Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The Hidden Nemesis

I've been pondering something a bit while I've been working on my fiction, and that is how MMOs translate things such as death into a game.

An MMO is a strange beast in its own way: by design it is a multiplayer sandbox where people get to experience all sorts of interactions (such as quests) in their own time. Sure, you can group up, but the multiplayer nature of the game means that death --for both the baddies and you-- isn't permanent.*

You die, you respawn. They die, they eventually respawn.

Items such as phasing as implemented in WoW with the Wrathgate event, as well as other MMOs' version of such phasing, is an attempt to alleviate this. Making it seem like you truly have an impact on the environment is the goal.

But what I've been thinking of is something else entirely: what is the psychological and physical impact of death on people in an MMO? And how did people deal with this in real life when they were drafted, given some basic training, and then shipped out to go kill people?

***

In an MMO we can make light of death, given that to the player it's an obstacle to overcome. Listen to MMO players talk about wiping in raids or instances, and it's just no big deal. You can even hear bosses express relief at their death, meaning that "Hakkar controls me no longer".**

But nevertheless, "Kill Ten Rats" is just a stone's throw away from "Kill Ten Kobolds" and then "Kill Ten Defias."

I choose the Defias for this because of their origin story, which is something that a lot of people would identify with.

Since there are a few people --including the mini-Reds, who I know occasionally read this blog-- who don't know the Defias origin story, I'm going to put this behind a big ol' cut:

Spoilers ahead

Friday, May 29, 2020

Friday Musings

Yes, I get a bunch of these "thinky thoughts", as my wife calls them, from time to time. Stuff not worthy of a separate blog post, but also things that make me go "hmmm...."

So here we go, a compilation of curious thoughts that I couldn't quite get rid of.

***

What is the appeal of The Cult of the Damned?

I get that there are some people who are psychotic and are so in love with death that they'll seek the Cult* out, and that there's the occasional person who wants power so badly they'll sacrifice everything about their human form that they'll willingly become a lich, but come on. All these people in Scholomance, the Plaguelands, and supposedly throughout Azeroth as Cult members?

What is it; do they throw great parties or something?

Looks like they could use a keg
of beer and some red solo cups.
Or at least a television with Mario
Kart running in the background.
From thelurkerlounge.com.


***

Black Diamond would make a great name for an 80s rock band. I've mentioned that in a few Blackrock Depths runs, but only us old folks find it amusing.

***

If there was one thing that a Mage in WoW would dispel, you'd think it'd be a Magic debuff. But no, it's "Remove Curse". Go figure...

***

Every time I play Star Trek Online, when you talk to an NPC for a quest, there's just something about their eyes that is so unnatural that it creeps me out.

When the eyes shift from left to right...
It just looks like an alien pretending
to be human. From Playstation Nation.

***

People who write quest text should be forced to read it out loud as if they were talking to someone. If nothing else, it would force them to write quest text that actually sounds like a conversation rather than what passes for quest text these days.

Have you ever tried reading quest text out loud? It can be an incredible struggle to do just that. At the same time, it's supposed to be a conversation, so it should just flow properly like as if you were speaking to your buddies.

But you know what? It only rarely sounds normal.

If there's one thing that the SWTOR writers nailed, it's the quest interactions. Those cutscenes for questing are absolutely dead on, particularly in the original "vanilla" SWTOR areas.








*No relation to Blue Oyster Cult or even The Cult, both damn fine rock bands.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Notes from Nowhereland

I took the weekend off.

Oh, not from playing games or anything, because there were plenty of things that went on:
  • I got stomped pretty badly in a game of Settlers of Catan.*
  • I got into my first raid since my Horde guild back in the day did a 10 man raid of AQ40 in Late Wrath.
  • I'm seriously considering joining a guild. (Yes, this and the raid bullet point are related.)
  • I ran Dire Maul - North with someone as tank that I've not run an instance with since Az was last in Razorfen Kraul. (He is still as good a tank as ever.)
  • A person on my Classic server (Myzrael-US) passed away and his guild honored and remembered him by a long slow walk to the entrance of Molten Core.
 But I took the weekend off from the entire blogging process.
I even ignored my email, Reddit, and Facebook for the weekend, and the latter two turned out to be a very good thing because I would have been driven nuts by seeing all the lack of social distancing going on.**

It was freeing to not have to worry about coming up with anything for the blog, because suggested posts kind of fell in my lap regardless, but the one thing I couldn't seem to get away from was the endless parade of "Why aren't you in a guild?" questions.

***

On a very early Saturday morning, I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep, so I figured I'd get on WoW Classic and do some rep farming until I felt sleepy again. While I was perusing Cardwyn's current rep status and quests, I discovered I'd never finished the Marshall Windsor questline on her. I had the last quest in the Windsor portion of the chain, but I never completed the event. Therefore, I rode down to the entrance of Stormwind, waited for the person currently on the event to finish, and started it for Card.

About partway through Stormwind --for those Horde players who never performed the Alliance only questline, you end up walking rather than running-- a priest decided to tag along. She buffed me --and I returned the favor, because that's the polite thing to do-- and as we walked along she checked to make sure that I was aware of what I was getting myself into. After exchanging pleasantries and discussing WoW lore***, she then asked the inevitable question that people quiz me over: why am I not in a guild?

I explained the usual situation, about how I've been burned in the past and I'd really not deal with the drama in my gaming any more than in real life, but she made a point that stuck with me: I'm not obligated to remain in a guild if I don't like the drama. She herself had left a previous guild because she wasn't interested in drama, and the guild leadership was basically a generation younger than herself****, so she didn't have those social touchpoints to connect with people either.

Perhaps the reason why it resonated with me so much was because when I join a group such as a guild, I try to make it work. I put in time to be social, to help out in farming mats, and doing other (non-raiding) activities when I can. And I guess that makes me more loyal than it should. Certainly, if a guild's members or leadership don't reciprocate, I'm not obligated to remain with that guild. At the same time, I hate to leave people I like behind, but nothing says that I have to break ties with them just because I left.

Yes, you'd think that this is Adulting 101, but at the same time my tendency toward loyalty does become a problem this way. Even if I don't like a situation I'm in, I'd prefer to not rock the boat until things simply become untenable.

Or they blow up.

***

Because of this, I've spent a lot of the rest of the weekend thinking.

It's easy to tell others that they have to grow up and act in a more mature fashion, but not so much to shine the harsh glare of reality on yourself and practice what you preach.

And one of the things I've decided was that I invested so much time in my independence while gaming that it's become a large part of my identity, and likely to my detriment. That while it is fine to be independent, I shouldn't shy from making connections. I shouldn't reject everything because of a couple of bad experiences, and instead I should approach this in a more nuanced fashion.

This should be an interesting week. We'll see how things land.





*That's what I get for playing the percentages rather than "trusting my feelings".

**I saw the lack of social distancing in action on Friday when I "noped" out of walking around in the small town the oldest mini-Red's university is located. I drove through, saw all of the people hanging out and congregating in big groups, and said "oh HELL no" and took a pass.

***I mentioned that Christie Golden is a friend of a friend of mine of Facebook, and she got all excited as Christie was her favorite of the WoW authors. I did confirm that she seems nice on FB, but I don't really have any interactions with her. So beyond the occasional comment on our mutual friend's FB page, I don't really talk to her.

****She was my age. (Or at least she said she was, and to be fair if she was lying I don't know many people who'd lie and say they were older than they really were.)

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Smell of Burning Solder in the Morning

One of the things I like to tinker with is electronics.

Yes, I used to listen to shortwave radio back in the day, but these days old stations such as the BBC, Radio Nederland, and Radio Deutche Welle either no longer broadcast at all or broadcast to other parts of the world, not North America.

That doesn't mean that the itch to smell burning solder* ever really fades from someone who likes nothing more than to crack open an old radio and see what's inside.

Over a decade ago, I'd acquired a 1970s era Sony AM/FM radio for my son so he'd have a radio in his room. At the time he liked to have some music on overnight while he slept, and a radio like this one:


Sony ICF-9650W, from radiomuseum.org.

for just a couple of bucks at a yard sale was pretty much a no brainer. Nice and solid feel, with only a couple of knobs and a single switch for small hands to play with, it was fairly kid proof.

So, for several years it stayed in his room until he acquired a modern boom box, complete with Bluetooth, and I relocated the old radio to the garage where I'd blast local stations when I was out working there.

The past several months, however, I'd noticed that the radio frequency would drift a bit, and the sound quality was degrading, so I figured it was time to crack open the radio and see if any of the parts needed replacement.

Well, this is what it's supposed to look like:


Again, from radiomuseum.org,
because my pic looked pretty lousy.
There's actually two more circuit
boards underneath the main one.

But instead I found quite a bit of corrosion coming from leaking capacitors.

See the two cylinders? Ignore the
dust and you can see the corrosion
at the bottom. It was even on the red
wire next to it.

So, once I found a schematic online I realized I had my work cut out for me. Sure, it wasn't going to be as exhausting as working on a classic 70s era receiver, but the circuit board design did not make it easy to access without taking apart and unsoldering several parts. But with the schematic I had a parts listing, so off to Mouser Electronics (yes, that's the name of the online store) to order a bunch of replacement electrolytic capacitors.

The caps arrived on Monday, so I took the better part of all of my spare time on Monday night and Tuesday pulling apart the radio and replacing all of the caps on the board. I probably didn't have to do so, but given that the radio was 42 years old I wasn't going to risk it.

I also had a hard deadline of finishing this before dinner on Wednesday, because I was using the kitchen table as my mad scientists' lab.

Still, I was on quite a high, tinkering with stuff I'd not touched in at least a decade or more.

I finished my work around 6 PM, spent about 20 minutes putting everything back together, and then fired it up.

Nothing.

I unplugged the radio, checked to make sure nothing was obviously wrong, and tried again.

Still nothing.

Muttering a few choice curses, I began checking to see if there was something fried on the board.

Yep, there was: all four diodes used in converting the power from AC to DC on the circuit board had blown. If you look at the second pic above, you can see that little stretch of parts in the bottom center that are covered in some tan goop; the green cylinders are ceramic capacitors that hardly ever are damaged, but the tiny black cylinders are the diodes that blew.
The good news is that their replacements (the originals are no longer made) only cost something like $0.04 or $0.10 each. The bad news is that I have no direct way of knowing if they blew because of something I did (which is likely) without more test equipment than what I have.** So I could simply buy a bunch of replacement parts once more, but I should also go over in detail everything that was replaced to make sure I didn't do something stupid.

And that --right now, anyway-- is something I don't have time for.

So I've got a torn apart radio sitting in my garage, taunting me every time I see it.

But I've not given up. Not yet. I'll get you, my pretty!





*and the occasional burning flesh accompaniment.

**I do have a digital multimeter, but I don't have the ability to check capacitors or signals or whatnot.
And I'm pretty sure my wife would not be pleased if I decided I needed an oscilloscope.


EtA: replaced the links with copies. For some reason the links broke some hours later.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Coming Soon to a Table Near You...

I'm just gonna put this here....



Before you ask, no, I've never played Small World before. Published a year after Pandemic (the board game, not the event*), I know it was covered by Wil Wheaton in his TableTop series, and it does remain popular, but I've never actually played it.

That might have to change.




*And when you hear somebody say "Nobody ever thought a pandemic would happen!", remember that enough people DID to create a boardgame franchise out of it.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

MINE!!!

One unintended side effect of Blapril has been that I get this twitchy feeling that I should be writing when ordinarily I'd be relaxing or gaming.*

So, this post is the result.

And its all about understanding patience.

No, really.

You see, I've spent the past couple of days grinding both Timbermaw and Argent Dawn rep, and even in the best of times it's a long slog. Maybe not nearly as bad as Cenarion Circle rep in Silithus, but it's up there.

But what I've witnessed is how people approach grinding, and whether they really have any patience or not.

For example, today I spent some time grinding because I simply didn't have the time to fit an instance run before work. There I was, getting feathers from Felpaw Village, and for about 15 minutes there was nobody around.

Quiet, there was.

Slow, the respawns were.

Then an Orc Warlock arrived and started killing mobs near me.

"No big deal," I thought, so I moved to another section and began there. I wasn't going to complain about this guy killing "my" mobs because I didn't know how to share.

The Orc finished his side and then swam across the lake (?) and started killing the mobs on my side.

I shrugged, said okay, and then moved back to the side he recently vacated and began killing the mobs that were now respawning more quickly.

The Orc came back and started killing the mobs again.

I moved back to the other side and began the process again.

Rinse, repeat.

After about the third time he did this I wanted to point out that he didn't have to come over to my side because mobs were already respawning on his side, but the Warlock had it in his head he had to get ALL OF THEM, which mean crossing over to my side.

Now, to make this perfectly clear, there was no time where I had to stop killing mobs at all, because there were plenty of respawns happening all the time. But it was the approach to things, where the Warlock simply couldn't run back to the end of his area and start all over, that got to me.

I'm pretty sure I could have devised an Aesop's Fable about this, called "The Warlock, The Rogue, and the Felpaw Village", except for what happened in Winterfall Village afterward.

***

I'd set myself an internal clock of gathering 25 sets of feathers before crossing through to Winterspring and acquiring the quest to go kill eight of three separate Winterfall Village groups, and by the time I left Felpaw Village the Orc had been joined by a couple of like minded rep farmers who spent more time running around than actually farming at that point.

So when I arrived at Winterfall Village, I noticed almost immediately that every single Winterfall Villager had been killed. It would have been the site of a mystery, "The Winterfall Massacre", were it not almost immediately obvious who'd been doing the killing. While I stealthed around, investigating, I was passed by at least four other toons, riding around and hunting for available Winterfall to slay. At the top of the ridge, I found some Winterfall Ursa with nobody around, so I began work on the quest at hand. I got about halfway through killing the first Ursa when a Dwarf Paladin rode up, got in my face for a half second, then rode around, drawing aggro of all of the remaining Ursa nearby.

I wouldn't have been shocked to have seen him yell "MINE!!" on top of it. (He didn't.)

Really, dude?

He could have just as easily whispered if we could group up for faster rep grinding (or in my case questing), but he chose to be an ass about it.

And I could have been just an ass by pulling Winterfall firbolgs near him when I saw him working on some Winterfall a couple of minutes later, but I chose not to. I simply worked around everybody else, stealthing as much as I could, and getting my quest completed the hard way.

***

As much as the previous post was about how reaching out to others worked, this post ended up being about how greed slows everybody down. It would have been better in the long run to share, because a group could easily have covered a lot more ground and gathered a lot more rep than a person working alone, but nobody took that chance. In fact, people were so wrapped up in "me" and "mine" that it worked against everybody's goals.

Funny how WoW mirrors real life like that. Aesop would have been proud.




*Or doing anything other than writing, I suppose.

Monday, May 11, 2020

"Time for Sharing, Class"

I'm not one to bug people online, particularly when I really ought to ask someone for a favor.

I suppose that some of that is my natural introversion, but a lot of it has to do that I was raised in the US Midwest. Pestering people, or calling them up and asking for a favor, is not in your typical Midwesterner's DNA. Saying hello, talking about pleasantries, and maybe agreeing to get together to game or just hang out is just fine. But favors? I'd rather have a root canal instead.


I've been a fan of Dar Williams's work for a couple
of decades now, and when in the song Iowa she
talks about how "we never mean to bother", she's got
the Midwestern ethos nailed.

So when Cardwyn joined a group for Scholomance and we needed a tank, I kind of hoped someone else would come up with one. Typically the tanks I do know and are acquainted with are already busy in a raid or running a 5-man, so I've never had to worry about reaching out like that. But this time, I did actually know someone who was available, and was mentioning to me the other day that they'd not mind tanking for me. Their main is a raid Healer, and he doesn't get a chance to tank that much.

The group leader asked if anybody knew a tank, and after a few moments of wrestling of whether I should bug my friend, I spoke up and said I know one who looks available. The group leader gave me the go ahead to reach out and ask if he was interested, and sure enough he was happy to join. He just needed a few minutes.

Now, to also add to this, I knew the Healer and the Warlock in this group from other pugs I've done, so this felt like one of those awkward social moments that you dread about in middle school: when a member of one friends' group meets another friends' group. When you consider that I was inviting a tank to join, if things went south it would also reflect poorly on me.

I shouldn't have worried.

We had a couple of wipes in that first area in Scholomance because of the group being feared into other mobs, but once we settled on clearing most of the middle mobs by doing pulls up the stairs, things went well. In fact, the only other wipe was when we tried the event for the Paladin fast mount: the first couple of waves went okay, but then --as the group leader put it-- it got "stupid hard real fast".

I actually got to see something I never had before, where the lich Ras Frostwhsiper was turned back into a human. And he was a lot harder to kill than when he was a lich. (Just sayin'.)

The most important part, however, was that the group meshed well, except for the Warrior DPS' tendency to take over aggro by not waiting for the tank to build up enough aggro. Card even got two pieces of L60 gear out of the deal. But I think the biggest part of that evening was that my friend the tank volunteered to heal Dire Maul - East so that I could get that Crystal Water quest done. (Any gear there would be a bonus, really.)

***

"So kids, what have we learned today?"

That it's fine to ask people to help out. They might just appreciate the ask.

This knowledge doesn't necessarily make it a cakewalk to ask people, but it does make it easier to do so.

Darn Midwesterners.





*The composition of the Midwest varies, but the term broadly encompasses the old Northwest Territory ceded to the new United States by Britain in 1783. From that territory, north of the Ohio River, west of the Allegheny Mountains, and east of the Mississippi River, came the states Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Iowa, Nebraska, and the Dakotas are frequently added to the list, but from my perspective they are more properly considered Plains States that came from the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon in 1803. Still, the Midwestern ethos thrives in those states too.