Sunday, September 29, 2019

On This Day...

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

In lieu of cake, have a cookie:


Friday, September 27, 2019

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

But the name, that was a problem.

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

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

***

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

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

And there's that promotion thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

What have I learned over the years?

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

When I Want to Annoy my Wife, I Play ABBA

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

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

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

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

Challenge accepted.





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

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Old Friends Reunited

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

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

"Ancient!"

"Red!"

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

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


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

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

Because WoW, you know.




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


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

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Let's not Overcomplicate Things

It seems that when it comes to video games, I'm a bit snakebit right now.

I haven't been able to play any video games as much as I'd like, and no, this doesn't have anything to do with work.* It does, however, have to do with our family being a bit larger for a while: we've an exchange student residing with us**, and she's been here since the end of August. She'll be leaving in another week or so, but since that takes priority over other items around the house*** I've been gaming less and spending more time on being a good host.

What that translates into is that I've fallen behind in leveling along with the initial wave in WoW Classic, but there's still plenty to do with people who are my current level.****

But alas, my biggest desire --outside of Alterac Valley-- is that I would like to get into some 5-man dungeons, and I simply don't have time for that at the moment.

I keep thinking I'm going to outlevel the content in the Deadmines shortly, so I really need to get there and get in a group. But I also know that a full Deadmines run, particularly given the likelihood of at least one wipe, would take about an hour of complete dedication, and given the intensity of the first part --fighting your way through the mines-- there's no way I could do the 5-man without interruption. And that means really early in the morning or late at night.

But not all is lost: I've been spending some time creeping along, gathering flight points.

Oh yes, I've been a bad Night Elf, sneaking along in areas not meant for an L22 character.

Such as trying to figure out if I could sneak through Burning Steppes just enough to pick up the flight point at Morgan's Vigil. Spoiler Alert: you can't, because there's an Obsidian Elemental parked in the lava just past the (busted open) door to the zone.

Another spoiler alert: doesn't matter if you're stealthed, because a baddie who is high enough level to get the skull icon instead of a number will aggro on you as soon as it gets a line of sight on you.

And based on that result, I didn't try to reach Feralas, although I was really tempted.

However, I did creep up to the Arathi Highlands and picked up the flight point there at Refuge Pointe, and I took the easy route (boat from Menethil Harbor) to Theramore and acquired a flight point there.

Yes, Theramore was still very much non-bombed out, and Jaina Proudmoore had her original hair color (and disposition).

Since I had a flight point for Dustwallow Marsh, the next step was to go get one for Ratchet.

Climbing up the mountains surrounding Dustwallow Marsh isn't an option, and I was low enough level to not make it through the Marsh itself, so I decided my best bet was to sneak through The Barrens' entrance from Stonetalon Peak. If you'll recall, the entrance to The Barrens from Ashenvale is really well guarded by Horde, so you can forget about getting through that way, but Stonetalon's entrance is pretty wide open. Additionally, I'd already been questing in Stonetalon so that I could beef up my level to finish the Ashenvale questlines, so I was familiar with the zone.*****

And I was off, creeping along toward the entrance to The Barrens, and avoiding the Horde players that were running back and forth around Stonetalon. Sure, Myzrael may be a PvE server, but my WoW infancy was spent in Stormscale-US, a PvP server, so I'm more than a bit gun shy about running into the opposing faction out in the wild. That didn't stop the Troll Shaman who made a point of letting me know he saw me by waving at me numerous times.

"You don't see me," I muttered to myself as I crept along.

I maneuvered around the Grimtotem areas, kept to the hills, and "The Barrens" finally popped on my screen.

"Thank goodness. Now I can--"

And then Honor's Stand came into view.

"Uh oh."

The main passage through Honor's Stand went right by the Horde outpost, which effectively blocked the ravine formed from the mountains on one side and the mesa on another, and I had no idea whether the north side of the mesa had a similar configuration.

Doubling back, I turned north, and breathed easier when I saw that those Horde outposts appeared abandoned, so I hugged the mesa and hoped a stray L60 Horde Guard wasn't nearby. A few anxious minutes later and I was into the clear, the plains of The Barrens stretching before me.

Well, except for the roving Centaur and Gnolls, not to mention the Thunder Lizard that had a disturbing tendency to anticipate where I was headed even though I was stealthed, I managed to head south in the direction of where I thought Ratchet ought to be. I turned east on the road and kept on going....

...right into Dustwallow Marsh.

"Oh, you have got to be shitting me!!" I said out loud. "Next time I'm taking the corpse run!!"

Yes, I did (eventually) make it to Ratchet, which was right where the southern edge of Durotar meets The Barrens, but I wasn't very happy with myself.

I should have tried the corpse run first. Or maybe the water route, swimming my way up to Ratchet by hugging the coastline from Theramore.

ANYTHING but stealthing across The @#$!-ing Barrens.




*Well, a little bit, but not nearly as much as in other times.

**She's actually been a lot of fun to have around, but I have to be constantly on guard so that I don't use American slang as often as I do. And to be honest, I've not seen her that much as our youngest has been taking her from place to place, and all I am is the taxi driver.

***No, I haven't used that as an excuse to stop cleaning or doing laundry; instead I've spent a LOT more time doing both than I expected just to keep up with everything.

****Yes, my mantra has pretty much always been "move at your own pace". However, when you're stuck in that questing version of No Man's Land where you can't solo much in Ashenvale right now and you're forced into traveling all over to pick up quests in the low-20s you can do just to get geared up enough to get through those Ashenvale quests, you know what I'm talking about.

*****Stonetalon is another zone that was hit pretty hard by Cataclysm. Not originally, mind you, but in the storyline that followed once a player reached the zone. Even though I'd quested in Stonetalon before in pre-Cata, it was on the Horde side, and I hadn't realized how tilted in favor of the Horde the quests and activity in the zone was, from their flight point (conveniently placed in the middle of the zone) to the surrounding quests themselves. The Tauren-focused quests mimicked a lot of the Alliance/Night Elf quests, and the anti-Alliance quests meant that the Horde were constantly up in Stonetalon Peak, in the Alliance's home territory.


Sunday, September 8, 2019

I Survived the Wetlands Fun Run

...at least, that's what I started calling it when the everpresent topic of "how do I get to Stormwind from Darnassus?" popped up in Gen Chat.

You see, the ship from Darnassus' harbor to Stormwind didn't make an appearance until Wrath of the Lich King, so that meant if you wanted to get to Stormwind you had to go the long way: Menethil Harbor in the Wetlands, then a long run around the Wetlands to Loch Modan and then Dun Morogh to Ironforge. Once at Ironforge, you take the Tram to Stormwind.

Given that I cut my teeth on WoW in Eversong Forest and learned the hard way to never go through the Eastern Plaguelands as a lowbie, this doesn't seem too bad, until you realize that the crocs in the Wetlands frequently run across the road in spots.

I waited until I was L18 to make my run, and I even had the advantage of having Stealth, but I had to wait for several intense moments until a croc or two about 4-5 levels above me left the vicinity of the road before I continued on.

And then I remembered that I saw, on the day Classic dropped, a L3 Gnome and a L5 Dwarf running around Teldrassil.

A corpse run indeed.

But based on the jokes in Teldrassil and Darkshore, Blizz should create a t-shirt that says "I Survived the Wetlands Fun Run" in the same vein that 1e D&D players have a "I Survived the Tomb of Horrors".
Yeah, kind of like this.
From d20 Collective, I think, because
I got a dozen links almost immediately
after starting a search.


***

Well, my own personal Waterloo came after I was emboldened by the success of reaching Stormwind (because there was a Rogue quest there), and I decided to brave Ashenvale.

Now let's get something clear: Ashenvale doesn't have the same reaction to me that, say, the Hillsbrad Foothills and Tarren Mill does. When I first set foot in Ashenvale waaaay back in the day, Souldat's wife and I were being escorted to Blackfathom Deeps by Souldat himself, who at the time was on his Death Knight. I was reasonably certain that we were going to be okay throughout the entire experience, because a DK in Ashenvale is really overpowered for the zone itself. And while we were on a PvP server, I still hadn't completely understood what that meant, because I'd largely kept myself confined to the Horde zones at that time.

So, I figured it wouldn't be that hard to Stealth my way into Ashenvale as an L18 Rogue and then reach Astranaar and the other locations where I had quests ending.

Such as the Shrine of Aessina.

I made a point of not trying to cheat by looking online or by using Questie, which is the current hot app for levelers in Classic*, but or the life of me I couldn't remember where the Shrine was. I remembered Maestra's Post, and that was easily found, but all I knew was the wooden post in-game at Maestra's Post said "Shrine of Aessina" following the road south.

"Oh, I know," I said to myself. "It's the place just west of the Horde outpost in the zone."

As I snuck on over to the road that led to Felwood, the levels of the spiders and other woodland nasties kept rising. I managed to put down an L22 spider that aggroed on me while stealthed, but I got really lucky with my hits. And I reached the outpost to discover it wasn't the Shrine of Aessina at all, but Raynewood's Retreat.

Crap.

Trying to remember what things were like pre-Cata, I decided that maybe the Shrine of Aessina is at the Alliance entrance to Warsong Gulch. I wasn't completely sure, however, and if that didn't bear fruit I was going to try in the southwest portion of Ashenvale.

I crept along down the road to the Alliance entry into Warsong Gulch, and took a lot more time going farther around the mobs as they rose into L23 and L24 territory. And then, I reached a point where I could go no farther; the road had too many mobs nearby that were L24-ish**.

Turning around, I discovered that my path was blocked as well, except for a narrow area up a slope and around the top of a small hill or two.

Guess who slid down the hill and right into a mob of spiders and wolves?

This guy.

I died.

I ran back, then respawned in the farthest corner away from that mob, not realize another mob was right behind me.

I died again.

And ran back again, and tried to sprint away from the mobs, who dazed me and feasted on my carcass.

Multiple times.

I finally threw up my hands and took the Resurrection Sickness option and revived at the Shrine.

And then, once I stepped on the road to go into Astranaar, I was ambushed by another spider, and died once more.

At that point, I admitted defeat, Hearthed back to Auberdine, repaired my gear, and retired to the inn to drown my sorrows in whatever alcohol I could find.

Being a Night Elf inn, there wasn't much in the way of booze, so I just opened a beer from my fridge, sighed, and logged for the night.

Who knew the Wetlands Fun Run would be the easy part of my day?




*Based on the sheer number of people saying they were using Questie in Gen Chat.

**I say ish, because I think some were L23 and some were L25.