Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Alterac Valley: The Spirit of Christmas, Scrooge Style

The Lock was not pleased.  "No, dammit, that's the old strat," he snapped.  "The new strat is to rush everyone to Drek, cap the two towers nearby, and then kill Drek."

"Somebody had told the Horde, then, because they're ahead of us in getting our first two towers down," I quipped.  "If we want to win, we have to take them back."

"Didn't you hear me?"  The Lock demanded as we finished recapping Stonehearth and Icewing Bunkers.  "Everybody get down to Drek now!"

"F--- him," a Druid in the backcap team said aloud.  "We've got to get DB North and South back."

We recapped the two Dun Baldur bunkers --as well as the Aid Station-- and then everybody began the trek south.  Meanwhile, the 25+ people surrounding Drek began their attack, but kept wiping.

"What gives?" someone asked in BG chat.  "You have 8 healers there."

"We ALSO have 7 Horde in the base, asshole," the Lock replied.  "We need EVERYONE down here!"

Another half dozen or so of people abandoned their watch on Stonehearth and Icewing and ran south, just in time for the Horde to begin to cap those two bunkers.

I watched from my position at DB North as a dozen Horde pushed their way up north and began crossing the bridge.  There were only a few of us left to counter them, and not enough time to get to Stonehearth or Icewing before they were captured, ending the game on attrition.

The Lock kept up a running diatribe on how badly we sucked, and if we'd have just done what he wanted we'd have won anyway.  Regardless of whether he was right or not, changing the strategy by abandoning our position in the southern two bunkers meant that we absolutely HAD to burn down Drek within a few minutes or lose.

And given the title of this warm and fuzzy piece, you can probably guess the outcome.


EtA:  Somehow the first sentence got chopped off.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Courtesy of Cheezeburger

Okay, I laughed.  And yes, it does have MMO content.



Thursday, December 12, 2013

An NSA/WoW Top Ten List

Apologies to David Letterman, but this is what you get when you have too much coffee too early in the morning.


Top Ten things people said when they heard the the NSA was spying on them in WoW:

10)  Well, that explains why the Alliance never has healers in a battleground.
9) I bet they were just checking out Goldshire for terrorists.
8) That explains the "Terrorist Hunter" guild name.
7) Can you transmog your gear into a "spy" outfit?
6) I bet they were planning on infiltrating SI:7 too.
5) Did they team up with Pat Robertson to investigate Warlocks for witchcraft?
4) They thought Tauren were a sleeper cell of the terrorist group Al-'Cow'da.
3) All those taxpayer dollars, and the U.S. still can't field a top raiding guild.
2) Ghostcrawler leaves and the NSA report is leaked.  Coincidence?

And the Number One thing people said when they heard the NSA was spying on them in WoW:

1) Were these the people behind all the crap in LFR after all?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

For what its worth, Jon Stewart's The Daily Show has their own take on what they call NSA's World of Watchcraft:


Monday, December 9, 2013

Because, you know, we gamers are hotbeds of subversive activity....

A new report from Gizmodo points out that NSA had infiltrated WoW (among other MMOs) back in 2008.

And you thought the worst thing about MMOs was the proliferation of bots and asshats.

Speaking of which, does that mean that the NSA is controlling the bots?  It would explain a lot, you know...

Friday, December 6, 2013

Charting Some Progress

Courtesy of the American Thanksgiving holidays, I did something that I haven't done in ages:  I didn't log into an MMO for a week.

After about the first day the shakes died down, but I still got twitchy whenever someone said "boss" or "toon" or "character" in conversation.  Okay, not really, but there was a day or two where I kept thinking that I had to try to squeeze in some MMO time, but that feeling passed by about the third day.

As far as addictions go, I guess MMOs don't captivate me that much.*  Which is a good thing.

That lack of playtime didn't keep me from thinking about MMOs, however, as I was reacquainting myself with the old Moldvay D&D Red Box set:

You know, this thing.  Complete with Errol Otus cover art.

I'd decided to go Old School with the kids and take them through the classic module B2 - The Keep on the Borderlands, and I needed to get back up to speed on all the rules from Basic D&D.

Or rather, unlearn all of the rules from subsequent versions of the game.

The character sheet for Moldvay D&D** is a study in simplicity:

From tabletopconnect.com.
A scan of a sample character sheet in the Moldvay Basic D&D rulebook

Compare that with the D&D 4e character sheet:

And this is just the front page!

And if you take a gander at the average MMO character listing, it's even more complex:
I often wonder why a Rogue would be bent backward like that.
It's not like a pair of oversize daggers would weigh that much.

It's deceptively simple, since all you have to do is hover your pointer over a piece of gear and you get all of the crunchy numbers.

An MMO can create that sort of character sheet because it can take the crunch and hide it from the player, and unless you're a theorycrafter or a hardcore player, you don't necessarily have to worry about the details. But with a pencil and paper RPG, you have to pay attention to the numbers because the actual "fighting" or "doing things" is all done with your imagination.

For most people, however, there's a tradeoff between the crunch and imagination.  It's a bit of a moving target, because different people can handle different levels of crunch, but there comes a tipping point when imagination starts to lose out to the crunch and an RPG becomes all about the numbers.  While my personal tipping point is somewhere more complex than, say, Pathfinder, I can't say where anyone else's --much less my kids-- tipping point is.

Which brings me back to Moldvay D&D.

The game is simple enough to pick up and play, and compared to more complex RPGs*** has a minimal amount of crunch.  And yet all the flavor of a D&D-esque game is still there. For my purposes --a quick, minimal setup type of game that I already know the rules to-- it should be perfect.

The kids created characters, they met up at the Keep of the module's title, and hired some men-at-arms to accompany them in their search for the mysterious Caves of Chaos.  They set out on the morrow, but they'd better not get lost in the forest along the way.  There are things in the forest that love to feast on adventurers.

***

A short update on "Ever, Jane", the Jane Austen MMO: it made it's Kickstarter goals, and the design team is moving forward with the game.  You can find a short article about the game on The Mary Sue's website. The game seems to be highly attractive to roleplayers who would find Regency Britain an intriguing setting.




*At least not compared to coffee.

**It's called that because Tom Moldvay edited this version of the game, so as to differentiate between the earlier blue book version edited by J. Eric Holmes and the later red book edited by Frank Mentzer (which had the Larry Elmore cover art.)

***Even Savage Worlds, which I've used as a pretty basic RPG in the past.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Does Azeroth even know what a Pilgrim is?

I once read a blog post by SFF writer and former SFWA president John Scalzi* in which he defined the straight white male to be the lowest difficulty setting there is.  By using the video game analogy --and WoW in particular-- he helped to explain the privilege that the straight white male has in the Western world.**

Today, on the eve of the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, I was reminded again of how U.S.-centric WoW is when I logged in and discovered that Pilgrim's Bounty had started.

If you live in the U.S., you probably never gave it a second thought.  Just like if you live in Germany or you live in a place with a lot of German immigrants (like the U.S.), of course there's a Brewfest holiday!  Or that the mid-Summer/mid-Winter holidays line up with someone living in the northern hemisphere.

Sure, there's the nod to the Chinese New Year, but two things about that festival:  out of all the international non-Western festivals, Blizz chose only that one; and the Chinese New Year festival is celebrated in the U.S. too, mainly in areas with a sizable Chinatown (such as San Francisco and New York City).

To be fair, WoW isn't the only MMO with a sizable chunk of Western themed festivals --there's LOTRO, for starters-- but WoW has a much bigger non-Western and non-U.S. subscriber presence.

***

I've occasionally wondered what it must be like to play a game that has so many nods to a culture not my own.  I'm not into anime/manga, and I grew up just before the original Nintendo console swept the world, so I have no insights into JRPGs or Japanese video games in general.***  I can see the differences in games such as Aion and to a much lesser extent Guild Wars 2, but that's more a matter of graphics and quest text. The immersion found within is still Western in emphasis, such as light and dark angels in Aion.

Mists of Pandaria was an attempt by Blizzard to create an Asian-themed culture, but it was more a mashup of existing Asian cultures than anything else.  I liken it to Hasbro's attempt to appeal to Football/Soccer fans by creating Manchester United Monopoly.  If Hasbro expected Arsenal or Norwich City fans to pick up a copy of Man U Monopoly, they were sadly mistaken.****

Since I'm in the default setting for our current batch of MMOs, I don't know what it's like to play an MMO from another culture or country.  I don't know what small things might be present that I just simply assume to be correct and never realize that's unique to the U.S.  (Dear Lord, I hope that Paris Hilton isn't that well known internationally.  PLEASE.)

Then again, maybe this is just so much navel gazing, since obviously people don't care enough to unsubscribe from WoW or other MMOs about it.




*And he lives in my state, so I claim him as local.  One of these days I'd like to actually get a chance to meet him when he comes to visit our local bookstore, but work always seems to intervene.

**I'm not sure how it translates to non-Western countries, but given the cultural dominance the West has, it's probably still accurate.

***Outside of Donkey Kong and other 80's arcade games.  And the numerous Zero Wing "All your base are belong to us" memes, of course.  I did watch Star Blazers (known to anime fans as Space Battleship Yamato, complete with the sea shanty theme song) and Speed Racer, but that's it.

****Maybe they were counting on other English Premier League fans burning copies of Man U before matches.  I could see THAT happening.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Lemme go get my alt, and, um... This may take a while...

This post is a little late.  I'd like to be able to say that it was due to my extreme focus on NaNoWriMo this year, but it was due to work suddenly getting busy these past few weeks.  The push for the Holidays has begun, and people are trying to throw projects over the fence before they split for vacation.  So, once again, my attempt at NaNo boils down to whether I can get to at least 15k words or not.  Last year it was definitely a "not", and this year isn't looking so good either.

Anyway, I'd been playing a Commando on SWTOR for months, and I decided to pull my Sith Sorcerer out of stasis and level her for a bit.  When I last went adventuring with her she was on Quesh, or as I like to call it, Hutta Part II.*  It took me a few minutes to get my bearings, then off I went into the polluted swamps.

I'd figured that I'd need some time to settle into the button commands, but what I didn't expect was how long it would take to become comfortable with those commands.  I've been playing her for several hours now, but I still don't have an attack sequence down pat.

This is the first time I've had trouble getting myself to remember what buttons to push for a toon.  This goes beyond the "it'll take a level or so to get used to things" that I've become accustomed to, and into the "OMGWTF is happening here?" realm.  Have I finally crossed that age boundary where things become harder to understand?

I certainly hope not.

When I hear people 10+ years younger than me say "well, back in the day...." in an MMO chat session, you just know that this genre is designed with younger people in mind.  There's no avoiding that of the people who still login to my WoW guild, I'm by at least a half a decade the oldest.  I used to chuckle at Ancient's blog subtitle** because she was poking fun at herself, but now I chuckle because I wonder if I'm joining her in being well outside the demographic too.

I look at LOTRO's keybar graphics and wonder how someone with worse eyes than mine can distinguish between the abilities.  When I first tried LOTRO a few years ago, I thought the keybar graphics were the worst part of the game, and as time has gone on, my eyes --and my opinion-- have only gotten worse.

While I get that computer games are considered the province of the young, there are plenty of us out there who began playing in the Pong era.  Those of us who remember Colossal Cave or Zerk or even Space Invaders would like a seat at the big table, and not pushed off to the Candy Crush/Farmville table.***  Like the grandma who plays Black Ops, we want to challenge ourselves and enjoy a game with a deep storyline. And maybe blow up some stuff, too.

I recognize that I'm not going to be the quickest clicker out there.  Hell, even when I was young I was never one of the best at the old Konami Track and Field arcade game, and the entire game consisted of pounding the buttons to go as fast as you could.  Being the quickest, however, shouldn't automatically translate into being the best.  Strategy and knowing your limitations are both important, as well as finding ways to maximize your strengths.  And those are things that anybody can do, regardless of age.

It may just take some of us a bit longer than usual to get up to speed on a particular toon, that's all.





*Or "Bejing on a sunny day."  I'd have said Los Angeles in the past, but I think Bejing's well documented pollution problems have pushed it way past Los Angeles or Mexico City.

**"No wisdom here, just thoughts about the games from someone seriously outside the demographic."

***The Sid Meier's Civ series, on the other hand, is a fantastic turn-based game, proving that you don't have to be the quickest clicker around to win a strategy game.  Same for the Total War series, where you don't have to fight the battles and instead play the game strictly as a strategy game.  Now, if someone could get around to making an updated Master of Orion without overloading on the fiddly bits....

Monday, November 11, 2013

Paging White Wolf.... Someone is taking your WoD moniker...

(I keep wondering when someone else is going to point out that White Wolf's World of Darkness has been using WoD since the Vampire: the Masquerade RPG was released back in 1991, but I guess it's just me.)

Seems that everybody else is jumping on the Warlords of Draenor commentary, so as usual I'm bringing up the rear.

Here are some thoughts about the announced WoW expansion:

  • Blizzard is taking dead aim at EQ Next.

    Remember how EQ Next will be more of a sandbox with player housing?  Blizzard does, and the new Garrison ability is designed to counter that.  The idea is to give a player just enough of a taste of the sandbox that they won't be tempted by EQ Next's bigger sandbox environment.  Blizz isn't about to change their themepark MMO environment into a sandbox, so they decided that most players will only want a little bit of a sandbox instead.  Of course, this could backfire on Blizz to where enough players say "Hey, this sandbox is kind of fun, maybe I'll go try out EQ Next and see what it is like." But knowing Blizz' track record, I doubt it.
  • The rest of Azeroth doesn't matter.

    If you didn't realize this when Cataclysm's revamped Azeroth left Outland, Northrend, and the BC starting zones out of whack (story wise), then they made it pretty plain with Warlords of Draenor.  They expect to give an account a free jump to L90 with a purchase of WoD, and "learning to play your class" means "going to the Proving Grounds".  This is the real intention of the Proving Grounds; to make all of the legacy software in WoW irrelevant.  Sure, you can level the old fashioned way, but Blizzard doesn't want you to.  The solution to fixing story problems caused by Cataclysm is to simply pretend that they don't exist; they want a new player to skip years of MMO development so you can get to the end game.
  • "It's all about the endgame" is what WoW is about.

    That refrain about endgame is how WoW has kept its dominance over all other MMOs to this point.  Any other challenger to WoW's crown has been smacked down because of players who rush to the level cap and then complain that there's nothing to do.  While WoW has fallen victim to that complaint before (see: Cataclysm), Blizzard has kept WoW going with enough new endgame content to keep its core subscriber base satisfied.* Now, with WoD's "instant L90" and the Proving Grounds, Blizzard is basically saying that those people who claim "endgame is where the game begins" were right all along. A new player can buy all of the WoW stuff**, jump to L90, hang around in the Proving Grounds for a few hours, and take off for Draenor. No fuss, no muss.

    On the flip side of that, Blizzard is running the risk of eliminating one of their big edges over their competition:  their years of developing the world of Azeroth.  You can spend up to a year playing one toon and still not reach the level cap, but by eliminating that richness of the experience, Blizzard is reducing the entire WoW focus to ten levels and raiding.  A smart company can exploit that should there be delays once the level cap is reached.
  • The devs didn't watch Star Trek.

    The City on the Edge of Forever by Harlan Ellison ought to be required viewing for anyone who wants to make time travel the centerpiece of an MMO expansion.***  To stop someone from altering the timeline, you jump to a period just prior to their entrance into the timeline and stop them when they appear.  Allowing them to work their disruption and THEN show up to put the pieces back together just makes for messy storytelling and makes suspension of disbelief incredibly hard to pull off.

    The devs wanted to go to Draenor; I get that.  And I get that probably 70% of WoW players won't care because they just want to kill stuff and hang with their friends.  But surely they could come up with a better excuse to go to Draenor than this.  This just seems like they had "Heroes of the Storm" on the brain when they dreamed up "let's have them all go back to kill Gul'dan and company!"
  • The devs DID read comics.

    This story smacks of comic book alternate Earths.  The difference here is that while the alternate Earth idea for comics came about because too many authors had written stories that simply couldn't be reconciled without this handwaving, WoW had much tighter control over the story and the direction of the game. They shouldn't have gotten themselves into this sort of trouble --in game-- where they needed to perform this time travel handwaving.
  • And Doctor Who... Don't go there.

    Keep The Doctor --and The Master-- out of it.  I'm quite looking forward to The Day of the Doctor on November 23rd, and I don't want to have arguments claiming that The Doctor was the model for Azerothian time travel disrupting it.

    Besides, I'll sic a Weeping Angel after you if you suggest such a thing.
  • The Old Gods are Behind This.

    I guarantee it.  We'll probably find out that the Infinite Dragonflight is behind this, with the Old Gods pulling their strings.  Why?  Because who else would hate both the current Azeroth and the Burning Legion?  Blizzard has shown via the Mists storyline that they're unwilling to deviate from the Legion, the Lich King, or the Old Gods as the big bad for the end of an expac, so this expac will be no different.

    The final boss?  A corrupted Nozdormu, who creates the Infinite Dragonflight from the Bronze Dragonflight.  Pure speculation, but there's two groups that have access to time travel, and this wraps everything up in a complete package.
  • Trolls will show up somewhere.

    There hasn't been a WoW expac without them as an adversary, so why stop now?
  • Blizzard continues to get a lot of mileage out of their graphics engine.

    New character models notwithstanding, from Vanilla through Mists the artists have been able to maximize the terrain to great effect.  If you look closely at the terrain, it's still the same old stuff that's out there in the Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor, but just reworked to maximum effect.  I believe this will continue to be the case with WoD.
  • Warlords of Draenor won't get a release date until EQ Next and Wildstar have one first.

    It's a game of one-upsmanship, and Blizzard has shown that they intend to wield their power as the 800 lb gorilla of the MMO market to maximum effect.  Wildstar's devs have said that they intend to go straight after WoW, so expect WoD to drop right before Wildstar does.  As much as I think this entire behavior is infantile, there's no denying that it works.

I guess I had more to get off my chest than I expected.  I know I've got some months --maybe even years, if I go and do what I usually do and start a new class from scratch-- before I make a decision on WoD, but I find myself stuck on the entire concept of the thing.  This expac has the feel of a Michael Bay movie, where it's all pretty, but there's nothing at it's heart that makes sense.





*Just a guess, but I suspect that 2-3 million of the subscriber base are what I'd call WoW's core players, those who'd play WoW until they turned off the lights.

**Not a cheap investment, by the way.  It's still somewhere over $100 if you will buy all of the expacs + Warlords of Draenor when it comes out, unless Blizz really cuts the price on all of the previous expacs to a minimal charge.

***Back to the Future I through III comes in a close second.  Oh, and while I don't like Harlan's behavior as a human being (go read his Wikipedia entry for an eyeful), there's no denying he wrote some classic SF.


Edit:  Fixed some punctuation and grammar errors.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

And Now For Something Completely Different

Yes, there's something strange afoot, Watson, and it has nothing to do with BlizzCon.

A Kickstarter campaign is underway for an MMO with a Jane Austen theme.

Called "Ever, Jane", it is a virtual world based on the works of Jane Austen.  Unlike a more traditional MMO where fighting and gear acquisition are first and foremost, this is an MMO about "playing the actual character in the game, building stories."*

From what I can tell, the emphasis is on activities in Regency England at the time, such as balls/parties, gossiping/sleuthing, hunting, and other activities.  The thrust is to emphasize roleplaying while allowing a player's actions to help shape the story.

It sounds like an ambitious project, and if people are interested they can check out the Kickstarter campaign to view the video as well as download the prototype.  There's a lot of work ahead for their development team, but I wish them well.

EDIT:  Here's the video from the Kickstarter:





*From the Kickstarter site.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Well, that didn't take long....



That's a wee bit of a screwup in advance of any announcement.

If the rumors are true and time travel --and Garrosh-- are at the center of the expac, I'm not so sure I'm on board.  I'm kind of blah about the whole idea of Garrosh again.


A Short pre-BlizzCon Post

Everyone in the WoW-verse seems to be yakking about Warlords of Draenor in the past week or two, focusing on the new WoW expac.  But this being a con for all things Blizz, what if they announce something else entirely?

Like, say, a WoW themed game* for Xbox One/PS4?  A PvP oriented game?

They already have practice with Diablo 3, so it's not too much of a jump to consider that they'd tap into the next-gen console market.

Again, something to consider as people are probably already lining up for the 11 AM PST opening ceremonies.



*Or Starcraft, for that matter.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

"Look, I'm a Rogue. I'm not supposed to have more health than a Prot Pally."

The past week or two's worth of random battlegrounds has seen a dramatic rise in a rather disconcerting trend:  I've got the high health.

That's not how random battlegrounds are supposed to work.

You're supposed to have a mix of players, or at possibly a premade of a guild/arena group in the mix.  And really, I see a lot of the latter on the Horde side:  4 out of every 5 random BGs I'm in involve a Horde premade of some sort.*  But even without the premades, I can see the health of each enemy player, and they follow the standard pattern of high to low health:  tanks > plate DPS/locks > leather DPS > other cloth DPS.

However, the Alliance health numbers are all over the map, with the lone exception that my Rogue is always in the top two in health.

I knew what my max health with Malevolent PvP gear was (360k-ish), and what my max health with Tyrannical gear was (420 ish).  I'm now part of the way through getting Grievous gear, which puts me in around 450k health.  But most of my random BG teams have health in the 350k range, with some players around 410k and the fresh L90s at less than 300k.**

That means that Alliance teams are typically undergeared and severely outgunned by Horde teams.

How undergeared?  Well, I know that by only running random BGs, I've fallen behind the arena players by an additional Grievous piece***, or two if you count the 1250 point gear and take this week into account. That's enough of a difference for a maximum geared Hunter (plus current raid tier gear) to 4-5 shot me, as happened multiple times last night.****  And if I'm at max PvP gear without running arenas, imagine what it's like for someone with a half Malevolent/ half Tyrannical set.

I was in a Twin Peaks BG this morning and I watched it happen.  We even had more than the usual number of healers at four (!) whereas the Horde only had one, and our health was actually decent for a change (averaged in the low 420s.)  But the Horde side, where I counted 6-7 players at 480k health and higher, simply cut through our side like a hot knife through butter.  Putting it in a different way, the Horde was able to out-DPS four healers in a 10v10 match.  That we were lacking in strategy --only about 1/3 of the team was trying to get the flag at any one time-- was almost immaterial when 2 healers in a convoy couldn't keep a Shaman or myself upright.

Such a DPS imbalance in random BGs is worrisome, particularly when in arenas/rateds at least you're paired against teams with similar ratings.  That doesn't guarantee similar teams, but it sure helps in evening out the skill levels.  Shouldn't there be at least a reasonable attempt at matching up the iLevels of players in a 10s or 15s random BG so you don't have slaughters like this one?

But then again, I've seen weird groupings in randoms.  Like six rogues on one side in WSG.  Or seven hunters vs. five locks in AB.  When I get to a random that's not raid size, I quickly check our listings.  If I see more than three rogues in a 10s or four in a 15s, I'll voluntarily drop, telling the group there's no way you can win with this many rogues.  I can go blow off 15 minutes soloing Pit of Saron or Halls of Lightning instead of getting frustrated when I'm being farmed by a Mal'Ganis or Tichondrius premade.

***

BlizzCon is this week, so I presume that on Friday we'll hear about the new WoW expac.

Unless we won't.

I'll concede that it's entirely possible that The Dark Below is going to be the name of the next WoW expac, but in terms of Blizzard history they are very late in announcing an expac after the last major patch for the current expac drops.  Perhaps Blizz saw that extended beta as a big part of the reason why their subs dropped and are swinging heavily toward the "don't tell them anything until we're just about to release it" Apple-style presentation.  The risk for this is to have an unstable release where people have major problems at launch (see:  Diablo III).

But here's an idea:  maybe Blizz is going to go for a lot of smaller expacs rather than one big one every two years.  What about the possibility of new content every year --ala SWTOR and GW2-- with 2-3 patches accompanying it?  More content, quicker, so people will fork over $20 for an expac every year rather than $35 every two years.

Or make Wow F2P, but gateway raids and arenas to subs only?  That would enable Blizz to keep most of their subs who live for raiding or arenas/rateds, but allow the casuals to drop in and out as necessary.  Of course, a cash shop would be needed to pump the casuals for money, as Blizz would be giving up a lot of money in subs to do this.  But it is more of a likelihood than I considered before.

Either way, in two days we'll see what happens.  One thing I will bet money on is that while their subs are down, don't count Blizz out just yet.  They're not the same crew running things during vanilla and BC, but they're not going to screw up their IP.

At least I don't think so.




*For the sake of simplicity, I'm focusing on 10 and 15 man BGs.  the 40 man raid BGs will almost always have a guild group in the mix due to the size of the teams.

**I've said it before and I'll say it again:  chain running AV and IoC for an Alliance player is the quickest way to get geared up with Honor level gear.  And for a plate wearer, that'll put you on par with my health.

***Merely running random BGs will get you a max of 1800 Conquest points a week, while arenas will get a max of 2200 Conquest points.  If you want to keep up with the Joneses, you have to run arenas, which is suicide to most Mists-era Rogues when paired against other classes of equal skill.

****You get used to the routine:  either they spot you lurking about or they ride in when you're trying to help finish off an enemy by a flag.  They send their pet after you, use their Deterrence to deflect your blows, and then drop some traps to slow you while jumping backward to rain down hell while you try to run after them. You can't run quickly because you likely blew your escape CDs on getting away from the Concussive Shot and/or captured by a net.  And since some of the Hunter's DoTs aren't removable by Cloak of Shadows, you can't Vanish.  You're a sitting duck.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

NBI: Random Blogging Thoughts

This post is part of the Newbie Blogger Initiative.


Blogging is an interesting hobby.  Like most hobbies, it can consume a lot of your time, but unlike most, there's nothing physical to give to someone to say "I made this" or "I read this" or "I won this" or "I played this".  If you're like me, when people ask what I do for fun, I'll either fail to mention PC entirely or downplay it into "and I write some stuff online for a gaming website".  If I say "I'm a blogger", there's a tendency among people I meet to say "Oh, like Matt Drudge".  And if I say "I'm a gaming blogger," more often than not I'll get a reply akin to "Oh, like how to win at poker or blackjack?"

The concept of a gaming blogger that has nothing to do with casinos is a big mental block for a lot of non-gamers.  And if you talk to someone who can get past that, they'll respond with "So, what do you think of that new Call of Duty game coming out?"

"No, like WoW."

"WoW?  What's WoW?"

"World of Warcraft."

"That thing?  That's for weirdos."*

Such is the life of an MMO blogger.

But you know what?  That's okay.  You're not writing for them.  Even if you secretly harbor ambitions to be the Ashton Kutcher of the MMO blogging community, don't let the ignorance of the masses get you down.

Write for yourself first, then write for others.

Don't bother chasing readership if you don't like what you're doing.  Blogging isn't a job.  Okay, it can be if you want it to be, but most bloggers start out just doing it for other reasons.  Stray from that, and readers will notice.

Now, that's not to say that you can't appropriate work habits to use when blogging.  A regular publishing schedule is good to stick with, and having a set writing time helps you stay on task, especially on those days when you've got problems coming up with something to write.  There have been days when I sit at the laptop and say "I don't know what the hell to write this week," and days when I have three or four ideas simply drop into my lap.  To limit the former, I've taken to jotting down inspiration when it strikes,** so that I've got a list of ideas to choose from when I write.

I'll freely admit that one of the items on my to-do list is one that I've started several times and never completed:  the dreaded fanfic.  I figure if I'm going to actually write some fanfic, I'd want it to stand on its own, and not sound like amateur hour.  The spectre of old D&D fiction I'd written back as a kid, the sort that has "Sir Doofus drew is +5 Holy Avenger and charged at the ancient red dragon" in it, is what's holding me back.  But that's just me; other bloggers can whip out fanfic without breaking a sweat, and for them this is no big deal.

In the end, you get to define your blog, not the other way around.  Do what you want, on a schedule you want.  Be active in the blogging community.  There are always new blogs with interesting voices; go and find them.  Participate in discussions.  The more you give to the community, the more you'll get back.

And whatever you do, as Wil Wheaton once said, "Don't be a dick."





*When people tell you that IT and tech fields are full of geeks, don't believe them.  I know this from experience.  Some companies may have high numbers of geeks, but they're balanced out by IT companies populated with MBAs and smarmy salespeople.  Cubicles filled with college/pro sports paraphernalia (including, but not necessarily limited to NASCAR) are also a big clue that maybe your work environment doesn't have a high geek population.

**Just don't do it in a meeting at work.  It's like having your ringtone going off, with the professional sound of "Sunny Day" from Sesame Street announcing a call from your kids.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

One Person's Trash is Another Person's... Trash Mob

One drawback of random queues for content is that you run into people with differing viewpoints.  No, I'm not talking political or sports views --although I was once in a SWTOR Flashpoint where an argument broke out over American football-- but rather different approaches to the content should be run.

I say "drawback" because one of the big sources of instance/BG drama is that clash of viewpoints.  Failpugs are full of tanks who bypass bosses, healers who refuse to heal people who make mistakes, and DPS who decide they know how to pull properly.  But in a basic sense, what you might be looking for in group content might be completely different than everyone else, and when you feel like you're being dismissed/ignored that can cause significant drama.

This isn't a new revelation.  I've been in instances where the tank decided his version of "fun" was to chain pull the entire first area in Halls of Lightning, expecting the healer to keep him upright.*  The completionist vs. the minimalist clash is often found in instances such as SWTOR's Taral V or WoW's revamped 5-man Zul'Aman/Zul'Gurub.

But this clash of views took on a whole new meaning in an Alterac Valley run the other day.

I'm used to the arguments about Blue vs. Green in Strand of the Ancients and Gold Mine vs. Blacksmith vs. Lumber Mill in Arathi Basin, but the fight that broke out in BG chat in AV was a new one on me.

Prior to the other night, I'd only been in one so-called "bridge stomp" in AV.  For the uninitiated, a bridge stomp is a strategy where almost the entire Alliance gathers behind the bridge to Dun Baldur, allowing the Horde to kill off Belinda and sack Stonehearth Bunker and Icewing Bunker.  The Alliance then rains down hell on the bridge, which in theory will kill off Horde at a far greater rate than the Alliance defenders.  If everything goes according to plan, the Alliance wins a war of attrition and earns a ton of HKs.

As a Rogue, I'm kind of superfluous to the bridge stomp itself --I'd get killed too quickly to help the plate wearers defend the bridge-- so I and a few other stealthies basically peel away some of the Horde attackers by forcing them to constantly retake their own towers and the Coldtooth Mine.

The first bridge stomp I'd been in, the guild behind it had opened up their Vent channel and had set up a raid group specifically for the attack, which made perfect sense.  They also had complete buy-in from the rest of the AV team, because the sheer number of HKs also meant that we were able to summon Ivus, which is something that most people had never seen.**  Therefore, when I'd ported into an AV run and the people there started chanting "War!!!", I kind of had an idea what was up.

But not everyone appreciated having their AV run turn into a bridge stomp, and said so loudly on BG chat.

"I don't want my BG hijacked by some lame-ass premade," groused one DK.

Another player added that these players "...didn't know how to play AV," among other (more colorful) things.

"You're all a bunch of little kids!" said a third.

The bridge stomp team kept mocking the detractors and egging them on, causing a dramatic escalation in hostilities.

"Yep, we don't let anyone older than 14 in the guild!"

"Whoops, I just grew a pube!"

And things kind of went downhill from there.

I tried to ignore the fight as best as possible and kept to just annoying the Horde side, even when the anti-stomp crowd started taking other graveyards, loudly announcing their intention to disrupt the bridge stomp plan.

Just how many adults are actually in this BG anyway? I thought.

After about close to 1/2 hour, the anti-stomp crowd began to drop, firing off a few obscene parting shots along the way.

A lot of this fight could have been avoided by the bridge stomp team behaving maturely.  Announcing intentions prior to the start of AV, and even organizing things via Vent would have gone a long way toward keeping things civil.  That said, once the bridge stomp team began, the people who expected the "15 minute zerg" AV threw a tantrum and behaved no better.  Each side wanted their way, victory be damned. The fact that we won was superfluous by the end, because I was sick of everybody's behavior.  The parent in me wanted to send everybody into time out for a good long time, because you can bet that if I found out my kids were behaving like that, a time out would be the least of their worries.

I felt bad for the Horde, because they probably had no idea what the hell the Alliance was doing with half doing one thing and half doing another.  But if nothing else, the Horde were the ones who actually behaved like adults; they tried to win as best they could.





*And chewing him out when he wasn't able to.

**Watching Ivus whallop a Horde tank certainly made my night.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Some Ponderables

In addition to having an earworm from this:

I was really little when this show first aired.  
And yes, Wonder Dog's behavior was modeled after Scooby Doo.

I've had a bunch of nonsensical MMO oriented thoughts that I can't get rid of.  Therefore, I give you some MMO Ponderables:

  • Do Draenei get sunburn, and if so do they end up looking like Eredar?
  • Why do Sindorei --who often have names invoking their love of daylight-- seem to never get tan?
  • With all the radiation surrounding Gnomeregan, why don't more of the Gnomes turn into mini-Hulks?
  • How can some of the Imperial NPCs --the regular populace-- tell you that they're loyal servants of the Empire without breaking down into laughter?
  • In Guild Wars 2, when you aggro an enemy bandit they say "Ha! You're kidding, right?"  Why don't they say as they die "I guess you weren't kidding..."
  • When I see a quest giver in Neverwinter talk, why is it like watching a dubbed martial arts movie?
  • Why do Gnome NPCs say "Daylight's burning!"  Shouldn't the Kaldorei say that?
  • Given all of the terror that NPC necromancers generate in Age of Conan, why do the inhabitants of the cities never bat an eyelash when a PC necromancer walks by with a bunch of undead trailing in their wake?
  • Why are Warlocks a playable class in WoW, anyway?  Aren't they supposed to be the bad guys?
  • Why is the scenery so great in LOTRO, but the toon graphics so... blah?
  • Is "multiplicity" Garrosh's super power?  After all, he's in Orgrimmar, he's in Borean Tundra, he's in Nagrand, and oh look he's over at the Argent Tournament Grounds and at Silverpine Forest...
  • "Evil will always triumph because Good is dumb," says Dark Helmet.  Well.... let me introduce you to Darth Malgus....
  • What do jawas/sandpeople look like underneath those robes, anyway?  On second thought, maybe I don't want to know; it could be Gargamel and the Smurfs.
  • What sort of birth control do they use on those Bioware games?  Sure seems like you'd expect a lot more kids around than what you see in game.
  • Why is it that the younger a player is, the louder they feel they have to be in BG chat?  It's not a perfect correlation, but it sure seems that way at times.
  • How can kindergartners sit in "circle time" without any trouble at all, but a bunch of BG players can't stand within a circle in Silvershard Mines?
  • Why do the WoW male human toons all look like they've got gas?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

"Who Gives a @#$% About the Refinery, Anyway?"

It's been kind of a strange week in my neck of the woods.

I gained a few more streaks of gray in my beard, mainly due to taking my oldest out shopping for Homecoming dresses.  (I'm not sure I'm ready for her to go to formal dances just yet, but she is in high school* now...)

And I also gained a few more patches of gray dealing with random BGs, as well.  This post is dedicated to those numerous runs, trying to eek out enough Conquest points to get another piece of Grievous gear.

***

Signs Your Random Battleground Isn't Going to Go Well


  • The toon with the highest health is a Rogue.
  • You check out the list of toons in the BG and discover you have no healers.
  • The other side has a premade and your side is already arguing over strategy.
  • Nobody stays back on defense in Alterac Valley.
  • Your entire team runs to the mid in Eye of the Storm.
  • You're Alliance and you port into Strand of the Ancients.  (Nuff said.)
  • The BG starts and half of your team is AFK.
  • Nobody targets the enemy healers.
  • Nobody stays back to defend the Farm/Stables during the initial rush.
  • In a 10 or 15 player game, 5 or more of your players are Rogues.
  • A player ports in and declares "You all suck but I'm here, so we'll win."  (Never tempt people to throw a game just to spite you.)


Oh, and the title quote?  That came from an Isle of Conquest game wherein a few of us were talking back and forth about capturing and recapturing the Quarry and Refinery.  The Warrior who said that also was bitching about the fact that the Horde was ahead of us in breaking down the gates, and he didn't make the correlation between the Horde having both the Quarry and Refinery and being 30% closer to breaking down the gate...



*For those not familiar with the U.S. educational system, high school or secondary education is Grades 9 through 12, roughly age 14/15 through 18.  Attending a college/university is technically optional, but highly encouraged.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

My My.... Look at the Time!

This past Sunday, PC passed its fourth anniversary.

I knew that it was some time in September, because I'd only been playing a month when Deftig suggested that we start a blog, but I'd not realized our first post was at the end of September.

Deftig did a lot of the heavy lifting to get the site ready.  He'd selected Blogger over other options --my lone advice was to make it easy to modify-- and had prepped the site for publication.  We selected the name Parallel Context over the course of an afternoon whereas he and I would trade name ideas and he'd go out and see if it was available.  We ended up with Parallel Context simply because it was the first blog name that was free, not due to any clever desire to have our initials as PC.

Even though he hasn't posted in a while, the site still bears Deftig's fingerprints in layout and format.  I've done some mild tweaking over the years, but I've not felt the need to change things very much.*

Our first full year had a lot more posts than subsequent years.  Part of that was two --occasionally three-- people posting, but part of that was that I could post that much:  the kids were smaller and we weren't involved with (what often seems like) 50 million after school activities.  As time has gone on and my life has gotten busier, my posting has dropped to a more sustainable 1-2 times a week.

What has changed the most over the years, however, is the MMO blogging landscape.

When I read Righteous Orbs, the Pink Pigtail Inn, or Welcome to Spinksville!, I felt like I was at the watering hole for a lot of MMO bloggers.  All three posted often and engendered lively discussion, and the first two had enormous blogrolls.***  When Tam of Righteous Orbs dropped by and commented on a post of mine, it felt like a rock star saying hello.  And when Larisa of PPI added our blog to her blogroll, I felt that we'd finally arrived.

But the voices have gone silent.

Righteous Orbs and PPI closed up shop a few years ago, and Spinks has slowed her output tremendously over the past year.  (As of this writing, she hasn't posted in over two months.)  While the gigantic blogroll lives on with Rades' Orcish Army Knife, even the MMO Melting Pot is scaling back operations while Hugh takes a detour into his love of filmmaking.

***

Things have changed, yet people are still out there, writing away.  And so are we.

I don't see PC going away any time soon, and given my tendency to poke my nose into just about any MMO that strikes me as interesting, I'll have plenty of topics to write about.

Staying true to my Midwestern roots, I'm not going to turn PC into something it's not.  We're not exactly a backwater, but we're not trendy, either.  And that suits me fine.

/raises coffee

Here's to another four years!




*If I ever can get my WoW screenshot to work properly I'll get the title pic updated, however.  We're a bit behind the times.

**Yeah, like that never stopped me before.

***Spinks' blogroll is smaller, but for a former developer I find it very interesting reading.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Good To See You Back Again, NBI

It's good to see the Newbie Blogger Initiative make a reappearance.

Contrary to what some may believe, you can never have enough bloggers out there.  The blogosphere is in a constant state of flux as new blogs replace those that have gone silent, and in MMOs especially an infusion of new blood is always welcome.

Why  "MMO's especially"?  Because it seems that MMO blogs are on a downward spiral, with some long standing blogs going silent or taking extended leaves of absence.  We need new voices, new perspectives to step in and be heard.

Yes, it can be hard at times when you check your blog and see a big fat zero next to comments.  I'm not going to lie and say that it never bothered me, because it did, even when I knew that practically nobody was aware of this new blog of ours.  And when the search term that most frequently brings someone to your site is "retardin desensitizing cream", it can be pretty damn depressing.*  Blogging is definitely not for those who crave attention.  However, blogging is for people who like to write, have an opinion, and want to spend some time putting that opinion out there.

This is not the immediacy of Twitter.  Neither is it as voyeuristic as Facebook or LinkedIn or G+.  But blogging does provide a creative outlet to those who want it, and the best part is that your opinions can't be shouted down on your own blog.

And when you get that first real comment, the feeling is priceless.




*I'm sure that just by mentioning this name we'll get yet another wave of searches heading our way.  That's what I get for my one post way back in 2010 (or so) about the subset of Ret Spec Paladins derisively called Retardins.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Biddy-Biddy-Biddy... What's up, Buck?

Whatever gives someone the idea that botting is a good thing?

That question began turning over in my head the other day when I was in an Isle of Conquest battle.  As usual, I darted over and grabbed the Quarry, hanging around until the Alliance captured it and made serious inroads on blasting into the Horde keep.*  I then noticed that the Alliance grabbed the Docks, Hangar, and Workshop in short order.

"WTH is the Horde doing?" I asked in BG chat.  "Are they turtling?"

"No," replied a druid.  "They're all bots fighting in mid outside their gate."

"We've got a ton of them on our side too," a pally added.

I crept up to the Hangar and perched on a ledge to watch.  Sure enough, toons were emerging from the Horde Keep in a steady stream into a huge melee about halfway between the front gate and the Workshop. Nobody was even close to the Workshop or even bothering to go around to the Workshop or Hangar.

Okay, I'd been known to fixate on a fight in a BG before, but when the gates were breached into the Horde Keep, I ran in and found.....  Horde players rezzing and making a beeline for the front gate's portal.

Nobody bothered to try and defend the keep.

It was quite surreal, seeing a Lock and a Priest --both with over 440k health (I checked)-- run right by me and straight for the brawl outside.  Typically everybody on the other side gangs up on the Rogue if he's visible, so I was shocked when I wasn't stunned and feared all over the courtyard.

But why set yourself up as a bot?  Why run the risk of having your account suspended** for a few Honor Points?

Near as I can figure, there's three reasons why.  Feel free to add your own or dispute as you see fit:

  • Keeping up with the Joneses.  There are players that, due to time crunch or whatnot, feel that they can't spend enough time grinding for gear as they should, so they decide to run a bot program to get the points needed to buy the gear.  The problem with that is the more bots there are on a team, the lesser chance you have of actually winning the BG.  If you've got a full Honor set already --and it's only a week or so's worth of running AV to get the points for a full set-- why bother botting when you need to actually win the BG (or Arena or Rated) to get the Conquest points?
  • Beating the System.  Similar to the first reason, but instead of attempting to gear up due to lack of time, botting is done not only for gear but to give the MMO's devs the middle finger.  The "I'm so clever that I found a way to beat your shitty grinding game and get the points I deserve!" attitude isn't too far off the big ego driven attitude found in BGs, so I can easily believe this motivation.
  • Boosting a Hacked Account.  Someone comes along and hacks into an MMO account, but the toons aren't completely up to spec to be useful for the hacker.  Therefore, they set up a bot to get them the necessary points/gear/mats/whatever.  This is the one that bothers me the most, because when I see such blatant examples of botting, all I can think of is that's some poor person's hacked account.

There are days when it sure seems tempting to login, set up a bot, and then go take care of errands for the day.  Or maybe set up a bot to run overnight along with any backups/AV scans that have to be done on the computer.  The "no effort and big return" carrot and stick is very powerful, and with botting software steadily becoming more sophisticated there's plenty of pressure on MMO admins to flush out bots and keep the peace.

Plus it'd be nice to not have about half of your team run straight to the mid in EoS and park there for the entire game.

***

In case you've not tried it or haven't purchased it yet, another Free Weekend in Guild Wars 2 started today.

And to answer your question, yes, I've already logged in.  My Thief is still there, and still getting killed off when he attacks enemies two levels higher than himself.  I've gotten too many bad habits on easier MMOs these days....





*So few people even think of capturing the Quarry --or the Mines in AV-- that I've kind of taken that on as part of my job.  It's a small thing, really, but can be vitally important in a fight that devolves into a war of attrition.  I find that the team that does the small things well will typically end up winning in the end.

**It used to be that way, anyway.  I'm not so sure now if you can be suspended for botting, because it seems so prevalent.

Friday, September 20, 2013

They Keep Dragging Me Back In, Part Whatever

In between running BGs on WoW, poking around Makeb (finally!) on SWTOR, and some occasional forays into other MMOs, I felt a strange tug.

Perhaps it was me passing by a bunch of In Nomine RPG books when I was at one of our local game stores.  Perhaps it was watching the Doctor Who episode The Angels Take Manhattan with the kids. Perhaps it was me watching Illidan's "You are not prepared!" sequence on the BC trailer.  But whatever the reason why, I had a sudden hankering to see this again:

Nothing like a pair of wings to attract attention

Yeah, I know.  You'd think that after I said Aion wasn't for me that would have been the end of it, but like White Castle hamburgers, I got a sudden craving to login to the game again.

Instead of using my Elyos "light side" character, I created a "dark side" Asmodian just to see what that looked like.  To say that they appeared akin to darker reflections of Elyos is pretty accurate, plus they have a furry, almost tail-like growth on their backs.  "Oh great, they're "Furry Angels", I muttered and left it at that.

The Asian MMO nature of Aion means that you get creatures with names like "Sparkie" out there, but that isn't different than the Elyos side out there.  The major difference between factions is illustrated from the beginning questlines:  on the Elyos side you're defending communities from raiders, while on the Asmodian side you are the raiders.

Gold spammers were in full force in the chat areas, which once again rendered them practically useless.  This makes me wonder whether NCSoft actually encourages gold spammers, given how effective ArenaNet, Bioware, and even Blizzard have been at gold spam reduction.

I will freely admit that the best part of the game is the graphics, but still the immersion is ruined by the Nintendo factor:  the goofy enemy names, the tendency of some players to use mushroom heads instead of realistic looking designs, and the obvious JRPG nature of the female toons' graphics.

Part of the Aion v4.0 "Dark Betrayal" promotion pics.
A long time ago, I once had an apartment neighbor who wore leather outfits
like the woman on the right.  She was not one to be trifled with.
In the illustration above, the woman on the left makes me vaguely uncomfortable.  I don't know how such images are perceived in Asia, but over here she leaves the impression of a 12-13 year old dressed up in a sexualized outfit.  This creeped me out, given that I have kids in that age range.  I simply don't see the need to go there.  As much as some people complain about the Dragon Aspects' bikini looks, at least they dress like adults.  (And the Aspects give you the sort of look that says "if you piss us off, you're breakfast."  You don't get that in Aion.)

Aion is popular enough, given the number of toons online, but I wish it would take itself more seriously.

Oh, and I wish it would make the mouse selections the same as on (almost) all other MMOs.  Why decide to do things differently when all you did was kinda-sorta reverse some of the mouse functions?

I suppose I should be happy that Aion hasn't enraptured me, because the last thing I need is another MMO to split my time.  But man, Aion just feels so close to something I'd like, it's a shame that it doesn't.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Miss in the Pattern

I find it interesting that we're on the last raid patch of Mists of Pandaria but we still don't know about the next expac.  Consider the following:


  • Wrath was announced in August 2007, before the Sunwell and Zul'Aman raids dropped.
  • Cataclysm was announced in August 2009, before the Icecrown raid dropped.
  • Mists was announced in October 2011, before the Deathwing raid dropped.
  • And now we have the Siege of Orgrimmar dropping, but no expac announcement as of this date.*


I presume that Blizz is waiting for BlizzCon to make the announcement on the next expac, but given that Blizzard likes to follow patterns, this isn't a good sign.

Unless, of course, the Siege of Orgrimmar isn't the last patch in the Mists saga.

If 5.4 is the last Mists patch, then Blizzard might be setting themselves up for a big problem:  a huge length of time where nothing is going on in-game.  Last time, Blizzard softened the blow to subscriptions by creating the annual pass, which included access to Diablo III.  What will Blizzard do this time?


  1. Move up any release date to Q1 or Q2 of 2014.  This is the most likely solution, given that any expac Blizz is working on has been done in secret.  However, after the long lead in to Mists, including the massive beta, any push to release so early will be seen by some pundits as a sign of desperation on Blizzard's part.
  2. Introduce a bridge raid (or two).  This is IMHO the second most likely solution.  The only thing that keeps this from being the most likely solution is the lukewarm reception the last bridge raid (Ruby Sanctum) received.  Blizzard would need to devote a lot of time to these raids, which would impact any release of the next expac.
  3. Take WoW F2P.  An intriguing possibility, but one that I have to question in its soundness.  Blizzard makes a lot of money on WoW subscriptions, and taking WoW F2P would mean that they'd have to either eat that money or make up for it in other ways.  They'd have to severely restrict access to endgame content if they wanted to keep subs up, because WoW's model is based upon "the game starting at max level".  That would be at best a temporary fix, but an intriguing one nonetheless.
  4. Announce Titan.  This is possible, but given the "back to the drawing board" announcement in August, I suspect this is the least likely of all options.

Anyway, this is pure speculation until the announcement comes at BlizzCon.




*Ha!  "By the powers of Murphy, I summon the expac announcement!"

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Don't Overthink This, Okay?

When you play an MMO, you have to just accept certain things.

Like when you kill an enemy and gear drops, it'll actually fit your toon.


Or that a kite will carry you great distances.*

Or that you can have almost nothing on and still be able to climb that frozen mountain peak.**

Yeah, I know, if you're playing a Fantasy MMO (or SF MMO, in the case of The Old Republic) it can be kind of silly drawing the line at whether armor fits your character when there are dragons in the sky. But still, I think it's a matter of risk/reward more than immersion.  If you were playing a Dwarf, for example, and you had to wait for Dwarf sized armor to drop, that could really suck if the drop rates were based upon the percentage of people playing a Dwarf.  It was bad enough waiting for gear you could use to drop, but having to add the extra problem of having it fit you?

Back in the day, the old Moldvay D&D Basic Set had a rule of thumb that any armor found was human-sized unless it said otherwise.  The reason was because there were level limitations on races other than Humans because those races had additional abilities that Humans didn't have.  (This was back when you could select "Elf" or "Dwarf" as your class, before AD&D introduced multiclassing.) 

Maybe I'm showing my age, but this was my first RPG.
Courtesy of a Christmas present.

If your DM were running a homebrewed campaign --which, back then, formulated the majority of such campaigns-- they would often generate treasure and whatnot randomly, but still they'd be careful to make sure you'd find gear your player character could actually use.  Even so, the published campaigns had gear and weapons that the enemies themselves would be wielding.  Unlike, say, Bronjahm when he drops Robes of the Cheating Heart in The Forge of Souls; you won't see him wearing those robes.***

But a DM can be picky, while an MMO has to handle a wide range of races and classes.  

Remember the "good old days" of Vanilla WoW, where you'd go on a 40-man raid of Molten Core as the Horde and you'd get Pally gear as the drop? MMOs have gotten better at the sort of gear that drops, tailoring it toward keeping the player going forward rather than wasting weeks at a time.

So, some of the immersion in the game suffers, but it is balanced out by enabling players to improve themselves in a matter of weeks rather than months.  And in an age when I can no longer devote a lot of time to playing video games, I'm grateful for that.

And could you imagine a female Night Elf trying to fit into armor made for a Gnome?

On second thought, forget I said that.




*Just the other day, I was taking a flight point to the Alliance's PvP vendors when my son stopped by to watch what I was up to.  "A kite?" he asked.  "How are you able to fly on a kite?"
"Just accept it," I said.  "Makes no sense, but just accept it.  If it is big enough, it could turn into a glider, but that kite is far too small to be a glider."

**Courtesy of Age of Conan's social clothing.

***Unless Bronjahm does a turn as the Preacher in Blues Brothers Goes WoW.  Yes, the Sex Machine himself was the inspiration for Bronjahm.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Waiting for Godot WoW-Cthulhu

To say that I'm disappointed the Big Bad at the end of another WoW expac is related to the Old Gods is probably an understatement.

Sure, it's Emo Guy Garrosh Hellscream, but come on.  It is yet another Old God-related ending to a game that simply can't move beyond the Old Gods as a plot device.  About the only expac that didn't have a heavy dose of Old God material in some form was Burning Crusade, and I've often suspected that if Kil'Jaeden wasn't around to provide a convenient villain in the Sunwell, we'd have seen yet another Old God pulling Kael's strings.

By my count, Mists' Y'Shaarj-influenced Siege of Orgrimmar will make three of the five releases (including Vanilla) that was overshadowed with an Old God-esque ending:  Vanilla, Cataclysm, and Mists.  You could also make an argument that the Lich King, while tracing a lineage back to the Burning Legion, is also heavily influenced by Yogg-Saron*; after all, what exactly does Arthas use as a metal for his devices and buildings but Saronite, the blood of Yogg-Saron itself.  And don't forget the Old God influenced quest chain in Icecrown where the ghostly child teaches you about Arthas and his heart; there's a reason why we found Arthas' heart in that strange area in the first place.

What makes the Y'Shaarj  tie-in so disappointing to me was that the entire concept of the Sha was so new and interesting that it seems a shame that Blizzard couldn't let it stand on it's own.  Just like how the Mogu had to have the help of the Zandalari Trolls, the underlying cause of the Sha just had to be the Old Gods.

I suppose you could say that Blizzard has an addiction to conspiracies.  The popular uprising in Westfall characterized by the Defias simply couldn't stand on it's own, it had to tie in to the Twilight's Hammer somehow.  The overeager and blind self righteousness of the Scarlet Crusade couldn't stand on its own as Garithos' racism and arrogance did in Warcraft III, it had to be tied back into the Dreadlords and the Legion.

Maybe that works for a while in a fantasy world, but the problem is that in the real world a lot of stuff just happens.  There is no dark conspiracy behind a lot of criminal activity; a lot of it is a crime of opportunity (or passion).  If there is a plot involved, it is very localized (one spouse hiring a hitman to take out the other spouse, for example).  Sure, there's organized crime, but you can't blame everything on the mob.  If there's a drug turf war, it tends to unfold organically, not manipulated by some master puppeteer in the shadows.

Fantasy lends itself well to that evil overlord, the shadows in the dark controlling our lives.  But when you dip into that same well too often, it starts to feel forced and loses its punch.  The most unique thing about Mists was the Sha, but it turned out to be just more Old God trickery, lessening the impact that it could have had. When all questlines lead to the same ending, all that's left for variety is the kill ten rats.

***

Perhaps that is why I've seen a lot of griping lately that WoW's high point was Wrath.  Wrath had one raid that was the culmination of a long questline that had absolutely nothing to do with the "Let's Get Arthas!" movement:  Ulduar.  Was it Old God related?  Yes.  Was it a big, tough raid?  Yes.  Did it advance the Arthas story?  No.  Not one bit.

Ulduar was part of a giant three pronged fork in the entire Northrend questline --Arthas and Malygos being the other two-- and it demonstrated that a story didn't have to be part of the main part of the expac to be meaningful.  Blizzard has gotten away from that with Cataclysm and Mists, and to add insult to injury they end up reusing the same old same Old (Gods) as a crutch.

I guess that we're going to be treated to yet another dose of Old Gods fairly soon, assuming that The Dark Below turns out to be the name of the next WoW expac.  After all, what tends to inhabit the dark places of the world but Twilight Hammer and their ilk?




*Certainly in hindsight people still talk about Ulduar as the high point of WoW raiding, and I have to admit I liked Storm Peaks much more than Icecrown.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Hanging Out With the Beautiful People

The free weekend for Guild Wars 2 ended, and my Thief* made it to Level 11.

Honestly, there's a lot to like in GW2.  The pay once, play forever idea is a great one.  The players move and attack and interact with the game world much like a standard MMO.**  Also, the graphics engine didn't make my computer grumble, like SWTOR has the occasional tendency to do.

And have I mentioned that this Old School RPGer loves that there's a class called a THIEF?  Takes me back to my AD&D (1st edition) days, it does.

And, thank goodness, the character options don't include those absolutely nutty mushroom heads and paeans to Super Mario that Aion has.

That said, the game is a lot closer to Aion and other Asian RPGs than American/European RPGs than you'd think.

For starters, there's the issue with NPC clothing.

While issues with PC gear --and particularly female PC gear-- have been around for ages, typically in the Western RPG you'd find NPCs wearing appropriate clothing for the task at hand:  armor for guards, work clothes for grunts, dresses and poofy shirts for nobility, etc.  Yes, Alexstrasza and Ysera (and Sylvannas) may wear bikinis, but they've got recognizably Frazetta style armor on.

But GW2 and Aion both have issues where you find female NPCs wearing wildly inappropriate clothing for their work.

So this is appropriate dress for farming?  Who knew?
(from dressessphotos.com.)


Now maybe it's just me, but I don't see a lot of people digging in their garden while wearing dresses like that. Hell, even a bikini would be more work appropriate than a short dress like this one, because you can at least work without worrying about getting your dress dirty.  But that's the thing: you see clothing like this on Human farmers at the very beginning of the game.

And pigtails.  These dresses always are worn by women in pigtails.

Just in case you didn't think the visual cues for some of the women were taken from JRPGs, here's the pic when you select a female Necromancer:

Right after raising some zombies,
I'm heading straight to the Dance!

Ironically enough, you can find plenty of NPC women out and about wearing practical clothing --pants, full armor, etc.-- but the "short dress" NPCs (and PCs) were enough to throw you completely out of immersion from time to time.

That leads into another distinction between GW2 and WoW/SWTOR/AoC/LOTRO/etc.:  the toons themselves.

Have you stopped to watch some of the NPCs around a town or village?  I mean not just look at them, but watch their behavior.  Normally, I don't think much of the NPCs in the background --they're the background, right?-- but when I saw a female guard stick her toe in the dirt and twist her leg as if she were talking to a crush, that kind of threw me for a loop.  She was standing at attention in Shaemoor, and then she did that, so it's part of the NPC's standard movement routine.  While it wasn't like the Night Elf's breast bounce, it was so unlike what a guard's behavior --while on the job-- ought to be that it left me scratching my head.

Finally, I noticed that for all toons --NPC and PC-- everybody is perfect.  Smooth, flawless skin, perfect complexion, unchanging and unflappable facial expressions, and immaculate clothing were the hallmarks of all toons.  I thought of the toons as "being on botox for the entire body", and I'd probably not be too far off. The toon graphics were such that even the NPCs stood out as being a little more perfect than the background graphics, so when I passed by a wounded Seraph*** it looked more like he was lying on the ground having a picnic lunch instead of looking, well, hurt.

***

You'd think I'd not be so enamored of GW2 after all that, but I did like it.  I do like the change from the traditional "kill ten rats" questline.  I also like what I've seen of the main questline so far, and moreover, I really enjoy how they went about customizing the main questline.

When you create your character, after the typical graphical adjustments (which includes a nice height slider) you are then asked a series of questions.  These questions include personal motivations, including things like a regret you have.  The answers to these questions provide the particular path your character will follow in their main/personal storyline.

While to the average player this seems like a need customization option, I saw it in a somewhat different light: as an attempt to bring aspects of pencil-and-paper RPGs into a computer RPG format.

Games that follow the FATE system, such as FATE Core, FATE Accelerated Edition, the Dresden Files RPG****, and Spirit of the Century RPG, have a similar mechanic.  To take the simplest of the bunch, FATE Accelerated (or FAE for short), you start of a character by creating a "high concept" and a "trouble":  two items that you write down to describe some of the motivation your character has.  High concept is pretty straightforward, as it can be anything from "Captain of the last outpost on the edge of the Great Wasteland" to "Mechanical genius who wants to be a superspy".  It's the "trouble" aspect that is what might throw people at first, because it's something that causes issues for your character, such as the following:  "The Necromancer won't leave me alone", "Ooo, will you look at THAT!", or "I will not be outdone by those punks at XXY Corporation!"

These aspects are used to help drive the RPG's story forward by enabling the GM and the player to use them for both campaign hooks and to add flavor to the campaign itself.  For example, a character with "Ooo, will you look at THAT!" as a trouble has issues with being distracted at inopportune times.  Like, say, when your character is trying to find a bomb hidden in a lab.  A GM can use such an aspect to make things a bit more difficult for a character, but also allow the character to catch little details that other, more focused characters might miss.

When I saw in the Human creation the question "What is your greatest regret?" my first thought was "Hey, they took the Trouble aspect and stuck it in an MMO!"  And, surprise surprise, GW2 actually uses this aspect in the main questline, too.  It's a great idea that somebody finally added into an MMO.

***

One other item of note that I absolutely wanted to point out was that there was no gen chat spam whatsoever in game.  I see that on SWTOR, but WoW, Age of Conan, and especially Aion have gold spammers in abundance.  Aion is so bad that I felt the need to have to actually turn Gen Chat off, and to be honest contributed to my decision to abandon the game.

But I do have to give kudos to ArenaNet for their job at keeping GW2 spam free.

***

Now, for the big question:  will I play GW2 again?

Yes, but not immediately.  I've got other things to take care of --outside of gaming-- before I can pick up yet another MMO.

I do like what I see overall.  The story is good and not too cheesy, although Scarlet Briar has the overall feel of a Supervillan from a Superhero comic, but in general there's enough for me to like --and ignore the immersion issues-- for me to want to continue playing.  I don't think I'll proceed at the same pace as I did this past weekend, since I had a limited amount of time to take the game for a test drive, but I can see it filling in some time between other MMOs I play.

***

If you're curious about FATE but don't want to plunk down any money on it at first, you can visit the publisher of FATE Core and FAE --Evil Hat Productions-- and download the electronic versions of both FATE Core and FAE on a pay what you like basis.  (I helped fund the Kickstarter for FATE Core, so that's how I got my print copies.)  Even if you're an avid roleplayer and don't end up playing FATE, it makes for very good reading.





*So, I created a toon that mimicked my current WoW toon, so I could have a more direct comparison.  Plus, I'm used to playing Thieves these days, and I didn't want to get wrapped up in the whole "YR playin it wrong!" crap that I'd get if I started out as a Guardian like my first impulse.

**Unlike, say, Aion, where the mouse buttons are reversed.  Or Neverwinter, where you use the AWSD keys to move around and the mouse to point and attack.

***I found it interesting that the Seraphs --and even the Ascended in Aion-- have those wings on them that are hallmarks of some JRPGs.  Considering that the Seraphs are an obvious derivation from the Seraphim of Judaic and Christian tradition, I'm still pondering how the angelic imagery managed to sneak into JRPGs (and JRPG inspired RPGs) so much.

****Yes, an RPG based on Jim Butcher's Dresden Files books.  The game allows you to "Dresdenize" your local community, so that you've got a game world that you can work with without having to necessarily play in the world of Harry Dresden's Chicago.  Of course, if you really wanted to play in Harry Dresden's hometown, you can by picking up the companion volume to the RPG.



EtA: Had to change the formal dress from a URL.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday Musings

Right before I left for Gen Con, I received a mysterious e-mail from Syl of MMO Gypsy, which contained only a URL and the line "There are no excuses now!! :-D"

The URL pointed to a Guild Wars 2 free trial weekend, which runs from August 23rd through August 25th.

I'd been hemming and hawing over purchasing the game for a while now, and I figured that since Gen Con has come and gone it'd be safe for me to consider purchasing the game this fall.  Well, ArenaNet took that out of my hands by offering me a chance to give the game a spin before purchasing.

As of this moment, GW2's game client is busy being downloaded onto the main PC, so by the time I get done with work for the day it ought to be ready for me to try out.

And to be honest, if I get more game time out of GW2 than I have Skyrim, then the game will be worth a purchase.

***

Until GW2's trial dropped in my lap, I figured this weekend's MMO playing would consist of chain running Alterac Valley --it's AV Weekend in WoW-- and working on finishing up my Trooper's story in TOR.*

Among other interesting items is that Neverwinter added a mini-expac concerning the Feywild, which I'm curious about.  In D&D 4e cosmology, the Feywild is the home plane where all sorts of Fey creatures live. A PC can only cross into the Feywild at certain locations and/or certain times of day/month/year.  Think of it as the mythical Realm of Faerie placed into D&D.  The Feywild is also home to the three branches of Elves: Eladrin, Elves, and Drow.  The Eladrin still remain (primarily) in the Feywild, the Elves have long ago migrated into the normal world, and the Drow betrayed their brethren and now inhabit the Underdark.**

I'll freely admit that I am more interested in the D&D 4e setting than the 4e game mechanics itself, so the fact that the Neverwinter MMO is moving in this direction is a boon to me.

***

Since this is a Friday, and Saturday is usually a gaming day around the house, I'll leave you with a link to Wil Wheaton's Tabletop.  In this episode, he and his friends play Settlers of Catan.  You know, that "wood for sheep" game that drew some laughs on an episode of The Big Bang Theory:


You could have been videocapped better, Wil.  /sigh




*She's in Ilum right now, which is "the crystal planet" as my kids so aptly put it.  Yes, they are devoted fans of Star Wars:  The Clone Wars.

**And worship Lolth.  See my last post for a pic of her in her drider form, which is half human, half spider.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Two Sheep, Some Goblins, and a Whole Mess of Whovians

Gen Con 2013 is now in the books.

As we've done the past two years, we made a trek up to Indianapolis for Sunday's Family Fun Day.  For $30, a family of four can get into Gen Con and wander around, the entire area.  If you wanted to play any of the events on Sunday, you have to pay for the tokens, but I've found that you get to run enough demos and talk to the vendors in the dealer hall without needing to join in a scheduled game.*

Two Pirates, a Klingon, a Belly Dancer, and a Wookie
start a band....

Before we even got into the convention center, Mayfair Games was hosting Free Coffee just across the street along with their sheep mascots, Bob and Angus.**  Alas, we just missed the last of the coffee, but since we'd bought our badges online we breezed through Will Call to pick up our badges.  Good thing too, as the line for purchasing badges was incredibly long even early in the day.

We roamed the con with my brother-in-law, who has been coming for years and typically shows up on Wednesday --yes, before the con starts-- just so he can hang out with his friends.  We stopped by the Paizo booth, and the kids got to meet Sean K. Reynolds while he was out and about.  There were goblins everywhere in the Paizo booth, and even goblin masks to wear.  I think if we'd had more time the kids would have probably rummaged through all of the Pathfinder material a bit longer, but Paizo was truly busy the entire day.  Having Ed Greenwood and other authors nearby signing copies of their work certainly didn't hurt either.

Ruling over the D&D Ballroom was Lolth, the Demon Queen of Spiders (and Drow).
And no, a +5 Roll of Newpaper won't help you much with her.


Other places, such as Mayfair Games and Fantasy Flight Games, were running a lot of demos in their spaces.  My wife and I tried a Eurogame, called Planet Steam, which a very heavy economic game.  Heavy doesn't begin to describe it, really; if you like games that have LOTS of functioning options, and then throw in a few things like an auction or two each turn, then maybe you'll like it.  All I can say is that I don't have an MBA, so this sort of game didn't appeal to me.

While I got a chance to slip out and look around***, the rest of the crew tried out some family oriented games such as Spot It! Party Edition by Blue Orange Games and "Run for Your Life, Candyman!" by Smirk and Dagger Games.  Neither would be confused with a deep boardgame, but they were fun and engaging.  I could easily see the Spot It! games being "modified" for use as a drinking game, which would really cause trouble if you get a few beers in you.

The kids just about went bananas over the Who North America booth, complete with TARDIS and a Dalek.  I was actually quite surprised when they decided not to splurge on the Doctor Who - Adventures in Time and Space RPG by Cubicle Seven, but I was informed that since they could get it at one of our local game stores, that wasn't a high priority for them.  But getting a soundtrack was a bit more important.

What, you were expecting River Song?


While I perused the RPG areas****, I discovered that the gaming community has changed.  Even in the past three years, the number of women and families attending Gen Con have gone up.  Yes, I realize that with a name like Family Fun Day you'd expect to see families there, but the sheer number of families keeps on an upward trend.  Just like how the old myth that only teenage boys swilling Monster and Red Bull play MMOs has been pretty much busted, the belief that only nerdy guys who live in their parents' basement play RPGs (and boardgames) has been shattered by the attendees at Gen Con.  

This is a good thing.

There are a lot of fun games out there that people can get together with friends and spend an evening playing, but the stigma of who and what are gamers can turn some people away.  Just like how we MMO bloggers by our mere presence fight the stereotypes that you see splashed all over the media, pencil-and-paper gamers can fight their own stereotypes by welcoming the next generation into the fold.

Besides, these games are a lot of fun, and it's a shame to keep them to yourself.





*That said, the Sagamore Ballroom was filled with people playing Paizo's Pathfinder RPG, and the D&D Hall had a lot of gamers trying out D&D Next as well.  We didn't make it up to the Games on Demand area, but I was told that the place was packed all weekend long with gamers trying out all sorts of different RPGs.

**Never played Settlers of Catan?  Go hence and track down a copy.  You can find them all over, and even in discount stores in the U.S. (such as Target).

***And meet up with an author friend of mine who was in for the Writer's Symposium.  After having talked with him over the past several years, it was good to finally meet up with him in person, if only for about 15 minutes before he had to leave for home.

****Some of the RPG vendors I checked out and talked to included Troll Lord Games (Castles and Crusades), Catalyst (Shadowrun), the Indie Press Revolution booth (including FATE Core and Dresden Files from Evil Hat Games and Dungeon World from Sage Kobold Productions), and Green Ronin (both the Dragon Age and the Champions RPGs). Wizards of the Coast didn't have a vendor area, but had their own section near the main exhibit hall where they were running massive playtest games of D&D Next.  The so-called "grumpy game owner" of years past has begun to give way to a more business savvy and customer friendly version.  Really, you pretty much have to be friendly if you want to stay in business for any length of time. About the only exception to that rule was Steve Jobs, and he could get away with being obnoxious because he was Steve Jobs.