.  Yes, that's right.  Twenty one.

And I still tied them.

[Insert Appropriate Zen Comment Here]

*Like I saw in Arathi Basin late this afternoon.  "Go to the Farm!  Go to the Farm!" someone cried when we lost the Stables.  What happened?  Two to Lumber Mill, two to Mine, three fought in the road between the Blacksmith and the Stables, and one went to the Farm.  The rest defended the Stables, and watched the saga unfold.  Needless to say, we lost.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

I Sense Much Fear in You

There are times when you just know something is going to go badly.

Like the time I was in Arathi Basin a few weeks ago.  Tomakan ported in, and I scanned the data in Healbot to see who I'm running with.  Healbot usually takes a second or two to scan each toon to let you know what spec each one is, and over the course of the next ten to twenty seconds I felt a disturbance in the Force.
  • We had six rogues
  • We had no tanks
At first we also had no healers, but a Druid switched to Resto while buffing. We were living the high life, let me tell you.

Well, I thought, stranger things have happened before, so I decided to stick this run out.  In retrospect, I think it would have been better if I'd just dropped and taken the debuff instead.  The Horde swarmed over us like kids after an ice cream truck, and the Warrior and two Frost DKs made a special point of making me their personal punching bag.

I figured that was just a bizarre twist of fate to be grouped like that, like the time I was in a four Pally run through Gnomer, until this morning.

My little Furball of Evil got into Warsong Gulch at the crack of dawn, and as I scanned Healbot, I saw the familiar Purple and Yellow in abundance.

"Oh oh," I muttered.  We had three Locks --myself included-- and three Rogues.

No tanks.  No healers.

Then someone dropped and we got a Resto Druid.

"Oh, this is not going to be good."

One of the Locks kept his Voidwalker on, and I resisted the urge to suggest he try a Succubus or Imp.  Sure, that Voidwalker wasn't going to help much against players who would just ignore its threat, but considering the group's makeup, I figured it wasn't going to matter.

On the initial run out from Silverwing Hold, I got caught from behind and one-shotted by a Hunter.  I respawned, and before I got anywhere, it happened again.  The third time, I got as far as halfway across the no man's land just in time to actually see my enemy before he dropped me.

Rinse and repeat.

While I waited for the Spirit Healer, the Resto Druid complained that nobody was protecting him and he dropped.  "Kind of hard to protect him when we're all dead," somebody replied in BG chat.

We respawned to find two Hunters, a Disco Priest, and a Holy Pally camping us.  "Oh, come on," I muttered while dropping DoTs as quickly as I could before I was killed.  "Like we're a real threat anyway."

In the end, I think I was killed about eight times in the span of seven minutes.  It could have been worse, I suppose, but I'd be hard pressed to find a BG run outside of the one time I ran Rated BGs that I got facerolled like that.

Dear Blizz--

Your BG finder needs work.  Please correct.

The Smudge on the Ground That Used to Look Like a Worgen

Thursday, July 7, 2011

You Never Forget Your First Time

As much as I would like to remain objective, I suppose that I'll always look at WoW through Wrath-tainted lenses.

I guess that a certain subset of people just threw up their hands and said "Oh crap, here comes another 'heroics are too hard' or 'why can progression be the same as in Wrath' topic," but that's not really the case.  For one thing, I've yet to actually set foot in a Cata Heroic.  It's kind of hard to compare Heroics if you don't queue up for them, you know.  The other big reason why it's not the post you thought it was is that I don't raid.  (Running AQ40 when you're L80 or L85 doesn't count in my book.)

No, what's really on my mind is how I approach WoW, how I think about WoW, and how I describe WoW to people.  Because I started playing mid-way through Wrath, I can't really internalize how different things were in Vanilla or BC.  Sure, I can appreciate on an intellectual level the all-day Alterac Valley fights back in Vanilla, but since I never really lived it I can't think in terms of those BG runs.

In a way, it's akin to learning a new language.  You learn basics of grammar, memorize words, and practice conjugating verbs, but until you actually learn to think in that language, you're still merely translating what's in your head.  The new language could be a cipher for all that's worth, because your brain still uses your native language as a primary reference.  Once you reach a critical point and the switch is flipped inside your head, then you can actually say 'I get this now.  This makes sense to me.'

I understand WoW through Wrath's eyes because I can't comprehend the BC way (or the Vanilla way) of doing things.  Sure, I ran instances throughout the pre-Cata Vanilla and BC zones, but I ran them with the Wrath toolkit.  I can't understand how it was to run Magister's Terrace back in the day, because the BC toolset was so radically different than it is now.*  Even if you eschewed the L68 Wrath gear and ran with BC L70 gear, you truly won't get it because everything that comprises a toon --Talents, Spells, Attacks, Glyphs, etc.-- has completely changed since then.

This isn't a bad thing or a good thing, but just, well, how it is.

When I think about Halls of Origination, I say to myself "imagine running Halls of Stone and Halls of Lightning back-to-back, and that's what HOO is like."

When I try to describe Tol'vir to people, I tell them "it runs about as quick as Utgarde Keep, although the bosses remind me more of Ahn'kahet and Forge of Souls."

When I look at the Therazane quest chain in Deepholm, I compare it to the Sons of Hodir quest chain in Storm Peaks.

I'm sure that people new to WoW in this post-4.0.1 age will have trouble understanding things like the 'Thrall goes to Outland' quest chain, how Hillsbrad can make Hordies on PvP servers twitch, or how the simple words "attunement chain" can start a fight.  They'll be Cata babies, and you know what?  That's okay with me.

What's really important to take away from this is that we all started out in WoW differently, and we approach the game differently.  Nobody really forgets what it was like to install the software, login, and create your first toon.  We all start from the same beginning, but we take different paths along the way.

*Right about now some smart-ass will say "you hit stuff, you kill stuff, how hard can that be?"  But that's life, man.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

And People Thought WoW had Adult Themes...

I've been caught up with projects around the house, so I haven't had that much time to devote to WoW lately.

Yes, I've heard about some funky new patch thingie that dropped last Tuesday, but in typical Redbeard fashion I took a huge pass on fighting the crowd in Hyjal and putzed around with other things.

"Are you grinding rep?" a toon asked me when I offered assistance on his plea for help on the Ring of Blood.

"No, working on Loremaster."  Okay, I took advange of the PvP flag being on after a BG to go and take Halaa --again, something this Wrath baby had never done before-- but I was exploring Outland as part of my ongoing quest for double Loremaster.

If a toon could look disappointed, it was this guy.  "Oh."

"Well, that and avoiding the nuthouse in Hyjal."


In addition to doing some out of the way stuff, I've also been examining yet another MMO.  No, not the upcoming Star Wars MMO The Old Republic, although I'll say that what I've seen via the vid clips looks very interesting.  The MMO I'm speaking of is Age of Conan, which just went F2P last week.

I'll be honest:  I only have the money in the budget for one pay-type MMO at a time, so F2P MMOs hold a great amount of appeal to me.  The F2P model allows me to explore different MMOs without incurring additional cost, and while I'm aware that I'm observing only a small slice of the entire MMO, the F2P MMOs give me a bit more breadth in the MMO space.

And what breadth it is.

I suppose Age of Conan is most famous for it's 'M' rating, and I'll be honest:  the first thing that I heard gamer podcasters mention about AoC --even more than the graphic violence-- was the nudity.  The concept of "OMG bewbs!!" from more than a few people kind of turned me away from the game, not that I'm a prude by any stretch, but nudity for shock purposes doesn't appeal to me.  And now, with the recent addition of vanity armor to AoC, that also means that you can deliberately customize your toon to walk around almost literally naked.*

However, let's get something straight.  This is Hyboria.  This is Conan.  This is Robert E. Howard's vision.

And nudity is part of the tapestry of the Dreaming West.

I've read several books worth of the original Robert E. Howard short stories, so I know a bit about Hyboria and the Sword and Sorcery genre that it helped spawn.  For a Sword and Sorcery environment, you need a few things you don't typically see in traditional Epic Fantasy RPGs or MMOs:  all magic is tainted to some degree or another, and rarely --if ever-- used for purely good purposes; the noble savage ala Conan or Tarzan (or even Fafhrd) as a skilled hero; an overall feel of a more primitive lost world whose time is approaching it's end (less Tolkien's Middle-earth and more Moorcock's Melnibone); that nobody has really pure morals and/or motives; and sex and betrayal are often integral to the plotline.

Judging by those tropes, Age of Conan really succeeds in capturing the feel of Howard's Hyboria.  The only mages as a playable class deal with those from the tales who wielded the Dark Arts:  Stygians and Khitans.  The emphasis from Aquilonians and Cimmerians is on Rogues and Soldiers, with the odd Priest or Shaman thrown in for good measure.  The quests in Tortage (the starting zone) focus on evils awakened by the Picts, the Stygian witch Myrelle, and the twisted and evil tyrant Strom of the Red Hand.  The questlines often present choices where there are really no good answers, only varying shades of gray.  Undercurrents of sex, whoring, racketeering, greed, and violence really fill out the quest lines.  Consider that you become part of the Resistance against Strom, hoping to overthrow him and Myrelle so that the city can return to being a bustling pirate haven full of greed, slaves, and prostitution, and you get the point.

This is not fodder for kids.

WoW, by comparison, is pretty tame stuff.  Sure, you have shades of gray with NPCs' morals, but you also have discernable good and bad guys.  There's nothing like dark and darker imagery that you get out of Age of Conan.  Considering that WoW is doing something completely different with it's blend of High Fantasy and Steampunk, that's to be expected.  Blizzard doesn't take itself too seriously, while AoC is like the student dressed all in black sitting at a table in a dimly lit coffeehouse, grousing about 'art'.

One thing that did strike me about the environment was how AoC equalized the sexes.  Sure, you've got your standard-issue damsel in distress style stuff and the omnipresent skimpily clad NPCs, but AoC is set up so that as far as profession is concerned, the sex of the NPC is irrelevant.  Sure, some of the female NPCs do show an interest in your toon (I played a male toon, so I don't know what the female toons deal with), but the banter reminded me more of a Mike Hammer episode than anything else.

The graphics are beautiful in a realistic manner, but they make my PC strain more than WoW does.  That's kind of a bummer, but it's a tradeoff.  The character customization is something that every MMO ought to have; it does a fantastic job of tweaking your toon to just the right size and shape.  And yes, for the record, the shape of the human body isn't the cartoony top-heavy look that you get out of humans in WoW.

One huge problem I noticed was the size creep in the game's database.  When I started playing the game, the DB was about 8 GB.  The next day, it was 12 GB.  On Sunday, 16 GB.  By this morning, it had ballooned out to 20 GB but seemed to have stopped growing.  If it starts expanding again, I'm going to run out of disk space before too long.  Additionally, the game kept informing me on startup that the DB might be corrupted, and would I like to thoroughly check the DB.  So, what began as a 4 minute startup turned into a 10-15 minute startup.  This doesn't lend AoC well to the "okay, I've got a few minutes, let me login and play for a bit" mode that I can slip into.

Another annoyance is that the graphics settings would need to be tweaked on game startup.  I mean, every single freaking time.  At first I thought it was because I was stressing the graphics card so I backed off on the settings, but it still did it the next time I booted up.  Oh well.

I suppose I could talk about the Real Combat system, where combos are a succession of keys pressed in the correct order, but that's really secondary to the environment.  The thing that really struck me about combat wasn't the Real Combat system, but how mobs attack.  You attack one Pict in a village, and the others will step up and rally to his/her defense.  You don't take on a mob lightly, because they will swarm you and attack you intelligently:  take you from behind, stand at distance and conduct ranged attacks, and stay disciplined in their movement.  If you move to keep the mob in front of you, the mob won't just stand there passively:  it will respond to your movements to regain the upper hand.  While you do have heroic combat, it's definitely a "make 'em sweat" style of combat where two of the enemy at one time can be a dicey event.

On the whole, I like what Age of Conan is doing, and I'll probably play it a bit here and there.  It's not going to replace WoW by any means --I get the impression that Funcom is going to really restrict what is in the F2P area, above and beyond what LOTRO does-- but for a real Sword and Sorcery environment, it can't be beat.

Now, is it asking too much to have an MMO based on Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser?

*And don't think that people haven't done that either.  After a while I started to get annoyed at the people who had created female toons with names like "Goodforyou" and paraded them around the city.  By the end of the weekend, however, those sort of toons seemed to disappear as the crowd thinned, but still there was one guy in Trial chat who asked if he was "a bad man for checking out his Succubus' rack."